Thursday, October 31, 2019

Mandela 100


Michael - Thursday

Today Bouchercon kicks off in Dallas and many of us have panels and other events. Maybe we'll see you there. In the meanwhile, we have the traditional hiatus during which we repeat pieces we think you might like to see again.

With all the political chaos going on around us at the moment, I thought we might like to be reminded of the life of a truly remarkable and principled man.

Nelson Mandela returns to Robben Island after being elected
president of South Africa
So much has been written about Nelson Mandela that it seems redundant to add anything more. Pat and I went to the FotoZA exhibition of photographs for the hundredth anniversary of his birth with some reservations. But how could one not allow oneself to be reminded of this life of commitment to a cause and to justice that had to take precedence over everything else, including his own needs and desires and those of his family? There would be no compromise – until it allowed him to move to his ultimate goal.

The exhibition gives few new perspectives, yet pulls us once again into the life of this extraordinary man who spent nearly thirty years in prison yet held to his principles, and then – harder still – spent five years as president of South Africa and still never compromised them.

Two feature of the exhibition struck us - unexpected amongst the flood of bitter pictures. The most moving was a display of the calendars that he was allowed in his prison cell. Year after year with notes, appointments and comments. Just before he was transferred to Victor Verster prison in Paarl and then released, he noted scarily high blood pressures. But most of the annotations referred to precious visits and meetings that the authorities dealt out like scraps to a dog. As the years passed, they became more frequent, yet every one was a cherished connection to the outside world.

The second was a display of posters from around the world calling for his release, the release of all South Africa's political prisoners, and for the abolition of apartheid. Most are from European countries sympathetic at the time to the ANC, and many are lithographs - crude by modern standards - yet their message is strong across the years.

It was a very moving experience. Anyone who is able to see it should jump at the opportunity.

Hard labour in prison.
A less serious poster - the makeover
Artist's impression of Mandela before he was released.
There had been no photographs of him for many years.
Mandela's letters from prison. A new comprehensive collection offers many insights.
From: The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela


We’ll be at BOUCHERCON in Dallas this week. It looks like an exciting meeting and we’re looking forward to these panels!

Thursday, October 31:

11:00 – 12:00 PanelThe Novel Stands Alone
  Kendra Elliot, JT Ellison, LS Hawker, Stanley Trollip, Sheri Lewis Wohl
  Participating Moderator: Laura Benedict

Sunday, November 3:

8:30 – 9:30 Panel: Detectives Overseas
  Ian Hamilton, Ragnar Jonasson, Michael Sears, Jeffrey Siger
  Moderator: Nancy Tingley

After Bouchercon we’re on tour. Please join us somewhere if you can!

Tuesday, November 5: 7:00 pm Poisoned Pen Bookstore, Scottsdale, Arizona, with Solari Gentill and Tim Maleeny

Wednesday, November 6: 4:30 pm Totally Criminal Cocktail Hour, Stillwater, Minnesota. Contact Valley Booksellers at (651) 430-3385 for tickets

Saturday, November 9: 10:00 Private book club event

Saturday, November 9: 1:00 pm Barnes and Noble, HarMar, St Paul, Minnesota

Tuesday, November 12: 7:00 pm Mystery to Me, Madison, Wisconsin

Wednesday, November 13: 7:00 pm Centuries and Sleuths, Forest Park, Illinois

Saturday, November 16: 10:00 Nokomis Public Library, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Monday, November 18: 7:00 pm Barnes and Noble, Galleria, Minneapolis, Minnesota. More details to follow.

Monday, October 28, 2019

Vera and Tolliver Sound Off

Annamaria on Monday

Actually my title today probably should say "Sound On."  I have not had a BSP (Blatant Self-Promotion) post for well over a year.  Today, I am taking a raincheck on my Bouchercon hiatus opportunity in order to tell everyone this:

I am very proud to announce the publication of audio versions of Idol of Mombasa and The Blasphemers—Vera and Tolliver #s 2 and 3!

The audio for the first in my Africa series—Strange Gods—has been available for some time.  The voice artist who narrated Vera and Tolliver # 1 did such a marvelous job that I knew I wanted him to record the other books in the series.
Dennis Kleinman is a South African, living in LA, who has the right soul, the right voice, and ALL the right accents to do a superlative job of reading Vera and Tolliver. Audible chose him to narrate Strange Gods, and when I first heard his recording, I was stunned by the result. In Dennis’s voice, my own characters became even more real to me than they were in my imagination. The Scots, the English, the tribal people all sound exactly right to me when Dennis reads their dialogue. He also puts just the right emotional ring to what they are saying.
Once the audio rights to Idol and Blasphemers reverted to me, Dennis went to work, doing his magic on characters that presented new challenges: Arab and Swahili voices, Midlands English, as well as tony British aristocrats.  The results are superb.

If you listen to books and are new to the series, you can start with the audio book for Strange Gods here:

And then,  I invite you to follow Vera and Tolliver from Nairobi and its environs to the costal Arab trading city of Mombasa and then to the Maasai region of Nakuru in the East African Highlands:

Idol of Mombasa Audible 

The Blasphemers Audible 

What next for Vera and Tolliver?
There is no fourth in the Vera and Tolliver series to brag about this year.  What that is so is a long story and definitely not a thriller.  Here is the expurgated version:

I completed the next in the African series—A Death on the Lord’s Day—some time ago. Complications of changing publishers has kept it under wraps. Readers have asked me for more of V&T, and I promise you more is on the way.
We used to use the word “glacial” to describe things that moved painfully slowly.  Now we are pained by how terribly fast glaciers are moving. I can safely say that moving at “publishing speed” wins my vote as the new metaphor for the most frustrating pace on the planet. Snails gallop by comparison. Tortoises are far less tortuous. Or torturous for that matter.
Photo: Annamaria, Serengeti 2006
I promise I will not give up.
A Death on the Lord's Day will be published soon. Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

A Japanese Haunting, Retold for Halloween

--Susan, every other Sunday

As Jeff mentioned in his Saturday post, this week's Bouchercon events means a week of "oldies but goodies" here at MIE. I'm pleased to report that I'm safe from the Typhoons (Hagibis and #20) and back in Tokyo, preparing to head out for a week-long hike on a 17th century travel road. I'll share the details, and the pictures, when I return--just in time for my next post, two weeks from now.

Today, I'm (re) sharing a real, and spooky, adventure I had on Koyasan in the autumn of 2016--which was also part of the prompt for my upcoming Hiro Hattori mystery, GHOST OF THE BAMBOO ROAD, which releases on November 12. 

And so, with no further ado, allow me to re-introduce you to Beto-Beto-san:

All my life, I've professed to believing in ghosts ... primarily to prevent them feeling the need to actually prove their existence to me.

In other words - I believed by choice, so I didn't have believe by experience.

That worked out pretty well for me until last November, when I went to Japan to research my sixth Hiro Hattori mystery - and encountered one of Japan's most famous yūrei (ghosts).

Although I write fiction, the following story is absolutely true.

I spent November 3 and 4 doing research on Mount Kōya, one of Japan's most sacred mountains and the heart of Shingon (esoteric) Buddhism in Japan.

Kongobuji - one of Mount Koya's leading temples.

The mountain is home to over 100 Shingon temples (many of which host overnight guests, both secular and religious) and Okunoin ("the temple at the end") - an enormous cemetery that houses not only the mausoleum of Kōbō Daishi, the priest who brought Shingon Buddhism to Japan, but more than 250,000 other graves and monuments to the dead.

The entrance to Okunoin.

I spent five hours at Okunoin on the morning and afternoon of November 4. The scale of the cemetery is overwhelming, but it's also one of the most peaceful places I have ever been.

Foliage at Okunoin. A truly peaceful resting place.

That night, I stayed at Ekoin, a Shingon Buddhist monastery.

My guest room at Ekoin.

After dinner (and after dark) one of the priests from Ekoin offered an English-language tour of Okunoin. I went, and spent a delightful hour listening to him explain the history of the cemetery--and asking him research questions, which he answered at length and in depth.

The tour ended on the far end of the cemetery, near Kōbō Daishi's mausoleum, where the priest released us to walk back to the temple on our own.

I stayed near the mausoleum to take some photographs of statues I needed to document for my novel, and when I finished, I discovered that everyone other than our guide and two other visitors had already disappeared back down the path, most likely to escape the cold.

A statue of Jizō, the "excuse Buddha" - and my excuse for ending up alone in a cemetery after dark.

Which, of course, meant that I was an hour's walk from the temple. Essentially alone.

In the dark.

Buddhas and tombstones at night.

The guide was showing the remaining visitors some other statues, which I'd seen that morning, so I started back along the path on my own.

I wasn't scared. I'd seen the cemetery in daylight, and knew it was a peaceful, sacred place.

Okunoin in daylight.

About halfway through the cemetery, I stopped to snap some photos of the monuments in the light of the lanterns beside the path.

Tombstones after dark, illuminated by traditional lanterns.

While taking photos, I heard the click of traditional Japanese wooden sandals--the type many priests on Koya still wear--approaching from behind me. Wanting to be polite, I waited, taking photos and listening as the geta came closer. When the priest was right behind me, I turned, bowed, and said good evening . . .

. . . but there was no one there.

The sound of the sandals ceased the instant I turned and bowed. The path was completely empty in both directions, as far as the eye could see - and given that the path is straight at that place, and lit at regular intervals, I could see quite a distance in either direction.

Needless to say, I did what any self-respecting, curious historian would do.

I ran like hell.

I ran until I caught up to a couple strolling along the path ahead of me - far enough that I was completely out of breath, legs burning, and struggling to look like I was merely out for a pleasant jog. Only then did I slow down.

Not creepy at all. Until the ghosts show up.

I followed the couple back to Ekoin, returned to my room, and went to bed - but didn't sleep for quite some time.

After thinking through the experience, reviewing my photos and memories, and considering what I know of Japan, the world, and science, I believe the spirit I met in the graveyard was real, and that it was betobeto-san, a well-known Japanese ghost.

According to legend (which I now interpret as factual, too), betobeto-san is a harmless trickster. The spirit follows people along deserted streets or pathways, making a sound like wooden geta that get closer and closer to you until you panic and run. Even then, betobeto-san supposedly follows you until you turn and greet him by saying, "After you, betobeto-san," at which point the spirit goes away.

Based on my own experience, bowing and saying "Good evening," will also suffice - because, although I remained in Japan for another two weeks, I didn't hear or see anything similar again.

A Buddha monument at Okunoin. 

Some people don't believe in ghosts, and that's okay--I only half believed in them myself until November.

Now, though, I know beto-beto.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

You Heard It Here First


Starting Thursday and running through Sunday, Dallas Texas will play host to Bouchercon, the world’s largest fan-driven mystery convention. As special as that event always is, Bouchercon 2019’s “Diamonds, Denim & Death” celebration will be particularly so as it’s Bouchercon’s 50th Anniversary!  With so many of our Murder is Everywhere colleagues planning to attend—after all, MIE came to be as the result of a chance meeting at a Bouchercon—we shall be taking the week off from posting new material. We’ll still post each day, but with some of our most popular golden oldie bits.

On a somewhat related but sad note, Dallas’ much-loved Interabang Bookstore was literally wiped off the face of the earth in a direct hit by a tornado raging through North Dallas last Sunday. The outpouring of support has been inspirational, and the owners have vowed to rebuild. I appeared there at an event earlier this year and look forward to doing so again, very soon! Let’s support Interabang by buying from them online.

But none of that is what I mean by the title to this post.  What I’m talking about is an observation I first made months ago when confronted in Europe by many wondering what will happen in the 2020 US Presidential Election. Now that I’m back in the US, the subject is no less in the forefront of discussions.

So much of it is so off the wall—no pun intended—or conspiracy theorized, that my eyes just glaze over.  But I hit upon a possibility that, every time I say it, puts an end to the conversation.  It’s all so obvious to me that I’m surprised I’ve not heard it elsewhere. 

Here it is, together with the general reactions of those to whom I tell it.

1.     President Donald Trump shall drop Mike Pence as his Vice-Presidential running mate in 2020.  Most nod.
2.     He shall choose his daughter, Ivanka, as his running mate.  Most shake their heads dismissively.
3.     At the end of her father’s second term, Ivanka will run for president.  More headshaking
4.     If she fails to be nominated (or elected), her father will resign so that Ivaka Trump becomes the first female president of the United States.  Dumbfounded silence.

As I said, you heard it here first.

Have a great week.

My Upcoming Events

Friday, November 1, 11:00 AM-12:00 PM
Dallas, TX
BOUCHERCON–Hyatt Regency Dallas-room Reunion E
Moderating, “The Thrill Continues,” with Danielle Girard, Bryan Gruley, Catharine Riggs, Patricia Smiley, and Wallace Stroby

Saturday, November 2, 4:00-5:00 PM
Dallas, TX
BOUCHERCON–Hyatt Regency Dallas-room Reunion C
Moderating, “If I Could Turn Back Time,” with Joe Clifford, Laura McHugh, Hannah McKinnon, Lissa Marie Redmond, and Scott Von Doviak

Sunday, November 3, 8:30-9:30 AM
Dallas, TX
BOUCHERCON –Hyatt Regency Dallas—room Reunion E
Panelist, “Detectives Overseas” with Ian Hamilton, Ragnar Jonasson, Michael Sears, and Stanley Trollip, moderated by Nancy Tingley

Friday, October 25, 2019

The big vote ( a Brexit free post!)

Scottish Book Week is winding its way round to us again and this year they are holding a vote to find the best Scottish word.

There's been a bit of debate here. There are 4 languages spoken in Scotland ( five if you count continuous swearing ).  English, Scots, Doric and Gaelic. The politicians do pander to Gaelic, as the other three blend together, often delineated by geography.  But the amount of money pumped into supporting Gaelic, I personally find a little offensive. Our NHS is on it's knees, but millions is poured into a language spoken by less than 1%  if we count native speakers.

Anyway, more fun things. The best Scottish word used in everyday parlance. Which one do you like?

1)  BURN a wee river
2)  CLYPE  a snitch. She's a right wee clype her!
3)  COALY BACK... a child being carried on an adults shoulders, like a sack of coal one presumes.
4)  BEASTIE  a small insect, or an affectionate term for a big beast.
5) GLAIKIT    that look on a person's face when they have no idea at all. Can also mean a slight daft
6) TOTIE  even smaller than wee,  A certain president has wee totie hands. Pronounced toatie.
7)  GUISING  to go out in fancy dress, I don't see what that's considered Scottish as it's root maybe Guy Fawkes type of guising.  Or maybe the root is disguising.
8) STAPPIT   blocked. My sinks stappit. I wonder if folk are Stappit on facebook nowadays.
9) GLOAMIN  one of my favourite words. It's that gentle light of twilight,  a restful time of subdued colour and mood. And it rhymes so well with roaming.
10) WABBIT  to look pale, tired and listless.
11) DREICH   when it can't be bothered to rain properly, and you get soaked walking through it
12)  HAVER   talking rubbish enthusiastically. Politicians do that a lot.
13) SMIRR    the rain that's a little more than dreich. We have a lot of works for rain.
14) SMOORIKIN   to snog, kiss, coorie in, hug
15) DWAM   to float away in a day dream....constantly
16) KEN   to know.... from the German I'd presume.
17) BESUM  a right cheeky wee monkey, usually female. We'd say Bissim.
18) FANKLE  two puppies and a ball of string, the resulting mess is a fankle.
19) NEEPS  turnips.
20)  EEKSIE PEEKSIE  We'd say Eachy Peachy, not sure that's peculiarly Scots - it means equal.
21)  BRAW    either really good, or really cold!  It's a bit braw this morning! said nobody in Dallas ever!
22) NYAFF  in bad taste, usually in a height of fashion sense, 'She looks dead nyaff in that.'  Some cars would be described as nyaff.
23) BUMFLE  when something that should be smooth is ruffled, esp fabric.  That duvet has a bit bumfle in it.
24) OUTWITH a perfectly sensible world. Very sensible indeed
25) PIECE two slices of bread with jam in between. When taken to eat at school, it is a playpiece.
26) SITOOTERIE   a eating place where you can sit outside. Dog owners often look for a sitooterie.
27) SHOOGLE     what happens in a car on a bumpy road, you get shoogled aboot!
28) SLEEKIT     slightly sly,  there's shininess / smoothness to the word as well, a fox would be sleekit, as would a well groomed supermodel.
29) SCUNNER     a disliking due to having too much off-  I'm fair scunnered with that chocolate. Or, more commonly. 'I'm fair scunnered with that book, I wish I was finished it.'
30)  WHEEST,, Be quiet!  So I will be!

Thursday, October 24, 2019


Stanley - Thursday

For the second time in three years I'm enjoying beautiful Norway. Last time Mette and I were here with two friends used to the cold. This time our companions were South Africans who blanch at the thought of temperatures below +5C. Their reactions were an unending source of amusement, especially when the wind came up.

Aron and Jenny Frankental putting on a brave face.  Mette wasn't as uncomfortable.
Since Mette and I had visited Norway before, we knew of the astonishing cost of alcoholic beverages. A beer can cost $15, for example. So we stocked up beforehand, squirrelling bottles in our suitcases and backpacks.

(Photo: Aron Frankental)
We started near the Russian border at Kirkenes, where we were fortunate to see very nice Northern Lights. Even though they were monochromatic, they were amazing, moving and morphing, coming and going.

(Photo: Aron Frankental)

(Photo: Aron Frankental)

(Photo: Aron Frankental)
Kirkenes is only a few kilometres from the Russian border, so the Russian influence is very strong. One thing we learnt was that the town was one of the most bombed cities during World War II. The Germans had a large presence because of iron mines and for maritime strategic purposes. The Russians flattened the town many times.

From there, we set sail on Hurtigruten's Nord Cap boat, which is a working ferry with sleeping accommodation for about 400 passengers. The most notable aspect of the trip to Svolvaer on the Lofoten Islands, where we disembarked, was the amount of food we consumed - mainly fish. All four of us loved the variety of herring dishes, the salmon, and gravlax. The only disappointment was we couldn't enjoy a glass of wine with dinner.

The gastronomic highlight was king crab. These were introduced into northern Norway waters by the Russians, whether for nefarious purposes or not we never found out. The crabs are huge, reaching up to 2 metres across. Aron and I decided to splurge - they are very expensive - and enjoyed a meal on board. Yummy.

It is difficult to appreciate the size of this platter from the photo. 
There was, of course, wonderful scenery the whole way, as well as a few surprises. One of these was at Hammerfest, a port that has adopted the beluga whale accused of being a Russian spy.

In a delightful pun around the Russian President Putin's first name, the whale has been named Hvaldimir (Hval, pronounced val, is Norwegian for whale). It is quite the celebrity, not only for its alleged spying activities, but also because it is so friendly. Recently, it retrieved a cell phone that a woman dropped into the sea while watching it. We watched a movie of it playing with a seagull, coming up underneath it and gently nudging it.

Before I tell you about some other remarkable sightings, here are a few pictures of the scenery.

(Photo: Aron Frankental)

(Photo: Aron Frankental)

When I think of witches being burnt at the stake, I think of Salem in Massachusetts. But it is nothing compared to Vardø in the Norwegian far north. In the 17th Century, nearly 100 witches were tortured, then burnt, usually for trivial or fabricated reasons. There is a fascinating monument to them, with a plaque for each person killed together with their 'crimes'. I found it very depressing.

Each light represents one person killed. The plaques are in a long dark passage inside the structure.
The Lofoten islands off Norway's west coast are a string of beautiful islands with spectacular scenery - beautiful coastline and magnificent mountains. One day we were driving around, when we arrived at the little (read tiny) town of Unstad on the west coast. To our amazement, it is a surfing centre and, what's more, people were surfing. We couldn't believe our eyes. The temperature was only +3 degrees  Celsius.

The surfing shop
To our further astonishment, it also boasted the World's Best Cinnamon Rolls. Of course, we had to try one.

And delicious it was. It had to be. I think it cost $11.

 Here are some more scenic pictures:

(Photo: Aron Frankental)

(Photo: Aron Frankental)

(Photo: Aron Frankental)

(Photo: Aron Frankental)

(Photo: Aron Frankental)

(Photo: Aron Frankental) 
(Photo: Aron Frankental)

(Photo: Aron Frankental)

(Photo: Aron Frankental)
After another trip on a Hurtigruten boat, we arrived at Bergen, a lovely town to which I feel a strong attachment. My paternal grandmother was born here, and her family's house is still standing. So, of course, we had to visit it. Opposite it is a bust of my great uncle Claus Hanssen, who is very well known locally for starting the Boys Brigade, when he was 12, opening a bathing house where people who didn't have baths in their homes could come and clean themselves, and generally being extremely community-minded.

Dr. Claus Hansen
Claus's brother Arnauer Hansen was also a physician, after whom leprosy was named - Hansen's disease. His statue is also somewhere in Bergen.

Being in a genealogical frame of mind, I also looked for other relatives - not on the Hansen see, but rather on the Trollip side.

Great great great grandad, Ole Troll

Ole's brother Sigurd Troll
One of the pleasures of Norway, as Mentioned before, are the fish. it is a fishing nation, both catching and eating. We wandered through the indoor fish market, enjoyed the displays and walked out with many Norwegian krone's worth of salmon.

All sorts of fresh fish.
One of my favourite sushi dishes is uni - sea urchin. These were nearly $12 each. Ouch.
Today, we take the train from bergen to Oslo. It is reputed to be one of the most beautiful train journeys in the world. Can't wait.


Tuesday, October 29: 6:30 pm Murder by the Book, Houston, Texas. Michael joins Yrsa Sigurdardottir for a discussion and signing.

We’ll be at BOUCHERCON in Dallas at the end of the month. It looks like an exciting meeting and we’re looking forward to these panels!

Thursday, October 31:

11:00 – 12:00 PanelThe Novel Stands Alone
  Kendra Elliot, JT Ellison, LS Hawker, Stanley Trollip, Sheri Lewis Wohl
  Participating Moderator: Laura Benedict

Sunday, November 3:

8:30 – 9:30 Panel: Detectives Overseas
  Ian Hamilton, Ragnar Jonasson, Michael Sears, Jeffrey Siger
  Moderator: Nancy Tingley

After Bouchercon we’re on tour. Please join us somewhere if you can!

Tuesday, November 5: 7:00 pm Poisoned Pen Bookstore, Scottsdale, Arizona, with Solari Gentill and Tim Maleeny

Wednesday, November 6: 4:30 pm Totally Criminal Cocktail Hour, Stillwater, Minnesota. Contact Valley Booksellers at (651) 430-3385 for tickets

Saturday, November 9: 10:00 Private book club event

Saturday, November 9: 1:00 pm Barnes and Noble, HarMar, St Paul, Minnesota

Tuesday, November 12: 7:00 pm Mystery to Me, Madison, Wisconsin

Wednesday, November 13: 7:00 pm Centuries and Sleuths, Forest Park, Illinois

Saturday, November 16: 10:00 Nokomis Public Library, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Monday, November 18: 7:00 pm Barnes and Noble, Galleria, Minneapolis, Minnesota. More details to follow.