Tuesday, February 18, 2020

My afternoon with assassins

It’s frightening but I think I’d make a good professional assassin. Until I almost killed a sniper.

Most people take the RER C train from Paris to visit the Sun King’s chateau at Versailles. I took it and got off at Satory, the following stop, headquarters of the GIGN, the elite police tactical unit of the French National Gendarmerie. Marc, a member of the GIGN, had invited me for coffee at a cafe by the train station. I wasn’t sure why we met here, what I’d learn or if this would be ‘it’. 
A friend in the Paris Homicide police force set this up insisting ‘you should meet him and see where he works’. That morning, the weather - a cloudless June day - the tree-lined streets beckoned and my sandals broke. So I wore terribly not chic flip flops trés Americaine and Marc, surprisingly wore jeans and T-shirt. ‘No photos’ he said, ‘but ask me what you’d like to know’. This meeting had been set up on the fly, very last minute so I confessed my ignorance of what work Marc’s unit did. Somehow I must have passed the test, seemed harmless and ignorant enough, that he said ‘let’s go and I’ll show you.’

So off we drove in his Renault towards Satory’s outskirts to the GIGN hq which is a military base, site of their helipad, barracks and training facilities. Marc’s tour of his work place was off the cuff, seat of the pants and for rule conscious military French stellar and unique - so what I saw was arbitrary and what he showed me selective. How could this happen? Lucky for me, this visit happened a few months before 9/11. This could never happen now with tight security in place. Marc owed my friend a favour, felt curious, gotten off work early that afternoon had time and wanted to show off his elite unit. Right place, right time and the stars aligned. 
Marc introduced me to his squadron leader, the authority and chain of command to introduce a visitor on base. If there was a protocol to follow for a secure military base, it felt loose. 
I discovered that the GIGN are the cowboys, risk takers which you’d need to be to do this kind of work. I learned the GIGN specialise in counter terrorism, special weapons, assault tactics, hostage rescue, VIP protection, paratroop and water operation. The day was quiet and the unit on call were training in another area. That’s when I met a sniper and almost killed a paratrooper at the firing range. Déde, the paratrooper, was a big bear of a man. Huge, dark haired, Gallic nose and with remarkable patience at the firing range. That is until I just about shot him.
The informal firing range, set in an old airplane hangar, held targets. But it was dark, smelled of hay. No one wore eye protection or ear guards. Maybe this was a firing range simulating a real life situation, I wondered. Before I knew it Marc and Déde were offering me a choice of pistols - a Manhurin which all GIGN are issued or a Sig Sauer that the Paris police now use. Decisions. My flip-flops felt every ejected bullet casing on the concrete floor. Not the footwear for a firing range. Had I shot before? Of course but I gave vague details. In reality it had been once with friends at a shooting range near the SF airport.
With Marc and Déde on either side, I steadied my stance, extended my arm, locked on target. Shot. What a kick to my shoulder and hand. Of course, as an amateur I had no control. Tried again and again. Why couldn’t I hit near the target?
Upset I turned to ask Déde what was I doing wrong. Before I could speak, he jumped on me, covered my body as Marc did and grabbed the gun from my hand. Which by the way had been pointing at Déde.
They apologized and so did I, profusely. They must have been regretting giving an amateur a gun. I’d been on the ground, out of commission before I knew what happened. And I’m glad. 
If I’m ever in a hostage situation I want Déde in my corner. Postscript: when I returned home and unpacked my roller bag, my husband noticed my flip-flops and asked if this was a new style. New style? Covering the rubber soles of my pink flip-flops were embedded bullet casings from the firing range at Satory. These had gotten through airport security - your tax dollars at work (:
Cara - Tuesday

Sunday, February 16, 2020

You Can Help Save the Earth

Annamaria on a Crusade

Great thanks to Michael for his encouraging and hugely informative post this past Thursday.  If you haven't read it, you can find here his words about some important counter climate-change strides.  His theme is that while governments may be recalcitrant, individuals and corporations are inventing ways to work against the rising tides.  I want to piggyback on this  subject, which—like Michael—I believe is the most important issue before us as human beings.

Michael focused on plastic as one of the major pollutants so I will start there.  When I first learned about the mass of plastic floating on the Pacific Ocean, I became so alarmed that I turned into a warrior against plastic.  My enemy is all those innocent-looking zip-lock bags, easily portable bottles of water, and yogurt containers.  Here are the facts, as of March 2018, about the that floating mass:

The giant accumulation of plastic called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch contains at least 79,000 tons of discarded plastic, covering an area of about 617,800 square miles (1.6 million square kilometers), according to a study published in Scientific Reports.

It's probably larger now, two years later! 

For perspective, this mass is larger than all but the 17 largest countries on earth.  According to National Geographic Magazine, some of the that mass will biodegrade in 450 years.  The rest will last FOREVER.

The most daunting (and for me personally disgusting) fact about plastic is that micro beads of it have been found in human breast milk.  If this doesn’t scare the begeezes out of you, I don’t know what would.

What can we do?  isn't it obvious?  We need to move as fast as possible toward 100% biodegradable packaging materials.  Europe is doing a much better job of this than the USA.  I started working on this post in Italy, where plastic bags for carrying food purchases are, by law, biodegradable. 

Until our country comes to its senses, those of us who live in the USA and other backward countries can at least buy products that are packaged in cardboard—dishwasher detergent and raisins for instance.  And soap in bars that comes wrapped in paper will get you just as clean as the liquid stuff in plastic bottles.

There are alternatives to plastic film and baggies for storing leftovers.  And we can get your takeaway from places that package our lunch in cardboard cartons instead of plastic containers.  I could go on and on, but you get the idea.  

Michale’s blog made a point of the amount of water and energy that goes into recycling.  I’d like to focus on the energy issue in another important way.  

Even if it is generated through solar panels, wasting electricity is economically and environmentally insane.  In the US, just about 100% of hotels and apartment buildings have hallway lights that are burning 24/7.  In Italy, and I imagine other European countries as well, the norms are aimed at curbing overconsumption of electricity.   Lights in hallways are wired to motion detectors.  If someone is walking by the lights go on.  Otherwise the place is dark.  In hotel rooms, lights automatically go off when you take your key from its little slot as you leave the room.  No waste. 

Speaking of waste, in the US, there is also the insanity of indoor temperature settings.  Typically, thermostats are set at 74 degrees F in winter and 68 degrees in summer.  One has to wear a sweater to feel comfortable indoors in summer and to strip off layers to keep from overheating in winter.  I recently heard a climate-change denier on the radio, pooh-poohing the potential benefits of electric cars because, he said, “The power grid in the United States does not have enough capacity to charge all those automobiles.”  I wonder how that prediction would fare, if all those hallway lights went on only when someone needed them, and those temperature settings were reversed: in winter 68, when we are wearing winter clothes.  And 74 in summer.  If 74 is comfortable in winter, why is it too hot in summer?

Changing the habits of a nation is a daunting task, but ordinary people make environmental decisions everyday.  We can decide what kind of car to drive.  Or better yet, to use mass transit.  One by one we can start to reduce our own consumption and waste production, especially when it comes to using plastics and power.  We can choose food gown locally.  Or set our own thermostats at rational levels.    We can keep or precious planet in mind when we decide what to buy at the supermarket and what kind of bag we use to tote our purchases home.  We can try to influence others to join the fight.

We can become a climate activists.  Write letters, attend rallies, make speeches, and make noise about this issue.  Vote only for politicians who give solving climate change a high priority.  When a corporation acts insensitively, or public officials make wrong decisions, we can stop buying their products or shopping in their stores.  We can write to corporate CEOs, store owners, board chairmen, politicos and tell them that we are boycotting them for their behavior.

Are these actions guaranteed to solve the problem.  No.  Of course not.  But we must try.

My father, who died twelve years ago, wept when he thought about the mess humans were making of the Earth.  “My generation,” he said, in tears, “is leaving the world so much worse off than we found it.”  He felt personally guilty about that.  So do I.

Some people’s religion tells them that there will be a Last Judgment—a time when the saved will be separated from the damned.  I think the people of this planet need to stage a Next to the Last Judgment.  We need to start damning those who do not see the crisis.  And especially those who, for their own personal gains, ignore it.

This sacred planet is the home we all share.  This is a trite statement, as is the title of this blog.  BUT.  What other battle cries might we adopt at this juncture.  Can we look at deaf and dumb politicians and say, "We who are about to die salute you."  Shall we eat, drink, and be merry? 

 We can continue to act like a virus infecting our planet, crawling all over it, acting like we are in charge.  Climate change looks to me like Earth's immune system sending the forces of wind, flooding, fire, and drought (the real four horsemen of the Apocalypse) to delivery a grim message.

Save the planet is not the real issue, of course.  The Earth will still be here, even if we go on abusing its and ignore its warnings.  It, as an ecosystem, will continue to fight back.  If humans, as a species, fail to heed the dire warnings of our living home, it will kill us.  The same way any living organism's immune system destroys an infection.

We are marvelous.  Whether you think we are the creation of an intelligent God or the result of a series of splendid accidents, we are a wonder species.  Wouldn't it be great if we were also smart enough to save ourselves.  I hope we are.

Traveling the Tokaido . . . in Miniature

-- Susan, every Other Sunday

The Tōkaidō, or "East Sea Road" was one of the five great highways that linked the major political and commercial centers of Japan. Although the route itself was officially named and established during the early 17th century, many of the travel roads that later became the Tōkaidō had existed, and been used by travelers, for centuries.

One of the 53 Stations of the Tokaido, woodblock print by Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858)

A journey from the starting point of the Tōkaidō  (at Nihonbashi, in Edo) to its southern terminus in Kyoto would have taken 2-3 weeks during the heyday of the route (and in good weather). 53 official post towns lined the route--places where weary travelers could stop for tea, a meal, or a place to spend the night. Fresh horses and porters were also available for rent.

The Tōkaidō has inspired a variety of art--from famous prints by artists like Hiroshige and Kunisada to music and short stories. But one of the most interesting tributes to the famous travel road lies far to the south, in Kumamoto City on the island of Kyushu.

Suizenji Jojuen - the Tōkaidō in miniature

In the early 17th century, not long after the formal creation of the travel road, Hosokawa Tadatoshi, the Daimyō (feudal lord) of Kumamoto constructed a massive traditional garden designed to pay homage to the 53 stations of the Tōkaidō.

Nihonbashi, in Edo - the official starting point of the Tōkaidō (Print by Utagawa Hiroshige)

Jojuen's version of the Nihonbashi

The garden was originally designed as a private garden and retreat. Later, other members of the Hosokawa family constructed Izumi Shrine, a Shinto shrine on the garden grounds that pays homage to the Hosokawa clan.

Izumi Shrine

Today, the garden is open to the public and has been designated a National Historic Site of Scenic Beauty.

The stations of the Tōkaidō remain recognizable - particularly the "coastline" (created by a man-made lake)

The Japanese coast in miniature

... and a miniature Fuji that bears a striking resemblance to its famous full-sized counterpart.


Fuji from the Tōkaidō (Hiroshige Print)

The garden is also home to a grove of lovely Ume (plum / Japanese apricot) trees, whose brilliant, fluffy blossoms herald the approach of spring . . .

The Ume say spring is coming...

. . . and some exceedingly friendly (and well-fed) pigeons, who are happy to make you acquaintance if you purchase pigeon food (or fish food - they're not picky) from one of the vendors along the path.

Pardon me . . . Do you have any Gray Poupon?

The park is a beautiful example of Japanese garden architecture, as well as a unique way to experience the Tōkaidō. Much of the original travel road now lies beneath the concrete and steel of the Shinkansen or Japanese Highway 1, making Suizen-ji Jojuen one of the few places where Japan's most famous travel road remains alive and well . . . if somewhat smaller in scale than it was before.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Congratulations to Guest Blogger Robert McCabe

Photo of Robert McCabe by Vasiliki Eleftheriou


Once again Murder is Everywhere has shown to have its collective finger on the pulse of what’s happening in our literary locales.  In this case, I must admit it’s a serendipitous moment, because seven months ago, when I introduced American Photographer Robert McCabe to our readers as a guest blogger, I had no idea that the Greek government would grant him honorary citizenship—one month after conferring the same honor on American actor Tom Hanks.

Here’s a link to Bob’s July 20, 2019 post, containing examples of his extraordinary skills.  For those interested in learning more about this gifted artist and remarkable man, the following is taken from Greece’s Ekathimeri coverage of Greece's consul general in Boston, Stratos Efthymiou, awarding Bob honorary Greek citizenship for his service to the country. 
Greece's Consul General Efthymiou and Robert McCabe

Every Greek photography lover knows McCabe’s work. He visited the country for the first time in the 1950s when he was a student at the University of Princeton. He fell in love and started taking photographs of everything he saw: the islands, archaeological sites and monuments, landscapes and people. It was a time when the country was untouched by tourism and largely undeveloped, when hospitality was still genuine and pure, when the lives of many people in far-flung parts lived pretty much the same way as their forefathers centuries before.

McCabe became an ambassador for Greece’s charms, showing the world what made him fall in love with the country so deeply in exhibitions and publications. His marriage to a Greek, Dina, his companion in life and art, just made that love stronger.

He has also supported a number of Greek-American educational institutions, including Athens College, the Gennadius Library and the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. McCabe’s family has even bought and restored the residence in Beacon Hill, Boston of Samuel Gridley Howe, a respected philhellene who fought for the Greeks in the War of Independence in 1824.

Furthermore, McCabe has undertaken a number of initiatives that show his support for the country, including the donation of 35 photographs to the Boston Consulate.

The greatest gift the American photographer has given Greece, however, is sharing his point of view of the country, the way he captured with such respect and admiration ancient sites like Epidaurus and the Acropolis before their restoration, but also humble pictures of day-to-day life, including wooden fishing boats, barber shops and tavernas, presenting scenes of a country that is almost lost today.

His most recent projects include a wonderful coffee-table book on the Strofades Monastery on an islet off the coast of the Ionian island of Zakynthos that was damaged in an earthquake in 2018, a book on the holiday island of Mykonos and another on Santorini before the devastating 1956 earthquake, which just came off the press and will be available in Greece and the US in a few weeks’ time.



Jeff's 2020 Speaking Engagements and Signings (in formation):

Friday, March 13, 10:15AM
San Diego, CA
LEFT COAST CRIME—San Diego Marriott Mission Valley—(Sierra 5-6)
Moderating “Tipping the Scales: The criminal justice system,” with Teresa Burrell, Keenan Powell, L.F. Robertson, and Karen Stefano.

Saturday, March 14, 2:45PM
San Diego, CA
LEFT COAST CRIME—San Diego Marriott Mission Valley—(Rio Vista F-H)
Panelist, “Murder Goes Global: International Mysteries and Thrillers,” with Annamaria Alfieri, Ana Manwaring, and Greg Randall, moderated by Jane Stillwater.

Monday, March 16, 2020, 11AM-2PM
Saddlebrooke, Arizona 85739
30th Anniversary Authors Luncheon
SaddleBrooke Clubhouse
40010 S. Ridgeview Blvd.
Author Speaking and Signing

Thursday, June 4--Sunday, June 7, 2020
CRIMEFEST—Mercure Bristol Grand Hotel
Panels yet to be announced 

Thursday, October 15—Sunday, October 18
Panels yet to be announced

Friday, February 14, 2020

Grand Turk

Christopher  Columbus may have discovered the island group of the Turks and Caicos Islands in 1492, but there is a strong argument that Ponce de Leon got there first.

By first I mean after the Taino Indians, then the Lucayans, before and after and no doubt in between as well!

By the 1700’s settlers had arrived on Grand Turk from Bermuda and they really established the salt trade on the island. The American Revolution then brought about another wave of immigration, mostly loyalists, who considered the island a place that might be amenable to them  for the maintenance  of the plantation owner lifestyle.

The island has been controlled by the  Spanish, the French and the British, then the Bahamas directly,   and then Jamaica  and then back to Bahamas therefore becoming a British overseas territory in 1973.

The thing I found fascinating about the place was the diamonds. Many of them. Expensive but seemingly very good value to due  to some strange tax status.

Near  the jetty there is a small outdoor museum, a celebration of the close relationship between the island and NASA. Several  astronauts including  John Glenn and Scott Carpenter  were brought onshore to the island after splashing down in the Atlantic after their space missions.

Here's a wee flaneur around Grand Turk.

I've seen worse views than this.

A Grand Turk welcome.

 It was quiet!

( It's plastic and sticking out the sand!)

Population of Grand Turk about 4000. Guests on this boat who went ashore =3500. Guests on board the cruise ship that parked behind it = 3500.

The diamond shops did a very good trade!

Caro Ramsay 14th Feb 2020

Thursday, February 13, 2020

The good news

Michael - Thursday

A house of plastic
Yes, there actually is some. The good news is that in a variety of ways individual people and corporations are starting to ignore the politicians and take matters into their own hands. The matter I’m referring to is climate change and the environment. Actually, that is the only issue that really matters. What deal Britain reaches with the EU (if indeed it reaches one at all) or the outcome of Trump’s tariff war with China are sideshows. I’m not saying they are irrelevant, just that that the main event is what will happen to this planet if we don’t modify the way we do things.

It's not news that people have woken up to the issue and have been protesting, addressing conferences, and generally trying to change the mindsets of the powers that be.

The question is whether activism has any effect. Will it change the minds of leaders like Trump, Johnson, and Scott Morris? Absolutely not. But it can bypasses them. Individuals can change their behaviour. Corporations can and do change their priorities. GM is working on electric cars. Many manufacturers are phasing out diesel vehicles altogether. Exxon is looking at what it can do to significantly reduce emissions. No one believes coal has a future (as a fuel) anymore. (Even Trump and Scott Morris don’t believe it, it’s merely campaign rhetoric.)

Equally important, individuals can take things into their own hands and make a tiny difference. But a tiny difference multiplied by a significant number of the people in the world adds up to a lot. Also, it's their priorities as consumers that drive those of the corporations.

Finally, innovation and potential profit can get together and make impacts governments can only talk about. Everyone knows of Elon Musk and his batteries and electric cars, but there are thousands of other entrepreneurs dealing with waste, energy and emissions in a variety of ways. And individuals support them, being willing to pay extra for products that are more environmentally friendly.

Omega 1
Some initiatives are innovative ways of using existing technologies. At the end of last year, France switched on the largest floating solar farm in Europe, Omega 1, generating 17 Megawatts. Why floating? Well, in a country where land utilisation is important, this uses an area that would not otherwise be used for some other purpose. But there are other advantages also. The panels are kept cooler and operate more efficiently as a result. (Lakes and reservoirs are the hosts; the panels won't cope with wave action.)

Note the grapes in the background!
A South African farmer in the Franschhoek area has picked up the idea too. Not only is the increased efficiency important to him, but the panels provide a cover for some of his dam, reducing evaporation. Land isn't as much of an issue here, but water is. He says the fish like it for cover and the birds for perching. That does necessitate some cleaning however...

A South African initiative is an innovative way to deal with plastic waste. Recycling is an option of course but the problem is that it requires significant water energy and raw materials. The point is to get rid of the waste without wrecking the environment, but it's not really sustainable. The answer is to move away from the use of these types of plastic altogether. But in the meanwhile there are short term answers, for example Ecobricks. Stuff large plastic bottles with any type of  clean plastic scraps - exactly the stuff that lasts forever. Then use it to build houses. The bottles can be joined together in a variety of ways. The one at the top of the page uses a wire frame, the one below a type of cement.

But in the longer term we need to move away from this type of plastic altogether. How about this sort of polystyrene? It works as well as the usual type that degrades into multiple plastic nodules that hang around forever. The difference is that this one is grown from mushroom spoors in a mould. Very little is required in the way of raw materials - a little food, a little time. (Polystyrene requires considerable amounts of water and energy.) At the end of the process, the moulds are baked to kill the growth (so don't worry about opening your new TV box and being smothered by The Blob!)

Afterwards break up the pieces and throw them in the garden. After some rain, you have free compost.

These are just three examples. There are thousands of others. That's the good news.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Mary Higgins Clark, Speaking for Women

Sujata Massey

Mary Higgins Clark, Queen of Suspense

Literature became less suspenseful on Jan 31, the day that Mary Higgins Clark slipped out of the world. 

Often called the Queen of Suspense, the 92-year-old author published more than 66 books in a forty-four year career. She was in Naples, Florida, working on a book when she passed away from complications of old age.

Mary was a native New Yorker who grew up in the Depression and suffered the loss of her father to heart attack while a young girl, and her husband to the same disease while she was raising their five children. That loss, however, did not result in the expected situation of her living out the rest of her days in hardship. 

Mary's tragedy put into motion the creative writing career she'd always wanted--to move from short stories to novels. She started out writing between 5 and 7 in the morning, then got her kids out the door, and then went by train from New Jersey into Manhattan to her office job at a script-writing company. When I think about how busy these workdays must have been, and then add on the five children in morning and evening, my head spins!

A lot is being said about the exemplary fortitude of Mary, and of her genius in creating a signature genre of domestic suspense novel that has exploded in the last few years.  

But what I find most significant about Mary Higgins Clark is that she told secrets about women's lives  at a time that women were routinely silenced for their supposedly unimportant observations. Through her novels,Mary illustrated the wrongheadedness of the silencers, without seeming to be composing anything more than a vastly thrilling commercial novel. 

After the breakout of her second book, Where are the Children?, MHC was able to write full-time. From that point on, every book she wrote was a national bestseller.  Her longtime publisher, Simon&Schuster, estimates she’s sold more than 100 million books in the United States alone. 

The original book cover in 1975

I first caught sight of a Mary Higgins Clark book at my local B. Dalton bookstore in the mid-1970s. I should have been in the children's section, but had ventured over to adult mystery, because I had become a fan of Conan Doyle and Christie.Where are the Children? had a book jacket showing an isolated house in a windy field, and you could tell a bad storm was coming. I quickly discerned the story's premise was  that children had disappeared and might have been killed by their mother. It seemed too much to handle. Now that I'm older and wiser, I’m sure Mary would have approved of the eleven-year-old me walking away from her blockbuster novel.

Recently, I listened to the audiobook version of Where are the Children? Now that child abuse is not a huge cultural secret, there was a veiled child on the cover, making it even creepier. 

I found the most disturbing parts were the chapters narrated by the killer/kidnapper. I fast-forwarded during most of his narration. But there was a lot else that I took in to with fascination. She transported me back to my memories of the early 70s. It was a time that America was split between “squares” and “rebels.” You were either a Nixon fan or absolutely against everything he stood for. To say you supported equality for women meant you were a “women’s libber,” which was usually uttered as an epithet.

The novel’s flawed protagonist, Nancy Eldridge, is no "women's libber." She is a housewife admired by the Cape Cod community where she lived for her gentle ways with her children. Nancy is very private because she is mired in an earlier trauma. There is no talk of women's liberation; she's married to a dear man who wants nothing more to protect her, just as she believes her first husband did.

The trauma is shared with the reader early on. Nancy recalls her college-age marriage to a professor. When she had two young children, her health and memory began to fail and the children disappeared and were later found murdered.  Nancy’s first husband, Carl, drowns himself in apparent grief when Nancy is charged with the children’s murders. She knows she didn't kill them--but she doesn't remember much about the time, and a witness claims she spoke of killing them. Nancy is released from prison on a technicality and leaves the countryThen, seven years later, when she’s remarried and living quietly on Cape Cod with a second husband and their two young children, they suddenly disappear on the morning of her birthday—which is also the anniversary of the earlier abductions. Nancy is sure they’ve been kidnapped and will be killed just as her first children were. She collapses. The police, after learning her past, think she’s their killer.

Nancy presents as a hysterical woman at a time when women were often considered hysterical and incapable of speaking for themselves. A psychiatrist using a truth serum is the key to uncovering what happened before, and he insists to the police chief that this might have bearing on the present crisis. The novel is packed with many paternalistic males, some of whom conspire to help Nancy, and others who suspect her. And there are three other strong women characters in the book, including a real estate secretary, a housewife and a grocery store owner,  who are repeatedly shut down by the men around them. A very negative male character presented to the reader is a military deserter, a recognition of the country's divided feelings about the draft.

While Mary Higgins Clark had something very important to say about how society hushed up women and children, including those who are wounded by sexual abuse, she always did it through the lens of popular fiction. She wrote the kind of book that conservatives would pick up and consider just an other exciting book. The feminism goes down easy, like the cup of coffee or glass of wine her heroine enjoys when she is feeling relaxed and safe.

As decades passed, the books piled up and the heroines became career women. At their sides were good men who might be community members, although an attractive young one would usually serve as a love interest. There were always strong women characters close by the heroine. These ladies are often older relatives or secretaries, and presented by the author with glowing recognition of their attractiveness, compassion, and insight. These women know something's wrong--and they speak up. 

MHC had every book become a bestseller and was celebrated as a Grandmaster by the Mystery Writers of America. But she'd seen over the decades, how mysteries starring men racked up Edgar awards while those featuring women as anything other than victims, mothers or girlfriends were scarce. Mary asked her publisher to assist her in establishing an award for mysteries about women. She had strict criteria for the award winning book's protagonist. The character was to be a woman without professional crime fighting occupation, to be someone with mostly positive family relationships who becomes sucked into a threatening situation that she must overcome using her own courage. The book also had to be free of explicit violence and sex and harsh profanities. The award is not exclusively for women writers; a male writer, Bill Floyd, has won, and the mother-son writing team of Charles Todd also took the prize on year.

To my right are Mariah Fredericks and Paula Munier

To select the Mary Higgins Clark Award, a judging committee of MWA members reads hundreds of novels that are whittled down to an announced shortlist of usually five or six books. Out of these nominees, a winner is announced at the Edgars dinner.

I was stunned to be nominated for The Samurai’s Daughter in 2004. In 2019, I was again nominated for a book in my new series, The Widows of Malabar Hill, which shared the nomination with books by Mariah Fredericks, Dianne Freeman, Julia Keller and Paula Muncier. Widows turned out to win that night, and I experienced so much surprise and joy that my heroine, Bombay lawyer Perveen Mistry, was now part of the MHC tradition. Mary was not at the Edgar Awards Dinner that night. We missed her.

I wonder what she would have thought, if we'd met. I don’t see myself as being close to MHC in style of writing or structure--and certainly, I lag behind her in productivity and sales. But she might have liked my heroine. A long time ago, I decided to commit to writing books about intelligent women who support themselves and those around them. It just felt natural. 

This is how a lot of us go through life. We are sailing along minding our business, and something awful happens. Our crisis could be one of many terrible things: an incident of racism in the neighborhood, a family member’s pain, a financial setback or the news of a friend's serious illness. We throw ourselves into action and try our best, no matter the outcome. 

In the books of Mary Higgins Clark, we see ordinary women saving the universe. 

Ourselves amplified, everywhere.