The Tao of Doo

In his kind and generous review of my first mystery, DEATH NOTICE, author James Reasoner said the plot was vaguely reminiscent of something found in Scooby-Doo, only played seriously. He meant it as a compliment and I took it Read more


Another October, another release date. Since BAD MOON is my second book, you would think I'd be used to it. But nope, I'm not. BAD MOON's publication date feels as surreal as DEATH NOTICE's did last year. For readers, the Read more

Writing With ... Louise Penny

I am thrilled beyond words to welcome one of my favorite writers, Louise Penny, whose Armand Gamache mysteries have appeared on bestseller lists worldwide.  Her last book, BURY YOUR DEAD, won the Ellis for best mystery in Canada, and Read more

Is Browsing Dead?

I'll be the first to admit that I was a nerdy teenager. Not pocket protector nerdy, but no sports star, either. I was bookish, I guess you could say. I read A LOT back then, and nothing pleased me Read more

Why We Left Earth

Outer space has always been a mystery. Even before mankind fully grasped its vastness, they wanted to go there. Early astronomers, fascinated by the stars, invented ways to get a closer view. Think Copernicus, Galileo, Cassini. Writers not content Read more

Ten Crime Gems

Posted on by Todd Posted in Musings | 4 Comments

Last week during Bouchercon, I was lucky enough to be part of a panel discussion about great crime movies in film history. It was a rowdy good time, and the audience really seemed to be having fun. Toward the end of the panel, we opened it up to audience questions and one of them — Tell us an underrated, overlooked gem — had me stumped. It’s not that I didn’t know of any. I just couldn’t think of one at that exact moment. My eventual answer was the 1991 thriller Dead Again. It’s a great movie but, judging from the applause in the audience, one that’s fairly well known.

Later that night, several movies popped into my head. Of course. So, in an effort to redeem myself, here are ten standout crime movies you might not have seen but that you should definitely check out.

Cache (2005)

French director Michael Haneke’s cerebral thriller follows a Parisian couple as they try to figure out who is secretly videotaping their home. The director — a pro at impishly pushing audience’s buttons — blurs the lines between what is actually happening and what has already been videotaped. The movie doesn’t provide easy answers, but it’s worth watching for one of the most gory, shocking scenes ever put to film. (You’ll definitely know it when you see it.)

Bound (1996)

Before the Wachowski brothers entered the Matrix, they gave us this sultry film noir about a money launderer’s girlfriend who crosses paths with a lesbian ex-con. Jennifer Tilly and Gina Gershon burn up the screen as this unlikely couple, but the film rises above titillating exploitation with crackerjack plotting and smart dialogue.

Heavenly Creatures (1994)

And before Peter Jackson dragged us all to Mordor and back in The Lord of the Rings films, he made this standout film based on the true story of two imaginative girls who kill one of their mothers. (After being released from prison, one of them became a well-known mystery writer using the pen name Anne Perry.) An exhausting, exhilarating whirling dervish of a film, Heavenly Creatures doesn’t ask the audience whodunit. Instead, it shows us why they did it.

The Vanishing (1988)

A young couple, Rex and Saskia, pull into a bustling rest stop during a road trip. Saskia goes inside to buy some food. She never returns. Toggling through time, director George Sluizer shows us not only the impact of the disappearance three years later but the events leading up to it. It all comes together in a stunning climax, in which we — and Rex — learn what really happened. Don’t waste your time on the 1993 U.S. remake. The Dutch original is the real deal.

Red Eye (2005)

Wes Craven took a break from horror to make this breakneck thriller about a woman in an airplane, the assassin she meets in the airport bar and the plot to kill a government official staying at the hotel where she works. No, it doesn’t make much sense, but Craven doesn’t give the audience time to think about that. Clocking in at a brisk 85 minutes, Red Eye is a master class in pacing, brevity and messing with an audience’s expectations.

Raising Caine (1992)

Pure insanity from Brian De Palma.Like most of his films, logic takes a backseat to all the usual bells and whistles. We’ve got split screens, a bombastic score and tracking shots that seem to go on for miles. What makes this one stand out is John Lithgow’s utter commitment to his many, many roles. The final image of him leaves the audience both giggling and gasping.

Niagara (1953)

Marilyn Monroe goes femme fatale in this thriller about two honeymooning couples in Niagara Falls. Monroe vamps it up as a newlywed already plotting to kill her husband. Joseph Cotten is all war-ravaged cluelessness as her cuckolded spouse. And plucky Jean Peters is the good-hearted married gal who pieces everything together.

Shallow Grave (1994)

Before hitting it big with Trainspotting, Danny Boyle made this thriller about three flatmates who find their new tenant dead but loaded with ill-gotten cash. Instead of telling the police, they bury his body and agree to share the money. But plans like this never work out and Boyle revels in the way these friends slowly but surely turn on each other.

The Last Seduction (1994)

Linda Fiorentino plays Bridget, a bad, bad girl who finds herself in a small town after fleeing her no-good husband with a million dollars of his money. Luckily she finds an innocent lug to bed while fending off all the hapless detectives sent by her livid spouse. Bridget has no redeeming qualities, which makes her fascinating to watch and, ironically, easy to root for. Fiorentino’s performance, fearless and sardonic, deserves a place in the Cinematic Bad Girl Hall of Fame.

The Spanish Prisoner (1998)

David Mamet was a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright before turning to film. His first movie, House of Games, was a twisty delight. In The Spanish Prisoner,  he raises the bar. Campbell Scott plays a corporate fall guy with access to a secret formula that everyone, including the Feds, wants a piece of. The formula, a Hitchcockian MacGuffin if ever there was one, is simply an excuse to watch Scott being pulled in every direction, set to the tune of Mamet’s mind-spinning dialogue.

Bouchercon Thoughts

Posted on by Todd Posted in Musings, News | Comments Off on Bouchercon Thoughts

Every fall, mystery fans and authors gather at Bouchercon to mix, mingle and crowd the hotel bar. There are panel discussions, parties, special events, and impromptu conversations in hallways and lobbies. It is always exhausting, never boring and frequently the best time some authors have all year.

This year, Bouchercon was held in St. Louis, just minutes from the Gateway Arch. I was able to attend only a fraction of the conference, but here’s what I took home with me:

Writers Love Movies

I was lucky enough to be included on two panel discussions about film. Instead of taking it as a slight against my writing abilities (It wasn’t, right?) I saw it as a chance to talk about one of my first loves — the movies. And I’m not the only author with a love of film.

On Thursday, I joined, Maria Alexander, Eric Beetner, Terry Faherty, Daniel Hale, Tracy Kiely and Martyn Waites for a fantastic panel discussion about the influence of Alfred Hitchcock. It was fascinating to hear what others take away from Hitchcock’s films and which ones are their favorites. I also learned that Martyn’s favorite Hitchcock is Rear Window. Well done, sir!

On Friday, it was Megan Abbott, David Corbett, Jeremy Lynch, Russel McLean, Wallace Stroby and myself talking great crime movies in film history. We had a great time. We were punchy, the audience was participating, and we ran out of time. Because once you start talking about movies, it’s hard to stop.

Writers Love Alcohol

Really, this is a given.

Writers Love Coffee

Maybe it was everyone nursing their hangovers, but the Starbucks attached to the hotel was insanely crowded throughout the day. And while it seemed a bit ridiculous to wait a half-hour for coffee, it was fun to strike up conversations with people in line. Most of us were there for Bouchercon, so we had a love of books in common.

Mystery and Thriller Fans Rock

The cool thing about Bouchercon is that it’s a conference for fans. Book lovers save up all year to attend and meet their favorite authors. And while being on panels and meeting other authors is a blast, it was equally fun to get to know the people who read us.

The Gateway Arch

I made a point to walk to the arch on Friday afternoon. I wanted to take the elevator ride to the top, but, alas, all tickets were sold out for the day. Still, the arch is as impressive as I thought it would be. And I made sure to get my picture taken leaning against its base.

Gooey Butter Cake

Those of you who enjoyed this sinful treat know exactly what I’m talking about.


Writing With … Alma Katsu

Posted on by Todd Posted in Writing With | 3 Comments

An incredibly fun aspect of being a writer is meeting other writers. I had the pleasure of meeting Alma Katsu at Thrillerfest in July. Alma is the author of THE TAKER, a historical novel with a supernatural element. It’s been described as an “epic supernatural love story,” and compared to the early work of Anne Rice. Alma has an MA in fiction from Johns Hopkins
University and was an intelligence analyst with the CIA and NSA but resigned to pursue writing full time. THE TAKER is the first book in a trilogy.

Q. Tell us about your book and what inspired you to write it.

The TAKER is slightly indescribable. On one level, it’s about a young woman who falls in love with a young man that she cannot have. She’s loved him at her own peril and she is about to pay for it, when she falls in with a seductive, mysterious man who offers her the power to win her lover and bind him to her forever. She accepts this offer and then finds out she has made a terrible bargain and she has to figure out how to save her lover and herself from damnation. Love is at the heart of the book, but it’s an exploration of how little we really know about what drives us to love someone, how we are capable of selfishness, and how hard it is to really change. On one hand it’s very much like a fairy tale, and on the other hand, it’svery dark. If you like stories that sweep you away, you’ll like it. If you like stories where the hero and heroine wait until the very end of the book to have their first chaste kiss, you’ll probably hate it.

The other thing is that while it’s very gothic and compared to INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE a lot, there are no vampires in it, and that has disappointed some readers.

Q. Did you need to do any special research for the book? If so, what’s one of the most interesting facts you discovered?

There are, basically, two worlds in the book: one is New England in a funny period — post-Revolutionary War era — and the other is medieval central Europe, including attitudes toward religion, magic and alchemy. The book isn’t intended to be a historical with a capital H; I’m not a historian. Even though I grew up in a historical area of Massachusetts, I ended up doing a lot of research on the colonial American side of things, along the lines of “What did they eat for breakfast?” and “When did they start using the St. John waterway to float logs for the timber industry?” You know, questions that everyone wants to know the answer to. Oddly, I had a good working knowledge of the other subject area — Hungarian history and magic — and didn’t have to do as much research for that part. Really. And no, I’m not Hungarian.

Q. Many people are content to just be readers. How did you become a writer?

I always wanted to write. I was one of those kids who used books to escape from my life. At some point you start wanting to match wits with your favorite authors, see if you can do something as quixotic.

Q. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

Since I resigned from my job, I am rarely NOT writing or doing work related to my writing career. Some day this panic will wear off and I’ll learn balance the different parts of my life. But I was like this as an analyst, too. There were periods when I worked 16-hour days, no exaggeration.

Q. What are you reading right now?

Like half of the planet, I’m reading GAME OF THRONES by George R.R. Martin, because I loved the HBO series. I’m in one of those lulls where I have a stack of about 20 books on my “to be read” pile but none are all that appealing.

Q. If you were stranded on that proverbial deserted island, what five books would
you want to have with you?

LIFE AMONG THE SAVAGES by Shirley Jackson. I read this as a kid, when I was likeeight years old and I think it permanently affected my outlook on everyday life. I reread it every couple of years just to reaffirm that it’s as surreal as I remember it.

CASANOVA IN BOLZANO by Sandor Marai. If you haven’t read the book, don’t be put off by the terrible movie supposedly based on it. CIB is a tightly layered onion of a reflection of the nature of love as experienced by both sexes. You can peel this
onion all day, there’s still more layers beneath.

After that, it’s hard to say. I’m an eclectic reader and my mood jumps around a lot. Whenever David Mitchell has a new book out, I tend to get it. I have a lot of respect for many writers but I don’t necessarily read all their books.

Q. What’s your favorite movie?

This one is easy: Orlando, directed by Sally Potter and starring Tilda Swinton. It has everything I love in entertainment: big, lush, magical. But I watch few movies and almost no television, GOT excepted.

Q. What’s your favorite food?

Right now, it would be something forbidden like a really good pizza or perfect hamburger. Gelatto in Italy. I ate it everyday while I was there.

Q. Cats or dogs?

Dogs. Two whippets, to be exact.

Q. Name one thing that people would be surprised to learn about you.

How to narrow it down to just one? I do not read, write or speak a language other than English. I couldn’t force myself to do it back in school.

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