Sisters in crime: A visit with the Daring Dames of High Desert Intrigue

The moon cut the night sky, a razor-sharp glint casting only enough light to throw all into shadow. Pools of light cut feebly into the night, outlining the figures that moved swiftly through them, in and out of darkness. The figures hastened towards a brightly lit building in the distance as if pulled there by some unseen force. There was a metallic taste to the air, and the girl breathed in deeply, sucking the hint of electrical current deep into her lungs.

Tonight was the night of the gathering. Her pulse quickened as she took her first step through the maze of shadows. Perhaps she would be met by only whispers and furtive glances, huddled figures gathered closely in dim corners. The fabrics of their elegant clothes swishing softly, the deep folds capable of hiding any number of perilous items. Instruments edged with the same precision as the neatly honed words of the authors of mystery and suspense who collected inside. Fear mingled with excitement, and her curiosity drove her onward towards the distant glow which broke the darkness.

My Night at Croak & Dagger

Though this may be a highly romanticized version of the night I visited with the New Mexico chapter of the Sisters in Crime organization, neatly titled Croak & Dagger, my excitement was no less palpable. I was elated at the idea of a network of women writers who share my love of characters that cannot be trusted, moonless nights whispering the promise of death and betrayal, and the thrill of the hunt. I knew upon learning of this society that here I would find kindred spirits, here I would find women laced together in ink and blood.

The Sisters in Crime is a world-wide network of writers and bibliophiles boasting more than 60 chapters with over 4000 members. Self-described on their website as “authors, readers, publishers, agents, booksellers and librarians bound by our affection for the genre and our support of women crime writers.” With more than 50 chapters existing in the United States, the syndicate’s wide-spread reach is indicative of the enthusiasm which permeates its meetings.

I arrived with notebook hand, armed with the name Charlene Dietz, president of the local chapter with whom I had corresponded. The room itself was in stark contrast with my gloomy musings, brightly lit and inviting, packed with chairs in neat rows. There was a colorful array of scarves, jewelry and cozy sweaters to stave off the chill of the late winter air outside. A buzz filled the room, people happily chatting, leaning close in to each other in their excitement. I was greeted at once by a warm smile by a woman who introduced herself as Ann, and gently pulled me into the fold. We were greeted, in turn, by a tall woman with perfectly bobbed, silvery hair and an equally gentle look. As she introduced herself, this was Madame President, she welcomed me with a hug and I felt immediately at ease.

I took my place in the front row as the meeting commenced with a jovial feeling. There was light banter back and forth between the speakers and crowd. A change in future meeting venue was being discussed, and as one speaker stated, “I cannot stress to you how hard it is to find a parking spot,” she was answered with a mischievous “How hard is it?”, the company bubbling with laughter. This was the business portion of the evening, and topics ranged from upcoming meetings to community events were discussed. The line-up of speakers for the next few months included a court reporter, a fellow author, and a neurologist. Each of these presenters selected for the knowledge they could impart which was relevant to the crime genre. The members discussed an upcoming “speed dating” event which would consist of a conversation between one writer and one reader for three minute increments in several rounds.

The members enthusiastically planned for events such as a library tour in Albuquerque and the surrounding area, as well as celebrating each other’s publishing and writing successes. One author was scheduled as a panelist for a literary conference in California, another had just gotten his 600th Amazon review. Yes, there were also a few men sprinkled throughout the meeting, illustrating the inclusivity which I had already felt. Perhaps the greatest excitement in the room came when the premiere event of 2020 was reviewed. Having a submitted a request to the national syndicate, Croak & Dagger was proud to announce that it had been given permission to have an event with best-selling mystery author Rhys Bowen. With discussion of sister chapters and the appearance of a nationally known writer, it was apparent that while this chapter was local, the interest and the network itself was ubiquitous. I got the feeling that no matter where a person might visit the Sisters in Crime, they would be greeted with as much warmth and literary fervor as I had been.

The latter half of the meeting consisted of a panel discussion, consisting of the voices of readers, the subject of which was “What Do Readers Want Authors to Know?”. Introductions of the panelists were made by Charlene, prefaced with the statement “this may or may not be true.” Some of the biographical information she shared was fictional, and everyone present was delighted by the creative energy. After being asked what they looked for in covers when choosing a book, ideas such as “interesting details” and “what other authors have blurbed about the book” on the back cover were mentioned. One panelist looked for an interesting font on the spine of a book when choosing. The members of the crowd paid close attention, each visibly storing away the information for future perusal. Some plot dos and don’ts were also brought up, such as not killing off an important character, or not allowing for a character to betray the reader by acting against their nature.

The final question of the night was, “What happens when you close a book?” A panelist replied simply, “If you’ve created a world that I can inhabit, I will remember.” This heady idea was agreed on by all the panelists and the discussion closed with all present reminded of the reason that we all love the written word. The panelists were each given an engraved silver-toned letter opener, marked S in C (Sisters in Crime) Croak & Dagger to mark the occasion.

As the meeting ended, the chatter crested throughout the room once again, this time filled excitement for the future and abuzz with fresh ideas. Members dwindled out, heading to the nearby coffee shop to continue the lively exchange. I hung back taking it all in. Several members spoke to me and expressed their pleasure at my presence and encouragement to me as a writer. Ann even shared with me some of her own story, telling me about her days writing as a both a student and teacher. I left with a feeling of deep satisfaction. I had not only found a meeting of like minds, I had found a sisterhood (ahem, and brotherhood) of kind and creative souls.


The Sisters in Crime is a world-wide network of authors and book enthusiasts open to any new members with a passion for finely crafted words and crime. For information on how to join, please visit https://www.sistersincrime.org/. Pages for Croak & Dagger, as well as the Arizona chapters Desert Sleuths (Phoenix metro), and the Tucson Sisters in Crime can be found both here and on the website.


Sharp Objects: Book-to-Miniseries

Book

Author: Gillian Flynn
Publisher: Broadway Books
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Pages: 272
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Like any lover of books and cinema, I’m always excited to watch a film adaptation of a book I’ve finished reading. Most recently, I’ve been interested in the literary miniseries trend, where producers transform a book into several television episodes, often adding complexity to the story with additional characters and storylines. The HBO miniseries Sharp Objects, based on the book by Gillian Flynn, does exactly this.

Both the book and miniseries follow Camille Preaker, a mediocre reporter who is sent on an assignment to cover the murders of two preteen girls in her tiny hometown, Wind Gap. Camille’s editor, Curry, senses a compelling story is waiting to be uncovered in the southern town, but he also believes sending Camille to her hometown could be healing for her since she recently had a brief stay at a psych hospital after self-harming. Once in Wind Gap, Camille receives a chilling, unwelcoming greeting from her mother, meets her half-sister for the first time, and struggles to find any information on the case from townsfolk, the police, or the dapper detective from out of town. Amidst her own troublesome memory and trauma, Camille feels she must unravel the story of her town and her own past to make sense of this mystery.

While I think the miniseries was excellently cast, I think actress Patricia Clarkson (as Adora, Camille’s mother) was particularly accurate. From her appearance, to her mannerisms, costume, voice, and acting, Clarkson’s portrayal of Adora felt spot on. Clarkson captured the Adora I had imagined while reading the book, and it was amazing to see her acting on screen in this series.

While there were several changes made in the miniseries—including an additional storyline about Camille’s rehab roommate, a scene about Calhoun Day that created a toxic Southern Gothic atmosphere, and more town drama in general—I think the most substantial change between book and television was the removal of the first person narrator.

In Gillian Flynn’s novel, we receive all of our information through the mouth of Camille Preaker. On the other hand, in the HBO series, we lack this narration and are not limited to one perspective. I think this cinematic choice made Camille’s alcohol abuse much more apparent in the story. While there were certainly murmurs of alcoholism in the novel, the first person narration did not emphasize this self-medication issue as seriously as the miniseries did.

The choice to remove the first person narrator also makes it harder for the viewer to access Camille’s complex mental states. In the book, the reader gets to see Camille’s thoughts and trauma unveiled—or, at least, as unveiled as Camille is willing to let her thoughts be. In the miniseries, the viewer must rely on fairly chaotic flashbacks to Camille’s haunting memories to understand her mind instead. This reliance on flashbacks to explain Camille’s mind seems to downplay Camille’s sexual trauma, which was more apparent in the book. It also makes Camille’s mental illness more mysterious since the viewer is left to fill in his or her own conclusions.

Of course, most obviously, the miniseries’ removal of the first person narrator also allows the viewer more information to which Camille is not privy. For example, the miniseries provides much more insight into the out-of-town detective and Camille’s editor, making them both more likable characters.

Another (albeit less significant but still interesting) change was the miniseries’ inclusion of music. The soundtrack is entirely diegetic, so whenever a song is featured, it’s because a character turned on a radio, pulled out an old iPod, or started a record. In order to accomplish this feat and avoid creating a dull soundscape, the miniseries gave Alan (Adora’s husband and Camille’s stepfather) a strange obsession with music. In much of the series, the viewer finds Alan tinkering with his stereo system, turning a blind eye—and ear—to the more sinister things happening around him. The miniseries also gave Camille a cracked iPod, which belonged to her old roommate from her stay in the psychiatric hospital. These two additional items provide most of the soundtrack for the series.

In large part, I think the television series and original novel both use their literary and cinematic advantages to highlight the dangers of denial. Throughout this suspenseful story, we see both young and grown characters deny traumatic memories of rape, abuse, and bullying. We see Camille struggling to accept herself and denying vulnerability, pain, love, healing, and truth. We see a townswoman named Jackie who denies a horrible truth she has uncovered about a lifelong friend that she refuses to reveal. And we see the town denying the reality of the two murders as they place more importance on maintaining their own social reputation and standing.

I usually say the book is better than the film adaptation, but I think this HBO miniseries gave Sharp Objects a run for its money. All the same, I recommend starting with the book so you have the opportunity to see dreary, ominous Wind Gap through Camille’s own eyes first.

Miniseries

Network: HBO
No. of episodes: 8
Rating: TV–MA
Main actors: Amy Adams (as Camille Preaker), Patricia Clarkson (as Adora Crellin), Eliza Scanlen (as Amma Crellin)

Book Review

Imaginary Friend by Stephen Chbosky

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Genre: Thriller/Horror
Pages: 706
Format: Hardcover
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My Rating: 5/5 Stars

Summary

20 years in the making, Stephen Chbosky’s second novel Imaginary Friend takes on a whole new genre compared to his previous best-selling novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower.

Imaginary Friend follows seven year-old Christopher and his mother, Kate Reese, on the run from her abusive ex-boyfriend. She decides the small town of Mill Grove, Pennsylvania is the perfect hidden gem. However, one afternoon, a mother’s worst nightmare occurs when Christopher wanders into the woods and doesn’t come back out for six days.

When Christopher does return, he is different. He can do things he couldn’t do before, thanks to the nice man. His only goal is to build a tree house in the woods by Christmas, with the voice in his head guiding him the whole way. If he fails, the world as he, and everyone in the town, knows it will change forever.

Thoughts

Going into this, I was not sure what to expect because the premise itself is so different from my beloved The Perks of Being a Wallflower. But, I can say with confidence that Chbosky did not disappoint—I found myself tearing through the pages, desperately wanting to solve the mystery and connect the dots. Every character revelation and plot twist felt surprising yet inevitable, leaving me speechless by the end of it.

As with any good horror novel, I will probably have nightmares for a couple of days, but it was worth it to go on this journey with Christopher and his mother. The characters were so vivid that I felt like they were telling me the story themselves. It was terrifying, but in a thrilling way that really makes you think about the world and speculate about what lies beyond it—what we have control over and what we don’t, and what may lurk in the shadows.

Imaginary Friend reveals the power of family, of friendship, and of a mother’s love in the most bone-chilling, mind-blowing way. 20 years after his debut novel, Chbosky is back to remind us that no matter who we are or what our past is, we are not alone: in the the real world or the imaginary.

Book Signing: Thrillers @ The Poisoned Pen

Snipers, missiles, and conspiracies—oh my!

You won’t want to miss next week’s book signing at The Poisoned Pen. The bookstore will be hosting three authors for a thriller book signing event from 7 to 8 p.m. on July 29. Authors include Jack Carr of True Believer, Mark Greaney of Red Metal, and Stephen Hunter of Game of Snipers. Be sure to check out the bookstore before the author event to order your books!

True Believer by Jack Carr. Former Navy SEAL James Reece’s skill and cunning are put to the test when the CIA recruits him to travel the globe and target terrorist leaders. But be careful who you trust in this political thriller—the conspiracies may prove to be more than simple rumors.

Red Metal by Mark Greaney. Amidst attacks from Russian tanks and satellite killing missiles, an American Marine lieutenant, French Special Forces captain and his intelligence operative father, female Polish partisan fighter, A-10 Warthog pilot, American tank platoon captain, and German sergeant must all work together on Operation Red Metal to defend America and her allies.

Game of Snipers by Stephen Hunter. Master Sniper Bob Lee Swagger decides to help a young woman who lost her son to war by finding the sniper who pulled the trigger. However, this favor soon turns into a consuming obsession, putting Swagger back into the action as he teams up with others to track the assassin whose skills seem to match his own.

Read more information about the book signing event here.

Location: The Poisoned Pen Bookstore, 4014 N. Goldwater Boulevard, Scottsdale

Date: Monday, July 29

Time: 7–8 p.m.

Book Review

The Reunion: A Novel by Guillaume Musso

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Genre: Thriller
Pages: 273
Format: Paperback
Publication Date: July 9, 2019
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My Rating: 5/5 stars

Summary

25 years after his high school love’s disappearance, Thomas returns to his childhood home on the Côte d’Azur to prepare for his former prep school’s class reunion—and his inevitable arrest. 25 years ago, he and his friends, Fanny and Maxime, buried a body in the school’s walls. Their secret is secure until the school plans a demolition for renovations.

However, as the day for demolition draws closer, the three friends begin to discover that perhaps there are far more secrets about to be unearthed than just the body in the wall—and they are caught dead in the center of them.

From France’s #1 author, Guillaume Musso, The Reunion packs everything from friendship and betrayal to affairs and dangerously addicting plot twists. Without a doubt, The Reunion will leave you with one massive book-hangover. Luckily, you can grab another one of Musso’s great books right after. Hair of the dog anyone?

Thoughts

This was my first time reading a novel by Guillaume Musso, and all I can say is that I’ve found one of my new favorite authors. Because the book was originally written in French, I was expecting some of the story to fall through the cracks of the translation; however, I was blown away. The translation was absolutely brilliant, and it felt like no nuance was lost on the pages.

The Reunion is definitely unlike any thriller (or book for that matter) that I’ve read before; I started off feeling like I had the whole story figured out, but each page showed me just how little I knew. It was delightful to unravel the story with the main character, Thomas, and as the novel finished I couldn’t believe how much Musso was able to subvert my expectations of the classic “who-dun-it.”

While thrillers run the risk of feeling dated and dry with the same formula, The Reunion surprised me in the most incredible and exciting ways. I cannot sing high enough praises of Musso’s newest masterpiece!

Due to a few graphic scenes of violence and a some more mature subject matters, I would recommend this book to be read at a high school level or above.


Thanks to the author and publisher for providing an ARC in
exchange for this honest and unbiased review.