Tips from the Masters: Lawrence Block

Lawrence BlockIt’s a real rush to pass on a tip from Lawrence Block because he just might be the most major monster in crime fiction. Consider: he’s author of over forty novels (and that’s just under his own name — not counting another 50 or so under various noms du travail). But it goes way beyond that. He’s one of those writers that everybody in his field has read, and most other writers in that field have been influenced by. His Matt Scudder series is an uber-classic, a modern version of Chandler or Hammett. But with a more human character arc, readers watched Scudder come to grips with his alcoholism. Scudder alone would enshrine Mr. Block in the Crime Hall of Fame… Continue reading

Tips From the Masters: Deborah Sharp

Deborah Sharp isn’t a literary giant. But she’s working on it. Her Mace Bauer series is gathering a large, rabid fan base for a book on a small press. Aided by visibility like her talk about “Mama Sees Stars” on the Today show–but largely good old word of mouth, the good book’s main ally. Smart, funny, kicked-back, and above all Southern, she and Mace (and the spotlight character, Mace’s Mama) are carving out a lively niche for fans of humorous Southern mysteries—and gathering fans from non-crime readers of titles like “Steel Magnolias” or “Fried Green Tomatoes”. If that sounds at all interesting, I’d heartily suggest a look at “Mama Does Time” or others in that series.

And it’s worth noting that her writing skills didn’t start with fiction: she was a stalwart at USA Today for years, bringing you chilling tales of deadly animals and evil humans. Continue reading

Tips From the Masters: Bill Fitzhugh

Bill Fitzhugh is another of my favorites who should be far better known and appreciated. And I’m far from the only one who feels that way. Maybe not quite a “cult” author, Fitzhugh decidedly commands a “niche” of rabid fans. Carl Hiaasen and Tim Courtney are among them: in fact if you ask any star of funny crime novels who they read, he’ll on their short list. If you doubt me, take a look at his website.

His humor is different from those two–and from anybody else–with a unique, rustly dryness about it. His criminals are folks like you and I who get caught up in something too awful to come to grips with and too quirky to cope with. He’s also a long-time DJ and major record collector, so music figures heavily in his books, including titles like “Highway 61 Resurfaced.” One of my favorite lines is when evil exterminators are cruising Manhattan one asks their guide if he’s sure they’re on the right street and he answers, “Positively, Fourth Street.” If you laughed, or even know why that’s funny, you should enlist in the Fitzhugh cult right away. Besides, he graduated from my own alma mater, U. of Washington. Go Huskies! Continue reading

Tips From the Masters: Paul Levine

Paul Levine is one of my recently acquired tastes. He’s another one of those lawyers who started writing best-sellers just to piss us all off. Hey, do us writers start trying cases? But he won me over with a single title: Habeas Porpoise. You gotta love that.

And many love his two main series, Lassiter and Solomon & Lord. Lassiter is the slap-happy attorney who wouldn’t know what to do with an ambulance if he caught it, but can stipulate the wisecracks and rough stuff, Solomon and Lord are sort of odd-couple “Moonlighting” match-up of two counselors most unlikely to form a partnership. But a lot of fun. I really like the sloppy, always-in-danger-of-being-disbarred-and-unfriended heroes in both series, and envy the way he can juggle three or four storylines, each one always hanging its butt over a cliff as we segue to one of the other scenarios. Continue reading

Tips From the Masters: Thomas Perry

Lin Robinson

Thomas Perry’s books have been a supportive reality for me for many years. I think we all have short lists of the writers we keep around until their ears are dogged because we can read them over and over, because they’re what we want when we’re too sick to get out of bed for a couple of days, or snowed in, or desperately in need of stepping out of the hell of our own world into one that’s been perfectly crafted and seeks nothing but to pleasure us. He’s one of my personal elite. And seems to step into that role for anybody exposed to his work. Continue reading