June Trop Interview: “I thought writing a good mystery would be the greatest challenge”

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This week I speak to June Trop about her Miriam bat Isaac Series, especially her fifth and latest book, The Deadliest Thief. She gives me a guided tour of her work and shares an exclusive piece written in the style of her protagonist.

Please talk me through your background and how you got into writing.

A transplant from New Jersey, I’ve lived in New Paltz, New York in the mid-Hudson Valley for more than thirty years. I began my professional life as a science teacher in New Jersey and moved to New Paltz when I married Paul R. Zuckerman. I taught biology at the local high school before earning a doctorate in science education from Columbia University Teachers College. Then I served as a professor of science teacher education at the State University of New York before retiring to write professionally in 2007.

When taking a course on the historical development of concepts in chemistry, I encountered Maria Hebrea, the first-century alchemist who, living in Alexandria, became the legendary founder of Western alchemy and held her place for 1500 years as the most celebrated woman of the Western World. Years later I would model my protagonist, Miriam bat Isaac, on her.

How about your protagonist, can you tell me something about her?

Actually, Miriam is right here and will tell you about herself as long as you swear by Alethia to keep her work a secret:

Times are dangerous here in Roman Alexandria. I am an alchemist, and while the goal of our league is to perfect human life—to heal, extend, and rejuvenate it—we also focus on base metals like copper and iron, to perfect them as well into gold. But that’s where we can get into trouble, big trouble. The emperor is afraid that by synthesizing gold, we will undermine his currency and overthrow the empire. And so, the practice of alchemy, even the possession of an alchemical document, is punishable by the summum supplicium, the most extreme punishment. Like the vilest of criminals, any suspect is summarily crucified, left to hang outside the city gates to serve as an appalling warning to others. And so, when an alchemical document was stolen from my home, I began to practice sleuthing. Now don’t forget: You must swear to keep my alchemical work a secret.

I live in the Jewish Quarter of Alexandria, on the coast and farthest from the main necropolis. So, we inhale the scent of the sea instead of the stench of the embalming workshops. If it’s exceptionally hot or I’m carrying valuables, my bearers take me in a sedan chair to the agora, our central marketplace. Otherwise I walk to the heart of our city, this cloaca of gossip, our venue for seeing and being seen, for hearing and being heard. Approaching the plaza, I feel its vigor filter into my arteries as haranguing hawkers and hucksters, orators and priests, soothsayers and astrologers, tricksters and swindlers, magicians and conjurers, snake charmers and peddlers, wizards and sorcerers promise me a miracle for a price.

But I used to have another reason for going to the agora, and that was to see Judah. I can still dream my way to that first encounter with him, that unexpected ache when I walked into his shop. He raised his lids to look at me and then squared his shoulders with a slow, deep, almost guttural intake of breath and an even slower exhale. That sensation of his nearness, close enough for our air to mingle and for his hand to brush against mine, would ignite my private fantasies.

Tell me about your latest book.

So far, I have written five books in the Miriam bat Isaac Mystery Series, all with three-word titles beginning with “The Deadliest…”.

In my latest book, The Deadliest Thief (Black Opal Books, 2019), the only surviving accomplice in a jewel heist vows to kill Miriam and her occasional deputy, the itinerant potbellied dwarf, Nathaniel ben Ruben. At the same time, a kidnapper seizes Miriam’s closest friend, Phoebe, and threatens to butcher her piece by piece. Miriam suspects the events are connected, but can she find her friend before it’s too late?

When Did You Discover Your Love Of Mysteries?

I became addicted to mysteries when, as an eight-year-old girl, I borrowed my first Nancy Drew mystery from a classmate.  Of course, I wanted to be Nancy Drew or at least be a detective just like her. Search as I might though I could find no secret passages, whispering walls, or unclaimed treasures. The only thing I could do was read more mysteries. When I’d read all the Nancy Drews, I graduated to Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes. Fortunately, with our ever-expanding genre, I’ve never run out of great mysteries to read.

So, What Was It That Made You Decide To Write Your Own Mysteries?

Aside from my own love of mysteries, I thought writing a good mystery would be the greatest challenge. Readers should have access to all the clues to solve the puzzle but, at the same time, be unable to do so. And then, the solution must satisfy. That is, readers should see that the author was fair. And finally, justice should triumph. The writing doesn’t get more challenging than that!

How Did You Turn That Idea Into A Book?

One source for plot ideas is the stories I’ve read or heard about but with a “what if” twist that would suit my characters and setting. Of course, that’s just the beginning of a plot idea. I keep a journal of them. Most of the storylines reach a dead end, but some come alive.

When I’ve fixed on a plot, I make a list of all the scenes to get from the beginning to the end and record the conflict that must occur in each scene to move the story forward. Then I create a subplot or two and insert those scenes where I want to leave the reader hanging for a while. This framework is what I use to flesh out each chapter. And, as a new idea emerges along the way, I insert that idea into the relevant scene or string of scenes.

Of course, that gets you only the first draft. But you really can’t know, really know your story until you’ve finished that first draft. Then the editing begins.

What Are Your Favorite Mystery Books To Read?

I have three: The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie, and A Long Line of Dead Men by Lawrence Block. I love Doyle’s stories for their atmosphere; Christie’s for their twists; and Block’s for his character Matthew Scudder, the noir streets of New York, and his dialogue. Block makes the written word sound like the spoken word. To me, these three mysteries are like chocolate ice cream. I never get tired of them.

Why Will Readers Enjoy The Deadliest Thief?

My books have won various awards, which include praise for their riveting suspense, their authentic portrayal of life in Roman Alexandria, and for bringing the reader right there. The Deadliest Thief in particular is a puzzle filled with action, a startling twist, and an array of distinctive characters that support Miriam in her pursuit of justice against the thrust of time. Although fifth in the series, The Deadliest Thief, like all the others, stands alone. You can enjoy any of them at any time. So, let Miriam take you into the underbelly of her splendid city to help solve her most baffling case yet.

Do You Have Any Advice For Other Writers?

These precepts guide me. I hope they can bring encouragement to others.

  1. Avoid comparing yourself to other writers. You have your own distinct voice and stories to tell.
  2. Accept your failures and learn from them. In fact, if you’re not getting rejected some of the time, then you’re not taking the chances you need to improve your craft.
  3. Be grateful you have this opportunity to express yourself.

Do You Have Anything To Add?

I welcome visits and comments.

Readers can learn more about The Deadliest Thief and the other books in the Miriam bat Isaac Mystery Series and watch the book trailers for each story on my website. I also post a weekly blog about life in Roman Alexandria on Facebook. My books are available in bookstores and online platforms. Readers can easily find them on Amazon. Most of the book trailers are on Youtube here.

Thanks for your time June, it’s been great hearing your thoughts!

Crime Fiction I’m Excited For In 2020

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A little late I know, but here are some of my top picks for crime fiction books that’ll be released later this year.

There’s some really great stuff coming out throughout the year, so read on to find see the ones I’m most excited for and find some exciting to put on your reading list.

The Memory Wood: Billed as “the must-read novel of 2020”, Sam Lloyd’s book thriller tells the story of a child who’s abducted and taken to a wood where she meets a young boy, who she thinks is a saviour but quickly turns out to be another sadist. The tale turns into a cat and mouse game that you’ll find hard to put down.

Knife: The latest in Jo Nesbo’s revered Harry Hole series sees his detective in a bad place mentally, when his luck takes another turn for the worse. One of his early collars is out of prison and out for revenge, leaving Harry set to face his past and present in one. I’m a massive fan of the Harry Hole series and can’t wait for the next instalment to see how this dogged detective digs himself out of his latest pit of despair.

The Killings At Kingfisher Hill: Sophie Hannah’s latest reimagining of Agatha Christie’s famed Belgium detective sees the finicky Hercule Poirot travel by luxury passenger coach to Kingfisher Hill, a luxury estate where a woman stands accused of a murder that her fiancé is convinced she didn’t commit. On the way, a strange incident occurs which results in a murder. Poirot will have to use all his ingenuity and imagination to solve the puzzle, which is part of Hannah’s incredible series of books featuring the Queen Of Crime’s most renowned character.

All That’s Dead: Another book in a series, this time Stuart MacBride’s gritty but gripping Logan McRae collection, All That’s Dead looks set to be another smasher. Set in the concrete jungle that is Aberdeen, MacBride’s books often feature actual real world issues, and this latest outing is no exception as McRae handles a case that showcases the still simmering tensions from the Scottish Referendum. A high-profile anti-independence campaigner goes missing, and his case plays a part in the tensions that are being played out in harrowing detail in the country’s media. McRae faces both a professional and a PR challenge as he balances the case with the constant threat of negative media attention.

The Better Liar: Tanen Jones’ thriller, set for release later this month, tells the story of a woman who decides to partner with a stranger who will impersonate her sister so that they can claim an inheritance. The story becomes increasingly complicated, with both women facing up to their lies and striving to be the Better Liar. If you’re a fan of gripping, slow burn thrillers then this is one for you to enjoy during the roaring 20s.

 

M.C. Beaton Obituary

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Happy New Year to everyone. We begin the Roaring ’20s with some sad news: M.C. Beaton, whose real name was Marion Chesney, has died at the age of 83. 

She left this world on the 31st December 2019, meaning she never even got to see the dawn of a new decade.

The prolific author has written a wide range of crime fiction books, mostly Golden Age style police procedurals or private eye tales. She also wrote romance novels, which, alongside some of her crime writing, were written in historical periods. Using a number of pseudonyms,  of which M.C. Beaton was just one, she wrote many books, some of which topped global bestseller lists.

Her two renowned detectives were Scottish policeman Hamish Macbeth and private detective Agatha Raisin. She also wrote standalone mystery novels and a series of Edwardian crime novels. 

Both Macbeth and Raisin are revered among crime fiction readers, and have become cult thanks to TV adaptations and their vast number of appearances in Chesney’s books.

I’m not going to pretend that I enjoyed her work: I’ve written about my dislike of her Agatha Raisin novels in detail previously, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t respect Chesney as a writer.

After all, over the years she wrote hundreds of books, many of which sold millions of copies. Her work was translated into many other languages and her characters will live on for many more years.

Her books have influenced the crime fiction genre and will remain a staple of the market. The TV shows of her books are still being created, and doubtless her works will continue to inspire other writers in creating new characters and narratives that’ll drive the crime fiction market forward.

Her other works, which include historical mysteries and other books, will also remain staples of their respective genres. As well as being a writer Chesney also had a loving family, and was a grandmother. She had a great many passions and interests, all of which shaped her writing.

Chesney’s books might not have been something I enjoyed, but they were completely fearless. I might not have liked reading her work but I definitely admired her bravery and her dedication to proving that women could be just as dangerous and daring as any man.

In all, whilst they may not be everyone’s favourites, there’s no hiding from the fact that Marion Chesney’s writing will remain an inspiration and a reference point for writers and readers over the years to come, and that they have already shaped, and will continue to influence, the crime fiction space. 

Merry Christmas From The Dorset Book Detective

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Merry Christmas! This is just a brief message to say that I hope you and your loved ones have an incredible festive season, and thanks for supporting my blog throughout 2019!

I’ve had a lovely time interviewing phenomenal authors and reviewing incredible books, and I hope 2020 brings me even more opportunities to increase my knowledge and grow as a reader and book reviewer.

Massive thanks again to everyone who’s done anything to help me during this past year and I hope you all have a great time reading and eating this Christmas!

My Top Five Crime Fiction Books To Gift To A Mystery Lover This Christmas

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Buying books as a Christmas gift is always a challenge, so if you’re looking for something to treat the crime loving reader in your life, here’s my list of five of the books they’d love to find under the tree this festive season!

5. The Mystery Of Three Quarters: Sophie Hannah’s latest outing of her reimagined Poirot features the intrepid Belgium detective and his young friend Edward Catchpool working to uncover two mysteries: was the death of an elderly man an accident, and why was Poirot implicated in the accusation of an array of unlikely suspects? This is a tense tale that’s great for Christie fans, readers who enjoy Golden Age crime fiction or those who want something mysterious yet relaxing and fun to read over Christmas.

4.The Siberian Dilemma: Fans of Martin Cruz Smith and his revered Arkady Renko series will love this latest instalment, which sees the investigator embroiled in a personal mystery after his on/ off girlfriend disappears. When he gets the opportunity to interrogate a suspected assassin, Renko travels to Siberia to find his lover and get to the bottom of the criminal conspiracy she’d stumbled upon. This novel is fast-paced and enticing, making it great for readers who want thrills and chills this Winter.

3. Bodies From The Library 2: The second instalment of this incredible anthology series of stores and novellas from Golden Age stalwarts is a masterclass in how to create the perfect selection of tales for mystery lovers. It features famous names like Dorothy L Sayers, through to less well-known writers who nonetheless have a lot to offer. Readers who enjoy Golden Age books, or just a good classic mystery, will love this well thought out anthology.

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2. The Complete Collection Of Sherlock Holmes: Mystery fans who’ve only perused a few of Conan Doyle’s classic tales will adore a complete set, particularly if you get them one with all of the original drawings, or a newly illustrated one from a provider of luxury books, such as my personal favourite the Folio Society. The stories and novels that Conan Doyle created remain popular to this very day, and with good reason: each contains a cleverly constructed mystery and a solution that is both ingenious and deeply human. Make sure the person you’re buying for doesn’t already have a complete set before you buy them another one!

1.The Puppet Show: A copy of this year’s CWA Gold Dagger Award winning novel is a great gift for any crime fiction fan who hasn’t read it yet. Bloody and dark, M.W. Craven’s novel is not for the fainthearted. It features a deranged serial killer who’s burning victims alive in a set of stone circles in the picturesque Lake District. The police bring back a reluctant, disgraced detective whose past seems to be linked to these horrific crimes, and he embarks on a challenging investigation that will shake everything you think about humanity and human decency. Fans of rough, tough thrillers with lots of blood and gore will be ecstatic to find this book under their tree on Christmas morning. 

Kim Booth Interview: “I think police procedures can be quite complex”

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Another awesome interview with a true crime writer today as I speak to Kim Booth, who wrote about an intriguing fraud case in his book A Cruel Deception. Read on to find out more about his book and how his former career as a policeman has influenced his writing.

How did you come to define your writing style? What drew you towards
true crime?

I would describe my writing style “as it comes” really with true crime I write it as it is. You cannot really “Sex up” true crime as the facts of the offence are already established. I was drawn to true crime as having spent a career investigating numerous offences of different types I have always been interested as to why the offender commits the offence and how they were caught. I have been involved in the investigation of about 29 murders from domestic murders to contract killings, kidnaps and extortions a couple of serial killers with a bit of corruption thrown in.

In one instance I was present on surveillance when three contact killers arrived and shot our surveillance suspect in the head not knowing that he was under surveillance (the story is subject of a future book). I have specialised in offences of fraud over the years and have investigated just about every type of fraud going including a £350 million “Ponzi” scheme during which I travelled and conducted enquiries into foreign jurisdictions in Japan New Zealand The Bahamas U.S of America and Canada working with the local enforcement agencies.

My first true crime book is A Cruel Deception, which is the true story of a fraud I investigated. The family involved were financially ruined by the offender and it lasted 6 years until I came along. The victims an elderly couple were so embarrassed at being conned that they asked me to write a book about their experience also to act as a warning to others. I had to promise I would write the book but had to agree that it would be published after they had both passed on, which I did and that’s how it came about. In my opinion fraud is the crime where the effect it has on the victims is all too often underestimated as the repercussions can last for years afterwards. It is also so severely under resourced by the police and is in fact getting more and more common.

Tell me about how your background in the police? How do you draw on your experiences in law enforcement in your writing?

I have “survived” a 35-year career within the police and mainly in investigative roles. The roles have included general CID for a number of years, Detective Sergeant in the drugs squad, Head of Special Branch and Detective Inspector in charge of the Fraud Squad now Economic Crime Unit. I was previously on the regional Crime Squad (now National Crime Agency specialising in “cropping” (Rural surveillance). I have also been in charge as D/I of the Hi Tech crime Unit investigating all offences of internet crime involving frauds and paedophile offences on-line.

In an investigative role in the police you encounter so many different scenarios and offences committed that some do have a lasting effect and help to develop an enquiring mind, which does help in investigations. It really doesn’t surprise me anymore how devious and cruel people can be to each other.

As well as writing, you also advise other writers on police procedure, can you tell me a little about this side of your work? Have you worked with anyone exciting you can talk about with me?

I was approached a number of years ago by an author I met at a lecture on crime writing and he asked me if I could read his WIP and check it with regards to the accuracy of the police procedurals. I have been doing it ever since for a small number of authors. It’s not a paid situation but I do enjoy helping fellow authors with their books and reading their stories.

I think police procedures can be quite complex and it is important for them to be absolutely correct, as there will always be somebody who will be critical or find fault. I only advise authors who make contact but I have two or three regulars, one being Nick Louth of the Body Found series. I’m only too pleased to be of help.

What do you read yourself and how does this influence your books?

I mainly read true crime, terrorism and books on crime such as Robert Whiting Tokyo Underworld (having spent two months there following the fraud money) books on drugs dealers and investigation anything true crime orientated. Obviously I also read the crime fiction books author send me to check out procedural issues. I have found on occasions that the truth can actually be stranger than fiction. If I wrote some of my experiences down people wouldn’t believe them!

What does the future have in store for you as a writer? Any upcoming projects you would be happy to share with me?

Having fulfilled my promise to write A Cruel Deception I have been challenged light-heartedly to write a crime thriller, which I have nearly completed. It also contains details of some M.Os of actual cases that I have been involved with which will serve for a good purpose to keep the reader thinking!   After that I have two more true crime books to write outlining certain murders I have investigated, one being a serial killer and a drugs investigation that resulted in a murder and a contract killing. I think that’s enough for now!

In your work as an advisor to other writers, do you have any big projects coming up you’re happy to discuss?

No really big projects, but I have been contacted by a film company that has shown an interest in A Cruel Deception, let’s see where that goes!

Anything you would like to add.

Corny as it seems I joined the police to help people and solve things. After having dealings with a fraudster I encountered whilst working in the hotel industry, I was interviewed by the CID. I thought, “I could do that”

I have taken great pleasure in investigating serious offences and putting people where they belong but I must add that it has not been hassle free over the years- but it has been worth it!

Thanks for the invite. I shall keep plodding on as they say!

A big thank you to Kim for taking the time to answer my questions!

New Cambridge Murder Mystery Ready To Preorder

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Following on from my interview with Charlot King, I’m pleased to announce that she’s got a new book coming out soon called A Christmas Mystery. 

I’m a recent convert to festive themed books, so I’m very excited for this upcoming novel, which is the forth in her Cambridge Murder Mysteries series.

In the latest instalment in the series, protagonist Professor Elizabeth Green, a professor of poisons, attempts to solve murders before everyone opens their presents on Christmas Day. As her peers are found dead in the College, the professor has her hands full trying to uncover the truth.

The new book will be available in Heffers Bookshop, Cambridge, this Christmas, joining Charlot’s other three books, Poison, Cursed and Blood Moon. You can preorder it on Amazon HERE.