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May 03, 2007

Exotic Travels

by Nancy

Have I mentioned that my husband and I are taking a big trip this year? We've been married--gulp--30 years, so we're celebrating.  Hold onto your sunscreen, because he's taking me to . . .


And then we're taking a cruise around Greece.

I am not kidding. I still can't believe it.

My first thought when he came home with the tickets was: Jeff must read Donna Leon!  And THIS ROUGH MAGIC by Mary Stewart. (Set on Corfu! And with Shakespeare! How can a reader go wrong?) And---and--lots of books set in wonderful places we're going to see!  (Quick! I need a recommedation.  Mysteries set in Athens, anyone?)

Mystery novels set in exotic locales is apparently a time-honored tradition among the well-traveled set, but no less highbrow source than The New Yorker magazine recently decided--by way of an article by Clive Jones--that one mystery pretty much has the same plot as all the others, so what sets one crime novel apart from the rest is the location of the action. Have you read Cara Black's series set in Paris? Oo-la-la! And Denise Mina's series in Scotland? Great stuff.

This coming weekend, I'm taking a break from writing the final pages of my manuscript to travel to---well, not Venice, but a mystery convention, the delightful Malice Domestic. It's a chance to meet readers, re-connect with old friends, abase myself before my editor for being late with this manuscript and to sell a few more copies of A CRAZY LITTLE THING CALLED DEATH.  To celebrate the mystery genre with like-minded pals, too.

Lest you think I'm simply running off to sit in a bar and watch the passing parade, you're wrong. I've actually been doing some prep work.

For moderating a Malice panel addressing exactly the subject of exotic settings in mystery novels, I've been reading some books set in wonderful locations. So let me tell you about them:

Can I admit that I'm not a big fan of most paranormal books? Except I ADORE Charlaine's incomparable Sookie, which I thought could not be topped until I started reading her GRAVE series, which is dynamite. I find the relationship between the brother and sister totally compelling.  The undercurrent of tragedy! The yearning!  The hunger!

Anyway, thinking I didn't much care for ghosts, I didn't grab Hope McIntyre's HOW TO SEDUCE A GHOST until my favorite bookseller convinced me to drop it into my shopping basket. At home, I opened the book and discovered this series is about a ghostwriter, not a supernatural being, and it's set in London's Notting Hill neighborhood! What's not to love? This book is terrific! A wonderfully prickly protagonist who lives in a fabulous house in a ritzy place--all brought to life with the detailed authenticity of an author (and former editor) who has clearly walked those not-so-mean streets. Big fun, great stuff!

Author Libby Fischer Hellman is also serving on our Malice panel (which is called "Murder in Paradise: Death Among the Beautiful People") and I think she was at first puzzled about why her work would be included in this discussion. Libby writes about Ellie Foreman, a videographer in Chicago who often works with the wealthy and well-connected. In re-reading AN IMAGE OF DEATH recently, I immediately saw another reason why Libby was included: She's an author who truly steeps her setting into the mystery. This is a series with plots that slam along terrifically, but the author brings a bustling, bristling Chicago to life. If you haven't started this series yet, hop to it.

Okay, I really thought my husband wanted to go to Hawaii instead of Venice.  So I grabbed Deborah Turrell Atkinson's PRIMITIVE SECRETS to get a head start on him. Debby's book gives us Hawaii through the eyes of my favorite kind of amateur sleuth---Storm Kayama, who comes from a rich cultural background. I really enjoyed this insider's view--the other side of a tourist Mecca. Eventually I will go to Hawaii (tax deductible Bouchercon!) and this book has made me eager to see more than the beautiful beaches.

A new author (to me, at least!) is Susan Goodwill, who has written a light and clever mystery called BRIGADOOM, which takes place in a community theater (one of the big loves of my life) in a community on the shores of Lake Michigan. I think Lake Michigan definitely qualifies as a beautiful place. (My brother has his B&B there.) And Susan's mystery is a very fun read.  Big laughs, including a porta-potty on a golf course that---nevermind.  Buy the book.

Up next I have Neil Plakcy's police procedural MAHU. It's set in Honolulu and features a Hawaiian surfer for a detective--more reason for me to sign up early for the Hawaii B-con, right? Neil is contributing the music for our Saturday panel and there's a rumor of chocolate-covered macadamia nuts, so we're truly multi-media.

I'm looking forward to moderating the panel of these well-traveled writers. We've been emailing for weeks, and we've got some good material to talk about. Should be fun as well as informative.

Unfortunately, another of my duties at Malice this weekend was supposed to be the pleasure of interviewing this year's Toastmaster--our own Elaine Viets.  Due to her illness, that's been postponed to another year. But I'm taking this chance to remind you that Elaine's new Dead End Job novel, MURDER WITH RESERVATIONS, has been released this week, and if you buy the book ASAP you'll boost Elaine's spirits greatly.

By the way, if you haven't heard yet, Elaine is out of ICU and into a regular hospital room!  She's enjoying home repair TV shows (and if you know Elaine--hahahahahahahahha!) and racing up and down the physical therapy gym with all the knee replacement golfers. The best news of all--to my way of thinking--is hearing she'd got her sense of humor.

See you at Malice.


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Congrats on the trip, you are one lucky couple. In terms of exotic locale, I highly recommend the Sujatta Massey series, featuring Rei Shimura, most of which takes place in Japan. They are a love letter to a culture, in addition to a really good mystery.

I had the pleasure of going to Charlaine Harris' book signing last night, she is even more delightful in person than on the page, if that is possible.

Wow. Venice and Greece? What a wonderful anniversary present!

Have fun at Malice!

Congratulations! Venice is amazing.

Remind me to hook you up with Jason and Jed - they were in Greece a month or so ago and said it was FABulous. Seriously.

Have a great weekend and see you Monday at the Festival of Mystery.

Thanks for the link to Elaine's book - and remember, if you buy a second copy to donate to a library, Mystery Lovers Bookshop will ship it free to the library of your choice, and will notify Elaine of your kindness.


If I were an author, I'd set my books in the coolest places in the world so I could go there for 'research' purposes. So - Nancy - maybe Mick needs a side trip to Sicily? I'll be happy to chaperone.

Nancy, your blog reminds me of a friend of mine who used to travel extensively for her job. Every time she was slated to travel to a new city, she'd find and read at least one mystery set there. I certainly know that my first trip to London was a long series of "hellos" to places I'd read about in a variety of works of fiction.

Which reminds me -- can anyone recommend one or more good series set in Dublin? I'm hoping to head there next year and need an introduction!

Can't wait to check out some of these books, Nancy -- they sound great. Have fun at Malice, too. If I weren't leaving town for other parts, I'd be there myself. Maybe next year. . .

Hi Nancy -- I'm so jealous! We went to Venice, and then Croatia, on our honeymoon. I have fabulous memories of the food, the canals. It's wonderful . . .

Kerry -- I just read Declan Hughes' "The Wrong Kind of Blood" set in Dublin, and really liked it. It's pretty hardboiled. There's a new one out, I think. Also Bartholomew Gill's mysteries.

Kerry-Haunted Ground and Lake of Sorrows by Erin Hart are set in the bogs of Ireland. Not exactly Dublin, but great books anyway.

Mary Stewart also wrote My Brother Michael, which I think takes place in Greece. Haven't read it for a while, but Stewart has a definite knack for finding those 'off the beaten path' places. Phyllis Whitney is another author who wrote exotic places well. Have great fun at Malice...someday I'll get there. In the meantime, ask Libby Hellman about the anthology she's editing. I believe the title is Chicago Blues. Her Ellie Foreman series is a good one, and she is one of the nicest mystery authors I've met :o)
Not a mystery series but exotic anyway is Barry Eisler's John Rain series...from Japan to Europe and back again.
Glad to hear good news about Elaine. I was wondering how she was doing.
Happy Thursday!
PS. Is Scotland exotic? There's always Hamish MacBeth.

Nancy, your reading list mirrors mine, but MAN, do you read faster. I've just started Charlaine's first Sookie book -- what a riot! And I loved Hope MacIntyer's HOW TO SEDUCE A GHOST too. And Mary Stewart -- my first romantic suspense addiction.

You did say all TLC bloggers and commenters were welcome to come with you on the trip, didn't you?

I don't have any suggestions regarding locales (my recent reading has included a lot of Lisa Scottoline, and all her stories are set in Philadelphia, which has its merits, of course, but is a -2, at best, on the "exotic" scale). But I definitely want to offer a comment so I am included in Nancy and Jeff's gracious invitation to have us all along on their anniversary trip.

I have yet to read Elaine's latest, but I absolutely must, as I spent several summers working as a hotel maid.

"Thiiiis is the night, it's a beeeeautiful night, and they call it Bella Nolte...." (From LADY AND THE TRAMP)

Venice is the most romantic place on earth! Nancy, I am so happy for you, and more than a little jealous.

As mystery writers, of course we all immediately think of *mysteries* set in the locales we plan to visit. But I also love to read historical fiction and non-fiction about places I'm travelling to. I recently read "In the Company of the Courtesan" by Sarah . . . Dunant? Think that's it. Very atmospheric Venice setting, although if you're used to the pacing of crime novels, a bit slow. This belongs in the geek blog, but if I were going to Greece, I'd reread Thucydides' History of the Pelopponesian Wars.

I am sure I am the only one here who must admit with profound embarrassment that I have never read the Pelopponesian War stories. It's going on my reading list, Michele.

I'm sure you're not the only one. That's why it belongs in the geek blog! Truly, fit for a geek.

I was in Venice as a Florida State University grad student during the feast of Saint Mark in July. Great fireworks, it made up for missing the fireworks in U.S.A. I hope you can make it during that time.

Mary McCarthy wrote "Venice Observed" and "Stones of Florence." The writing is a bit flowery for my tastes, but her books provide some great tidbits of information.

When it comes to movies, I recomend both "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" and two James Bond movies, "Moonraker" and something called...."Casino Royale."

Look, people, let's get real.

When the husband wants to take you to Venice and Greece after 30 years, he does not want you to be conversant in the GD Pelopponesian Wars, okay?

Can I get some support here on this, guys?

What you should be doing is figuring out how many matching sets of lingerie you still have, and starting to get more. You will need extras because, you know, nobody wants to do laundry, and well, things sometimes just do not survive the kind of passion that is inspired by the Mediterranean Sea. My people know this.

Seriously, thank heaven I am around.

Speaking as a Guy, although I'm almost afraid to admit this, Margie does indeed have a point....

Margie, you are wise beyond your years.

Movie? The remake of "The Italian Job" with Marky Mark in the Michael Caine role and Donald Sutherland in the more-or-less Noel Coward role.

They had a "misunderstanding" with the authorities and were permitted to film a chase scene through the canals using powerboats. Even had one go into a fruitstand barge. Not the same as the misunderstanding about the dome of the new staduim in Turin in the original, but still....

The authorities said in no uncertain terms that there would never again be another power boat chase scene in Venice.

So in "Casino Royale" they blew up a building. I suspect that was special effects however....

Josh, I watched The Italian Job the day I was preparing for my colonoscopy. If you've ever had one, you know the day before is much, much worse than the actual procedure. So my mental connection with The Italian Job is an explosive bodily function. Just saying.

Okay, Margie, for once I'll take your advice--on the recommendation of the Men of the Blog. Going to inventory my lingerie....

Also, Nancy, check into the cost of a private gondola and the gravitational ramifications of Rolling Rock Beer. (Fucking close to water.)

Sorry - are we not allowed to say fuck?

My pre-ordered copy of Elaines book arrived in the mail just 15 minutes ago. I'm so thrilled to hear she is doing so well and has her humor intact.
Nancy you are SO lucky to have such a romantic husband. WOW! What a wonderful surprise. And how great is it to be together (in this age of throw away marriages) after all these years. You both should be commended. BIG congrats!

In the words of Indiana Jones, "Aah, Venice!"

Nancy, I envy you -- I love Venice! Even if my sister did make me eat at McDonald's TWICE while we were there. But we also found a wonderful pizzeria right next to the Accademia Bridge and our hotel. Mmmmm.

Not a mystery, but you should get Marlena De Blasi's memoir A THOUSAND DAYS IN VENICE, if you haven't read it already. Not only atmospheric, but a real-life love story. It's a great read.

Also, didn't I read somewhere that there's actually a Donna Leon/Commisario Brunetti tour now?

Buona Fortuna, Bella!

Don't get me started on my colon. Aside from things unique to me which I would hope Sarah will not share if she remembers them, I'm a male, so anything that you have ever had, or had done, I have had worse or had done worser. Go-litely or Phosphosoda? One or two enemas? Full or flex? Prep or not?

Associating a Marky Mark movie with a colonoscopy sounds sort of appropos, though.

I'm so very sorry to have introduced the subject of colonoscopies in the same blog as Venice. Let's get back to the Pelopponesian wars, shall we? Or Rolling Rock beer? Or even lingerie?

Can't you buy the lingerie over there? That would be romantic, going shopping for it and then using it (after rinsing it in the sink, of course).

There is absolutely no reason why a woman can't read The Pelopponesian Wars AND have great lingerie. It's not a mutually exclusive thing, believe me. If I hadn't been sick as a dog on the day of Sarah's faboo OCD blog, I would have been writing about my four impeccably organized lingerie drawers!

Nancy wrote: "Going to inventory my lingerie...."

Nancy, you might get more useful feedback were some of the Gentlemen Of The Blog to handle that chore for you. And to go shopping with you.

Margie - ya really do gotta tell deese jamokes ever' little t'ing, don'cha?

I'm incredibly jealous! Venice? Greece? (sigh) I'll be thrilled if I make it to Erie this year.

I'm also jealous about Malice. I can't make it this year, but had a blast last year. Have a great time!

Indeed there's a short US tour for Donna Leon. Thanks to our huge sales of her gorgeous books, she'll be coming to Mystery Lovers on June 18 (Pray there's no sudden death that day at the US Open in Oakmont! Go Tiger!)at 7PM. Tix are available online at www.mysterylovers.com for what promises to be a memorable evening.

Athens? Margaret Doody's Aristotle series and the new Lindsay Davis (She's at the store on May 20). If your ship should sail to Malta, Lyn Hamilton's Malltese Goddess is a must...then read all the others by her to plan future trips!

Safe and happy travel.

Mary Alice

Gentlemen, thank you for your support.

It will be returned to you tenfold, should the opportunity arise.

Very similar in feel - although a little more mystery focused - Helen MacInnes wrote a bunch of novels that take place in Europe - there must be an Athens one. Hmmm - there's Decision at Delphi.

This looks like a dream destination of my foreign travel dreams.


Maybe even our retirement location . . .

Having just return from my first European trip to France, I'm so jealous.

I'm glad to hear that Elaine is doing good. I ordered her book and just waiting for Amazon to deliver it.

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