Sunday, August 1, 2010

I Blame Nancy Drew by Dean James

Dean James, a seventh-generation Mississippi long transplanted to Texas, is the author of fifteen mystery novels under his own name and three pseudonyms, Jimmie Ruth Evans, Honor Hartman, and Miranda James.

He has also co-authored or co-edited six works of mystery non-fiction, co-edited a mystery story anthology, and published short stories in anthologies like _Delta Blues_ and the forthcoming _Lone Star Noir_. Currently he is a librarian in the Texas Medical Center.

Writing as Miranda James, he debuts the new "Cat in the Stacks" series which features a widowed librarian, Charlie Harris, and his Maine coon cat Diesel.

First in the series is _Murder Past Due_ (Berkley Prime Crime; $7.99), published August 3, 2010.


I Blame Nancy Drew
by Dean James

Nancy Drew is responsible for my life of crime. I must have been ten or eleven when I picked up a cousin’s copy of The Secret of Shadow Ranch and started reading. Up till then my staple fare from my public library’s collection was either mythology or biography (written especially for young readers – anyone besides me remember Augusta Stevenson?). But once I joined Nancy, Bess, and George on the hunt for that mysterious ghost horse, I never looked back. Nancy is still perhaps my all-time favorite mystery character -- followed closely by Albert Campion, Miss Jane Marple, and Amelia Peabody.

Though I’m eclectic when it comes to reading mysteries, when writing them I prefer the amateur detective. I have no desire to be a cop, and I’m not sure I really want to learn enough about police procedure to write a police procedural. I’d rather face the situation from the amateur point of view.

Critics of this kind of mystery point out that it is highly unrealistic for an amateur detective to solve a murder, let alone solve a long string of them (like Jessica Fletcher, aka the Harbinger of Violent Death and the Woman Most Likely to Get the Door Slammed in Her Face Because Someone’s About to Die). My response to that is, if I want realistic crime-solving, I’ll watch one of those reality cop shows on TV. It’s fiction, right? Where writers make stuff up to entertain readers?

Any writer of amateur detective mysteries relies on what Samuel Taylor Coleridge coined as the “willing suspension of disbelief” way back in 1817. If you can’t suspend disbelief long enough to think that a nosy librarian or a mystery bookseller or a cookie bakery owner might become involved in a murder investigation, then I would politely suggest you find something else to read.

Writers are by nature nosy; we have an avid interest in people and what makes them tick, even if we spend a lot of time alone in a room with a computer or a typewriter or a pad and pen. I therefore don’t have any problem with making my amateur detective nosy enough to become involved in serial murder investigations, all jokes about Jessica Fletcher Syndrome aside.

I read mysteries to escape. Occasionally I want to be thrilled and feel my stomach knot up because of the suspense. But most of the time I want a safer, less stressful escape, into a world where I know order will somehow be restored by the end of the book. It won’t be a perfect order, but it will be close enough - especially compared to what I see on the evening news.

Charlie Harris, the main character in my new “Cat in the Stacks” series is a widower, around fifty, who has moved back to his hometown of Athena, Mississippi after the death of his wife and his aunt. The latter left him her house, and with his two children grown and out of the nest, Charlie decides small town life is more appealing than staying in the big city, Houston. Shortly after the move, he finds a stray kitten in the parking lot of the public library. The kitten is a Maine coon with a rumbling purr, and Charlie names him Diesel. Charlie takes the cat with him almost everywhere, and Diesel soon becomes a familiar site in Athena.

I also made Charlie a librarian (specifically, a cataloger like me) because libraries are such wonderful places and librarians, who are naturally inquisitive, make excellent amateur detectives. Charlie and Diesel make their debut on August 3rd in Murder Past Due (Berkley Prime Crime, $7.99). If you like amateur detectives as much as I do, I hope you’ll give my new series a try.


mybillcrider said...

Charlie Harris, eh? Love that cover!

Mary Welk said...

Charlie Harris couldn't have been named for a certain female amateur sleuth author, could he? Maybe yes?? :)

I just put your new mystery on my TBB (To Be Bought)list. I hope you have much success with the book.

dleisert said...

Added to my TBB list as well. Actually, I have sent a link to Kaye's blog to a group of librarians who I know would be interested. Mysteries, cats, and librarians - gotta be good!

jenny milchman said...

Dean, I think I've seen your name as editor on book covers before, and it's wonderful to hear some of your thoughts "in person"! Nancy is responsible for quite a bit in this world, in just the way that you say. She kindles curiosity and a gentle hunger to solve puzzles.

Dean James said...

Charlie owes his name, in various ways, to my three favorite mystery "C.H.'s" -- Charlaine Harris, Carolyn Haines, and Carolyn Hart. I love their books, and they are all dear friends as well. So Charlie's name is a tribute to them.

Thanks for all the kind words, and for spreading the news about this new series. I really appreciate it!

Patty said...

Sounds like a series to read. I'll be looking for it!

We librarians have to stick together - although I only dabble in cataloging!

Mason Canyon said...

Kaye, thanks for hosting Dean.

Dean, I just recently received your book and am looking forward to reading it. Love the cover. Best of luck.

Thoughts in Progress

Vicki Lane said...

Oh yes, Nancy Drew! I wonder what percentage of mystery writers were hooked on her mysteries? I know I was.

Dean James said...

Thanks, Patty and Mason. I hope you enjoy the book.

Vicki, I think a lot of mystery writers got their start with Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, with some variations, like Judy Bolton and Rick Brant. Those books were so much fun.

Sylvia Dickey Smith said...

I conducted a blogtalk radio interview every week for a year. Murder She Writes was a thirty minute program where I interviewed women (and the occasional man) mystery writer. Without fail, it seemed every woman credited Nancy Drew for getting them interested in writing mystery books. Now, I can add a man to that list! Fun interview!
Best of luck,

Sylvia Dickey Smith

Anonymous said...

I for one have never had a problem with the concept of a small-town librarian being an amateur sleuth. My years in the newspaper business left me with the impression that in many cases, the librarian knew more about what was going on in the town than the local cops. It sounds like BPC has picked another winner. Good luck.

Sheila Beaumont said...

Great post, Dean! I read everything from amateur sleuth & cat mysteries to action thrillers, and I've never had any problem suspending disbelief. I've already preordered "Cat in the Stacks." I've been eagerly awaiting it ever since I first heard about it (and saw that irresistible cover)!

Sheila Beaumont said...

Oops! I meant "Murder Past Due." I do know "Cat in the Stacks" is the name of the series.

Dean James said...

Thanks, Sheila. It's good to hear there are readers willing to enter into the spirit of the book and enjoy it. I hope you'll have fun with the book.

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Added to my TBB list too, Dean - what a terrific post. AND a wonderful cover.

Count me as another huge Nancy Drew fan.

Thanks everyone for stopping by. Dean, I hope you'll come again!

Dean James said...

Kaye: it's been a great pleasure. I'll drop by any time you'll have me. Happy reading, everyone!

Anonymous said...

I totally love the cover - it so much reminds me on your much missed '... to death' series. And being a library worker and cat lover myself I can't wait to read your new book.

Thank you very much for mentioning at Gaywritersreaders that there will be a gay character in the second book and recurring. I am especially looking forward to get to know him, and seeing him in further books. I just love series, you can get to know your protagonists so much better, there are so much possibilities.