A Nest of Spies

Yesterday, A Nest Of Spies (Justinia Wright Private Investigator Mysteries, Book 5) went on pre-pub sale.

In this new mystery, Tina meets some old friends, we learn a bit more about her mysterious past, and are with her as she fends off the FBI and the Patriot Act. Pick up a copy for just 99¢!

I decided to collect books 0 through 4 into an omnibus edition: Justinia Wright Private Investigator Mysteries Omnibus Edition. At $7.99, it’s 60% off the individual volume retail. If you haven’t met Miss Wright, this is a good time to do so!

The traditional mystery is my cup of tea, particularly the private eye mystery. I don’t read mysteries for the puzzle. That sounds odd, doesn’t it? As with all the fiction I read, I read for the characters. I am more interested in how the sleuth reacts to the problem than in looking for the clues to solve the case ahead of the detective.

They’re also somewhat slower paced. I don’t particularly care for thrillers. There’s too much frenetic activity in them for my liking.

After the third Quiller novel, I stopped reading. They were all same and the situations Quiller found himself in and how he got out of them stretched my sense of credulity to the breaking point.

The same with Jack Reacher. I read the first two books and my reaction was meh. Lots of action kept me turning pages, but in the end I didn’t care for, nor even much liked, Jack Reacher. He was too perfect and pretty much made of cardboard.

Lee Child created Reacher to be that person who gives all the playground bullies the thrashing they deserve and don’t often get. Unfortunately, for me, he does so too perfectly and has such a bland persona I don’t care about him.

On the other hand, I love reading Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe. Eccentric to a fault, Wolfe is nevertheless likable. And wisecracking Archie Goodwin? How can you not like him? The banter between Wolfe and Goodwin truly spices things up in a way no thriller can touch.

If you like a solid traditional private eye mystery, take a look at Justinia Wright. The pacing isn’t frenetic, but there are plenty of thrills and spills. Along with eccentricities, there’s wit, wisecracking humor, and good old sibling rivalry.

Comments are always welcome and, until next time, happy reading!

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Let’s Sample a Murder!

Next week I’ll publish The Conspiracy Game, the 4th book in the Justinia Wright, PI series.

Back in 1982, when I read Raleigh Bond’s story “Meet Athalia Goode”, the editor of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine made the complaint there weren’t enough female detectives. Which, at the time, was very true. Other than Miss Marple and a Sharon McCone mystery, the only other female sleuths were out of print Victorians.

However, 1982 was a seminal year. For it saw the appearance of the second Sharon McCone mystery and the introduction of Kinsey Milhone and V. I. Warshawski. Since then, there has been an explosion of female sleuths to the point where they now seem to dominate the field.

Justinia Wright was born in 1982, in the hopes she’d be my claim to fame. Unfortunately another seven years would pass before her first adventure, Festival of Death, was committed to paper. And in so doing came the realization my fiction writing skills were not yet up to the task.

Another twenty-five years would pass before I’d re-write and much improve Festival of Death. Now there are three novels, three novellas, and five short stories chronicling her adventures.

I hope the two initial chapters from The Conspiracy Game wet your appetite to read more of the stories of my favorite characters: Justinia and Harry Wright. Enjoy the sample!

The Conspiracy Game

The Conspiracy Game1 online-copy

1
She’s Not Here

Friday Night into Saturday Morning
September 19th to 20th

Cut a flatworm in half and you get two flatworms. Unfortunately, private investigation agencies aren’t flatworms. Take the best detective out of the agency and you’re left with an agency that doesn’t have its best detective.

Which helps explain why Bea, my wife and assistant, was at home in the office holding down the fort, while Ed Hafner and I were sitting in my car waiting for a man by the name of Darren Clay to emerge from the bar we’d tracked him to. I was getting paid all of $475 to find the guy and serve him the summons. And because Ed was sitting next to me, I wouldn’t get to keep all of it.

Ed is one of the three freelancers Tina hired when she needed extra hands, feet, ears, and eyes. Only Tina didn’t hire him. I did. Harry Wright, the guy now running Wright Investigations.

“Any idea when she’s coming back?” Ed took a bite out of his burger. The “she” he was referring to was Tina, my sister, and the Justinia Wright behind Wright Investigations.

“No. I don’t even know where the hell she is, Ed.”

“I don’t mean to pry, but that must’ve been one helluva big fight she and Lieutenant Swenson had.”

“It was big. In fact, it was gargantuan.”

Tina and Cal Swenson have been on and off lovers since before I came to live and work with her, some half-dozen years ago. Through it all, they remained friends. However, this time was different. Not only did Cal read her the riot act for withholding evidence and obstructing justice, he threatened to yank her license, and told her he was sleeping with his partner and wouldn’t be coming back to live with her. Couple the threat and the revelation with the fact Tina pulled a gun on him and, yeah, it was very much one helluva big fight.

Four days later, Tina packed a suitcase and left. Not one word as to where she was going or what she’d be doing. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Just said, “goodbye”, and that she’d be in touch. And keep in touch she did, up until six weeks ago. A weekly text message saying she was fine and then, “I’ll be out of touch for awhile. Always remember, I love you, Harry. Bea, too.” And that was it. Now nothing and I’m worried sick about her.

Bea and I have done what we can to keep the home fires burning. We’ve fed her cats. We’ve kept the agency open taking whatever work comes our way. It’s not a lot, though. Without Tina, Wright Investigations is just one among many. The work, such as it is, does keep Bea and me in practice. We’ve also learned shorthand. Just in case. One can’t always use a digital recorder and being able to take down a conversation in shorthand seemed to me to have its advantages.

Ed was shaking his big head. “Yeah, that’s too bad. Me and the missus, we have us a doozy every now and then. But we always work it out. Got the kids, ya know?”

“Kids make a difference.”

“They sure do. Makes ya think about something other than yourself.”

Our quarry emerged from the bar. “Okay, Ed, here we go.”

We got out of the car and made for the intended recipient of the summons I had in my hand. He was preoccupied with the hotty on his arm. Ed and I moved in. He got behind the couple and I positioned myself in front.

“Darren Clay?” I asked.

“Who wants to know?”

“I do. I have something for you, if you’re Darren Clay.”

“Get the hell outta my face.”

He took a swing at me and I got out of the way just in time.

Ed grabbed him and the hotty started screaming. I turned to her and she took off running back to the bar. A crowd was beginning to gather. Ed had Clay in a half-nelson. I shoved the papers into Clay’s jacket pocket, told him he was served, and headed for my car. Ed let him go and the clown ran up behind me, pushed me down, and smacked my left cheek with his fist when I started to get up. That was before Ed caught up and koshed him a good one. Clay dropped to the pavement like a sack of groceries.

A guy from the crowd charged Ed and got backhanded by Ed’s sap. He too lay crumpled on the ground.

A siren was blaring and a cop car pulled into the bar’s parking lot, screeching to a halt. The crowd vanished at the same time an amplified voice told everyone to freeze.

“Aw, hell,” Ed muttered.

We froze and two officers got out, guns drawn. They got within ten feet of us when one of them said, “Harry Wright, is that you?”

I recognized the voice and face. “Hi, Josh. Yeah, it’s me.”

“What the hell’s going on?” Josh motioned to his partner and they holstered their weapons.

“Just serving a summons to this fellow.” I pointed to Clay. “He didn’t want to be served. Took a swing at me, I served him, then he pushed me down and punched me. Ed, here, incapacitated him.”

“And that guy?” Josh point to the other fellow, who was now picking himself up off the pavement.

“He attacked Ed and Ed defended himself.”

“Ed work for you?” Josh asked.

“Yes.”

Josh turned to his partner. “They’re okay, Seth. I know Harry. Helped stop my daughter from being kidnapped four years ago.”

Clay was getting up. “I want to press charges. They attacked me.”

Josh turned to Clay. “Were you served a summons?”

“It’s in his coat pocket,” I volunteered.

“What’s the summons for?” Josh asked.

“Domestic violence,” I answered.

“Shit.” Josh’s tone of voice and the look on his face were not at all friendly. “Get the hell outta here before I beat the crap out of you myself.”

Clay spat. “Cops. Mofo bastards.”

“Get the hell outta here and get out fast.” Josh’s voice was quiet, but there was plenty of emotion in it and not the kind indicating he wanted to be best friends.

Clay and the other fellow left.

Josh turned to me. “Nothing to worry about, Harry. Go home and get some ice on that shiner.”

“Thanks, Josh.”

We shook hands.

Ed and I got into my Focus. I started it up, put it in drive, and began the trip to Ed’s place to drop him off.

“So you rescued his daughter?” Ed asked.

“Stinky, actually. I was there, but Stinky’s the one who talked the guy into letting her go.”

“Yeah, that’ll earn ya some points. Sure miss Stinky. Wasn’t much to look at. Sure did get results, though.”

“That he did. Our lucky night Josh answered the call.”

“Yeah. Should buy a lottery ticket.”

“Maybe two.”

“Yeah. Maybe two.”

***

The time was twelve after two when I walked through the back door. The lights were on, which meant Bea was waiting for me. Buddy, her Affenpinscher, greeted me, tail wagging. I scratched behind his ears and walked on in to the living room, where I found my honey lying on the couch with Isis, Tina’s Sphinx cat, cuddled next to her, both sound asleep. I leaned down and kissed her.

“Hi, Hon, I’m home. Let’s go to bed.”

Her eyes fluttered open. “Hi, Harry.” She reached up to touch my face. “Oh, my God! Harry, you’re hurt! Let me get ice.” She got off the couch. “Lie down.”

“Bea—”

“Lie down. I’m taking care of my man.”

I couldn’t help but smile. “Okay, Buttercup.”

Into the kitchen she went and Isis was relegated to the floor where she was joined by Prudy, Tina’s Maine Coon, Manley, Tina’s Manx, and Buddy. The critters sat in a row looking at me to see what all the fuss was about. In a minute Bea came back with an ice bag and towel. She put the ice on my face and I held it there.

“Get the Arnica from the medicine cabinet, would you please? It’ll take care of the bruising or at least lessen it.”

“Okay.” And off she went. Soon my little Bea was back with the medicine and a spoon. She sat next to me on the couch. At five-three and not even a hundred pounds, she doesn’t take up much room. I put a couple tablets into my mouth and let them dissolve under my tongue.

“Speaking of ‘Buttercup’,” Bea said, “Cal stopped by earlier.”

“He did? What did he want?”

“He wanted to see Tina. I told him she wasn’t home and I didn’t know when she’d be back. He seemed at a loss for words, so I invited him in. He then asked if she’d be available tomorrow.

“I said, ‘I don’t think so, Cal. She’s not here.’

“He said, ‘Look, Bea, I know you’re—’

“And I said, ‘Honest, Cal, she’s not here. Hasn’t been for months.’

“When I said that he mouthed the word ‘months’ and sat on the deacon’s bench. I said, ‘Yeah. She’s been gone for like six months, I think.’

“He was like in shock and just sat there for awhile. I sat next to him. I held his hand. I think he needed it.”

“Probably.”

“Then he asked if she was seeing someone and I told him I didn’t know because we haven’t heard from her in like six weeks. He turned his head and looked at me and said, ‘Really?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ He looked down at his hands and put the hand I wasn’t holding over mine.

“He was quiet for quite awhile, finally he said, ‘I’ve really messed this up. Nikki and I aren’t seeing each other anymore. She’s even gone back to Vice and uh, I… Aw, shit, Bea. I love Tina and I really screwed things up royal.’

“I said, ‘You were pretty shitty to her, Cal, and hurt her really bad.’

“His voice was very soft. I almost didn’t catch it. He said, ‘I know.’

“Then he got kind of official and said, ‘You haven’t heard from her in six weeks? Have you notified anyone?’

“I said, ‘Cal, who can we notify? We don’t have any idea where she is.’

“He stood and said, ‘I’ll see what I can find out. I’ll let you know.’

“We said goodbye to each other and he left.”

“Interesting, hon. It might be a case of too little too late. Tina isn’t going to forget what he did and to be honest I can’t blame her.”

“I know, Harry. That’s what’s so sad. I thought I messed up relationships. Those two… They take the cake. They’re crazy in love with each other and constantly blow it up.”

“Yes, they do. It’s pretty bizarre if you ask me.”

“It is. Let me see your face.”

I took away the ice and she leaned down and kissed the bruise.

“That’s to make the owie go away.”

She moved to my lips and kissed them. I put my arms around her and kissed her back. The kiss deepened and when our lips parted, she murmured, “I love you, Harry.”

I whispered back, “I love you, Beatrice.”

She giggled. “That’s a mouthful.”

“It is.”

“Here. Let me fill your mouth with something else.” She kissed me, filling my mouth with her probing tongue. She started to withdraw and I sucked it in, held it, then let go.

She sat up and took off her shirt and I lightly ran my fingers across her bare flat chest. Her little nipples were erect and hard. I raised my head and kissed each one.

“Take me to bed, Harry.” She stood.

I got off the couch, scooped her up in my arms, and climbed the stairs to our room, kissing her all the way. Then, in our bed, we loved each other for a long, long time.

***

Bea is the most passionate person I know. In our lovemaking it is no holds barred with her. And to think she was so insecure when I first met her. All she needed was someone to accept her and love her for who she is. When I did, she burst into bloom. She’s become a confident woman and doesn’t take much crap from anyone.

Before she came into my life, things were okay. Now? Without her, life would be a great big black hole.

Tina and Cal are the same really. They love each other and are good together. However, each one is afraid of something and, whatever it is, it tears apart two people who should be together and too often aren’t.

2
Liquid Night

Early Sunday Morning
September 21st

The alarm went off at six. Early for a Sunday morning, I know, but Bea and I were working on a case. We needed to be at Summer Tollefson’s townhouse to photograph dew on Dale Arneson’s car, as well as the “V” I’d marked with permanent marker on the rear passenger-side tire. All this to prove Dale was violating his separation agreement with his soon to be ex-wife, Judith. She was of the opinion Dale’s girlfriend, Summer, was a bad influence on little Jimmy Arneson. Therefore, when Dale had weekend visitation, there was no Summer. At least that was the agreement.

In actuality, in Dale’s world there was nothing but Summer. And this was the second weekend we’d caught Dale, Summer, and little Jimmy spending, hopefully, for their sake, quality time together. Two more weekends of photographing the separation agreement violation and we’ll have earned our three grand and Judith will have gotten her proof to ball-bust the man who once was the love of her life.

I parked the car on the street. The wind was gusty and the temp was in the mid-fifties with an overcast sky. Probably no dew to photograph. A few people were out and about. Joggers, walkers, a cyclist. A walker waved and said, “Good morning”. I waved back.

With camera in hand, I walked up the drive which separated the two sets of quad homes. Dale Arneson’s car was in the same spot where it was last night when I’d taken a picture of it with the house number. A look at the “V” indicated the vehicle hadn’t moved. I took pictures of the “V”, of the car and house number, and that’s when I realized someone was in the car.

“Great, Harry,” I said to myself. “You’re slipping up in your old age.”

How long had the person been there? Why hadn’t he or she started the car? And why hadn’t I noticed. Too doggone eager to take the pictures and skedaddle on back home. I took a closer look. The person was a man sitting behind the wheel. And the man was Dale Arneson. He wasn’t moving. He didn’t see me, even though his eyes were wide open. My guess as to why he was’t moving and didn’t see me was that it had something to do with the fact the front of his shirt was very wet with what looked like blood.

***

Lieutenant Cal Swenson of Minneapolis Homicide, the same Cal Swenson who broke my sister’s heart, had finished taking Bea’s and my statements, told us he was working on trying to locate Tina, and said we were free to go. And go we did.

On the way back to home, sweet home, I decided to let the police break the news to our client that her husband was dead and her son, along with her husband’s girlfriend, was missing. The information wasn’t something I wanted to give Judith Arneson at eight o’clock on a Sunday morning. Besides, I was just a wee bit pissed someone had stiffed us out of fifteen hundred bucks and felt my tax dollars needed to do some work. So let the Minneapolis police department tell Judith her kid’s missing.

When we arrived at the little mansion on West Franklin, which we call home, there was a strange car parked at the curb and end of the walk to the front door. Bea stopped and I got out of her little Fiat. While she parked in the garage, I walked all around the machine that was a chunk of solidified liquid night. Bea joined me.

“What is it, Harry?”

“At first guess, I’d say it’s a car.”

She hit my arm. “Of course it’s a car, silly. What kind of car?”

“An expensive one, is my guess.”

“Like the Maserati I gave you, which you never drive?”

“Yeah. Kind of. Only I have a feeling this machine would make the price tag on the Maserati look like chump change.”

I looked at the symbol but it didn’t conjure up any automakers I was familiar with. My car’s a Ford. Yes, Bea gave me the late Alicia Harris’ Maserati. The late Alicia being Bea’s former hife, which is a Tina-ism for the spouse in a same sex marriage. And Bea is right. I never drive the thing. Rarely drive it is probably more accurate. Mostly because where I’m often required to go it’s risky to drive a junker, let alone a car costing an eighth of a million bucks. Besides, I’m a Ford guy and I like my Focus wagon. I do have to say one thing, though: in looking at the vehicle before me, no one at Ford could even dream of something like this. The machine parked at the curb was a creation of true exotic beauty.

The piece of sculpted midnight was unoccupied. I shrugged, took a look up and down the street, and concluded the car probably belonged to someone visiting one of our neighbors and the person was just rude enough to park the thing in front of our walk.

“Come on, Babe, let’s go in and get some breakfast.”

Holding hands, Bea and I walked up the walk to the house. She had her key ready, unlocked the front door, and I pushed it open. Our noses took in the smell of bacon. Bea and I looked at each other and ran to the kitchen. There was Tina, cooking eggs and bacon. Buddy was sitting at her feet hoping for a handout, along with all three of her cats.

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Minneapolis – Fun City

There is just about everything available for the Minneapolitan and the visitor to do in Minneapolis and the surrounding area. Which is why ace PI, Justinia Wright, is proud to call Minneapolis her home. And if one wishes to venture further there is the gorgeous North Shore of Lake Superior; Duluth, with its locomotive ride and port city allure; the Amish communities near Harmony; and the very artsy town of Lanesboro, which is on the Root River Trail, an extensive trail system in southeastern Minnesota.

Minneapolis and the metro area, however, have plenty to keep one occupied and never bored. If water is what you want, Minneapolis, the City of Lakes, and Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes, has it. In fact, the Land of 10,000 Lakes has more shoreline than California, Florida, and Hawaii. In Minneapolis alone, there are twenty lakes and wetlands, several of which form the beautiful Chain of Lakes Parkway.

Lake Harriet

800px-Minneapolis-Lake_Harriet-2012

Lake Calhoun

Northwest_View_-_Lake_Calhoun,_Minneapolis,_MN

Lake of the Isles

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There are abundant opportunities for boating, canoeing, swimming, and fishing.

If you like winter activities, there is ice fishing, ice skating, and the ice cycle on Lake Calhoun.

ice-cycle

Minneapolis abounds in greenways for walking and biking and has 129 miles of on-street bikeways and 97 miles of off-street bikeways, with plans to add another 40 miles.

Midtown_Greenway_looking_west

Minneapolis has a lot of winter. If you love winter sports, then the city has much to offer. Such as 20 miles of groomed cross-country ski trails to play on. If downhill skiing is your thing, suburban Bloomington has Hyland Hills ski slope and Wild Mountain is only an hour away in Taylors Falls and Spirit Mountain in Duluth is only two and a half hours away.

To be honest, I think most residents of the Twin Cities really love summer. Perhaps because the season is on the short side. And there is plenty to see and do during the summer.

The Minnesota State Fair is the largest state fair in the country by average daily attendance and the second largest in total attendance. And USA Today named the fair the best in the country in 2015. The state fair runs for 12 days in late August and ends on Labor Day. Attendance in 2015 was over 1.8 million.

Other places to visit are the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum (okay, I cheated with a fall pic)

Three-Mile-Drive-Fall-Portal

the Minnesota Zoo

Three bears cropped

Como Park Zoo and Conservatory

sunken_1

and Minnehaha Falls

Minnehaha_Falls

Believe it or not, Minnesota has a thriving wine industry and wine tastings are a delightful thing to do on a summer day and many wineries are a mere hour drive from Minneapolis. And the wine is really top notch.

Minneapolis boasts over two dozen microbreweries and brew pubs. Eating and drinking has never been so good.

When I moved to Minnesota in 1969, this is what the skyline looked like

Mpls skyline late '60s

The observation deck of the Foshay Tower offered an unparalleled view of the metro area as it was, at 32 stories, the tallest building.

Four years later, the IDS tower was built which at 57 stories and 910 feet is the tallest building in Minneapolis. This what the skyline looked like in 1973.

mpls skyline 1970s

In the past 43 years a building boom has taken place. This is the skyline today.

2008-0712-MPLS-panorama

The view from the Foshay is still nice, but not like it once was.

There is something for everybody in Minneapolis and the surrounding area. I hope you’ve enjoyed the taste of the City of Lakes I’ve offered these past weeks. We’ve only scratched the surface. And perhaps in the future we’ll investigate further.

Next week, we’ll have a preview of the 4th book in the Justinia Wright, PI series: The Conspiracy Game. Where political mayhem comes to Minneapolis.

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Minneapolis – Art City

City Scene

Watercolor by Minneapolis Artist Raihana Dewji

Raihana watercolor-city scene copy 2

Minneapolis and the Twin City area is a hot bed of artist activity. It’s no wonder our famed private eye, Justinia Wright, loves to call Minneapolis home. An accomplished painter in her own right, Tina loves the artistic atmosphere that pervades the city.

Minneapolis boasts two world class art museums. The Walker Art Center is one of the top modern art museums in the county.

Walker art center

The other is the superb Minneapolis Institute of Art, with over 89,000 works of art from around the world.

The New Entrance

MIA-new entrance

The Old Entrance

Minneapolis_Institute_of_Art_oldentrance

Minneapolis is also home to The Museum of Russian Art, which houses a collection of 20th century Russian art that focuses on the Soviet era. In addition to its permanent collection, the museum hosts temporary exhibits with more general connections to the Russian-speaking world.

These museums are fabulous places to while away a lazy afternoon.

The Minneapolis College of Art and Design, which shares acreage that includes the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Children’s Theatre, is consistently rated by The Princeton Review as one of the best Midwestern Colleges, which is a rare honor for a visual arts college. The school has been recognized by I.D. magazine as one of the top ten design schools in the world and the school’s master in fine arts program is rated in the top fifty in the nation. All that in a little Midwestern city college!

The first weekend in August is the Uptown Art Fair. The second largest fair in Minnesota. Only the State Fair is larger. The three day event draws nearly 400,000 visitors to the Uptown neighborhood and upwards of $2 million in art is purchased. It is the place to see local, regional, and even nationally known artists displaying everything from leather goods, superb woodworking, pottery, sculpture, and paintings. For the art lover, those are the three most glorious days of the summer. One can also take in live performances and eat pounds of tasty artery clogging fair food.

Organizations such as the Minnesota Watercolor Society, Outdoor Painters of Minnesota, and the Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association provide artists a means of support, networking, and promotion for their art.

To see a sample of what Minnesota artists are doing today, take a look at these Pinterest boards: Art: Mn & Wisc and mnartists.org.

The art scene is alive and well in Minneapolis. It’s a good place to be an artist. And while Tina only paints perfect copies of other artist’s work, she’d have to agree: Minneapolis is near and dear to the artist’s heart.

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Minneapolis – A City of Music

Minneapolis Skyline and the Stone Arch Bridge

Wayne Moran Photography

Justinia Wright has two great passions in life. They are music and art. And fortunately for her, the Twin Cities Metro Area offers rich experiences in both. Minneapolis boasts the world renown Minnesota Orchestra and St Paul is home to the equally famous St Paul Chamber Orchestra.

The Minnesota Orchestra Performing

musicians_of_the_mn_orchestra_1

In addition, fine regional orchestras can be found in Duluth and Rochester. However the music scene is in truth virtually inexhaustible as there are over two dozen small civic orchestras in addition to many college ensembles.

But Minneapolis doesn’t only have fine orchestras and chamber ensembles, the Minnesota Opera is one of the country’s most imaginative and innovative opera companies. And Philip Brunelle’s choral ensemble, VocalEssence, is one of the nation’s premier choral groups.

VocalEssence Choral Ensemble

vocalessence-ensemble-singers-730x315

A number of well known contemporary composers of serious (“classical”) music live in Minneapolis and the Twin City area, including Libby Larsen and Dominick Argento. The recently late composer Stephen Paulus also made the Twin Cities his home.

Famous pop music artists who started their careers in Minneapolis or grew up in the city include Prince and The Andrews Sisters.

Andrews_sisters2_2466952b

And we can’t forget the many local groups that have a niche following, such as Atmosphere, Brother Ali, and Soul Asylum.

Minnesota is a musical state and the Minneapolis-St Paul Metro Area has something for everybody. In this post I’ve tried to give an idea of the breadth of what the music scene encompasses. Keep in mind, though, I haven’t even scratched the surface.

It’s no wonder Tina gets upset when her brother and sister-in-law talk about leaving Minneapolis when they retire. She can’t imagine any place better.

The Iconic Lake Harriet Bandshell

480-harriet-bandshell

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Minneapolis: Home of Justinia Wright, PI

Later this month The Conspiracy Game, the fourth book in the Justinia Wright, PI series, will be published. And to prepare for the book’s release, I am devoting this month’s blog posts to the city of Minneapolis, where Justinia Wright works and plays.

This week we’ll cover a bit of history and some interesting facts about Minneapolis, the bigger half of the Twin Cities.

In 1819, the US army established Ft Snelling where the Minnesota River joins the Mississippi River. The US federal government wanted to make sure the United States was represented in an area claimed by the British and the French, not to mention the native American tribes actually living there.

The next three decades saw various treaties secure the area for the US and a flood of settlers from the east moved in. On the east side of the Mississippi, at St Anthony Falls, in 1849, a townsite was established and the town called St Anthony.

In 1854, on the west side of the falls, another townsite was platted. Suggested names for this town were Albion, All Saints, Lowell, Brooklyn, Addiseville, and Winona — all were rejected. The town’s first schoolmaster, Charles Hoag, is said to have come up with the name Minnehapolis, which he took from Minnehaha, mni (the Dakota word for water), and polis (the Greek word for city). Hoag noted the “h” in Minnehapolis was silent. The townsfolk voted and accepted Hoag’s name, minus the silent “h”.

The territorial legislature, in 1856, officially recognized Minneapolis as a town and in 1867 the town was incorporated as a city.

The first industry, making use of St Anthony Falls to generate power, was lumber and from 1848 to 1887, Minneapolis was the lumber capitol of the US. But it wasn’t lumber that put the city on the world’s radar, it was flour milling. From 1880 to 1930, Minneapolis was the leading mill city in the US and in 1884 passed Budapest as the world’s leading flour miller — which gave Minneapolis the nickname “Mill City”.

Today, the sawmills and flour mills are long gone and the economy has diversified. For a time, Minneapolis was a banking center and an important rail hub. Finance and rail, along with trucking, are still important parts of the city’s economic portfolio, to which have been added industry, healthcare, computers, and high tech. Five Fortune 500 companies call Minneapolis home.

The Minneapple, as the city is sometimes called, is a diverse city. Certainly not on the order of, say, the Big Apple, but diverse nonetheless. In the span of a mere 60 years the city has gone from 98 1/2% German and Scandinavian heritage to over 1/3 of the population being being comprised of a variety of ethnicities. Minneapolis has, for example, the largest Somali community in North America and has hundreds of Somali owned businesses. There are large Asian, Hispanic, and African-American communities as well. The first Muslim elected to the US Congress was African-American lawyer Keith Ellison, representing Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District.

The cultural scene in Minneapolis is alive and well with many artists calling the city home. There are numerous art museums and galleries, theaters and performing groups, orchestras, and musicians in the city. Minneapolis is ranked the third most literate city in the US.

In But Jesus Never Wept (Justinia Wright, PI #3), Tina’s brother, Harry, asks her why she moved from San Francisco to Minneapolis.

Tina put down her book. “What’s wrong with Minneapolis?”

“Too damn cold here.”

“It does get cold. It also gets hot and muggy in the summer and all the lakes are breeding grounds for a zillion mosquitoes. I didn’t come here because of the weather. Every place has its problems. I came here because it is the Midwest and we grew up in the Midwest. I came here because I liked the multi-cultural nature of what is in essence a small city. I have what I grew up with and I have something of what I liked about San Francisco. Minneapolis and St Paul have a little bit of everything. And I like that. They are conservative and liberal all at the same time.”

Minneapolis and her twin, St Paul, do indeed have a little bit of everything. And in the coming weeks we’ll explore more of what makes the City of Lakes a wonderful place to call home.

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Just the Facts, Ma’am

“Ladies and gentlemen, the story you are about to see is true. The names have been changed to protect the innocent.”

Those of us old enough to remember the original Dragnet TV police procedural show from the ‘50s will remember Sgt Joe Friday’s “All we know are the facts, ma’am.”

Facts, of course, are important to the plot of any good mystery. Factual integrity is also essential to any good story. As a reader, nothing yanks me out of a story faster than the author not knowing his or her facts. And in this day and age of easy research on the internet, there is no excuse on the part of the author for him or her to be guilty of gross factual errors.

Recently, a friend was telling me of a book she read that had 13 5-star reviews on Amazon. Aside from the fact the author broke most of the rules of good writing, the author (who shall remain nameless, as also the title of the book, to protect, in this case, the guilty) failed to do adequate research.

Now one would think 13 5-star reviews would indicate the book was going to be a fabulous read. Unfortunately, not so. Which goes to show how flawed the review system is on Amazon (and probably other vendors, as well). In spite of Amazon’s efforts, writers can still scam the system. Unless, of course, those 13 reviewers have such a low quality threshold they wouldn’t know what a well-written story was even if it jumped up and kissed them.

So what did the writer do, aside from the mediocre writing, that got my friend up in arms? Lousy research on Tylenol poisoning and hospital procedures regarding a person who’s attempted suicide. My friend, by the way, happens to be a therapist and knows something of procedures regarding attempted suicide.

A mere half-hour research, the old 5-click Google, gave me more information than I could possibly use, including case studies, on severe Tylenol poisoning. The result? Given the amount of Tylenol our ignominious author had the main character take, that character most likely would have died in a few days and not left the hospital the next day, all fine and dandy, as the author wrote.

But that’s where the second error comes in. A person suspected of attempted suicide, once in the hospital, would not be released the next day, but would be put on a 72-hour hold for observation and talks with mental health staff to prevent a repeat attempt. The main character in the book would not have been released the next day, even if okay, because the hospital wouldn’t want to be sued should the person make another attempt and succeed.

As a reader, such egregious errors on the part of an author make me stop reading and toss the book in the trash can. And I would not read another book by the author. There are, after all, a plethora of good books available to read and time is short.

In this day and age, conducting research has never been easier. The internet provides everyone with a surfeit of information on a wide variety of topics. Back in the late ‘80s when I wrote the initial version of Festival of Death, the first book in my Justinia Wright mystery series, any research I needed to do I had to go to my local library. If they didn’t have what I needed, the material had to be gotten through interlibrary loan. A very time consuming process and some of the information, such as that on the caves under Minneapolis, wasn’t even available.

When I rewrote the book two years ago, I never left the house. More information than I could possibly use on the Aztecs was found on the internet. Pictures, dozens of them, of the caves under Minneapolis and St Paul have been posted on the internet. The cave scenes, which previously had to largely be imagined, I was able to base on reality and thus minimize the use of creative license.

There is no reason for a writer not to get the facts straight. No reason other than laziness, that is.

My impression is today’s writer, this is especially true of indie writers, is in such a hurry to get his or her book published, and thereby get rich quick, he or she isn’t taking the time to edit, proof, and properly research the book. Such a practice is inexcusable. We readers deserve better treatment.

For myself, as a reader, because I’ve been burned once too often by shoddy editing and proofing and even worse by the often poor writing, I no longer buy indie books sight unseen. I at least read the “look inside” sample on Amazon or download a free sample. If the book passes muster on the sample read, then I will plunk down my hard earned cash. (As an aside, I no longer buy new traditionally published books because the cost is prohibitive. I only buy them used. And they too have too many errors for the cost. Gone are the days of the line editor, it seems.)

As a reader, I plead with writers to be quality conscience. Know how to tell a good story. If you need help, get it. If you can’t afford an editor, find a few good friends or relatives who know English grammar to read through your text. Read aloud a sample of one of your favorite authors and then read your text aloud. Does your text flow as smoothly as your favorite author’s does? Reading aloud is the quickest way to find clunky sentences and those which make no sense.

Writers, be proud of your work. Take the time to write well and accurately. Impress your readers and you’ll have a loyal following for life and maybe, just maybe, for the lives of your children and grandchildren. A legacy that lives long after you do.

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Christmas in Minneapolis

Minneapolis, Minnesota is home to Justinia and Harry Wright, sister and brother private detective team. It also happens to be my home.

Minnesnowtans are well acquainted with winter. The cold, the ice, the snow. The traffic jams and snow-clogged streets. Ever try parking at the curb-side meter when the snow is three feet high and the curb is nowhere in sight?

While many of us prefer to worship at the feet of Helios, there are those intrepid sons and daughters of the original settlers in whose veins the blood of ancient Norsemen flows. And they love the winter. Positively love it. Skiing, snowboarding, sledding, and snow angels.

However, I don’t think I’d be far off if I said everyone loves the Yule season. Therefore, in the spirit of the Yuletide, below are pictures of downtown Minneapolis from the 1920s to the present. Happy Holidays!

mpls 1920s

1945 mpls copy

nicolet mall 1960s

The picture below is how I remember Nicollet Mall looked when I first moved to Minnesota. Nicollet Mall in the ’70s.

mpls1970spowers-christmas-tree copy

Screen-Shot-2013-12-02-at-11.31.39-AM

metrotransitbus

Carl Nesjar Ice Sculpture 2014 xmas

20081221-0002

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Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries

Having just published the third book in my Justinia Wright, PI series and two short stories which take us back to a time before the series begins, I’ve had mysteries on my mind. And of late, I’ve been watching Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.

I find the showed delightful. The characters are superbly drawn. They have history. They have issues. They are like real people. The mystery, on the other hand, is usually light and often flawed. On one episode, Miss Fisher gets an important clue by looking at a typewriter ribbon – a carbon typewriter ribbon. Oh, did I mention the era is the 1920s? Now that is what I call I gaping plot hole. But in spite of such faux pas, I thoroughly enjoy the show because the characters are so very lifelike. And the show is really about the characters.

For me the best stories are not plot-driven, but character-driven. I don’t give two hoots for the plot. In my mind, the plot is only there because the characters do something. Where’s the plot in Waiting For Godot? The story seems to get along quite nicely without one. Or how about The Remains Of The Day? The plot, such as it is, is merely the vehicle for us to listen to the ruminations of Stevens. Or what about The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress? Lots of plot there and yet the plot is merely the vehicle for Heinlein to present his picture of a libertarian utopia. In that sense, any plot could have worked. The plot in and of itself is non-essential. It’s the characters acting (giving us a plot) that is the real story.

Another example is Raw Head by Ben Willoughby. Willoughby creates two characters, has them do their thing, and the result is a strongly character driven story. Just as Ray Bradbury said it should be.

Christine by Stephen King, in my opinion, is a case of where the plot actually gets in the way of the story. And I think it was probably due to his having to write his book to a certain length for the publisher. But whatever the reason, two-thirds of the way through the book the story was told and yet King went on having the car create more and more senseless havoc, gore, and mayhem. For me, the extended and senseless plot ruined the book. Plot to my mind is highly overrated. Follow the Bradbury formula and your story will be told. After all, that is the real point of the plot. To tell a story. And your characters will do that for you.

So if the writers of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries leave gaping plot holes, why bother watching? I think there are lots of reasons. Namely, the characters. Miss Fisher, a complex rich socialite with the past. Her companion, doc, who is in some ways miss fishers polar opposite. Inspector Jack Robinson, I somewhat stated police detective who gradually appreciates Mrs. Fisher’s talents. Constable Collins, who provides us with comic relief. And the list goes on.

Of course, this setting also contributes to the charm of the series: Melbourne in the 1920s. It is the perfect stage for larger than life liberated woman to walk apart.

There’s lots to like in Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. Do give the show a try.

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Favorites

Agatha Christie came to loathe Poirot and finally killed him off. Doyle grew to hate Sherlock Holmes, killed him off, brought him back to life, and finally retired him.

Personally, I find it difficult to hate my children. Perhaps, though, they haven’t been with me long enough. I haven’t chronicled adventure after adventure to the point where I’m sick of the chronicling. To the point where I feel them to be too intrusive or where they’ve moved in and taken over. Hopefully, though, that day of loathing will never come.

However, even though parents aren’t supposed to have favorites amongst their children, I admit that I do. And the two who are my favorites have lived in my imagination the longest. They are Justinia and Harry Wright. That intrepid sister and brother team of private investigators doing their best to make sure the most exciting thing in Minneapolis and St. Paul is vanilla ice cream.

Why are Tina and Harry my favorites? I’m not sure I can say exactly. For I am certainly very fond of Lady Dru Drummond. My spunky, very modern journalist, who knows what she wants and does her best to get it. I very much like her 1950s alternative history world, with all those retro-futuristic gadgets and, of course, airships.

And what about Bill Arthur? My anti-hero turned superhero (well, almost) of The Rocheport Saga, who, after the apocalypse, does his best to stop at least a portion of humankind from descending into a new dark ages. Bill is very likable. He’s unassuming, makes mistakes and owns up to them, is devoted to his adopted and natural family. He is human, all too human. An ordinary guy in very unordinary circumstances. I like Bill and his world very much.

One of my newest children is Rand Hart. Rand Hart and the Pajama Putsch was an enjoyable tale for me to write and I enjoyed reading it as well. Who can’t love this slightly roguish professional gambler with the touch of ennui searching for the antidote to his loneliness? And there be airships here, too.

Or George? Poor George, in Do One Thing For Me, slowly realizing he’s descending into old age dementia, beset by the unending grief over the death of his wife and taunted by the promise Beth offers him. Or is Beth just a figure of his dementia?

I love all my children. I just love Tina and Harry more. Is it because I enjoy most writing up their adventures? Recording the sibling banter between them? Dreaming of what it would be like to live their somewhat dreamy lifestyle or to enjoy one of Harry’s fabulous meals? Perhaps.

Tina grew out Raleigh Bond’s Athalia Goode, with a dollop of my sister, and pinches of Modesty Blaise, Lara Croft, Nero Wolfe, and a sprinkle of myself to round out her creation. Harry is the faithful Watson and wise-cracking Archie Goodwin all rolled into one, with perhaps too much of myself included for good or bad measure.

Perhaps that’s it. I’m personally invested in these characters. There’s something of me in them that isn’t in my other children. Maybe that’s the reason that drives me on to write about their lives and their campaign to fight crime.

Book 3 in the Justinia Wright series, But Jesus Never Wept, should be out in time for your Christmas shopping pleasure. And if the Muse is kind I may also have a freebie story available for Christmas.

I’m 15,000 words into Book 4 and have 645 words written to start Book 5, which follows Book 4 immediately in the Justinia Wright timeline. Both should make their appearance in 2016.

Now that I’ve let the cat out of the bag, I’m hoping Bill, Dru, and Rand don’t get too sulky about it. After all, I do love them. They, too, are my children. Tina and Harry, though, are my firstborn. Hm. I’m a firstborn…

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