Unarmed But Dangerous Tour Here Today
“Sisters, sisters. There were never such devoted sisters. Caring. Sharing.” What else but murder? “Sisters in Crime” Donna Andrews, Meredith Cole, Rosemary Harris and Elaine Viets — four of the funniest mystery authors writing today — are converging in North Carolina for their “Unarmed but Dangerous” tour, which they will bring to The Country Bookshop today at 4 p.m.
“We would be happy to host just one of these women,” says Bonnie Johnson, manager of the 57-year-old independent bookshop, “but having four multiple-award-winning authors at one time is almost too good to be true!”
Donna Andrews, from Reston, Va., says she developed a “profound understanding of the criminal mind through her observation of interdepartmental politics” as a corporate communications copywriter for a large financial organization in Washington, D. C. Her first Meg Langslow mystery, “Murder with Peacocks,” won the 1997 Malice Domestic/St. Martin’s Press Best First Traditional Mystery Contest. It went on to win the Agatha, Anthony, Barry, and Romantic Times and the Left Coast Crime Awards for the funniest mystery.
Publishers like themes, she discovered, so birds would be hers. Although she worried she’d be stuck with a formula —“Murder with a Large Ungainly Bird of the Year” — she couldn’t let her “sad addiction” to punning titles end. More award-winning mysteries in the series followed (with more than 2.5 million books in print), including “Crouching Buzzard, Leaping Loon,” “We’ll Always Have Parrots,” “Owls Well that Ends Well,” “No Nest for the Wicket” and “Swan for the Money.” The 12th and newest Meg Langslow mystery, “Stork Raving Mad,” will be published on July 6.
Since her first book was published more than two decades ago, Publishers Weekly says Andrews has developed an “absolute mastery of the comedic mystery, deftly balancing outrageously funny scenes with well-paced suspense.”
Meredith Cole, who lives in Charlottesville, Va., was a director and screenwriter in Manhattan before writing her first Lydia McKenzie mystery, “Posed for Murder,” which won the 2007 Malice Domestic Best First Mystery Contest and was nominated for a 2009 Agatha Award.
“When I wrote my first book, I knew Lydia McKenzie was going to have her own series,” Cole says. Lydia is an artist and photographer struggling to build a career in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. In order to pay her rent and pay for her studio, she works as an administrative assistant to two private investigators.
“There’s nothing like your first book,” Cole says. “You hold it in your hands. You admire it from all angles. You send everyone a photo of the cover. And then, if you’re very lucky, along comes your second.” That book, “Dead in the Water,” was published last month.
“I still feel like a newbie,” Cole adds. “I’m still not particularly wise or cynical. I get excited when someone e-mails me that they love my book. It makes my day.”
Master Gardener Rosemary Harris, who splits her time between Manhattan and Connecticut, refers to herself as a “late bloomer” who started her career as an author after having careers in book retailing, direct marketing and television.
“I started late because I really had no notion to be a writer at all,” she says. “I have no idea where I ever got the arrogance to think I could write a book.”
Her main character, newly single 40-something Master Gardener Paula Holliday, digs up some trouble when she takes on her first professional landscaping assignment.
“It’s the perfect job for an amateur sleuth — she pokes around in other people’s stuff,” Harris says. “But I try not to overwork the digging analogy.”
“Pushing Up Daisies,” the first in her “Dirty Business” mystery series, was published in 2008, the second, “The Big Dirt Nap,” last year, and the third, “Dead Head,” which Romantic Times calls a “winner” with “fast, funny dialogue, clever description and a good mystery,” came out in April.
Harris admits she feels like she’s already had a successful career. “I have a series that’s going to have at least four books in it, my debut novel was nominated for three awards — I’m as happy as a pig in poo.”
Before becoming a mystery writer, Elaine Viets was a columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for 25 years, and hosted a local light-news TV program, “Viets Beat,” for which she won two Emmy Awards in the late 1980s. She moved to Washington, D.C., where she wrote a syndicated column before moving to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in 1997, the locale for one of her two current mystery series.
“My first series was set in St. Louis,” Viets says, “but readers expect the Midwest to have standards, morals, and taste. South Florida has none of these handicaps.”
Viets’ “Dead-End Job Series,” a satiric look at the minimum wage world, features divorcee´ Helen Hawthorne, the “queen of dead-end jobs and magnet for murder,” who is on the run in South Florida, working jobs for cash to stay out of the computers and away from her ex-husband and the court. One critic describes it as “Janet Evanovich meets The Fugitive.”
In each of the series’ nine books, including the latest, “Half-Price Homicide,” published in May, Helen works a different low-paying job. To research her stories, Viets worked the same jobs as Helen for months at a time — dress store clerk (“I learned some shoplifting tricks”), telemarketer (“If I go to hell, I’ll be a telemarketer”), bookseller (“It’s hard physical labor. I have the sore back and varicose veins to prove it”), and housekeeper (“I made 38 beds and cleaned 17 toilets a day. You haven’t lived until you’ve cleaned whipped cream and chocolate syrup out of a honeymoon Jacuzzi”).
Such labor has given her real empathy for the invisible workers in thankless jobs.
“Most were so patient and kind, so burdened with debt and trying to get out,” she says. “I was stunned that they remained so cheerful in what to me was a hopeless situation.”
While all four authors have different styles and different heroines, they all agree their readers have busy lives and want to laugh at the end of a day.
“Murder is a serious business,” Elaine Viets says, “but a laugh can get you through the grim times.”
For information on the “Unarmed but Dangerous” tour, contact The Country Bookshop at (910) 692-3211.
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