ALA 2017: It’s a Mystery to Me: Crime Fighting Authors

Thank you to United for Libraries for continuing to sponsor wonderful author events at ALA every year.  I love getting to hear from a variety of authors about their work and then get one of their books to read.  I have a hard time naming a favorite book, but I can say my favorite kind of book is (just about) all flavors of mystery and crime fiction, so I was especially interested in this panel.

decoratorDiana Vallere is the president of Sisters in Crime and a Lefty Best Humorous Mystery nominee.  She has 4(!) mystery series.  The Decorator Who Knew Too Much is also the 4th book in the Madison Night/Mad for Mod mystery series.  Madison has a thing for Doris Day and each entry in the series has ties to an old movie.  Vallere focuses on humor and style, saying she writes fiction for women who like shoes, clues, and clothes.  The idea for this story came when she was on vacation and definitely NOT planning to write.  But she thought, what if there was a face looking at her from the lake?


Susanna Calkins is a historian, teacher and writer who says river fleetshe should have been a librarian.  Her mother was a librarian, and as a child she played librarian.  A Death Along the River Fleet is the fourth book in the Lucy Campion series.  This historical mystery series set in 17th century London features Lucy, a former lady’s maid turned printer’s apprentice.



Brian Pinkerton describes Bender this way:  The main character turned to alcohol to battle stress.  Now he is battling alcoholism.  Hangover + prostitute=dead body in the bed trope; twisty!

He continues to tell us how he is a writer because of libraries.  His mother took him to the library every week.  His grandfather was a newspaper editor and owned a printing press.  We had pads of paper around the house and he wrote and illustrated all kinds of things.  He hand writes his first two drafts, finding it liberating to work with just a pen and blank paper.  He works down in the basement on a big drafting table with the washer, dryer, a few spiders and very big cup of coffee.  A computer would be distracting.  He uses index cards to structure plot and pacing and introduces spontaneity through how the characters react.

He remembers fondly Encyclopedia Brown and Hitchcock’s The Three Investigators and makes an effort to introduce a real sense of humor into his work.  He created the underground newspaper at his high school as well a a fictitious cartoon character that ran for student body president and came in second.  His titles are stand-alones but with a common thread-ordinary people caught up in extraordinary circumstances.

Pinkerton is really his last name and he does share common ancestry with Allen Pinkerton who is credited as being the first private detective.

Kate White, former editor of Cosmo, shared that her mother was also a librarian whoeven if it kills her encouraged her to read and write.  She wanted to write all kinds of things but felt that she needed to pick a lane.  She won a contest, went to New York and worked her way up in the magazine world, but she always wanted to write mysteries.  She went so far as to write four chapters of a mystery as her “plan B.”  One day she got a call from her boss on a Saturday (never a good thing…except when it is!) “We want you to be the editor of Cosmo.”  Later her husband said, ” Am I going to bed with the editor of Cosmo tonight?”  But what about the mystery?  Just four months later she pulled out the manuscript and kept writing.  Then she realized the murder victim was found dead on top of an issue of Cosmo-a sign!

She added a thank you to librarians and libraries.  She was one of those total nerds who found sanctuary and relief in a library.  Kate’s latest is Even if it Kills Her.


testimonyScott Turow’s latest title, Testimony,  features many characters in the process of re-inventing themselves.  There is also the theme of how much do we owe the past and when should we move forward?

Scott’s mother is a former school teacher who took him to the library every week.  He credits libraries as essential to his development as a writer but her never set out to be a mystery writer.  He was a graduate fellow in writing at Stanford and then went to law school.  When he was working as a lawyer, he wondered why couldn’t there be writing that could appeal to both English professors and bus drivers?  Mystery is there to deliver a truth that life cannot deliver.  Because mystery delivers that certainty, it is sometimes looked down upon.

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