I Read/I Wrote: Leslie Karst

In the I Read/I Wrote series, authors introduce a book they loved–in the genre in which they write–and share one of their own books.

GENRE: Snarky Cozy/Traditional

I READ: A is for Alibi by Sue Grafton

By the time I came upon Sue Grafton’s A is for Alibi (published in 1982), I’d read plenty of mysteries, but they’d all been either Golden Age traditional/cozies written by women (e.g., Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers) or hard-boiled/noirs by men (e.g., Dashiell Hammett or Raymond Chandler).

So Grafton’s debut came as an awakening. Here was a book in the traditional “weary PI” style, yet written by and featuring a woman. And as I read on, I realized she’d created a sort of hybrid between the hard-boiled and the cozy—the story of a private investigator with no strings attached (“My apartment is small…. I don’t have pets. I don’t have houseplants.”) yet with a big heart (“I’m a nice person and I have a lot of friends.”). But most important, the novel was full of humor—a tad on the snarky side, yes, but who doesn’t love that?

Numerous authors have since emulated Grafton and, as a result, the line between “soft” and “hard” crime fiction is now far less rigid, allowing for a variety of new genres, such as what I like to call “snarky cozies” and “heartfelt noir.”

I WROTE: Dying for a Taste 

After losing her mother to cancer, Sally Solari quits her job as an attorney to help her dad run his old-style Italian eatery. Managing the front of the house, however, is far from her dream of running her own kitchen.

Then her Aunt Letta is found stabbed to death at Gauguin, Letta’s swank Polynesian-French restaurant, and Sally is astounded to learn she has inherited the place. But there’s a problem: the Gauguin sous chef is the prime suspect in Letta’s murder. Convinced of his innocence and dependent on his expertise to keep restaurant afloat, Sally is determined to clear his name.

Delving into her enigmatic aunt’s past, she is thrown into the unfamiliar world of organic and sustainable farming, Chez Panisse-style restaurants, and animal rights activists—not to mention buried family secrets. And as her list of suspects grows, Sally begins to realize that—as Gauguin’s new owner—she may be the next victim on the killer’s list.

The daughter of a law professor and a potter, Leslie Karst learned early, during family dinner conversations, the value of both careful analysis and the arts.

Putting this early education to good use, she now writes the Sally Solari Mysteries, a culinary series (yes, snarky cozies) set in Santa Cruz, California. For more information, please visit lesliekarstauthor.com.


I Read/I Wrote: Gigi Pandian

In the I Read/I Wrote series, authors introduce a book they loved–in the genre in which they write–and share one of their own books.

GENRE: Traditional/Adventure Mystery

I READ: The Amelia Peabody Series by Elizabeth Peters

I can’t imagine the mystery genre without the dozens of novels written by Barbara Mertz under her pen name Elizabeth Peters. Her books are what brought me to the mystery genre as a reader, and later turned me into a writer. She inspired many other mystery authors writing today. She pushed the boundaries of the traditional mystery genre, writing novels with globe-trotting adventure, romance, humor, larger than life characters, real history, and incredibly clever puzzles. She was one of the founders of Malice Domestic, the convention that celebrates traditional mysteries, and her books are grounded firmly in that tradition, yet she also transcends it.

I grew up an only child who tagged along on my professor parents’ research trips all over the world, so I entertained myself reading and writing stories. Elizabeth Peters’ novels are what I gravitated towards. In middle school, I discovered her Vicky Bliss mystery series. American art history professor Vicky Bliss traveled to foreign lands on mysterious and romantic adventures that were fun, incredibly clever, and full of intriguing characters and settings. That was the gateway series that led me to the Amelia Peabody Egyptology mysteries set in the late 1800s, and librarian Jacqueline Kirby series.

Recommended Reading:
Borrower of the Night (Vicky Bliss Book 1)
Crocodile on the Sandbank (Amelia Peabody Book 1)
The Murders of Richard III (Jacqueline Kirby)

I WROTE: The Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mysteries

I wanted to capture the spirit of those books I adored, but with my own spin. I created a character who was a Californian with roots in India, like me, and used my childhood travels as inspiration.

In the first Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery, Artifact, historian Jaya Jones discovers the secrets of a lost Indian treasure may be hidden in a Scottish legend from the days of the British Raj. But she’s not the only one on the trail. From San Francisco to London to the Highlands of Scotland, Jaya must evade a shadowy stalker as she follows hints from the hastily scrawled note of her dead lover to a remote archaeological dig to track down both a treasure and a killer.

There are now five books in the series, each going from San Francisco to a different foreign destination as Jaya solves a present-day crime linked to a historical treasure from India’s colonial history. One of the biggest thrills in my writing career has been that reviewers frequently compare my books to those by Elizabeth Peters.

USA Today bestselling and Agatha Award-winning author Gigi Pandian is the child of cultural anthropologists from New Mexico and the southern tip of India. She spent her childhood traveling around the world on their research trips, and now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and a gargoyle who watches over the garden.

Gigi’s novels have been described as a cross between Indiana Jones and Agatha Christie. She writes the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mystery series (Artifact, Pirate Vishnu, Quicksand, Michelangelo’s Ghost, The Ninja’s Illusion, and The Cambodian Curse & Other Stories), the Accidental Alchemist mysteries (The Accidental Alchemist, The Masquerading Magician, The Elusive Elixir, and The Alchemist’s Illusion), and locked-room mystery short stories.

For more information, please visit http://gigipandian.com.



I Read/I Wrote: Art Taylor

In the I Read/I Wrote series, authors introduce a book they loved–in the genre in which they write–and share one of their own books.

GENRE: Mystery Short Fiction

I READ: The Specialty of the House and Other Stories by Stanley Ellin

The Specialty of the House and Other Stories gathers all the short fiction that Stanley Ellin published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine between 1948 and 1978—approximately one per year. At that measured pace, he established himself as the almost-undisputed master of mystery short fiction. Both his prose and his plotting stand out for their careful but seemingly effortless precision. “The Moment of Decision” (my favorite suspense story, period) has a fairly leisurely opening, but paragraph by paragraph, almost imperceptibly, the tension mounts between the two main characters: the owner of an estate who prides himself on his clear and absolute judgment and his new neighbor (and sudden rival), a former magician who argues that some questions remain unanswerable. A challenge turns into a bet, the stakes prove to have a life-or-death urgency, and the ending… Well, Ellin praised one of his own influences, Guy De Maupassant, for endings that were “unpredictable… but inevitable as doom,” and I’d argue that student surpasses mentor tale after tale. Other stand-out stories: “The House Party”—eerie, atmospheric, and with a Twilight Zone twist—and “The Day of the Bullet,” one of Ellin’s many stories that were adapted for TV’s Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

I WROTE: On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories

While I’m not hardly in Ellin’s class—not hardly!—I also produce about a story a year for Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and one of those stories, “Rearview Mirror,” turned out to be an early step toward my first novel: On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories. The title characters are Del, a small-time crook trying to go straight, and his girlfriend Louise, who narrates their journey from the American Southwest up the California coast, then cross-country en route back to her home state of North Carolina. Six adventures make up the novel—including a wine heist in Napa Valley, a wedding chapel hold-up in Las Vegas, and a kidnapping (of sorts) in North Dakota—and the larger story overarching all these is about where Del and Louise are going in a bigger sense, their relationship, their future. The novel’s structure of six linked stories also allowed me to play with various subgenres of mystery: among them a lighter caper story, for example, and a noir tale, and finally a traditional detective story—crooks turned amateur sleuths, some resolution there too. I was honored that the book—unconventional in several ways—earned the Agatha Award for Best First Novel.

Art Taylor is the author of On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories, winner of the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. He has won three additional Agatha Awards, an Anthony Award, two Macavity Awards, and three consecutive Derringer Awards for his short fiction, and his work has appeared in Best American Mystery Stories. He also edited Murder Under the Oaks: Bouchercon Anthology 2015, winner of the Anthony Award for Best Anthology or Collection. He is an associate professor of English at George Mason University.

For more information, please visit arttaylorwriter.com.

I Read/I Wrote: Ovidia Yu

In the I Read/I Wrote series, authors introduce a book they loved–in the genre in which they write–and share one of their own books.

GENRE: Asian History Mystery

I READ: Trial on Mount Koya, A Hiro Hattori Novel by Susan Spann

Hiro Hattori is a ninja assassin, hired by an anonymous benefactor to guard Portuguese Jesuit priest Father Mateo in Sixteenth Century Japan. This book is set during a snowstorm in a temple on Mount Koya, one of Japan’s most sacred peaks, where the temple’s priests are murdered and posed as the Buddhist Judge Kings of the Afterlife.

I love reading Asian history mysteries because I don’t know much about Asian history and I love learning without feeling that I’m studying. I also prefer traditional murder mysteries where lots of people die without anyone getting too viciously hurt on the page and I can enjoy unraveling relationships and motives.

I’ve fallen in love with the ‘Warring States’ Japan in these books. The cultural details feel authentic and universal and timeless power struggles and relationships are easier to recognise at a remove.

I’m also impressed by the thoroughness of Spann’s research. I’m going to try to sneak in a photo from her website here (if Cynthia lets me get away with it) that shows the nyonindo, or women’s hall, at the top of the pilgrim trail up Mount Koya where Hiro and Father Mateo would have started the climb to the temple at the holy summit where this book takes place.

I WROTE: The Betel Nut Tree Mystery

“What we came to think of as the betel nut affair began in the middle of a tropical thunderstorm in December 1937 . . .”

Singapore is agog with the news of King Edward VIII’s abdication to marry American heiress Wallis Simpson. Chen Su Lin, now Chief Inspector Le Froy’s secretarial assistant in Singapore’s newly formed detective unit, still dreams of becoming a journalist and hopes to cover the story when the Hon Victor Glossop announces he is marrying an American widow of his own, Mrs Nicole Covington, in the Colony. But things go horribly wrong when Victor
Glossop is found dead, his body covered in bizarre symbols and soaked in betel nut juice.

The beautiful, highly-strung Nicole claims it’s her fault he’s dead . . . just like the others. And when investigations into her past reveal a dead lover, as well as a husband, the case against her appears to be stacking up. Begrudgingly on Le Froy’s part, Su Lin agrees to chaperone Nicole at the Farquhar Hotel, intending to get the truth out of her somehow. But as she uncovers secrets and further deaths occur, Su Lin realises she may not be able to save Nicole’s life–or even her own.

Ovidia Yu was born in, lives in and writes about Singapore and is the author of the Aunty Lee Mysteries and the Crown Colony Crime Mysteries. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America and International Thriller Writers.

For more information, please visit www.ovidiayu.com.