Annamaria on Monday
Let me begin with a disclaimer: I don't think I could ever write a story that I would want to read by following a formula. But, that said, my stories pretty much always wind up with three people who play archetypal roles and who must cooperate and communicate if the mystery is going to be solved. No teamwork = no solution. Keeping secrets means screwing things up and delaying the process, which in storytelling can be a good thing. Somehow in my novels, I always wind up with characters who assume the three tribal roles: The King, the Priest, and the Warrior.
In my old day job as a management trainer and consultant, these archetypes were an interesting way to analyze and figure out what might be going wrong in the leadership/management of an organization. The roles have nothing to do with the person’s actual job title or position in society. They are defined by how the people behave in the context of their tribe. Here’s a way to think about them in real life and in mystery stories:
· The King is the person who defines the goals, who gives the group its vision of itself and helps it rise above its self-imposed limits. Kings can do this with words, like “I have a dream…” Mostly they do it by example. And image. The King doesn’t have to be charismatic, although that helps. She does have to see beneath her followers’ surfaces and beyond their horizons. He has to know their potential and declare it to them. Spur them on. Unleash their power. Good Kings harness people’s idealism. Bad ones tap into their fears and selfishness. In mystery stories, the King is usually the character charged with or motivated to get to the bottom of the crime. Often, he has others around him who are not so gung-ho but whose cooperation he needs.
· The Priest is the one who defines right and wrong, who tells anecdotes that remind people of who they are and how to judge what they do. She asks the challenging questions and tells the old war stories—happy ones that define right behavior, and sad ones that warn against mistakes. Many good mysteries have detectives—amateur or otherwise—who can easily go astray and want to break the rules to find and punish the evildoer. This kind of character needs someone to keep him from straying too far from the straight and narrow. In police procedurals, the Priest is hardly ever the detective’s boss. More likely, it’s his or her sister or son.
· The Warrior is impatient for action and gives the group its sense of urgency. He is the brave soul willing to go out and wrest victory from the jaws of defeat. She is not afraid to make a mistake. Many mystery novels give us a younger sidekick who is the warrior, but who can easily turn into a loose cannon.
In many mystery novels, we get a loner detective, alienated from the world, perhaps despised by his fellows at work and plagued with a dysfunctional family or none or all. He (almost all these characters are men) must embody all the tribal roles or the story has to do without what the missing ones would add. That this hero has to be everybody at once would make him hard to accept as an ordinary human. Therefore, he must have a huge flaw to prove to us that is he is a person not a super hero. Usually, his creator solves this problem by making him a drunk. I have no capacity at all to imagine what it would be like to live in such a person’s skin. So I have to give my characters other people to work with.
When I was writing City of Silver and Invisible Country, three characters in each story fell into the archetypal roles without my really knowing what I was doing. In retrospect I can see them for what they are. The King is an Abbess in City of Silver, and the pastor in Invisible Country actually fulfills the role of the King. Strangely enough, though both stories have characters who are priests, neither man fulfills the role of Priest. In one the Priest archetype is a nun and in the other the Priest is a shy village woman. In both those books, the Warrior is a young woman.
In the mystery plot of Blood Tango, the detective is the King, the dressmaker—a woman in her forties—is the Warrior, and the dressmaker’s father—a man in his seventies—is the Priest. The subplot deals with the political turmoil of Buenos Aires in 1945. In that story Juan Perón is the King. Evita, his mistress, soon to be his wife, is the Warrior. They do not have a Priest. If you ask me, they could have used one.
In my Africa Series, the series characters sometimes switch around the roles. But for the most part, Justin Tolliver is the King. In the white male-dominated world of early Twentieth Century Colonial Africa, he is the one who automatically will be deferred to by the population around them. Vera McIntosh Tolliver is definitely the warrior. She's the one who jumps into the breech, takes chances, works her hunches. Kwai Libazo is the priest. He has an African's understanding of the place and its people and an instinct and reverence for what is right, what is humane.
As I said, I don't plan these things consciously when I am drafting. But the stories seem to fall into my head this way. When I am in rewrite mode, I sometimes see that my characters are at sixes and sevens with one another. And when I analyze why, I find that someone has stepped out of their role, and the others feel either let down or as if their territory has been invaded. And I understand why.
I’ve been thinking a good deal about book covers lately. Probably more than is good for me, if I’m honest. That old saying about not judging a book by its cover doesn’t hold much water when it comes to potential readers making a quick decision on whether to pick up your book or not.
One of the things that keeps coming up in the research I’ve been doing is that you should be able to identify the genre immediately. OK, some covers helpfully have ‘a thriller’ written on them. Some of mine simply say ‘a novel’ although I’m not sure if anyone would mistake them for self-help or a travel guide.
Whether your book cover has an illustration or a photograph, which colours predominate, which fonts and how large they feature, are all interesting subjects for study.
With this in mind I decided to put together a selection of covers from my fellow Murder Is Everywhere blogmates’ work and see what you thought of them.
First up is Annamaria Alfieri, who writes historical mystery novels set both in Africa and in South America.
I have to confess that BLOOD TANGO is one of my favourites. That dashing title and single splash of red on the figure is very evocative. For THE IDOL OF MOMBASA you can tell the era from the typeface and the colourway, never mind the style of dress. Although in different styles, both covers feature a border that looks more like a frame.
Cara Black is the author of the mystery series featuring private detective Aimée Leduc. Each novel is set in a different area of Paris.
The cover designs are consistent and stylish right the way across the series, although it might be hard for someone new to Cara’s work to pin down the era in which they’re set.
The two covers I’ve picked from Leye Adenle’s novels show the breadth of his writing.
EASY MOTION TOURIST is a fast-paced thriller with in-your-face contrasting colours. THE BEAUTIFUL SIDE OF THE MOON has a more fantasy edge. The book is described as ‘drawing on age-old African story-telling traditions, modern sci-fi, and contemporary thriller writing.’
Like Annamaria, Sujata Massey sets her novels on two very distinct and different continents—in this case, India and Japan.
Her Indian series features attorney, Perveen Mistry, and the books are set in 1920s’ Bombay. The covers are illustrations rather than photographs, rich in colour. Her contemporary Japanese series features English teacher and antiques buyer, Rei Shimura. The cover designs for this series have changed quite a bit from book to book. THE KIZUNA COAST is the latest to be published.
Caro Ramsay has been writing the Anderson and Costello police procedurals for a while now, and RAT RUN is one of that series. With the bold san serif type, shadowy figure and the axe—not to mention the names of the continuing characters on the cover—readers won’t be in much doubt about the genre.
For her next novel, however, Caro has written a standalone, MOSAIC, which has an intriguing, atmospheric cover and great font for the title.
Michael Sears and Stan Trollip—better known collectively as Michael Stanley—also write a police procedural series and have just penned a standalone.
The Detective Kubu series is set in Africa. The bold colours, cover style and typeface of DYING TO LIVE make it somehow obvious that these books are not set in Detroit or Manchester.
They have also written a standalone featuring investigative journalist Crystal Nguyen, which is called SHOOT THE BASTARDS in the US and DEAD OF NIGHT in the UK and South Africa. The covers for both editions are very different from their Kubu books, with hot orange and yellows, sans serif font, and a female figure.
Jeffrey Siger sets his crime thrillers featuring Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis in Greece.
The book covers have a strong series identity, with very bold typeface to ensure the reader doesn’t mistake the beautiful scenery in the photographs for some less hard-boiled fare. THE MYKONOS MOB is the latest in the series, although it’s not the first time Jeff has used this location for one of his storylines.
Japan is also the setting for the books by Susan Spann. These feature master ninja Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo and are set in the mid-1500s.
The cover designs confused me a little, as the first three and the sixth one, CLAWS OF THE CAT, are red typeface on black, with a series of striking images to ring the changes. However, the other two, including BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, are quite different so that I initially thought there were two different series running side-by-side.
That only leaves yours truly. The cover designs for my Charlie Fox series have been many and varied. Here’s a taste of the different ones just for the first novel, KILLER INSTINCT. And I’m in the midst of planning a redesign as we speak…
So, for you, what’s the most important thing about the covers for your own work, or those you like to read? What attracts you and what puts you off?
This week’s Word of the Week is momentarily, which is one of those words with different meanings depending on which side of the Atlantic you happen to be on at the time. In the UK, it means for a very short time. If you pause momentarily, you do so only briefly. If the captain of the US flight you’re on announces that you’ll be landing momentarily, he or she means soon, not a quick touch-and-go bounce on the runway.
NOIR AT THE BAR NEWCASTLE—the Town Wall pub, Pink Lane, Newcastle NE1 5HX
Doors open 19:00
Organised by the inimitable Vic Watson, the line-up is Neil Broadfoot, Mik Brown, Ashley Erwin, Derek Farrell, Jónína Leósdóttir, Gytha Lodge, Judith O’Reilly, Zoë Sharp, Lilja Sigurðardóttir, plus a wildcard chosen on the night.
CRIMEFEST INTERNATIONAL CRIME FICTION CONVENTION—Mercure Bristol Grand Hotel, Bristol
Friday, May 10, 13:40-14:30 Contemporary Issues: Reflecting How We Live Candy Denman, Paul Gitsham, Cara Hunter, Amanda Robson, Zoë Sharp (Participating Moderator)
Saturday, May 11, 11:20-12:10 Ten Year Stretch: The CrimeFest Short Story Anthology Peter Guttridge, Caro Ramsay, Zoë Sharp, Michael Stanley (Stan Trollip), Kate Ellis (Participating Moderator)
Sunday, May 12, 09:30-10:20 The Indie Alternative Beate Boeker, Stephen Collier, Barry Faulkner, Lynn Florkiewicz, Zoë Sharp (Participating Moderator)
Meet the Author—Thornton Library, Victoria Road East, Thornton Cleveleys, Lancashire FY5 3SZ
Friday, June 07, 10:30-11:30
Last night (Friday) was the first Passover Seder. Tomorrow is Easter in Western Christianity, Tuesday is my grandson’s birthday, and next Sunday is Orthodox (Greek)
Easter. So this post shall be an historical one, though as I'm only halfway through my book tour it could very well have degenerated into an hysterical one.
Passover or Pesach always takes place around the same time
as Easter or Paska because the holiday
of Passover, commemorating God’s liberation of the Jewish People from slavery
in Egypt, was the occasion for the Last Supper.
In fact, before the year 325 Easter was calculated upon the lunar-based
Hebrew calendar and all one had to do to determine the date for Easter was to “ask
a Jew in your community” when Passover was celebrated.
All that changed in 325 when the First Ecumenical Synod
calculated the exact date of Easter from the more modern cycles of the
sun-based Julian calendar. That became
Christianity’s generally accepted method for calculating the date of Easter and
continued to be so for more than five hundred years after the Great Schism of
1052 separated the Church of the West to Rome and the Church of the East to
Then, in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII introduced what is known as
the Gregorian calendar for the express purpose of correctly calculating Easter,
something the Julian calendar was not believed to have achieved. Today, the Gregorian calendar is the world’s
officially accepted civil calendar (except in Greece’s 1500 year-old monastic
community of Mount Athos—see Prey on
Patmos), but there still is not agreement among the Christian world over
whether it correctly fixes the date of Easter.
Indeed, as recently as 1997 the World Council of Churches
proposed a method of using modern scientific knowledge for precisely
calculating Easter and replacing divergent practices. It was not adopted.
As for how Passover fits into all this, Julian calendar
Easter always falls on a Sunday after
the first day of the eight-day Passover holiday and generally within those
eight days, though at times more than a month later. Western Easter, relying on the Gregorian
calendar, also generally falls within Passover’s eight days, though three times
in every nineteen-year period it falls a month before Passover.
Yes, that’s why Easter is considered a moveable feast, as
opposed to Christmas that always occurs on the same date.
I guess you could say that, of all these celebratory
springtime occasions, the only certainty is that my grandson’s birthday
always falls on April 23rd. :)
Happy Birthday, Azi.
And a Happy Easter, Kalo
Paska, and Zissen Pesach to all.
My Upcoming Book Events:
24, 6:30 PM
MURDER BY THE BOOK
Author Speaking and
Friday, April 26,
Author Speaking and
Monday, April 29,
Author Speaking and
Wednesday, May 1,
New York, NY
Author Speaking and
Thursday, May 2,
Author Speaking and
Friday, May 3, 7:00
Chicago, IL (Forest
CENTURIES & SLEUTHS BOOKSTORE
Author Speaking and
Saturday, May 4, 2
Author Speaking and
Thursday May 9,
Bristol Grand Hotel
Panelist on “Nobody
Would Believe it if You Wrote it: Fake News, Post-Truth and Changing Words,”
with Fiona Erskine, William Shaw, Gilly Macmillan, moderated by Paul E.
Friday, May 10,
Bristol Grand Hotel
“Sunshine Noir,” with Paul Hardisty, Barbara Nadel, Robert Wilson,
moderated by Michael Stanley
2019---Hyatt Regency Dallas
Panel Schedule Yet
to be Announced