Saturday, 28 November 2015

A Confession by Barbra Leslie

Today's guest blog is by debut author Barbra Leslie

I have a confession to make.

Until the late 2000s, the only mystery books I’d ever read were Agatha Christies.  (I loved cozy English books when I was a child, and if there was murder in the drawing room at the same time, well, so be it!)  Like any writer, I have always been a reader: from my grandmother’s discarded Harlequin Romances when I was a girl to the Victorians by the time I was a young teenager, I read anything and everything I could get my hands on.  I went from Norman Mailer to George Eliot, from T.S. Eliot to (God help me) Ayn Rand.  But somehow – maybe because there weren’t any in the house when I was growing up, and maybe because my very limited pocket money (earned from working at Zellers, a local budget department store, one of the two big stores in the rural Nova Scotia town in which I grew up) meant that when I was set loose in a bookstore, I wanted to choose books I had heard of, read about, knew were considered classics.  I was a fervent autodidact.

Yes, I realize how painfully snobbish that sounds, now.  Snobbish was the last thing I could ever have been considered, however, growing up as I did.  I was the last of six children, living in an apartment over my family’s small grocery store in a rural village.  But I thought mysteries were, like science fiction (another favourite genre of mine now), the equivalent of the Harlequin Romances I had long ago discarded – perhaps entertaining, but throw-away fiction, to be picked up at the three-for-a-dollar bin at charity shops.

Fast forward to late 2007, perhaps 2008.  My mother had fallen and broken her ankle and foot badly, and needed someone with her – she wasn’t strong enough for crutches and she was unable to walk.  I flew from Toronto, where I live, to Nova Scotia to be with her for a bit.  In the years since I’d last stayed with my mother for any period of time – in other words, since high school – she had discovered her own love for mysteries, and her bookshelves were crammed with books I’d never read before.  For a book junkie like me?  Heaven.

And, I was hooked.

While I have since read more varied and widely within the genre, the first mystery/crime writers I read as an adult were those my mother loved.

James Lee Burke: I wish I could remember which of James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux series I read first.  His writing is so lush, it’s like a hot, humid summer night in Louisiana – the setting for the series.  His hero is an Iberia Parish homicide detective/private detective/bait shop owner (the series spans many years), a Vietnam vet who struggles with sobriety and his often off-the-rails partner, Clete Purcell.   Dave’s moral code is what drives the series, his tortured goodness in the face of evil.  James Lee Burke was the first mystery writer I read, and was moved to tears while reading.  While I am loathe to pick a favourite of that series, I think The Tin Roof Blowdown, his post-Katrina Robicheaux, is one of the best American novels of that decade.  I haven’t yet read Burke’s Holland series – and as a book lover, is there any nicer feeling than having books from a favourite author to look forward to?

Dennis Lehane:  Dennis Lehane is an American treasure, and his Kenzie-Gennaro books probably had the most influence on me at the time, putting the bug in my ear to want to write my own crime fiction.  His style is more old-school noir than James Lee Burke’s almost Southern Gothic style.  The south Boston, urban P.I.-style books are deceptively simple, but they pick you up and don’t let you go.  The plots are tight, the violence feels absolutely real, and the supporting characters are as entertaining as the main ones – a great feat. 

Robert B Parker: My mother was a huge Robert B Parker fan - and I'm glad she got to see one of her favourite actors, Tom Selleck, play Parker's Jesse Stone in s series of TV movies.  (The fact that they were also filmed in Nova Scotia, where she lived, made it even more of a thrill for her.)  But her favourite series and mine- and most of Parker's readers, come to that - are the Spenser books.  Spenser, again, is like an old-school noir hero - the gentle tough guy who likes to crack wise.  He's smart, loyal and dogged, and doesn't suffer fools gladly; a Raymond Chandler character if ever there was one.  He was one writer who could make my mother laugh when she was reading; a memory of her that I treasure. 

My mother died in November 2010 of mesothelioma.  So while I have other favourites now – Nicola Griffith’s Aud series, Patricia Highsmith, Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series, off the top of my head – it’s the early mysteries I read and talked about with my mother that I will always have the most fondness for.

Cracked by Barbra Leslie Titan Books £7.99 (Out now)

Danielle Cleary is a nice middle-class girl with a bad habit. After her stormy marriage to the love of her life ends, the former personal trainer and amateur fighter jumps down the rabbit hole into a world of crack cocaine -- delivered to her door by a polite but slightly deranged dealer – and endless game shows, with her best friend Gene. But when Danny’s twin sister Ginger is murdered, Danny and her rock musician brother fly to California to find their nephews – and the people who killed their sister. Fighting withdrawal, nosy cops and crazy drug dealers, she kicks ass and takes names, embracing her inner vigilante in a quest to avenge her sister and save her family.  Cracked is a darkly comic roller-coaster ride to redemption.  From the streets of Toronto to the underbelly of Orange County; from private jets to the depths of the Maine wilderness, Danny struggles with bad guys and her own demons to find the killers.

You can follow her on Twitter (@barbrajleslie

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