by Cynthia Chow
This week we have a review of the new Cat in the Stacks mystery by Miranda James aka Dean James, The Silence Of The Library. We also have a fun interview with Dean and at the end of this post are details on how to win a copy of the book.
The Silence of the Library: A Cat in the Stacks Mystery By Miranda James
Ever since his beloved Aunt Dottie introduced books to Charlie Harris as a young boy, the Athena Public Library librarian has adored the Veronica Thane girl detective mysteries. Written decades ago by Electra Barnes Cartwright and out of print for thirty years, Charlie is thrilled that the books are to be honored in a special National Library Week exhibit in his library. Yet that excitement doesn’t compare to the news that the library director, Teresa Farmer, has discovered that even though she will soon be celebrating her one-hundredth birthday, Electra Barnes Cartwright is still very much alive and lives barely twenty miles away.
Although Mrs. Cartwright is enthusiastic and more than willing to speak at a special program at the Athena Library, her daughter is much less welcoming. Nevertheless, plans go forth with the unexpected result of a sudden influx of “enthusiastic” –some might call fanatic–book collectors. Fans descend on the library insisting on personal meetings with the author and that she sign their valuable collectors’ editions. The competitiveness and emotions are further stirred up with the news that there might be a collection of previously unpublished stories hidden away by the author. Events collide in an explosion that would have the fictional Veronica Thane more than willing to risk the seemingly frequent condition of getting bonked on the head or knocked out, as the raven-haired young investigator sipped her tea and solved yet another murder.
In this fifth in the series featuring fifty-something Charlie Harris and his thirty-six pound Maine Coon companion cat, Diesel, author Miranda James (pseudonym for Dean James, who also crafts cozies under the name Honor Hartman and Jimmie Ruth Evans) enjoyably inserts lore concerning the Stratemeyer Syndicate, which led by Edward Stratemeyer assembly-line produced the Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys and Bobbsey Twin mysteries targeted towards children and all written by many different writers. While wily readers may guess part of the solution to this murder, most will not see the twist which James skillfully crafts at the end. All readers will enjoy the byplay between Charlie and his feline companion as well as the extensive background details sure to please children’s mystery lovers and book lovers alike.
The return of Charlie’s adult children, who have both followed new professional and personal paths, adds a human element to Charlie’s growth and a pleasurable distraction from the chaos in his library. A dash of romance and culinary treats round out this thoroughly enjoyable read for fans of the massive, food-loving and ever-present library cat, Diesel.
Interview with Dean James aka Miranda James:
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Dean: Over 40 years; I started as a teenager.
KRL: When did your first novel come out? What was it called? Can you tell us a little about it?
Dean: The first novel, Cruel as the Grave, came out in 2000 from a small independent publisher. It’s the story of a family reunion gone badly wrong.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?
Dean: Almost exclusively. I did write a children’s book once for a class, but other than that, I’ve focused on mysteries.
KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series? Please tell us a little about the setting and main character for your most recent book.
Dean: I grew up in Mississippi, and I enjoy using fictional small towns there for my settings. The current series is set in a town called Athena, which is very loosely based on Oxford. The main character in the series is Charlie Harris, a widowed librarian who has moved back to his hometown for what he thought would be a peaceful semi-retirement. His constant companion is a Maine Coon cat named Diesel.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Dean: I write to entertain, but I do want readers to come away from one of my books having enjoyed it and forgetting about the everyday cares for a short time.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?
Dean: I was recently laid off from my full-time job; before that, I mostly wrote on the weekends. Now that I have more free time, I am writing when I can.
KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?
Dean: I don’t do a formal outline; I start with the characters and a basic situation in mind, and go on from there. Once I get past the first 100 pages or so, I start figuring out what needs to happen through the rest of the story. Then I do a rather basic outline so that the action of the plot progresses in a logical fashion.
KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Dean: After lunch, until dinnertime.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Dean: In the very beginning, yes. Later on, I had made connections in the publishing world, and those helped get me and my work through the door.
KRL: Future writing goals?
Dean: To continue writing my present series, plus a new one that has recently been optioned. I have ideas for other series, other books as well. Maybe one of these days I’ll get to them.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Dean: Whatever is necessary for the purposes of the novel I am working on at the time. For example, for Classified as Murder, I had to do some research into first editions of famous novels. That was fun.
KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Dean: Read, read, and read even more. Absorb the good stuff, and learn to cull out the bad stuff.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Dean: Probably that I have some tattoos. Most people don’t think I look like the tattoo type. 🙂
KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook?
KRL: You’re a man, writing a cozy series featuring a male main character. Why did you choose to write under a female pseudonym?
Dean: It’s basically a marketing decision. My own name gets lost on the internet, thanks to a dead movie star named James Dean. Plus the marketing folk in New York think my readers are mostly women who prefer to read books written by women. I have always liked the name Miranda (from the heroine in Shakespeare’s The Tempest).
KRL: I love the daily mundane details of a working library. As a former librarian, have you ever wanted to include any real stories that readers would find too unbelievable?
Dean: Often. 🙂 Some of them might be too weird for readers to be comfortable with, in a cozy mystery. For example, there was the guy with the shoe fetish who made the rounds of many libraries in Houston until librarians started talking to one another and realized he was going from library to library.
KRL: Readers have fallen in love with Diesel. Does that surprise you? Do fans bring you their own tales of their Maine Coon companions?
Dean: I’ve fallen in love with Diesel, too. He’s a wonderful cat, and I do hear stories from readers who have Maine Coons. They’re a special breed, because of their affectionate and loyal natures, and people love them.
KRL: You write series under at least four names (including your own). Do you have some sort of method or system to differentiate your writing styles and characters? Ever thought of cross-overs?
Dean: The earlier series are all on hiatus at the moment, though at some point I might revive some of them. I don’t have any particular method for differentiating the styles and characters. They are all different to me, and when I’m writing a particular series, I am focused on those characters. There have been some crossovers. Ernestine Carpenter, a character who appeared in some fashion in my three “Deep South” mysteries, appeared in two of the trailer park mysteries I wrote as Jimmie Ruth Evans. She just might pop up in the current series one of these days.
KRL: You somehow made Simon-Kirby Jones, a gay, romance-writing, vampire, the most normal character in the town of Snuppertpn Mumsley. I loved that series, so have you any ideas about returning to it? You were writing them before vampires were a Thing!
Dean: I would love to write more of that series because I got such a kick out of the wackiness of it all. Sadly, at the time, not enough readers agreed with me, though I still do get fan mail and inquiries about another book. At present my writing schedule won’t allow me to revisit this series or any of the others, but at some point I would love to write more about Simon.
KRL: Your southern roots run back generations. What makes Southern characters so unique and fun to write?
Dean: There are so many wonderful idiosyncrasies that are simply considered normal in the South. Most every family has one relative who is eccentric, to say the least, but we don’t hold their oddities against them. In the South eccentricity is almost a badge of honor.
KRL: Who are the writers who have influenced or inspired you the most?
Dean: Mildred Wirt Benson, who authored many of the early Nancy Drew books; Agatha Christie, for her plotting and sly use of humor; Elizabeth Peters (aka Barbara Michaels) for the sheer gusto of her characters and sense of humor); and Margery Allingham, who could pull all sorts of disparate elements together and meld them into an original and unusual story.
KRL: What started your love of mysteries?
Dean: Nancy Drew. I discovered the books when I was about ten, and that hooked me on mysteries for life.
To enter to win a copy of The Silence of the Library, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “Library,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen February 8, 2014. U.S. residents only.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.