by Cynthia Chow
This week we have a review & giveaway of the latest mystery by Annelise Ryan, Dead in the Water, along with an interesting interview with Annelise aka Beth Amos. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of the book and a link to order it from Amazon, and from an indie bookstore where a portion goes to help support KRL.
Dead in the Water: A Mattie Winston Mystery by Annelise Ryan
Review by Cynthia Chow
It is finally happening. Despite suspecting one another of murder, problematic exes, unknown children, and an unplanned pregnancy, Sorenson, Wisconsin’s medico-legal death investigator Mattie Winston and Detective Steve Hurley are finally getting married. That’s not to say that Mattie is gracefully walking down the aisle just yet, as more than one debacle has her thinking that perhaps the Fates are sending a message. Mattie admits to having her own issues and reasons for dragging her feet, which include her mother’s neuroses, a disastrous divorce, a needy toddler, an extremely demanding job, no actual wedding ceremony site, the challenge of finding a size 16 dress for a six-foot frame…
Testifying in court for the first time in three years seems a snap compared to coping with the most recent disruptions in her life. When Mattie’s boss at the medical examiner’s officer suffers a health crisis, it would have weighed a burden on her even if Dr. Izzy Rybaceski hadn’t been her best friend. The case of the inexplicable death of a nursing student is set aside when another murder invades the medical examiner’s office, prioritizing their investigations and hitting far too close to home. As Mattie and Hurley unravel the evidence and question suspects, they do it while juggling breakfasts with a toddler, teenager, and dog, watching over Izzy’s very complicated family, and exploring Mattie’s own mysterious family history.
The eighth in the Mattie Winston Mystery series, the author quickly catches readers up on the complicated, chaotic, and thoroughly entertaining events of Mattie’s life. This is one of those rare novels where the personal happenings and home lives are just as, if not more, fascinating than the actual mysteries. Extraordinarily relatable scenes of morning and bedtime chaos are hilarious, yet the author transitions seamlessly into the morbid, emotionally impactful moments of Mattie’s work. Make no mistake, Mattie’s detailed and scientific investigations are compelling and truly informative as they delve into the rather gruesome, but necessary, aspects of autopsies and forensics. Without her wry, clever, and somehow optimistic sense of humor, Mattie would never be able to cope with the tragedy she experiences both personally and professionally.
The moments of joy and laughter feel entirely real, as do the shocking moments of death. Just as in life, when one answer is found even more questions emerge, promising for further complications in both Mattie’s and Hurley’s futures. This continues to be one of my favorite mystery series, which continues to evolve its characters while maintaining its realistic tone, brilliant humor, and stellar heroine.
Interview With Annelise Ryan (aka Beth Amos):
KRL: How long have you been writing?
Annelise: Since I was old enough to know how. I’ve always loved words and word games, reading and writing. I was that annoying kid in class who got excited over essay and book report assignments.
KRL: When did your first novel come out? What was it called? Can you tell us a little about it?
Annelise: My first published novel was a paranormal suspense book called Cold White Fury published by HarperCollins in 1996. It’s about a boy who has an unknown sliver of metal in his head due to an accident he was in as a baby. Years later, that metal is stimulated by the magnetic forces of an MRI, and it leads to some chilling abilities. It and two others that followed were published under my real name, Beth Amos.
KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?
Annelise: My first three published novels were all paranormal suspense, and all of my novels since then have been mysteries. I love puzzles, unexpected twists, all things mysterious, and the unknown, and I think those have always colored my fiction, even back when I was writing dreadful romances that (fortunately) never saw the light of day. Plus, I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie. That’s why I work in the ER as a nurse, and why I like mysteries, suspense, and thrillers in my fiction, both the stuff I write and the stuff I read.
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.
Annelise: My Mattie Winston series was born out of my desire to make use of all the people I’ve met and all the things I’ve encountered in my years working as a nurse. Paramount in that list was the darkly funny and twisted sense of humor that seems to be part and parcel of most healthcare workers. Plus, I’ve always thought of myself as a funny person who has a somewhat skewed vision of the world around me, and I wanted an outlet (or perhaps a test?) for that.
I began developing an idea for a book that featured a nurse-turned-deputy coroner that would feature a main character with similar traits back in 1994, around the same time I was trying to find an agent for what would become my first novel with HarperCollins. At the time I lived in Richmond, Virginia, so I used that as a setting. But it never quite seemed to gel for me, and I soon found myself with an agent and a book deal that required two more suspense novels with Harper, so I shelved it.
When I moved to Wisconsin in 1999, I found myself without an agent or a publisher (a whole other long, boring, sad story), so I resurrected that earlier idea, changing the setting to a small town in Wisconsin. And this time it worked. It took a long time to find another agent and sell the book, but it finally happened, and here we are with Dead on the Water, book eight in the Mattie Winston series.
KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?
Annelise: Yes, I want to entertain. That’s crucial to getting people to read your work, but I always have other objectives as well. I like to make people experience emotional highs and lows. I like to educate, to give people a glimpse inside a world they wouldn’t otherwise know, to share a vision, or a philosophy, or a point of view. I like introducing new ideas to readers, and expanding their horizons. That’s what I look for when I read fiction and it’s what I try to provide to my readers.
KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you 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?
Annelise: Before starting each book, I usually write a synopsis that covers the main plot ideas and characters. I didn’t used to do this, but I’m at a point career-wise where my publisher is willing to pay me for these synopses, so I’m motivated to write them. I use lots and lots of sticky notes to keep track of things. My finished product always varies a fair amount from the original synopsis.
KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?
Annelise: Whatever time of day it is when the ideas are free-flowing, when my words are coming flawlessly and brilliantly, and there are no interruptions. If you figure out what time of day that is, let me know! So far it’s hit and miss for me.
KRL: What kind of research do you do?
Annelise: Research is one of the more fun aspects of my writing job. I have researched everything from cocktail recipes to Constitutional law, from creating a new identity to surviving an apocalyptic event, from popular conspiracy theories to when certain types of fabrics were created. I’ve learned tons of useless facts about so many mundane topics, but every one of them is a peek into a world I didn’t know before, and that makes it fun and exciting for me. Even with all of that, there are inevitably little details that I get wrong from time to time (things you think you know) and there is always a reader out there somewhere who will point them out to me. The learning never stops, and I hope to keep on learning until the day I die, when I will finally learn the truth behind the biggest mystery of all!
Research is also one of the greatest distractions in my writing job, especially in this computer age. Google is the devil! All that said, the one type of research I’ve done all my life and continue to do every day is people watching. My career in nursing has been very valuable in this regard. Observing people from all walks of life, in all kinds of situations, and in varying environments is key to developing solid, believable characters. And I think it is the depth and relatability of the characters that make any story a success.
KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?
Annelise: I sent out my first short story seeking publication when I was seventeen. My first novel, also my first piece of published fiction, sold when I was forty. I think the math speaks for itself.
And it wasn’t just difficult in the beginning. After the initial high of my success with HarperCollins, the book world did a whole lot of corporate reshuffling and reorganizing, and I suddenly found myself without a publisher. A year or so later, my agent informed me she was retiring from the business. Suddenly I found myself back at square one and having to start all over again.
KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?
Annelise: I’ve kept every rejection letter I ever got—several hundred at this point. My favorite is the agent who hand wrote, “Don’t quit your day job!” in the top corner of my query letter to him, and sent it back to me—his form of a rejection letter. This was for Cold White Fury, which sold to HarperCollins and became my first published novel. I was tempted to send that letter back to him, along with a copy of the book, but didn’t.
KRL: Do you have any future writing goals?
Annelise: Just to keep on being able to do it, and having people who want to read my work.
KRL: How about any writing heroes?
Annelise: There are so many…naming names would inevitably leave out people I don’t mean to. But I have to credit the gothic romance writers whose works I devoured as a kid for giving me the storytelling and writing bug, people like Mary Stewart, Phyllis Whitney, and Victoria Holt.
KRL: What do you read?
Annelise: I read the newspaper every day, and I try to keep up with a few magazines, like National Geographic. I tend to read a wide variety of fiction, everything from YA to thrillers, even the occasional romance. Though these days most of my fiction is listened to rather than read.
KRL: Do you any favorite TV or movies?
Annelise: Some of my all-time favorite TV shows (past and present) are The X-Files, Twin Peaks, Downton Abbey, Modern Family, Big Bang Theory, and This Is Us. I love to binge-watch series on Netflix, and have really enjoyed House of Cards, The Crown, The Fall, and Stranger Things. I like any movie that can transport me to another world for a couple of hours and make me think, laugh, or cry.
KRL: Do you have any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?
Annelise: Perseverance and determination will win the day. That, and a willingness to set your ego aside.
KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
Annelise: I think most of the patients I’ve cared for in my nursing career would be surprised, and perhaps a bit concerned, to know that I spend my spare time thinking up clever ways to kill people.
KRL: Anything you would like to add?
Annelise: I write another mystery series in addition to Mattie Winston called the Mack’s Bar Mysteries. I write it under the pseudonym of Allyson K. Abbott (those initials are my little inside joke and poke at being asked by my publisher to create yet another pseudonym.) The main character in this series is a bar owner in Milwaukee who has a neurological disorder known as synesthesia (a lost-in-research discovery I was actually able to make good use of!) that heightens and cross-wires her senses.
Be a Fan!
To enter to win a copy of Dead in the Water, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “water,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen April 8, 2017. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address, and if via comment please include your email address.
Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & short stories in our mystery section.
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