Saturday, March 23, 2013

Three Graves Full

Every now and again I will recommend a book to you, but very rarely will I do a full book review. Mostly that's because I'm short on time and this isn't a book-review blog.

Today is different.

The book is THREE GRAVES FULL by Jamie Mason. For ease of reading, I'll divide this review into three sections: (1) story summary, (2) my review (3) disclaimer (I know that's not normal, but read on and you'll see).

Before I begin, I'll let you know that this is one book that you can judge by its cover, which I just love.

Right, let's begin:

(1) Story summary (from Amazon):

There is very little peace for a man with a body buried in his backyard.
But it could always be worse. . . .

More than a year ago, mild-mannered Jason Getty killed a man he wished he’d never met. Then he planted the problem a little too close to home. But just as he’s learning to live with the undeniable reality of what he’s done, police unearth two bodies on his property—neither of which is the one Jason buried.

Jason races to stay ahead of the consequences of his crime, and while chaos reigns on his lawn, his sanity unravels, snagged on the agendas of a colorful cast of strangers. A jilted woman searches for her lost fiancĂ©, a fringe dweller runs from a past that’s quickly gaining on him, and a couple of earnest local detectives piece clues together with the help of a volunteer police dog—all in the shadow of a dead man who had it coming. As the action unfolds, each character discovers that knowing more than one side of the story doesn't necessarily rule out a deadly margin of error.

(2) My review:

The story: I read a lot of crime fiction, and as you know I write it, too. Originality, true originality, is rare but we have it here. Once an author comes up with a unique premise like this, the reader is inevitably going to be hooked and I was. It's a clever double-hook, too, with Jason's body in the back yard and two unknown ones in the front--that's two mysteries that the reader wants to investigate.

Having hooked me, the plot continued to pull me along, not because the author throws in manufactured twists (which can be annoying) but because the story flowed like a river (one of those white-water, excitingly bubbly ones) and I couldn't help but find myself on the cusp of another disaster and desperate to know how it turned out. But also, the characters...

The characters:  here's a challenge: write a story where the main character is a wimp. How do you hold the reader's interest when your central figure is kind of a passive, soft-spined, scaredy-cat? Well, you write this book. See, the other characters become extensions of him, moulding his mind and actions and pressing him into activities that create conflict, which is the essence of a good book. And those surrounding characters are themselves original, interesting, and real.

The other thing that happens, is that you as the reader start to donate spine to the main man. I felt anger on behalf of Jason as one of the characters bullied him, and Jason's flaws let me root for him when I wasn't directly identifying with him.

I reserve a special nod for one character, though, because Mason manages to pull off something that normally irritates me, something that will by itself make me put down a book and roll my eyes. See, there's a dog in the book, Tessa, a dog you come to love very much and Mason tells part of the story (a small part) from Tessa's point of view. Not only did she pull that off, but left me wishing more of the story came from Tessa's POV. (That said, it wouldn't have made sense to do so, I just love how she did it.)

The writing: I probably should have started with this, because the writing was perhaps the greatest pleasure for me. This book has been billed as a kind of Coen brothers movie in book form. I happen to think that's an apt description because this book has a literary flair that elevates it above others in the genre. I've seen reviews calling THREE GRAVES FULL literary and I concur. Paragraph after paragraph, page after page, I reveled in the beauty of the language. Mason has a way with words that, as a writer, delights you and makes you envious, and as a reader is beyond charming. Think of a book as a meal, with the plot as the recipe, the characters as the ingredients, and the writing as the process of combining those two and cooking. Mason is a master chef.

(3) The Disclaimer:

This is Jamie Mason:

I know Jamie Mason. I offered to read and review her book because she's a friend. Understand, though, that such an offer trails behind it an invisible but very real ripple of trepidation. What if I hate the book? What do I do and say then?  Well, I'll tell you: what I don't do in that case is write a long, slobbering review raving about it. I only do that when I love the book, which as you can tell happens to be the case. Now, I haven't said this to Jamie, though I know she's felt the same as a writer and reviewer, but about nine sentences in I experienced a huge wave of relief (and in this case excitement) when it became clear that she could really write.  And believe me, she can really, really write.

If you want to know more about her and her work, check out these links:

Her web site:
Her blog:
The writing site she co-run:
Her Facebook page:

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


Did you know that I don't wear a bullet-proof vest when I ride out with the cops? Have I mentioned that? Well, it's true.

So what, right? It's not like I do anything dangerous out there, even though I've been riding shotgun in Charlie Sector for over a year now (I say "shotgun" because they don't let me drive and I know where the button is that releases the shotgun between the driver and passenger seats. No, I won't tell you which button it is).

Last week, , though, we had a warrant service on someone who had a felonious, but non-violent, criminal history. And (obviously) an active warrant for her arrest. We were pretty sure we knew where she lived and that she was home, but the concern was that she would look out the window when an officer knocked and simply not answer.

No door kicking-in, on this one.

So I piped up: "Hey guys, I'm in civvies, why not let me knock on the door?  Use some of that English charm. Huh? Huh??"

See, I like action not paperwork. When my parents lived in Africa I visited and walked out onto mudflat to get photos of crocs and when a local got scared at the sight of a mammoth rock python, I poked a bush with a stick, looking for it. After all, I'd only seen the last eight feet of it disappearing into the shrub, I wanted to see the business end.

So knocking on a door? Pffft. Easy.  And my officer (Charlie 501, who I've ridden with several times and who I now consider a friend) said, "Hey, cool, lemme ask Sarge."

At which point, I thought (but didn't say): "Lemme ask wife."

You see, what seems like a good idea at the time isn't always, and checking with a cooler head can be a decent idea. So he typed and I typed and seven seconds later we got our responses (and I swear, these are exact quotes):

Wife: "No."

Sarge: "Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo."

The two most important women in my life at that moment, they had me covered.

Charlie 501 and I laughed, and he knocked on the door instead. She was home, answered, and all was well. (I stood behind a tree, picturing my wife and Sarge nodding approvingly.)

Oh, since I'm on the subject of being covered, I just wanted to share the artwork for the Portuguese edition of The Bookseller that my agent sent me today. Love it.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Red Shawl, a Dominatrix, and Me

I know what you're thinking, but I'm not about to provide you with material to blackmail me. No, this is about an odd connection that sprang up out of the blue. Well, red.

See, this man emailed me. He's from Argentina but lives in Canada and he'd read The Bookseller and liked it. His name is Alex Waterhouse-Hayward and he's a photographer, writer, and artist. A seriously good photographer who's taken pics of all kinds of remarkable people.

And now some unremarkable ones (me).

See, Alex came to town and asked if, while he was here, I'd participate in a project he's working on. It involves wearing a red shawl his mother bought in Argentina fifty-plus years ago. Each person he photographs goes onto his blog and writes something to go with the picture (here's mine). He doesn't tell you how to wear the shawl, or what to write.

A burlesque dancer, poets, actresses, composers, even a "provocateur" have all gone before me. And yes, a dominatrix, too. I single her out for two reasons. First, I love the photo. Second, what she wrote to accompany it is genius; it's funny, concise, honest, and simply perfect. Check it out.

It's an honor to be on the Red Shawl roll call with all those high-falutin' achievers. But it's also just plain cool. That a guy I don't know read something I wrote and made a connection with me, and then through an old piece of cloth that means something to him, connects me to other people. That's been one of the wonders of being a writer, to be honest, hearing from total strangers who take the time to email me and let me know they liked my books.

It's true that I hear some nasty stuff, too, people seem to get very upset when then buy a book and don't like it. Check out the reviews on Amazon to see what I mean. But those are out-weighed by the good ones (there are more, fortunately, and those are the ones I reread!) and when people like Alex drop me a line and include me in their work, it's priceless.

Ah, you know who I should connect? The people who write mean things about my book and that dominatrix. She, quite clearly, is someone not to be trifled with.