Rest In Peace, Elmore Leonard

Elmore LeonardMan, 2013 has not been a good year for authors! Today, Elmore Leonard passed away, and even if you don’t think you are familiar with him, you are sure to be familiar with some of the movies and television shows he wrote or inspired: Out of Sight, Get Shorty, 3:10 to Yuma, and Justified, to name just a few. I was first introduced to Leonard through the very short-lived tv show Maximum Bob which ran for just seven hysterical episodes in 1998, but inspired me to read the novel with the same name and become a lifelong fan of the author.

I consider him one of the founding fathers of the craziness-in-Florida niche genre continued by Dave Barry and Carl Hiaasen, and if you haven’t read any of his work, you should definitely check it out if you want to laugh at some head-shaking craziness that doesn’t seem that farfetched anymore. Honestly, with Florida, you laugh so you don’t cry, and Leonard is very good at making the reader laugh. In eulogy, Vulture posted Leonard’s Ten Rules of Good Writing, and it is easy to see why I am such a fan.


RIP Elizabeth Peters

RIP Elizabeth Peters
(Sept. 29, 1927 – Aug. 8, 2013)

I just learned that Elizabeth Peters recently died. Her actual name was Barbara Mertz, but I knew her as Elizabeth Peters when I grew up reading her books.

She was a prolific mystery writer, her characters are a delight, and her writing easily mixed suspense and humor. I particularly loved her sense of character though. Her heroines were all very real, with very definite personalities and perspectives. They were all people that I would have loved meeting, but also that I could have imagined meeting. They were real people and they continue to delight me. The love interests were also all strong personalities that could hold their own against the main characters, and the large casts of secondary characters were always zany and delightful.

I think growing up reading these books provided a wonderful salve to also growing up reading classic science fiction, which tended to skimp on the character side of things, especially when it came to females. Peters’ characters more than made up for the lack in any other books, though. Her were a delight and a wonder.

crocodile-on-the-sandbank   The first book of hers that I read was Crocodile on the Sandbank, which introduced me to Amelia Peabody, Peters’ most well-known character. Peabody is a British female Egyptologist in 1884. As you might guess from that, she is quite opinionated and strong-willed. Watching her butt heads with pretty much everyone is a delight. Amelia along with her eventual husband and eventual son are the focus of 19 books.

borrower-of-the-night-a-vicky-bliss-murder-mystery-by-elizabeth-peters     streetoffivemoons    silhouette

My favorite series of hers though is the one that follows Dr. Victoria Bliss, a medieval arts scholar who works at the National Museum in Munich. Vicky is Barbie-doll-esque enough in appearance that most people don’t take her seriously as a scholar. Her boss Herr Professor Anton Schmidt is Santa-Claus-esque enough in appearance that no one takes him seriously as an adventurer. John Tregarth is a master criminal who tries valiantly to not be taken too seriously. Together they find and/or get drawn into all sorts of historical and criminal adventures.

summer_of_the_dragon     devilmaycare     lovetalker

Some of my favorite books of Peters, though, are her stand alone novels, introducing whole new casts of characters and a single mystery to be resolved. Of her many such books, Summer of the Dragon is probably my favorite, closely followed by Devil-May-Care and The Love Talker.

This is an author well worth reading and who has had a major impact on my youth, reading, and writing. She set a high bar for others to follow.

Rest in peace, Elizabeth Peters.

E. L. Konigsburg

This past Friday, E.L. Konigsburg died. In case you don’t recognize the name, she wrote From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and was one of the most influential children’s book authors of the 20th century.

If you haven’t read From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, you should really go track it down immediately because it is delightful. It is about two suburban children–Claudia and her little brother Jamie–who run away from home to New York City and set up house in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They eat from automats and sleep in the museum’s Tudor bed and end up solving a mystery before returning safely home. When I first read it, I lived in a tiny town in Texas and Claudia’s New York City seemed like another world. But I desperately wanted to see her world, and I put at least some of the responsibility for my love of big cities and current city residence on this book. Plus, the first time I went to New York, I went to the Met and tried to find the fountain where Claudia and her brother took their baths and collected coins. (I never did find it–I think if it ever was a real fountain, it’s not there anymore. Also, I’m sad I can’t eat at an automat.)

When I saw the news about Konigsburg (via Twitter, of course, because how else do I learn things these days), the first thing I thought of was From The Mixed-Up Files. But when I looked up her full catalog, I was reminded that she wrote a whole pile of books that I loved as a child–a partial list includes:

A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver
Up from Jericho Tel
Father’s Arcane Daughter

Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth

Both as a kid and now as an adult, I loved that her stories always seemed to have a twist. A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver is about Eleanor of Aquitaine, but rather than a simple historical fiction biography for kids, it is about Eleanor looking back on her life from Heaven, while waiting to see whether Henry II will get in. And Up From Jericho Tel is your basic friendship-between-two-outcasts except that in this case the two kids end up also befriending the ghost of Tallulah Bankhead. Yes, really. I also loved the way all these books give a lot of power to the opinions and needs of kids, without turning into “message” books. For example, in From The Mixed-Up Files, Claudia decides to run away from home not due to any dark secret, but because she is ready for adventure and feels like there is more to life than her elementary school routine. Sure, Claudia comes off as a little overdramatic, but the message I always took from the book was that it was imminently reasonable to wish for more. And while Claudia ultimately decides that she misses her family and the comforts of home, she also doesn’t give up on her adventure until she feels like she can return with something new and special that will change her everyday life. (I’m trying not to spoil this 40-year-old book, just in case someone decides to track it down for the first time based on my review.)

Konigsburg gave kids a lot of credit, both by creating child characters with agency and ideas, and by trusting that her readers could handle some ambiguity and the occasional ghost of an actress or queen. I was sorry to hear of her death, but so glad that she wrote as many wonderful books as she did.

Kinsey’s Three Word Review of E.L. Konigsburg: Go read everything!

You might also like: The Westing Game always reminded me of her booksa story with a heart where nothing is too obvious.