Tag Archive for: Jacqueline Winspear author

The Allure of Mysteries—Dark and Historical Ones

By Kay Kendall

The main reason usually given to explain the enduring appeal of mysteries is that readers like to enter a world of suspense and chaos, knowing that everything will be tidied up and turn satisfactory in the end. This format has held true for the traditional mystery for decades, and even though there are now many variations on that theme, the reasoning remains largely the same. The reader enters into a scary world, experiences thrills and spills, and then comes out the other side with all the puzzles solved and the bad guy or gal apprehended and on the way to sure punishment.

Astute fans of crime fiction will be thinking at this point–“Ah yes, but what about noir?” Other younger fans may say–“But what about dystopian fiction? I like deep, dark scary stuff where everything in the world is bleak and still I can find room for hope.”

Author Philip Kerr in Berlin

Well, to each her or his own, I say in rejoinder. On the one hand, noir is too dark for me. I get depressed reading about all those losers hanging onto their lives by mere threads yet still striving to get ahead, find romance, make the killing (either of the flesh or the pocketbook), or escape from one last jam.

I do make exceptions for the best writers of noir fiction. Two such authors whose books always land on my must-read list are Reed Farrel Coleman and Timothy Hallinan. When I open one of their books, I know it will take me into the darkest reaches of the human soul, but the understanding of psychology and the writing itself will be so sublime that I am willing to go that deep and that dark. Louise Penny is a writer of traditional mysteries whose work seems to go ever darker as her books stack up. She also takes us readers into torturous psychological territory, but her protagonist is a fine man–chief inspector Armand Gamache of the Quebec provincial police–he of impeccable morals and astute ability to decipher human hearts. His shining rectitude and compassion shoot bright rays of hope through all her novels.

All three of these writers have won multiple awards for their fine books. Dark and unforgiving as I know their plots will be, I always look forward to the publication of their books. If it is going to be noir, then it has to be of the very best quality, elsewise I will not read it. Otherwise, it simply isn’t worth it for me to get depressed. Why escape from a fractious world into a fictional one that holds few pleasures? That is not escape. It is torture.

In contrast to my approach to mysteries of the noir variety is how I view historical mysteries. I love history so much that I can put up with an average mystery as long as the depiction of a long ago time is interesting and accurate. In the same vein, I often say that I will see any film if I know the actors and actresses wear period costumes. That may sound a bit extreme, but I do mean it. And I can go very dark when reading historical fiction because I know how that time period concluded. I know the good side won in World War Two, for example. and I don’t get overly anxious as I would if I were to pick up, say, a thriller based on nuclear brinkmanship with some country ruled by a madman.

In fact, historical mysteries set against the backdrop of either world war are among my favorites. I’ve blogged before about how author Jacqueline Winspear‘s books starring Maisie Dobbs have inspired my own fiction. After serving as a nurse in World War One, Maisie turns professional sleuth and amateur psychologist, and now as the series creeps up to the beginning of World War Two, she has taken to working with the British foreign office. I also admire the World War One mysteries of the mother-and-son writing duo of Charles Todd.

But perhaps the author whose mysteries speak deepest of all to me is Philip Kerr. He combines excellent writing with impeccable historical research, while focusing on the hapless case of Bernie Gunther, a decent cop in Berlin as Hitler seizes power. The Bernie Gunther books now number twelve, with the next one releasing this April. They show a basically good man trying to swim in a toxic sea of Nazis and not drown in filth. His earliest adventures are set in 1932, and his latest escapades show his entanglements with the Stasi in East Germany in 1956.

Talk about darkness of the soul. Poor Bernie can never escape his checkered past, and in the last two books he has become suicidal. I don’t know how long he can go on, but I hope like crazy that he can. When Philip Kerr announces the publication of a new book, I rejoice. He also comes through my city on book tour, and then I get to pick his brain during a book event about the wealth of research he has done in the Nazi era in Germany. So I guess I do have a taste for noir after all.


Meet the author

Kay Kendall is a long-time fan of historical
novels and now writes atmospheric mysteries that capture the spirit and
turbulence of the sixties. A reformed PR executive who won international awards
for her projects, Kay lives in Texas with her Canadian husband, three house
rabbits, and spaniel Wills. Terribly allergic to her bunnies, she loves them
anyway! Her book titles show she’s a Bob Dylan buff too. 
Rainy Day Women won two Silver Falchion
Awards at Killer Nashville in 2015.
Visit Kay at her website
<http://www.austinstarr.com/>or on Facebook < https://www.facebook.com/KayKendallAuthor>.

Lasting Fiction–7 Books That Matter Most to Me

By Kay Kendall

I can’t recall when I wasn’t
surrounded by books, even when my age was in single-digit years. I had a strict
time for lights-out but always wanted to keep reading. One year someone gave me
a small pin-on Santa. It lit up when I pulled a string dangling from Santa’s
beard and provided enough light for reading under the covers. Fortunately,
Santa’s battery lasted for months and months. This made me so happy, although
it’s a miracle I didn’t ruin my eyesight.

These memories illustrate how
important books have been for me, like, forever. I once told my mother
that “books are my friends.” I felt silly saying it, but years later she recounted
my words back to me. Both of my parents were great readers. Unusual for their
generation—the Greatest—both graduated from college. My father continued his quest for learning throughout his life, while my mother devoted herself
to fiction.

A few years ago, I came across my
baby book, bound in pink leather. On one page, space was provided to answer this
was baby’s first statement about religion?

My mother filled in the answer: “At the age of
two years, my daughter asked if Jesus went to college.”

Oh yes indeed, books and book
learning were inculcated early in me.

Like many of us who are inveterate
readers, I’ve encountered many favorite books over the years. I could probably
rattle off one hundred right off the top of my head. Recently I attempted to
winnow the list down to those that have stuck with me—those that left
lasting memories—and boiled that list down to seven. Here are the first five, in
the order that I read them:

Black Beauty by English author Anna Sewell, published 1877
Little Women by American author Louisa May Alcott, published 1868
Jane Eyre by
Charlotte Bronte, published 1847
Anna Karenina by
Russian author Leo Tolstoy, published 1878
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by
British author John le Carré, published 1974

Each of these novels I’ve read at least three times, with the exception of Anna Karenina, read only twice. (After all, it is by far the longest on my list.) Since I adhere to the motto of “so many books so little time,” I rarely reread anything. These five stand out because I devoured each of them many times. And even today, when paging through them,
I stop at passages that astonish me. The words leap off the pages and seem to
shout, “See. See. THIS is why I grabbed you and will never release you from my
clutches. You STILL believe in these things.”

Horse crazy as a young girl, I read many
books about horses, but only Black Beauty
had staying power. Its message of kindness to all creatures great and small was
important in my grade school years. The American classic of Little Women gave me a heroine named Jo
March with whom I could relate. Not her three sisters—they were too sweet or
dazzling or bossy. Then around age eleven, the adventurous Gothic romance of Jane Eyre swept me away.  I never looked for my own Heathcliff—oh no,
not him—but searched instead for my own Mr. Rochester. And I found him, dear
reader, I found him.  
To prepare for my SAT exams and for
college, I read classic literary novels in high school. I tried Anna Karenina then but could not get
past the first twenty pages. In my twenties I tried again, and that time it
took. I also read the great War and Peace,
and it was almost a toss-up for which I loved more, but poor Anna with her sad
tale won out. For anyone who has never read Tolstoy, I recommend that you begin
with something short to see if his precision writing draws you in. Try
The Death of Ivan
, a novella considered a masterpiece of Tolstoy’s late
fiction. What the author sees, understands, and describes is sheer brilliance,
even in translation.
The only
contemporary novel of my first five is my favorite spy story of all time, by my
favorite living author,
le Carré
. On first reading I could scarcely understand
it. There were too many code words and triple dealing and nothing was as it
seemed. I couldn’t even understand the ending—I was that confused. When I
reread it a year later, then I began to “get it.” The depth of deception
on both political and personal levels was astounding, and the puzzles were
dazzling. I have read le
Carré’s  masterwork several
more times for sheer pleasure.
All five of
these works I watch again and again as new versions come out for the screen. I
am particularly picky when I watch Jane
. No actress ever lives up to my vision of the heroine, although there
are some darned good Rochester’s, mind you. Conversely, actresses who play the
role of Anna Karenina have never disappointed me. Well, let’s face it. My
favorite book, ever, is Jane Eyre,
and nothing can compete on the screen with what I see in my own imagination.
Finally, in a somewhat different category
are books six and seven. These are seminal works—ones that contain the seeds of
later development. My own later development, to be exact. One inspired me to
try writing for the first time, and much, much later the other encouraged me to write
historical mysteries. These two are
“A Visit from St. Nicholas” by American
academic Clement Moore, first published anonymously in the Troy, New York Sentinel on December 23, 1823, and

by British author Jacqueline Winspear, published in 2003.
Even when I could read, my grandfather read
the beloved Christmas poem to me every holiday season. When we weren’t together, he read it to me over the phone. To this day I love its language and
can recall most of its lines. When I was seven, I wrote and illustrated my own
version, paying special care to decorate the opening line, “Twas the night
before Christmas when all through the house….” Then for decades I proceeded to
write and write and write some more, but none of it was fiction. Instead I
wrote a graduate thesis and then media releases, annual reports, and the like
for corporations and educational institutions during my PR career. While I sometimes longed to write novels, I didn’t think I had anything worthwhile to say.
Finally in 1998, I began my first attempt, empowered by a seminar for women
leaders in Texas.
While that completed manuscript will stay
hidden in a drawer forever, my next effort was successfully published. My historical
mystery, Desolation Row, was directly
inspired by Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs. That
debut book in her mystery series contains the critical elements I now try to
incorporate in my own mysteries—a tough yet tender female sleuth, an exciting
period of history for the setting, and crimes committed out of deep personal
anguish. . . . So, now that I’ve told you about the books that have lasted for me, do you know which ones did that for you? Please do share your comments below. I would love to know.

Read the first 20 pages of Kay Kendall’s second mystery, RANY DAY WOMEN here! http://www.austinstarr.com/ 
That book won two awards at the Killer Nashville conference in August 2016—for best mystery/crime and also for best book.  Her first novel about Austin Starr‘s sleuthing, DESOLATION ROW, was a finalist for best mystery at Killer Nashville in 2014. Visit Kay on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/KayKendallAuthor



Earlier this month, Bethany Maines asked us Stiletto Gang members the
question so many authors struggle with: “what other authors are you

My answer to this question has evolved over the past twenty
years. At first I didn’t even know it was a question—one I was supposed to be
readily able to answer. Then a kindly bookstore employee explained that
publishers and booksellers find it helpful in publicizing authors if they can
be compared to other more famous writers. Okay, so I do get that. After all, I
didn’t spend my whole previous career in public relations not understanding the
point of publicity.

Jacquelin Winspear

Then the difficulties set in. How could I presume to compare
myself to a well-known author? How presumptuous. I took an online test that
suggested it could analyze my writing and figure out where my style matched
someone else’s. The answer was ludicrous—and instantly forgettable. (For
example, someone like Herman Melville. No, I think not.)

Next I realized that there were certain authors of historical mysteries
who had inspired me. Here I began to
strike pay dirt. Jacqueline Winspear is the most relevant for me. Her Maisie
Dobbs mystery series is a direct inspiration for my Austin Starr mysteries.
Winspear began her early stories in the 1920s in England when the entire
society was trying to recover from the horrors of the conflagration that was
erroneously labeled “the war to end all wars.” We now call it, sadly enough,
World War One. She successfully evokes that time period and makes us readers
believe we are back among those fraught times when my grandparents were young.

Before I discovered Winspear’s books, I had only read historical mystery
series written by men with their male protagonists. Many of these tales were
set in the 1930s, emphasizing events that led up to World War Two, and then
also during that war itself. British author Philip Kerr writes about Bernie
Gunther, a Berlin detective who gets co-opted by the Nazis. Kerr’s plots are
unusual and his historic research is impeccable. Alan Furst also describes the
interwar period in a set of loosely related (very loosely) mysteries that are
steeped in atmosphere. His evocations of Eastern Europe and France are so
successful that when I read his books, I feel as if I am walking down a Parisian
street and smelling the Gauloises cigarettes smoked by passersby.

Sara Paretsky

There are other mystery writers who inspire me by setting their
stories against a background of important social issues. Sara Paretsky is the
queen of this group. After all, she was a pioneer of the female private
investigator V.I. Warshawski as protagonist. When she saw the difficulty women writers were
having getting published in America in the 1980s, she did something about it.
She was a founding mother of Sisters in Crime. How’s that for being a
successful author and activist too. Write on, sister!

There are easily ten more authors I could mention whose work
inspires my writing, but those I’ve listed here are the ones who continually bubble
up in my mind first. I would never dare say that my writing is like theirs, but
I am happy to give them a tip of my metaphorical hat and say, “Thank you for
being you, thank you for writing what you do. And please, do write on and on
and on.”  


Kay Kendall’s Austin Starr mysteries <http://www.AustinStarr.com> capture the spirit and turbulence of the 1960s. DESOLATION ROW
(2013) and RAINY DAY WOMEN (2015) show Austin, a 22-year-old Texas bride, set
adrift in a foreign land and on the frontlines of societal change. Austin
learns to cope by turning amateur sleuth.

Mystery Writers Who Inspired Me—Part 1

By Kay Kendall

Jacqueline Winspear is a marvelous author whose books have been
inspiring me for more than a decade. Most of the stories in her Maisie Dobbs
mystery series are set in England, and the series begins after the War to End
All Wars, which is alas now called World War One. The eleventh book in the
series came out this year.

Maisie Dobbs was a young nurse at the front, and her fiancé was
wounded in the fighting. In the first book, he is a hopeless invalid, unable to
speak and suffering from the gas attacks that occurred during the infamous
trench warfare. The initial offering—simply titled Maisie Dobbs—won many prizes for first novel and wide spread praise
from both reviewers and readers alike.

Author Jacqueline Winspear
What drew me into this mystery series was the depiction of
the ravages of war on those who did not fight. Winspear describes long-lasting
horrors that saddled a whole society after the war was won by the British and
their allies, the Americans, French and Russians. Calamitous events arose from
that disastrous war—the Russian Revolution, the Great Depression, and Hitler’s

Maisie becomes a private investigator and is taught how to
approach her cases from a psychological perspective by a wise, older male
mentor. The first books are set in the late 1920s and then carry into  the 1930s. We readers know that Europe is crawling
steadily toward another world war, and we see how Maisie adapts to changing
conditions and threats. Although several young men wish to wed her, she shies
away from commitment and maintains her independence steadfastly.  She helps others find happiness but doesn’t
seem able to do that for herself, at least in the area of romance.

I began reading these fine, unique mysteries by Jacqueline
Winspear before I began writing my own mysteries, and the more I read, the more
they inspired me. I wanted to develop my own tales to show another young woman
challenged by her own era’s battles—of war, politics, and changing values. It
is no exaggeration to say that without reading about Maisie Dobbs, I might
never have written about my own female amateur sleuth, Austin Starr.

Over the years I’ve been fortunate to hear Jacqueline
Winspear speak several times about the genesis of her series, how her own
grandfather survived his participation in World War One and how his military
service deeply affected her family. Plus, one of her grandmothers worked in a munitions
arsenal during the war and was partially blinded in an explosion.
To commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the beginning of
the war, Winspear published a standalone novel last year set during the cataclysm.
Her historical research is personal and impeccable.

Recently, a funny thing happened. I believed that I had read
all the volumes in order and that I was totally up to date with Maisie’s doings—with
the exception of the eleventh escapade. I bought it and added it to my
to-be-read pile—the enormous stack at my bedside. Yet, one thing had always
puzzled me. There was a jump in Winspear’s storytelling. A squabble between
Maisie and her mentor was referenced, and I didn’t know what to make of it or
where it came from. There was also the introduction in the middle books of a
character treated as continuing but one I had not been introduced to before. I double-checked
to ensure I had read all the books in order and kept on reading them.

And then last week, a sale grabbed me. The audiobook version
of the third mystery, Pardonable Lies,
was offered at a deep discount. Since it had been about a decade since I first
read that book—or so I believed—I bought the CD and popped it into my car’s
audio disc player. Imagine my surprise—no, my shock!—when the plot was new. I
had never read Pardonable Lies. In it
Maisie and her mentor quarrel over national security matters and she reconnects
with an old friend from college. No wonder I didn’t know about those threads in
Maisie’s story. I had missed them entirely.

This is delightful serendipity, stumbling upon a lost
treasure that I didn’t even know I had misplaced. Now when I get into the car
and face Houston’s clogged traffic, I enjoy the ride. Perhaps I will reread all
the books, or listen to them in traffic.   

I heartily recommend this series to you. Find Maisie’s
stories listed in order here: http://www.jacquelinewinspear.com/novels.php
Kay Kendall is a long-time fan of
historical novels and writes atmospheric mysteries that capture the spirit
and turbulence of the sixties. She is a reformed PR executive who lives in
Texas with her husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. Terribly allergic
to her bunnies, she loves them anyway! Her book titles show she’s a Bob Dylan
buff too. RAINY DAY WOMEN published in July. It is the second
in her Austin Starr Mystery series. The audiobook debuts soon.