Excerpts from Dorothy Johnston’s Mystery Quartet

dorothyjohnston_quartet_600We have a rare treat today—two excerpts from Dorothy Johnston’s award-winning mystery quartet.

The Trojan DogThe first extract is from the start of the first book in the Sandra Mahoney quartet, The Trojan Dog. Sandra is arriving at her new job, and has no idea that her boss, Rae Evans, is about to be charged with computer theft and fraud. [Note: The Trojan Dog won the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) Book of the Year in 2001.]

 What have I kept of Rae Evans from the moment, when she half-stood behind her desk and held out her hand to shake mine? I think it is the impression of white – white face, white shirt between the two halves of a power dark suit. Hers were night colours, and though it was early in the morning, and she was my new boss, it seemed as though the business day had not quite caught up to us, and maybe never would.

But Rae’s voice was level, businesslike. Her handshake was firm. She was head of the service industries branch of the Department Of Industrial Relations. I was the one holding the flowers, hugging them in fact, a potted cyclamen with pale pink blossoms that had only opened the day before. Rae glanced at it briefly and did not quite smile.

We talked for a few minutes about the report on clerical outwork I’d been hired to complete. We were supposed to be doing the local interviews ourselves and paying small teams of interviewers in the other States. Rae hinted that there were a lot of ends that needed tying up and that perhaps the women I’d be working with did not have the knots under control.

I waited for her to elaborate or be more precise, but instead she looked up at me and said, `Sandra? I don’t know whether you’re aware . . . I knew your mother – we used to meet at conferences. I liked her very much. How is she doing?’

I clutched my plant against my chest and said, `My mother died eight years ago.’

There was a fractional pause before Rae, paler than ever, replied, ‘I’m very sorry.’ ”

The Fourth SeasonThe second extract is from the final book in the quartet, The Fourth Season. Sandra by now is an experienced security consultant and solver of crimes. Peter and Katya are Sandra’s children and Laila Fanshaw an environmental activist.

Laila Fanshaw’s death was first reported on the late evening news, though her name wasn’t included in any of the initial reports. Katya had been asleep for hours. Peter should have been in bed as well, but he had a swag of maths homework, and, though he was tired and irritable, he’d insisted on waiting for Ivan to come home and explain a problem to him.

Ivan was my partner, Peter’s step-father and Katya’s natural one; and that night I had no idea where he was. He’d left the house straight after dinner and he wasn’t answering his phone. Peter had given up and was cleaning his teeth when Ivan walked in and went straight to the television.

As soon as the newsreader began to speak, the room contracted to a tinny box, ridiculously bright. The camera panned around Lake Burley Griffin. The reporter’s face glowed white, while police lights flashed behind him. As with all reports of violence at night, the scene, busy yet curiously static, took its atmosphere from dreams. The journalist stood in front of blue and white tape cordoning off a section of lake shore, where, he speculated, the assault may have taken place. The pulsating lights, the intensity of his face and body movements, made him seem closer to the water than he was.

A young woman had been found floating in it shortly before nine. Probably she would not have been found till morning, except that a middle-aged couple walking their dog had been alerted when the dog, a black Labrador, took off into the water and wouldn’t come back. When he did, he was dragging a corpse by the arm.

The reporter repeated these few facts, since he had little more to tell his audience – nothing that would identify the victim, only that she was young, and had been wearing a red waistcoat.

Ivan was standing close to the TV, absolutely still.

Peter came up behind him and I caught my son’s expression, the glint of fear that came as much from Ivan’s failure to react as what filled the screen.

The presenter moved on to another item while Ivan brushed past us and went to the phone.

I heard the words, ‘I’m coming over,’ before he grabbed a set of car keys and was gone again.

Peter’s face was closed and blank. I wanted to put my arms around him, but knew that, if I tried, he would push me away.

What does it mean to be told too little? What does this particular lack mean to an adolescent boy, or to his mother, who happens to be a person endeavouring to make her living by collecting information? It was an endeavour that, for years up until that moment, had sustained, if only just, both my life and that of my children—sustained in a thousand practical, easily overlooked ways. While I tried to think of something to say to Peter, and worried about where Ivan had been, and where he was going now, I knew I was facing a moment that severed before and after with the sharpest of knives.”

Dorothy Johnston_600I’m the author of nine published novels, including a quartet of mystery novels set in Canberra and a self-published collection of short stories, Eight Pieces on Prostitution.

The first of my mystery series, The Trojan Dog, was joint winner ACT Book of the Year, and the Age gave it their ‘Best of 2000’ in the crime section. It was published in Australia by Wakefield Press and in the United States by St Martin’s Press. The second, The White Tower, was also published in Australia and North America, and the third, Eden, appeared in 2007. All three feature the cyber-sleuth Sandra Mahoney and her partner, Ivan Semyonov, along with Detective Sergeant Brook, of the ACT police. The Fourth Season, the last book in the quartet, was published by Wakefield Press as an ebook in 2014.

With Eden, I returned to the subject of prostitution, which has long interested me and provided inspiration. My first novel, Tunnel Vision, is set in a Melbourne massage parlour. One of my literary novels, The House at Number 10, imagines Canberra from a sex-worker’s point of view. I’ve also published non-fiction pieces on the subject, including A Script With No Words.

Two of my literary novels, One for the Master and Ruth, have been shortlisted for the Miles Franklin award. Maralinga My Love is set during the time of the atomic bomb tests at Maralinga, in South Australia.

I’ve had numerous short stories published in magazines and anthologies.

I’ve completed an historical novel, Children of Ghosts and a novella, Ashes from the Headland. I’m currently working on a sea-change mystery series, set at the home of ‘Sea-change’, the TV series, on the south coast of Victoria. The first of these is called Through a Camel’s Eye.

I regularly review fiction for the Fairfax newspapers.

I’ve been a guest speaker at the Adelaide, Sydney, Melbourne, and Salamanca festivals; at the Canberra Word Festival, and both Australian Sisters in Crime conferences. Overseas invitations have included the Salzburg seminar on contemporary fiction, and residencies at Ledig House, International Writers Colony New York, and Lavigny in Switzerland.

I’m a founding member of the influential ‘7 Writers’ group, which began meeting in Canberra in the early 1980s, and continued as a writers’ workshop and discussion group for almost twenty years. A subject which continues to fascinate me from a literary point of view is Canberra, Australia’s national capital, where I lived for thirty years before returning to Victoria. Canberra features often in my fiction, and my feelings about the city are summed up in my essay, ‘Disturbing Undertones’.

I’m also a member of the Australian Society of Authors and Sisters in Crime, Victoria

One for the Master, The Trojan DogThe White Tower,  Eden, The Fourth Season, and The House at Number 10 can be bought directly from Wakefield PressWakefield Press is offering a special 4 for the price of 3 for The Sandra Mahoney Quartet.

– See more here.

Dorothy Johnston: On Writing a Mystery Quartet

dorothyjohnston_quartet_600I am thrilled to welcome my guest, the distinguished, award-winning author Dorothy Johnston. Dorothy has written nine novels, including a mystery quartet featuring security consultant Sandra Mahoney. The four books have recently been released as ebooks by independent Australian publisher Wakefield Press. Wakefield published the first three, The Trojan DogThe White Tower and Eden in paperback editions. The last of the quartet, The Fourth Season, is new. Each book is set during a particular season.

Here are her thoughts on writing a mystery quartet.

The Trojan DogDespite appearances and stereotypes, motherhood is not such a bad training for criminal investigation.

My protagonist, Sandra Mahoney, falls into investigating a crime, much as I fell into writing about them. Sandra has young children. She’s an everywoman, learning as she goes.

I have a son and daughter, though mine are grown up now. Sandra lives in the house I lived in until recently, in Canberra, Australia’s national capital. Her children go to the schools my children went to. In the first book, The Trojan Dog, Sandra is a reluctant wife, an adulterer, and a recent returnee to the workforce. She has an eight-year-old son with a reading problem. She is the antithesis of the loner stereotype beloved by the genre.

My main male character is Ivan, a Russian-born IT person who understands the technicalities of cyber-crime much better than Sandra does, at least at the start. Detective Sergeant Brook, the third partner in my investigative trio, has leukaemia, and is forcing himself to keep on working as a policeman.

I didn’t start out intending to write any kind of detective fiction. I’d completed four literary novels before attempting a crime one, and my most recent literary novel is sandwiched between numbers two and three of my series. I was an enthusiastic reader of crime, but never thought I could write it. I was also fascinated by the technological revolution that began to impinge on my life in the early 1980s, in 1982, to be precise, when I bought my first computer, a few months after my son was born.

Despite appearances and stereotypesThe computer was an Apple 2. I’d carried my son into the shop in a car capsule. He was as good as gold all the time I was making the purchase. The young man who sold me the computer carried it out to my small car, where I told him he’d have to put it in the boot because there wasn’t any room inside, the car being filled, as usual, with baby paraphernalia. The young man looked very put out at this, as though he expected that the baby should go in the boot, and the precious machine on the back seat, no doubt with a seat belt to keep it safe.

The third book in my quartet, Eden, is about Canberra’s sex industry. In Canberra, prostitution is zoned light industrial, which means that it’s legal in the light industrial zones of Fyshwick, Hume and Mitchell and illegal everywhere else. I sometimes think that is a kind of comment on the fact that, politics aside, Canberra has no heavy industry. At dusk on a Friday, when the used car yards and furniture shops of Fyshwick are closing up, the brothels come into their own. While writing Eden I had a lot of fun lurking around and watching who went in.

The Fourth SeasonThe Fourth Season begins when the body of young female environmental activist is found floating in Lake Burley Griffin. Ivan, who was in love with Laila, is a suspect and has no alibi for the time of death.

Sandra has to weigh up her desire to learn the truth against her children’s needs. Added to this, Detective Sergeant Brook is absolutely against her involvement in the case.

It takes all of Sandra’s ingenuity and courage to steer herself, and her family, through the dangers that lead to an eventual unmasking of the truth.

The Trojan Dog was published in 2000 and won the ACT Book of the Year. I’m pleased and excited that all four books in my quartet are finally out there. It feels like a job well done.

The Sandra Mahoney Quartet can be purchased from the Wakefield Press website, either as individual novels, or, as a special offer, four books for the price of three.

You can find out more about Dorothy Johnston and her books here http://dorothyjohnston.com.au/ Dorothy is a member of Sisters in Crime Australia.

Bio

Dorothy Johnston_600I’m the author of nine published novels, including a quartet of mystery novels set in Canberra and a self-published collection of short stories, Eight Pieces on Prostitution.

The first of my mystery series, The Trojan Dog, was joint winner ACT Book of the Year, and the Age gave it their ‘Best of 2000’ in the crime section. It was published in Australia by Wakefield Press and in the United States by St Martin’s Press. The second, The White Tower, was also published in Australia and North America, and the third, Eden, appeared in 2007. All three feature the cyber-sleuth Sandra Mahoney and her partner, Ivan Semyonov, along with Detective Sergeant Brook, of the ACT police. The Fourth Season, the last book in the quartet, was published by Wakefield Press as an ebook in 2014.

With Eden, I returned to the subject of prostitution, which has long interested me and provided inspiration. My first novel, Tunnel Vision, is set in a Melbourne massage parlour. One of my literary novels, The House at Number 10, imagines Canberra from a sex-worker’s point of view. I’ve also published non-fiction pieces on the subject, including A Script With No Words.

Two of my literary novels, One for the Master and Ruth, have been shortlisted for the Miles Franklin award. Maralinga My Love is set during the time of the atomic bomb tests at Maralinga, in South Australia.

I’ve had numerous short stories published in magazines and anthologies.

I’ve completed an historical novel, Children of Ghosts and a novella, Ashes from the Headland. I’m currently working on a sea-change mystery series, set at the home of ‘Sea-change’, the TV series, on the south coast of Victoria. The first of these is called Through a Camel’s Eye.

I regularly review fiction for the Fairfax newspapers.

I’ve been a guest speaker at the Adelaide, Sydney, Melbourne, and Salamanca festivals; at the Canberra Word Festival, and both Australian Sisters in Crime conferences. Overseas invitations have included the Salzburg seminar on contemporary fiction, and residencies at Ledig House, International Writers Colony New York, and Lavigny in Switzerland.

I’m a founding member of the influential ‘7 Writers’ group, which began meeting in Canberra in the early 1980s, and continued as a writers’ workshop and discussion group for almost twenty years. A subject which continues to fascinate me from a literary point of view is Canberra, Australia’s national capital, where I lived for thirty years before returning to Victoria. Canberra features often in my fiction, and my feelings about the city are summed up in my essay, ‘Disturbing Undertones’.

I’m also a member of the Australian Society of Authors and Sisters in Crime, Victoria

One for the Master, The Trojan DogThe White Tower,  Eden, The Fourth Season, and The House at Number 10 can be bought directly from Wakefield PressWakefield Press is offering a special 4 for the price of 3 for The Sandra Mahoney Quartet.

– See more here.

Tomorrow: two extracts from The Sandra Mahoney Mystery Quartet.

Guest Post: True Confessions of a Real-Life Juror

the holdout coverHave you ever wondered where novels come from? Sometimes their beginnings are as dim and remote as rivers. That’s my little lead-in to Laurel Osterkamp, award-winning author of four full-length novels and two novellas, among them The Holdout, a marvelous coming of age novel involving reality TV and—of all things—romance while on jury duty. In this guest post, Laurel gives us a sneak peek into the beginnings of The Holdout. So, Welcome, Laurel!

I really wanted jury duty.

For one, I would get out of teaching for a week or two. It was close to the end of the school year and my seniors were super squirrely.  But there was more to it than just that. I’ve seen my fair share of legal dramas, and I thought it would be cool to sit in that box and decide the outcome of a court case. So when I got my summons I felt like I’d been awarded something cool.

But that was nothing compared to actually getting picked.  The lawyers interviewed us, not individually, but as a group.  And we all had to state where we were from, our marital status, age, and profession. I was one of two people who wasn’t a native Minnesotan, and the other guy couldn’t speak English. I believe that for that reason, the defense wanted me. It was a court case between a famous and successful Minnesotan businessman and a Turkish boating company. Of course the defense would want someone, anyone, who was from out of town. That person was me.

And like Robin in The Holdout, I did become one of two people who spoke up for the defense during deliberations.  Actually, there are a lot of similarities between my jury experience and Robin’s.  More similarities include:

  • The jurors. I made their personalities a little more extreme in the book, especially in Four’s case. Hopefully the real-life Four will never read The Holdout, because she’ll probably hate me if she does. But other than that, I borrowed a lot from real-life.
  • The case. It was actually about yachts, and I learned a lot about cold-molding epoxy, which is a method of boat construction.
  • The routine. We did get prox-cards, which were keys to our very own jury room. We did get treats all the time, and we also took stretching breaks and had our own screens in front of our own cushy chairs. But my favorite part was that the bailiff always said, “All rise for the jury” every time we entered the room.
  • The deliberations. It was basically ten to two in the end, and the guy who agreed with me was the foreman of the jury. He was also worthless. I also wound up arguing with the juror who inspired Nick/Ten but it was also him who I respected the most out of all the jurors.
  • The verdict. But you’ll have to read The Holdout to find out more about that.
  • The best part was walking away at the end. Knowing that I’d be able to walk away made me more willing to speak out than I’d ever been before.
  • Nick/Ten really had been on three juries in two years – one county, one state, and one federal. So if you think that’s not possible, think again!

But there were differences too:

  • There was no romance. There were some single twenty-somethings on the jury, but I never picked up on any sort of spark between them.
  • There was no real-life handsome bad-boy who inspired Silas Smythe. Too bad. The trial would have been more interesting if he had been around.
  • I did eventually learn most of the juror’s names.

In the end, jury duty was a great experience, if for no other reason that it inspired The Holdout. I recommend it even for people who aren’t geeks like me. You’ll learn a lot, and in the end, you’ll have an interesting story to tell.

LAO_2_600Laurel Osterkamp gets very attached to her charactersScared Together is her newest story starring Lucy, who debuted in Campaign Promises, a free novella Laurel released to thank all her awesome readers. Then Lucy’s story continued with November Surprise and Blue State, both available on Amazon. Most recently there’s The Holdout, also featuring Lucy, but the main character is Monty’s cousin Robin, and it’s about love, justice, and reality TV.

You can find Laurel on Twitter but she doesn’t tweet super often. A better idea is to follow her blog, www.laurelosterkamp.blogspot.com, or Lucy’s blog, www.novembersurprises.blogspot.com, where you’ll read about Lucy’s career, marriage, and politics.

Laurel teaches in Minneapolis, MN. She enjoys her boot collection, spending time with her husband and two chatty children, and finding time to write.  Her other novels are both award winning –  Following My Toes and Starring in the Movie of My Life. Visit her at www.laurelosterkamp.com.

And you can find her books at AmazonSmashwordsBarnes & Noble, and Kobo.

StarringNewCoverAug2012_600Blue State Cover 4

Review: Starring in the Movie of My Life

StarringNewCoverAug2012_600Unputdownable Mothers: A Review of Starring in the Movie of My Life

Starring in the Movie of My Life by Laurel Osterkamp is a sparkling book. Matter of fact, I didn’t want this coming of age story to end. The novel is about Melody and Samantha who travel through high school and proto-adulthood duking it out, conniving, and dreaming, their loves and lives coming together at pivotal points in the story, influenced by an older generation before choosing their own ways. There are surprises on every page, I’m not kidding, events I never would have predicted, and yet they were spot on and made the book unforgettable for me. The story is told against a cinematic backdrop that I loved and the tone and writing are perfect, mirroring and creating mood.

The structure of the story is a real beauty with a unique build, a game-changer, like Gehry architecture, but I had a hard time deciding who the main character is, although why I bothered is beyond me. I settled for two. Both Melody and Samantha—and let’s not forget their mothers—have starring roles, but it’s Samantha—Sam, the almost-mother, the film-buff—who owns the story’s heartbeat and who thinks of life in terms of the flicks she’s seen or watches during the book.

Having two main characters gives Starring in the Movie of My Life a greater resonance and depth. First it’s Samantha’s turn to tell the story, then it’s Melody’s. Sometimes we get the same information but from two different points of view. And the stories of these women intertwine as well as entertain. There are other players who change, too—Nathan and Collin, for instance—and I liked them both immensely as well as Sam’s mother who makes a cameo later on in the novel. Oh yes, the story’s about mothers, too, and what they do to us and how we, despite our best efforts, mirror them. Or do we?

I could go on, but Laurel Osterkamp is a major storyteller who’s not afraid of themes and change and having good characters do nasty things. So if you love an unputdownable story, one that sticks to your brain and changes you, you won’t want to miss this read.

 

LAO_2_600Laurel Osterkamp gets very attached to her characters. Scared Together is her newest story starring Lucy, who debuted in Campaign Promises, a free novella Laurel released to thank all her awesome readers. Then Lucy’s story continued with November Surprise and Blue State, both available on Amazon. Most recently there’s The Holdout, also featuring Lucy, but the main character is Monty’s cousin Robin, and it’s about love, justice, and reality TV.

You can find Laurel on Twitter but she doesn’t tweet super often. A better idea is to follow her blog, www.laurelosterkamp.blogspot.com, or Lucy’s blog, www.novembersurprises.blogspot.com, where you’ll read about Lucy’s career, marriage, and politics.

Laurel teaches in Minneapolis, MN. She enjoys her boot collection, spending time with her husband and two chatty children, and finding time to write.  Her other novels are both award winning –  Following My Toes and Starring in the Movie of My Life. Visit her at www.laurelosterkamp.com.

And you can find her books at AmazonSmashwordsBarnes & Noble, and Kobo.