“Exciting,” “addictive, and “believable” are but a few of the adjectives presenters at the “Top Thrills” panel at LJ’s 18th annual Day of Dialog, held on Wednesday, May 27, at New York University’s Kimmel Center in lower Manhattan, used to describe their latest books, among the season’s best suspense and mystery novels.
At 4 p.m., with the sun casting its last light on Washington Square Park, panel moderator and longtime LJ reviewer Jeff Ayers of the Seattle Public Library took to the stage to kick off the sold-out event’s final panel. He began with a challenge to best-selling authors Jennifer McMahon, The Night Sister (Doubleday, Aug.); Kathy Reichs, Speaking in Bones (“Temperance Brennan” series, Bantam, Jul.); Lori Roy, Let Me Die in His Footsteps (Dutton, 2015); Charles Todd, A Pattern of Lies: A Bess Crawford Mystery (Morrow, Aug.); and Kate White, The Wrong Man (Harper Paperbacks, 2015), asking each to summarize his or her book in 50 words or less.
“A blast” exclaimed Charles Todd, with Caroline Todd part of the mother-son writing team Charles Todd, whose latest Bess Crawford mystery takes off after an explosion at a gunpowder mill sends Bess to war-torn France to connect the murders to a suspect. “Monsters and murder” quipped McMahon, explaining that her new book centers on a crime in a rural Vermont hotel and its effect on two sets of sisters, one generation removed. “Disturbing activities in bright lights and web sleuthing,” Reichs said of Speaking in Bones, in which beloved forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan investigates yet another missing-persons case only to find herself on the threshold of something far more sinister and otherworldly. Roy described Let Me Die in His Footsteps, featuring two Southern families in conflict, as “inspired by the last public hanging” in this country, while White, daughter of a librarian and former editor in chief of Cosmopolitan magazine, expressed the main character’s experience in The Wrong Man as akin to falling down a rabbit hole: lots of layers and unforgettable surprises.
Ayers then asked for the origins of their ideas and what happens to the plot points that don’t make the cut. For Caroline and Charles Todd, there’s a heavily used “what if” folder; Roy, who relies on an internal nesting instinct to help her decide when the time is right for an idea to come to life, recalled the words of Raymond Chandler, who said, “Writing is like an iceberg; for every foot that shows above water, there are eight below.” Reichs, who in addition to being a hugely popular novelist is also the co-creator of the hit TV show Bones, says that all of her books are based on real crime cases, to which she adds spooky, imaginative twists.
The hot topic of genre and whether or not it matters to a novel’s success drew a response from Roy to which all panelists agreed: “a real good book defies boundaries.” Elaborating on approaches to writing, the author offered useful advice: “You can’t just think about what you want from the world but what the world wants from you. Write the book you want to read.” “Reach out to as many readers as you can” beamed McMahon. And, finally, perhaps the simplest yet most challenging suggestion for how writers can engage readers came from Caroline Todd, whose recommendation to “keep it exciting. Nothing is better than an exciting book” brought the panel and the day to a gratifying close.