Friday, February 14, 2014

Minnesota Book Awards

A flurry of e-mails and Facebook posts let me know back on January 25 that THE BOOK OF KILLOWEN was a finalist for the Minnesota Book Awards. It's truly such an honor and a thrill to be nominated! I was a finalist once before, for FALSE MERMAID, back in 2004, and cheered along with fellow finalists Judith Guest and William Kent Krueger for our friend and colleague K.J. Erickson as she took home the award.

This year, I'm nominated in the genre fiction category with fellow crime writers Brian Freeman, Cary Griffith, and William Kent Krueger. All three have won Minnesota Book Awards in the past, but Cary's latest is his crime fiction debut, so this is his first nomination in genre fiction — he's published in other fields. If you haven't read these great writers yet, you're in for a treat, and if you have, then you already know!

Just being nominated is wonderful, even if you don't end up taking home the trophy at the end of the night. It's great fun, not to mention great validation for what we do every day, to see people getting so excited about books and writing. And heck, there will be champagne and dessert!

The Minnesota Book Awards is all about getting great books into the hands of readers, and to that end there are lots of activities to raise public awareness of Minnesota writers and their books.

There's a "Meet the Finalists" night at Open Book on March 14, where nominees will give short presentations about their books. After the program you can chat with the authors and enjoy complimentary wine and refreshments. Finalist books will be available for purchase and autographing, and admission is free.

The really big party, the Minnesota Book Awards Gala, will be held at the Union Depot in Saint Paul on April 5. Here's what it says on the MNBA site:

Each April, authors, publishers and book-lovers celebrate the best of local literature at the Minnesota Book Awards Gala. The Gala returns to the capital city this year, to beautiful and newly restored Union Depot in Lowertown, Saint Paul. 
Books, autographs, wine, live music, and the announcement of the award winners make for an unforgettable evening. This year, the witty host of "Wits," John Moe, will emcee the event, and innovative jazz trio The Willie August Project will provide the music.  
Check the MBNA website for more details, and order tickets HERE.

And now, as a public service announcement, here's a little about the nominated books in the genre fiction category...

by Brian Freeman

As Jonathan Stride returns home to his cottage on the shore of Lake Superior after midnight, he finds a teenage girl hiding in his bedroom. She says that someone is trying to kill her. The girl isn't a stranger to Stride. She's the daughter of a woman he tried - and failed - to protect from an abusive, murderous ex-husband years earlier. With the guilt of that failure still hanging over his head, Stride is determined to protect this young girl, Cat Mateo, from a shadowy predator. However, Cat seems to have secrets of her own. A journalist who interviewed the girl has disappeared. Two more women are found murdered. Stride feels as if he is always one step behind a brutal killer who has Cat in his sights, and must find out why this young girl has been targeted for death - and why a decade-old crime is coming back to life.

by Cary J. Griffith

Sam Rivers, wildlife biologist and special agent for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, has a penchant for understanding predators. His expertise finds him returning to Defiance, Minnesota, his boyhood home on the Mesabi Iron Range, a place he hasn’t seen in twenty years. There, he investigates wolf depredation of local livestock—but wolves aren’t the only predators in Defiance. The mysterious death of his estranged father lands the agent on a case unlike any he’s worked before. His knowledge of cold, wilderness and wolves was bred in his bones. He learned his lessons well, and now he’ll need to use them.

by Erin Hart

After a year away from working in the field, archaeologist Cormac Maguire and pathologist Nora Gavin are back in the bogs, investigating a ninth-century body found buried in the trunk of a car. They discover that the ancient corpse is not alone—pinned beneath it is the body of philosopher Benedict Kavanagh, missing for mere months. Both men were viciously murdered, but centuries apart—so how did they end up buried together in the bog? While on the case, Cormac and Nora lodge at Killowen, a nearby artists' colony and organic farm and sanctuary for eccentric souls. Digging deeper into the older crime, they become entangled in high-stakes intrigue encompassing Kavanagh's death while surrounded by suspects in his ghastly murder. It seems that everyone at Killowen has some secret to protect.

by William Kent Krueger

As a blizzard swells just days before Christmas, the car belonging to the wife of a retired local judge is discovered abandoned on a rural road. After days without any leads, the search-and-rescue team, assisted by O’Connor, has little hope of finding her alive, if at all. Early on, Cork notices small details about the woman’s disappearance that tell a disturbing story. And when the beloved pet dog of a friend is found decapitated, he begins to detect a startling pattern of ominous incidents throughout the area. Then Cork’s son is nearly killed, and he knows this is no trick of his imagination. Someone is spinning a deadly web in Tamarack County. At the center is a murder more than twenty years old for which an innocent man may have been convicted.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Grandma's Gingerbread Men

This month (in addition to scribbling madly on Book Five, of course...) I'm helping to whip up the usual army of gingerbread men for the holidays. Does anybody else remember that great line from Margo Ledbetter on the Brit-com "Good Neighbors"? Surely you remember Margo (played by the estimable Penelope Keith), on the subject of her impressive baking output for charity: "Gingerbread men in quantity hold no fear for me!" The recipe below was handed down on the German-American side of the family by my wonderful grandmother, Morine Pickart Van Steenhuyse.

You might well wonder whether I've tried to make them into little replica bog men. Not yet, but I suppose it could be done...

Gingerbread Men
2 cups sugar
1 cup shortening
1 cup dark molasses
2 eggs
7 cups flour (more or less)
1 cup hot coffee (with 2 heaping teaspoons baking soda added)
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoons ground ginger

Mix sugar, shortening, molasses, and egg with electric mixer, then slowly add hot coffee/soda mixture and stir well. (It will look horrible, but don't be deterred!) Add half the flour, spices, and stir thoroughly, then add remaining flour until the dough is easily handled, but still sticky. Cover and chill overnight. Roll out and cut as desired. Bake cookies at 350°F for 10 minutes, or until no imprint remains. When cool, frost and decorate as desired.

When the frosting is dry, layer the cookies in tins or plastic food containers, and put a few apple slices wrapped loosely in aluminum foil around the edges. This helps soften the cookies, and gives them a lovely apple flavor. Remove the apples after a few days, before they become a science experiment!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

BOOK OF KILLOWEN glossary entries

One of the delightfully fun things about writing novels is getting to share all of the strange and esoteric knowledge I gain through research. Many people want to know how to pronounce Irish words and names; I get to translate some of the slang my characters use, and explain forensic details, archaeological terms, and in the case of this new book, lots of fascinating information about the making of early medieval manuscripts, including all the strange materials used to create inks and pigments.

I'm working on definitions and pronunciations for the list of words below, and would love to know if there are any other words you're dying to know about. Let me know, and I'll include them on the glossary page.

New glossary entries for THE BOOK OF KILLOWEN

An Feadán Mór
Annala Rioghachta Éireann
Annals of the Four Masters
atin’ (eating)


caput humeri, tuberculum majoris, infra spinatus, teres minor...
Cill Eóghain
Cumdach Eóghain

Dun Aengus

Éile Uí Chearbhaill


Go mhéimid beo ag an am seo arís.


interphalangeal joint
‘in ualle lacrimarum in loco quem posuit.’

John O’Donovan


lamina propria
liber sextus
livor mortis



Ó Beigléighinn

poncing, ponce
Port na Rón

red lake
rushy glen 

saag chicken and garlic naan
Senchus Mór
shower of shites
St. Manchan

Tir na nOg
Tom O’Bedlam

vitae aeternam


yellow ochre

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

"In the beginning was the Word..."

I confess to being a bit tongue-tied whenever trying to explain what my books are ABOUT. Yes, they're archaeological/forensic mysteries set in the bogs of Ireland, but I sincerely hope that each one is ABOUT much more than just whodunit. Any good novel is full of mysteries, and in some ways, I prefer to let readers find the connections and the meaning behind the stories. 

But there is always an underlying theme: in HAUNTED GROUND it was how the past intrudes into and connects with the present; in LAKE OF SORROWS it was how the notion of sacrifice has stayed with us down through the ages; in FALSE MERMAID I got to play with all sorts of fairy-tale ideas about identity and shape-shifting.

THE BOOK OF KILLOWEN was inspired by the discovery of  The Faddan More Psalter, a 9th-century book of psalms, in a Tipperary bog in 2006. I was fascinated by the thought of someone losing a book in a bog... Not to mention the fact that a leather satchel had been found not far away... seven years previously. Anyone who knows anything about medieval scribes knows that they stored and carried their manuscripts around in leather book satchels, known in Irish as tiag libuir

For those of you who know Cormac Maguire and Nora Gavin, THE BOOK OF KILLOWEN has them back in the bogs of Ireland, recovering the remains of a  man from the ninth century who has turned up for some reason in the trunk of a car buried in the bog.

(When I told people how the story began, they would always ask how a ninth-century guy ended up in the trunk of a car, and I'd say, "I don't know—I have to write the book to find out.")

While Cormac and Nora are out on the excavation, another body turns up, and this time it's a modern murder victim, Benedict Kavanagh, the host of a television program. Cormac and Nora are staying at Killowen, a local organic farm/artists' retreat, and the people living or working there (including Kavanagh's wife and her lover) all become suspects in his murder.

My fictional story centers on the search for an ancient manuscript. I'm fascinated by the ways in which Irish culture throughout the ages was perpetuated without written language (and is still being perpetuated, in some situations), and how the Irish monks who copied out all those thousands of manuscripts in the 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th centuries kept ideas and learning alive. 

I've always had more than a passing interest in handwriting and calligraphy, but when the Faddan More Psalter turned up, I got very interested in the whole fascinating history of books and book-making. Imagine living in a time when every book in the world had been written out by hand...

To me, the theme of THE BOOK OF KILLOWEN centers on language and words, the ways and habits we have of encoding language, the ways in which words and stories and beliefs are handed down. 

Various people in the novel  have trouble communicating: some speak in fits and starts because of brain conditions like aphasia and Tourette's, some can't read or write, some speak languages other than English. To these people, and those trying to understand them, the link between words and their meaning cannot be taken for granted.

We're going through a revolution at the moment, not unlike the revolution that occurred in Ireland in the early days of Christianity, when the written word began to supersede the spoken word at the center of the culture. THE BOOK OF KILLOWEN touches upon all those ideas, the mysterious ways that words and knowledge are passed down through the centuries. 

The transmission of knowledge in traditional culture—music, song, storytelling, and history—is something that fascinates me, and it's something my characters often think about. At one point in HAUNTED GROUND, Cormac says to Nora: 
Things do remain. People carry on, without even knowing. You can’t kill that, as hard as you might try. It’s almost like something embedded in our subconscious, like a virus, that only shows itself in certain conditions. Sounds daft, I know, but doesn’t it make sense, when you think of all that’s managed to survive?

In THE BOOK OF KILLOWEN, the young scribe in the prologue, Eóghan, is obsessed with words and writing, and keeps returning to a passage from the Gospel of John, something he probably would have copied out by hand many times over: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and God was the Word."  

Although I'm thoroughly agnostic, I am fascinated by this connection in the human mind between the idea of god and the idea of language. Every belief system in the world has its holy books, collections of words that distill and magnify religious and spiritual ideas. 

Those books are our still-vital connection to the thoughts that traveled through the minds of ancient philosophers and scholars. There must have been many written works that did not survive. But a few managed to travel through millennia unscathed, and that we still have any of those ancient works at all is probably down to the Irish monks who patiently copied out every book they could get their hands on, spreading curiosity and the love of knowledge at a time when approved and accepted ways of thinking were growing narrower and narrower.

I'm also playing around with ideas about how we define the word 'book.' The characters in THE BOOK OF KILLOWEN debate this subject over the dinner table Is a book an artifact, a physical object, something we can hold in our hands and touch? People who love books love that aspect of them, right down to the smell of ink and glue. Or can a book be a collection of words and ideas, in whatever format used to transmit them? I hear from more and more people all the time who are completely devoted to audiobooks, who revel in the words of a story brought to life by reading aloud. 

That's the way I learned to love books, living along with the characters as my mother read to us from LITTLE WOMEN, ROBINSON CRUSOE, TREASURE ISLAND, MISTRESS MASHAM'S REPOSE...

I would love to hear YOUR thoughts about all this, dear readers. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Sisters in Crime - We Love Libraries!

Like many of you, I pretty much grew up in the stacks at my local public library, and have long been an ardent fan and supporter of libraries in Minnesota, who do so much wonderful programming, in addition to fostering reading and learning every day of the year. So I am thrilled to report that another Minnesota library has won the national Sisters in Crime "We Love Libraries" drawing! 

Libraries enter the drawing by sending in photos of staff members with books by members of Sisters in Crime. I was delighted that the Mille Lacs Community Library in Isle, Minnesota decided to feature in their winning photo a whole bunch of books by members of Twin Cities Sisters in Crime, including BLOODY HALLS by Carl Brookins, BUTTONS AND BONES by Monica Ferris, DEATH OF THE MANTIS by Michael Stanley, BINGO BARGE MURDER by Jessie Chandler, and FALSE MERMAID by yours truly. 

The Mille Lacs Community Library will receive their check from current Twin Cities Sisters in Crime president Rhonda Gilliland and a panel of local SinC authors (Mickie Turk, Pam Leonard, and Christine Husom) on April 17, at 7 pm. All are welcome for the panel discussion and celebration! 

Here's a bit more about "We Love Libraries" from the Sisters in Crime website: 
Grants of $1,000 will be awarded monthly from January through December 2013. At the end of each month, a winner will be drawn from entries received at our website at Only U.S. libraries may enter the drawing. Below you will find photos of our latest winners. 
To enter, simply complete the entry form and upload a photo of one or more of your staff with three books in your collection by Sisters in Crime members. You can find a list of our members who are authors by clicking here, or by navigating to our left side menu under Resources, SinC Authors. 
After the random drawing on the last business day of the month, the winning library will be contacted and announced. All branches within a larger system may enter; however, once a library in the system has won, no other libraries within that system can win the grant. Those not successful in one month will automatically be entered for subsequent drawings. Grants must be used to purchase books and may not be used for general operating expenses. Book purchases are NOT restricted to the mystery genre nor to those by Sisters in Crime members. There is no cost or obligation other than allowing us to post winners' photos on our website. 
All libraries are welcome to enter.

For more details and an entry form, check out the Sisters in Crime website.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013


What a wonderful night! After worrying about the weather (about eight inches in the morning, and it didn't stop snowing until late afternoon), we went ahead with the launch party for THE BOOK OF KILLOWEN and THE ROAD FROM CASTLEBARNAGH on March 5.

Thanks to our friends and family, and to all who braved the weather to come out on a snowy night to Saint Paul's beautiful James J. Hill Reference Library for a brief visit to Ireland's recent and not-so-recent past! 

The Hill Library, with its shelves reaching all the way to the second-story ceiling, is reminiscent of the Long Room at Trinity College Library, and was a perfect setting for launching THE BOOK OF KILLOWEN, a story that draws upon the history of ancient Irish scholars and scribes and their marvelous handwritten manuscripts.

We had some gorgeous music from our friends Ann and Charlie Heymann—also known by the name of their band, Clairseach—with Ann on wire-strung harp, and Charlie on cittern, accordion, and various other instruments as well. 

Paddy and I thoroughly enjoyed chatting about and reading from our books, and sharing images of the people, places, and artifacts that inspired our stories. Paddy read "Hairpins and Combs," a chapter from THE ROAD TO CASTLEBARNAGH about his first musical instrument, a mouth organ, purchased for one shilling from a peddler who visited his family home in the early 1950s. I read a section from the prologue of THE BOOK OF KILLOWEN, a dramatic tale of murder set in the 9th century.

Many thanks to Alayne Hopkins from the Friends of the Saint Paul Public Library and to Beth O'Connor and Dawn Knapek from the James J. Hill Reference Library for all their work in making such a wonderful and welcoming event.

Huge thanks also to everyone who helped with setup and making sure that everything ran smoothly: Bonnie Schueler, Betty and John Rogers, Julie Hart, Karen Mueller, Linda White, Shannon and Mike Nemer, Lisa McDaniel, Laurie Muir, and Sue Zumberge and David Unowsky from SubText: A Bookstore.

Saturday, February 23, 2013


Review from January 15, 2013: Volume LXXXI, No 2

Delighted to get a very kindly assessment from the folks at Kirkus Reviews, who maintain a reputation for finicky taste in literature, mystery and otherwise. I certainly don't mind, especially as I am an almost-famously finicky critic myself.

It's always exciting to get the first few reviews from the trades before a book comes out, and a relief when they're not too bad. The review contains a nifty plot summary, positively exemplary in its brevity—nicely done!—and ends:

Hart’s foray into soggy Killowen has a rock-solid foundation of musical language and deft plotting."

Pub Date: March 5th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-4516-3484-6
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online: Dec. 27th, 2012
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2013