Simply the Best by Carmen Radtke
Today I am pleased to welcome Carmen Radtke on to the blog with a wonderful guest post.
Simply the Best
This is sending a chill down my spine. What better than being allowed to hold forth about my favourite authors (cue hushed voice)? Except – I might forget someone. Because, try as I might, memory is a fickle thing. A newly discovered love burns with the might of a searchlight, whereas someone whose attraction has waned over the span of decades, pales in comparison.
But only rarely have I grown tired of a once-loved author, and even in those most extreme cases, I will always harbour a lingering fondness for them. It wasn’t their fault the relationship grew stale, and others turned my head.
Okay. Enough gloom. Here they are, the women and men who captured my emotions, who educated, inspired and entertained me through the best of times and the worst of times.
When I was eight or nine, two 19th century gentlemen entered my life, and sparked a lasting fascination with history, adventure, crime and social injustice, and they did it in the most exciting fashion. Mark Twain gave me Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn and thus the excitement of moonlit chases, treasure-hunts and fugitives while rafting down the Mississippi, and Charles Dickens introduced me to Oliver Twist and the cut-throat world of Fagin and Bill Sikes.
Three years later I discovered Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers. Due to the power of their writing I fell head over heels for London, without ever having been there. The charming, erudite Lord Peter Wimsey and his man Bunter, as well as the vain, maddeningly OCD Hercule Poirot solved criminal puzzles and moral dilemmas in a world far removed from my own. Yet the richness of characters and the plausibility of events are still as satisfying to me as an adult reader as they were in my early teens. Ngaio Marsh soon joined those two authors, with her classic mysteries feeding into my love for the stage (although my favourite, A Surfeit of Lampreys is theatrical without having a stage setting).
When I think about it, no matter what genre, most of my favourite writers introduce me to different cultures, exotic locales or periods that resonate with me. Tony Hillerman’s Navajo mysteries, featuring policemen Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn for example – he was originally told to take the Indian element out of his books but refused to do so. The result is a series as bewitching as a spell, as rare as a politician who only speaks the truth – did I mention that I love these books?
Then there’s Elizabeth Peters, rightful recipient of numerous Grand Master awards. Her Amelia Peabody series featuring an iron-willed Victorian lady who finds her life’s pursuit (and her soulmate, archaeologist Emerson), while sleuthing under the scorching Egyptian sun and discovering tombs, treasure, mummies and villains galore. Peters captures the excitement of the times, the struggles of an educated woman, and the hardships and injustices the Egyptians suffered under foreign rule. Most of all, the books are the most hilarious escapism. I dare you not to laugh out loud.
Elizabeth Peters’ friend, Joan Hess, who finished the last Amelia Peabody adventure “The Painted Queen” after its creator died, is just as funny. Her Arly Hanks series takes us deep into redneck Maggody, in the rural heart of Arkansas, where our wisecracking heroine and police-chief returns to recover from a broken marriage. The cast includes a lustful preacher, his prim sidekick and wife of the cunning mayor, and Arly’s own mother Ruby Bee.
But there’s more to life than murder most foul. One of my all-time favourites is Jane Austen. Was there ever anyone better at marrying romance and cynicism? (Which leads me to mention just one more crime series, Stephanie Barron’s take on Jane Austen as sleuth is pure delight).
I also bow to the genius of Terry Pratchett. I’ve moved continents twice, and on both occasions, I had to leave behind boxes full of books, but never one of his. My most beloved characters are the witches, and the night watch plus Lord Vetinari. I must have read these novels half a dozen times, for the sheer fun of them, the intricately drawn characters and the power of story-telling that mixed fantasy with social criticism and political observations. Wyrd Sisters, Nightwatch, The Fifth Elephant or Snuff never fail to hit a nerve with me.
For lighter reading, I confess to a fondness for Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances. They’re sweet without being saccharine, and the heroines easily hold their own in a male-dominated world.
Then there’s Fannie Flagg, with her novels about small-town America, starting with Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle-Stop Café (love of all kinds, white supremacy, the Ku Klux Klan and loyalty between white and black people in the 1930s) to my traditional Christmas read, A redbird Christmas…
My list could go and on, but for brevity’s sake I’ll end with the one writer I love above all others when it comes to non-fictions. Bill Bryson’s travel books have either made me relive past trips or put new destinations on my personal map, and his books about the English language, history and most of all, A Short History of Nearly Everything have kept me sane (I hope) during my daughter’s infancy and later times of earthquakes. Most of all, they’ve given me ideas for my own writing, and led me towards new fields of interest. Others call them obsession, but as a writer and reader I ignore that imprecise statement.
I’m sure in a year’s time this list would be longer, with a world of books still waiting to be discovered, but all these names would still appear. For me, they are magic.
About the book
Alyssa has found herself with a group of impoverished girls who are embarking from
Australia to Canada in the hope of marriage. As the daughter of a senior official, Alyssa doesn’t share this goal. She hopes to return to England via Canada.
But the girls all share one problem. Their presence on the ship is not known to many of its passengers but their worlds collide when one of the gentlemen discovers them. Then Emma, one of the intended brides, goes missing. Alyssa is convinced the disappearance is no accident, and will risk her own life to search for the killer.
What happened to Emma? Is there a murderer on board the ship?
Alyssa is about to discover that there is more to her voyage than she bargained for.
About the Author
She has worked as a newspaper reporter on two continents and always dreamt of becoming a novelist and screenwriter.
When she found herself crouched under her dining table, typing away on a novel between two earthquakes in Christchurch, New Zealand, she realised she was hooked for life.
The shaken but stirring novel made it to the longlist of the Mslexia competition, and her next book and first mystery, The Case Of The Missing Bride, was a finalist in the Malice Domestic competition in a year without a winner.
Carmen was born in Hamburg, Germany, but had planned on emigrating since she was five years old. She first moved to New Zealand and now lives in York, UK, with her daughter, cat, and sometimes her seafaring husband.
To make life more interesting, she also writes historical woman’s fiction under pen name Caron Albright. A Matter of Love and Death is her first romantic suspense novel published under her alter ego’s name.