Dorito Doldrums



A sour observation in the New York Times book review (2/21) suggested that commercial fiction, that opiate of the masses, is comparable to a Dorito-a tasty but ephemeral treat with no lasting benefit. Literary fiction, however, is equated with “books of value,” a type of vital nutrition for the soul. I note that the author mentions the supposed financial rewards of commercial fiction (LOL) several times. With marked distain, she remarks that literary fiction exceeds “market value” and commercial appeal. Pity the poor purveyor of novels that seek to engage and entertain a wide audience. The literary establishment inveighs against such goals and often indoctrinates MFA students against them.

Pretentious prose masquerading as “deep thinking” can bore the pants off readers. However, works by Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte and a fellow named Shakespeare were originally geared toward the masses yet cherished by millions of readers in subsequent generations. Commercial or literary fiction—you be the judge. I believe both can coexist peacefully without diminishing either.

PS—I researched the author of that piece, a well-respected and erudite woman who has won numerous literary honors. Too bad that her published works sound as dull as dishwater. I guarantee that they will never pander to the great unwashed.



I freely confess to watching and loving the Sons Of Anarchy, Justified, Homeland,  Twenty-Four, Luther; Ray Donovan and any martial arts film featuring a certain Chinese-American actor. My literary favorites also include healthy servings from Nelson DeMille, Lee Child and Barry Eisler. What, you might ask, attracts an otherwise peace-loving mystery writer to a diet of unmitigated mayhem? It’s not the violence, although a man who can smite his enemies for a just cause is a major turn on. I hasten to add that neither the films nor the books contain any acts of animal cruelty, a non-starter for me and many other women. A few bodies fall in these adventures—Sons of Anarchy stacks them up like cordwood; Jack Bauer and Raylin Givens were never considered gun-shy—but for the most part, their hearts and biceps are in the right place.

There are two reasons that I adore these fictional tough guys: their willingness to pursue justice even when it imperils their own safety and the indisputable fact that they are major babes, big on biceps, brawn and brains. Intellect is important to me and although I have no proof about their IQs (Stanford-Binet where are you?), when it comes to survival these heroes rise to genius level.

Some of the same attributes appear in the stars of my mystery novels although the body count and violence quotient are considerably less. Movies, television, and novels sell the same thing—a respite from real world woes and a whopping dose of fantasy. Heroes are smart, sexy and audacious. Women are appreciative.

Lest you think I am hopelessly sexist, I also love The Big Bang Theory and never miss Benedict Cumberbatch’s version of Sherlock. I just don’t fantasize about them.


I live in Massachusetts but I’m not a citizen of “Red Socks Nation” or Patriots Nation for that matter. It’s nothing personal. I felt the same way in Texas ( Cowboys–America’s Team–oh please), Chicago (Cubs, Socks, Bears, who cares?); Michigan (Sports enthusiasts in a city desperate for basic services), New York, Virginia, Maine–ad infinitum. I prefer to confine my citizenship to onenation (USA), and one state at a time.

Silence in the face of team hysteria is the politically correct and wise course of action. Typically I grimace but never confess that I actively hope the team in contention LOSES! Until academic achievements are celebrated with the same zeal as athletic prowess, I will persist.

Today’s Globe reported that each home game pumps $25 Million into Boston’s economy. Now that’s something to celebrate. But when drop out rates and youth unemployment hit the stratosphere, does a winning sports team mean anything for the host city? Not really.

Yesterday, I carried it too far. At the dry cleaners, a lovely older lady asked me, “Did the Sox win last night?”
Instead of playing along, I told her I was not a fan. The poor woman looked crestfallen. “I usually don’t follow them,” she said, averting her eyes. “Just for the world series.” After she scuttled away, I experienced an acute case of GUILT. If an activity brings pleasure (and economic bliss) to people, must I be the grinch who spoils things?

My new resolution is to trot out my party manners and act neutral. I will be Switzerland in a shooting war between teams, whoever they may be. Don’t expect me to like them or to care.

That’s my confession. Please be good sports.

Tedium and Triumph-A Mixed Bag

2.0 out of 5 stars, February 15, 2013
ByArlene Kay (Cape Cod Massachusetts)


This review is from: Gone Girl: A Novel (Hardcover)

I was eager to read GONE GIRL, the fabulously successful novel by Gillian FLynn. Frankly, as a writer myself, I find there is much to learn from most best sellers, even ones outside my own genre. The verdict on GONE GIRL is decidedly mixed. Flynn’s descriptive powers and character building are excellent as is her dialogue. She infused both Nick and Amy (the POV stars) with strong voices and provides enough details about their proclivities and flaws to hook the reader. Initially. Midway through this novel (not really a mystery, folks), I felt restless and wanted it to end already. GONE GIRL is at best a psychological study, an intense and overlong look at the implosion of a marriage.
Although neither character was perfect (who is?), my sympathies resided with Amy. Nick is the type of smug bounder who populates both fiction and true crime accounts. There’s a very Scott Peterson-ish tinge to this superficial, essential stupid fellow who has been indulged by women all his life. I also found Amy’s passivity unconvincing in a woman who spent her life on the upper fringes of Manhattan society. Move to MISSOURI? Come on, no man is worth that. Better to do hard time in an east coast prison.
For the reader who enjoys wallowing in the mind of a protagonist, GONE GIRL should be a satisfying read. I fail to see how any mystery reader could be satisfied with a plot that is so trite you can see it coming early on in the book.

‘Silent Girl’ Book Review

Fans of the execrable “Rizzoli & Isles” television show go no farther. Tess Gerritsen’s deftly crafted plots and characters bear no resemblance to the cartoonish portrayals and cringe-worthy dialogue on the small screen. She masters the intelligent police procedural and keeps readers turning every page with her. Gerritsen masters the big 3 of mysteries: engaging characters, lively pace and a cracking plot that only the most astute crime buff will solve. (I did).

SILENT GIRL seamlessly blends the raucous streets of Boston with the often unknowable mystique of China town. Maura Isles is a secondary character here, yielding center stage to a resurgent Jane Rizzoli and an intriguing protagonist and Sifu named Iris Fang. In tackling the coldest of cases, Jane probes a heinous mass murder that may be related to the disappearance of young girls. The author does a fine job with strong, flawed female leads whose qualities mesmerize us. The males in the mix are also captivating including her loyal partner Frost, the amorous Korshak, and an intriguing new detective named Johnny Tam.

I enjoyed this novel and recommend it to anyone (regardless of genre preference) who values a quality read.

“Mistress” Semantics or Sexism?

‎”Mistress”–semantics or sexism?
I’ve heard all the elaborate explanations and I’m unconvinced. For once, even the Bard’s inspired words (‘a rose by any other name’), leave me cold. The latest tempest in a particularly steamy teapot, has the word “Mistress” bandied about with such abandon that even Madame Pompadour would blush!

Paula Broadwell is most certainly not a ‘kept’ woman as the word mistress implies. Despite claims that it is merely a semantical distinction, I sense sexism and an unhealthy dose of contempt in the use of this term to designate a BAD woman, without a corresponding term for her male counterpart.(dupe or idiot spring to mind). She apparently was the General’s lover, paramour or sex partner. The same is allegedly true for him. As media lackeys (both male and female) trumpet the same tired jargon, the message seeps into the American consciousness. MISTRESS–hussy,strumpet, vixen, the kind of woman society should scorn and revile. Coupled with the strong presumption that the man in question was either duped (fog of war–please?), or beguiled by her charms, the stage is set for a modern replay of the Garden of Eden. This time around, the temptress holds a biography not an apple.

The Panther

Can an idol have feet of flesh? Even fine writers occasionally dip a toe into the sea of mediocrity, right? Not so when the name is Nelson DeMille, known for deft dialogue, superior plotting, and characters that just won’t quit!
DeMille’s latest “The Panther” is another master work that thrusts the reader into the familiar world of John Corey, my very favorite series character. True, Corey is snarky, but that quirk is offset by his bravery and devotion to his country and long-suffering FBI wife. Any writer who longs to immortalize his/her creations, must take a lesson from any of DeMille’s many novels. His characters literally leap off the page, confounding us with emotions (often politically incorrect), that we may recognize in ourselves. No one does dialogue better–No One! So grab “the Panther” and while you’re at it, refresh your memory with John Corey’s other exploits (The Lion; The Lion’s Game). You’ll cheer, worry, and obsess about the plot lines and the fate of those involved. Writers will learn something; readers will be glad they found him.

Natural Disaster and Murder

Does murky weather turn your mind to murder? As one who constantly dabbles in the macabre, this thought occurred to me: what better time to commit the ultimate anti-social act? Odds are, in the midst of crushing damage and devastation,local authorities will attribute loss of life to the natural disaster unless of course a murderer dispatches his victim with a bullet, knife or garrote. The proverbial blunt instrument, a tried and true method, will likely go unnoticed in a tumult that accompanies a natural disaster. If this horrifies you, consider the source. There are no accidental deaths to a mystery writer, only novels yet to be written.

Interview for Television

Just returned from taping a television interview in DC with host John Lovass and 2 other mystery authors. (Lane Stone and Donna Andrews).
The event was entertaining, amusing and lots of clean wholesome fun. Despite that, I enjoyed myself. In the course of our discussion, the host proved that he had indeed read all 3 novels by pinpointing a misspelled name in one of the books. We looked at each other, shrugged, and strongly hinted that he had ingested some strange substance. Streams of heavy denial flooded the studio as we defended the purity and artistic integrity of our works. I (mentally) combed through INTRUSION and determined that I didn’t even have a character by that name.One of the other authors looked guilty and I strongly suspected her of double-dealing.
After returning home, I did a cursory word search of INTRUSION and low and behold, I found that error nestled in the comely bosom of my very book. For shame!
I feel surprise, chagrin and a great deal of relief that my crime was hidden from the viewing audience. Now no one will ever know …

Advice for Would-be Novelist

Keep your day job (as long as it doesn’t involve writing). Have you ever longed to dispense that advice to a would-be novelist but were too kind or cowardly to do so? The self-publishing phenomenon coupled with the democratic ideal that ANYONE can write a novel present an ethical dilemma to many of us. Technology allows those with tenacity and funding to produce a book whether or not it is worth reading. Skills such as talent, imagination and ability may be cast to the winds without a publishing gatekeeper to provide input. Some writers refuse to accept the mildest suggestions, even ones that can help to point them in the right direction. They regard criticism as a foreign substance whose poison must be immediately expelled from their body. As a result, the literary world is awash with detritus. For every hidden gem one finds a nest of ill conceived, poorly written tomes that should immediately be consigned to the remainder bin. For those who yearn to write, listen to your peers as well as your own inner voice. Good writers are few and far between. So consider this advice: keep your day job.