Stella Ryman and the Fairmount Manor Mysteries, by Mel Anastasiou, is a series of dramatic detective mysteries. The novel contains four different detective stories, each of which are interconnected yet independent. In addition to the stories, the opening of the book contains an interesting philosophical and logical argument. It also gives a hint to some of the content of the book. Anastasiou does an excellent job of providing depth to not only the characters and their actions and motivations, but also in the general style of her writing.
The novel practically seems to drip with British style. So much so, that without careful reading and generous knowledge of Canadian and American culture and institutions, most readers will probably assume that it is set somewhere in Britain instead of actually being set in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Having read her, Stella Ryman engenders the same feelings as most Dorothy Sayers detective stories. However, there are some subtle differences between the style of Stella Ryman and the British detective novels of the 19th and early 20th century. Those old stories tended to deal with a static, aristocratic society, police forces that were not corrupt, but were certainly not in any position to solve the case, and a lack of emotion among the affected cast of characters. Stella Ryman is similar and brings in other classic mystery themes: a senior care home provides a rather static environment (even though the residents may invariably change from time to time), the managers of the care home are bumbling but not corrupt, there are no supernatural causes in the story, there is a secret passageway, and Stella has a tendency to honestly declare her thoughts, intuitions, and deductions.
There are also significant tie-ins to American pulp detective novels as well, primarily in the commonality of the characters (there are almost no aristocrats and most people are average and middle-class) and the feeling of inevitability—that truth will out and that justice will be done. Overall, Stella Ryman seems to fit roughly a quarter of the way between British and American writing styles—perfect for Canada.
Stella Ryman, as a character, is quintessentially heroic — in the classic sense. At points throughout the book, it appears that Anastasiou is reading Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces as she is writing her own book. In the beginning, Stella refuses the call to adventure (being a detective), is completely content with her own mortality, and is merely waiting to die. Eventually, she realizes that there is a third option—something besides life and death. As a side note, herein lies a common theme within the novel, the breaking of logical fallacies—ad hominem, false dichotomies, circular arguments, causal fallacies, and hasty generalizations being the most common. Stella, after making her third choice, is confronted with supernatural assistance (Mad Cassandra, whom is herself rife with mythological allusions). Stella runs across a few other mentors along the way, makes a deep, personal transformation, and returns with a gift for her fellow residents: the ability to make life worth living again.
Overall, this book is an excellent read, full of colorful characters. Stella Ryman and the Fairmount Manor Mysteries, is appropriate for teenage and adult readers. Although younger demographics may have difficulty with some of the allusions and references that are peppered throughout the book. Younger readers may also have difficulty relating to an octogenarian, but Stella’s tenacity is something certainly worth emulating. There is no obvious sexual content (there are hints, however) or illicit drug use, there is some personal violence, and a lot of discussion of heavy, emotional and existential topics.
Pages: 151 | ASIN: B06XTG2GWJ
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Action Men and Silly Putty follows Jack and Andy as they try to find what is so important about a teddy bear from 1915 that Jack purchases at an estate sale. What was the initial inspiration behind the setup to this fun novel?
This might seem strange, but I don’t know if I can even explain how certain ideas came to me, except that the bear and estate sale set up must have stemmed out of my interest in antiques. I watch both Pawn Stars and American Pickers and refer to them both collectively as “the guys.” I’ll pick up the remote and say, “Let’s switch it to the guys,” and, by that, I mean switch it to the History Channel for one of those two shows. I also have an Antiques Roadshow book at home, and in it, there is a … guess what? 1915 Steiff teddy bear. That is where I drew some of the details for the bear. I suppose that photo of the bear drew me in more than a lot of the other items in the book. How I figured out how to involve this bear in a crazy plot is harder to explain.
It might interest you to know that my Jack Donegal character first appeared in a short story that was not a mystery, featuring Jack and a supporting character, Ellen Danforth, the owner of the Salvador Deli. Andy Westin wasn’t yet even a character which is interesting for me when I reflect on it, because, by now, I’m equally attached to both characters! It was a friend who suggested that I write a mystery. I had already established Jack as a toy inventor before I entertained the thought of him as an amateur sleuth, so the estate sale and the bear was one way to get my characters to stumble into a mystery for them to solve.
Jack and Andy have a unique and often humorous relationship that lends well to the overall lighthearted mystery of the book. What were some themes you were trying to capture when writing their characters?
For a long time, I was interested in the absent-minded professor type character or the eccentric scientist character. I liked characters such as Caractacus Potts in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Dr. Emmett Brown in Back to the Future and was interested in some real life stories about scientists or inventors in history who had some quirks. My dad is actually a retired scientist and inventor, although not in the field of toys and, as a child, earned the nickname of “absent-minded professor” from his family. Dad and Jack do not share all of the same quirks … but perhaps a few of them. I’m also kind of fascinated with the individualist, and Jack is that. He doesn’t mind being different or dressing in his own unique style. I thought I’d rather make him a confident individualist than an awkward nerd, although he’s definitely still a nerd too by some definitions.
I really wanted Andy to be, more or less, his complete opposite. He’s the sensible, organized, in-the-moment practical guy who also has a kind of humorous way of looking at things. I wanted the balance of the two different extremes, so they can help one another out, as well as the comedy from being a sort of “odd couple.”
I enjoyed the twists and turns throughout the book. Did you plan the novel before writing or did it come organically while writing?
It was more like the second option. The story developed more spontaneously as I wrote, but I might have planned several scenes or chapters ahead when the creative juices were really flowing.
What is the next book that you are writing and when will it be available?
I am actually working on several things. The next book to come out fairly soon is unrelated to this series but is an illustrated children’s book called The Journey of Digory Mole about a little mole who turns a mountain into a mole hill. I have one other “Action Men” book already available and that is Action Men and the Great Zarelda which is a little shorter, a Kindle book novella. The two guys have a mystery adventure with a suspicious female illusionist. I also have a mystery short story for Kindle, starring a female sleuth, English professor, Grace Darby. That one is titled The Lit Club Mystery. I have several stories in the planning for both mystery series and even hope to do a spin-off series for kids starring Jack Donegal’s niece and nephew. Right now, I have a related mystery serial, Action Men with Duct Tape as a blog on my website, https://susan-joy-clark.com. I will likely publish that as a book when it is complete.
Jack Donegal is an engineer, toy inventor and the head of his own toy company but not a detective until he stumbles into a strange situation. While on a business trip, he stops to purchase a 1914 teddy bear at an estate auction. While still on the auction grounds, armed thugs, who mistake him for a Dalton Starks, seem to think he’s in possession of something they want. Although police rescue him from his first encounter with criminals, Jack and Andy Westin, his marketing manager, roommate and friend, begin to think there’s something special about this teddy bear to make it interesting to criminals. They engage in a cat and mouse hunt with various members of the criminal world, but who are the cats and who are the mice? With the help of their combined wits and various technical gadgetry including toy parts and prototypes, Jack and Andy help bring several criminals to justice. With two personalities like those of Jack and Andy, there is bound to be some silliness along the way in this comedy mystery.
Posted in Interviews
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Susan Joy Clark’s Action Men with Silly Putty features two comrades in the toy business on the adventure of a lifetime. Clark’s main characters are best friends who are attached at the hip and one another’s voice of reason. Jack Donegal and the book’s narrator, Andy Westin, set off on their journey to uncover the mystery of a mistaken identity and to find out what the heck is so important about the teddy bear from 1915 that Jack purchases at an estate sale in San Francisco. From their company, Out of the Box Toy Design, to breakdowns of Picasso’s private escapades to the Salvador Dali special–it involves eggs and a toast–Action Men with Silly Putty is filled with eccentricities at every turn and brimming with mystery!
I have always been a mystery fan and jumped in headfirst wanting, wholeheartedly, to love Action Men. I wasn’t disappointed. Jack Donegal, a character with every quirk imaginable, is as interesting a central character as I have seen. He appears as an amalgamation of whimsical leads from a handful of stories throughout the years. Incredibly well-read, dead set on having a plethora of alternatives to the traditional curse words, and a virtual fount of knowledge, Jack leads Andy on a wild ride with Andy doing little to challenge each subsequent request. Clark has given readers a vivid personality in Jack Donegal who is impossible to forget.
It’s fairly clear from the beginning that Jack is the book’s focus, but, for me, Andy sets the tone of the entire story. His obvious frustration juxtaposed with his allegiance to Jack is highly relatable. Readers will find common ground with Andy as he fights the urge to question his best friend while simultaneously appeasing him. I thoroughly enjoyed the repartee between the two and give full credit to Andy for the book’s future success.
Clark is consistent with her depiction of Jack as the absent-minded professor type character. She bestows upon him the same qualities that make one Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang Theory the lovable and appealing guy he is. Andy, faithful to Jack to the bitter end, has some truly fantastic lines. Clark brings laugh-out-loud moments via many of Andy’s thoughts: “I thought of that famous photo of Albert Einstein, the one where he was sticking out his tongue and looking anything but genius, and felt reassured…slightly.”–my favorite line in the book as Andy reveals his never-ending stress over Jack’s idiosyncrasies.
I am giving Action Men with Silly Putty by Susan Joy Clark 5 out of 5 stars. Clark’s success with the business partners-turned-private investigators team of Donegal and Westin is tied up neatly in her narrator. As the solution to the mystery of the teddy bear is pursued through colorful secondary characters and unique settings, Andy simply shines. Clark is eloquent, creates one scenario after another to engage readers in her comedy team’s plight, and helps to define a new niche in the mystery novel. In addition, the path to the mystery’s solution is peppered with pop culture references which will appeal to a broad range of readers.
Pages: 214 | ASIN: B00Y49AUXU
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A good mystery novel is one that will challenge the reader, misdirect suspicion, and keep the reader turning the page to find the next twist to see if they were right. Accidental Killer by Tong Zhang meets all these requirements, as well as throws in some Chinese Mob style twists. The main character, Sarah, is a bright mid twenties writer that also has a degree in programing and seams to draw out the good in people. The book is filled with technology references and science information but this does not impact the reader’s ability to grasp what is going on even if they don’t understand the technology being discussed. There is a small amount of romance in the book that adds to character development rather than being the center of the plot.
This is a contemporary story that takes place in California’s Silicon Valley area, with some outskirt resorts and the mountains of Tahoe. One of the key plot points is on nanotechnology, but the author does not go so in-depth into the science that the average reader will be lost. The same goes for the genetics discussion that some of the characters have. What is nice about this novel is the strong female protagonist. Sarah is not a fluff character, and she is very relatable. She talks about finding balance between traveling the path that was expected of her, computer science/programing, and her passion, writing. She over comes personal tragedies of being left by her mother and later her aunt that raised. We learn a lot about many of the characters through their interaction with Sarah, she is able to bring out their best sides and show the readers passion rather than just flat characters that move the plot forward. Hardly any character brought into the novel is fluff. This is important because it means that Zhang is writing with a purpose and not just trying to fill the book up with pages on pages of meaningless content.
Accidental Killer starts as if you’re stepping into someone’s life as a spectator. There is no preposition so (without spoiling things) the beginning of the story is confusing, but becomes clear a chapter in and the realization of what is really going on is magnificent. Several other characters are mentioned as well with no clue as to who they are or where they fit in, Scotty, Ramsey and Mr. Bash being a few. You will eventually learn who they are and how they fit into Sarah’s life but it takes times. While confusing, it does add to the mystery aspect of the novel; who are these people and what are their stories. If you can stick with the writing through the first two chapters you will be engrossed and unable to put the book down. There are definitely some memorable characters that I can see making a repeat appearance if Zhang continues the series, namely Jake and Madam Wu. Both are left with the impression they have more stories to tell. Overall a good mystery novel, quick read, and entertaining characters.
Pages: 189 | ASIN: B01527IF84
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