Boom-Boom Warshawski Makes his Chicago Blackhawk debut

Stanley Cup playoffs, Blackhawks and Lightning tied at two games each. How Boom-Boom Warshawski, Blackhawk star as well as VI’s cousin and closest childhood friend, would have loved to be in the middle of the fight!

My second novel, Deadlock, introduced Boom-Boom, although he sadly entered the series as a murder victim.

Deadlock, a V I Warshawski novel

Deadlock, a V I Warshawski novel

Over the years, VI has often thought about Boom-Boom and recalled some of their more hair-raising adventures together. In Brush Back, on sale out in July, Boom-Boom plays a major part of the backstory. I originally had planned to open the novel with a flashback to his Blackhawk debut, but as the story worked out, I had to remove that opening chapter. (By the way, you can pre-order Brush Back now by following the link.)

With Stanley Cup mania going on, I thought it might be fun to share this outtake chapter with you:

Blackhawks win Stanley Cup

Blackhawks win Stanley Cup




Up near the rafters the noise shook our bones. We were on our feet, slamming our chair seats up and down, stomping, screaming, whistling.

“Boom Boom!” slam. “Boom Boom!” slam. “Boom Boom.”

The foghorn under the scoreboard bellowed. Down below us, on the ice, my cousin raised his stick from the middle of the scrum, then skated to our side of the rink. Of course he couldn’t see us, with the stadium lights in his eyes, but he bowed in our direction.

Frank Guzzo hugged me so hard we both almost toppled into the seats below us. Mayhem in the Madhouse on Madison: Boom Boom’s first game as a Blackhawk, his first goal, his first victory.

Frank shouted something at me, but I couldn’t hear it, even with his lips near my ear. I screamed back, but our words were swallowed by the sound. The old Chicago Stadium, decibel level around 130 on average, up to 300 when all noise-makers were turned on.

Old Chicago Stadium where Boom-Boom (and MJ, and Bobby Hull) played

Old Chicago Stadium where Boom-Boom (and MJ, and Bobby Hull) played

We followed the rest of the crowd down the steeply-banked stairs and went to wait by the player exit. It was April, near the end of the regular season, a warm enough night that none of us put our jackets on. My dad and his brother Bernie were grinning at each other like teenagers and the rest of us were teenagers, or near enough.

Boom Boom had spread tickets around like confetti, to me (of course) and his folks and my dad, his best friend Frank Guzzo, even to some of his lumpy cousin’s on his mother’s side. Another couple of dozen people from the neighborhood had paid their own way: this was going to be a night to tell their grandchildren about: I was there when Boom Boom Warshawski scored the winning goal against the Flyers.

Boom Boom had even given Frank a ticket for his sister Annie, who was still in high school.

“I don’t know where she is,” Frank said, when I asked. “I just drove in from Nashville for the game. You remembered to get the ticket to her, right? You haven’t become so snooty at Red U that you forgot your old pals, have you?”

Red U. That was an old insult for the University of Chicago, dating to the Nineteen-fifties, the McCarthy era, long before my time on the quads. It’s what all our neighbors called it in South Chicago, though, and it added to the hostility toward my mother when they learned she had her heart set on my studying there.

I punched Frank in the ribs. “I’m slumming with you, aren’t I? I hand-delivered the tickets. Your mom said Annie wasn’t home so I left the envelope with her, okay?”

“Warshawski!” Frank saw my cousin before the rest of us. “You dang hotdog, you. You trying to upstage the Golden Jet?”

Boom Boom laughed. “No way, man. Lucky shot. Not like that homer of yours against Nashville on Monday.”

“Yeah, speaking of which, I gotta head out now. I’m already running a ninety-dollar fine for being AWOL, can’t make it two days in a row.”

Boom Boom walked across the parking lot to Frank’s car with him, tripping on the deep grooves in the gravel. “Your turn’s coming, Frankie, your turn’s coming. When they call your name in the starting line-up at Wrigley, I’ll be there hollering, you’d better believe it. Thanks for making the trip up here, man.”

Frank Guzzo, Boom Boom Warshawski—they were the biggest stars of my neighborhood. When they graduated high school three years earlier, the school held a day in their honor. They were given special plaques, they got to choose the menu in the cafeteria, the gym was renamed the “Guzzo-Warshawski Gym.”

All over this city, poor kids dream of becoming sports legends, but Boom Boom and Frank were the rare boys who got to live the fantasy, Boom Boom on ice, Frank in baseball. Two years after Boom Boom’s debut—when my cousin had already turned into a legend of sorts—Frank was called up to Wrigley Field. The same crowd that had gone to see Boom Boom turned up for Frank.

All those hardcore White Sox fans who’d sooner spit than say “Ernie Banks” made the long L-ride north to cheer the home boy. I was in my first year of law school then, but I blew off a paper to join my dad, Boom Boom, my dad’s police buddies, and my uncle Bernie in the bleachers.

VI and Sara in front of Wrigley Field

VI and Sara in front of Wrigley Field

His third game at Wrigley, Frank’s turn ended. The Cardinal second baseman, leaping to get the catcher’s throw, came down hard on Frank as he was sliding into second. The Cardinal’s cleats ripped muscle from bone. Frank had a half dozen surgeries, two years of rehab. When they were finished with him, Frank still had an arm better than anyone on the south side, but nowhere near good enough for Major League ball.

Cardinals v Cubs

Cardinals v Cubs

My cousin’s been dead a lot of years now and so has my dad. I don’t hear news from my old neighborhood very often and I’d almost forgotten Frank. Until the day he walked into my office.




KU Commencement Address, May 17 2015


I was privileged to receive the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters and to address the graduates at the University of Kansas on their May 17 2015 Commencement.

Delivering Commencement Address

Delivering Commencement Address

Remarks for the University of Kansas 2015 Commencement


Chancellor Gray-Little, Chairman Wilk,Distinguished Guests and Faculty. Above all, members of the Class of 2015 and your happy families: welcome, and thank you, for the honor of this degree and the privilege of speaking here today.

Congratulations to all our graduates. You completed a rigorous course of study, despite times of despair or frustration or confusion. Whatever the next stage on your journey, when you are discouraged and feel like quitting, remind yourself that you stuck with this job, this important job of education, even when the going was rough.

Let’s have a round of applause for our courageous class of 2015.

With Chancellor Gray-Little, Prof Ada Sue Hinshaw and others

With Chancellor Gray-Little, Prof Ada Sue Hinshaw and others

While we’re in the clapping mood, let’s also thank the families and friends who made sacrifices so that these graduates could stay the course.

I have been a Jayhawk since I was five years old, when I attended my first KU commencement. My dad had just joined the Kansas faculty and he took part in the procession through the Campanile and down the hill. My mother and brothers and I stood in the stands and cheered when we saw him.

AI grew up around this university and received my BA here. My years on the hill shaped who I have become as an adult. Like most alums, I go insane during March madness, feel a little more depressed when football seasons rolls around.

Reading in a children's cubbyhole in the Lawrence Public Library

Reading in a children’s cubbyhole in the Lawrence Public Library

Of course, university education, your education, your life, are about more than cheering for sports teams. As a fan you are on the sidelines, but you are the key players in your own lives. You will spend those lives in your own fields of endeavor—almost always without a cheering section. You will be tested time and again, and you will find yourselves needing to draw on the lessons you learned here.

Although commencement literally means to begin, it is also a time of endings. All endings are hard—they are the hardest part of a novel to write well—so it shouldn’t startle you if you find the end to your KU life difficult. Moving on to the next stage of your journey means taking a leap from the high dive without knowing what kind of water lies below you.

For those of you who do know what you are doing next, whether at work or school, or as a volunteer, my heartiest congratulations. For those who are facing the future with less certainty, you are not alone. If it’s any comfort, after my own graduation I floundered in clerical jobs, sold computers to insurance agents, wrote speeches for corporate executives, and did many other odd jobs for a good number of years before finding my way to my public writing voice.

It is not always given to us to find our passion or our path easily. I can’t promise that your own road will be easy, but I can promise this: if you give up, you will never find the road at all.

You are graduating into a world that will challenge you in many ways. You face financial and job uncertainties tougher than my generation knew. You also face opportunities we didn’t have—those of you born with earbuds implanted in you roam the fast-changing technology landscape more easily than my generation does.

At the same time, you came of age in a world dominated by war, by terrorism and by economic instability. The first years of the 21st century could be called the Age of Fear, starting with fear of terrorism, and moving from there to fears closer to home.

Hand-in-hand with fear goes the extraordinary rage with which people around the globe confront each other. Here at home, we hurl abuse at each other from opposite sides of a deep political divide. We then retreat to the safety of our favorite Internet sites, where we stoke our rage by writing ever more monstrous accounts of what those other folks, those barely human beings, are doing.

Not since the Civil War has our country been such a house divided. Yet it was in the midst of the Civil War, that bloody conflagration, that the University of Kansas was founded. In 1863, two weeks before Lincoln spoke at Gettysburg, while war was still raging, the Kansas legislature voted to establish a university in Lawrence, provided the town could supply land and money.

Sara Robinson and her husband Charles, who gave up an affluent life in the east to  make sure Kansas came free into the Union—even spending time in prison at the hands of slavery forces–, deeded the land where we stand today. Amos A. Lawrence, a town founder, donated most of the money. In 1866, the first classes met, an equal mix of young men and women—virtually unheard of in that era.

The university’s founders had a bedrock belief, bred in their very bones, that education was essential for good government and good citizenship. The first thing the Puritans did when they reached Massachusetts was to set up public schools, because they knew that their future depended on an educated citizenry.

Sara Robinson, 1827-1911

Sara Robinson, 1827-1911

The men and women who came from New England to settle Kansas two centuries later didn’t know how or when the Civil War would end, but they, too, knew they needed to educate the next generation of citizens if the Republic had any hope of surviving. Charles and Sara Robinson took a great leap from that high board when they gave the university the land we stand on today, even though only a few months earlier, terrorists from Missouri had massacred most of the men in Lawrence.

Our founders chose as the motto for our school the verse from Exodus, when Moses says: I must turn aside to see that great sight, why the bush burns but is not consumed.

The ability to look at the unknown, the startling, the terrifying, and to ask fundamental questions about it, lies at the heart of our Kansas education.

If you take nothing else away with you, take this: an abiding spirit of inquiry.

Questioning, listening, learning are the true antidotes for fear.  FDR said we have nothing to fear but fear itself, but I believe the biggest thing we have to fear is willful ignorance. Willful ignorance, and a desire to give way to unthinking rage lie behind today’s terrorists in Africa and the Middle East, who bomb schools and whose name translates as “Down with western education.”

Willful ignorance also catches up with us here at home. Every time a state government slashes education budgets—and states all across the Union are making deep cuts to education–I weep: governments are sacrificing the long term health of the Republic for very minor fiscal savings.

The spirit of open-minded inquiry is how change happens for good, in our individual lives and in the larger world. The book of Exodus would tell a different story if Moses had seen the bush and said, “oops, scary fire, think I’ll take my sheep a different way,” or even worse, if he’d been texting and hadn’t seen the bush at all.

The inquiring mind, the open mind, lies behind every discovery that changes lives for the better, from Arthur Fleming noticing the mold in his petri dish and turning it into penicillin, to Rosalind Franklin noticing the double helix in X-rays of DNA, which opened the field of modern genetics.

Learning to question, rather than to fear, isn’t something you get from Google. You definitely don’t get it by building walls of pre-judgment and anger around you. You learn by digging deep—by understanding the minds of the people you work with, understanding the deeper issues underneath the surface tweet.

We humans all live both alone, and in community. If this age could be called the Age of Fear, it could equally be called the Age of the Selfie.

We live in isolation inside our earbuds, but we inhabit shared space, and it is space we hold in trust for those who follow us. The founders of the United States didn’t pledge to live “me first, me only”: in the Declaration of Independence, they said “we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”

This university exists because the Robinsons and Amos A Lawrence shared that sense of obligation to community. Like others here today, I owe my own education to the generosity of Elizabeth M Watkins. I feel a duty to my writing gift to let my spirit soar. I feel an equal duty to the community that educated me to make that education possible for others.

A questing spirit, and a generous heart offer a cure for the narcissistic rage that threatens to consume our nation today. When  we are seeking, and when we are sharing, we can overcome the furies and willful ignorance that blind all of us at times. We also become free to take risks, to jump off the high dive.

May all of you dare mighty things in the years to come. May you find strength for the next step on your journey. May you find joy along the path. Take chances. Don’t settle for the easy thing, insist on the good thing. Take nothing for granted. Share your discoveries. Above all, stop to ask the hard question: why does the bush burn, and yet is not consumed.

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The DOLLUS Syndrome

Brush Back by Sara ParetskySara published an essay in the May 1 Booklist on issues around missing voices in contemporary crime fiction

Sara’s new novel Brush Back, about troubled families, Chicago sports, and Illinois politics, will be in bookstores everywhere on July 28


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Who We Like To Read

After a week of totally unscientific polling, in which visitors to my Facebook page listed their favorite crime/thriller/mystery writers, we came up with a list of 276 beloved writers. They’re listed here in a ranked order–and I’m vain enough to be relieved that visitors to my page like my books! With 276 writers, there are bound to be ones you never encountered, so here’s to some happy reading days ahead–a way to avoid thinking about the endless cold or endless drought–whichever your particular affliction may be.

Happy Readers

Happy Readers

Paretsky Sara
Grafton Sue
Crombie Deborah
Penny Louise
Sayers. Dorothy L.
Bland Eleanor Taylor
James P.D.
Allingham Margery
Christie Agatha
Kellerman Faye
Barnes Linda
Muller Marcia
Peters Elizabeth
Stabenow Dana
Lehane Dennis
Burke Alafair
George Elizabeth
King Laurie R.
Rendell Ruth
Rozan S.J.
Spencer-Fleming Julia
Winspear Jacqueline
Hammett Dashiell
Stout Rex
Cody Liza
Evanovich Janet
Hess Joan
Maron Margaret
McDermid Val
Millar Margaret
O’Connell Carol
Reichs Kathy
Burke James Lee
MacDonald John D.
Barr Nevada
Burke Jan
Fairstein Linda
Greenwood Kerry
Grimes Martha
Larsson Åsa
Leon Donna
Lippman Laura
Marsh Ngaio
Rice Craig
Sjöwall Maj
Conan Doyle Arthur
Kellerman Jonathan
Krueger William Kent
Leonard Elmore
Vargas Fred
Atkinson Kate
Beaton M.C.
Black Cara
Davis Dorothy Salisbury
Davis Lindsey
Flynn Gillian
French Tana
George Anne
Gordon Alison
Gran Sara
Griffiths Elly
Gur Batya
Highsmith Patricia
Hill Susan
Hughes Dorothy
Läckberg Camilla
MacInnes Helen
Marklund Liza
Matera Lia
McIntosh D.J.
McPherson Catriona
Mina Denise
Moyes Patricia
Orczy Emma
Ryan Hank Phillipi
Sigurðardóttir Yrsa
Stewart Mary
Storey Alice
Tey Josephine
Walters Minette
Waters Sarah
Chandler Raymond
Connelly Michael
Crais Robert
Creasey John
Fforde Jasper
Francis Dick
Gardner Earl Stanley
Grisham John
Higgins George V.
King Stephen
Larsson Stieg
MacDonald Ross
Mankell Henning
Parker Robert
Thomas Ross
Thompson Jim
Wahlöö Per
Westlake Donald
Abbott Megan
Abbott Patty Nase
Adams Ellery
Aird Catherine
Albert Susan
Allen Stacy
Andrews Donna
Anthony Evelyn
Armstrong Charlotte
Atwood Taylor Phoebe
Aubert Rosemary
Bartlett Lorraine
Blackwell Juliet
Blómkvist Stella
Bowen Gail
Bowen Rhys
Brackett Leigh
Braddon Mary Elizabeth
Brand Christianna
Braun Lilian Jackson
Brown Rita Mae
Byerrum Ellen
Campbell Bonny Jo
Capponi Pat
Carlton Marjorie
Clark Marcia
Cleeves Anne
Conley Jen
Cooper Susan Rogers
Cornue Virginia
Cornwell Patricia
Coup Terri Lynn
Cross Amanda
Delany Vicki
Dereske Jo
DiSilverio Laura
Donaghue Emma
DuMaurier Daphne
Duncan Elizabeth J.
Dunn Carola
Ellison J.T.
Fossum Karen
Fradkin Barbara
Fraser Antonia
Frazer Margaret
Freveletti Jamie
Gagnon Michelle
Gardner Lisa
George Kaye
Gilbert Michael
Goldstein Debra
Graham Caroline
Graves Sarah
Gray Alex
Hamilton Denise
Harlick Robin
Harris Charlaine
Harris C.S.
Hendricks Vicki
Hillerman Anne
Jaffarian Sue Ann
Jance J.A.
Jennings Maureen
Jones Darynda
Jones Elizabeth
Keene Carolyn
Keller Julia
Kendall Kay
Kijewski Karen
La Plante Lynda
Linds Gayle
Locke Attica
Lockridge Frances
Lombri Linda
Lutz Lisa
MacInerney Karen
Maffini Mary Jane
Maffini Victoria
Massey Sujata
Matthews Francine
McClendon Lisa
McCullough Karen
McLeod Charlotte
Milchman Jenny
Moss Jennifer
Munger Kate
Nabb Magdalen
Neuhaus Nele
O’Connor Gemma
O’Shaughnessy Perri
Paton Walsh Jill
Pawel Rebecca
Perry Anne
Pauwels C.L.
Pickens Cathy
Robb J.D.
Roos Kelly
Rule Ann
Sanxay Holding Elizabeth
Sartor Nancy
Sellers L.J.
Shames Terry
Slaughter Karin
Sokoloff Alexandra
Spindler Erica
Staincliffe Cath
Stevens Chevy
Terrell Beth
Terrell Jaden
Thompson Lesley
Tursten Helene
Unger Lisa
Welsh Louise
White Ethel Lina
Wilson Laura
Wilson Wesley Valerie
Zeh Juli
Abbott Jeff
Atkins Ace
Baldacci David
Bronzini Bill
Bruen Ken
Buchan John
Cain James M.
Campbell Robert
Carr Caleb
Charteris Leslie
Clifford Joe
Cohen Gabriel
Cohen Jeff
Costain Thomas B.
Crispin Edmund
Dexter Colin
Dickson Carr John
Freeling Nicholas
Gil Bartholomew
Goldsborough Robert
Grabenstein Chris
Greeley Andrew
Greene Graham
Hallinan Tim
Handler David
Harris Thomas
Hewson David
Hiaasen Carl
Hillerman Tony
Hopkins Bill
Hughes Declan
Innes Michael
Isles Greg
James Dean
James Seeley
Kerr Phillip
Koryta Michael
Lockridge Richard
McGarrity Michael
McGinty Adrian
Monson Mike
Nesbø Jo
Neville Stuart
Patterson James
Pears Iain
Peters Ellis
Pierce Rob
Pitts Tom
Poe Edgar Allen
Preston Douglas
Queen Ellery
Rankin Ian
Rhatigan Chris
Rosenfelt David
Sansom C.J.
Simenon Georges
Twain Mark
White Dave
Willieford Charles


Miss Bianca: A Cold WAr Story

Miss Bianca
by Sara Paretsky

Abigail made her tour of the cages, adding water to all the drinking bowls. The food was more complicated, because not all the mice got the same meal. She was ten years old and this was her first job; she took her responsibilities seriously. She read the labels on the cages and carefully measured out feed from the different bags. All the animals had numbers written in black ink on their backs; she checked these against the list Bob Pharris had given her with the feeding instructions.
“That’s like being a slave,” Abigail said, when Bob showed her how to match the numbers on the mice to the food directives. “It’s not fair to call them by numbers instead of by name, and it’s mean to write on their beautiful fur.”
Bob just laughed. “It’s the only way we can tell them apart, Abby.”
Abigail hated the name Abby. “That’s because you’re not looking at their faces. They’re all different. I’m going to start calling you Number Three because you’re Dr. Kiel’s third student. How would you like that?”
“Number Nineteen,” Bob corrected her. “I’m his nineteenth student, but the other sixteen have all gotten their PhD’s and moved on to glory. Don’t give the mice names, Abby: you’ll get too attached to them and they don’t live very long.”
In fact, the next week, when Abigail began feeding the animals on her own, some of the mice had disappeared. Others had been moved into the contamination room, where she wasn’t supposed to go. The mice in there had bad diseases that might kill her if she touched them. Only the graduate students or the professors went in there, wearing gloves and masks.
Abigail began naming some of the mice under her breath. Her favorite, number 139, she called “Miss Bianca,” after the white mouse in the book The Rescuers. Miss Bianca always sat next to the cage door when Abigail appeared, grooming her exquisite whiskers with her little pink paws. She would cock her head and stare at Abigail with bright black eyes.
In the book, Miss Bianca ran a prisoner’s rescue group, so Abigail felt it was only fair that she should rescue Miss Bianca in turn, or at least let her have some time outside the cage. This afternoon, she looked around to make sure no one was watching, then scooped Miss Bianca out of her cage and into the pocket of her dress.
“You can listen to me practice, Miss Bianca,” Abigail told her. She moved into the alcove behind the cages where the big sinks were.
Dr. Kiel thought Abigail’s violin added class to the lab, at least that’s what he said to Abigail’s mother, but Abigail’s mother said it was hard enough to be a single mom without getting fired in the bargain, so Abigail should practice where she wouldn’t disturb the classes in the lecture rooms or annoy the other professors.
Abigail had to come to the lab straight from school. She did her homework on a side table near her mother’s desk, and then she fed the animals and practiced her violin in the alcove.
“Today Miss Abigail Sherwood will play Bach for you,” she announced grandly to Miss Bianca.
She tuned the violin as best she could and began a simplified version of the first sonata for violin. Miss Bianca stuck her head out of the pocket and looked inquiringly at the violin. Abigail wondered what the mouse would do if she put her inside. Miss Bianca could probably squeeze in through the F hole, but getting her out would be difficult. The thought of Mother’s rage, not to mention Dr. Kiel or even Bob Pharris’s, made her decide against it.
She picked up her bow again, but heard voices out by the cages. When she peered out, she saw Bob talking to a stranger, a small woman with dark hair.
Bob smiled at her. “This is Abby; her mother is Dr. Kiel’s secretary. Abby helps us by feeding the animals.”
“It’s Abigail,” Abigail said primly.
“And one of the mouses, Abigail, she is living in your—your—” the woman pointed at Miss Bianca.
“Abby, put the mouse back in the cage,” Bob said. “If you play with them, we can’t let you feed them.”
Abigail scowled at the woman and at Bob, but she put Miss Bianca back in her cage. “I’m sorry, Miss Bianca. Mamelouk is watching me.”
“Mamelouk?” the woman said. “I am thinking your name ‘Bob?’”
Mamelouk the Iron-Tummed was the evil cat who worked for the jailor in The Rescuers, but Abigail didn’t say that, just stared stonily at the woman, who was too stupid to know that the plural of “mouse” was mice, not “mouses.”
“This is Elena,” Bob told Abigail. “She’s Dr. Kiel’s new dishwasher. You can give her a hand, when you’re not practicing your violin or learning geometry.”
“Is allowed for children working in the lab?” Elena asked. “In my country, government is not allowing children work.”
Abigail’s scowl deepened: Bob had been looking at her homework while she was down here with the mice. “We have slavery in America,” she announced. “The mice are slaves, too.”
“Abigail, I thought you liked feeding the animals.” Dr. Kiel had come into the animal room without the three of them noticing.
He wore crepe-soled shoes which let him move soundlessly through the lab. A short stocky man with brown eyes, he could look at you with a warmth that made you want to tell him your secrets, but just when you thought you could trust him, he would become furious over nothing that Abigail could figure out. She had heard him yelling at Bob Pharris in a way that frightened her. Besides, Dr. Kiel was her mother’s boss, which meant she must never EVER be saucy to him.
“I’m sorry, Dr. Kiel,” she said, her face red. “I only was telling Bob I don’t like the mice being branded, they’re all different, you can tell them apart by looking.”
“You can tell them apart because you like them and know them,” Dr. Kiel said. “The rest of us aren’t as perceptive as you are.”
“Dolan,” he added to a man passing in the hall. “Come and meet my new dishwasher—Elena Mirova.”
Dr. Dolan and Dr. Kiel didn’t like each other. Dr. Kiel was always loud and hearty when he talked to Dr. Dolan, trying too hard not to show his dislike. Dr. Dolan snooped around the lab looking for mistakes that Dr. Kiel’s students made. He’d report them with a phony jokiness, as if he thought leaving pipettes unwashed in the sink was funny when really it made him angry.
Dr. Dolan had a face like a giant baby’s, the nose little and squashed upward, his cheeks round and rosy; when Bob Pharris had taken two beakers out of Dr. Dolan’s lab, he’d come into Dr. Kiel’s lab, saying, “Sorry to hear you broke both your arms, Pharris, and couldn’t wash your own equipment.”
He came into the animal room now and smiled in a way that made his eyes close into slits. Just like a cat’s. He said hello to Elena, but added to Dr. Kiel, “I thought your new girl was starting last week, Nate.”
“She arrived a week ago, but she was under the weather; you would never have let me forget it if she’d contaminated your ham sandwiches—I mean your petri dishes.”
Dr. Dolan scowled, but said to Elena, “The rumors have been flying around the building all day. Is it true you’re from eastern Europe?”
Dolan’s voice was soft, forcing everyone to lean toward him if they wanted to hear him. Abigail had trouble understanding him, and she saw Elena did, too, but Abigail knew it would be a mistake to try to ask Dr. Dolan to speak more slowly or more loudly.
Elena’s face was sad. “Is true. I am refugee, from Czechoslovakia.”
“How’d you get here?” Dolan asked.
“Just like your ancestors did, Pat,” Dr. Kiel said. “Yours came steerage in a ship. Elena flew steerage in a plane. We lift the lamp beside the golden door for Czechs just as we did for the Irish.”
“And for the Russians?” Dolan said. “Isn’t that where your people are from, Nate?”
“The Russians would like to think so,” Kiel said. “It was Poland when my father left.”
“But you speak the lingo, don’t you?” Dolan persisted.
There was a brief silence. Abigail could see the vein in Dr. Kiel’s right temple pulsing. Dolan saw it also and gave a satisfied smirk.
He turned back to Elena. “How did you end up in Kansas? It’s a long way from Prague to here.”
“I am meeting Dr. Kiel in Bratislava,” Elena said.
“I was there in ’66, you know,” Dr. Kiel said. “Elena’s husband edited the Czech Journal of Virology and Bacteriology and the Soviets didn’t like their editorial policies—the journal decided they would only take articles written in English, French or Czech, not in Russian.”
Bob laughed. “Audacious. That took some guts.”
Abigail was memorizing words under her breath to ask her mother over dinner: perceptive, editorial policies, audacious.
“Perhaps not so good idea. When Russian tanks coming last year, they putting husband in prison,” Elena said.
“Well, welcome aboard,” Dr. Dolan said, holding out his soft white hand to Elena.
She’d been holding her hands close to her side, but when she shook hands Abigail saw a huge bruise on the inside of her arm, green, purple, yellow, spreading in a large oval up and down from the elbow.
”They beat you before you left?” Dr. Dolan asked.
Elena’s eyes opened wide; Abigail thought she was scared. “Is me, only,” she said, “me being—not know in English.”
“What’s on today’s program?” Dr. Kiel asked Abigail abruptly, pointing at her violin.
“You need to drop that old stuffed shirt. Beethoven. I keep telling you, start playing those Beethoven sonatas, they’ll bring you to life.” He ruffled her hair. “I think I saw your mother putting the cover over her typewriter when I came down.”
That meant Abigail was supposed to leave. She looked at Miss Bianca, who was hiding in the shavings at the back of her cage. It’s good you’re afraid, Abigail told her silently. Don’t let them catch you, they’ll hurt you or make you sick with a bad disease.

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Voices on the Margins

Remarks to open the session on “Voices on the Margins,” Bouchercon 2014, Long Beach

We live in a society that is contemptuous of the written word. Many, perhaps most, cities and states in America have cut budgets for schools and libraries repeatedly in the last several years. We easily find money for sports arenas, we subsidize members of Congress who own cotton farms, but we make no pretense of putting money into supporting the written word. In that sense, every person at this convention, readers and writers, live on the margin of American society.

Eddie embraces Clare O'Donoghue, Jamie Freveletti, Charlaine Harris, and me

Eddie embraces Clare O’Donoghue, Jamie Freveletti, Charlaine Harris, and me at the Voices event

As lovers of crime fiction, we are further marginalized by writing genre fiction. We aren’t writers, we are crime writers. Every now and then a carrot bobs up in the stew and is proclaimed as having “transcended the genre.” Kate Atkinson, for instance, regularly “transcends the genre.” The rest of us are hacks.

Every word used to pinpoint our identity pushes further to the edge of the page, away from the center: I am a woman, white, heterosexual, WEEJ, progressive, feminist, grandmother crime writer. Never simply a writer. All those labels make up part of my identity, and my identity informs my writing, but I try to transcend my identity, to write about people from many backgrounds, many viewpoints. I try to be faithful to my voice, to my gift, to that incredible magic, the word made visible.

Every person at this convention takes part in many identities. We have Tea Party activists, socialists, anarchists, feminists, Lesbians, Gay, Trans-gendered, African-American, Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, Christian, Asian-American men, women who like serial killers or cozies or true crime or espionage or PI’s or or or…

The one thing we share is that we are passionate about the written word, whether we are writers, readers, librarians, editors, agents. We cannot let ourselves be splintered by identity politics. We must find ways of coming together around our shared passion in a world that devalues literacy and the literate.

(by the way, a WEEJ is a white Eastern-European Jew)

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Climate Change Ballad Number 1

The story of 35000 walruses crowded together on an Alaska beach because of the disappearance of Arctic ice distressed me as I’m sure it did you. I don’t know if my Climate Change Ballad really helps the situation, but it was the only response I could come up with in the moment.


In the western U.S.
On the Puget Coast Sound
The walruses play
Where the oysters abound

They dive to the bottom
Then swim on their backs
Where they float into shore
To eat their small snacks

Of oysters, and mussels
Or plankton and snails
Which their friend, Captain Tony,
Sets out in large pails.

For Tony loves oysters
And mussels and such
He eats what he catches
And doesn’t take   much.

In April one year,
Maybe two-oh twenty-four
The walrus Queen, Olga,
Swam up to the shore.

She slapped on the sand
And gave a great shout.
“Tony! Why are there no
Tasty oysters about?”

Walruses crowded together on beach

Walruses crowded together on beach

“I know,” Tony wept.
“I know all too well.
The acidic ocean
Destroyed all their shells.”

“The ocean’s acidic?”
Olga wept bitter tears.
“How did this happen?
How soon will it clear?”

“Carbon,” Tony sighed.
“We burned too much fuel
In coal and in wood
But above all in oil.

“Carbon in air
Falls down to the ground
It pours down in rain
Right into the Sound.”

“A continent floats
Out in the south seas
The size of two Texas’
And full of disease.

“It’s where bottles and diapers
And plastic decay
Into one giant island
That grows every day.

“This island, Plastarctica,
Almost all life rejects:
No birds, no more fishes
Just lots of insects

“Are all that can live
In the tar and the waste
Those birds that land there
Die in pain and in haste.



“Oh, no,” Olga wailed
And gave a loud cry.
“No fishes, no oysters,
My babies will die.

“You must clean the ocean
There’s much work to do
Get rid of that carbon
We’re all counting on you.”

So Tony got cracking.
He called all his friends.
They studied the oceans;
They published the trends.
They wrote to the Congress
Explaining the science:
“We’re killing the planet
Due to carbon reliance!

“We see every day
It’s getting much hotter
Himalayan ice
Is turning to water.”

“Ridiculous man,”
Was the answer he got.
“There’s no climate change;
That’s all tommy-rot!”

The priests shouted loudly
“You all are effete!
You’re part of the atheist
Leftist elite!”

Captain Tony tried harder.
“You can still drive your Lexus.
Just pay more for gas
And pay higher taxes.

“Don’t subsidize oil
Use solar and wind.
Ride buses and trains.
Go by bike when you can.”

“Higher taxes, you mad man!”
The CEO’s shouted.
“We need bigger profits!
It’s what we’re entitled.”

“Pay more for bottles?”
The public all screamed.
“Buy cheap and discard—
It’s America’s dream.”

Next year Himalayan
Ice came barreling down.
A billion Chinese
And Indians drowned.

The Florida waters
Rose up ten feet high.
The people fled inland
So they could stay dry.

There was less food to eat,
Less water to drink.
No place to stay cool,
Birds and trees grew extinct.

“God’s punishing us
For believing in science.
Only the Bible
Is there for reliance,”

The ministers said
From every old creed.
“Turn to prayer, turn to Scripture,
But don’t give up greed.”

Meanwhile the armies
Gathered for battle.
With less food to eat
Their sabres all rattled.

Who knows which country
First dropped the big bomb,
But soon they all followed
And a great giga-ton

Of nuclear ash
Fell to the ground.
People burned, children died
And in Puget Sound

Queen Olga floated
Not to play; she was dead.
Her body grew bloated;
On her children she bled.

Captain Tony sat quietly
Out by the ocean.
His friends gathered round him
To find a solution

To nuclear winter.
There was little to do,
But wait ‘til it lifted
Say in Thirty-oh Two.

But in Texas and Egypt
In Chile and Britain
In their various pulpits
The clerics all threatened:

“Who caused this disaster
If not folk in science?
This shows that they
Treated our God with defiance!”

The people responded
As if in one voice,
“Kill Captain Tony!
He’s left us no choice!”

They created big fires
Out of wood chips and oil
And soon Captain Tony
Was brought to the boil.

Cap'n Tony burned at the stake

Cap’n Tony burned at the stake

“Now that he’s gone
With his atheist elite
God will reward us
With more food to eat!”

But the Divine Justice
Gave no quick answer
To famine, pollution
And fast-growing cancer.

For thousands of years
The planet seemed dead
Humans fought rats and roaches
Over rare bits of food.

Now and again
In the midst of the sludge
A poet would reach out
To learn ancient knowledge

But the Kochs and their ilk
Were still hoarding wealth
They bought off the rulers
They did it by stealth

And roused up the rabble
Whatever the creed
To hunt and stone poets
And cheer while they bled.

Slowly but surely
Radiation decayed
Birds re-emerged
A few walruses played

Out in the waters
Near old Puget Sound
Where occasionally now
A new oyster was found.

And more slowly still,
Despite threats of violence
Brave women and men
Re-committed to science.

Captain Tony’s nth grandchild
A bright kid called LuAnn
Studied protons and neutrons,
And even the muon.

While off on the tundra
Her cousin Guilffoyle
Was shooting the wolves
While drilling for oil.

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Words in Honor of Dorothy Salisbury Davis (1916-2014)

I went to Dorothy’s home town in Sneden’s Landing for her interment and memorial. Although she had a long and rich life, it’s still very hard to know that this is the end. Among the people who spoke were Peggy Friedman, publisher of New Directions, two neighbors, and a man from a program in Harlem for which Dorothy had organized great support.

With Dorothy in 1994

With Dorothy in 1994

Some people wanted a copy of my remarks, so I include them here:

This is the first time I’ve come to this town and to this church without Dorothy, and it is hard.

I first met Dorothy Salisbury Davis in 1986, when we both were taking part in the first national conference on women in the crime fiction world. Earnest young feminist that I was, I talked about how women smile as a sign of subservience: see me grin, you don’t have to take me seriously.

Dorothy responded with a wry tweak at me, but then gave me her own incandescent smile. I fell in love and never fell out of it. Over the years, she often remembered that first meeting, that smile. She told me that when her parents came to the orphanage where she’d been placed, looking for a boy who might grow up to help on the farm, her mother looked down at Dorothy’s cot. Dorothy smiled up at her and both parents forgot about wanting a boy, although Dorothy grew up doing her share of farmwork.

Once when she’d made lobsters for dinner, I watched in awe as she carried the pot of hot water, weighing about 40 pounds, to the back door to toss it into the yard. She said, “You never lose the muscles you get from milking cows as a child.

Dorothy said her first writing came when she was about four, standing on tiptoe to write as high up on the wall over her head as she could. Her mother, who had a fierce passion for her daughter, might not have relished the wall scribbles, but she did everything else in her power to move Dorothy from life as a housemaid or tenant farmer into the world of writing and the arts.

Dorothy’s mother died while she was still at college, but her influence on Dorothy’s life was deep and abiding. Her mother was an Irish immigrant; her brogue can be heard in at least one character’s voice in almost every book. More than that, her mordant tongue—“You can get used to anything, even hanging, if you hang long enough—“ lives on in the biting words of many of Dorothy’s characters, likeDetective Bassett In Black Sheep, White Lamb, who says of a woman that “she pecked over her obsessions like a crow at a corpse.”

Our friendship deepened during long walks along the Hudson and in late night conversations over whisky—until a few years ago Dorothy could easily outdrink me so I never tried catching up. We’d stay up until one or two and vow the next morning that we wouldn’t do that again—not until the next time.

We didn’t agree on everything—for reasons I never understood, this wise, insightful woman was a Mets fan. Still, I loved her enough to give her a Mets warm-up jacket for her 80th birthday.

I could write a book on what I learned from Dorothy about life in this world, the comic and the tragic and the valuable daily in-between. She introduced me to Flannery O’Conner, a writer she prized over most others. O’Connor said “Fiction is about everything human, and we are made out of dust: if you scorn getting yourself dusty, you shouldn’t try to write fiction. It’s not a grand enough job for you.”

Dorothy was like O’Connor, with a tragi-comic sense of life as well as an awareness that villains and heroes are neither wholly one nor the other. Like O’Connor, Dorothy was willing to roll up her sleeves and get her hands dusty in the business of exploring and writing about human frailty and strength.

Dorothy often said that she identified more with her villains than her heroes, because she understood their motivations better. As I reread her novels, I think what she meant is that she understood what lies behind villainy.

Her novel Where the Dark Streets Go tells the story of a priest who is summoned to the side of a man dying from a knife wound. Most crime writers would have pursued the murder inquiry, but Dorothy treated that as a backdrop to the struggle by the priest to understand himself, his passions, his calling. Through Father Joseph, Dorothy laid bare her own struggles in a naked and highly courageous way—getting herself dusty with a vengeance.

Dorothy sometimes played a writing game with me that I think of as, “Whose Voice Are You?” If we were at a restaurant, for instance, observing a waiter deal with a demanding patron, she’d say, if you were writing that story, who would you be? She herself chose the waiter, vibrating between an angry diner and a furious chef.

“Whose Voice Are You” helped deepen my sense of empathy for the people around me and by extension for the characters I create in my own fiction. Dorothy saw—widely and deeply—but she didn’t judge. That’s a lesson I still haven’t mastered.

The last time I saw Dorothy, near her 98th birthday, she told me she’d decided what saint she wanted to greet her when she died. I expected her to say Francis of Assisi, since she had a special devotion for him.

“Teresa of Avila,” she told me. “If God could welcome someone of her rebellious and questioning spirit, I know he can welcome me.”

Teresa, your patron child has come home. I hope you were there to greet her and lead her across the river.

If I were going to write that story, I would do it in Teresa’s voice. I would have her see that incandescent smile, and fall in love forever.


Home is the sailor

And I’m home, as well. Time goes too quickly these days, so I want to write a little about my recent trip to the UK (soon to be only a K?) before I forget everything. I traveled with my husband, who hasn’t felt like making a trip for a number of years now, and we spent our first week in Edinborough, partly to stay with very beloved friends, and partly so I could take part in the Edinborough Book Festival. I was on a panel with Tom Rob Smith, a young but very deep-thinking writer, best known for his book Child 44, (soon to be a major motion picture.) The ever-witty journalist Jackie McGlone moderated.

Photo taken by the Guardian Newspaper's Murdo MacLeod at the Book Fair

Photo taken by the Guardian Newspaper’s Murdo MacLeod at the Book Fair

I love Edinborough and I love the Fringe. I walked in the Botanics, and while my husband played pool most afternoons, friends and I went to plays, concerts, one-woman shows, a Georgian production of Animal Farm. and a very strong production of David Mamet’s Race by a South African troupe.

Before coming home, we spent four days in London. Courtenay had a chance to meet with the son of one of the men who served with him on the Apollo during the Normandy Invasion. For some reason, the Royal Navy let Mr. Jackson take photos on board both the warship where he did most of his duty and during the Murmansk run, when Allied ships underwent great risks from both weather and German assault to keep the blockaded Russians in food and materiel. I have a picture of Courtenay and Peter Jackson going through some of those photos in the lobby of our hotel.

Courtenay Wright and Peter Jackson looking at Peter's father's WW II photos

Courtenay Wright and Peter Jackson looking at Peter’s father’s WW II photos

Sara, Courtenay, Pippa and Peter Jackson talking over WW II

Sara, Courtenay, Pippa and Peter Jackson talking over WW II


I also got to catch up with old friends in London whom I don’t often see. Liza Cody and I went to the National Portrait Gallery where there’s a special exhibit on about Virginia Woolf. I’m always intrigued by her, envious of the intellectual life she and her sister shared with their extraordinary circle of writers and artists, and troubled by her illness and death. No easy answers there.

I had breakfast with the fourteen-year-old daughter of another beloved friend. Like her mother, this young woman is a gifted reader, and treated me to formidable insights on fiction, television and film. Can’t wait to see what her journey will be like in adulthood.

Treating myself to these beautiful earrings at the Scottish Gallery in Edinborough

Treating myself to these beautiful earrings at the Scottish Gallery in Edinborough

Wearing a WW I helmet at the Imperial War Museum

Wearing a WW I helmet at the Imperial War Museum

Finding the perfect cappuccino at Coffee Angel in Edinborough

Finding the perfect cappuccino at Coffee Angel in Edinborough

A harpsichord that Mozart played on, used in a live concert by John Kitchen in Edinborough

A harpsichord that Mozart played on, used in a live concert by John Kitchen in Edinborough

Enjoying the sunshine in Hyde Park, London

Enjoying the sunshine in Hyde Park, London


We flew home on the 26th–8 1/2 hours to cover the 3000 miles from London to O’Hare, 1 1/2 hours to cover the 27 miles from O’Hare to our house. Today I walked to Lake Michigan, feel happy, lucky to live in such a beautiful city but am extraordinarily glad I got to be in Edinborough and London. It was Robert Louis Stevenson, an Edinborough writer, who wrote “Home is the sailor.” (Under the wide and starry sky/Dig a grave and let me lie/Gladly I lived, and gladly died/And I laid me down with a will. /This be the verse you ‘grave for me:/Here he lies where he longed to be/Home is the sailor, home from the sea/And the hunter, home from the hill.)


Happy 4th

When I was a child, before my family imploded, my father used to take us for a walk on the 4th and retell the story of the Revolution. We would shiver with the soldiers in Valley Forge, and celebrate the crossing of the Delaware. At home we would read the Declaration of Independence, make ice cream in a hand-cranked freezer that my mother’s grandmother had used when her husband returned to Illinois from his service in the Civil War. We’d finish the evening with fireworks in our small-town back yard.

Ice cream churn

Ice cream churn

We knew another part of the story, too. My father’s mother crossed the Atlantic alone at fourteen, around 1908. Her father, my great-grandfather, had been murdered in a pogrom near Vilna–a mob broke into the house and shot him in front of his wife and children. The mob then paraded through Vilna singing “Te Deum,” thanking God for the death of another Jew. My granny, the oldest of eight children, was at risk; her mother shipped her to the New World. As she sailed into New York Harbor, under the outstretched arm of the lady with the lamp, she was lonely, scared, but safe. Never again would her life be in danger because of her religion. images-2

My granny never saw her mother or most of her siblings again. Two sisters joined her in New York in 1920, but by 1936, our borders were closed. Jews and others whom Hitler persecuted before war began had no place to turn. We even sent back a shipload of children, Jewish refugees from Europe, before the war began outright. My great-grandmother, her other five children, and their children, were murdered in the forests outside Vilna in 1942, down to the smallest baby in arms.

On this Fourth of July, as on many, my heart is pulled in many directions. I have a wistful nostalgia for our small-town Fourth, the parade, the walk and history with my dad, the ice cream, the friends who came over to enjoy it with us. I grieve for all those turned away from our borders.

As women make the perilous journey to this country, traveling up from Guatemala through Mexico to our hostile borders, their danger of rape is so high that the jefes who extort money to shepherd people through the deserts force women to take contraceptives so that their rapes don’t end in pregnancies. We make the wall high, we scream hysterically, we demonize, but even today, as our roads crumble and our schools fail, people still want to come. They can help us be a better country, but we are like the old lady and the onion in Russian folklore:

onion roots

onion roots

A woman who’s lived a bitter and angry life dies and goes to hell. She screams up at St Peter so loudly that he finally pushes open the gates of heaven and says, “Did you ever do one decent thing in your life?” It takes her a few millennia in torment to remember one good deed, but she finally says, “Yes, I once gave an onion to a beggar.” Peter holds out an onion with very long roots. He tells her to hold the root and he will pull her up. The woman seizes the end of the long root and Peter begins to lift her from hell. The other tormented souls see her rise and grab her legs and soon a whole chain of damned is rising with her. The woman is furious–they’ll pull her down. She kicks so hard that the people holding her legs fall off. At which point, Peter drops the onion and she falls back into the pit with the rest.

Anti-immigrant fervor is not new in this country. Anti-Irish mobs attacked incoming Irish in the 1840’s and ’50’s. In the 1884 election, the Republican Party claimed that big-city Irish Democrats were the party of “Rum, Romanism and Rebellion.” Italians came in for their share of ethnic and racial furies, and so it has continued to this day.

But we all came from somewhere else, most by choice, seeking freedom or a new chance, African-Americans against their will, but still wanting and deserving freedom and a new chance.


We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal.

I wonder if that phrase underlies the Supremes recent decisions against women. Justice Scalia said in a speech two years ago that the 14th Amendment, which guarantees equal protection under the laws, doesn’t apply to women. I wonder if the Supremes, the five Catholic men who would have been hounded and pilloried 125 years ago, don’t believe in their heart of hearts that our Constitution exists only for men.

All I can do on this Fourth is pledge my life, my fortune and my sacred honor to make this a country of equal protection under the laws for everyone, female as well as male, Hispanic as well as Irish, Italian, Anglo, Black. It’s a long road ahead, and I often feel such despair that I want to turn away from it, but the thought of my granny and others like her gives me strength for the journey.

Declaration of Independence

Declaration of Independence



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October 2021