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Quarantined: Eccentric British mystery stories pass the time

Nancy Baxter, Senior Editor Hawthorne Publishing

Yes, week after week we have been here inside the Hawthorne Publishing home office with only the giant TV screen for company. Business is down; not many books are sold and new projects lie dormant. Helpers are not here. Indulging our proclivity for mystery and all things English, we took out at free 30-day subscription to “Brit Box.” We can now report on what binge-watching turned up for us in this newly discovered (for us) art form.

PBS had run a few of Elizabeth George’s “Inspector Lynley” series on Indianapolis channel WFYI a few years back. But now: behold! You could watch the whole first year, some six or seven well-produced mysteries. Season Six seemed to be listed on Amazon Prime, but then for us at least, mysteriously disappeared.

I had read all of Elizabeth George’s novels. She is considered by many of us buffs to be the best writer of English mysteries who has recently put pen to paper (a dated reference) in recent years.

The movie versions, done over a period of years just before special effects came in, are a combination of expert adaptation of George’s master works and later versions of some stories and suggested ideas. How do the TV series stack up against the originals novels and how entertaining are they? The answer is pretty well and pretty good in both categories.

Nathaniel Parker plays Thomas Lynley and he is sufficiently lord-like, aristocratic, well educated, while yet still humane and attractive. He’s also a very sharp detective. The TV Lynley is perhaps a little too human, too vulnerable, too affected by the human condition and his own emotions, particularly his ongoing (over many years) love for and eventual marriage of Helen Clyde. I liked the slight diffidence of George’s Lord Lynley, but still this TV Tommy is good.

It’s in the character of Barbara Havers, his blue-collar assistant that the TV editors have diverged from Elizabeth George’s character. The novels’ Havers was chubby and sloppy but astute and effective as a policewoman. Her everyday down-home knowledge and sharp wit are also evident in Sharon Small’s Havers, but Scottish actress Small is too pretty for Havers. Still, we can get used to it, and then she shines as a down-to-earth kitchen pot compared to Nathaniel Parker’s silver-chafing-dish depictions of Lynley.

It was disconcerting to have three different women play Helen Clyde, Tommy’s enduring love, over the years the series was active. What happened there? Google could not provide an answer.

But the rapidly moving one-hour shows (only one, the first, was two hours) provide a variety of settings (the pair is always being consulted to do guest policing in out-of-the-way places with thatched English cottages and picturesque seaside settings,) and clever mystery plots. We could try to keep up with the accents and plot shifts in a foreign county; it stretches a viewer to do this.

I couldn’t discover how one could access the other seasons of this mystery from Britain: I was left ready for more of Lynley and Havers.


Nancy Baxter’s own mystery story is set in Indianapolis in the 1890s. It is called Charmed Circle: I895 Indianapolis and is available from Amazon and other outlets.

Posted in Writing Fiction |

Hawthorne author Nelson Price spins tales of two famous Indianapolis hotels in Traces of Indiana and Midwestern History magazine

Claypool Hotel, Indianapolis, Indiana (69893)“Glamour and Gore: The Claypool and Lincoln Hotels” is the title of the sparkling article in Indiana Historical Society’s Winter edition of Traces Magazine.

It “traces” the evolution of the two landmark hotels in the heart of the downtown area. To visit one of these hotels as a child was an honor and rare privilege for me: it cost a lot of money to dine in these marble-clad dining rooms with the shining silverware and silver serving dishes. It may have happened only a couple of times for my northside family.

My father did take my sister and me downtown to see the Last Encampment of the GAR (Grand Army of the Republic) veterans from the Civil War, in 1949. Our mother didn’t care to go to see the old men near 100 years old riding around the Circle in convertibles and then go to the Claypool to hear them sing in wavering voices, “Tenting Tonight on the Old Campground.” We observed all of this with mild curiosity, never realizing it would be one of the memories of a lifetime for both of us.

And we were vaguely aware, as our parents talked of them, of the notorious murders that occurred at the Claypool. Nelson chronicles in his competently reportorial, on-the-scene style, the murder of a physical therapist in August 1943 at the now older hotel. The radio stations and Indianapolis News and Indianapolis Star were full of details of this lurid murder, which was never solved. We could be more aware of the 1954 “dresser drawer murder”: the murderer of Dorothy Poore of Clinton, Indiana, in the hotel was tracked down: he was Victor Lively, a salesman from Missouri.

There’s something poignant about the declining reputation of both hotels which Nelson chronicles, complete with the interesting stories of the demolition of these handsome landmarks which had stood for the best part of the twentieth century. The author’s detailed coverage and the photos he located vitalize the prominence that these hostelries represent: civic pride, glamour, and focus on Indianapolis’s downtown as the mecca for those visiting Indianapolis. This article on the Claypool Hotel and Hotel Lincoln makes us stand again in these lobbies, feel the call of the bellboys and the rush of the suitcase-carrying patrons, see the four-foot-high floral arrangements, and understand how a city’s desire for excellence can be symbolized by glamorous hotels, even if they do have only a limited lifetime.


Nelson Price is the author of several books, including Hawthorne’s classic Indiana Legends: Famous Hoosiers from Johnny Appleseed to David Letterman. Click back to purchase the book. Traces magazine is available from the Indiana Historical Society at $7 per copy.

Posted in Welcome |

The Story Behind the Story: Nancy Kriplen’s new biography of Irwin Miller is featured in Traces: Indiana and Midwestern History

Irwin Miller was the Commencement speaker for my graduation as an MBA from Butler University, and I recall his speech as non-memorable and—uninteresting. Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood: I had three small children and another on the way. But that probably inaccurate perception of a boring speech has nothing to do with the full life of this remarkable man who helped build the Cummins Engine Company and transform Columbus, Indiana into a shining mecca for arts and architecture.

Nancy Kriplen has written about the search for the true nature and career of the man as she wrote her biography J. Irwin Miller: The Shaping of an American Town. Her article in the magazine, a story of her own years-long research trail into this leader’s life and achievements, is rare in itself: we almost never get to follow the research trail behind outstanding and detailed biographies. The endless track through dusty libraries and obscure books and records and frustrating attempts and successes in the personal interview process are good reading in themselves. Nancy as researcher became Nancy Drew, girl detective, in tracking down distant relatives, people in their nineties and false and real leads, all the while trying (unsuccessfully) to convince agents in the scholarly and popular book market that the story was dynamite—good reading. Finally Indiana University Press saw the book’s potential.

And indeed it is good reading. Miller was a dynamic achiever from the start of his life. A genius with a multiplicity of talents ranging from mechanical engineering to violin playing, he was groomed for, and elevated eventually in the Cummins Engine company after he returned from college, graduate school and a grocery store chain work experience in California. Employing liberal employee and community action strategies as well as sound growth management, Miller brilliantly achieved, not only in the company but in public service and the arts. Columbus, Indiana, today is a living testament to the genius and generosity of Miller and his wife Xenia in patronizing the arts in Columbus in ways too numerous to detail.

But what is most important to me about the article in Traces is that interaction between the subject of the biography and his chronicler: the author’s obvious admiration for (and
sometimes frustration with) her subject: Miller the man. The elusive search on the part of
writers who tell the stories of real people to find the gold at the heart of humanhood and
success is fascinating. Nancy Kriplen’s article “J. Irwin Miller: Backstage of a Biography”—and her book—take us down the road towards understanding that.

Nancy Baxter is Managing Editor of Hawthorne Publishing. Nancy Kriplen’s book is available from Indiana University Press and among other sources.

Posted in Indiana History |

New Library: No way to know what are “good books”

During the winter, the management part of the company moves to Florida.

Here we can do editing, book planning and marketing and decision-making in the land of the sun while an assistant staffs the office and ships books.

Bonita Springs, Florida, has a beautiful new library in the center of town, three stories of yellow and white modernity. All new electronic servants monitor many of the services: drop off books in the electronic drive-through drawer on the front of the building and your transaction is instantly registered book by book and a receipt delivered right then.

Inside, gone are the friendly librarian desks with experienced people greeting you, exchanging greetings and comments on books you or they liked. A carrel stands, cold and mechanical but efficient, and can help you return and process your choice of books. True, a lady still exists over in the corner for the non-technical among us.

Upstairs are the new books on one fairly long shelf, and many avid readers are picking them up and looking at the offerings. Small rooms and tables outside allow for computer researching and daily updating for individuals and display of large-type books and DVDs. I’m only interested now in old-fashioned print books to read for edification and entertainment.

But what’s this? For three weeks the new books on that shelf I’m looking at seem to be about the same. Here are the ones I took out three weeks ago and the others, narrow-minded reader that I am, I have rejected.

The stacks of older books are ample, off-center back in the back of this second-floor span, but again, how to know what would be a “good read?” How does this quest for a really good book operate, how to find something you can’t put down? Or even go through with satisfaction? Other readers browsing the shelves and stacks seem to be having the same wonderment: among these thousands, won’t anybody recommend a book that’s a good read?

The first point to make is that a “good read” involves individual taste. You may not like the book I do. Still, consensus does seem to play a part for American readers: they can spot talented writing and a good story and they share their recommendations with friends and others.

Of course, there are ways to determine what’s going to be a good read when new books come out. “Goodreads” and other book review sites online tell you what books readers have appreciated in the past two or three years.

Book clubs research titles and reviews to pick books their members will enjoy reading and discussing.

The New York Times Bestseller List lists both non-fiction and fiction books; these titles reflect popularity by sales.

Perhaps in the stacks I’ll find something attractive. I decide to move through the thousands of those older books on the fiction shelves, alphabetically organized and look for authors whose names I know, whose books I have enjoyed in the past. Here are Elizabeth George and Ann Perry, P.D. James and John O’Hara, J.D. Salinger and John Updike. Perhaps I’ll read the first page—does it sound familiar? I can find a couple of books.

You don’t have to go only to the local library to get a good book, of course. One may visit the next-to-new shops. Goodwill will have hundreds of used books. But here’s the problem there: they are amazingly similar and loaded with “pop” authors: Danielle Steele, John Grisham, Nora Roberts, Sue Grafton, James Patterson. Everybody buys or receives these books often as hardcovers, reads them—and gets rid of them. They languish on the shelves of the pool house in this condo we rent.

So after the presentation of this problem I perceive, what suggestions do I have to give to librarians in the new place here? How about “Librarian’s choice” each week: ten books the staff votes on that they loved reading. It could focus on new but include the old too. I know that many libraries do this and it gives us a head start. Even label or break the librarians’ choice lists into categories: mysteries, romances, non-fiction. Post little mini-reviews by the staff.

Post the New York Times bestseller lists and other good lists and star which books the library has. Make reserving books easy and accessible.

In these modern digital libraries, the old close relationships between workers and patrons could be diminishing. When you are saluting and manipulating a machine, punching and clicking, you are not interacting with a person, presumably a book lover as you are, with whom to converse and share perceptions. It can make the library experience cold. Knowing what the librarians themselves read creates a little bond.

Maybe this and other new libraries could have “favorite reads” book clubs similar to the old summer reading clubs for kids. A long list of favorites of patrons and librarians, registration to join the “best books” reading club, and prizes or a tea party for people who read them all.

I expect that is happening somewhere, maybe several places. Other people are surely thinking about it.

I do know that I can’t scrabble through every single volume in that gorgeous hunk of concrete to find the gone “must reads.”

Nancy Niblack Baxter is senior editor of Hawthorne Publishing. Click back to the site to find her books.

Posted in Book Publishing |