Today we raise a glass of whatever beverage we find most genial to beloved author Barbara Mertz / Elizabeth Peters / Barbara Michaels …
We remember with joy a full life well-lived.
Today we raise a glass of whatever beverage we find most genial to beloved author Barbara Mertz / Elizabeth Peters / Barbara Michaels …
We remember with joy a full life well-lived.
V. “One of the most exciting developments in mystery writing over the past decade has been the broadening of its boundaries and the breakdown of formerly rigid categories.”Elizabeth Peters, “Malice Domestic I”
After the surge of cozies in the early 1990s, the pendulum swung back the other way for a bit.
“There was this real fluorescence of women writers, and publishers – as usual – it kind of got out of control,” James said. “They published way too many and eventually by the late 1990s, there was a correction in the market.”
Still, from the 1990s to the present, Malice has continued to grow in popularity. “From the beginning, it certainly seemed to fill a need, and has thrived,” Stashower said.
And in the process, Malice has expanded its definition of what constitutes an Agatha Award-worthy book, to the point where Foxwell said it became almost indistinguishable from Bouchercon. Last year, the Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel went to Ann Cleeves for “The Long Call.” The novel is dark detective fiction – a mystery for sure, but not exactly a cozy.
“In the early years, we were always careful with that definition, so we would have a unique identity,” Foxwell said.
In the 2010s, traditional and cozy mysteries enjoyed another resurgence. Reissues of Golden Age mysteries and publications of cozies took off again. Joseph Knobbs, the crime buyer for Waterstones, told the Guardian that the subgenre had become “massive” for them.
Meanwhile, the publishing industry has heeded Malice’s call to publish traditional mysteries in greater numbers. By 2018, publishers like Kensington, Crooked Lane Books and Sourcebooks were reviving cherished cozy mystery series and releasing new ones, as author Amanda Flower noted in Publishers Weekly. Berkley also has widened its selection of mysteries. Authors like Ellery Adams and Kate Kingsbury have risen to popularity amid the cozy mystery publishing renaissance.
And by 2020, Kirkus Reviews had even run a defense of cozy mysteries. It argued that “once you agree that crime fiction is literature, then slotting cozies into a lesser category feels arbitrary and quite likely based on gendered, dated, or unexamined notions.”
“What I hear a lot, especially during this pandemic, [is] people have run like crazy to cozies, to Golden Age mysteries,” Foxwell said. “They’re comforting, they’re reassuring – they’re a formula, sure – I have really seen people stampeding like crazy to cozies.”
The notion that traditional mysteries are the red-headed stepchild of the publishing industry has now been broadly challenged. But the question remains: did Malice change the industry, or did the industry change Malice?
“I think in some ways Malice was a victim of its own success,” James said. As the convention became profitable, organizers could afford to bring in more high-profile authors and pay their way. And they eventually ran out of traditional mystery writers to honor, so they started to look outside of the subgenre.
“I mean, I love Sara Paretsky to death, I think she’s a tremendous writer – no one has more passion for what she does than Sara – but Sara’s not Malice Domestic, and she would tell you that,” James explained. “And they gave Sara a lifetime achievement award. And Sue Grafton and Tony Hillerman and Dick Francis – those are not traditional mystery writers. They’re all terrific writers, but they didn’t belong at Malice. When that started happening, I thought ‘Malice has changed.’”
Morman said the convention grew more formal over time. Convention organizers also raised the cost of membership from $25, which is what it cost in the early years.
And for all the positive publicity that traditional mysteries have received in recent years, they still lag the darker fare in industry recognition.
“In terms of awards, still these days, you don’t see very many traditional mysteries being nominated for Edgars,” Foxwell said. “The Edgars still have shall we say a bias toward the darker, the thriller, the ‘serious’ book.”
Indeed, the fact that cozies still need to be defended suggests that Malice has yet to fully achieve its original aims.
“Barbara really did put her imprint on it, although I don’t think that she really has ever gotten full credit, because they still think these books are – you know, anything written by women for women can’t really be good and serious,” James said. “But kudos to Barbara, because our genre of books ‘don’t get no respect,’ as Henny Youngman used to say.”
And in the meantime, the mystery world, like the rest of publishing, has been transformed by the growth of the Internet and the rise of self-published writers.
“Things are different today,” Stashower said. “There is still of course the traditional publishing path, but there are other [avenues]. In the same way that the music industry has diversified, there are other ways to put books out there. Obviously, there’s self-publishing, there are small independent publishers, there is all kinds of stuff happening online. It’s a very different landscape now.”
Still, Malice has become one of the crucial stops for denizens of the mystery scene, whether their novels are traditional mysteries or more hardboiled fare.
Stashower said Malice today is “energizing, because there are so many people who are coming into the community” these days. And the convention is more popular than ever.
Indeed, last November, Mystery Writers of America announced that Malice Domestic had won its Raven Award for outstanding achievement in the mystery field beyond the realm of creative writing.
“Malice did establish a fairly high profile in the mystery world,” James said. “And I know newer writers coming along always wonder, ‘Should I go to Malice?’”
Thank you for following our series highlighting the beginning of Malice Domestic, along with fond memories of Barbara and others from that time. AND CHECK OUT THIS YEAR’S EXCITING ON-LINE EVENT: “More than Malice”!
II. “I was strongly in favor of a convention honoring the traditional mystery, for it seemed to me that this part of the genre had not received the respect it deserved… Critics tended to dismiss such books as ‘froth,’ awards committees considered them frivolous and unrealistic, and publishers weren’t publishing them in sufficient numbers.”Elizabeth Peters, “Malice Domestic I”
In Malice’s formative years, the traditional mysteries – often, though not exclusively, written by women – were getting short shrift, not only from the big awards committees, but from publishers and critics as well.
The critics were not always kind to Peters herself. In 1988, Peters had released “Deeds of the Disturber,” an Amelia Peabody mystery set in London. Kirkus Reviews said the “bizarre plot” lacked “credibility,” adding, “Amelia’s ever-increasing smugness is getting to be a bit of a bore.”
And traditional mysteries had never featured heavily in the history of the Edgar Awards, widely considered the most prestigious mystery awards, author Dean James said. Cozies in particular came in for special disdain within the industry.
“The convention started out of [Peters being] very disturbed by the fact that essentially mysteries by women were not being recognized with award nominations or awards,” author and mystery fan Elizabeth Foxwell said. “[She] was really appalled at the situation. What tended to get the awards and the recognition were hardboiled works, which mostly were written by men. Cozies… were often sort of slapped around and regarded very dismissively, perhaps because they’re usually written by women.”
So in 1988, Peters and her small band of collaborators began to divvy up tasks. Peters quickly took to sorting mail and writing to all her author friends, including Mary Higgins Clark, to get them to come.
“What started out as a fan convention – for mystery fans with a few writers – very quickly became a convention of writers,” co-founder Mary Morman recalled. “We just put out notices, and Barbara wrote all her friends, and they sent us money. It was absolutely amazing.”
Peters was deeply involved in Malice’s launch. She took on many of the more tedious tasks herself.
“Barbara was doing nitty gritty things for Malice such as going to the post office box, picking up the checks and registering people,” Foxwell said.
It was quite the undertaking. But Peters hosted meetings at her old Maryland farmhouse, and the whole crew sat at her wooden kitchen table, eating her famous soup, as cats prowled the stone floors beneath them. And slowly, the convention began to take shape.
“As I got to know Barbara better, I knew that when Barbara was determined to do something, it was going to get done,” James recalled. “She was a force of nature in so many ways.”
James and Morman had corresponded. Eventually, she told him to introduce himself to Peters at an International Crime Writers’ Congress meeting in New York. James did, and that was the beginning of his involvement in Malice.
They put him in charge of the Agatha Committee as soon as they decided to give out the awards. There were three committee members total.
“I was the chair of the Agatha Committee for the first three years,” James recalled. “And I served two more years after that as a member of the committee.”
The first Malice convention took place in 1989, with the first Agatha Award for Best Novel going to Carolyn G. Hart for her 1988 mystery “Something Wicked.”
There were four original categories for Agathas: Best Novel, Best First Novel, Best Short Story and Best Nonfiction. Since then, Malice has added several categories.
They deliberately named the Agathas for a woman, noting that all the major mystery awards were named for men. Foxwell said she believed Peters had it in her mind all along to honor Christie by naming the award after her.
Foxwell herself got roped into joining that original group when she went to a book signing in Georgetown. It was a different era in many ways, when networking happened face-to-face rather than over Zoom.
“There was no way to get together and talk to people, unless you came to a convention or you had a local mystery club, perhaps,” Morman said. “But so much that we do now online you simply could not do.”
“I’m proud to have been one of the founders of Malice Domestic, for I believe it is achieving the objects I hoped for in the beginning—greater respect for the genre, greater financial and critical success for the practitioners thereof… and a lot of fun.”Elizabeth Peters, “Malice Domestic I”
To understand the appeal of the Malice Domestic mystery convention, it helps to know what the publishing industry was like for traditional mystery writers around the time that Malice began.
The year was 1989. Authors like Dean R. Koontz, Tom Clancy and Elmore Leonard were topping the New York Times Best Seller List. Thrillers with a dash of horror and spy novels were the order of the day.
Bouchercon – short for the Anthony Boucher Memorial World Mystery Convention – was the primary mystery convention on the scene. The organizers of Bouchercon presented their first annual Anthony Awards in 1986.
The awards were named for Anthony Boucher, a mystery author and a critic for the New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. His books featured supernatural elements and science fiction themes. He died in 1968.
In 1989, the Anthony Award for Best Novel went to Thomas Harris for “The Silence of the Lambs.” The novel famously involves both a gruesome serial killer and a psychopath who ate his victims. Kirkus Reviews called the book “a tour de force of suspense, dark and polished as onyx.”
Even the Edgar Awards, presented by the New York-based Mystery Writers of America, were hewing to those trends. In 1989, the Edgar for Best Novel went to the hardboiled Cold War mystery “A Cold Red Sunrise” by Stuart M. Kaminsky.
But what about lighter fare? Books that abstained from gore and raunch in favor of the intellectual puzzles pioneered by writers like Agatha Christie?
It was in that atmosphere that a small band of mystery aficionados hatched a plan to launch their own convention and dispense their own award.
The convention came to be called Malice Domestic, so named for the personal nature of the crimes in their preferred mysteries (no serial killers, terrorists or hit men). And the Malice Domestic award was christened the Agatha, after mystery doyen Agatha Christie.
Spearheading that small group – it was anywhere from five to eight people at first – was Elizabeth Peters, a.k.a. Barbara Mertz, best known for her Amelia Peabody mysteries.
Mary Morman, author of the Friends of Elizabeth Peters newsletter, brought together the group that launched Malice. Peters credited her with the idea for the convention. Morman later said that she just wanted to make Peters happy.
“There were many people who were not interested in those [hardboiled] kinds of mysteries and didn’t like the fact that people who liked different kinds of mysteries were talked down to,” Morman explained. “It was a matter of respect.”
Peters was adamant that the world needed a forum to celebrate the traditional mystery. Moreover, as she noted in the foreword to Malice Domestic’s first anthology, Malice Domestic was not just for cozies. The convention “celebrates the traditional mystery in all its forms,” she wrote. “These forms are diverse and nonexclusive.”
Cozies are mystery novels that omit graphic sex and violence and typically feature an amateur sleuth. They traditionally take place in a small village. And the detective is often, though not always, female.
“So many writers who write books like I write are not taken seriously,” said New York Times bestselling author Miranda James, a.k.a. Dean James. “And Barbara understood that, and she was determined to do something about it.”
So Malice became a forum for cozies and other types of the often overlooked and maligned traditional mystery novel. And Peters and her merry band of enthusiasts overcame long odds to bring the convention to fruition.
“Part of her feeling about starting this convention was that cozies, or traditional mysteries, are often in a lighter vein,” Agatha Award-winning writer and longtime Malice attendee Elizabeth Foxwell said. “One of her tenets was that this is a legitimate form of literature. People enjoy it. We should recognize it. And why isn’t it recognized?”
We resume after a hiatus, with plans to honor Barbara in a number of ways, including some recollections of Malice Domestic. But we begin with a post from William Joy, who has posted here before. Who is William Joy? For one answer to this question, we turned to Ray Johnson, director of the Epigraphic Survey at Luxor under the auspices of the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute. Ray wrote to us:
William Joy is one of the most positive, behind-the-scenes forces in Egyptology today. He is a skilled archivist and a first-rate scholar in his own right, and is unceasingly generous with his time, knowledge, and expertise, particularly in the history of some of the earliest Egyptologists. I suspect that there is no one in the world who knows more about 19th century writer and Egyptologist Amelia B. Edwards than William, or is more enthusiastic about her. His knowledge is extraordinary.
As many of you know, Amelia Edwards provided some of the inspiration for our own Amelia Peabody. Here is a picture of Edwards, along with a letter she wrote, both of which hung in Barbara’s hall for many years. Now they hang in the Barbara Mertz Bioarchaeology Lab at the British Museum.
William wrote to us about Amelia Edwards after noticing a post on Twitter by avid Amelia fan Christina Startt. He also sent the beautiful pictures of covers of Amelia Edwards’ books seen at top and bottom.
FROM WILLIAM JOY:
While I was on Twitter, I noticed a tweet by Christina Startt with a photo of her copy of Amelia B. Edwards’ “A Thousand Miles Up The Nile.” I could have said something about it, but I honestly don’t know how in the single short sentence that Twitter provides! So here is more than you probably ever wanted to know about Amelia’s most famous book.
The cover of her paperbound book is a reproduction of the second edition of Amelia’s work, which first appeared at the close of the year 1888 — just in time for Christmas of that year. These copies actually bear dates of “1889,” which was a standard practice for English publishers. They felt if the Christmas shoppers of 1888 saw a book with the date “1889,” they would know instantly that it was “new,” and therefore, be more encouraged to purchase it. Experience showed Victorian publishers that “old” books at Christmas time were never quite the big sellers that “new” ones were.
These copies of Amelia’s second edition were issued in varying base cloth colors. Christina’s is dark blue, but there were also red, green, tan, light blue… a veritable rainbow of colors. But the design was the same on each of them: patterned after one of the author’s paintings inside the book.
Years ago, when I first noticed some of these, I thought they might be similar to American books of the same time (notably titles by Mark Twain), in that printing houses, when running out of a standard color cloth for a book, would just switch to whatever other color happened to be on hand, and continue the production.
But no, that was not the case here. These books were purposely issued in variant colors — depending on the “color” and “mood” of your library, and where you were going to display the book — so the customer had a choice as to which would “look best” when they got the book home.
One other Egyptology travel book, also by a woman, was like this: “Vom Nil” by Victoria, the Crown Princess of Sweden, which featured her photographs taken in Egypt in 1889 and 1890. It was issued in about six different color bindings. Speaking of Sweden, I recently sent a copy of “The Painted Queen” to Carolin Johansson, a professional Egyptologist based in Uppsala, Sweden, and she loves it! Well, who doesn’t? I sure did!
One more thing regarding “A Thousand Miles Up The Nile.” The first edition appeared in 1877 as a much larger and heavier quarto-sized volume than the second edition, a smaller octavo-sized book. It had thick bevel-edged boards. Copies of the first edition were usually covered with a red cloth cover, which had black and gold stamping on the upper board and spine, in Egyptian-style designs (though a few copies are known with a cream cloth; more on those in a moment). We have a copy of the red first edition that Amelia used for editing purposes, not long before the second edition appeared. She used a pencil to cross out words and experimented by writing in synonyms; she also added footnotes along the margins.
We thought that a significant copy. But just recently I was alerted by Julian Mackenzie of Shapero Rare Books in London to something even more extraordinary. They obtained (and sold to us) another copy of the first edition, which has something no other copy has… and moreover, which no other Egyptology book of its time has, as far as we know. And that is a publisher-issued paper dust jacket, made in 1877, intended to be used for the first edition, with the printed title and author’s name on the front cover, and fold-over flaps and everything — just like a modern dust jacket. I have not made photographs of this yet, but it is real, and it is complete, and yes, we are simply astonished over it. Dust jackets, you see, are early 20th-century items; they generally don’t exist for books from the nineteenth century.
One thing, though: there is, for perhaps every 10 copies of the red first edition of Amelia’s book, one cream color copy. And as this newly discovered dust-jacketed copy is of the scarcer cream variety, it is possible that the dust jackets were made only for the cream-colored copies. Both the cream and red varieties bear the same binder’s ticket on the rear pastedown (Westleys & Company, of London).
Thank you, William, for sharing this with us!!
About a year ago, in May of 2018, the British Museum honored Barbara Mertz by opening a laboratory named in her honor. We thought readers might like to hear a little more about that. The lab was generously sponsored by Dr. Roxie Walker, a bioarchaeologist who is Director of the Institute for Bioarchaeology at the British Museum.
Friends, colleagues, and fans gathered for the joint celebration that marked the openings of the Mertz Lab and the Adams Research Lab. (One observer remarked that the group that attended to honor Mertz was considerably more rowdy — and costumed — than the others there … but that seemed in keeping with her memory!) Among the outstanding visuals were Dr. Walker as Anubis ….
Dr. Neal Spencer (seen above with Anubis!)… Dr. Salima Ikram as the Crocodile Lady (worshiper of Sobek?) …..
… and … why, is it Amelia and Nefret? (with Barbara’s daughter Beth in-between…) Actually, these intrepid members of the Mertz/Peters/Michaels (MPM) fandom family — known to us as AmeliaPeabodyEmerson and Amelia-Peabody-Book-Club on Tumblr — traveled to the UK from the US to join in the merriment!
Featured on the walls of the lab were a letter from the formidable Amelia B. Edwards — one of the inspirations for Barbara’s beloved Amelia Peabody character — as well as original artwork for the cover of The Ape Who Guards the Balance (featuring Thoth), one of the books in the Amelia Peabody series.
Barbara’s long-time editor, Jennifer Brehl, from HarperCollins was also in attendance, as was Barbara’s dear friend and Frederick Maryland bookseller Chuck Roberts of WonderBook. Chuck contributed our final picture from the London event — a martini with rosemary (as we all know, that’s for remembrance). The gathering featured hilarity and tears, quite a few toasts, and a robust gathering of Egyptology lovers. Thank you, Dr. Walker, for remembering Barbara in style!
JOAN HESS carried out book launches in Forest Park (near where Barbara went to high school) and in Madison, Wisconsin, at two beloved independent book stores….
CENTURIES & SLEUTHS and MYSTERY TO ME
At Centuries and Sleuths, two large carrot cakes appeared (courtesy of relatives of Barbara’s who live in the Oak Park area), in honor of the occasion. (Also mindful of the fact that Joan had declared carrot cake a full meal, as it contains all necessary food groups — protein, vegetable, fruit (raising) and carbs…) (no comment!) Owner Augie Alesky remembered that Barbara LOVED kolackies from a local bakery, and had sneakily asked him to help her find some when she last visited Centuries and Sleuths. So he and Tracy made sure they had some of those delicacies on hand also!
In the window at Centuries and Sleuths, in honor of the occasion, was a display featuring Ancient Egypt (oh no, Budge!!) and details on The Painted Queen. Joan put on her sparkle, and greatly enjoyed conversations with fans who had come from all over. (She and Barbara both talked about how they would go to signings and “sparkle” for fans…)
NEXT STOP — Mystery to Me, a favorite haunt for mystery readers in Madison, Wisconsin. Joanne Berg, Jayne Rowsam, and Doug Moe greeted Joan with (of course!) carrot cake. Doug not only conducted a wonderful interview, but made sure that some vodka appeared as well.… An enthusiastic audience joined in, and lined up for a book signing afterwards. Another independent bookstore that came in high on Joan’s list, Mystery to Me is stocked not only with mysteries but with children’s books and other fare to feed the hungry reader!
When the Painted Queen hit the bestseller list, Doug again checked in with Joan and published a terrific column to celebrate. He described the launch party in Madison:
I’ve been doing author interviews at events at Mystery to Me for two years now and have enjoyed almost all of them.
The night of July 26—Beth Mertz came, too—was special. Not only because of the unusual circumstances behind the publication of “The Painted Queen,” but because in person Joan Hess turned out to be as spirited, humorous and salty as she was in our phone chat.
Illness and a bad hip kept her in a wheelchair that night, but Hess was undaunted. Entering the store, she spied the carrot cake that Mystery to Me proprietor Joanne Berg and brought for the occasion. There was wine, too, but I sensed from Hess that something was missing.
I phoned home. “Bring vodka!”
Mrs. Moe is resourceful, and we live near the bookstore. She was there in minutes with the requested libation. She and Hess bonded. The store was packed with readers of the Peabody novels, grateful to hear the backstory…
And indeed, it was a special evening. Together with the previous evening at Centuries and Sleuths, it gave Painted Queen a midwest launch that did justice to two friends, Mertz and Hess, in a final bow.
2017 was such a big year in the MPM fandom that we’re not sure we can do it justice here. Of course, the big news was the launch of The Painted Queen, with a pub date of July 25!
In the meantime, readers were busy with everything from fancasts to Amelia vocabulary lessons to very active Facebook discussions (see Another Shirt Ruined: a group for fans of Barbara Mertz and The Amelia Peabody Fan Club for starters!) …. and then there were all the PQ book launch activities, fan reviews and more!
In March, Egyptologist Edmund Meltzer discussed Barbara Mertz’s status as “Queen of Egyptian-themed mysteries” at a convention in Wisconsin, continuing an admiration he’d had for her writings since he reviewed the first Amelia novel in … 1977!!
Spring 2017 also brought an exciting show-down on the Ball State English competition. At first Amelia Peabody made it to the “elite eight”:
“Our next Elite Eight match has The Girl on the Train taking on the Amelia Peabody series. Who will advance to the Final Four?”
Amelia fans rose to the task, and AP advanced to the “final four” but had to face off against ….. Harry Potter!! OH NO! (As MPM was a huge fan of the Harry Potter series, we hastened to tell everyone that we could live with a loss.)
HOWEVER …. the AP team once again prevailed, sending us to the finals. And in the end… 4/4/2017 – Ball State English Amelia Peabody 62% to Bad Feminist 38%
The Amelia fandom is clearly alive and kicking!
Throughout the year, Amelia fans shared their ideas about who should play their favorite characters, still desperately dreaming of the day when they might see Amelia and Emerson, Walter and Evelyn, traipsing through the Egyptian wilderness on the silver screen! In the meantime, the fan-casting continues! Some 2017 fan-casting highlights: February — March — September(1) — September(2) — October (1) — October (2) — October (3) — October (4) — November (and that’s just the start!)
Tumblr user riley1cannon recounts the time she realized she was reading the Amelia Peabody books out of order: “Ramses is 34!” –> “He was just a baby the last time I’d seen him!”
All this team spirit put us in the right mood for the rising energy surrounding not only the publication of Painted Queen but also the re-publication of Amelia Peabody’s Egypt (**THE ONLY BOOK BY BARBARA MERTZ THAT HAD BEEN OUT OF PRINT AT THE TIME!!!)(Barbara enjoyed touting APE during a talk she gave at the Library of Congress...)
DOUBLE-DECKLE BOOKS …. Also, please take note: both books were issued with fancy deckle edges, which made the pages fun to flip. (Nerd pleasures)
As the much-awaited pub date approached, the publisher teamed up with @teamramses (and Goodreads) to give fans several chances to receive pre-publication copies (which had not yet received final edits)… Oh the excitement!
Early fan reviews began to hit the internet, a number of which we were able to include on our blog… Still more excitement, as we heard from Brent Butler, Alisha Trenalone, Benjamin Phillips and others!!!
AND FINALLY IT WAS LAUNCH DAY — JULY 25 2017! With events in New York, Chicago, Madison WI, and Frederick MD, Painted Queen hit the ground in style! In New York, “the voice of Amelia” Barbara Rosenblat gave listeners a taste of the audiobook version of PQ — a sentimental moment for her as a dear friend of Barbara Mertz’s (as well as Mertz’s preferred reader for the Amelia audiobooks).
As HarperCollins proudly announced,
THE PAINTED QUEEN by Elizabeth Peters and Joan Hess (on sale 7/25) made its debut on the New York Times Bestseller List (8/13) at #7 and was featured on the NYT’s “Inside The List”. As a crowning moment, the Washington Post List debuted Painted Queen even higher, at #5.
And PQ earned a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly:
“The long-running series by MWA Grand Master Peters (1927 – 2013) featuring forthright Amelia Peabody Emerson and her irascible archeologist husband, Radcliffe Emerson, comes full circle with this energetic final novel completed by Hess, Peters’s friend and fellow mystery author. … ), the Emerson clan takes a fitting final bow as the curtain falls on a pioneering career.”
These were happy moments for Joan Hess, who had finished The Painted Queen as a final act of friendship for Barbara Mertz. During the time Hess worked on PQ, she was quietly struggling with increasingly serious health problems. She died on November 23, 2017. Days before her death, she learned that Malice Domestic would be giving her an Amelia Award for her work on The Painted Queen.
It was a year of highs and lows, a time we’ll all remember. Like Barbara, Joan would not welcome maudlin sentiment — her preferred mode was sly humor, a trait that endeared her to her readers and friends. Wherever they are, Barbara and Joan are doubtless chuckling and raising their glasses for yet another toast.
Credit again to @teamramses for co-writing this!!
Many of you have probably already read of Joan Hess‘s passing on Thanksgiving Day, 2017. She had been undergoing serious health challenges throughout the three years during which she was completing The Painted Queen. But, she persevered valiantly throughout, and was very excited to see the book published this past July. Joan personally attended signings in the Chicago area and in Wisconsin, revisiting two independent book stores that had long been favorites of hers and Barbara’s. In the Chicago area, Hess signed books at Centuries and Sleuths — where owner Augie Alesky greeted her with a marvelous window display and treats for all comers. In Madison, Wisconsin, Joan delighted in her interview at Mystery to Me with writer Doug Moe — and the carrot cake thoughtfully supplied by owner Joanne Berg. Doug recently wrote a post that recalled Joan’s visit, and her wistful hope that she could hit the bestseller list after a long career as an accomplished mystery writer. Author of the hilarious Maggody series featuring Arly Hanks, she also toasted her hometown of Fayetteville, Arkansas in a series centering on bookstore owner/sleuth Claire Malloy.
PQ hit the New York Times bestseller list at #7 in its first week, and also reached #5 on the Washington Post list. This was a fitting tribute to Joan’s labors, to Barbara’s final efforts at giving voice to Amelia, and to their friendship. They were part of a close group of writer friends who had long supported each other, attending Malice Domestic together — and then separately holding their own “Grouchercons” to vent their own brand of sardonic humor.
We risk inciting them to haunt us if we end with maudlin sentimentality (although it must be said that they were both deeply sentimental despite many avowals to the contrary!). So, have a slice of carrot cake, lift a glass of vodka (if you can stand the combination!), and drink to the memory of one hell of a woman.