Tuesday, March 18, 2008


St. Paddy's Day!

Anyone else fed up with the colour green?

I certainly am, and I've only been in New York a matter of hours. To be honest I find a bunch of pseudo-Irish eejits in daft green hats wandering drunkenly around the city streets less than cute.

Especially when I have just spent two-and-a-half hours stuck in a "super" (I use the word advisedly) shuttle, driven by a French-speaking African cruising endlessly around Manhattan in search of streets that always seemed to elude him.

The shuttle from Laguardia to our hotel took more than twice as long as the flight from Rochester to NYC. A flight, I hasten to add, that was already delayed by well over an hour. Oh, and did I mention that our hotel, the Milford Plaza, which is supposed to have wi-fi in its rooms, doesn't? The hotel is undergoing a renovation they told us when I complained. Internet access is hard-wired into rooms on floors 12 to 17. We, of course, are on the 18th floor.

If I sound jaded, it's because I am. And I can't really blame New York. We always seem to arrive here at the end of a tour, and the end of our tethers, with only one thought in mind - to go home. So this is a treading water couple of days, traversing the island on the subway to sign stock in mystery stores, and meet with my agent. To sleep and eat, and while away the hours until our flight to Paris on Wednesday.

This is the longest, most arduous tour we've ever undertaken, and it has taken its toll. Seven weeks on the road, away from home, is far too long. The flu was the straw that broke the camel's back.

After three days in the bosom of La Patronne's family upstate, we will celebrate her birthday tomorrow (Tuesday). Our last night in New York. Our last night in America. And the next bed we sleep in will be our own!

Whoever said writers lead a glamorous life?

Whoever it was...

... LIED!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


It's all over! Bar the shouting.

After nearly twenty events, the US tour of 2008 is over. Sure, I have some stock signings in New York city, but tonight, in Minneapolis, was the final speaking event.

Feeling like hell, and making sure I didn't share the pleasures of my particular virus, sheer adrenaline carried me through what was the best attended event I've had to date at Once Upon a Crime.

It's odd. This was the bookstore where I made my first US appearance back in 2005. Now it was the final venue of 2008. So it had a sense of coming full circle.

The Minneapolis Alliance Francaise, who were supposed to be participating in the event, were conspicuous by their absence. The local organiser also failed to show, pleading illness. The same tactical illness, perhaps, which had led her to be so conspicuously absent throughout the whole process of organisation.

However, store owner, Pat Frovarp, had done her usual sterling job of whipping up interest, and also had huge piles of books for me to sign. She really is a pro, and a lovely lady to boot.

Carl Brookins, whom we had bumped into at LCC in Denver, showed up to introduce me to the assembled (I think La Patronne must have bunged him a huge amount to say all those nice things about me).

Interesting footnote to the event. Two readers, Sherrie and Anita, had been persuaded to come to the event by Pat, because she knew they were visiting France in the summer.

To everyone's amazement, it turns out that they are staying in a town in south-west France, about 20 minutes away from Gaillac. So they bought "Extraordinary People" and "The Critic", and promised to visit Domaine Sarrabelle when they make the trip at the end of June.

So, Francoise, Fabien, and Laurent (whom I know are following the blog), make sure you look after Sherrie and Anita when they come to taste your wines in June!!

Earlier in the day we visited Uncle Edgar's mystery bookstore to sign some stock. The guys had obviously been reading my blog and knew that I was Typhoid Pete - and so kept a respectful distance.

I'm still streaming. Still feeling crap. But maybe tomorrow will bring an improvement. I have a whole day to rest, with nothing else to do, before a crazy two-part flight to Rochester, New York, via Atlanta,Georgia (whoever invented the hub sytem should be shot!).

Then it's a few days' relaxation at Le Beau Frere's, before the stock signing in NYC, and then home.

Honest to God, I really can't wait. It's been waaaay too long!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Okay, it's the flu.

Aching muscles from head to toe, fever, sweating, waves of debilitating weakness. It's about fifteen years since I last experienced anything like this.

I was dreading today's travel. A flight from Denver to Minneapolis, and a 24-mile drive in a rental car to the hotel La Patronne had found for us.

And the day did not start well.

We were up at 5am to pack. An hour and a quarter later we went down to the car park at the rear of Charles and Marilyn's condo to put our luggage into the back of Charles' SUV. Which is when we encountered our first problem.

The handle on one of our suitcases broke clean off - the handle to which airlines attach the luggage tag. If that wasn't bad enough, after we had got all the luggage into the vehicle, we had only driven about ten metres when Charles declared, "I've got a flat tyre."

You could feel the irregular vibration of it on the frozen tarmac.

We then rewound time - forty years back to the ninetreen sixties, when for some reason people tried to cram as many bodies as possible into a Mini. Only this time it was three bodies, two huge suitcases, two large items of hand luggage, and two handbags. There was no way Charles was going to fit into Marilyn's Mini Cooper as well, so he got left behind. And as I squeezed into the back, feeling like death warmed up, a suitcase and carry-on to one side, and another carry-on sitting on my knee, Marilyn revealed that it was the first time she'd ever had anyone travel in the back seat of her car.

As we headed east on the freeway, into a golden dawn, I reflected on the news item we had caught as we packed the bags just an hour earlier.

A new scientific report had revealed that in various states around America, traces of anti-biotic and prescription medicines had been found in the drinking water - and that no amount of personal filtering would remove them.

Colorado was one of those states. If one is just passing through, so to speak, then it probably doesn't matter much. But daily exposure to even trace amounts can accumulate over time. Worrying.

But what made me laugh was the revelation that one of the affected states was California, where traces of anti-anxiety medication had been found in the water.

Oh, well. If I had all that money and sunshine, I might be anxious too.

As it is, I'm cooried down in this hotel room on the edge of Minneapolis, trying to get myself over this bug before the event at Once Upon a Crime tomorrow night. Gallons of water, and coffee, and plenty of sleep, and I'll be fit for it. One way or another.

The show must go on!

Sunday, March 09, 2008


Yay! A taxi driver who knew the route without a GPS, and who took us straight home after the convention banquet - even if he could barely speak English!

That was the good news. The bad news is that the crap feeling I had this morning has developed into something definitely nasty! My throat is sore, my muscles ache, I've developed a chesty cough.

Shit! Just when the finish line was in sight. This is the first cold/flu (whatever it is) infection I've had for nearly two years. I'm usually pretty good at fighting things off. But lack of sleep, the constant travelling, airports, hotels, bookshops, conventions - I guess I'm just run down.

It's our host Charles's birthday party tomorrow, and I think I might have to give it a body swerve - not because I wouldn't want to go, but because I definitely don't want to pass this on. Perhaps a day in bed and lots of fluids will help me fight it off.

But I worry, too, about Minneapolis. We are supposed to be staying with friends, Michele and Bill. But in all conscience, I couldn't inflict my germs upon them, so La Patronne is busy researching hotels in the city, so I can lock myself away and ride this out.

I only have one more formal event - at Once Upon a Crime on Tuesday night - before spending a few days at the home of Le Beau Frere near Rochester, New York, then a final trip to New York City to sign stock in several bookstores and meet with my agent and publisher.

Earlier today we got a taxi into town for my panel, on the subject of "Romancing the Mystery". The panel was moderated by the irrepressible Tom O'Day, who was so tall he couldn't get on to the platform without banging his head on the ceiling. Oddly, I was the only male on the panel. I suggested to fellow panelists, Margaret Lucke, Kris Neri, and Joan Johnston, that maybe it was because I have been known to wear a skirt from time to time!

I was gratified to have a long line to sign books following the panel, after which La Patronne and I paid a visit to Denver's Hard Rock Cafe to quaff a couple of Margaritas and chomp on barbecued ribs.

But gradually, through the afternoon, I began to feel worse and worse. I went to bed, and could barely rouse myself to go to the banquet where we met up with Carl Brookins, a great writer and character from Minnesota. He was kind enough to give me a fabulous review for "Extraordinary People". And in "The Critic", when Enzo is going through the belongings of the murdered wine critic, Gill Petty, he comes across a book the victim had been reading - a mystery written by... Carl Brookins. It was great to see him again, but I didn't want to pass on whatever I had, and in the end, I couldn't even stay for the awards.

The continual time changes aren't helping. We have been backwards and forwards through the hours from California to Arizona to Texas, then back again to Colorado where, tonight, Daylight Savings kicked in and the time sprang forward one hour.

On Monday we go back through the hours to Minneapolis, then back still further to New York at the end of the week. Then, the week after we get back to France, summertime kicks in and the hour springs forward again.

Time! Who knows where it begins, or ends. Or where it goes.

Saturday, March 08, 2008


I don't know if I'm fighting off some winter bug, or whether it's the altitude and the extreme dryness of the air here, but I'm feeling pretty crap. Sore throat. Bloody nose.

I look in the mirror and see deep lines etched beneath my eyes. Eyes that peer back at me, tired and watery.

Jees, I've been on the go without stopping since last Monday. An event every day, sometimes two. A flight from Houston to Denver. The prospect of flying on Monday into the arctic cold and snow of Minneapolis. It's more than five weeks since I left home. Still nearly two weeks to go.

I figure I'm going to be staggering over the finish line.

So stop grizzling, you moaning git, and get on with it!!

Okay. So actually yesterday was a not bad day. I managed to miss the cocktail party laid on by my New York publisher, St. Martin's Press, at the conference hotel. Evidently, they had cunningly concealed it in a place that made it impossible for me to find. Probably I was the only one who couldn't find it. If I was being paranoid, I might think they had planned it that way!

But the truth is, I was kinda glad. I never know anyone at these things. And you end up standing around like a spare whatsit at a wedding, clutching a drink you don't want, forcing smiles for people you've never seen before.

We had another taxi adventure on the way to the Alliance Francaise. Another taxi driver who had no idea where he was going, plumbed the address into his GPS, then proceeded to ignore its every instruction.

In my day, taxi drivers knew every street in a city. Now it seems all you need is a driving licence and a (very) tenous grasp of English. GPS has saved our bacon on a number of outings this trip, but it has a lot to answer for where taxi drivers are concerned.

It was Open Night at the Alliance Francaise, and we had a full house in our small lecture room - standing room only. I began my talk in French, but a lot of those there didn't speak it, so I switched back to English. Then ended the night doing a TV interview in French for a local Denver station, with an interviewer who whispered his questions in a strong Caribbean accent. When you throw my Scottish accented French into the equation, I wonder if anyone will understand it!!

Then it was a trawl along Santa Fe Drive, where young people thronged the pavements, drifting in and out of the myriad art galleries and restaurants that line the street - an event that takes place on the first Friday of every month.

Two huge Margaritas, a beef burrito and a chicken quesadilla, filled the empty space in our stomachs and we headed home to feed Pierre (Charles and Marilyn's cat - they are away for a couple of days to attend a family funeral)(Charles and Pierre in pic).

Today, my final event in Denver - a panel discussing the subject of "Romancing the Mystery". I'm actually quite looking forward to that one.

The gala dinner tonight. If I feel up to it I might wear my kilt. A day of rest on Sunday, then up sticks and on to Minnesota.

My only worry now is whether my taxi driver will be able to find the conference hotel.!!

Friday, March 07, 2008


Wolves, cakes, a long line of fans, and a snail-mail letter that winged its way across the Atlantic to intercept me in Denver.

Oh, and a taxi driver who had no idea where he was going - as well as a GPS sytem which was itching to swear at him (even more loudly than me)!

That was today.

Well, that was part of today. A day in this week that never stops or ends.

I have to tell you, I'm flagging. My eyes sting, my muscles ache, the air is so thin up here in Mile High City that I get breathless walking along the corridor.

But I'm not complaining, even if it sounds like I am. It was a good day that started when I drew the curtains in Charles and Marilyn's Denver condo to reveal the clearest of blue skies, and a city ringed by snow-capped mountains. Early morning sun slanted in through floor to ceiling windows and lifted my spirits.

There followed a brisk walk through sub-zero sunshine to the nearest Starbucks, a 40-minute workout in the fitness room in the basement of the condo. Then lunch with Charles and Marilyn in a cool Vietnamese restaurant called Parallel 17. Best curry I've had for a long time.

Then it was off to register at the Left Coast Crime convention in the Adam's Mark hotel in downtown Denver and get my bearings for my two panels.

This afternoon's panel was entitled: "Mind Games and Manhunts - Psychological Thrillers", and around 60 people turned up to hear myself, Laura Benedict, Christine Jorgensen, and Robert Greer, under the guidance of moderator, Carol Caverly, discuss what makes a psychological thriller.

Now, the form is that when a panel is over, the panelists adjourn to the book room where tables are lined up around the perimeter. Fans buy books and come and get the authors to sign them. I have sat at these events in the past, twiddling my thumbs while some better known author next to me had a long line of readers queuing up across the room.

For once, I was the writer with the long line of readers waiting to get their books signed. One lady said to me, "I've been seeing your name everywhere. I've just got to read your books."

I wonder if that makes me an overnight success at 56?

I was then faced with a hair-raising chase across town to the Murder by the Book bookstore (I know - same name as the one in Houston), for another event.

That was when I encountered the taxi driver who had no idea where he was taking us. I should have known there was trouble ahead when I gave him the address of the bookstore and he said, "Where's that?" Like I would know?

Against my better judgment, La Patronne and I slipped into the back seat and waited patiently while the driver tapped the address into his GPS system. I have to tell you, his girl (whatever she might be called) didn't do nearly as good a job as Betty would. Mind you, it would have helped had he followed her instructions. The plaintive phrase, "recalculating route", became an oft repeated refrain as he missed turn after turn and I watched our ETA get later and later.

Half an hour and 25 dollars later, we finally arrived at the bookstore (just 15 minutes late), where I was doing an informal presentation with two other writers - Louise Ure and Sandi Ault (who arrived complete with cowboy hat and fringed leathers). A small, but lively group squeezed into the store, and we had a fun hour of stories and questions and amusing exchanges.

Bookstore owner, Lauri Ver Schure, had as usual commissioned a cake decorated in sugar with the covers of our three books. And as we drank wine and ate cake, Sandi revealed that she had brought her pet wolf with her. He was out in the truck, and wouldn't come into the shop, but since everyone was curious to see him, she brought him to the door.

I have never seen a wolf in the flesh, and could never have imagined how huge one might be. This one was a sleek silver grey, nearly 200 pounds, and as big as a small pony. Sandi's husband had him on a leash, and he stood patiently on the step in the dark while everyone crowded around to pet him.

A footnote to the Murder by the Book event. As I sat listening to the other writers, I noticed on a clip on the desk in front of me a letter addressed to me care of the store. The address was hand-written, and the stamp and postmark were British. Here was another mystery. Who was writing to me from the UK, c/o of a bookstore in Denver?

It turned out to be from my old boss, former head of drama at Scottish Television, Robert Love. Robert has steadfastly refused to embrace the technology of the computer, and at the time of posting had worked out from my tour schedule just where I might be when his letter arrived. His timing was perfect. The letter turned up in Denver the day before I did!

But it was time to go, to get something to eat, and to get the head on the pillow to prepare for a fresh day tomorrow. Two events: a cocktail party hosted by my New York publisher, St, Martin's Press, followed by an open house at the Alliance Francaise.

To sleep, perchance to dream, and to dare to believe that the finish line of this marathon tour is somewhere just beyond the horizon.

Thursday, March 06, 2008


This is the week from hell!

I have an event every night this week, plus two panels at the Left Coast Crime convention in Denver.

Following Monday night's successful talk and signing at Murder by the Book in Houston, last night we braved the Texas primaries and the Democratic caucusers to make our way to the Alliance Francaise for another talk, and a wine-tasting.

Our endeavours to ensure that we had Gaillac wines available for tasting at all our book events have been on-going for more than a year. But last night we cut it really fine.

A case of Domaine Sarrabelle's Saint Andre red arrived - air-freighted from the east coast - just one hour before the event. There would have been more, except that the cost of the air-freighting was greater than the cost of the wine, and compromises had to be made.

However, the wine for the evening was provided by a great Texan character called Bear Dalton, whom we had met during a radio interview in Houston last year. Bear owns the biggest chain of liquor stores in Texas - Specs. There are twenty-four stores in all, and Bear travels to France every year, complete with stetson and cowboy boots, to taste and order wines for his shelves. He is a well-known personality among the vineyards of Bordeaux and Burgundy, and renowned for his excellent palate and knowledge of wines.

But last night was a first for Bear. He had never before tasted a Gaillac wine. And his first sips of Sarrabelle's Saint Andre brought fulsome praise. He told the audience who had gathered at the Alliance Francaise that it was an excellent red, peppery and spicy, with good fruit, and that he intended ordering it for all his stores - because he knew that his customers would enjoy drinking it.

Which is great news for Domaine Sarrabelle!

Bear had also provided a Cahors red, a Mercues - a personal favourite of La Patronne and myself. And particularly apposite, since the hero of my Enzo Files series, Enzo Macleod, lives in the south-western town of Cahors itself - just an hour south of our own French home.

The attendance at the event was good, in spite of a record turnout in the Texas primary. A lot of books were sold and signed, and the wine correspondent for the local paper checked in with me for an interview to write up the event and the wines of Gaillac.

A successful evening was rounded off by a stop on the drive back to Huntsville at a P.F Chang's chinese restaurant with Dick and Michelle - and a chance for me to repay at least a little of the wonderful hospitality we had received from our hosts.

Since it is now official, I can write for the first time about something that was on-going throughout our stay in Huntsville. At age 69, Dick has been head-hunted by a private criminal justice college in Connecticut. The deal was signed and sealed yesterday, and after nearly ten years in Texas, Dick, Michelle, and daughter Sophia, will be uprooting this summer to go and establish a new home in New England. The start of yet another turn in what has been, and continues to be, a very illustrious career.

I can't imagine that publishers will still be hounding me for new books when I'm 69!

As I write this, I am aboard a flight from Houston to Denver, Colorado - where, apparently, it is snowing! And I'm reflecting on our stay in Texas. One of the highlights was the barbecue last Sunday at Dick's ranch. Dick's house always seems full of bright young students who hang on his every word. These are the creme de la creme of the criminal justice students, and it wouldn't surprise me if many of them followed Dick to the north-east.

These guys and girls are not only smart, they're funny too. Razor sharp wit. We all sat around watching Dick's high-def big screen TV during a transmission of CBS's 60-minutes current affairs documentary. They were airing an item about a ray-gun developed by the US military. A huge dish, mounted on an armoured vehicle, can send powerful, invisible rays over half a mile to stop anyone in their tracks. The sensation, apparently, is of intense heat, although no actual harm is done. But it is so unpleasant, no one will advance into the path of the rays.

To demonstrate it to 60-minutes, the military had assembled a group of soldiers dressed as civilian protesters, and fired the ray-gun at them to stop their advance. Unfortunately, they had provided these mock demonstrators with placards that read, WORLD PEACE, and PEACE AND LOVE. Clearly anyone who wanted world peace was a serious threat. After all, if it were ever to be achieved, the military would be out of a job.

The CBS reporter didn't seem to see the irony. But it wasn't lost on Dick's students. Everyone fell about, helpless with laughter. And when the reporter commented that anyone who advanced into the ray would have to be hugely determined, one of the students quipped, "Yeh, he'd have to want world peace real bad!"

What made it even more comical was the reaction of those hit by the ray. They all threw up their arms in bizarre fashion and turned and ran away. Hard to take seriously. And its lack of portability might also prove a problem. The military are clearly still trailing in the wake of Star Trek. "Set phasers to stun", is apparently some way off yet. No wonder they are finding it hard to get funding!

So it's farewell to Texas sunshine, and it's hello to Rocky Mountain snows. And that bolt of lightning that Hillary Clinton was hoping for last night, seems to have come through for her - against all the predictions of the pundits. She won Texas and Ohio and stopped Obama in his tracks.

Television screens everywhere during our trip so far have been filled with election coverage. Wall to wall. And it looks now, as if it will continue through the rest of the tour - and beyond. I don't know about the good folk of America, but I for one am suffering from election fatigue already.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

DAY 32 Pt. 2

With tornadoes forecast, I decided not to wear the kilt today. Well... I'd be a bonnie teuchie with my plaid up around my ears. And I might just have been arrested for indecent exposure!

As it happened, the wind never got above strong. Early morning rain dried up.

But it was cooooold. For Texas, freeezing. After a temperature of 70 degrees farenheit yesterday, it seemed like a chilling portent of colder climes to come.

Betty guided us down the I45, one-and-a-half hours to downtown Houston, and we arrived at Murder by the Book as readers were gathering to hear me speak. Given that the main event is tomorrow night at the Alliance Francaise, I was surprised to find that we had a full house.

Among those who came to hear me speak were James Hamilton and Stephanie Burns - old friends of my former boss at Scottish Television, Robert Love. Robert was Head of Drama at STV for most of my time there as a scriptwriter, editor and storyliner. He also "discovered" La Patronne, when one of her controversial early stage plays was playing at a theatre in Glasgow. He commissioned her to adapt the play for television, and moved seamlessly from facilitator to mentor.

When we were setting off on the tour he asked me to send him a schedule, promising to let his many friends around America know when we were in town. And so it was that James and Stephanie turned up to support me. It was a joy to meet them.

Also at the event was a Scottish girl, Kimberley, from Aberdeen, whose husband's job in the oil business had led them to Houston. Reading that a Scottish writer was to be speaking at the bookstore, she persuaded all her neighbours to come with her, and so a large crowd of women squeezed into the front row to hear me talk.

I also recognised some old faithfuls from previous years, and ended up signing a pile of books at the end of the evening.

We didn't have any Gaillac wines at the event, but the bookstore provided some Calfornian chardonay to whet the appetite.

Tomorrow night a case of Sarrabelle wines will be available for tasting, air-freighted at great expense from Weygandt-Metzler's warehouse in Philadelphia.

My only concern is that the event coincides with the Democratic and Republican primaries in Texas. TV coverage has been endless. The Democratic race is too close to call, but if Hillary loses, then it's curtains for her bid to be President. In Texas there is a vote, then a caucus. The votes take place earlier in the day, but the caucusing begins at 7.15pm - 45 minutes after the start of the event at Alliance Francaise. Whether it affects turnout remains to be seen, but such is the election fever here in Texas, that it wouldn't surprise me if my audience consisted entirely of Republicans.

As long as they buy books and wine, I'll be happy.

As we drove away in the dark in search of the freeway at the end of the evening, a bolt of lighting split the blue-black sky above downtown Houston. A bolt from the blue - which is what Hillary must be hoping for tomorrow.

But the forecast is for clear skies and sunshine, so I'm not sure it will happen.

We live in interesting times.

Monday, March 03, 2008


After a relaxing weekend of sunshine, Chinese and Mexican food, a barbecue at the Ward ranch, a movie, and the company of a group of funny and intelligent young people destined to determine the future of criminal justice in the US... dark clouds have gathered.

It is Monday morning. I have an event at Murder by the Book mystery bookstore in Houston at 6.30pm - and a storm is sweeping across Texas.

High winds and rain are already lashing the campus where we are staying at Huntsville, an hour or more north of Houston on the freeway. There are warnings of hailstorms and tornadoes, just at the time we are due to drive south.


Wish me luck!!

PS: A quick footnote to the event at San Mateo ten days ago. Click here for an article which appeared on the internet reviewing the evening.

Topping up with cash at a drivethru ATM. Nobody wants to get out of their car here.

Saturday, March 01, 2008


Mike Coates is a young man going places. Yesterday he went to Bush International Airport in Houston Texas to meet two bedraggled Scottish writers halfway through a book tour.

But he's going a lot further than the airport.

A post-graduate student at the College of Criminal Justice at Sam Houston State University, he is deep into his doctorate, and at the same time acting as assistant to his mentor, Dr. Richard Ward.

It was at Dick Ward's bidding, that Mike picked me and La Patronne up at the airport, handed me the keys to Dick's brand new Chrysler Aspen - a luxury monster SUV - and took us to the university hotel in Huntsville, where he had booked us in for the duration of our stay in Texas.

Mike gets top grades, has given up his free time - holidays and weekends - to work his way into the magic inner circle of Ward devotees. To be one of that inner circle is to virtually guarantee a successful career in criminal justice, because there is no one better connected in the world than Dick Ward when it comes to domestic and international policing and the fight against terrorism.

In almost every law enforcement agency that matters around the world, there are former pupils of Dr. Richard Ward occupying prominent positions. Years ago he set up the OICJ - the Office of International Criminal Justice. In the nineties, he trained the top 500 police officers in China in the latest western policing techniques. He is a world authority on international terrorism, and during his years as Dean of the College of Criminal Justice here in Huntsville, set up the Institute for the Study of Violent Groups (ISVG) - an organisation, run by students who collect open source material from around the world on violent groups, and feed it into a computer database which they designed themselves, to make connections no one ever saw before.

So successful has that been, both the FBI and CIA are clamouring for a direct info. feed from the students and their database.

Dick is something of a mentor to me, too. Without his introductions to the police in China, I would never have been able to write my China Thrillers series. His energy and imagination and pure drive are a constant inspiration.

(Dick and Michelle with daughter Sophia when they visited us in France last summer)

He always looks after us when we are in Texas, and facilitated all the research for my book, "Snakehead". Ingrate that I am, I went on to use his Texas ranch as a setting for part of the book, and he has never forgiven my detailed description of the chaos in his garage. He has spent the last eight years trying to clean it up, and insists on giving me a tour of it every time I visit.

(Huntsville is also famous for its Death House, where prisoners are strapped to a table and given a lethal injection. We visited it on a previous visit)

We are soooo happy to be here after our travails in Tucson. Tomorrow and Sunday we have some free time. Dick, and his wife Michelle, are taking us to the movies to see "Vantage Point". They have laid on a barbecue at the ranch on Sunday, and today we got a privileged insight into the arcane workings of academia, when we were admitted to a couple of presentations by students pitching for their theses.

As for the mystery of the closed doors at Clues Unlimited in Tucson, we are none the wiser. I received a call the following day from my publisher to say that "Chris" from Clues had called trying to get in touch with us. Apparently she had excused herself by saying she was sick and had closed up early.

If that was the case, one would have thought the least she might have done was give us a call (she has our email address, and all our contact information is on the website) - and leave a note on the door for her customers.

But if she was trying to get in touch with us the following day, she never did. La Patronne emailed her but we are still waiting for a reply. No apology, no explanation. Nothing.