Monday, April 15, 2013

MYSTERIOUS MONDAY: Novelist Joyce Yarrow's Favorite Mystery Author

by Joyce Yarrow
When it comes to creating the antagonists in my books, I heartily agree with Somerset Maugham, who said: “Things were easier for the old novelists who saw people all of a piece. Speaking generally, their heroes were good through and through, their villains wholly bad.

Today’s fiction writers are challenged to make our villains psychologically complex, without glorifying or totally damning them. Fortunately for us, we have Georges Simenon, my favorite mystery writer, to show us the way. A Belgian who wrote more than 200 books – many of them set in Paris – Simenon had a gift for portraying the most degenerate, desperate, and psychopathic individuals in the realistic light of ordinary circumstances.

In his stories, Simenon makes no attempt to “humanize,” his evildoers – at least not in the sentimental way implied by that term. Instead he uses the banality of their thinking to help us understand them. Take, for example, this passage from Dirty Snow, set in occupied France:

“Men in uniform were killed every week, and it was the patriotic organizations that got into trouble, the hostages, councilmen, notables, who were shot or taken God knows where. In any case, they were never heard of again. For Frank it was a question of killing his first man and breaking in Kromer’s Swedish knife.”

A knife that, in contrast to his abhorrence for people, Frank holds in high esteem:

“It was made in Sweden, a knife with a folding blade, so pure of line, so sharp, that you got the feeling the blade was actually intelligent and could find its way all by itself into someone’s flesh.”

Another masterful technique of Simenon’s – one that that draws readers in and keeps us spellbound to the very end – is his use of restraint. In the opening scenes of Dirty Snow, we are party to Frank’s plans to commit the murder, as well as his compulsion to reveal himself to a person with whom he will share a “secret bond.” But when the time comes for the bloody act, Simenon cuts away to Timo’s Bar, and all we are told is that, “The knife, carefully wiped, was in Frank’s pocket.” By that time we are so totally inside Frank’s head, that we feel the horror of the crime without having witnessed it.

Thanks to you, George Simenon, mystery writers like myself have a high bar to reach for when writing about the darker aspects of human nature.


Joyce Yarrow’s complex, intelligent and satisfying mystery Code of Thieves has just been rereleased by Istoria Books in digital formats. The new edition features an essay by and interview with the author.

Read excerpts of Joyce’s books here:
Hear Joyce read a snippet of CODE OF THIEVES in a book trailer here:

Joyce Yarrow was born in the SE Bronx, escaped to Manhattan as a teenager and now lives in Seattle with her husband and son. Along the way to becoming a full-time author, Joyce has worked as a screenwriter, singer-songwriter, multimedia performance artist and most recently, a member of the world music vocal ensemble, Abráce.

Joyce is a Pushcart nominee, whose stories and poems have been widely published. Her first book, Ask the Dead (Martin Brown 2005), was selected by The Poisoned Pen as a Recommended First Novel and hailed as “Bronx noir”. Her latest book, Code of Thieves, takes place in Brooklyn and Moscow. It was published in hardcover (as The Last Matryoshka) by Five Star/Cengage and is now available for Kindle and other ereaders through Istoria Books. (

Joyce considers the setting of her books to be characters in their own right and teaches workshops on "The Place of Place in Mystery Writing."

CODE OF THIEVES by Joyce Yarrow
Full-time private investigator/part-time poet Jo Epstein travels to New York and eventually to Russia to help clear her emigre stepfather—who is framing him for murder and who is sending him threatening messages in Russian nesting dolls (matryoshkas)? Her investigation takes her on a journey into her stepfather’s past and into the honor-bound code of the “vory,” a Russian criminal syndicate.
  • "Intricately layered like the Russian nested doll of the title..." Library Journal
  • "You'll want to discover the secrets buried in The Last Matryoshka..." Lesa Holstine, Lesa's Book Critiques
  • "Joyce Yarrow....may very well prove herself to be the Mickey Spillane of the 21st century...." Seattle Post Intelligencer
Buy Code of Thieves by Joyce Yarrow for Kindle here.
It is also available at other major etailers.

Here's how:

Respond to this post, telling us who your favorite mystery character or author is. Make sure to put your email in the post.
By Tuesday, April 16, 2013, midnight, Eastern Time USA, Istoria Books will choose a winner at random from those who responded to this post.



  1. mystery author" Joyce Yarrow".. :)

  2. Mystery author: Louise Penny. Also Kate Charles, P.D. James.