Barnes, Linda 1949–
Barnes, Linda 1949–
(Linda J. Barnes, Linda Joyce Barnes)
PERSONAL: Born June 6, 1949, in Detroit, MI; daughter of Irving (a mechanical engineer) and Hilda (a teacher and homemaker) Appelblatt; married Richard Allen Barnes (a software engineer), June 7, 1970; children: Samuel J. Education: Boston University, B.F.A. (cum laude), 1971. Hobbies and other interests: Blues guitar, film noir.
CAREER: Writer. Chelmsford High School, Chelmsford, MA, theater teacher, 1971–76; Lexington Public Schools, Lexington, MA, drama program director, 1977–78.
MEMBER: International Crime Writers Association, American Crime Writers Association, Mystery Writers of America (regional vice president, 1982–83), Private Eye Writers of America (president, 2006–07), Authors Guild, Authors League of America.
AWARDS, HONORS: Anthony Award, Bouchercon Mystery Convention, 1986, for short story "Lucky Penny"; Edgar Allan Poe Award nomination, Mystery Writers of America, 1987, and American Mystery Award for best private eye novel, Mystery Scene magazine, 1988, both for A Trouble of Fools; The Snake Tattoo was named an outstanding book by the London Times, 1990.
"MICHAEL SPRAGGUE" MYSTERY SERIES
(As Linda J. Barnes) Blood Will Have Blood, Avon (New York, NY), 1982.
Bitter Finish, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1983.
Dead Heat, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1984.
Cities of the Dead, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1986.
"CARLOTTA CARLYLE" MYSTERY SERIES
A Trouble of Fools, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1987.
The Snake Tattoo, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 1989.
Coyote, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1990.
Steel Guitar, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1991.
Snapshot, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1993.
Hardware, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1995.
Cold Case, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1997.
Flashpoint, Hyperion (New York, NY), 1999.
The Big Dig, St. Martin's (New York, NY), 2002.
Deep Pockets, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2004.
Heart of the World, St. Martin's Minotaur (New York, NY), 2006.
Wings (play), Baker (Boston, MA), 1973.
Prometheus (play), Baker (Boston, MA), 1974.
Also author of short stories, including "Lucky Penny."
ADAPTATIONS: The television movie Spraggue: Murder for Two, Lorimar Productions, broadcast September, 1984, was based on characters from Blood Will Have Blood.
SIDELIGHTS: Linda Barnes is the author of mystery novels in two original series. The protagonist of her first four works is Michael Spraggue, a wealthy actor and private detective. In latter works, Barnes focuses on a female detective named Carlotta Carlyle, a divorced ex-cop who exudes the toughness required of an investigator while still viewing her work from a woman's perspective. Carlyle has a "tendency to violence" and "pick[s] the wrong man every time" for her personal relationships, Ted Hertel explained in the St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers.
Barnes's characters have been the focus of many reviews. "Barnes has made certain that the long term consequences of Carlotta's acts are reflected in subsequent books. The same was true with Spraggue, whose continually building depression ultimately resulted in the end of his series," noted Hertel. Bettina Berch commented in Belles Lettres that "most of the characters in Snapshot are either stereotypical or improbable or both," and concluded: "On the other hand, our heroine is not rude, and I suppose she is politically correct. And that is all some people ask for in what is essentially recreational reading."
Within the Carlotta Carlyle series, Hertel commented, "Barnes has shifted the answer to the questions of 'whom do you save?' to children [rather than 'the dewey-eyed damsel in distress.'] While this is not the theme in every book, there is always an underlying concern for Paolina," the child Carlyle was paired with through Big Sisters. Snapshot, the Carlyle mystery investigating the death of a child being treated for leukemia, is "a slickly written, fast moving read," according to the Armchair Detective critic Norma J. Shat-tuck. In the Times Literary Supplement, Peter Clarke reviewed Snapshot as "showy," stating that "verve is more to the point than plot."
The sixth Carlyle mystery, Hardware, centers around the bombing of the cab company Carlyle drives for on a part-time basis. When commenting on the novel in Publishers Weekly, a critic observed: "The puzzle works well, but mainly it's Carlotta and her interactions with the well-drawn folks around her that make Barnes's story hum." Hardware "takes a while to unfold, but the humor and the self-reliance of the heroine make the wait worthwhile," asserted Wes Lukowsky in Booklist.
Praise for the Carlyle mysteries has continued with the novels that follow Hardware, though some critics expressed occasional reservations with Cold Case. In this installment of the series, the investigator searches for the truth when it appears that a famous author who supposedly died two dozen years ago is actually alive and still writing. Her brother, who is running for the governor's office, finds the situation politically embarrassing, however. Entertainment Weekly critic Gene Lyons felt that the story is "satisfyingly complex," despite lapses into "heavy-handed feminist rhetoric." Writing in People Weekly, Pam Lambert similarly believed the writing gets a bit "melodramatic" but praised the author for being a "stylish pro."
A series of deaths at a rent-controlled apartment complex put the suspicion on the building's landlord in Barnes's Flashpoint. Critics commented on the unusually strong characters in this novel, a feature that Library Journal contributor Cecilia R. Cygnar commented would "threaten to overshadow the main story" in the hands of a less-skilled author, but Barnes manages to create a "smart finish" to the story. Emily Melton, writing in Booklist, complimented the author for avoiding the clichés of the genre and adding "a breath of fresh air" to it.
Barnes creates one of her most complex plots with the Carlyle mystery The Big Dig. Here, there are two seemingly unconnected cases that her heroine proves to be, in fact, related. In the first, she is hired to go undercover as a secretary while looking for evidence of fraud and graft at an enormous tunnel construction project; the investigation also adds murder to the dilemma when an informant is killed in a staged accident. In the second case, a woman disappears and has evidently been kidnapped. A Kirkus Reviews critic related that "watching Carlotta tease out their deep, disturbing connections is pure pleasure." A Publishers Weekly reviewer further complimented Barnes for creating an "immensely likable" heroine, using the Boston setting to good effect, and wrapping up the plot "abruptly but satisfyingly."
With more recent additions to the Carlyle series, Barnes has also made her protagonist's personal life more complicated when she continues a romantic relationship with a man involved with the mob. Deep Pockets is about college campus mayhem: A professor is suspected of killing a student with whom he had an affair. The professor was being blackmailed because of this, and he comes under further suspicion when his ex-lover's boyfriend is also murdered. A Publishers Weekly contributor appreciated how almost every character in the story, including Carlyle, comes under suspicion because they all have something to hide—Carlyle's secret being her ties to the mafia. "The twists and turns in this nail-biter are at once startling without ever becoming absurd," the reviewer concluded.
In the eleventh book in the Carlyle series, Heart of the World, the private investigator's personal life once more is a factor. Paolina, a troubled teen to whom Carlyle has become very attached, has gone missing, and the girl's mother seems less than concerned about it. Carlyle at first suspects Paolina's biological father, Roldan, who is a drug lord in Colombia. Roldan supposedly was killed some time ago, but Carlyle does not believe this to be true. She sets off on an investigation that takes her all the way to Bogota in a tale full of "taut, exciting prose," according to one Publishers Weekly critic, who also enjoyed the story's "emotionally cliff-hanging ending."
In the St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers, Barnes commented: "I consider my four Spraggue novels to be my apprentice work. At the time I began the series, I was seeking a detective who was neither a wealthy British dilettante nor a tough American woman-hater. I created Michael Spraggue—wealthy, ex-private eye, actor, feminist—a 'mid-Atlantic' detective. Because I had chosen to make Spraggue an amateur, I had the continuing problem of involving him legitimately in his cases. I solved this by killing off many of his friends and relatives. His subsequent depression became difficult to deal with and I sought a new hero.
"I had always wanted to write a female first-person detective novel. I hesitated because I was told by publishing insiders that my envisioned 'semi-tough' woman would never sell. Still, Carlotta Carlyle—ex-cop, part-time cab driver, licensed private eye—was on my mind, and in between Spraggue novels I auditioned her in a short story, 'Lucky Penny,' which languished unsold for over a year. In 1986, I sent it along to my new agent as an afterthought. She promptly sold it, and it quickly garnered more attention and critical acclaim than all the Spraggue books to date.
"I enjoy Carlotta for her voice, her independence, and her relationships with those she loves."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
St. James Guide to Crime and Mystery Writers, 4th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.
Armchair Detective, winter, 1994, Norma J. Shattuck, review of Snapshot.
Belles Lettres, fall, 1993, Bettina Berch, review of Snapshot.
Booklist, February 1, 1995, Wes Lukowsky, review of Hardware; August, 1999, Emily Melton, review of Flashpoint, p. 2031.
Entertainment Weekly, May 2, 1997, Gene Lyons, review of Cold Case, p. 53; March 19, 2004, Rebecca Ascher-Walsh, review of Deep Pockets, p. 71.
Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 2002, review of The Big Dig, p. 1427.
Library Journal, November 15, 1997, Juleigh Muirhead Clark, review of Cold Case, p. 90; August, 1999, Cecilia R. Cygnar, review of Flashpoint, p. 146; July, 2000, Suzan Connell, review of Flashpoint, p. 172; March 1, 2004, Rex E. Klett, review of Deep Pockets, p. 112.
People Weekly, April 21, 1997, Pam Lambert, review of Cold Case, p. 35.
Publishers Weekly, January 16, 1995, review of Hardware; October 14, 2002, review of The Big Dig, p. 66; February 23, 2004, review of Deep Pockets, p. 54; March 13, 2006, review of Heart of the World, p. 45.
Times Literary Supplement, January 7, 1994, Peter Clarke, review of Snapshot.
Linda Barnes Home Page, http://www.lindabarnes.com (May 30, 2006).