PERSONAL: Born in New York, NY; children: three sons. Education: New York University, B.A.; Columbia University, M.A.; attended Hunter College and School of Visual Arts. Hobbies and other interests: Travel, animals.
ADDRESSES: Home—Syracuse, NY. Agent—Evan Marshall, Evan Marshall Agency, Six Tristam Place, Pine Brook, NJ 07058-9445.
CAREER: Writer. Also operated a catering business. Syracuse, NY, specializing in desserts.
"ROBIN LIGHT MYSTERY" SERIES
Chutes and Adders, Kensington Books (New York, NY), 1994.
Twister, Kensington Books (New York, NY), 1995.
In Plain Sight, Kensington Books (New York, NY), 1996.
The Scent of Murder, Kensington Books (New York, NY), 1997.
Vanishing Act, Kensington Books (New York, NY), 1998.
Endangered Species, Kensington Books (New York, NY), 1999.
Blowing Smoke, Kensington Books (New York, NY), 2001.
Rubbed Out, Kensington Books (New York, NY), 2002.
Salt City Blues, Severn House Publishers (London, England), 2004.
AS ISIS CRAWFORD
A Catered Murder (mystery), Kensington Books (New York, NY), 2003.
A Catered Wedding (mystery), Kensington Books (New York, NY), 2004.
Also contributor of articles and reviews to periodicals.
SIDELIGHTS: Barbara Block is an author living in Syracuse, New York, who uses her town's locale as the setting for a series of mystery novels featuring Robin Light, a "hard-drinking sloppily dressed, heavy-smoking amateur sleuth and exotic pet-store owner," according to a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. A dessert caterer, Block has also used this experience to pen, under the pseudonym Isis Crawford, a series dealing with catering sisters who become involved in murder investigations.
Block's "Robin Light" mysteries began with the 1994 title Chutes and Adders, dubbed a "sharp-edged and wry mystery" by a reviewer for Publishers Weekly. Her debut novel starts out at a hectic pace, when Robin's pet shop assistant, John, is killed by a poisonous snake that was lurking in a package addressed to him. When the police search for the missing snake in the store, they find instead a packet of 50,000 dollars and a hand-written list of animals that leads them to believe that Robin is dealing in endangered species. But Robin recognizes the writing; it belongs to her recently deceased husband Murphy, who died of a cocaine overdose. The pet store was Murphy's, and Robin, once a freelance journalist, has taken over running it since his death. Now the police think Robin, Murphy, and John were involved in smuggling animals and that she may have killed John. Thus, Robin is thrust into the role of unwilling sleuth trying to clear her own name in what Stuart Miller described in Booklist as a "terrific first novel." Miller went on to commend the "appealing central character and a truly enthralling plot with a wham-bang ending." For the Publishers Weekly contributor, "Robin is an engaging, if stubborn and reckless, amateur sleuth."
Robin is drawn into a second murder investigation in Twister when a friend of hers named Lynn is found kneeling over a dead man's body; the deceased also was carrying one of Robin's cards from her days as journalist. Lynn's father hires Robin to get to the bottom of matters in this "intricate story with another hair-raising ending," as Miller noted in Booklist. Similar praise came from a Publishers Weekly contributor who concluded: "Block skillfully carries readers through the turbulence to a satisfying conclusion."
Robin's fame as an amateur sleuth brings her clients in her third outing, In Plain Sight, but when a woman who has consulted her to find some damaging information on her husband later turns up dead, Robin has a bigger case on her hands. Block has developed the technique of involving an animal in the finale of each of her books, and In Plain Sight finds bats taking center stage. Miller, again writing in Booklist, felt this installment is "not to be missed." Block's 1997 addition to the series, The Scent of Murder, stirs up the past and involves dealings with Robin's dead husband, Murphy. Miller noted in Booklist that "Block's gripping denouements are especially good," while a Publishers Weekly contributor found the novel a "complex, satisfying story of family greed and corruption."
A missing-person case forms the heart of Robin's next case, Vanishing Act, as the pet-shop owner is on the track of a missing college student. More back-story is also provided, with subplots including the strained relations between Robin and her black, ex-cop boyfriend, George. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly complained that, "although tightly written, stereotypes abound" in this fifth in the series. Miller, reviewing the same title in Booklist, however, had a higher assessment of the book, deeming it "a fine addition to this excellent series." In Blowing Smoke, the children of an aging and wealthy woman seek Robin's help, claiming she is being fooled and swindled by her much-younger husband and by a man who claims he can talk to dead animals. Things heat up when the pet psychic is found dead. Miller praised the "corking-good plot [that] will keep you turning the pages until the very end" in a Booklist review, while Rex E. Klett, writing in Library Journal, found the same book "a pleasing page-turner." Block's eighth "Robin Light" book, Rubbed Out, involves complicated plot twists including a missing girl, a missing 200,000 dollars, and the Russian mob. A contributor for Kirkus Reviews was critical of this installment in the series, noting that "the suspense never keeps pace with the florid plot complications." Klett, however, reviewing the title in Library Journal, thought it "an exciting challenge for a tough heroine," and a critic for Publishers Weeklycalled it "an exciting read with an attractive and strangely plausible heroine."
Robin Light returns in the 2005 installment, Salt City Blues, investigating the murder of a local low-life, Freddy, during one cold and dark Christmas season. The police put his slaying down to a gang killing, but Robin takes a look at Freddy's fancy and expensive belongings, and is not so sure. A critic for Kirkus Reviews felt this novel presents "a depressing tale, but one with enough twists and turns to make sharing Robin's blues worthwhile." Barbara Bibel, writing in Booklist, had praise for Block's amateur sleuth, calling Robin "a welcome addition to the ranks of female detectives."
Block's two novels under the pseudonym Isis Crawford feature sisters Libby and Bernie, who run a catering business in a fictional upstate New York town. Also part of the cast is their wheel-chair-bound father, Sean, who is retired from the police. As with the animals in her books featuring Robin Light, Block peppers these catering mysteries with recipes and food chat. In A Catered Murder, the sisters are hired to cater a dinner for a local celebrity, a best-selling author of vampire books, but when the author dies at the dinner table, the sisters find themselves dragged into the role of amateur detectives in an attempt to clear the good name of their catering firm. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly commended the "naturally flowing narrative, lively and likable characters, and plenty of clever word play" in this series opener. In the second installment of the series, A Catered Wedding, the sisters investigate the murder of a young woman, shot through the heart by an arrow, shortly before her wedding. Bridget Bolton, writing for Reviewing the Evidence, thought this novel is "fluently written, and is a quick and enjoyable read."
Block told CA: "I love stories, always have, always will. I love words. I was one of those kids that used to read the dictionary for fun. My favorite class has always been creative writing. When I was younger I used to read three books a week. Fiction was my refuge. It was my substitute for the brothers and sisters I didn't have. I lived at the library. Then life intruded and I grew up. I got a job, got married, had children and pets, and I abandoned my first love. Eventually though it called me back and I found myself scribbling random observations on the margins of my shopping lists. The scribblings grew into a book and even though that one wasn't published, nor the one after that, the third one was.
"The most surprising thing I've learned as a writer is that everything you need to know to finish your book is contained in the first three chapters."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, August, 1994, Stuart Miller, review of Chutes and Adders, p. 2025; July, 1995, Stuart Miller, review of Twister, p. 1862; July, 1996, Stuart Miller, review of In Plain Sight, p. 1806; June 1, 1997, Stuart Miller, review of The Scent of Murder, p. 1665; July, 1998, Stuart Miller, review of Vanishing Act, p. 1862; May 1, 2001, Stuart Miller, review of Blowing Smoke, p. 1622; March 15, 2005, Barbara Bibel, review of Salt City Blues, p. 1269.
Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2002, review of Rubbed Out, p. 1352; March 15, 2005, review of Salt City Blues, p. 318.
Library Journal, August, 1997, Rex E. Klett, review of The Scent of Murder, p. 139; September 1, 1998, Rex E. Klett, review of Vanishing Act, p. 220; June 1, 2001, Rex E. Klett, review of Blowing Smoke, p. 224; November 1, 2002, Rex E. Klett, review of Rubbed Out, p. 132; November 1, 2004, Rex E. Klett, review of A Catered Murder, p. 58; May 1, 2005, Rex E. Klett, review of Salt City Blues, p. 65.
Publishers Weekly, July 4, 1994, review of Chutes and Adders, p. 55; May 15, 1995, review of Twister, p. 58; July 8, 1996, review of In Plain Sight, p. 78; June 9, 1997, review of The Scent of Murder, p. 41; June 22, 1998, review of Vanishing Act, p. 88; June 4, 2001, review of Blowing Smoke, p. 61; November 4, 2002, review of Rubbed Out, p. 66; November 24, 2003, review of A Catered Murder, p. 45; November 8, 2004, review of A Catered Wedding, p. 39.
AllReaders.com, http://www.allreaders.com/ (August 13, 2005), Harriet Klausner, review of Blowing Smoke, Rubbed Out, A Catered Murder, and A Catered Wedding.
New Times Online (Syracuse, NY), http://www.newtimes.com/ (March 9, 2005), Bethany Root, "Killer Catering."
Reviewing the Evidence, http://www.reviewingtheevidence.com/ (August 13, 2005), Bridget Bolton, review of A Catered Wedding.