Quin-Harkin, Janet 1941–
Quin-Harkin, Janet 1941–
(Rhys Bowen, Janetta Johns, Janet Elizabeth Quin-Harkin)
Born September 24, 1941, in Bath, England; immigrated to the United States in 1966; daughter of Frank Newcombe (an engineer) and Margery (a teacher) Lee; married John Quin-Harkin (a retired sales manager), November 26, 1966; children: Clare, Anne, Jane, Dominic. Education: University of London, B.A. (with honors), 1963; graduate study at University of Kiel and University of Freiburg. Religion: Roman Catholic. Hobbies and other interests: Tennis, travel, drama, music, sketching, and hiking.
Writer, novelist, and educator. British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC), London, England, studio manager in drama department, 1963-66; teacher of dance and drama, 1971-76. Worked for Australian Broadcasting, Sydney, Australia. Founder and former director of San Raphael's Children's Little Theater. Writing teacher at Dominican College, San Rafael, 1988-95.
Mystery Writers of America (regional president, Northern California chapter, 2001), Sisters in Crime, American Association of University Women, Society of Children's Bookwriters.
Children's Book Showcase selection, Children's Book Council, Outstanding Books of the Year citation, New York Times, American Institute of Graphic Arts Children's Book Show citation, and Best Books of the year citation, School Library Journal, Washington Post, and Saturday Review, all 1976, all for Peter Penny's Dance; Children's Choice citation, 1985, for Wanted: Date for Saturday Night; Award for Best Screenplay, Marin Arts Council, 1995; Barry Award nomination, 1999, for Evan Help Us; Agatha Award nomination for best short story, 2001, for "The Seal of the Confessional"; Agatha Award for best novel, Herodotus Award, best first historical novel, Reviewer's Choice, best historical novel, and Mary Higgins Clark Award nomination, all 2002, all for Murphy's Law; Agatha Award nomination and Reviewer's Choice Award nomination, 2003, for The Death of Riley; Anthony Award, World Mystery Convention, Bruce Alexander Memorial Award, best historical novel, Freddy Award, Sleuthfest, FL, and Macavity Award nomination, all 2004, all for For the Love of Mike; Anthony Award, World Mystery Convention, 2004, for short story, "Doppelganger"; Edgar Allan Poe Award nomination, Mystery Writers of America, 2005, all for Evan's Gate; Anthony Award nomination, 2005, for short story "Voodoo"; Macavity Award nomination, best historical mystery, 2006, for In Like Flynn.
Peter Penny's Dance, illustrated by Anita Lobel, Dial (New York, NY), 1976.
Benjamin's Balloon, Parents' Magazine Press (New York, NY), 1979.
Septimus Bean and His Amazing Machine, illustrated by Art Cumings, Parents' Magazine Press (New York, NY), 1980.
Magic Growing Powder, illustrated by Cumings, Parents' Magazine Press (New York, NY), 1981.
Helpful Hattie, illustrated by Susanna Natti, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1983.
Three Impossible Things, Parents' Magazine Press (New York, NY), 1991.
Billy and Ben: The Terrible Two, illustrated by Carol Newsom, Bantam (New York, NY), 1992.
YOUNG ADULT NOVELS
Write Every Day, Scholastic (New York, NY), 1982.
(Under pseudonym Janetta Johns) The Truth about Me and Bobby V., Bantam (New York, NY), 1983.
Tommy Loves Tina, Berkley/Ace (New York, NY), 1984.
Winner Takes All, Berkley/Ace (New York, NY), 1984.
Wanted: Date for Saturday Night, Putnam (New York, NY), 1985.
Summer Heat, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1990.
My Phantom Love, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1992.
On My Own, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1992.
Getting Personal: Becky, Silhouette Books (New York, NY), 1994.
The Apartment, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1994.
The Sutcliffe Diamonds, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1994.
The Boy Next Door, Bantam (New York, NY), 1995.
Fun, Sun, and Flamingoes, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1997.
Who Do You Love, Bantam (New York, NY), 1999.
Love Potion, Avon (New York, NY), 2000.
"SWEET DREAMS" SERIES
California Girl, Bantam (New York, NY), 1981.
Love Match, Bantam (New York, NY), 1982.
Ten-Boy Summer, Bantam (New York, NY), 1982.
Daydreamer, Bantam (New York, NY), 1983.
The Two of Us, Bantam (New York, NY), 1984.
Exchange of Hearts, Bantam (New York, NY), 1984.
Ghost of a Chance, Bantam (New York, NY), 1984.
Lovebirds, Bantam (New York, NY), 1984.
101 Ways to Meet Mr. Right, Bantam (New York, NY), 1985.
The Great Boy Chase, Bantam (New York, NY), 1985.
Follow That Boy, Bantam (New York, NY), 1985.
My Secret Love, Bantam (New York, NY), 1986.
My Best Enemy, Bantam (New York, NY), 1987.
Never Say Goodbye, Bantam (New York, NY), 1987.
"ON OUR OWN" SERIES
On Our Own, Bantam (New York, NY), 1986.
The Graduates, Bantam (New York, NY), 1986.
The Trouble with Toni, Bantam (New York, NY), 1986.
Out of Love, Bantam (New York, NY), 1986.
Old Friends, New Friends, Bantam (New York, NY), 1986.
Best Friends Forever, Bantam (New York, NY), 1986.
"SUGAR AND SPICE" SERIES
Flip Side, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1987.
Tug of War, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1987.
Surf's Up, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1987.
The Last Dance, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1987.
Nothing in Common, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1987.
Dear Cousin, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1987.
Two Girls, One Boy, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1987.
Trading Places, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1987.
Double Take, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1988.
Make Me a Star, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1988.
Big Sister, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1988.
Out in the Cold, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1988.
Blind Date, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1988.
It's My Turn, Ballantine (New York, NY), 1988.
"HEARTBREAK CAFÉ" SERIES
No Experience Required, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1990.
The Main Attraction, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1990.
At Your Service, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1990.
Catch of the Day, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1990.
Love to Go, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1990.
Just Desserts, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1990.
Starring Tess and Ali, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1991.
Tess and Ali and the Teeny Bikini, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1991.
Boy Trouble for Tess and Ali, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1991.
Tess and Ali, Going on Fifteen, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1991.
"SENIOR YEAR" SERIES
Homecoming Dance, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1991.
New Year's Eve, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1991.
Night of the Prom, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1992.
Graduation Day, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1992.
"BOYFRIEND CLUB" SERIES
Ginger's First Kiss, Troll Communications (Mahwah, NJ), 1994.
Roni's Dream Boy, Troll Communications (Mahwah, NJ), 1994.
Karen's Perfect Match, Troll Communications (Mahwah, NJ), 1994.
Ginger's New Crush, Troll Communications (Mahwah, NJ), 1994.
Queen Justine, Troll Communications (Mahwah, NJ), 1995.
Roni's Two-Boy Trouble, Troll Communications (Mahwah, NJ), 1995.
No More Boys, Troll Communications (Mahwah, NJ), 1995.
Karen's Lesson in Love, Troll Communications (Mahwah, NJ), 1995.
Roni's Sweet Fifteen, Troll Communications (Mahwah, NJ), 1995.
Justine's Babysitting, Troll Communications (Mahwah, NJ), 1995.
The Boyfriend Wars, Troll Communications (Mahwah, NJ), 1995.
Sleepover Madness, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1995.
Friday Night Fright, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1995.
Four's a Crowd, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1995.
Forever Friday, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1995.
Toe-Shoe Trouble, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1996.
Secret Valentine, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1996.
"SISTER, SISTER" SERIES
Cool in School, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1996.
You Read My Mind, Pocket Books (New York, NY), 1996.
Also author of One Crazy Christmas and 5 to Come.
UNDER NAME RHYS BOWEN; "CONSTABLE EVANS MYSTERIES"
Evans Above, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1997.
Evan Help Us, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1998.
Evanly Choirs, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1999.
Evan and Elle, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2000.
Evan Can Wait, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2001.
Evans to Betsy, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2002.
Evan's Gate, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2004.
Evan Blessed, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2005.
Evanly Bodies, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2006.
UNDER NAME RHYS BOWEN; "MOLLY MURPHY" SERIES
Murphy's Law St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2001.
Death of Riley St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2002.
For the Love of Mike, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2003.
In Like Flynn, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2005.
Oh Danny Boy, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2006.
In Dublin's Fair City, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2007.
(Contributor) Chandler Reading Program, five volumes, edited by Lawrence Carillo and Dorothy McKinley, Noble & Noble, 1967-72.
Madam Sarah (adult historical novel), Fawcett (New York, NY), 1990.
Fool's Gold (adult historical novel), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1991.
Amazing Grace (adult historical fiction), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1993.
The Secrets of Lake Success (based on the NBC mini-series, created by David Stenn), Tor Books (New York, NY), 1993.
Trade Winds (based on the NBC mini-series, created by Hugh Bush), Schoolfield/Caribbean Productions, 1993.
Her Royal Spyness (mystery novel), Berkley Prime Crime (New York, NY), 2007.
Also author of several documentaries and four radio plays and scripts, including Dandelion Hours, for the BBC, 1966. Contributor to anthologies, including Unholy Orders, 2000, The World's Finest Mystery and Crime Stories: Fifth Annual Collection, 2004, and Fifty Years of Crime and Suspense. Contributor to periodicals, including Scholastic and Mother's Journal. Author's works have been translated into other languages.
Janet Quin-Harkin is the popular and prolific author of more than one hundred books, most of which are geared for teen readers. Quin-Harkin's series include "Sweet Dreams," "Sugar and Spice," "Heartbreak Café," and "On Our Own," among others, comprising books of standard length with a fixed group of characters involved in "the sort of lives that Middle America leads," as Quin-Harkin once said in describing her work. According to the author, the "Sweet Dreams" series opened up a new direction in publishing, providing books that were cheap enough for the readers themselves to purchase and thus making teen readers independent from the choices of parents and librarians. These books were also designed to be more upbeat than the usual young adult contributions, which dealt, according to Quin-Harkin, with "the darker side of reality." In the 1990s, Quin-Harkin turned to writing mystery novels for adults under the name Rhys Bowen. These mysteries feature the character Evan Evans of the North Wales Police.
Criticized by some as lacking in substance, and praised by others as an encouragement for reluctant readers, teen books such as those Quin-Harkin has built a career on are an important part of juvenile publishing, accounting for hundreds of thousands of sales annually. Quin-Harkin's books tell what happens when a teen and her best friend break up, when a family moves, or when parents are divorced. Most often there are young men involved: guys a girl wants to date, or loves from afar, or beats at tennis. Quin-Harkin writes about the concerns of teenage girls of the 1980s and 1990s; relevance is her watchword, and she has built an enormous and faithful readership as a result.
Born in Bath, England, Quin-Harkin began writing for fun at an early age; she had published her first short story by age sixteen. Her own teen years were quite placid, as she attended an all-girls school where academics rather than sports or romance were emphasized. The usual emotional upheavals of a young woman were thus largely postponed until Quin-Harkin attended college, earning a B.A. with honors from the University of London. For the first few years after graduation, Quin-Harkin worked for the British Broadcasting Corporation as a studio manager and also as a writer of radio and television plays. Such writings were "fairly highbrow," as the author described them. She then moved to Australia, where she met her husband while working for the Australian Broadcasting Company. The couple married in 1966 and moved to the United States. Settling in the San Francisco Bay area, Quin-Harkin balanced the role of mother and writer. She worked initially for a textbook company and helped develop new primary reading texts more relevant for contemporary urban children than the traditional primer stories of Dick and Jane.
Work on textbooks set Quin-Harkin to writing for herself again, and her first book was published in 1976. Peter Penny's Dance is a picture book for children, inspired by the lyrics from an old English folk song: "I've come to claim a silver pound because I've danced the world around." Peter is a sailor who would rather dance a reel than scrub the decks, and who sets off to dance around the world. He finds adventure in France, Africa, China, and America, but Peter finally dances home, to claim the hand of his beloved Lavinia, the captain's daughter. Everything about this first title was easy for Quin-Harkin: the story seemed to come of itself and the manuscript found a home on the second try. Zena Sutherland of the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books called the tale "a bouncy, bonny book," and many critics praised the illustrations by Anita Lobel. Of the book's exciting conclusion, Horn Book reviewer Ethel L. Heins wrote: "In a splendid finale, reminiscent of Around the World in Eighty Days, Peter arrived back in England in the nick of time and skipped his way straight to the church and into the arms of his overjoyed bride." Peter Penny's Dance went on to win numerous awards. This early successful start, was followed by several years without sales, as Quin-Harkin continued to raise her family while struggling to work at her craft. Then several early titles were sold to Parents Magazine Press—Benjamin's Balloon, Septimus Bean and His Amazing Machine, and Magic Growing Powder—which established Quin-Harkin as a picture book author.
In 1981 came a turning point in the author's career, when her agent called to ask if she could do a teen novel in a hurry. A trip to the local bookstore provided the author with a bundle of similar books which she studied carefully, and then she sat down to turn out sample chapters of her own teen fiction. These samples evolved into California Girl, the first in Bantam's "Sweet Dreams" series. In California Girl, Jenny is a sixteenyear-old swimmer with Olympic aspirations. When her coach moves to Texas, Jenny's family follows so that she can continue training. But Texas is a far cry from Jenny's former home state; here she is regarded as strange because of her devotion to her athletic dreams. She soon finds a friend, however: Mark is an injured football player who supports her swimming, helping her train, and the finale comes with Jenny competing in the Nationals for a berth in the Olympics. Along the way is a crew of supporting characters: the scheming cheerleader who wants her former boyfriend back, Jenny's rather unsympathetic mother, and an empty-headed girlfriend. Becky Johnson in Voice of Youth Advocates noted that "the story is fast-moving and the main character is serious-minded and independent." Johnson also felt, however, that the supporting cast of characters lacked meaningful depth: "This gets high marks for readability but could have had more realistic character development." However, Ella B. Fossum, writing in the School Library Journal, thought the book was "a cut above the usual teenage love story" because of the added complications and insightful details of Jenny's Olympic aspirations.
The second book in the series, Love Match, also involves an athletic theme, when Joanna refuses to try to ensure Rick's affection by allowing him to beat her at tennis. While a Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books reviewer concluded that the book had "little substance" because of its formulaic plot—girl meets boy, loses boy, wins boy in the end—Joe McKenzie in the School Library Journal commented that "readers will figure it all out early too, but many of them won't care," because of the sympathetic nature of the leading character, Joanna. This blend of a sympathetic and generally well-drawn and independent main character, along with a formulaic plot, has formed the heart of much of Quin-Harkin's teen writing. Most of the titles fall into the category of escapist reading, "predictable but palatable," as Ilene Cooper of Booklist noted in a review of Daydreamer, a further title in the "Sweet Dreams" series. Maureen Ritter, however, writing in Voice of Youth Advocates about Daydreamer, emphasized the readability factor and noted that the book was "perfect for a hi/lo reader," and that aside from divorced parents, the main character, Lisa, "does not suffer from the traumas that most YA novel characters do; only the necessary conflicts needed for growth."
Other titles in the series have also earned mixed praise: Plots that have just enough individuality to set them apart. Kathy Fritts in the School Library Journal noted that "funny scenes and a fast pace" set 101 Ways to Meet Mr. Right "a notch above average," and Elaine Patterson, reviewing the same book in Kliatt, commented that "girls of all ages" would identify with the main character's "fears, fantasies, and flops" as she searches for the true love that is under her nose all the time. While critics may disagree about the relative merits of such books, readers pronounced them successes; one book in the "Sweet Dreams" series, Ten-Boy Summer, sold over half a million copies. In this work, central characters Jill and Toni determine to liven up their junior-year summer by breaking up with their respective boyfriends, and then betting on who will be the first to have dated ten boys. Sally Estes of Booklist found the book's premise "a bit farfetched, perhaps, but light and lively enough to attract nondemanding readers of teenage romances." Similarly, Susan Levine wrote in the Voice of Youth Advocates that Ten-Boy Summer "satisfies its requirements of a fast, uncomplicated, lightly romantic story with a happy ending."
Series writing has its pitfalls, according to Quin-Harkin, the largest of which is slipping into cliché. The author becomes so familiar with the set of characters that it is easy to use stock dialogue or responses instead of always being on guard to search for the most appropriate wording. Quin-Harkin generally writes a 200-page book every two months, and many of these are told in the first person. "On the whole, first person is very effective because it doesn't ever become overly dramatic," Quin-Harkin noted, adding: "And of course, when you're first person, you're right there with the character and it's very immediate." Her experience in radio and television also informs her work, making for strong dialogue and pictorial writing. Quin-Harkin thinks in terms of scenes rather than chapters, a technique that gives her books a fast pace. She reaches back to her own feelings as a teenager for inspiration, and has also used the experiences of her four children and their friends as they traversed their teen years.
If cliché is one pitfall in series books, boredom for the writer can be another. According to Quin-Harkin, the "Sugar and Spice" series went on far longer than she wanted. The adventures of the two cousins, Chrissy and Cara, became somewhat stale after several books, but the series was so popular that Quin-Harkin was forced to continue with it, writing some twenty installments. Bouncy Chrissy, a cheerleader type from a small town in Iowa, has come to live in San Francisco with her serious, ballet-studying cousin, Caroline (or Cara). Flip Side inaugurated the series and introduced the city and country cousins in a situation in which they both yearn for the other's boyfriend but are too nice to do anything about it. School Library Journal contributor Kathy Fritts called the book "a winner," while Laurel Ibey, writing in the Voice of Youth Advocates, concluded that everyone who read Flip Side would "find it full of fun!" Another adventure in the "Sugar and Spice" series takes urban Cara to Chrissy's Iowa farm in Nothing in Common. Fritts asserted that a "fast pace, wonderful scenes of family and farm life, lots of action, and plenty of boy-girl mix and match make it a sure hit." Cara finally decides to give up dancing in The Last Dance, which Juli Lund in the Voice of Youth Advocates praised for the fact that it "did not have a perfect ‘happy ending,’ but instead realistically portrayed not-so-perfect actual life."
Other series books from Quin-Harkin include those from "On Our Own" and "Heartbreak Café." "Heartbreak Café," contains only six books; each is told from the point of view of one of the people involved with the rundown café, which is a hangout for teens with problems. With No Experience Required, Quin-Harkin features heroine Debbie Leslie, whose parents have just divorced. Debbie manages to get a position at the Heartbreak Café, but Joe, the grandson of the owner, figures the wealthy kid won't last a month. Debbie sets out to prove him wrong and turns out to be one of Quin-Harkin's archetypal feisty and headstrong female characters. A Publishers Weekly reviewer, commenting on No Experience Required, noted that "Quin-Harkin's skilled storytelling effectively blends wry humor with universal concerns." The "On Our Own" series is a spin-off from "Sweet Dreams," following some of those main characters on their way into college. Jill has been accepted to an exclusive out-of-state school, but Toni has to defer college plans because of her father's heart attack. Plagued by a miserable roommate, Jill is finally rescued by a visit from Toni, who tells the girl off. First-time college experiences inaugurated this mini-series, and a Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that such experiences "ring true." Other commentators found problems with the series. A Voice of Youth Advocates reviewer, Kaye Grabbe, objected to what she considered "little character development," noting that Jill "never seems like much of a real person." In a Voice of Youth Advocates review of The Graduates, Sandra Dayton maintained, "it is unfortunate that the shallow dialogue and narrative read so very quickly," but said that the book is "worthwhile for the exposure of so many real problems of college freshmen."
A series geared at pre-teens is "Friends," which follows the relationship between two girls, Alison and Tess, over the four summers they spend together in a small resort town. Tess is newly arrived in the town in the first book of the series, Starring Tess and Ali, and Alison forms a quick friendship with her. Trouble arises, however, with remarks Tess makes about how overprotective Ali's mother is. Ali is upset by such remarks until she learns the root of them: Tess's mother has recently deserted the family and envy and spite are undoubtedly contributing to the girl's behavior. A Publishers Weekly reviewer noted, in a review of Starring Tess and Ali, that younger readers might resent the "juvenile tone" of the book, but that Quin-Harkin had created a "compassionate protagonist whose heretofore compliant ways are undergoing thoughtful reevaluation."
Quin-Harkin has also written many non-series teen books, perhaps the best known being Wanted: Date for Saturday Night, in which the central problem is finding a date for shy Julie for the freshman formal. Along the way, Julie manages to join the "in" crowd, only to discover they are shallow and no fun. Reviews again were mixed. Carolyn Gabbard Fugate in the School Library Journal found that "the characterizations of Julie and the minor characters are excellent," and concluded that the book was "a good, solid addition to a junior or senior high-school library." Zena Sutherland of the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, however, concluded that the book had "a formula plot and cardboard characters," while Kaye Grabbe in Voice of Youth Advocates commented on the book's "improbable story" and "shallow characterizations." Wanted went on to win a Children's Choice award as well as a large readership.
Another stand-alone book from Quin-Harkin is Summer Heat, in which teen protagonist Laurie Beth, on the verge of graduating from high school, must choose between two suitors and two completely different lifestyles. A Publishers Weekly reviewer commented favorably on this title, noting that "love certainly plays an important role in [Laurie Beth's] decision—but so does her new-found sense of self-worth—and that's what makes this story so refreshing." Other non-series efforts include The Sutcliffe Diamonds, which romance readers will "devour," according to Elaine M. McGuire in the Voice of Youth Advocates; and The Apartment, which a Voice of Youth Advocates contributor described as a story of "three girls from very different backgrounds [who] share an apartment during a pivotal period in their lives."
In the mid-1990s Quin-Harkin began writing for adults, particularly in the mystery series featuring North Welsh police constable Evan Evans. The Evans books, penned under the pseudonym Rhys Bowen, are set in the village of Llanfair, which is similar to a village Quin-Harkin used to visit during summer vacations as a child. Speaking to Jo Peters of BookBrowser about her childhood visits to an aunt in Wales, Quin-Harkin explained: "My fictitious village of Llanfair is a combination of two villages where I had relatives and stayed in my summer holidays…. It was an uncomplicated time of long walks, afternoons at a nearby beach and chapel on Sundays."
With the first book in the series, Evans Above, Quin-Harkin sets the scene and main characters in place for a series to grow and prosper. When his policeman father is killed in the line of duty, young Evans, a North Wales constable, is assigned to the village of Llanfair, where there are far too many Evanses. Constable Evans becomes, in local parlance, Evans the Law, to distinguish him from the butcher, Evans the Meat, the dairyman, Evans the Milk, or the postman, Evans the Post. But Llanfair proves to be anything but tranquil. Two hikers presumably fall to their deaths on Mount Snowdon on the same day, while a third is soon discovered in a cave with his throat cut. Up to his ears in crime, Evans is also pursued by the eligible young ladies of the village, Betsy the Bar (the local barmaid), and Bronwen the Book (a teacher). Reviewing this debut novel in the series, Judy McAloon in the School Library Journal praised the book's "well-crafted plot, nicely drawn characters, [and] strong sense of place," concluding that young adult readers would enjoy both the book's setting and protagonist, "a hero who is young enough to feel self-conscious with women." Rex E. Klett, writing in the Library Journal, noted the book's "straightforward plotting, tempered with unique characterization and subtle humor," and a writer for Kirkus Reviews also found much to like in this "pleasingly unpretentious debut."
Constable Evans makes return performances in Evan Help Us, Evanly Choirs, Evan and Elle, and Evan Can Wait. In the second novel in the series, Evans is pursued by yet another female, a single woman who moves into the village with her daughter. Murder soon intrudes into this domestic comedy, however, when Colonel Arbuthnot, a yearly visitor from London who claims to have found the ruins of Camelot near the village, is found dead. The same fate also awaits returning villager Ted Morgan, who has plans to turn a local mine into a theme park. Investigating the case, Evans finds a connection between the two murders and the new femme fatale, a trail that leads him to London and back. "Bowen's quiet humor and her appreciation for rural village life make this a jewel of a story," wrote a contributor to Publishers Weekly. Booklist contributor GraceAnne A. DeCandido called the setting for the novel "ineffably quaint and impossibly charming," going on to say that the novel was as "satisfying as a Guinness pint." Marilyn Stasio, writing in the New York Times Book Review, echoed such a sentiment, noting that "the pleasure of visiting Llanfair is that nothing, not even murder, can ruffle its placid composure."
In his third outing, Evanly Choirs, Constable Evans is persuaded to add his voice to the local choir in its preparations for the eisteddfod, a music festival held in a nearby town. Into the mix comes famous opera star Ifor Llewellyn and his wife, Margaret, taking a restful vacation in Llanfair. The famous opera singer is persuaded to join the male chorus, but becomes a large pain in the neck to most people in the village. No matter; soon his tenor voice is stilled for good when the opera star is found dead one morning. Evans is on the trail while his choirmates struggle to maintain a competitive edge. "Between his singing debut and his bumpy romance with the schoolteacher, Evan sorts through a humorous series of false confessions to catch the real killer," wrote a contributor for Publishers Weekly, who concluded: "Ultimately, it's Bowen's keen sense of small-town politics and gossip that will keep her fans turning pages." A writer for Kirkus Reviews claimed it is the book's "cozily intimate style, and modest, down-home hero," which make for "satisfying entertainment," a feature also noted by Booklist contributor Jenny McLarin, who called this "charming tale … [a] perfect book to curl up with on a rainy day."
Feminine competition once again plays a part in the goings on in Llanfair in the fourth series entry, Evan and Elle. When eligible widow Madame Yvette opens a French restaurant in the village, she wins the stomachs and hearts of not a few, including the good constable. But he resists all efforts to be parted from his real sweetheart, ever-true Bronwen. When the Madame's restaurant is burned down, Evans is forced to get closer. At first, suspicion leads to Welsh extremists responsible for a string of arsons in the area, but a body found in the ashes turns the investigation into a homicide. The trail leads first to the southern coast of England and then on to France, as Evans and his sidekick, Sergeant Watkins, unravel the mystery. "This is a slight confection of a mystery," noted a reviewer for Publishers Weekly, "sweetened with the author's obvious affection for her characters, as well as for all things Welsh." Booklist critic Jenny McLarin also reflected upon the lightness of the story line, but further commented, "It hardly matters, though, because the strength of this series is not plot but those staples of the British cozy, village ambience and eccentric characters." McLarin concluded that Evan and Elle is as "light and sweet as a crepes suzette." Karen G. Anderson in January Magazine concluded: "The book turns out to be as complex and delicious as one of Mme. Yvette's celebrated recipes."
The fifth book in the series, Evan Can Wait, features two plot lines that slowly begin to connect as Evans delves into the mysterious death of film producer/director Grantley Smith, whose crew has come to Llanfair on an assignment. His body is found drowned in a slate mine, and Evans then begins to examine the relationships between the various crew members for possible clues. A new story develops as Evans learns of art fraud and a murder that occurred years before that involved the mines, where a painting—one of several items from the National Gallery stored in the mines during World War II—was stolen. Critics lauded both the setting and the characters in this installment. "The author creates a vivid background for the novel by weaving in descriptive details about the area, the deadly mines, and the quickly changing weather," noted Pam Johnson in a review for the School Library Journal. A Publishers Weekly reviewer wrote that the author's "great strength is her endearing Welsh characters, from the modest Evan to such amusing locals as the saucy barmaid and the rival chapel preachers." In the Library Journal, Rex Klett called Evan Can Wait "an exciting addition to the series."
Evan's Gate finds the constable involved in his eighth case. Now working as a plainclothes detective, Evans is investigating the disappearance of a young girl named Ashley Sholokhov, who may have been abducted from a local beach by her Russian father. When Evans makes the grisly discovery of a child's skeleton while digging outside a cottage he's renovating, he begins to suspect that the dead child is somehow related to Ashley's case and the long-ago disappearance of another child named Sarah. Though Evans's bosses want him to concentrate on finding Ashley's father, he can't let go of the possible connection to Sarah and her family, all of whom have come back to Wales for the first time since Sarah's death to attend a birthday party for Tomos Thomas, the girl's eighty-year-old grandfather. Booklist reviewer Sue Bowen remarked favorably on the novel's "fine sense of place," as well as its "compelling dual storyline" and "cast of sympathetic, well-drawn characters." Library Journal reviewer Rex E. Klett called the novel "an attractive series addition." Bowen "delivers an enchanting portrait of Wales with genuine, flawed characters, a modicum of humor and plenty of red herrings," remarked a Publishers Weekly contributor.
Evan and Bronwen are set to tie the knot in Evan Blessed. After hauling Bronwen's belongings to the couple's mountainside cottage, Evan is approached by a hiker, Paul Upfield, who says he has lost track of his seventeen-year-old girlfriend on the mountains slopes after the two had an argument. A police search turns up no trace of the young woman, but the ominous discovery of an underground dungeonlike bunker, seemingly a perfect place to stow a captive, adds urgency to the search. As the police struggle to find information from the burgeoning summer tourist crowd, Evan begins to receive strange clues couched in the form of sheet music. The case becomes personal when Bronwen herself vanishes, and additional musical clues arrive suggesting that she has been abducted. Bowen "builds tension with every page simply by making Evan and Bronwen … so likable and resourceful that you pull for them all the way," commented a Kirkus Reviews critic.
Evanly Bodies, the tenth book in the Evans series, puts the now-married Evans in partnership with an abrasive and none-too-bright senior officer, Detective Inspector Bragg. Chafing against the arrangement and intolerant of Bragg's glaring stupidity, Evans struggles to keep his wits about him while investigating the murder of the head of the University of Wales History Department. The professor, unpopular with students and faculty alike and keenly disliked by his wife, was shot with an antique Japanese pistol through the open window of his kitchen. Bragg suspects the wife in the killing, but she claims to have been out walking the dog at the time. Before Bragg or Evans can act, another person is shot with the same weapon. In conjunction with the murder investigation, Evans searches for Jamilla, a British-born Pakistani girl who was soon to be sent back to Pakistan for an unwanted arranged marriage. A third person is shot with the old pistol, and when Evans locates Jamilla, he also finds the vital clue to solving the shootings. Booklist reviewer David Pitt mused that reading this installment of the Evans series "is like getting together with an old, dear friend." A Kirkus Reviews contributor called the novel's murder mystery plot "derivative, but the wider playing field for the clever, appealing Evans brings both his social and detective skills to the fore." A Publishers Weekly reviewer concluded: "Bowen sparkles in this cleverly concocted puzzler."
Asked why she turned from writing young adult novels to mysteries, Quin-Harkin told Peters: "My hundredth book was approaching. I had put my kids through college and we had paid off the house. And, quite frankly, I felt that I had written enough for young people. I decided it was now time to write what I liked to read—and that was mysteries, with a strong sense of place. So I took a gamble, a new name and started back at square one as a mystery writer. I haven't regretted it for a second."
With the first of her "Molly Murphy" novels, Quin-Harkin embarked on a new series of historical cozy mysteries, also under her pseudonym of Rhys Bowen. The debut novel, Murphy's Law, set in 1901, follows the determined and resourceful Molly as she flees her Irish homeland after killing Justin, a local laird who had tried to rape her. Boarding a ship for England, Molly encounters Kathleen O'Conner, who begs her to take her children to her husband Seamus in New York, since she is forbidden to board the ship because of her tuberculosis. Molly agrees, assumes O'Conner's identity for the trip, and soon she and the children are consigned to the misery of a cramped and unpleasant transatlantic crossing. On board, Molly is accosted by the brutish and unpleasant O'Malley, who apparently knew Kathleen O'Conner. Upon arrival at Ellis Island, O'Malley is found stabbed to death, and police detective Daniel Sullivan seeks answers from Molly and the solution to the man's murder. A Kirkus Reviews contributor called Molly "a charming if pushy heroine who eventually earns Sullivan's appreciation." Rex E. Klett, writing in the Library Journal, commended the novel's "strong focus, great characters, and authentic period descriptions." Bowen "conveys a nice sense of place and period in this debut of a new historical series with its spunky, 19th-century Irish heroine," remarked a Publishers Weekly critic.
In Death of Riley, Molly accepts a job as a companion to the aged Miss Van Woekem. During the course of her duties, Molly becomes aware of a man who appears to be investigating a neighbor. The man, Paddy Riley, owns an investigation agency, and Molly convinces him to let her come to work in his office. To her chagrin, however, she is not involved in any investigations, but is instead relegated to duties as a cleaning lady. Upon arriving at work one morning, however, she discovers Riley badly wounded and near death, and the assailant hurriedly leaving the office. When Riley dies, Molly decides to investigate his murder on her own, and in the process assumes responsibility for Riley's business. Booklist reviewer Sue O'Brien called Molly a "smart, feisty, independent heroine," and noted that early twentieth-century New York is "realistically portrayed, along with the Irish immigrant experience, in this appealing series."
For the Love of Mike finds Molly successfully established in Reilly's investigation business. She finds much of her work, such as tracking down straying spouses, to be tedious, and seeks a way to change the focus of her business. To this end, she lands an assignment to look into the theft of clothing designs from garment maker Mostel and Klein. Whoever is stealing the designs is selling them to competitor Lowenstein so he can get the new fashions produced and on sale before Mostel and Klein can take advantage of their own work. Molly undertakes a lesson in the sewing business and learns first-hand about the difficult, often cruel conditions of garment sweatshops as they existed in the early 1900s. A second assignment arrives in a letter from Irish countryman Major Favisham, who hires Molly to find his daughter Katherine, who has recently left Ireland for New York. As Molly continues her work, surprising and dangerous connections arise between the two cases. Meanwhile, new romance may be blossoming with labor leader Jacob Singer, in competition with Molly's first American heartthrob, police captain Daniel Sullivan. A Kirkus Reviews critic observed that "Molly grows ever more engaging against a vibrant background of New York's dark side at the turn of the century."
Oh Danny Boy sets Molly to work helping her beloved Daniel clear himself of accusations that he accepted a bribe. Molly believes that Daniel was framed by someone who wanted him off the case of the East Side Ripper, a vicious killer of prostitutes. Molly's concern for Daniel becomes even more complicated when she realizes that their single night of unrestrained passion has left her pregnant. An abortion is considered and rejected, as Molly searches for solutions to her predicament, to Daniel's legal mess, and to the murderous Ripper. Complicating matters is the disappearance of Molly's closest friend, Letitia Blackwell. In the course of her investigation, Molly joins forces with police matron Sabella Goodwin, who is also looking into the Ripper case. Soon, they determine that the slain women were not prostitutes. In fact, one of the victims is Letitia. They do discover that each had a connection to Coney Island, which will be key in determining the Ripper's identity. Bowen "deserves kudos for her recreation of early 20th-century New York," noted a Publishers Weekly reviewer.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Volume 6, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1991.
Booklist, September 1, 1982, Sally Estes, review of Ten-Boy Summer, p. 37; May 15, 1983, Ilene Cooper, review of Daydreamer, p. 1221; August, 1998, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Evan Help Us, p. 1972; April 15, 1999, Jenny McLarin, review of Evanly Choirs, p. 1446; December 15, 1999, Jenny McLarin, review of Evan and Elle, p. 759; August, 2001, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Murphy's Law, p. 2095; January 1, 2002, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Evans to Betsy, p. 816; November 1, 2002, Sue O'Brien, review of Death of Riley, p. 476; March 15, 2004, Sue O'Brien, review of Evan's Gate, p. 1269; February 1, 2005, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of In Like Flynn, p. 944; February 15, 2006, David Pitt, review of Oh Danny Boy, p. 51; May 1, 2006, David Pitt, review of Evanly Bodies, p. 22.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, October, 1976, Zena Sutherland, review of Peter Penny's Dance, p. 30; March, 1982, review of Love Match, p. 136; June, 1985, p. 192.
Horn Book, June, 1976, Ethel L. Heins, review of Peter Penny's Dance, p. 281.
Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 1997, review of Evans Above; April 28, 1999, review of Evanly Choirs; August 15, 2001, review of Murphy's Law, p. 1164; December 15, 2001, review of Evans to Betsy, p. 1723; October 1, 2002, review of Death of Riley, p. 1427; October 1, 2003, review of For the Love of Mike, p. 1201; May 15, 2005, review of Evan Blessed, p. 564; February 1, 2005, review of In Like Flynn, p. 149; January 15, 2006, review of Oh Danny Boy, p. 62; June 1, 2006, review of Evanly Bodies, p. 547.
Kliatt, spring, 1982, p. 10; spring, 1983, p. 5; fall, 1985, Elaine Patterson, review of 101 Ways to Meet Mr. Right, p. 16.
Library Journal, December, 1997, Rex E. Klett, review of Evans Above, p. 159; March 1, 2000, Rex E. Klett, review of Evan and Elle, p. 128; January 1, 2001, Rex E. Klett, review of Evan Can Wait, p. 162; October 1, 2001, Rex E. Klett, review of Murphy's Law, p. 145; March 1, 2002, Rex E. Klett, review of Evans to Betsy, p. 144; November 1, 2002, Rex E. Klett, review of Death of Riley, p. 132; December, 2003, Rex E. Klett, review of For the Love of Mike, p. 171; April 1, 2004, Rex E. Klett, review of Evan's Gate, p. 128; February 1, 2005, Rex E. Klett, review of In Like Flynn, p. 57.
New York Times Book Review, October 25, 1998, Marilyn Stasio, "Crime," p. 43.
Publishers Weekly, May 24, 1991, review of Starring Tess and Ali, p. 58; August 17, 1998, review of Evan Help Us, p. 52; April 5, 1999, review of Evanly Choirs, p. 226; January 10, 2000, review of Evan and Elle, p. 48; November 13, 2000, review of Evan Can Wait, p. 88; September 3, 2001, review of Murphy's Law, p. 67; February 18, 2002, review of Evans to Betsy, p. 79; November 18, 2002, review of Death of Riley, p. 45; November 3, 2003, review of For the Love of Mike, p. 57; March 29, 2004, review of Evan's Gate, p. 42; February 28, 2005, review of In Like Flynn, p. 45; January 16, 2006, review of Oh Danny Boy, p. 40; June 19, 2006, review of Evanly Bodies, p. 43; January 22, 2007, review of In Dublin's Fair City, p. 165.
School Library Journal, November, 1981, Ella B. Fossum, review of California Girl, p. 110; March, 1982, Joe McKenzie, review of Love Match, p. 160; March, 1985, p. 181; September, 1985, p. 180; January, 1988, Kathy Fritts, reviews of Flip Side and Nothing in Common, p. 95; May, 1998, Judy McAloon, review of Evans Above, p. 175; May, 2001, Pam Johnson, review of Evan Can Wait, p. 175.
Voice of Youth Advocates, December, 1981, Becky Johnson, review of California Girl, p. 34; December, 1982, Susan Levine, review of Ten-Boy Summer, p. 35; December, 1983, Maureen Ritter, review of Daydreamer, p. 281; June, 1985, p. 134; August-October, 1986, p. 156; December, 1986, p. 231; April, 1988, Laurel Ibey, review of Flip Side, p. 35; October, 1994, p. 215; December, 1994, p. 279.
BookBrowser, http://www.bookbrowser.com/ (April 15, 2007), Jo Peters, interview with Rhys Bowen.
January Magazine,http://www.januarymagazine.com/ (April 15, 2007), Karen G. Anderson, review of Evan and Elle.
Rhys Bowen Home Page, http://home.comcast.net/˜rhysbowen (April 15, 2007).
Rhys Bowen's Mystery Home Page,http://www.rhysbowen.com (April 15, 2007).