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Sunday, January 12, 2014

{Blog Tour} A MEASURE OF BLOOD by Kathleen George -- with Author Interview and a review!

A murder sends a child into foster care and drags a detective into a feverish hunt for justice

Nadal watches for weeks before he first approaches the boy. No matter what Maggie Brown says, he’s sure Matt is his son, and a boy should know his father. After their first confrontation, Maggie should have run. She should have hidden her child. But she underestimated the man who was once her lover. With self-righteous determination, Nadal goes to her apartment. He demands to spend time with the boy. When she refuses, he reaches for a knife.

By the time homicide detective Richard Christie arrives on the scene, the killer has vanished, and Matt is too scared to remember much more than his mother’s fear. As Christie looks for the killer and Maggie’s friends fight to keep Matt out of the hands of Child Services, Nadal watches the news and waits. A boy should be with his father. He’s going to get his son.

 The old adage of "Blood is thicker than water" rings true for this book. The tale wraps around the issue which our society has not quite solved with absolute clarity. Sure there are forms to sign to releasing their parental rights and future claims and what have you, but when it comes down to the emotions and hearts, no paper document in the world can stop anything that involves hearts, bloods, and genetics.

In "A Measure of Blood," Margaret Brown goes to a clinic to choose a sperm donation. How convenient that you can choose just about everything physical to have a child, without ever having to deal a relationship or physical intercourse. You can choose intelligence level, eye color, hair color, interests, and even nationality, practically designing her own child. Nine months later, voila! Perfect designer baby, Matt Brown, is born.  Margaret manages living her life just the way she always imagined, just herself and her son, happy as clams. The issue rises with having an incredibly intelligent child who soon begins to question who is father is and where he is and why he isn't in the picture. Margaret evades with a few vague responses, for now she's certain that the issue is put to rest for now, to be revisited later, knowing her precocious son as she does. He is intelligent, highly inquisitive, and at eight years old, can read and comprehend newspapers, something which some adults have difficulty comprehending.

Margaret's trouble comes in the form of a guy she once dated and slept with before Matthew was born, when she was deciding on the course of becoming a single mother before her biological clock expires. Her trouble is in the form of a guy named Nadal. Margaret regretted dating, and sleeping with, Nadal, a man younger than herself. And now she has more reason to worry...because Nadal, now going by Nate (Nathaniel) Brown, believes that Matt is his son. He's convinced of this fact because Matt has the same last name; the loon didn't even consider that Margaret's surname is also Brown.

It escalates until Maggie dies at the hands of Nadal, Matt is left an orphan with no relatives to take him in. The detective involved in Maggie's case is very concerned and caring about Matthew's welfare. He goes out of his way to find a perfect home for Matthew with his and his wife's friends, professors who are childless and wish very much to be parents. They've tried every way to become parents and have nearly given up when approached to adopt Matthew. They jump at the chance. Just as Matthew and they are settling into a new family routine as a whole unit, Matt disappears, sending them, the detective, and other officers who were investigating the murder of his mother, into the chase.

Of course, it is Nadal who has taken Matthew. He insists on believing Matt is his biological son despite the math not adding up; the timeline of Margaret's pregnancy does not correlate to the time they dated. Being a child, albeit an intelligent one, Matthew was duped at first with the sweet words he's wanted to hear: that his mom was alive even though he had seen her dead body with his own eyes. As more time is spent with Nadal, constantly insisting he is Matt's father, Matt knows in his heart that this man is NOT his father. In fact, Matt is certain that the email he had read at the professors' house secretly said that his father was someone else named Ziad. Matt is certain of that and trusts his own gut feeling. Recalling his mom's words, in a situation like this, about what he should do, Matt begins to think of opportunities to escape this crazy man. Meanwhile, the detective and other officers are getting closer and closer to catching up with them. And as I read, I had to hope and hope as the tension rose, that they would not be too late...

The novel is smartly told, with all characters realistic and believable. I could imagine reading about this in the newspaper, watching the events unfold on the television. It is a gripping tale; it deals with the welfare of a child, after all. But the author's masterful story-telling is what truly kept me glued to my kindle. You are easily drawn into the action as it occurs and start to bruise your kindle by poking it with your finger to get to the next page. Suspenseful and totally hooks you in!

Known for her gritty, crime-ridden mysteries, novelist Kathleen George returns to bookstores with two new novels in 2014, “A Measure of Blood” and “The Johnstown Girls.”

George grew up in Johnstown, Penn., a small city that found its way into the history books with the Great Flood of 1889. In addition to a bachelor’s degree and a master of fine arts in creative writing, she holds a master’s degree and a doctorate in theater from the University of Pittsburgh. She now teaches theater arts and writing at her alma mater.

George published her first short story collection, “The Man in the Buick,” in 1999. The book was a finalist for the Helicon Nine prize in fiction. She is the author of the acclaimed Richard Christie mysteries, which started in 2001 with “Taken.” The book has been translated into six languages and was recommended by critic David Kipen on “The Today Show.” She continued the series with “Fallen,” “Afterimage,” “The Odds,” “Hideout,” “Simple” and her latest “A Measure of Blood.” “The Odds” was nominated for an Edgar award for best novel by the Mystery Writers of America.

Stepping just outside of the mystery genre, George introduces “The Johnstown Girls” in April 2014 (University of Pittsburgh Press).

George is the editor of “Pittsburgh Noir,” a collection of stories featuring Stewart O'Nan, Hilary Masters, Reginald McKnight, K.C. Constantine, Lila Shaara, Nancy Martin, Kathleen George, and many others. She has also written three books on theater.

She has appeared as a guest on mystery and literary blogs including Criminal Minds, Jungle Red Writers, The Stiletto Gang, Writers Read, The Page 69 Test and Janice Gable Bashman, among others.

George lives in Pittsburgh where she enjoys cooking Lebanese food for her husband and fellow writer, Hilary Masters.
Author Website
Virtual Tour Page

Q&A with Kathleen George
For those new to your series, can you describe the Pittsburgh Richard Christie mysteries?
My series has been called suspense, mystery, thriller, and procedural. I think all of those labels apply in different mixes in different books. The series is very character oriented. Both the victims and the criminals have personal lives in each book and sometimes those lives mirror those of the police. The police have an ongoing story of their personal relationships over the course of the novels. They fall in love and out. I feel I know them.

One reader told me my books reminded her of the Inspector Morse series. I love that compliment because I like to make my police, and especially Christie, human, flawed, contradictory, thoughtful. Lots of people have told me they've fallen in love with Christie. I have too. As I write him, I love him. There are other important police characters—and one of them is Colleen Greer who is a rookie in book three but well on her way in the profession by book six. She and Christie pretty much share the stage.

What makes Pittsburgh the perfect setting for a crime series?
Pittsburgh has a lot of “parts.” There are gorgeous views, more bridges than in Venice, many trees and parks and also very poor areas, boarded up buildings, dark, rough streets. Needless to say there are dramas of class and race in the very makeup of the city. And in between the extremes there are ethnic neighborhoods that started out as immigrant strongholds and somehow held onto that identity even when mostly taken over by students looking for affordable housing. The people are extremely colorful. The braying Steelers fans that Tom Hanks made sport of on David Letterman. World famous doctors. The grandchildren of immigrants who have come up in the world and who are almost invariably friendly and unpretentious. Pittsburgh is friendly except when a ‘burgher is in a car. All bets are off for sweetness. The driver simply wants to get home.

How do you know so much about police work?
I called the police a lot. Then I realized just how much I had absorbed and how much was common sense. I started to get freer about calling my own shots and when I checked with the police on what I had done, I got the nod of approval. I’ve been extremely lucky. The police have been supportive and open with me. Actually the FBI, too, in the early days when I needed to consult were also helpful. My husband loves to tell people that when I tried certain plots on the FBI consultant, he said I had a fine criminal mind.

“The Johnstown Girls” is based on a real event that happened in your hometown. What inspired you to write about this piece of history?
The Great Flood of 1889 is an amazing story of greed and survival in America, a story everyone should know. And I come from Johnstown. And there were subsequent floods. My mother was in two of them. None was as big or devastating as the Great Flood though the lesser floods were plenty serious with numerous deaths and significant loss of property. I wanted to include all three floods to some extent in my novel because I experienced the fear in 1977 that I would lose my mother and I realized that disaster stories are really about those moments of longing for those you love, fear of losing them. When I couldn’t get news, when the town was cordoned off, the drama that I knew first hand was that classic one of fear followed by joy at reunion.

How long have you worked on these books?
“A Measure of Blood” took about four years with some off and on time. Actually I began working on “The Johnstown Girls” twenty-five years ago. It haunted me. I worked intensely but sporadically over the years.

What was it like to grow up in Johnstown, Penn.?

Sweet! Little ethnic neighborhood. Smells of pierogies and kielbassa, small grocery stores where the owners knew your family and what brands you wanted. And in the old days kids could play dodgeball in the street if it was flat and well-paved or sled-ride down a steep street. We felt connected to Pittsburgh. It was the big bit brother down the road. We were Pirates fans for sure. The whole town listened to the 1960 world series.

How do you juggle your career as a theater arts professor at the University of Pittsburgh with your life as a mystery writer?

Eeeek. Sometimes juggle is the operative word. It’s tough to do it all, but I love all of it. I tend to get up very early. In those morning hours when lots of people are sleeping and some are rocking babies or walking dogs, I put words on a page.

How does your background in theatre help with writing?

 Well it helps immensely. Theatre teaches you early on what a scene is, how a scene is an interaction with tensions. Theatre teaches about motivation and what is going on underneath what is said. Almost all plays are about lying. To oneself. To others. And that makes for the center of a lot of plots.

When I was directing, I would coach actors for hours on four lines of dialogue. We would totally explore inner life. What is thought, felt, seen, attempted. That is definitely good training for writers.

Your husband, Hilary Masters, is a well-known writer who has been honored by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. What’s it like to have two writers in one household? Do you critique each other’s work?

Only very carefully. We know how tender the other is. So generally we wait for a whole draft before showing anything. That’s the best way not to interrupt or get in the way of the initial impulses. But then, after that, we read and tell the truth. Even if it hurts.

Would you ever collaborate with your husband for a book?

I suppose if we ever were interested in the same subject. Our work is pretty different and so is our prose. But it is not out of the question. He has so much soul. And I am so dogged. I wonder how that would work?

Has there been film interest in your work?

 Yes, particular for Taken, my first novel. Even a screenwriter in France wanted to pitch it as a French story (which I would totally love!). Someday, I have been assured, somebody is going to want the whole series because of the ways the relationships change over time among the repeating characters while time passes and challenging new cases come along.
 Some fun! Here are a bunch of restaurants that inspired places in the book or were mentioned in the book!

Café du Jour: 1107 East Carson Street—South Side
(412) 488-9695
Photo of Café du Jour by John Heller/Post-Gazette

My friend Rick Schweikert said they had excellent steaks at this appealing place run by young people who fell in love with food. If you can sit outdoors in their garden, it's quite fantastic. We'd been there several times, but hadn't ordered steak. Pork, lamb, fish, yes. The last time we went there, because of what Rick had said, I ordered beef. It was very good and very rare. This is a place—like Il Pizziola—that the characters from A MEASURE OF BLOOD would frequent once a month. Jan Gabriel and Arthur Morris are the professors who are trying to adopt seven year old Matt, who has been orphaned by the murder of his mother.  The aim to introduce Matt to their good life.  They like French cooking. They like artful surroundings. And they love ambitious young people who do things well.  So this restaurant is one their list!  Everything they make is good.  Janet is particularly hooked on the succulent pork chop.

Qdoba Mexican Grill: 3712 Forbes Avenue—Oakland
(412) 802-7866

This is a chain.  Nadal Brown eats lunch here in A MEASURE OF BLOOD. It's crowded; its offerings are Mexican. The food fills his belly, but he's not thinking about food, given the events of his life and what he's running from.  Nadal went into a rage and killed Maggie Brown because she wouldn’t let him see the boy he is sure is his son.  Now he is searching for the son.  The food is fuel. It hardly registers with him.
More: Qdoba website

Panikkar's Indian Restaurant
I made it up. Some secondary characters in A MEASURE OF BLOOD own it. It features (to my mind) great Palak Paneer. It's in upper Oakland. I can definitely smell the wonderful smells of this place.  The owners in the novel live next to Maggie Brown and Matt Brown and when Maggie is murdered and Matt is in shock, they keep him (or try to keep him) in their apartment.

Mad Mex: 370 Atwood Street—Oakland
(412) 681-5656

Mad Mex is part of the Big Burrito group in Pittsburgh—which means there will be something a little special and significantly different in its offerings from the quick fast food Mexican places. Nadal Brown and his mama, Catalan Puerto Ricans, eat at Mad Mex in Oakland in A MEASURE OF BLOOD. Mrs. Brown would be able to get a takeout at State College, where she lives and where there is also a huge Mad Mex—that is, if she can find a time of day to avoid the screaming crowds. (My husband and I managed to break through the crowds in State College but it was only for breakfast.) Still we read the lunch and dinner menu with delight. In A MEASURE OF BLOOD, mother and son tend to like a bit of spice with their chicken or beef or pork. Mad Mex can give you a burrito or taco or quesadilla for sure, and that item will have zip. And they also offer a whole selection of dips and chips—all kinds. Black bean dip, jazzed-up hummus.  Just typing the menu items makes me hungry. A shame I already thawed prawns for tonight.

Mad Mex website
Ali Baba: 404 South Craig Street—Oakland
(412) 682-2829
Ali Baba

This is a place that no university person in Pittsburgh can avoid (not that they want to). It's cheap. The food is Lebanese. They use canned green beans for the loobyeh (I never would) but most people don't complain. The skewered lamb and skewered chicken are popular dishes. So are rice, yogurt, sleek, hummus and baba ganouge. I had a student who worked there write a play set in a restaurant just like Ali Baba. It was the raunchiest play I've had turned in to a class. I loved it and produced it. And the owners came to see it and gave us free food for the audience. Wow. That's Pittsburgh. In a nutshell. Or a chickpea. Let's just say that some of those dinners before rehearsal in A MEASURE OF BLOOD happen right there.  The hopeful adoptive parents of Matt Brown take him there. 

Ali Baba website 

Union Grill: 413 South Craig Street—Oakland
(412) 681-8620

The same thing goes for the Union Grill.  Affordable university-area food, just between Pitt and Carnegie Mellon, seemed just the place to send my little family Jan Gabriel, Arthur Morris, and foster child Matt Brown in A MEASURE OF BLOOD. Jan Gabriel teaches theatre at Pitt and is directing a play (in this way I could follow the dictum to write what you know).  She’s directing A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM and she’s cast Matt as the changeling child, the idea being to keep him close to her, safe from the killer who killed his mother.  Anyway, she and her husband are on the verge of adopting Matt and she's got to get to rehearsal. A child can always find something to like at the Union Grill, and most adults can, too. They serve waffle fries, sweet potato fries, and all the usuals when it comes to sandwiches and appetizers. But one of the best features is the daily fish dinner entree with sides. I've had good trout there, but at the moment all I see on the menu is salmon. Still, that five-hour pot roast of theirs is appealing, too.

Casbah: 229 S Highland Avenue—Shadyside / East Liberty (412) 661-5656

In SIMPLE (2012), a guy up to no good takes a gorgeous young woman for a drink and a talk. He takes her to Casbah. The drinks are very polished and sophisticated at Casbah, as is the food. And the bar is sexy. The bar area seems like a place where covert meetings might be held. My husband and I and my sister and brother-in-law went for dinner to absorb the atmosphere of the place. One of my favorite grad students waits tables there but he wasn't working that night. I couldn't think the word casbah and order anything other than lamb and couscous. All the entrees were delicious and very rich. Soba and Casbah, both part of the Big Burrito group, are at the top of most people's favorite restaurant lists. Here's something we didn't order that sounds good: Red Pepper Casereccia, seared sea scallops, jumbo lump crab, roasted garlic, and parsley butter for $31. Casbah is on the eating schedule for my characters in A MEASURE OF BLOOD. They're professors, Arthur and Jan, who like to eat out at least once a week.

big Burrito Restaurant Group

Legume:  214 N Craig St—Oakland  (412) 621-2700

Of course my cops eat all the time on the job.  And they eat every sort of thing from the famous Primanti sandwiches to whatever they can grab fast.  My main character, Detective Richard Christie, has a delicate digestion so he’s often in agony after a meal that others love.  His old partner Artie Dolan can eat anything.  And does.  His new partner (police partner) Colleen Greer is a foodie and so is her lover, John Potocki.  I got a lot of laughs for the scene in SIMPLE in which he brings her dinner to the surveillance truck they’re using—a plumbing van.  Instead of grabbing a sandwich (and of course he wants to please her), he gets a takeout of ravioli in butter sage dressing from Legume.  It’s a cozy dinner in a plumbing van—unfortunately interrupted by a chase!

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