Houston-based author Dean James is something of a star -- his books have topped the bestseller lists, he's won several important awards, he has legions of loyal fans and followers and he managed to introduce a male protagonist in a cozy mystery series where female main characters are the norm. He's had several successful series; our favorite featured Simon Kirby-Jones, a gay vampire. James's latest series is the Cat in the Stacks mysteries, which he writes under the name Miranda James (he's also written under the pseudonyms Jimmie Ruth Evans and Honor Hartman). The newly released Cat installment, The Silence of the Library, is already on the top of the bestseller lists (number eight on the New York Times list and number five on the Barnes & Noble list at the time of this writing).
But as popular as the very talented James is, he takes a back seat to Diesel, an oversize Maine coon cat that accompanies Cat protagonist Charlie Harris. "Diesel probably has more fans than Charlie or Miranda," James jokes.
Set during National Book Week, The Silence of the Library features a cast of offbeat book collectors, rabid readers, an elderly author of Nancy Drew-type mysteries and at least one overzealous fan who will do anything to get a prized volume.
The Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden mysteries were among the first titles James read as a child. "I knew that a lot of people collect these types of books, and any time you have people collecting something, there can be, shall we say, eccentricities. So I thought I'd have some rabid collectors descend upon the town." And descend they do.
Charlie, James' central character in the Cat series, differs from most other protagonists in mass market fiction. He has no superpowers or special skills (beyond being a librarian), he displays good common sense as well as intellect, and tends to have reasonable, understandable actions.
"As someone who's read hundreds and hundreds of these books, I know you're stretching belief anyway to have an amateur solve a murder. You can make it a little more reasonable by having someone who's smart enough to know that the police really should be doing this, someone who's going to tell them what he knows if they ask him. I wanted him to be more believable in that way. Charlie's not going to dashing around a graveyard with a flashlight in one hand and a fake revolver in the other hunting down a killer. That's just not a smart thing to do."
James was still a pre-teen when he wrote his first book, an adventurous mystery with a girl detective as the protagonist.
"There was a young character loosely based on a combination of Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden, who was another favorite of mine. Her name was Amanda I think. There was her best friend. They were on the trail of a missing shipment of confederate gold. It was hidden somewhere on Amanda's family farm and they found a key that opened something, I can't quite remember.
"It was highly derivative of everything I had been reading up until then. I probably plagiarized everything I had ever read," James says laughing.
"An aunt had a typewriter and she typed it up for me so that I could send it off somewhere. It was promptly rejected, I'm sure."
James appears with fellow writers Kimberly Frost (the Southern Witch series), Timothy J. Lambert (contributor to The Mammoth Book of New Gay Erotica) and R.D. Cochrane (publisher of Someone Like You). 6:30 p.m. February 18 at Murder by the Book, 2342 Bissonnet. For information, call 713‑524-8597 or visit murderbooks.com. Free.