April 17th, 2012

Joyce Yarrow is a New York-born writer, a Pushcart Prize nominee, who now lives in Seattle and is busy setting mystery novels all over the place. 

Her second novel, THE LAST MATRYOSHKA, has gotten 5-star reviews on Amazon and are FREE FOR THE KINDLE today and tomorrow, the 19th and 20th of April at, so when Joyce wrote to say she’d like to say a few words here, I immediately said yes — and here she is.

Arindam Roy—with whom I am writing a novel-in-progress set on two continents—loves concocting surprises. So when I checked into the Hotel Yatrik on a Friday and he told me I’d be giving a talk to students at Allahabad University that Sunday, I managed a grin and a thank you for the opportunity. Then I rushed across the street—risking life and limb amidst the madly rushing rickshaws, wildly over-burdened scooters, and incessantly honking cars—to see if I could get my Mini laptop fixed in time to retrieve my slideshow on my book-research trip to Russia.

On Sunday afternoon, Professor Sanjoy Saksena came to fetch me in a taxi. I was duly grateful, knowing that if I braved the intense humidity and walked the quarter mile to the University, I’d arrive looking more bedraggled than a shipwrecked cat.

The University’s English Department is one of the oldest in India, situated in a grand Edwardian Mughal structure. The Head, Professor Dubey, greeted me warmly, with an offer of tea and many expressions of appreciation. “Your visit will be recorded as was that of Mark Twain, who visited us many years ago,” he said. I was flabbergasted and tried not to show it. Instead I told the students who joined us around the table how remarkable it was that in both Russia and India people could be counted on to treat authors with great respect, regardless of the size of their book sales or reputations. “There is a special appreciation for the act of writing itself that is imbued in both cultures,” I said. I don’t remember if I shared my opinion that this would never happen in celebrity-crazed America.

The presentation in Allahabad

My presentation, titled The Place of Place in Mystery Writing, always opens with a discussion of how Raymond Chandler, Walter Mosley, and Elizabeth George use the settings of their stories to reveal character—so much so, that in Chandler’s case, Los Angeles became a character in its own right. I then segued into how I got the idea for writing The Last Matryoshka while visiting my mother’s downstairs neighbors, two lovely Russians who held house concerts in their apartment. It was when I reached the slide showing a group of émigré men playing chess on the Brighton Beach boardwalk that it hit me. Here I was, describing a book largely set in Moscow while showing pictures taken in Brooklyn to a group of graduate students in India!

As if to jar me out of my dream, one of the faculty members spoke up. “Do you think that mysteries are really a form of literature?” he asked. Fighting words—more like what I was used to. “Yes, as a matter of fact I do,” I replied. “Just because publishers find it convenient to classify books into genres in order to market them doesn’t mean that some are better than others. It depends on the writer.” I looked around the room and found a young woman I could tell was just dying to raise her hand. I looked directly at her and asked, “What do you think.” There was an eerie silence…perhaps I had defied some classroom etiquette of which I was unaware. Then she smiled. “I like reading Agatha Christie and I think her books are every bit as good as Charles Dickens,” she said. A girl after my own heart. We were off and running then—even the quiet students leaned forward in their seats to listen.

Afterwards the professor who had challenged me came up to apologize. “Are you kidding?” I asked. “You made it happen.”

Before I left, they draped a beautiful, orange shawl around my shoulders, as is the tradition with honored guests. By that time the classroom was close to inferno temperature and sweltering under the hot wool scarf I did my best not to pass out. Then came the flowers. I could get used to this.

Joyce Yarrow was born in the SE Bronx, escaped to Manhattan as a teenager and now lives in Seattle with her husband and son.  She is a Pushcart nominee, whose stories and poems have been widely published. Her first book, Ask the Dead (Martin Brown 2005), was selected by The Poisoned Pen as a Recommended First Novel and hailed as “Bronx noir”.  Her latest book, The Last Matryoshka, takes place in Brooklyn and Moscow and is now available for Kindle.

Read excerpts of Joyce’s books here:


  1. Joyce Yarrow Says:

    Thanks so much for hosting me, Tim.. look forward to meeting everyone and interacting.
    All the best,

  2. EverettK Says:

    Thanks, Joyce, for the story from your experiences in India. Brooklyn, Russia, India, nothing like a good cultural mash-up! 🙂 I’ll be sure to check out your books!

    By the way, Tim, another ‘thanks’ goes to you for the mention of S J Rozan on one of the mailing lists. I’d never heard of her (or her books), and just checked out her first one (99 cents, what a deal!) and the first page had me hooked. I also sampled Lou Berney’s Gutshot Straight, and loved what I read. But I refuse to pay $11 for an ebook which I don’t own, can’t resell, lend to friends, etc, and I can buy a new paperback version for 70 cents more (SHIPPED) and a NEW (remaindered) hardcover copy for $5.20, sheesh. But, that takes me back to how you and I ‘met.’ 🙂 Anyway, someday I’ll be reading his, too, thanks to you. You’re like the junky on the corner of the schoolyard. “Hey! Kid! Yuh want some ‘candy’?”

  3. lalit Says:

    Joyce you are a remarkable person with a deep insight into human nature. These are the qualities which go into making a good writer.By the way, i agree with that young girl that Agatha Christie is as much a part of literature as is Charles Dickens.Joyce Yarrow is as much a part of literature as is Jane Austen!

  4. Jacqueline Seewald Says:

    Hi, Joyce,

    Very impressive! Being compared to Mark Twain is quite the honor. I’m sure your lecture was well-received. Congrats.

    Jacqueline Seewald
    DEATH LEGACY–new release

  5. Jane Isenberg Says:

    Your account of your visit to Allahabad U made me want to start packing. Sounds like your audience was responsive and that, as usual, your talk was insightful and inspiring. It is interesting to hear how people honor writers in India . . .

  6. Joyce Yarrow Says:

    @ Jane – start packing and I’ll meet you in Delhi.

    @Jacqueline – thanks so much for stopping by and yes, I was flabberghasted.

    @Lalit – thank you for the kind words and keeping company with Jane Austen is an honor.

    @Everett – so glad you enjoyed this!

  7. T. C. Isbell Says:

    In school, my Indian professors always asked insightful, penetrating questions and a lively discussion would always follow. I think they mainly asked to see if you were really on top of your game. I enjoyed reading about your encounter.

  8. Joyce Yarrow Says:

    @Tom – Ah the power of questions! I encountered a marvelous level of curiosity and intellectual openness – as well as vigor – while in India, so have a good idea of what you are talking about. Thanks so much for reading the article and taking time to comment.

  9. Usman Says:

    Very interesting. As someone who has a half formed mystery novel, (Tim has seen it–Dilbar, remember) set in Pakistan, and can’t seem to move it forward, this was a great article.
    Joyce, you’re welcome to Pakistan next time you fly East. Just give me a shout. It’ll be a pleasure.

  10. Joyce Yarrow Says:

    @Usman – glad you enjoyed the article. I’ll be in India in July but Pakistan is not on itinerary – maybe next time. What a huge continent! So far have been to Rajisthan (Jaipur), Varanasi, Kanpur, Allahabad, Mathura, Aurangabad and Varkala. Next trip – Bihar!

    Best of luck with your book – so much for a mystery writer to work with in the East – must be overwhelming…

  11. Lil Gluckstern Says:

    Wonderful post about a country I know so little about. You made it come alive. I will have to check out your book

  12. Joyce Yarrow Says:

    Hi Lil – I know so little about India too but am doing my best to learn! Thanks so much for your comment and interest in my work.
    All the best,

  13. Bhaswati Ghosh Says:

    What a charming memoir, Joyce! I love learning about the place of place in fiction, so this was most interesting.

  14. Joyce Yarrow Says:

    @Bhaswati – Thanks so much. No matter how much research we do, there is nothing like the real thing to inspire help us capture the essence of a place. You do that very well in your own writing!

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