Articles and Reviews: the Pam Nilsen Series

 The Carnival of Discourse in Barbara Wilson’s Pam Nilsen Trilogy

By Kirby Olson, in The Seattle Star, June 23, 2018

 Murder in the Collective

From The Armchair Detective:
Murder in the Collective is an ambitious effort to use conventional form and traditional narrative devices to examine contemporary social and political concerns from a nontraditional perspective. Pam Nilsen is a lively and welcome addition to the affirmative action sorority of feminist detectives.

From Booklist:
The narrative is engrossing, evenly paced, and refreshingly unique.

Sisters of the Road

From Independent Publisher:
Barbara Wilson's Murder in the Collective announced the successful union of lesbian feminist politics and murder mysteries. Her new book, Sisters of the Road, brings more good news: for Wilson it is a marriage made in heaven. She has strengthened her writing, building on its energetic promise and now she delivers a complex and moving thriller. Pam Nilson, her reluctant sleuth, is struggling to maintain the collective which runs her family's printing business while her twin sister picks coffee beans in Nicaragua. She is also nursing a broken heart after her first woman lover has left town. Naturally her good Samaritan rescue of two young women introduces murder, prostitution, drug dealers, and incest into her already strained life. When one of the girls dies from a beating and the other disappears, Pam scours the streets of Seattle and Portland to find her and seek some answers to how a 14-year-old becomes hardened by drugs and crime. The trail leads through scummy artist's lofts, shelters for homeless teens, and inevitably (and sadly) back to the family. It is Pam's capacity for caring about people that makes this novel so compelling. She is inexperienced in almost every aspect of her life: running a business, being gay, and routing out killers and child abusers. But her passionate commitment to people makes it impossible for her to give up on others or on herself. Wilson's forte is depicting this extraordinary quality without letting its possessor appear to be a plaster saint. She portrays exactly how good and evil evolve from the needs and impulses of ordinary people.

The Dog Collar Murders

From Booklist:
The murder of an anti-porn crusader during a conference on sexuality galvanizes lesbian printer Pam Nilsen into turning sleuth for the third time. She quickly uncovers the victim's resentful ex-lover; her forgotten, maybe vengeful ex-husband; bad blood between her and her cousin; and several other suspects and suspicious secrets. Every clue touches upon the book's secondary preoccupation, the feminist debate on pornography. As in the previous Nilsen novels, Wilson folds feminist controversy adroitly into the whodunit recipe. She writes such intelligent, natural dialogue; creates such credible characters; and maintains the mystification so well that her unlikely mixture of feminist didacticism and detective thrills satisfies as both primer and mystery.


Articles and Reviews: the Cassandra Reilly Series

Gaudí Afternoon

From The New York Times:
A high-spirited comic adventure…In the same way that she works issues of sexual politics into her madcap plot, Ms. Wilson also makes the city of Barcelona a lively party to her action …Olé!

From Booklist:

There hasn't been this much cross-dressing, confusion, and hilarity since Rosalind entered the Forest of Arden.

From Catalonia Today:

Barbara Wilson has written a comic adventure story with the underlying purposes of affirming lesbian identity and the diversity of sexuality. Cassandra is as promiscuous as any male stud, but she is sensitive to her women's feelings (if we take her word for it). Her life-style is the envy of many: travelling the world with a girl-friend in every port.

Barbara Wilson's mysteries are witty, fast-paced, and fun to read. Plus, they have enough politics so that you can tell yourself that reading them is good for you. Gaudi Afternoon, written before "gender studies" became a buzz phrase, looks and laughs at what makes a gal straight or queer, femme or butch, lesbian or dyke, transgendered or translated. Cassandra Reilly, Wilson's wry, savvy, globe-trotting sleuth, charges through Barcelona to find a missing person or two of indeterminate gender.

Trouble in Transylvania

From Library Journal:
Ostensibly a publisher's translator, Cassandra Reilly labors only to travel. The middle-aged, London-based lesbian, presently on her way to China by way of Budapest, encounters a vibrant, seventyish woman and her nubile granddaughter on the train. Irrepressible Gladys Bentwhistle, soon accused of murdering an ancient health spa owner in Transylvania, begs waggish Cassandra (a speaker of Romanian?) for help. Cassandra, her friend Jacqueline ("Jack"), and the potential conquest Eva then enter the fray. This amateur has a mind like a steel trap, a literate, uplifting voice, and a wicked sense of humor. Great fun.

The Death of a Much-Travelled Woman

From Library Journal:
Spanish translator, lesbian, and amateur detective Cassandra Reilly, last seen in Trouble in Transylvania returns in this collection of nine peripatetic short stories. From Helsinki to Hawaii to Hamburg, Cassandra solves mysteries, mostly murderous, among her far-flung acquaintances. Most of the stories touch upon the world of publishing, including a murder at a book fair, the theft of a writer's identity, and a writers' conference that turns deadly. Wilson takes the opportunity to lightly satirize the literary world with some thinly veiled humorous portraits of real-life personalities and publishing politics. The literate and likable Cassandra is a pleasant traveling companion who approaches crime among her friends with humor and compassion. With well-drawn characters and colorful settings, this collection of light mysteries is recommended for libraries with other Cassandra Reilly books and for mystery fans of any orientation.

The Case of the Orphaned Bassoonists

From Kirkus Reviews:
Droll humor, high intelligence, outrageous Edith Sitwell-like wardrobes, and a chance to revel in the best Venice offers, from the synagogues of Ghetto Nuova to the cafes of the back canals.From Publishers Weekly:
The present-day international classical-music scene meets Vivaldi-era Venice in Wilson's third winning tale featuring translator and amateur detective Cassandra Reilly. The jet-setting lesbian heroine obligingly sets off for Italy to help her friend, bassoonist Nicky Gibbons, who stands accused of stealing a priceless antique bassoon during a symposium on women musicians of Vivaldi's time. Symposium organizer Alfredo Sandretti insists that Nicky stole the valuable bassoon, but whether she did or didn't soon becomes irrelevant, because as Cassandra slyly interviews each of the possible suspects, she learns that they're all harboring their own secrets (or, as she later discovers, are gifted liars).

From Booklist:
The many moods and shifting colors of Venice come alive in Wilson's masterful third in the Reilly European Trilogy. Cassandra arrives to help her friend, bassoonist Nicola Gibbons, who's been accused of stealing an antique bassoon while attending a conference on women musicians of the Vivaldi era. She arrives at a grand villa to find an odd assortment of conferees, including a Canadian bassoonist/scholar; a strangely drab and untalented Dutch oboist; a couple of tall Nordic baroque bassoonists embroiled in a teutonically torrid affair; and the hosts: the domineering, hot-tempered Alfredo Sandretti and his browbeaten son, Marco, who will do anything—anything?—to please him. Cassandra manages to locate the missing bassoon but finds that a murder by drowning has muddied the waters.