Nominations for L.A. Times Book Prizes
Oline Cogdill

The finalists for the 34th annual L.A. Times Book Prizes were announced Wednesday morning: 50 books in 10 categories are in the running to win.

The winners of the L.A. Times book prizes will be announced at an awards ceremony April 11, the evening before the L.A. Times Festival of Books, April 12-13. Held on University of Southern California's campus in Bovard Auditorium, the awards are open to the public; tickets will be made available in late March. Details can be found online at www.latimes.com/bookprizes.

Several years ago, I, along with Sarah Weinman and the late, great Dick Adler, twice were judges for the mystery/thriller category. The third year, Sarah and I were joined by Dick Lochte. I make it a policy never to comment on award nominations.

Here are the finalists in the crime fiction category.

MYSTERY/THRILLER

Hour of the Red God, by Richard Crompton (Sarah Crichton Books)
The Cuckoo's Calling, Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling) (Mulholland Books)
Sycamore Row, John Grisham (Doubleday Books)
The Rage, Gene Kerrigan (Europa Editions)
The Collini Case, Ferdinand von Schirach (Viking)

Oline Cogdill
Wednesday, 19 February 2014 04:02

The finalists for the 34th annual L.A. Times Book Prizes were announced Wednesday morning: 50 books in 10 categories are in the running to win.

The winners of the L.A. Times book prizes will be announced at an awards ceremony April 11, the evening before the L.A. Times Festival of Books, April 12-13. Held on University of Southern California's campus in Bovard Auditorium, the awards are open to the public; tickets will be made available in late March. Details can be found online at www.latimes.com/bookprizes.

Several years ago, I, along with Sarah Weinman and the late, great Dick Adler, twice were judges for the mystery/thriller category. The third year, Sarah and I were joined by Dick Lochte. I make it a policy never to comment on award nominations.

Here are the finalists in the crime fiction category.

MYSTERY/THRILLER

Hour of the Red God, by Richard Crompton (Sarah Crichton Books)
The Cuckoo's Calling, Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling) (Mulholland Books)
Sycamore Row, John Grisham (Doubleday Books)
The Rage, Gene Kerrigan (Europa Editions)
The Collini Case, Ferdinand von Schirach (Viking)

Sycamore Row
Dick Lochte

Back when John Grisham was distributing copies of his first novel, A Time to Kill, to Mississippi bookstores from the trunk of his car, he probably didn’t in his most blissful dreams imagine there’d be a day when its sequel would top most of the nation’s bestseller lists.

In the intervening 25 years, however, his second book, The Firm, sold more copies than any other novel of 1991, was followed by a very popular film adaptation, and more bestselling legal thrillers, and more films. And now the author once again returns to the fictitious Deep South hamlet of Clayton, Mississippi, following up on attorney Jake Brigance’s life and practice just three years after his somewhat amazing courtroom victory in A Time to Kill.

Without getting too specific and spoilery about that plot, what Brigance defeated was the town’s tendency toward racism, an unpleasant failing still very much in evidence in the new book. In retaliation to his legal win in A Time to Kill, the KKK has burned down his home, killed his dog and just about put him out of business. Then, unpleasantly cantankerous yet progressive-thinking gazillionaire Carl Lee Hailey opts for suicide over years of painful inoperative cancer and, just before hanging himself to a sycamore tree, arranges for Brigance to handle his estate in accordance with a new holographic will that sternly disinherits his son, daughter, and grandchildren in favor of Letitia Lang, a black woman who has been his housekeeper for many years. The children contest the will and, once again, the lawyer finds himself in a deep Dixie courtroom, involved in a trial and struggling against racial bias.

Film and television actor Michael Beck has a smooth Southern drawl that he used to great effect on the audio of A Time to Kill. It serves him just as well here in a novel that, possibly reflecting the author’s maturity, is just as compelling and effective as the earlier work without being quite so dramatic or intense.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 20 February 2014 10:02

grisham_sycamorerow_audioA return to Mississippi to follow up on attorney Jake Brigance three years after A Time to Kill.

The Victors & the House of Beadle and Adams
Kate Stine

Victor_Orville_J_1827-1910Metta Fuller Victor and her husband Orville J. Victor had a long and mutually beneficial association with Beadle and Adams, the 19th-century publishing house which popularized the “Dime Novel.” In its various permutations—Beadle & Co., Beadle and Adams, Beadle, Victor & Co., etc.—this firm issued about 25 series of novels, seven magazines, and innumerable handbooks, songbooks, housekeeping guides, biographies, and other works, starting in 1851 and continuing until its demise in 1897. And for most of its life, the industrious Victors were key elements in Beadle and Adams’ success.

Metta Victor began the relationship in 1858 when she became the editor of The Home: A Fireside Companion and Guide for the Wife, the Mother, the Sister and the Daughter. Her husband, Orville J. Victor (1827–1910), would work as the main editor for the Beadle house from 1861 to 1897. He wrote a number of books as well, including biographies and political works.

In 1860, Beadle and Adams published Malaeska: The Indian Wife of the White Hunter by Mrs. Anne S. Stephens, the first in their famous series of Dime Novels. The following year Dime Novel No. 33 was Metta Victor’s Maum Guinea and Her Plantation “Children” or, Holiday-Week on a Louisiana Estate. This work turned out to be not only financially successful but of historical importance as well. The scholar Charles M. Harvey commented:

BeadleThe_Home_Mag_copyMaum Guinea was a tale of slave life, and appeared in the early part of the Civil War. It was spirited and pathetic, and had a good deal of "local color"; its sales exceeded 100,000 copies, and it was translated into several languages. “It is as absorbing as Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was the judgment which Lincoln was said to have passed on it. ...[It] circulated by the tens of thousands in England, had a powerful influence in aid of the Union cause at a time when a large part of the people of that country favored the recognition of the independence of the Southern Confederacy. Mr. Victor's own Address to the English People, issued at the same time...was widely distributed in England, and helped to overcome the sentiment which was clamoring for the breaking of the blockade and the purchase of Southern cotton for Lancashire's idle mills.

“My dear fellow,” said Henry Ward Beecher, to Mr. Victor afterward, “your little book and Mrs. Victor’s novel were a telling series of shots in the right spot.” This is testimony which counts. Beecher was a special commissioner from Lincoln to England in 1863, to counteract the hostility to the Union cause in the Palmerston cabinet and among the aristocracy.
—"The Dime Novel in American Life," The Atlantic Monthly, July, 1907, p. 39.

JohannsenHouse_of_BeadleOver the next 25 years until her death in 1885, Metta Victor wrote extensively for Beadle and Adams, contributing cooking guides, humor books, and anti-polygamy tracts as well as, of course, her two mystery novels. Her husband would continue to oversee the editorial side of the house until his departure in 1897, the same year that the firm went out of business.

Most of the information above was gleaned from Albert Johannsen’s The House of Beadle and Adams and Its Dime and Nickel Novels, a landmark achievement in American bibliography. Its three volumes contain nearly 300 color and tint reproductions, and portraits of personnel and many authors as well as biographical sketches, checklists of publications, and analytical indices by subject, locality, persons, subtitles, etc. This work is out of print but readily available through antiquarian dealers. It is also published online by the Northern Illinois University Libraries.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Fall Issue #81.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 20 February 2014 11:02

Victor_Orville_J_1827-1910Metta Fuller Victor and her husband Orville J. Victor had a long and mutually beneficial association with Beadle and Adams, the 19th-century publishing house which popularized the “Dime Novel.” In its various permutations—Beadle & Co., Beadle and Adams, Beadle, Victor & Co., etc.—this firm issued about 25 series of novels, seven magazines, and innumerable handbooks, songbooks, housekeeping guides, biographies, and other works, starting in 1851 and continuing until its demise in 1897. And for most of its life, the industrious Victors were key elements in Beadle and Adams’ success.

Metta Victor began the relationship in 1858 when she became the editor of The Home: A Fireside Companion and Guide for the Wife, the Mother, the Sister and the Daughter. Her husband, Orville J. Victor (1827–1910), would work as the main editor for the Beadle house from 1861 to 1897. He wrote a number of books as well, including biographies and political works.

In 1860, Beadle and Adams published Malaeska: The Indian Wife of the White Hunter by Mrs. Anne S. Stephens, the first in their famous series of Dime Novels. The following year Dime Novel No. 33 was Metta Victor’s Maum Guinea and Her Plantation “Children” or, Holiday-Week on a Louisiana Estate. This work turned out to be not only financially successful but of historical importance as well. The scholar Charles M. Harvey commented:

BeadleThe_Home_Mag_copyMaum Guinea was a tale of slave life, and appeared in the early part of the Civil War. It was spirited and pathetic, and had a good deal of "local color"; its sales exceeded 100,000 copies, and it was translated into several languages. “It is as absorbing as Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was the judgment which Lincoln was said to have passed on it. ...[It] circulated by the tens of thousands in England, had a powerful influence in aid of the Union cause at a time when a large part of the people of that country favored the recognition of the independence of the Southern Confederacy. Mr. Victor's own Address to the English People, issued at the same time...was widely distributed in England, and helped to overcome the sentiment which was clamoring for the breaking of the blockade and the purchase of Southern cotton for Lancashire's idle mills.

“My dear fellow,” said Henry Ward Beecher, to Mr. Victor afterward, “your little book and Mrs. Victor’s novel were a telling series of shots in the right spot.” This is testimony which counts. Beecher was a special commissioner from Lincoln to England in 1863, to counteract the hostility to the Union cause in the Palmerston cabinet and among the aristocracy.
—"The Dime Novel in American Life," The Atlantic Monthly, July, 1907, p. 39.

JohannsenHouse_of_BeadleOver the next 25 years until her death in 1885, Metta Victor wrote extensively for Beadle and Adams, contributing cooking guides, humor books, and anti-polygamy tracts as well as, of course, her two mystery novels. Her husband would continue to oversee the editorial side of the house until his departure in 1897, the same year that the firm went out of business.

Most of the information above was gleaned from Albert Johannsen’s The House of Beadle and Adams and Its Dime and Nickel Novels, a landmark achievement in American bibliography. Its three volumes contain nearly 300 color and tint reproductions, and portraits of personnel and many authors as well as biographical sketches, checklists of publications, and analytical indices by subject, locality, persons, subtitles, etc. This work is out of print but readily available through antiquarian dealers. It is also published online by the Northern Illinois University Libraries.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Fall Issue #81.

Miss Dimple Picks a Peck of Trouble
Robin Agnew

This book was a more than pleasant sur- prise. While I read many historical myster- ies and enjoy them immensely, I hadn’t picked up this one set in Elderberry, Georgia, during WWII. It’s the fourth book in the Miss Dimple series, but I didn’t feel I needed to have read the others to enjoy this one, which focuses on the lives of women left behind during the war, as well as on the murder of a young woman.

That sounds pedestrian, doesn’t it?—the murder of a young woman. But thanks to Mignon F. Ballard’s careful delineation of character and of a small southern town during the war years, the murder of this particular young woman is as shocking as any in a far gorier book. She also brings to life the feel of life during wartime—the rationing of food and gasoline, the absence of most young men, the communal worry about loved ones overseas. It overshadows almost everything else, quite understandably.

The story kicks off with the disappearance of Prentice, one of the workers at the “peach shed,” the place where picked peaches are sold to the public. She has vanished, leaving behind her purse, which alerts her best friend, Delia, to the seriousness of the situation.

When it’s revealed that the missing girl is in fact dead, the next shocking development is the suspicion and eventual arrest of her former boyfriend, Clay Jarrett. Miss Dim-ple Kilpatrick, the central sleuth of the series, is a no-nonsense first grade teacher “of a certain age.” The younger girls look up to her and ask for her advice; and Miss Dim- ple is quite sure that Clay is innocent. She reaches out to his parents to see how she can be of help. As a teacher, both younger and older residents already know and trust Dimple and are willing to confide in her, which makes her an ideal amateur sleuth.

This book suits its setting, as it’s told in a kind of languid, laid-back Southern style, which is sometimes deceptive as the story actually moves right along and includes several deaths and other revelations. The tension is heightened because one of the girls is worried about her boyfriend overseas, whom she hasn’t heard from in several months. No one in town wants to see the telegram delivery boy on his black bicycle.

The small town of Elderberry seems like a real community, with unexpected kindnesses and understanding based on a shared history. This seemed to me (coming from a very small town) like the authentic behavior of a small group of people living in close proximity to one another. Dimple is a very likable sleuth in this standout cozy series in the historical mystery subgenre.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 20 February 2014 03:02

This book was a more than pleasant sur- prise. While I read many historical myster- ies and enjoy them immensely, I hadn’t picked up this one set in Elderberry, Georgia, during WWII. It’s the fourth book in the Miss Dimple series, but I didn’t feel I needed to have read the others to enjoy this one, which focuses on the lives of women left behind during the war, as well as on the murder of a young woman.

That sounds pedestrian, doesn’t it?—the murder of a young woman. But thanks to Mignon F. Ballard’s careful delineation of character and of a small southern town during the war years, the murder of this particular young woman is as shocking as any in a far gorier book. She also brings to life the feel of life during wartime—the rationing of food and gasoline, the absence of most young men, the communal worry about loved ones overseas. It overshadows almost everything else, quite understandably.

The story kicks off with the disappearance of Prentice, one of the workers at the “peach shed,” the place where picked peaches are sold to the public. She has vanished, leaving behind her purse, which alerts her best friend, Delia, to the seriousness of the situation.

When it’s revealed that the missing girl is in fact dead, the next shocking development is the suspicion and eventual arrest of her former boyfriend, Clay Jarrett. Miss Dim-ple Kilpatrick, the central sleuth of the series, is a no-nonsense first grade teacher “of a certain age.” The younger girls look up to her and ask for her advice; and Miss Dim- ple is quite sure that Clay is innocent. She reaches out to his parents to see how she can be of help. As a teacher, both younger and older residents already know and trust Dimple and are willing to confide in her, which makes her an ideal amateur sleuth.

This book suits its setting, as it’s told in a kind of languid, laid-back Southern style, which is sometimes deceptive as the story actually moves right along and includes several deaths and other revelations. The tension is heightened because one of the girls is worried about her boyfriend overseas, whom she hasn’t heard from in several months. No one in town wants to see the telegram delivery boy on his black bicycle.

The small town of Elderberry seems like a real community, with unexpected kindnesses and understanding based on a shared history. This seemed to me (coming from a very small town) like the authentic behavior of a small group of people living in close proximity to one another. Dimple is a very likable sleuth in this standout cozy series in the historical mystery subgenre.

Mercy Snow
Sharon Magee

Tiffany Baker, author of The Little Giant of Aberdeen County, writes about secrets in this tale of two very different families in the mill town of Titan Falls, New Hampshire. Cal McAllister, fourth generation owner of the Titan Paper Mill, and his wife June rule the town. When 19-year-old Mercy Snow, her older brother Zeke, and eight-year-old sister Hannah return to Titan Falls following the death of their mother, June wants them gone. She considers them delinquents from a troublesome trailer-trash family. The Snow children have come looking for their father, but find he's also died, so they park their dilapidated RV by the sulfurous river and settle in.

When a bus carrying a group of Titan Falls teens is forced into a ravine, and a girl is killed, Zeke Snow is presumed guilty. His truck is found nearby crashed into a tree. For June, this is the ideal opportunity to chase the Snows out of town and protect a secret that, if exposed, would shutter her perfect world. When Zeke runs, his guilt is solidified in the minds of the town folk—except for Mercy. Zeke swore to her he didn’t do it, and Zeke never lies. Knowing the entire town is against her, Mercy sets out to prove that someone else is responsible.

Seldom is a gripping and gritty story told with such lyricism. Baker’s words sing across the page. Her characters are sharply drawn and full of life. Readers will feel they know the rich and pompous as well as the poor and downtrodden. And her sense of place—the polluted river, the mill looming over the town, the bleak winter weather—deserves just as much praise. This is Baker’s third novel, and one well worth reading.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 20 February 2014 04:02

Tiffany Baker, author of The Little Giant of Aberdeen County, writes about secrets in this tale of two very different families in the mill town of Titan Falls, New Hampshire. Cal McAllister, fourth generation owner of the Titan Paper Mill, and his wife June rule the town. When 19-year-old Mercy Snow, her older brother Zeke, and eight-year-old sister Hannah return to Titan Falls following the death of their mother, June wants them gone. She considers them delinquents from a troublesome trailer-trash family. The Snow children have come looking for their father, but find he's also died, so they park their dilapidated RV by the sulfurous river and settle in.

When a bus carrying a group of Titan Falls teens is forced into a ravine, and a girl is killed, Zeke Snow is presumed guilty. His truck is found nearby crashed into a tree. For June, this is the ideal opportunity to chase the Snows out of town and protect a secret that, if exposed, would shutter her perfect world. When Zeke runs, his guilt is solidified in the minds of the town folk—except for Mercy. Zeke swore to her he didn’t do it, and Zeke never lies. Knowing the entire town is against her, Mercy sets out to prove that someone else is responsible.

Seldom is a gripping and gritty story told with such lyricism. Baker’s words sing across the page. Her characters are sharply drawn and full of life. Readers will feel they know the rich and pompous as well as the poor and downtrodden. And her sense of place—the polluted river, the mill looming over the town, the bleak winter weather—deserves just as much praise. This is Baker’s third novel, and one well worth reading.

Hall of Secrets
Sheila M. Merritt

The title Hall of Secrets implies mysterious goings-on and Benedict Hall does indeed house its share of clannish, clandestine conduct. Cate Campbell’s novel, set in 1920s Seattle, includes a peripheral mystery element concerning a vindictive psychopath, but the narrative is predominantly a family saga.

Allison Benedict, a rebellious teen from the snooty San Francisco branch of the fam- ily, is sent to Benedict Hall as penance for what her parents perceive as indiscreet conduct. At the residence, she bonds with her cousin Margot, who is establishing a medical practice, and correctly diagnoses Allison as suffering from anorexia. Allison grows to respect her cousin: Margot has a career, and her clinic promotes freedom of choice through birth control. Margot’s assertive personality and progressive politics aren’t universally embraced by the community, and there is even one person who apparently wants her dead. This stalker provides the suspense-mystery element of the plot.

Although the novel isn’t primarily a mystery, Hall of Secrets does contain palpable tension and suspense. Benedict Hall, the first in the series, documented the strained relationships and hidden tensions in the Benedict family. This installment explores those more deeply but is also an ode to an era that began to challenge the established order, especially as it worked to hold women in check.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 20 February 2014 04:02

The title Hall of Secrets implies mysterious goings-on and Benedict Hall does indeed house its share of clannish, clandestine conduct. Cate Campbell’s novel, set in 1920s Seattle, includes a peripheral mystery element concerning a vindictive psychopath, but the narrative is predominantly a family saga.

Allison Benedict, a rebellious teen from the snooty San Francisco branch of the fam- ily, is sent to Benedict Hall as penance for what her parents perceive as indiscreet conduct. At the residence, she bonds with her cousin Margot, who is establishing a medical practice, and correctly diagnoses Allison as suffering from anorexia. Allison grows to respect her cousin: Margot has a career, and her clinic promotes freedom of choice through birth control. Margot’s assertive personality and progressive politics aren’t universally embraced by the community, and there is even one person who apparently wants her dead. This stalker provides the suspense-mystery element of the plot.

Although the novel isn’t primarily a mystery, Hall of Secrets does contain palpable tension and suspense. Benedict Hall, the first in the series, documented the strained relationships and hidden tensions in the Benedict family. This installment explores those more deeply but is also an ode to an era that began to challenge the established order, especially as it worked to hold women in check.

Delivering Death
Jackie Houchin

Riley Spartz is an investigative journalist for Channel 3 TV in Minneapolis. She covers breaking news stories such as a body found in a dumpster or a bomb threat at a shopping mall. Whether she’s homing in on a bitter controversy about animal trapping or investigating ID theft or an unsolved murder, Riley is unrelenting in her search for the truth.

When someone delivers a manila envelope containing a full set of freshly pulled human teeth to her news desk, she knows she has a headliner. But an interview with her dentist, on camera of course, and a consult with her news director boss about exclusive stories and TV ratings come before Riley relinquishes the ivories to the police. Although the teeth “weren’t talking,” the identity of their owner is eventually discovered and suddenly, the FBI wants her story suppressed.

Even while tackling small assignments, battling office politics, and dancing around encounters with her security guard ex-fiancé (who keeps interfering with her investigations as well as her emotions), Riley never stops researching her big story.

Meanwhile a second plot develops. Readers get brief glimpses of a man known as inmate 16780-59. He’s a white-collar criminal in a maximum security prison with a very valuable secret. There’s a connection to Riley’s story, but Julie Kramer is diabolically slow in letting her protagonist see it. Unexpected twists, a bit of sleight of hand, and a treasure hunt misdirect her. But when the intrepid reporter finally catches on and the pieces of the story snap together like well-occluded teeth, she takes a daring chance and almost doesn’t survive to write about it.

Despite the title, Delivering Death is a feel-good book with a fresh, nicely complicated plot, and a gutsy heroine who has a sense of humor and a nose for a good story. You will find a touch of gore in the early chapters, but the author shows she can write an entertaining and suspenseful crime novel without excessive violence and language.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 20 February 2014 04:02

Riley Spartz is an investigative journalist for Channel 3 TV in Minneapolis. She covers breaking news stories such as a body found in a dumpster or a bomb threat at a shopping mall. Whether she’s homing in on a bitter controversy about animal trapping or investigating ID theft or an unsolved murder, Riley is unrelenting in her search for the truth.

When someone delivers a manila envelope containing a full set of freshly pulled human teeth to her news desk, she knows she has a headliner. But an interview with her dentist, on camera of course, and a consult with her news director boss about exclusive stories and TV ratings come before Riley relinquishes the ivories to the police. Although the teeth “weren’t talking,” the identity of their owner is eventually discovered and suddenly, the FBI wants her story suppressed.

Even while tackling small assignments, battling office politics, and dancing around encounters with her security guard ex-fiancé (who keeps interfering with her investigations as well as her emotions), Riley never stops researching her big story.

Meanwhile a second plot develops. Readers get brief glimpses of a man known as inmate 16780-59. He’s a white-collar criminal in a maximum security prison with a very valuable secret. There’s a connection to Riley’s story, but Julie Kramer is diabolically slow in letting her protagonist see it. Unexpected twists, a bit of sleight of hand, and a treasure hunt misdirect her. But when the intrepid reporter finally catches on and the pieces of the story snap together like well-occluded teeth, she takes a daring chance and almost doesn’t survive to write about it.

Despite the title, Delivering Death is a feel-good book with a fresh, nicely complicated plot, and a gutsy heroine who has a sense of humor and a nose for a good story. You will find a touch of gore in the early chapters, but the author shows she can write an entertaining and suspenseful crime novel without excessive violence and language.

Doing Harm
Vanessa Orr

Steve Mitchell, the protagonist in Kelly Parsons’ debut novel, Doing Harm, is a surgical resident who finds himself battling a sociopath who is killing patients at Boston’s University Hospital. The most terrifying thing about this book, however, is not the cat-and-mouse game between Mitchell and his nemesis, but the truths that it reveals about what actually happens behind the scenes in a place that is supposed to be saving lives.

In the ego-driven, political hotbed that is University Hospital, making mistakes seems to be par for the course. In his quest to win a coveted position, Mitchell often goes beyond his capabilities, ordering the wrong treatment for one patient and botching another’s major surgery. When one of his patients dies, it is difficult to determine whether it is his mistake or the act of a killer that actually caused the unwarranted death.

As Mitchell struggles to prove that someone else is to blame, he puts his family and friends at risk with tragic results. Driven by a God complex and self-pity, Mitchell is an unlikable protagonist; he puts his wife and daughters in danger by trying to cover up his own indiscretions, and puts his patients at risk by trying to outwit a serial killer in order to protect his own reputation. I was rooting for him to outwit the killer for the sake of his patients—not because I felt that he deserved to prove his innocence.

As a board-certified surgeon, author Parsons knows the hospital system well, and his inside view of how mistakes are made—whether through bad decisions by the medical staff, archaic hospital policies, or the lack of oversight on the part of senior staff—is at least as chilling as the plot of the novel. While I would suggest reading this book if you like medical thrillers, I wouldn’t recommend giving it to someone to read while they’re in the hospital.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 20 February 2014 04:02

Steve Mitchell, the protagonist in Kelly Parsons’ debut novel, Doing Harm, is a surgical resident who finds himself battling a sociopath who is killing patients at Boston’s University Hospital. The most terrifying thing about this book, however, is not the cat-and-mouse game between Mitchell and his nemesis, but the truths that it reveals about what actually happens behind the scenes in a place that is supposed to be saving lives.

In the ego-driven, political hotbed that is University Hospital, making mistakes seems to be par for the course. In his quest to win a coveted position, Mitchell often goes beyond his capabilities, ordering the wrong treatment for one patient and botching another’s major surgery. When one of his patients dies, it is difficult to determine whether it is his mistake or the act of a killer that actually caused the unwarranted death.

As Mitchell struggles to prove that someone else is to blame, he puts his family and friends at risk with tragic results. Driven by a God complex and self-pity, Mitchell is an unlikable protagonist; he puts his wife and daughters in danger by trying to cover up his own indiscretions, and puts his patients at risk by trying to outwit a serial killer in order to protect his own reputation. I was rooting for him to outwit the killer for the sake of his patients—not because I felt that he deserved to prove his innocence.

As a board-certified surgeon, author Parsons knows the hospital system well, and his inside view of how mistakes are made—whether through bad decisions by the medical staff, archaic hospital policies, or the lack of oversight on the part of senior staff—is at least as chilling as the plot of the novel. While I would suggest reading this book if you like medical thrillers, I wouldn’t recommend giving it to someone to read while they’re in the hospital.

Demons Walk Among Us
Betty Webb

There are plenty of war novels around, but a great majority of them lean so heavily on action scenes that nuances of character remain unexplored. That never happens in Hicks’ second astounding book about the Great War, where the muddy misery of the men in the trenches contrasts starkly with the soft green hills of southern Wales. Military policeman Captain Thomas Oscendale (first seen in the stunning The Dead of Mametz) is back home in Barry, Wales, recovering from the horrific battlefield of Gallipoli when a serial killer begins stalking his formerly peaceful village. Adding horror to horror, the killer burns war widows to death, then sends bragging letters to Oscendale. Outraged, Oscendale gives up his recuperation and joins with the town’s police force to track down the killer. Yes, a strong plot, rife with heartrending battlefield scenes in Gallipoli and the Somme, but author Hicks isn’t content with mere gore. Believing that there are no minor characters, he delves into the souls of even the briefest of walk-ons. A landlady who appears few times is drawn firmly enough that she leaves a lasting impression. The behavior of an inexperienced police recruit runs the gamut of good, bad, and very ugly. A war veteran shows us that although men’s bodies may have survived war intact, their minds can be so damaged that they are never fully alive again. Oscendale himself is a miracle of novel portraiture. By turns brave, terrified, traumatized, and conflicted, he is yet another reminder that the disastrous toll of war isn’t always shown in missing limbs and graves in foreign lands.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 21 February 2014 11:02

There are plenty of war novels around, but a great majority of them lean so heavily on action scenes that nuances of character remain unexplored. That never happens in Hicks’ second astounding book about the Great War, where the muddy misery of the men in the trenches contrasts starkly with the soft green hills of southern Wales. Military policeman Captain Thomas Oscendale (first seen in the stunning The Dead of Mametz) is back home in Barry, Wales, recovering from the horrific battlefield of Gallipoli when a serial killer begins stalking his formerly peaceful village. Adding horror to horror, the killer burns war widows to death, then sends bragging letters to Oscendale. Outraged, Oscendale gives up his recuperation and joins with the town’s police force to track down the killer. Yes, a strong plot, rife with heartrending battlefield scenes in Gallipoli and the Somme, but author Hicks isn’t content with mere gore. Believing that there are no minor characters, he delves into the souls of even the briefest of walk-ons. A landlady who appears few times is drawn firmly enough that she leaves a lasting impression. The behavior of an inexperienced police recruit runs the gamut of good, bad, and very ugly. A war veteran shows us that although men’s bodies may have survived war intact, their minds can be so damaged that they are never fully alive again. Oscendale himself is a miracle of novel portraiture. By turns brave, terrified, traumatized, and conflicted, he is yet another reminder that the disastrous toll of war isn’t always shown in missing limbs and graves in foreign lands.

The View From the Tower
Betty Webb

Given the wildness and complexities of its plot, the author could have relied solely on them, but Lambert takes the trouble to develop every character. A dual-time-period book set in Rome in 2004, with several chapters incorporating the havoc of the late ’70s, it tells the story of a group of friends who have evolved from being bank-robbing political radicals, to high functionaries in the Italian government. Written in various points of view, the most vivid scenes emerge from Helen DiStasi’s. Helen is in bed with her lover, former terrorist Giacomo Mura, when her husband Fredrico, an economist, is publicly assassinated. A former leftist-bordering-on-communist radical, Fredrico is now so ingrained in the Italian government that he is slated to meet with President George W. Bush to discuss Italy’s involvement in the Iraq War. But his assassination changes everything. Guilt-ridden, his adulterous wife begins investigating his assassination on her own, and discovers that her husband, who recently had seemed distracted, was involved in a plan called “Juggernaut.” This plan reaches all the way back to 1978 and the real-life murder of Christian Democrat leader Aldo Moro. Well, this is a juicy plot, to be sure, but Lambert doesn’t write mere thrillers. An O. Henry Prize-winner because of the depth of his stories, he is more interested in the dark psychology of a loving wife who habitually betrays the husband she professes to love. He is also fascinated by the oddity of political parents who appear to be taking their son’s death more philosophically than is natural. Although Lambert’s cast of characters is large, no stereotypes appear; each person has his or her own dream of a better world. At the same time, they have all sold out their dreams, sometimes for mere convenience’s sake—as has Helen. And if friends or lovers have to be sacrificed? As one of the character explains, “The bigger the dream, the greater the toll of the dead.” In its intense focus on political ruthlessness, The View From the Tower echoes 1984, and, like that classic, is a superb, deeply thought-out book written by an author who recognizes the darkness of the human heart.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 21 February 2014 12:02

Given the wildness and complexities of its plot, the author could have relied solely on them, but Lambert takes the trouble to develop every character. A dual-time-period book set in Rome in 2004, with several chapters incorporating the havoc of the late ’70s, it tells the story of a group of friends who have evolved from being bank-robbing political radicals, to high functionaries in the Italian government. Written in various points of view, the most vivid scenes emerge from Helen DiStasi’s. Helen is in bed with her lover, former terrorist Giacomo Mura, when her husband Fredrico, an economist, is publicly assassinated. A former leftist-bordering-on-communist radical, Fredrico is now so ingrained in the Italian government that he is slated to meet with President George W. Bush to discuss Italy’s involvement in the Iraq War. But his assassination changes everything. Guilt-ridden, his adulterous wife begins investigating his assassination on her own, and discovers that her husband, who recently had seemed distracted, was involved in a plan called “Juggernaut.” This plan reaches all the way back to 1978 and the real-life murder of Christian Democrat leader Aldo Moro. Well, this is a juicy plot, to be sure, but Lambert doesn’t write mere thrillers. An O. Henry Prize-winner because of the depth of his stories, he is more interested in the dark psychology of a loving wife who habitually betrays the husband she professes to love. He is also fascinated by the oddity of political parents who appear to be taking their son’s death more philosophically than is natural. Although Lambert’s cast of characters is large, no stereotypes appear; each person has his or her own dream of a better world. At the same time, they have all sold out their dreams, sometimes for mere convenience’s sake—as has Helen. And if friends or lovers have to be sacrificed? As one of the character explains, “The bigger the dream, the greater the toll of the dead.” In its intense focus on political ruthlessness, The View From the Tower echoes 1984, and, like that classic, is a superb, deeply thought-out book written by an author who recognizes the darkness of the human heart.

Lowertown
Betty Webb

Richard A. Thompson’s gripping Lowertown is set in wintry St. Paul, Minnesota, where we follow the adventures of bookie-turned-bail-bondsman Herman Jackson as he attempts to find out why Trish Hanover, a public defender, forged his name on a bail bond to set loose a vicious rapist-murderer on the street again. When he hears that Trish has been murdered, he shows up at the morgue to identify her body, only to discover that the dead woman isn’t Trish. Fascinating plot, right? Oh, yes. But what makes Lowertown so special is its darkly witty protagonist and his just-as-witty friends, Wide Track Willie, the Prophet, and Nickel Pete. None of these gentlemen will win any awards for purity of thought or deed, but each is complicated and entertaining enough to make the book is a page-turner. There’s even a fat cat named Stewball who shows up from time to time, adding feline fun to the mix. In a refreshing change from the usual young-sexy-gorgeous love interest, Herman falls for Naomi, an antique store owner who is “pushing fifty,” and he’s not a bit embarrassed about it. Nor should he be, because as it turns out, Naomi has as much grit as she has years, so when the bullets start flying, she’s not intimidated. In fact, there is so much action in Lowertown (named for an area in St. Paul), that the book can almost be categorized as a thriller instead of a mystery. I’d never heard the term “toe-popper” before, but several of them show up in one of the wildest climaxes I’ve read. But as fast, fun, and exciting as the plot may be, it’s the amazing characters who provide the real attraction of this highly enjoyable read.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 21 February 2014 12:02

Richard A. Thompson’s gripping Lowertown is set in wintry St. Paul, Minnesota, where we follow the adventures of bookie-turned-bail-bondsman Herman Jackson as he attempts to find out why Trish Hanover, a public defender, forged his name on a bail bond to set loose a vicious rapist-murderer on the street again. When he hears that Trish has been murdered, he shows up at the morgue to identify her body, only to discover that the dead woman isn’t Trish. Fascinating plot, right? Oh, yes. But what makes Lowertown so special is its darkly witty protagonist and his just-as-witty friends, Wide Track Willie, the Prophet, and Nickel Pete. None of these gentlemen will win any awards for purity of thought or deed, but each is complicated and entertaining enough to make the book is a page-turner. There’s even a fat cat named Stewball who shows up from time to time, adding feline fun to the mix. In a refreshing change from the usual young-sexy-gorgeous love interest, Herman falls for Naomi, an antique store owner who is “pushing fifty,” and he’s not a bit embarrassed about it. Nor should he be, because as it turns out, Naomi has as much grit as she has years, so when the bullets start flying, she’s not intimidated. In fact, there is so much action in Lowertown (named for an area in St. Paul), that the book can almost be categorized as a thriller instead of a mystery. I’d never heard the term “toe-popper” before, but several of them show up in one of the wildest climaxes I’ve read. But as fast, fun, and exciting as the plot may be, it’s the amazing characters who provide the real attraction of this highly enjoyable read.

Farm Fresh and Fatal
Betty Webb

In Judy Hogan’s Farm Fresh and Fatal, a small group of North Carolina vegetable farmers take their organic wares to Riverdell Farmers’ Market. Well, make those wares mostly organic. There are a few outlaws among the crowd, such as Giles, who has raised a genetically altered crop, and Kent, an obnoxious poultry inspector who never saw a hormone additive he didn’t like. While the characters in this mostly easygoing mystery couldn’t exactly be described as eccentric, some are definitely odd—especially the argumentative Herman, who describes himself as a “paleo-conservative.” As a group, they embody a small village of mainly like-minded people, but when Kent is poisoned on market day, the infighting begins. Told from the point-of-view of Penny Weaver, who spends part of the year in Wales, with her Welsh husband, we watch this formerly close-knit group fall apart. This mystery is fascinating for several reasons. One, the personal and political infighting that takes place after a murder are indicative of how society at large functions. Two, although the reader first looks at the community as a whole, individuality quickly emerges. And three—but definitely not last—is the fact that vegetables turn out of be a lot more interesting than we’d ever guessed.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 21 February 2014 04:02

In Judy Hogan’s Farm Fresh and Fatal, a small group of North Carolina vegetable farmers take their organic wares to Riverdell Farmers’ Market. Well, make those wares mostly organic. There are a few outlaws among the crowd, such as Giles, who has raised a genetically altered crop, and Kent, an obnoxious poultry inspector who never saw a hormone additive he didn’t like. While the characters in this mostly easygoing mystery couldn’t exactly be described as eccentric, some are definitely odd—especially the argumentative Herman, who describes himself as a “paleo-conservative.” As a group, they embody a small village of mainly like-minded people, but when Kent is poisoned on market day, the infighting begins. Told from the point-of-view of Penny Weaver, who spends part of the year in Wales, with her Welsh husband, we watch this formerly close-knit group fall apart. This mystery is fascinating for several reasons. One, the personal and political infighting that takes place after a murder are indicative of how society at large functions. Two, although the reader first looks at the community as a whole, individuality quickly emerges. And three—but definitely not last—is the fact that vegetables turn out of be a lot more interesting than we’d ever guessed.

Pirate Vishnu
Betty Webb

Gigi Pandian’s Pirate Vishnu gives us a protagonist who is a long way from perfect. In fact, she is so imperfect, she’s endearing. Jaya Jones, a Berkeley historian-turned-sleuth heads up a delicious tall tale about a treasure map, magicians, musicians, mysterious ancestors, and a few bad men. When a man asks Jaya, whose ancestors came from the Tamil area of southern India, to help him translate a 100-years-old Tamil-language treasure map, she readily agrees, especially since the map’s creator was her own great-granduncle Anand. After lending the original document for Jaya to study, the man leaves, and is promptly murdered. Jaya, in a pretty sloppy move for a professional historian, keeps the priceless artifact face up on her table, whereupon one of her eccentric friends sets his coffee cup down on it, leaving a stain. Does Jaya learn anything from her carelessness? Nah. Instead of having the map photocopied, as any careful historian would do, she stuffs the map into her purse as if it were no more valuable than a sheet of loose-leaf paper. Then she walks around town with it until she’s mugged and the map is stolen. Belatedly realizing the foolishness of her behavior, she attempts to re-create the map in her mind. Using her memory as a guide, she then sets off to find the treasure, which she believes is in India. Pirate Vishnu is told in two voices and two time periods: Jaya’s and Anand’s, which allows the author to explore the India and San Francisco of the early 1900s. Some of the more intriguing areas covered in this mystery are the bars of the old Barbary Coast, and the treatment of the sailors and Asian immigrants who frequented them. Fascinating, too, is the look at the early Spiritualist movement and the charlatans who preyed upon the gullible. But even though Jaya handles historical documents rather sloppily, given her feisty personality and multiple skills (she also plays the tabla, an Indian drum), she remains intriguing. Jaya has a warm, loving heart, but when her boyfriend suddenly dumps her without explanation, she doesn’t waste time crying over him. Instead, she continues to take care of business—which in this case, means finding her great-granduncle’s mysterious buried treasure. That, my friends, is focus.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 21 February 2014 04:02

Gigi Pandian’s Pirate Vishnu gives us a protagonist who is a long way from perfect. In fact, she is so imperfect, she’s endearing. Jaya Jones, a Berkeley historian-turned-sleuth heads up a delicious tall tale about a treasure map, magicians, musicians, mysterious ancestors, and a few bad men. When a man asks Jaya, whose ancestors came from the Tamil area of southern India, to help him translate a 100-years-old Tamil-language treasure map, she readily agrees, especially since the map’s creator was her own great-granduncle Anand. After lending the original document for Jaya to study, the man leaves, and is promptly murdered. Jaya, in a pretty sloppy move for a professional historian, keeps the priceless artifact face up on her table, whereupon one of her eccentric friends sets his coffee cup down on it, leaving a stain. Does Jaya learn anything from her carelessness? Nah. Instead of having the map photocopied, as any careful historian would do, she stuffs the map into her purse as if it were no more valuable than a sheet of loose-leaf paper. Then she walks around town with it until she’s mugged and the map is stolen. Belatedly realizing the foolishness of her behavior, she attempts to re-create the map in her mind. Using her memory as a guide, she then sets off to find the treasure, which she believes is in India. Pirate Vishnu is told in two voices and two time periods: Jaya’s and Anand’s, which allows the author to explore the India and San Francisco of the early 1900s. Some of the more intriguing areas covered in this mystery are the bars of the old Barbary Coast, and the treatment of the sailors and Asian immigrants who frequented them. Fascinating, too, is the look at the early Spiritualist movement and the charlatans who preyed upon the gullible. But even though Jaya handles historical documents rather sloppily, given her feisty personality and multiple skills (she also plays the tabla, an Indian drum), she remains intriguing. Jaya has a warm, loving heart, but when her boyfriend suddenly dumps her without explanation, she doesn’t waste time crying over him. Instead, she continues to take care of business—which in this case, means finding her great-granduncle’s mysterious buried treasure. That, my friends, is focus.

Gulf Boulevard
Sharon Magee

Jason Najarian dreams every night of a tropical island with sugar-white sand, sun and surf, and himself as a hermit, with only his fantasy of a topless, turtle-riding woman allowed to join him. He’s stuck in a dead-end job in Boston and divorced from the cuckolding Megan in Dennis Hart’s debut novel, Gulf Boulevard. His island remains a dream until he pulls a handful of all green M&M’s from his giant-sized bag of multicolored candies. Obviously, good luck. He buys three Powerball quick picks with the last $3 in his pocket and becomes $63 million richer. Faster than you can say “Take this job and shove it,” he’s bought a mansion on a barrier island off Florida’s gulf coast, an F-150 pickup truck, and a 26-foot boat. He settles into hermit-hood with his parrot Montana, who can quote every line from Scarface, and frames and hangs his lucky green M&M wrapper. His solitude is short-lived. Gold-digging ex-wife Megan decides she’s still madly in love with her newly wealthy ex-husband. He soon meets his neighbors from the other end of the island. Grossly overweight Sal Santini is a hitman-in-hiding after flubbing a contract who wears white Bermuda shorts with black boat shoes, black knee socks, and florid flowered shirts. While Jason wants to enjoy his stunning sunsets in solitude, Sal insists on joining him. Soon Fiona “Running Bush” Tallahassee, an American Indian fighting for tribal rights with a bodyguard named Tommy Hawke, and Toast, a Frenchman who writes really bad greeting card verse, join the Sunset Crew. When two men, “black-clad, Johnny Cash wannabes,” take an inordinate amount of interest in Jason and his friends—punches are thrown, bullets are fired, tomatoes are hurled—Jason figures his neighbors may not be who they say they are.

Hart’s humor flows effortlessly, making for a fun thriller, but it’s his oddball Carl Hiaasen-esque characters that make it so entertaining. Among them: real estate agent Phyllis “The Hammer” Hammerstein, who won’t loan her dead husband’s possessions without checking with him first; Jason’s divorced parents’ new partners (Bradley who picks his toes and Tranquility “Tranny” who picks her nose); and the bearded, ponytailed Memphis the Lighthouse from Two Palms Marina who wears a headlight around his neck. A sequel, Gulf Boulevard: Postcards From the World, is in the works. It can’t arrive too soon.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 21 February 2014 04:02

Jason Najarian dreams every night of a tropical island with sugar-white sand, sun and surf, and himself as a hermit, with only his fantasy of a topless, turtle-riding woman allowed to join him. He’s stuck in a dead-end job in Boston and divorced from the cuckolding Megan in Dennis Hart’s debut novel, Gulf Boulevard. His island remains a dream until he pulls a handful of all green M&M’s from his giant-sized bag of multicolored candies. Obviously, good luck. He buys three Powerball quick picks with the last $3 in his pocket and becomes $63 million richer. Faster than you can say “Take this job and shove it,” he’s bought a mansion on a barrier island off Florida’s gulf coast, an F-150 pickup truck, and a 26-foot boat. He settles into hermit-hood with his parrot Montana, who can quote every line from Scarface, and frames and hangs his lucky green M&M wrapper. His solitude is short-lived. Gold-digging ex-wife Megan decides she’s still madly in love with her newly wealthy ex-husband. He soon meets his neighbors from the other end of the island. Grossly overweight Sal Santini is a hitman-in-hiding after flubbing a contract who wears white Bermuda shorts with black boat shoes, black knee socks, and florid flowered shirts. While Jason wants to enjoy his stunning sunsets in solitude, Sal insists on joining him. Soon Fiona “Running Bush” Tallahassee, an American Indian fighting for tribal rights with a bodyguard named Tommy Hawke, and Toast, a Frenchman who writes really bad greeting card verse, join the Sunset Crew. When two men, “black-clad, Johnny Cash wannabes,” take an inordinate amount of interest in Jason and his friends—punches are thrown, bullets are fired, tomatoes are hurled—Jason figures his neighbors may not be who they say they are.

Hart’s humor flows effortlessly, making for a fun thriller, but it’s his oddball Carl Hiaasen-esque characters that make it so entertaining. Among them: real estate agent Phyllis “The Hammer” Hammerstein, who won’t loan her dead husband’s possessions without checking with him first; Jason’s divorced parents’ new partners (Bradley who picks his toes and Tranquility “Tranny” who picks her nose); and the bearded, ponytailed Memphis the Lighthouse from Two Palms Marina who wears a headlight around his neck. A sequel, Gulf Boulevard: Postcards From the World, is in the works. It can’t arrive too soon.

The Black Stiletto: Secrets & Lies
Sharon Magee

From the late 1950s through the early 1960s, the world was captivated by a superhero, a woman known only as the Black Stiletto. Dressed in leather, a mask, and a stiletto strapped to her leg, she fought crime first on the East and then the West Coast. Her identity was never revealed. Fast forward to the present. Martin Talbot’s mother Judy is in the final stages of Alzheimer’s. Her attorney gives him a strong box. The contents, including five diaries, prove she was the Black Stiletto. From the first three diaries Martin learns that in the late 1950s, 14-year-old Judy Cooper ran away from her Texas home and an abusive stepfather. Relocated to New York City, she lives in a small room above a gym. She takes up boxing, martial arts, and the art of knife fighting. When her boyfriend is killed, Judy decides to fight social injustice and becomes the Black Stiletto. In The Black Stiletto: Secrets & Lies, by Raymond Benson, after last year’s The Black Stiletto: Stars & Stripes, Martin begins reading the fourth of his mother’s five diaries. Judy writes that in 1961, while visiting Los Angeles with friends, she meets the charismatic Leo Kelly, a Paul Newman look-alike who’s in the warehousing business. She falls hard for him. He urges her to move to California, and with the NYPD closing in on her—they consider her a vigilante—Judy heads west. She works as a hostess in a popular club owned by Leo’s uncle. Mob types frequent the place, and although Leo assures her he isn’t a gangster, his shine begins to wear thin. When Barry Gorman, a PI who knows her only as the Black Stiletto, asks her to do surveillance jobs for the DA’s office, she finds the perfect opportunity to investigate her lover. Meanwhile, in the present, Martin discovers that someone still wants to find and destroy the Black Stiletto.

Benson, a prolific author with more than 30 published books, is best known as the official James Bond 007 continuation author from 1996–2002. That superhero mentality continues with this excellent series; it could be a comic book with its nonstop action. Benson moves effortlessly from 1961 to the present and back, and gives readers a cultural look at life during the ’60s. His cast of characters is outstanding, including the supporting cast. This fourth book of the five-book series reads well as a standalone, but readers may want to read the earlier books first. The fifth and final book is due out later this year.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 21 February 2014 04:02

From the late 1950s through the early 1960s, the world was captivated by a superhero, a woman known only as the Black Stiletto. Dressed in leather, a mask, and a stiletto strapped to her leg, she fought crime first on the East and then the West Coast. Her identity was never revealed. Fast forward to the present. Martin Talbot’s mother Judy is in the final stages of Alzheimer’s. Her attorney gives him a strong box. The contents, including five diaries, prove she was the Black Stiletto. From the first three diaries Martin learns that in the late 1950s, 14-year-old Judy Cooper ran away from her Texas home and an abusive stepfather. Relocated to New York City, she lives in a small room above a gym. She takes up boxing, martial arts, and the art of knife fighting. When her boyfriend is killed, Judy decides to fight social injustice and becomes the Black Stiletto. In The Black Stiletto: Secrets & Lies, by Raymond Benson, after last year’s The Black Stiletto: Stars & Stripes, Martin begins reading the fourth of his mother’s five diaries. Judy writes that in 1961, while visiting Los Angeles with friends, she meets the charismatic Leo Kelly, a Paul Newman look-alike who’s in the warehousing business. She falls hard for him. He urges her to move to California, and with the NYPD closing in on her—they consider her a vigilante—Judy heads west. She works as a hostess in a popular club owned by Leo’s uncle. Mob types frequent the place, and although Leo assures her he isn’t a gangster, his shine begins to wear thin. When Barry Gorman, a PI who knows her only as the Black Stiletto, asks her to do surveillance jobs for the DA’s office, she finds the perfect opportunity to investigate her lover. Meanwhile, in the present, Martin discovers that someone still wants to find and destroy the Black Stiletto.

Benson, a prolific author with more than 30 published books, is best known as the official James Bond 007 continuation author from 1996–2002. That superhero mentality continues with this excellent series; it could be a comic book with its nonstop action. Benson moves effortlessly from 1961 to the present and back, and gives readers a cultural look at life during the ’60s. His cast of characters is outstanding, including the supporting cast. This fourth book of the five-book series reads well as a standalone, but readers may want to read the earlier books first. The fifth and final book is due out later this year.

Reel Stuff
Sharon Magee

Best friends Skip Moore and James Lessor, private eyes in the firm More or Less Investigations in Miami, don’t take life too seriously. In Don Bruns’ Reel Stuff, after 2012’s Hot Stuff, Skip and James fill a gap in their, unfortunately, gap-ridden schedule with security work for the TV series Deadline Miami. As a favor to his good friend the producer, A-list movie star Jason Londell has agreed to guest star in one episode. When Londell, who does his own stunts, leaps from scaffolding 70 feet in the air, something goes horribly wrong and he misses the strategically placed airbag. The cops are quick to rule it suicide, and why not? Londell and his pregnant wife and agent, Julianna, are separated, and he’s having an affair with Julianna’s sister, the beautiful Ashley Amber, star of Deadline Miami. Ashley hires Skip and James to investigate; she’s sure it was murder and that Julianna is responsible. Skip and his girlfriend, the beautiful, wealthy Emily—and truth be told, the brains of the group—travel to Los Angeles to check out the widow, while James stays in Miami. To get close to Julianna, they come up with the ruse, including forged documents, that Em is looking for an agent to jumpstart her movie career. Their ploy works almost too well, and Em finds herself in a whirlwind of auditions and table reading as possibly the next breakout Hollywood star. But when someone attempts more than once to kill Skip, they know they’re closing in on the truth.

Bruns has created likable, if lackadaisical, characters. Though not overly ambitious, they step up their game when it comes to crunch time and get the job done. In this, the seventh in the Stuff series, Bruns gives readers not only a good sense of Miami, but of Los Angeles and the Hollywood scene as well. His references to movies and TV shows make for fun reading.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 21 February 2014 04:02

Best friends Skip Moore and James Lessor, private eyes in the firm More or Less Investigations in Miami, don’t take life too seriously. In Don Bruns’ Reel Stuff, after 2012’s Hot Stuff, Skip and James fill a gap in their, unfortunately, gap-ridden schedule with security work for the TV series Deadline Miami. As a favor to his good friend the producer, A-list movie star Jason Londell has agreed to guest star in one episode. When Londell, who does his own stunts, leaps from scaffolding 70 feet in the air, something goes horribly wrong and he misses the strategically placed airbag. The cops are quick to rule it suicide, and why not? Londell and his pregnant wife and agent, Julianna, are separated, and he’s having an affair with Julianna’s sister, the beautiful Ashley Amber, star of Deadline Miami. Ashley hires Skip and James to investigate; she’s sure it was murder and that Julianna is responsible. Skip and his girlfriend, the beautiful, wealthy Emily—and truth be told, the brains of the group—travel to Los Angeles to check out the widow, while James stays in Miami. To get close to Julianna, they come up with the ruse, including forged documents, that Em is looking for an agent to jumpstart her movie career. Their ploy works almost too well, and Em finds herself in a whirlwind of auditions and table reading as possibly the next breakout Hollywood star. But when someone attempts more than once to kill Skip, they know they’re closing in on the truth.

Bruns has created likable, if lackadaisical, characters. Though not overly ambitious, they step up their game when it comes to crunch time and get the job done. In this, the seventh in the Stuff series, Bruns gives readers not only a good sense of Miami, but of Los Angeles and the Hollywood scene as well. His references to movies and TV shows make for fun reading.

Lending a Paw
Lynne Maxwell

Lending a Paw is the inaugural installment in Laurie Cass’ Bookmobile Cat Mystery series. Set in a small Michigan town, Lending a Paw introduces bookmobile librarian Minnie Hamilton and her partner-in-crime-solving, Eddie, the persistent rescue cat. When Minnie secures employment as a librarian, she persuades her skeptical boss to institute a bookmobile program and to designate her as the driver. When Eddie decides he wants to go along for the ride, Minnie isn’t thrilled, but he rapidly becomes the main attraction, as customers flock to the van to visit the hitchhiking cat. Fortunately, Eddie also possesses preternatural sleuthing abilities, not only leading Minnie to discover a corpse, but also assisting her in tracking down a killer. This winning cozy will capture your heart and imagination, and, hopefully, is a harbinger of many sequels to come. Let’s give a big hand to Lending a Paw.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 21 February 2014 05:02

Lending a Paw is the inaugural installment in Laurie Cass’ Bookmobile Cat Mystery series. Set in a small Michigan town, Lending a Paw introduces bookmobile librarian Minnie Hamilton and her partner-in-crime-solving, Eddie, the persistent rescue cat. When Minnie secures employment as a librarian, she persuades her skeptical boss to institute a bookmobile program and to designate her as the driver. When Eddie decides he wants to go along for the ride, Minnie isn’t thrilled, but he rapidly becomes the main attraction, as customers flock to the van to visit the hitchhiking cat. Fortunately, Eddie also possesses preternatural sleuthing abilities, not only leading Minnie to discover a corpse, but also assisting her in tracking down a killer. This winning cozy will capture your heart and imagination, and, hopefully, is a harbinger of many sequels to come. Let’s give a big hand to Lending a Paw.

Paws for Murder
Lynne Maxwell

Newcomer Annie Knox’s Paws for Murder begins a pet-centric cozy series, the Pet Boutique Mystery series. This delightful book introduces Izzy McHale, a citizen of Merryville, Minnesota, who has recently embarked (yes, pun intended) upon a new small-business venture. Originally trained as a fashion designer, Izzy’s career plans were derailed by her misguided decision to support Casey, her longtime boyfriend, during his education and subsequent medical residency, fully trusting that, as planned, they would ultimately move from Minnesota to Manhattan to pursue their respective dream careers. Alas, only half of the plan came into fruition—his. When Casey took off for New York with a younger, thinner girlfriend, with whom he had been having an affair, Izzy is left holding the (empty) bag. With the financial help of her Aunt Dolly and the business advice of her landlady, Izzy resolves to turn lemons into lemonade by opening a shop of her own, the Trendy Tails Pet Boutique. Here she hopes to sell the unique designer clothing she has created for pets. Trendy Tails also includes a “barkery,” featuring delicious baked pet treats made by Rena, Izzy’s best friend. Opening—and keeping open—a new business is murder, but when actual murder occurs outside the shop and Rena becomes the major “person of interest,” Izzy rushes to rescue her friend from injustice. Along the way, she reconnects with Sean Tucker, an old friend who also assists in solving the murder. Will Izzy and Sean kindle a long-delayed romance? Let’s hope that there is no undue pause between Paws for Murder and the next book, Groomed for Murder, appearing in September 2014. Inquiring readers want to know, after all!

Teri Duerr
Friday, 21 February 2014 05:02

Newcomer Annie Knox’s Paws for Murder begins a pet-centric cozy series, the Pet Boutique Mystery series. This delightful book introduces Izzy McHale, a citizen of Merryville, Minnesota, who has recently embarked (yes, pun intended) upon a new small-business venture. Originally trained as a fashion designer, Izzy’s career plans were derailed by her misguided decision to support Casey, her longtime boyfriend, during his education and subsequent medical residency, fully trusting that, as planned, they would ultimately move from Minnesota to Manhattan to pursue their respective dream careers. Alas, only half of the plan came into fruition—his. When Casey took off for New York with a younger, thinner girlfriend, with whom he had been having an affair, Izzy is left holding the (empty) bag. With the financial help of her Aunt Dolly and the business advice of her landlady, Izzy resolves to turn lemons into lemonade by opening a shop of her own, the Trendy Tails Pet Boutique. Here she hopes to sell the unique designer clothing she has created for pets. Trendy Tails also includes a “barkery,” featuring delicious baked pet treats made by Rena, Izzy’s best friend. Opening—and keeping open—a new business is murder, but when actual murder occurs outside the shop and Rena becomes the major “person of interest,” Izzy rushes to rescue her friend from injustice. Along the way, she reconnects with Sean Tucker, an old friend who also assists in solving the murder. Will Izzy and Sean kindle a long-delayed romance? Let’s hope that there is no undue pause between Paws for Murder and the next book, Groomed for Murder, appearing in September 2014. Inquiring readers want to know, after all!

Murder, She Barked
Lynne Maxwell

Krista Davis, best known as author of the Domestic Diva Series, is no neophyte, but in Murder, She Barked this seasoned writer inaugurates her Paws and Claws Mystery series. Newly unemployed, series protagonist Holly Miller immediately answers an urgent summons to visit her “Oma” (grandmother) in Wagtail, Virginia, a six-hour drive from Washington, DC, where Holly is living. At a rest stop along the way, Holly takes refuge from a miserable, driving rain and manages to acquire—or is acquired by—a Jack Russell terrier who leaps into her car unexpectedly. Charmed by the determined dog, later named “Trixie,” Holly proceeds to her grandmother’s bed-and-breakfast, the Sugar Maple Inn, plotting to sneak the dog into the inn. Stealth proves to be unnecessary, however, because, during the five years that Holly has been absent, the inn has not only become pet-friendly, but actually caters to animals and their people. Indeed, it now thrives as a pet resort. This isn’t the only surprise for Holly, though, because, shortly after her arrival, she acquires Twinkletoes, a kitten with seemingly magical powers, who appears out of nowhere, and, just as quickly, disappears back into it. Not surprisingly, Holly arrives in time to conduct an impromptu murder investigation, with a little help from her talented non-human friends. Hopefully, Krista Davis will return to Wagtail early and often.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 21 February 2014 05:02

Krista Davis, best known as author of the Domestic Diva Series, is no neophyte, but in Murder, She Barked this seasoned writer inaugurates her Paws and Claws Mystery series. Newly unemployed, series protagonist Holly Miller immediately answers an urgent summons to visit her “Oma” (grandmother) in Wagtail, Virginia, a six-hour drive from Washington, DC, where Holly is living. At a rest stop along the way, Holly takes refuge from a miserable, driving rain and manages to acquire—or is acquired by—a Jack Russell terrier who leaps into her car unexpectedly. Charmed by the determined dog, later named “Trixie,” Holly proceeds to her grandmother’s bed-and-breakfast, the Sugar Maple Inn, plotting to sneak the dog into the inn. Stealth proves to be unnecessary, however, because, during the five years that Holly has been absent, the inn has not only become pet-friendly, but actually caters to animals and their people. Indeed, it now thrives as a pet resort. This isn’t the only surprise for Holly, though, because, shortly after her arrival, she acquires Twinkletoes, a kitten with seemingly magical powers, who appears out of nowhere, and, just as quickly, disappears back into it. Not surprisingly, Holly arrives in time to conduct an impromptu murder investigation, with a little help from her talented non-human friends. Hopefully, Krista Davis will return to Wagtail early and often.

Staged to Death
Lynne Maxwell

New author Karen Rose Smith begins her engaging Caprice De Luca Mystery series with Staged to Death. This romantic cozy doesn’t showcase innovative animal-related business ventures, but it does include a beloved dog and a handful of kittens, so it should appeal to the animal lovers among us. This mystery stars Caprice, who is self-employed as a home stager. As she prepares settings to attract future home buyers, she sees more than she should, which draws her into a murder investigation to exonerate her closest friend, who is accused of murdering her husband. Of course, she solves the murder, but the real mystery is which hunky guy she will select for her next date. We’ll find out in June 2014, when Caprice next appears on stage.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 21 February 2014 05:02

New author Karen Rose Smith begins her engaging Caprice De Luca Mystery series with Staged to Death. This romantic cozy doesn’t showcase innovative animal-related business ventures, but it does include a beloved dog and a handful of kittens, so it should appeal to the animal lovers among us. This mystery stars Caprice, who is self-employed as a home stager. As she prepares settings to attract future home buyers, she sees more than she should, which draws her into a murder investigation to exonerate her closest friend, who is accused of murdering her husband. Of course, she solves the murder, but the real mystery is which hunky guy she will select for her next date. We’ll find out in June 2014, when Caprice next appears on stage.

Wild Justice
Hank Wagner

Kelley Armstrong caps her Nadia Stafford series, a trilogy begun in 2007 (with Exit Strategy, followed by 2009’s Made to Be Broken), with Wild Justice, in which the Canada-based hit woman teams with longtime allies to confront the ghosts of her violent past, personified by the long-missing Drew Aldrich, the man who raped and killed Nadia’s beloved cousin Amy 20 years prior. The events of that fateful day, which set Nadia on the road toward her unique profession, have haunted her ever since. Although she thinks she recalls every grueling moment of that day, her latest encounter with Aldrich uncovers long-buried memories, causing her to question tightly held beliefs. Being Nadia, she sets out to uncover the truth, no matter how painful it might be to her personally.

Armstrong concludes her popular series on a high note, casting new light on events of prior books while delving deeply into her antiheroine’s troubled psyche. Her writing contains a sense of urgency, her plot twists are compelling, and her plentiful action sequences are inventive, intense, and realistic—by the end of the novel, the average reader will feel as if they, too, have tagged along on the killer’s dark odyssey, even if they only have been observing from a safe distance.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 21 February 2014 05:02

Kelley Armstrong caps her Nadia Stafford series, a trilogy begun in 2007 (with Exit Strategy, followed by 2009’s Made to Be Broken), with Wild Justice, in which the Canada-based hit woman teams with longtime allies to confront the ghosts of her violent past, personified by the long-missing Drew Aldrich, the man who raped and killed Nadia’s beloved cousin Amy 20 years prior. The events of that fateful day, which set Nadia on the road toward her unique profession, have haunted her ever since. Although she thinks she recalls every grueling moment of that day, her latest encounter with Aldrich uncovers long-buried memories, causing her to question tightly held beliefs. Being Nadia, she sets out to uncover the truth, no matter how painful it might be to her personally.

Armstrong concludes her popular series on a high note, casting new light on events of prior books while delving deeply into her antiheroine’s troubled psyche. Her writing contains a sense of urgency, her plot twists are compelling, and her plentiful action sequences are inventive, intense, and realistic—by the end of the novel, the average reader will feel as if they, too, have tagged along on the killer’s dark odyssey, even if they only have been observing from a safe distance.

Sinister
Hank Wagner

Set in the town of Prairie Creek, Wyoming, Sinister, a collaborative effort from Lisa Jackson, her sister Nancy Bush, and their friend, Rosalind Noonan, features a killer who has targeted the members of a ranching family, the Dillingers, for death. Knowing they are all gathering for a wedding, the killer, whose grudge against the family has its roots in a tragic fire that occurred on the homestead 18 years prior, launches a series of lethal attacks on the clan. His goal? To exterminate them all.

Despite being the product of three writers, Sinister reads as if was penned by a single author, so kudos to each of the collaborators and/or their editor. Based on their comments included at the end of the story, the authors had great fun with this project, so much so that they are already planning a sequel. The pleasure they had in working together shines through in their prose, as the book displays a kind of “Can you top this?” spirit in its plotting. The only knock on the novel from this reviewer stems from the fact that so many of the characters had some sort of past romantic entanglement that was rekindled during the course of the story. One instance is interesting, two coincidence, but four couples with these issues stretches credibility.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 21 February 2014 05:02

Set in the town of Prairie Creek, Wyoming, Sinister, a collaborative effort from Lisa Jackson, her sister Nancy Bush, and their friend, Rosalind Noonan, features a killer who has targeted the members of a ranching family, the Dillingers, for death. Knowing they are all gathering for a wedding, the killer, whose grudge against the family has its roots in a tragic fire that occurred on the homestead 18 years prior, launches a series of lethal attacks on the clan. His goal? To exterminate them all.

Despite being the product of three writers, Sinister reads as if was penned by a single author, so kudos to each of the collaborators and/or their editor. Based on their comments included at the end of the story, the authors had great fun with this project, so much so that they are already planning a sequel. The pleasure they had in working together shines through in their prose, as the book displays a kind of “Can you top this?” spirit in its plotting. The only knock on the novel from this reviewer stems from the fact that so many of the characters had some sort of past romantic entanglement that was rekindled during the course of the story. One instance is interesting, two coincidence, but four couples with these issues stretches credibility.

Dying Is My Business
Hank Wagner

Although Nicholas Kaufmann’s dark fantasy/urban noir Dying Is My Business is set in the Big Apple, it is a version of that metropolis that has rarely been seen before, as the New York City depicted there is home to numerous sorcerers, demons, and mythical creatures. Kaufmann’s hero is the tortured Trent, a man who can’t die; he also can’t remember anything about his life prior to awakening a year ago. Trent makes a living running errands for a crime boss named Underwood, and it is because of this job that he becomes embroiled in mystical battle where the very survival of New York City is at stake.

Stoker and Thriller award nominee Kaufmann throws several disparate balls into the air at the beginning of Dying and manages to juggle them all pretty well. New York history and mythology? It’s here, well mined and well utilized. Monsters? Present, including werewolves, gargoyles, vampires, and heck, even a dragon. Sorcerers? Yup. Apocalypse? Of course. Witty banter, romance? Check. As an added bonus, the story moves forward at a blistering pace, not allowing readers to question any of the fantastic goings-on, even for a second. So, if you’re in the mood for a fast, funny, inventive, and compelling read, your search is over. I strongly encourage you to check this one out, if only because I selfishly need to see the sequel implied by the many unanswered questions about the mysterious Trent that Kaufmann still needs to address.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 21 February 2014 05:02

Although Nicholas Kaufmann’s dark fantasy/urban noir Dying Is My Business is set in the Big Apple, it is a version of that metropolis that has rarely been seen before, as the New York City depicted there is home to numerous sorcerers, demons, and mythical creatures. Kaufmann’s hero is the tortured Trent, a man who can’t die; he also can’t remember anything about his life prior to awakening a year ago. Trent makes a living running errands for a crime boss named Underwood, and it is because of this job that he becomes embroiled in mystical battle where the very survival of New York City is at stake.

Stoker and Thriller award nominee Kaufmann throws several disparate balls into the air at the beginning of Dying and manages to juggle them all pretty well. New York history and mythology? It’s here, well mined and well utilized. Monsters? Present, including werewolves, gargoyles, vampires, and heck, even a dragon. Sorcerers? Yup. Apocalypse? Of course. Witty banter, romance? Check. As an added bonus, the story moves forward at a blistering pace, not allowing readers to question any of the fantastic goings-on, even for a second. So, if you’re in the mood for a fast, funny, inventive, and compelling read, your search is over. I strongly encourage you to check this one out, if only because I selfishly need to see the sequel implied by the many unanswered questions about the mysterious Trent that Kaufmann still needs to address.

Backstory to Laura Lippman’s After I’m Gone
Oline Cogdill
lippmanlaura_aftermgonexx
Ideas for novels can come from so many sources. Sometimes a newspaper clipping, a phrase in a novel or even a conversation overheard in an airport lounge can spark that imagination.

J.A. Jance, currently on tour for her latest Ali Reynolds’ novel Moving Target, has used conversations with friends, a cruise and an art exhibit about domestic abuse for her inspiration. Second Watch, her last novel about Seattle investigator J.P. Beaumont, was tribute to a high school friend.

James Grippando uses the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill that affected the Gulf Coast a couple of years ago for his latest thrill Black Horizon.

Michael Connelly used a crime that took place on his first day as a reporter for the L.A. Times as a springboard for Black Echo, his first Harry Bosch.

Laura Lippman used a real incident in Baltimore history for latest stand-alone After I’m Gone.

In this enthralling novel, Baltimore gambler Felix Brewer’s disappearance forever affects the lives of the wife, three daughters, and mistress he leaves behind. In Lippman’s fictional version, a murder also happens.

Lippman’s novel has been garnering universally positive reviews, including from me.

After I’m Gone is based on a piece of Baltimore history. During the 1970s, Baltimore kingpin Julius Salsbury jumped bail while on appeal for a gambling conviction. Salsbury, who has never been captured, also left behind a wife, three daughters and a mistress.

Lippman will be the subject of a profile in the next issue of Mystery Scene.

Currently, she is on tour for After I’m Gone. She’ll be in South Florida this week—details here. And she will be one of the guests of honor at SleuthFest this week.

Oline Cogdill
Sunday, 23 February 2014 11:02
lippmanlaura_aftermgonexx
Ideas for novels can come from so many sources. Sometimes a newspaper clipping, a phrase in a novel or even a conversation overheard in an airport lounge can spark that imagination.

J.A. Jance, currently on tour for her latest Ali Reynolds’ novel Moving Target, has used conversations with friends, a cruise and an art exhibit about domestic abuse for her inspiration. Second Watch, her last novel about Seattle investigator J.P. Beaumont, was tribute to a high school friend.

James Grippando uses the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill that affected the Gulf Coast a couple of years ago for his latest thrill Black Horizon.

Michael Connelly used a crime that took place on his first day as a reporter for the L.A. Times as a springboard for Black Echo, his first Harry Bosch.

Laura Lippman used a real incident in Baltimore history for latest stand-alone After I’m Gone.

In this enthralling novel, Baltimore gambler Felix Brewer’s disappearance forever affects the lives of the wife, three daughters, and mistress he leaves behind. In Lippman’s fictional version, a murder also happens.

Lippman’s novel has been garnering universally positive reviews, including from me.

After I’m Gone is based on a piece of Baltimore history. During the 1970s, Baltimore kingpin Julius Salsbury jumped bail while on appeal for a gambling conviction. Salsbury, who has never been captured, also left behind a wife, three daughters and a mistress.

Lippman will be the subject of a profile in the next issue of Mystery Scene.

Currently, she is on tour for After I’m Gone. She’ll be in South Florida this week—details here. And she will be one of the guests of honor at SleuthFest this week.

Jennifer Mcmahon’s Blurred Lines
Oline Cogdill
mcMahanjennifer_winterpeople
Robin Thicke sings about blurring the lines, but mystery writers have been doing that for years.

The myriad categories of crime fiction have increasingly been melding. And that is good news for readers as it means stories that are deeper, richer, and more realistic.

Police procedurals blend with character studies. Legal thrillers are quasi private detective tales. Science fiction evolves into police procedurals for a look at futuristic cops.

Jennifer McMahon has been added touches of the gothic in her plots for several novels. Her 2013 best-seller The One I Left Behind was a gripping psychological thriller about the affects of childhood trauma with a touch of the gothic to make the story even more fascinating.

McMahon goes a step further with her latest novel The Winter People.

In this novel, McMahon doesn’t just add a touch of the gothic – she embraces it full throttle. Here's my review.

In The Winter People, a string of disappearances in a small Vermont town date back to 1908 when a grisly murder and the death of a child changed the town.

The Winter People is equally a mystery as well as a ghost story—a chilling tale no matter what the genre.

McMahon currently is on tour for The Winter People, her first hardcover novel after a string of best-selling paperback originals. She’ll also be at SleuthFest this week.

Oline Cogdill
Wednesday, 26 February 2014 06:02
mcMahanjennifer_winterpeople
Robin Thicke sings about blurring the lines, but mystery writers have been doing that for years.

The myriad categories of crime fiction have increasingly been melding. And that is good news for readers as it means stories that are deeper, richer, and more realistic.

Police procedurals blend with character studies. Legal thrillers are quasi private detective tales. Science fiction evolves into police procedurals for a look at futuristic cops.

Jennifer McMahon has been added touches of the gothic in her plots for several novels. Her 2013 best-seller The One I Left Behind was a gripping psychological thriller about the affects of childhood trauma with a touch of the gothic to make the story even more fascinating.

McMahon goes a step further with her latest novel The Winter People.

In this novel, McMahon doesn’t just add a touch of the gothic – she embraces it full throttle. Here's my review.

In The Winter People, a string of disappearances in a small Vermont town date back to 1908 when a grisly murder and the death of a child changed the town.

The Winter People is equally a mystery as well as a ghost story—a chilling tale no matter what the genre.

McMahon currently is on tour for The Winter People, her first hardcover novel after a string of best-selling paperback originals. She’ll also be at SleuthFest this week.