Monday, 29 January 2024

Smoke Kings
by Jahmal Mayfield
Melville House, February 2024, $19.99

Jahmal Mayfield’s debut novel Smoke Kings is a slash-and-burn thriller seeping raw emotion, tension, and good intent gone bad. When Darius, a promising young black teenager enrolled to attend Rutgers, is brutally murdered without any obvious reason other than blatant, hateful racism, his older brother, Joshua, and his cousin, Nate, make a pact for revenge. They form a political action committee with their friends Rachel and Isiah to support minority political candidates across the country. The PAC is really a cover for their extracurricular activities, which is identifying, kidnapping, and forcing the descendants of the perpetrators of past racial violence to pay reparations to the descendants of the victims of that violence.

The quartet believe punishing those who have gained an advantage from past racism will balance the scales for Darius’s death and benefit minority, especially Black, communities. But with each successful operation, Nate, the team’s de facto leader, becomes more and more reckless and violent until his rage flares and sends a planned kidnapping into chaos. Afterwards, the group finds itself in a moral quandary and what seemed so obviously right when they began is seeming less certain. Things get worse when a nasty white supremacist gang and a former Alabama cop turned private eye track them down.

Smoke Kings is that rare thriller where the emotional impact of the story and characters is as important as the suspense. The tensions between the characters, particularly between Nate and Isiah add texture and realism. The story deals adroitly with cultural racism in the United States, never shirking from diverse perspectives about its causes and solutions. But Smoke Kings is, at its heart, a scorching thriller with twists and turns, secrets, character damnations and character redemptions, that will keep the most jaded reader turning its pages deep into the inky stillness of the night.


Review: "Smoke Kings" by Jahmal Mayfield
Benjamin Boulden
Tuesday, 23 January 2024

Mystery Writers of America has announced the nominees for the 2024 Edgar Allan Poe Awards, honoring the best in mystery fiction, nonfiction, and television published or produced in 2023. The 78th Annual Edgar® Awards will be celebrated on Wednesday, May 1, 2024, at the New York Marriott Marquis Times Square. Congratulations to all of this year's nominees!


Flags on the Bayou, by James Lee Burke (Grove Atlantic – Atlantic Monthly Press)
All the Sinners Bleed, by S.A. Cosby (Flatiron Books)
The Madwomen of Paris, by Jennifer Cody Epstein (Penguin Random House – Ballantine Books)
Bright Young Women, by Jessica Knoll (Simon & Schuster – Simon Element – Marysue Rucci Books)
An Honest Man, by Michael Koryta (Hachette Book Group – Little, Brown and Company – Mulholland Books)
The River We Remember, by William Kent Krueger (Simon & Schuster – Atria Books)
Crook Manifesto, by Colson Whitehead (Penguin Random House – Doubleday)


The Peacock and the Sparrow, by I.S. Berry (Simon & Schuster – Atria Books)
The Golden Gate, by Amy Chua (Macmillan Publishing – Minotaur Books)
Small Town Sins, by Ken Jaworowski (Macmillan Publishing – Henry Holt and Co.)
The Last Russian Doll, by Kristen Loesch (Penguin Random House – Berkley)
Murder by Degrees, by Ritu Mukerji (Simon & Schuster)


Boomtown, by A.F. Carter (Penzler Publishers - Mysterious Press)
Hide, by Tracy Clark (Amazon Publishing – Thomas & Mercer)
The Taken Ones, by Jess Lourey (Amazon Publishing – Thomas & Mercer)
Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers, by Jesse Q. Sutanto (Penguin Random House – Berkley)
Lowdown Road, by Scott Von Doviak (Hard Case Crime)


In Light of All Darkness: Inside the Polly Klaas Kidnapping and the Search for America’s Child, by Kim Cross (Hachette Book Group – Grand Central Publishing)
Number Go Up: Inside Crypto’s Wild Rise and Staggering Fall, by Zeke Faux (Penguin Random House – Crown Currency)
Tangled Vines: Power, Privilege, and the Murdaugh Family Murders, by John Glatt (Macmillan Publishers – St. Martin’s Press)
Crooked: The Roaring ’20s Tale of a Corrupt Attorney General, a Crusading Senator, and the Birth of the American Political Scandal, by Nathan Masters (Hachette Book Group – Hachette Books)
I Know Who You Are: How an Amateur DNA Sleuth Unmasked the Golden State Killer and Changed Crime Fighting Forever, by Barbara Rae-Venter (Penguin Random House – Ballantine Books)
The Lost Sons of Omaha: Two Young Men in an American Tragedy, by Joe Sexton (Simon & Schuster – Scribner)


Perplexing Plots: Popular Storytelling and the Poetics of Murder, by David Bordwell (Columbia University Press)
Spillane: King of Pulp Fiction, by Max Allan Collins & James L. Traylor (Penzler Publishers – Mysterious Press)
A Mystery of Mysteries: The Death and Life of Edgar Allan Poe, by Mark Dawidziak (Macmillan Publishing – St. Martin’s Press)
Fallen Angel: The Life of Edgar Allan Poe, by Robert Morgan (LSU Press)
Love Me Fierce in Danger – The Life of James Ellroy, by Steven Powell (Bloomsbury Publishing – Bloomsbury Academic)


“Hallowed Ground,” by Linda Castillo (Macmillan Publishers – Minotaur Books)
“Thriller,” Thriller by Heather Graham (Blackstone Publishing)
“Miss Direction,” Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, September-October 2023 by Rob Osler (Dell Magazines)
“The Rise,” Amazon Original Stories, by Ian Rankin (Amazon Publishing)
“Pigeon Tony’s Last Stand,” Amazon Original Stories, by Lisa Scottoline (Amazon Publishing)


Myrtle, Means, and Opportunity, by Elizabeth C. Bunce (Hachette Book Group – Workman Publishing – Algonquin Young Readers)
The Ghosts of Rancho Espanto, by Adrianna Cuevas (Macmillan Publishers – Farrar, Straus and Giroux BFYR)
Epic Ellisons: Cosmos Camp, by Lamar Giles (HarperCollins Publishers – Versify)
The Jules Verne Prophecy, by Larry Schwarz & Iva-Marie Palmer (Hachette Book Group – Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
What Happened to Rachel Riley? by Claire Swinarski (HarperCollins Publishers – Quill Tree Books)


Girl Forgotten, by April Henry (Hachette Book Group – Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
Star Splitter, by Matthew J. Kirby (Penguin Young Readers – Dutton Books for Young Readers)
The Sharp Edge of Silence, by Cameron Kelly Rosenblum (HarperCollins Publishers – Quill Tree Books)
My Flawless Life, by Yvonne Woon (HarperCollins Publishers – Katherine Tegen Books)
Just Do This One Thing for Me, by Laura Zimmerman (Penguin Young Readers – Dutton Books for Young Readers)


“Time of the Monkey” – Poker Face, written by Wyatt Cain & Charlie Peppers (Peacock)
“I’m a Pretty Observant Guy” – Will Trent, written by Liz Heldens (ABC)
“Dead Man’s Hand” – Poker Face, written by Rian Johnson (Peacock)
“Hózhó Náhásdlii (Beauty is Restore)” – Dark Winds, written by Graham Roland & John Wirth (AMC)
“Escape from Shit Mountain” – Poker Face, written by Nora Zuckerman & Lilla Zuckerman (Peacock)


“Errand for a Neighbor,” Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, January-February 2023, by Bill Bassman (Dell Magazines)
“The Body in Cell Two,” Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, May-June 2023, by Kate Hohl (Dell Magazines)
“The Soiled Dove of Shallow Hollow,” Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, January-February 2023, by Sean McCluskey (Dell Magazines)
“It’s Half Your Fault,” Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, July-August 2023, by Meghan Leigh Paulk (Dell Magazines)
“Two Hours West of Nothing,” Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, September-October 2023, by Gabriela Stiteler (Dell Magazines)


Play the Fool, by Lina Chern (Penguin Random House – Bantam)
The Bones of the Story, by Carol Goodman (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
Of Manners and Murder, by Anastasia Hastings (Macmillan Publishers – Minotaur Books)
The Three Deaths, of Willa Stannard by Kate Robards (Crooked Lane Books)
Murder in Postscript, by Mary Winters (Penguin Random House – Berkley)


Hard Rain, by Samantha Jayne Allen (Macmillan Publishers – Minotaur Books)
An Evil Heart, by Linda Castillo (Macmillan Publishers – Minotaur Books)
Bad, Bad Seymour Brown, by Susan Isaacs (Grove Atlantic – Atlantic Monthly Press)
Past Lyingm, by Val McDermid (Grove Atlantic – Atlantic Monthly Press)
A Stolen Child, by Sarah Stewart Taylor (Macmillan Publishers – Minotaur Books)


Glory Be, by Danielle Arceneaux (Pegasus Books – Pegasus Crime)
Misfortune Cookie, by Vivien Chien (Macmillan – St. Martin’s Paperbacks)
Hot Pot Murder, by Jennifer J. Chow (Penguin Random House – Berkley)
Murder of an Amish Bridegroom, by Patricia Johns (Crooked Lane Books)
The Body in the Back Garden, by Mark Waddell (Crooked Lane Books)


Katherine Hall Page
R.L. Stine


Michaela Hamilton

2024 Edgar Allan Poe Award Nominations
Teri Duerr
Thursday, 21 December 2023

Have Yourself a Deadly Little Christmas
by Vicki Delany
Crooked Lane Books, September 2023, $30.99

In Have Yourself a Deadly Little Christmas, author Vicki Delany's 6th Year-Round Christmas mystery series, shop owner Merry Wilkinson finds that in America's "Christmas Town" of Rudolph, New York, it is beginning to look a lot like murder.

Merry's mother, a former opera star, has been talked into joining the cast of a musical version of A Christmas Carol as part of the town's annual Christmas play—and that's where things take a turn for everyone involved when the body of one of the amateur theater actors turns up murdered in Merry's store, Mrs. Claus’s Treasures.

Paula Monahan wasn't exactly the most beloved person in town and the list of suspects is long and quite varied. Between her trouble-making during rehearsals and issues in her personal and professional life, any number of people have good reason to have wanted Paula dead.

Merry vows to stay out the investigation, but when her store clerk Jackie and Merry's mother are among the suspects, she can't help but start asking questions—even after Detective Diane Simmonds makes it clear she doesn't want Merry involved. It isn't long before the clues lead to threats and even an attempted attack on Merry's mother. Even so, Merry is indefatigable in the the face of danger as she tries to figure out who murdered Paula.

The relationships between the regular series characters continue to grow and evolve in this book. I like the cordial but still somewhat distant relationship between Merry and Detective Simmonds. Clearly they are friendly but keep each other at an arm's length—largely due to Merry's unwelcome nosing around. The supporting cast as a whole is great. Merry's parents are so different from each other and yet they perfectly complement one another at the same time. Merry's coworkers and fellow business owners provide their own moments of fun. The clueless way Merry's clerk Jackie goes through life could be off-putting, but here it works. Even an antagonistic business owner named Margie is given a moment to shine. Heck, I even loved all the ego-driven characters that made up the massively dysfunctional theater group.

There's a number of believable twists and turns in the plot of Have Yourself a Deadly Little Christmas, but what really made this book such a draw was how once the reveal is made, you realize that the killer was staring you in the face the whole time and yet you never realized it. That's what makes this series, one that has become dear to my heart, such a great read with each successive novel. Add to that the fact that I'm not usually one to get carried away by holiday spirit, yet enjoyed my time in Rudolph, and it is a great testament to the strength of Vicki Delany's writing. Simply put, Have Yourself a Deadly Little Christmas is a wonderful gift for mystery lovers everywhere.

Review: "Have Yourself a Deadly Little Christmas" by Vicki Delany
Jay Roberts