Saturday, 11 January 2020 03:05

Mystery readers really are a community.

We love to delve into new novels, discover new authors and support our favorite established ones.

Next to reading mysteries, we love to talk about mysteries. And we are guessing that you do too since you are following our blog.

So come join us, as often as you can, at the Mystery Scene Forum.

It’s free to join and enjoyable to follow.

And we are pleased to announce that Mystery Scene Forum is now being moderated by well-known author Becke Davis.

Becke is there to inspire new topics, to add to existing discussions and engage our readers.

It’s all part of us mystery readers being a community.

Some readers may remember Becke as a former moderator of the Mystery Forum and Club page at where she cultivated a dedicated and lively following of mystery fans and authors for many years. I

In addition to her mystery work, Becke has been a garden writer for over 20 years and has numerous magazine articles and five books to her name. Becke has lived in Chicago, Cincinnati, Succasunna, New Jersey, London, England and is a recent transplant to Eugene, Oregon.

“Before social media, I was a lonely bookaholic,” says Becke.

I understand Becke’s comment about being a lonely bookaholic.

So many of us read in a vacuum—and that goes for reviewers. We don’t always know what other readers are thinking.

And so many books, so little time. No one can possibly read the volume of mysteries that are published each year. Try as we might.

“I was so excited to see the new forum at Mystery Scene, I danced a little jig,” added Becke.

What I like about Mystery Scene Forum is the variety of discussions. Few, if any, discussions are off limits. It’s a good source to discover new authors and find out what other readers think.

“Moderating the forum is dangerous in a good way — I’ve already added books and authors to my Wish List," she said. "I’m looking forward to meeting up with old friends of the bookish sort, and making new friends there. I’m serving virtual tea and scones in the book-lined library that houses the Mystery Scene Forum (at least in my head). I’m excited to talk books with you!"

And we are excited to have Becke.

“As a wide variety of mystery fans know, Becke Davis is a delight and a consummate fan of the crime and mystery world. We’re immensely pleased to have Becke join our Mystery Scene Forum as moderator, said Kate Stine, Mystery Scene Editor-in-Chief and co-Publisher.

"She’ll be an invaluable resource to our visitors and most importantly, she’ll be fun!"

And it will be fun when more readers join us.

Photo: Kate Stine, left, Becke Davis and Brian Skupin at Malice Domestic.

Talking Mysteries at the MS Forum
Oline H Cogdill
Sunday, 29 December 2019 03:51

Some of the best television series are on cable networks—many of these programs outshine movies.

Case is point is Dare Me, a 10-episode series now airing Sundays on USA network and based on Megan Abbott’s 2012 novel about the friendships, rivalry, competitiveness, and betrayal among teenage cheerleaders.

Abbott’s novels often focus on the intense obsessions can rule a teenage girl’s maturation. Cheerleading is an insular world and any imbalance allows jealousies and secrets to emerge.

Dare Me revolves around cheerleaders Addy Hanlon (Herizen Guardiola) and Beth Cassidy (Marlo Kelly), best friends since childhood. Beth is manipulative, sometimes cruel, clearly the leader, while Addy is more her sidekick.

The two rule the cheerleading team at Sutton Grove, a “rustbelt backwater” Midwestern town.

The teens become unbalanced when Colette French (Willa Fitzgerald) is hired as the new cheerleading coach.

Suddenly, Addy and Beth are no longer the top girls, nor the captains as Collette gets rid of those positions. Beth instantly hates the new coach who she sees as threat to her power“She’s 28! She’s ancient,” she says. But Addy is in awe of the coach, which fuels Beth’s jealousy.

Dare Me illustrates the demands that cheerleading imposes on the girls who are pushed to physical and psychological extremes. Bruises and injuries are business as usual. At Sutton Grove, the cheerleaders have always outshined the football players and Colette has been hired to make the team into champs at any cost. Colette’s ambition is just as ruthless as are Beth’s and Addy’s.

“There’s something dangerous about the boredom of teenage girls,” Addy says at the beginning of the first episode. These girls are never bored—they don’t have time—but they can be dangerous.

The dynamics of Colette and her squad play out in a variety of ways. None of the girls have strong, solid families, though Addy’s mother, a cop, comes close. At home, the girls have little power. On the field, they have it all.

Beautifully photographed, the camera lingers on the faces of the girls as they go through their routines, deal with each other and maneuver their way in a world they think they understand but really have no idea what is going on. Each of the young actresses is a standout

While Abbott’s novel was a standalone, the TV version is supposed to be an ongoing series. This could easily work, especially with Abbott’s influence. Abbott adapted the scripts from her novel and is listed as a producer. Dare Me’s screen version keeps the spirit of the novel, complete with its noir atmosphere.

I hope we get to spend several seasons with these cheerleaders.

Dare Me airs 10 p.m. EST Sundays on USA network. Check local listings for encores.

Photo: Top, Taveeta Szymanowicz, Marlo Kelly and Erika Prevost in Dare Me. Photo/USA Network

"Dare Me" Now a Provocative 10-Episode Series
Oline H Cogdill
Saturday, 14 December 2019 00:27

Mystery fiction has been a major part of my life since I was a child. I’ve said so many times that I have never read a Nancy Drew or a Hardy Boys—I started with Agatha Christie, Rex Stout, etc.

In the beginning, these were just entertaining stories, puzzles to figure out, characters who didn’t resemble anyone I knew. But as I got older, mysteries began to encompass new writers who introduced readers to different worlds. (Thank you, Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky, Marcia Muller.)

One of those authors who brought readers to another world was Barbara Neely, who has been named the 2020 Grand Master by Mystery Writers of America (MWA). The 2020 Raven Award recipient is Left Coast Crime, and Kelley Ragland will receive the Ellery Queen Award at the 74th Annual Edgar Awards Banquet, which will be held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City on April 30, 2020.

All the honorees for MWA’s special awards are deserving, and I will get to them in a minute.

In making the announcement, MWA board president Meg Gardiner said. “Neely is a groundbreaking author...she tackles tough social issues with an unflinching eye and a wry sense of humor.”

That perfectly sums up Neely.

I was sold on Neely when I read her debut Blanche on the Lam, which introduced Blanche White, the first black female series sleuth in mainstream American publishing. Blanche wasn’t a cop, a detective or a lawyer. She was a domestic worker whose role often made her invisible to her employers.

Blanche knew that people often didn’t notice her, only her work, and that most people would not recognize her if they saw her outside the house. But Blanche noticed everything—and everyone. She used her invisibility as an asset to her sleuthing skills. Nothing got passed Blanche.

In addition to her strong personality and wry sense of humor, Blanche also was a plus-sized woman.

A domestic by choice because the job affords her independence and easy money, Blanche refused to tolerate discrimination of any type, whether it's bias because of her job, her race or another's sexuality.

In my review of Blanche Passes Go, I said “Blanche may work for fools, but she doesn't suffer in silence about racism, sexism or classism, whether it's from her white employers or a member of her own race.”

From Blanche on the Lam, “Blanche thought of herself as being not simply open-minded but a cheerleader for people who were different from what the rule-setters said was the way to live, behave, or feel.”

As a result, the Blanche novels often touched on social commentary, and tackled such issues as violence against women, racism, class boundaries, and sexism.

Blanche on the Lam (1992), received the Agatha Award, Anthony Award, and the Macavity Award for best first novel, as well as the Go on Girl! Award from Black Women’s Reading Club. The four novels about Blanche included Blanche Among the Talented Tenth (1994), Blanche Cleans Up (1998), and Blanche Passes Go (2000).

According to MWA release, Neely was born in 1941 in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. Her biography states that she was the only child of African-American descent to attend her elementary and high school in this heavily German influenced community. She attended the University of Pittsburgh where she earned her master’s degree in Urban and Regional planning before beginning a career in the public sector. Neely served as director of Women for Economic Justice, worked in the Philadelphia Tutorial Project, became the director of a YWCA, and headed a consultant firm for nonprofits. In addition, she became a radio producer for Africa News Service, and later, a staff member at Southern Exposure magazine.

Although the Blanche novels were out of print for a while, Neely is among 28 authors whose backlists have found a new home with publisher Brash Books, which was launched in fall 2014 by veteran crime novelists and longtime friends Joel Goldman and Lee Goldberg.

The Raven Award recognizes outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing. This is an award that is close to my heart as I was honored with it in 2013.

Taking the 2020 Raven Award will be Left Coast Crime, an annual mystery convention sponsored by mystery fans, both readers and authors. It was first held in San Francisco in 1991. It is an all-volunteer organization that raises money each year to support a local literacy organization with funds collected through silent and live auctions, and the annual Quilt Raffle. The Left Coast Crime Permanent Committee is Bill and Toby Gottfried, Noemi Levine, Janet Rudolph, Lucinda Surber, and Stan Ulrich.

The next Left Coast Crime will be March 12 to 15, 2020, in San Diego.

Kelley Ragland, associate publisher and editorial director of Minotaur Books, will be honored with the Ellery Queen Award, established in 1983 to honor “outstanding writing teams and outstanding people in the mystery-publishing industry.”

According to MWA’s release, Ragland was fresh out of college and newly relocated to NYC when she started as an editorial assistant at St. Martin’s Press in 1993, became an editor in 1998, and took part in the creation of the St. Martin’s Publishing Group’s crime and suspense imprint, Minotaur Books, in 1999. She became Editorial Director of Minotaur in 2009 and Vice President and Associate Publisher in 2015. During her 26 years at St. Martin’s, she has worked with such authors as Jeffrey Archer, Kelley Armstrong, Linda Barnes, Steve Berry, Allison Brennan, Chelsea Cain, Andrew Gross, Charlaine Harris, Louise Penny, Dana Stabenow, Olen Steinhauer, and many others.

Previous Grand Masters include Martin Cruz Smith, William Link, Peter Lovesey, Walter Mosley, Lois Duncan, James Ellroy, Robert Crais, Ken Follett, Martha Grimes, Sara Paretsky, James Lee Burke, Sue Grafton, Stephen King, Mary Higgins Clark, Lawrence Block, P.D. James, Ellery Queen, Daphne du Maurier, Alfred Hitchcock, Graham Greene, and Agatha Christie, to name a few.

Previous Raven winners include Marilyn Stasio, Raven Bookstore in Lawrence, Kansas, Dru Ann Love, Sisters in Crime, Margaret Kinsman, Kathryn Kennison, Jon and Ruth Jordan, Aunt Agatha’s Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Oline Cogdill, Molly Weston, The Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego, Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore in Chicago, Once Upon a Crime Bookstore in Minneapolis, Mystery Lovers Bookstore in Oakmont, PA, Kate’s Mystery Books in Cambridge, MA, and The Poe House in Baltimore, MD.

Previous Ellery Queen Award winners include Linda Landrigan, Robert Pépin, Neil Nyren, Janet Rudolph, Charles Ardai, Joe Meyers, Barbara Peters and Robert Rosenwald, Brian Skupin and Kate Stine, Carolyn Marino, Ed Gorman, Janet Hutchings, Cathleen Jordan, Douglas G. Greene, Susanne Kirk, Sara Ann Freed, Hiroshi Hayakawa, Jacques Barzun, Martin Greenburg, Otto Penzler, Richard Levinson, William Link, Ruth Cavin, and Emma Lathen.

Photo of Barbara Neely by Zamani Flowers

Why Barbara Neely Is Indeed a Grand Master
By Oline H Cogdill