Spring, Issue #119 Contents
Mystery Scene

119cover_250

Features

Jasper Fforde and Thursday Next

It’s nonstop metafictional fun and games in Fforde’s richly imagined BookWorld.
by Tom Nolan

How The Good Wife Became One of TV’s Best Shows

Is it the hot lawyers and office intrigue? The down-and-dirty Chicago politics? The infidelity-fueled domestic drama?
by Matt Zoller Seitz

David Dodge’s Sophisticated Crimes

Clever banter, glamorous locales, and intricate plots distinguish Dodge’s works, happily now back in print.
by Jon L. Breen

Kelli Stanley

Stanley uses two very different eras and settings—Roman Britain and 1940s San Francisco—to examine timeless issues of race, gender, and social justice.
by Oline H. Cogdill

Louis Bayard, The School of Night

A secretive society of intellectuals in Elizabethan England is at the center of Bayard’s literary-themed novel.
by Art Taylor

Spotlight on Crime: Mysteries in the Theater

The crime rate is booming in regional theater.
by Wm. F. Hirschman

Joseph Goodrich: Multimedia Man

This Edgar-winner has crime plays, poetry, lyrics, opera librettos, comics and short stories to his credit.
by Wm. F. Hirschman

The Murders in Memory Lane: Evan Hunter, Part II

Writing under his own name or as Ed McBain, Hunter’s imagination and love of writing never flagged throughout his long career.
by Lawrence Block

Joe Gores 1931-2011

A tribute to one of the leading exponents of Dashiell Hammett and the creator of the DKA novels.
by Kevin Burton Smith

What’s Happening With... John R. Riggs

The Garth Ryland mysteries feature sharp social commentary seasoned with the quirky details of small-town America.
by Brian Skupin

Departments

At the Scene

by Kate Stine

Mystery Miscellany

by Louis Phillips

Hints & Allegations

2011 Derringer Awards, 2011 Left Coast Crime Awards, 2011 Dilys Award, Writers on Reading: Donna Leon on The White War

The Hook

First Lines That Caught Our Attention

Eyewitness

Another shot from Hammett.
Kevin Burton Smith

Writing Life: Gormania

Kristine Kathryn Rusch, What Counts in Thrillers, Burt Reynolds
by Ed Gorman

Birds of a Feather Quiz

New Books

Blood for Wolves
by Michael Allan Mallory

Antiques Knock-Off
by Barbara Allan

Where the Ghost Walks
by Jo A. Hiestand

Reviews

Small Press Reviews: Covering the Independents

by Betty Webb

Very Original: Paperback Originals Reviewed

by Lynne Maxwell

Short & Sweet: Short Stories Considered

by Bill Crider

What About Murder? Reference Books Reviewed

by Jon L. Breen

Sounds of Suspense: Audiobooks Reviewed

by Dick Lochte

Mystery Scene Reviews

Miscellaneous


The Docket

Letters

Readers Recommend

Advertiser Index

Admin
Monday, 05 April 2010 10:04

119cover_250

Features

Jasper Fforde and Thursday Next

It’s nonstop metafictional fun and games in Fforde’s richly imagined BookWorld.
by Tom Nolan

How The Good Wife Became One of TV’s Best Shows

Is it the hot lawyers and office intrigue? The down-and-dirty Chicago politics? The infidelity-fueled domestic drama?
by Matt Zoller Seitz

David Dodge’s Sophisticated Crimes

Clever banter, glamorous locales, and intricate plots distinguish Dodge’s works, happily now back in print.
by Jon L. Breen

Kelli Stanley

Stanley uses two very different eras and settings—Roman Britain and 1940s San Francisco—to examine timeless issues of race, gender, and social justice.
by Oline H. Cogdill

Louis Bayard, The School of Night

A secretive society of intellectuals in Elizabethan England is at the center of Bayard’s literary-themed novel.
by Art Taylor

Spotlight on Crime: Mysteries in the Theater

The crime rate is booming in regional theater.
by Wm. F. Hirschman

Joseph Goodrich: Multimedia Man

This Edgar-winner has crime plays, poetry, lyrics, opera librettos, comics and short stories to his credit.
by Wm. F. Hirschman

The Murders in Memory Lane: Evan Hunter, Part II

Writing under his own name or as Ed McBain, Hunter’s imagination and love of writing never flagged throughout his long career.
by Lawrence Block

Joe Gores 1931-2011

A tribute to one of the leading exponents of Dashiell Hammett and the creator of the DKA novels.
by Kevin Burton Smith

What’s Happening With... John R. Riggs

The Garth Ryland mysteries feature sharp social commentary seasoned with the quirky details of small-town America.
by Brian Skupin

Departments

At the Scene

by Kate Stine

Mystery Miscellany

by Louis Phillips

Hints & Allegations

2011 Derringer Awards, 2011 Left Coast Crime Awards, 2011 Dilys Award, Writers on Reading: Donna Leon on The White War

The Hook

First Lines That Caught Our Attention

Eyewitness

Another shot from Hammett.
Kevin Burton Smith

Writing Life: Gormania

Kristine Kathryn Rusch, What Counts in Thrillers, Burt Reynolds
by Ed Gorman

Birds of a Feather Quiz

New Books

Blood for Wolves
by Michael Allan Mallory

Antiques Knock-Off
by Barbara Allan

Where the Ghost Walks
by Jo A. Hiestand

Reviews

Small Press Reviews: Covering the Independents

by Betty Webb

Very Original: Paperback Originals Reviewed

by Lynne Maxwell

Short & Sweet: Short Stories Considered

by Bill Crider

What About Murder? Reference Books Reviewed

by Jon L. Breen

Sounds of Suspense: Audiobooks Reviewed

by Dick Lochte

Mystery Scene Reviews

Miscellaneous


The Docket

Letters

Readers Recommend

Advertiser Index

At the Scene, Spring Issue #119
Kate Stine

119cover_250Hi everyone!

If you haven’t read Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next bibliomysteries, then you’re in for a real treat. Tom Nolan gives an introduction the whimsical world of Thursday Next, literary detective in this issue. (Here’s some advice for newbies, though: Start with the first book in the series, The Eyre Affair.)

Have you ever wondered about the loyal wife, silently standing by her disgraced husband, usually a politician, on the evening news? The Good Wife places that enigmatic figure at the center of one of the most enjoyable dramas on TV. It’s full-bodied, nuanced storytelling—and features probably the only time in history that a steamy sex scene has had National Public Radio’s evening news as a soundtrack. Find out more in Matt Zoller Seitz’s thoughtful article.

Novelist Kelli Stanley is making a splash and her conversation with Oline Cogdill on page 28 reveals why. It’s not every woman who is equally comfortable discussing ancient Roman curse tablets, the second Sino-Japanese War, segregated 1970s Florida, and comics! Also, Art Taylor talks with Louis Bayard about his acclaimed literary-themed thrillers, the latest of which, The School of Night, focuses on a secret, possibly heretical, society of scientists and artists in Elizabethan England.

Theatrical crime is running rampant across the country and Wm. F. Hirschman has tracked down some of the top perpetrators on Broadway and in regional theater for us. Don’t miss his list of classic crime plays—they make good reading!

There’s an avian theme to our latest contest on page 41. All you have to do is come up with ten mysteries with birds in their titles and you’ll be entered to win a free book. As you’ll recall, our last contest, “A Bouquet of Books,” centered on flowers. A reader requested a list of the titles but, alas, we didn’t save those entries. We’ll print the “Fine Feathered Friends” titles in an upcoming issue. In the last issue, I mentioned that Nate Pedersen was finishing off his series on collecting but I spoke too soon. Anne Saller, the new owner of Book Carnival in Tustin, Calif., suggested that Nate tackle topics sent in by readers. Nate is willing, so all that remains, dear readers, is for you to send in your questions!

The mystery world lost two very different, but equally beloved, writers recently: Joe Gores, author of the DKA novels, and H.R.F. (Harry) Keating, creator of Inspector Ghote and a thoughtful critic of the genre. They will be missed.

Kate Stine
Editor-in-chief

Teri Duerr
Friday, 04 March 2011 11:03

Read Kate's Spring #119 "At the Scene."

Killer Nashville in August
Oline Cogdill

altMost people who visit Nashville come for the great music that seems to pour out of every bar and hole in the wall.

But the conference Killer Nashville, now in its sixth year, gives people another reason to visit the area.

Killer Nashville, scheduled for Aug. 26-28, is billed as a "conference for Thriller, Suspense & Mystery Writers and Lovers."

But Rick Summie, who's helping to get the word out about Killer Nashville, says the conference "is for writers of any genre and covers all aspects of writing, from how to start a book to how to promote a published book."

Killer Nashville also offers the Claymore Award for the author of the best beginning (up to 50 pages) of an unpublished manuscript not currently under contract.

altThe "possible prize," said Summie, is a publishing contract. Many authors have received publishing contracts through contacts made at Killer Nashville.

Registration for the Claymore is $35; entries must be postmarked by May 20.

Killer Nashville's two guests of honor are Donald Bain, top left, and Robert Dugoni, at left. 

Bain has written more than 100 books, including 37 original novels based on the television series, Murder, She Wrote.

Dugoni's 2006 debut The Jury Master became a New York Times bestseller. Dugoni's other novels include Damage Control, Wrongful Death, and Bodily Harm.

Murder One, Dugoni's fifth novel, is due out in June.

Advance registration is $160 by May 29; the price goes up to $170 after May 29.

Go to Nashville for the conference, stay for the music.  

Super User 2
Sunday, 15 May 2011 06:05

altMost people who visit Nashville come for the great music that seems to pour out of every bar and hole in the wall.

But the conference Killer Nashville, now in its sixth year, gives people another reason to visit the area.

Killer Nashville, scheduled for Aug. 26-28, is billed as a "conference for Thriller, Suspense & Mystery Writers and Lovers."

But Rick Summie, who's helping to get the word out about Killer Nashville, says the conference "is for writers of any genre and covers all aspects of writing, from how to start a book to how to promote a published book."

Killer Nashville also offers the Claymore Award for the author of the best beginning (up to 50 pages) of an unpublished manuscript not currently under contract.

altThe "possible prize," said Summie, is a publishing contract. Many authors have received publishing contracts through contacts made at Killer Nashville.

Registration for the Claymore is $35; entries must be postmarked by May 20.

Killer Nashville's two guests of honor are Donald Bain, top left, and Robert Dugoni, at left. 

Bain has written more than 100 books, including 37 original novels based on the television series, Murder, She Wrote.

Dugoni's 2006 debut The Jury Master became a New York Times bestseller. Dugoni's other novels include Damage Control, Wrongful Death, and Bodily Harm.

Murder One, Dugoni's fifth novel, is due out in June.

Advance registration is $160 by May 29; the price goes up to $170 after May 29.

Go to Nashville for the conference, stay for the music.  

Ace Atkins to Continue Spenser Novels
Oline Cogdill

altWhen Robert B. Parker died suddenly on Jan. 18, 2010, the best-selling author passed away at his desk, working on a novel.

Parker was 77 and his career spanned more than 45 novels, including his popular series about the Boston private investigator Spenser (39 novels since 1974) and Massachusetts police chief Jesse Stone (nine novels since 1997).

Parker had often been called the dean of American crime fiction. In 2002, he was named Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America. Parker's legacy of novels will continue thanks to a deal struck by the Robert B. Parker Estate and his long-time publisher G. P. Putnam’s Sons.

Crime fiction novelist Ace Atkins, top, will continue the Spenser series, with the first novel to be published in the Spring 2012.

altMichael Brandman, producer and screenwriter of the CBS-TV “Jesse Stone” movies, will take over the Jesse Stone novels, with the first due out in September 2011.

Having a novelist continue the series of a deceased author isn't exactly new. The characters and plots established in the novels of the late Robert Ludlum and the late Lawrence Sanders have continued under new authors.

But the quality of those legacy novels has been mixed.

But in this case, I think the two authors will bring a fresh perspective to Spenser and Stone.

Brandman has shown a real affinity for Parker's work and has been a long-time collaborator of the author. A Hollywood producer and screenwriter, Brandman along with actor Tom Selleck co-wrote and produced the CBS television movies featuring Selleck as Jesse Stone. Those films include Stone Cold, Night Passage, Sea Change and Death in Paradise. Brandman also produced three adaptations of Parker’s Spenser novels for the A&E network.

Brandman’s first Jesse Stone novel will be Robert B. Parker’s Killing the Blues, scheduled to be published on September 13, 2011.

altBut I think Atkins' interpretation of Spenser will be the most exciting.

A former journalist who was a crime reporter for the Tampa Tribune, Atkins was 27 years old when his first novel was published. Crossroad Blues was the first of four novels about Nick Travers, an ex-New Orleans Saint turned blues historian at Tulane University.

But Atkins, the author of nine novels, found a real niche in his historical fiction such as White Shadow, about the 1950s murder of a Tampa mobster, Devil's Garden about the 1920s comedian Fatty Arbuckle and Infamous, which looked at the 1930s gangster Machine Gun Kelly.

altAtkins' novel The Ranger, due out in June, will debut his Quinn Colson series. Colson is a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who returns home to north Mississippi to fight corruption on his home turf.

Then it's on to Spenser.

Atkins said he has been a fan of Parker's novels since high school.

"Reading Spenser is what inspired me to become a crime novelist," Atkins said. "Years ago, my mom waited in a long line at a booksigning in Atlanta to get a copy of Double Deuce signed by Parker for my 21st birthday. The inscription he wrote is when I first learned Bob's nickname was Ace. It's still one of my prized possessions. For me and a ton of readers, Spenser occupies that fourth chair at a table shared by Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, and Lew Archer. There are plenty of imitations but only one Spenser.”

Parker's last few completed novels were published posthumously by Putnam. The final work, Sixkill, the 39th entry in the Spenser series will hit the bookstores on May 3.

Parker also wrote several well-received westerns and other crime and suspense works. He created the female detective Sunny Randall for actress Helen Hunt who wanted him to write a part for her to play. Although the movie version was never filmed, his publisher the character and asked Parker to continue the series, according to the New York Times.

Super User 2
Sunday, 08 May 2011 06:05

altWhen Robert B. Parker died suddenly on Jan. 18, 2010, the best-selling author passed away at his desk, working on a novel.

Parker was 77 and his career spanned more than 45 novels, including his popular series about the Boston private investigator Spenser (39 novels since 1974) and Massachusetts police chief Jesse Stone (nine novels since 1997).

Parker had often been called the dean of American crime fiction. In 2002, he was named Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America. Parker's legacy of novels will continue thanks to a deal struck by the Robert B. Parker Estate and his long-time publisher G. P. Putnam’s Sons.

Crime fiction novelist Ace Atkins, top, will continue the Spenser series, with the first novel to be published in the Spring 2012.

altMichael Brandman, producer and screenwriter of the CBS-TV “Jesse Stone” movies, will take over the Jesse Stone novels, with the first due out in September 2011.

Having a novelist continue the series of a deceased author isn't exactly new. The characters and plots established in the novels of the late Robert Ludlum and the late Lawrence Sanders have continued under new authors.

But the quality of those legacy novels has been mixed.

But in this case, I think the two authors will bring a fresh perspective to Spenser and Stone.

Brandman has shown a real affinity for Parker's work and has been a long-time collaborator of the author. A Hollywood producer and screenwriter, Brandman along with actor Tom Selleck co-wrote and produced the CBS television movies featuring Selleck as Jesse Stone. Those films include Stone Cold, Night Passage, Sea Change and Death in Paradise. Brandman also produced three adaptations of Parker’s Spenser novels for the A&E network.

Brandman’s first Jesse Stone novel will be Robert B. Parker’s Killing the Blues, scheduled to be published on September 13, 2011.

altBut I think Atkins' interpretation of Spenser will be the most exciting.

A former journalist who was a crime reporter for the Tampa Tribune, Atkins was 27 years old when his first novel was published. Crossroad Blues was the first of four novels about Nick Travers, an ex-New Orleans Saint turned blues historian at Tulane University.

But Atkins, the author of nine novels, found a real niche in his historical fiction such as White Shadow, about the 1950s murder of a Tampa mobster, Devil's Garden about the 1920s comedian Fatty Arbuckle and Infamous, which looked at the 1930s gangster Machine Gun Kelly.

altAtkins' novel The Ranger, due out in June, will debut his Quinn Colson series. Colson is a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who returns home to north Mississippi to fight corruption on his home turf.

Then it's on to Spenser.

Atkins said he has been a fan of Parker's novels since high school.

"Reading Spenser is what inspired me to become a crime novelist," Atkins said. "Years ago, my mom waited in a long line at a booksigning in Atlanta to get a copy of Double Deuce signed by Parker for my 21st birthday. The inscription he wrote is when I first learned Bob's nickname was Ace. It's still one of my prized possessions. For me and a ton of readers, Spenser occupies that fourth chair at a table shared by Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, and Lew Archer. There are plenty of imitations but only one Spenser.”

Parker's last few completed novels were published posthumously by Putnam. The final work, Sixkill, the 39th entry in the Spenser series will hit the bookstores on May 3.

Parker also wrote several well-received westerns and other crime and suspense works. He created the female detective Sunny Randall for actress Helen Hunt who wanted him to write a part for her to play. Although the movie version was never filmed, his publisher the character and asked Parker to continue the series, according to the New York Times.

The Dead Detective
Betty Webb
Almost all of the Christians in The Dead Detective, by William Heffernan, especially the televangelist who runs the First Assembly of Jesus Christ the Lord, are downright nasty. When Tampa detective Harry Doyle begins working on the case of a beautiful woman found murdered a Florida swamp with the word EVIL carved into her face, Doyle suspects that the malevolent, self-righteous flock led by the slimy Reverend John Waldo called for her death because of her sexually predatory ways. Doyle is termed “the dead detective” because as a child he and his brother were murdered by his lunatic mother; his brother stayed dead, Doyle was resuscitated. Now it appears his murderous mother (another evil Christian) is about to be released from prison on parole—and she’s promised to kill him again. Doyle is an engaging protagonist and the plot is intriguing, but The Dead Detective is marred by such an unfailingly negative view of Christianity and Christians that it seems to verge on religious intolerance.
Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 04 May 2011 01:05
Almost all of the Christians in The Dead Detective, by William Heffernan, especially the televangelist who runs the First Assembly of Jesus Christ the Lord, are downright nasty. When Tampa detective Harry Doyle begins working on the case of a beautiful woman found murdered a Florida swamp with the word EVIL carved into her face, Doyle suspects that the malevolent, self-righteous flock led by the slimy Reverend John Waldo called for her death because of her sexually predatory ways. Doyle is termed “the dead detective” because as a child he and his brother were murdered by his lunatic mother; his brother stayed dead, Doyle was resuscitated. Now it appears his murderous mother (another evil Christian) is about to be released from prison on parole—and she’s promised to kill him again. Doyle is an engaging protagonist and the plot is intriguing, but The Dead Detective is marred by such an unfailingly negative view of Christianity and Christians that it seems to verge on religious intolerance.
The Templar Conspiracy
Lynne Maxwell

Never let it be said that Dan Brown holds a monopoly on thrillers involving vicious secret societies, religion, and mad chases. We all know by now that Brown has spawned a veritable industry of such books, and apparently for good reason—readers love them. While I will not take on the formidable Brown in this column, I will introduce you to several titles that are certainly progeny of this vastly influential and contagious author. Then, assuming that an antidote to all of this conspiracy and fury would be welcome, I will offer you two series debuts with a more sedate, albeit equally intricate, focus. Hold onto your hats—and catch your breath.

In Paul Christopher’s The Templar Conspiracy the assassination of the Pope sets the pace, and what a furious pace it is, as the perpetrator and motive are sought worldwide. Fortunately, John Holliday, a retired Army Ranger, has the acumen to penetrate the mystery and to launch the chase. Ultimately, Holliday unmasks and undoes the surprising mastermind behind the scheme. One thing that won’t be a surprise, however, is the fact, divulged by the title itself, that a Templar conspiracy underlies it all. Of course, there is a great deal more to the plot and narrative, but I will leave it to you to discover.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 04 May 2011 01:05

Never let it be said that Dan Brown holds a monopoly on thrillers involving vicious secret societies, religion, and mad chases. We all know by now that Brown has spawned a veritable industry of such books, and apparently for good reason—readers love them. While I will not take on the formidable Brown in this column, I will introduce you to several titles that are certainly progeny of this vastly influential and contagious author. Then, assuming that an antidote to all of this conspiracy and fury would be welcome, I will offer you two series debuts with a more sedate, albeit equally intricate, focus. Hold onto your hats—and catch your breath.

In Paul Christopher’s The Templar Conspiracy the assassination of the Pope sets the pace, and what a furious pace it is, as the perpetrator and motive are sought worldwide. Fortunately, John Holliday, a retired Army Ranger, has the acumen to penetrate the mystery and to launch the chase. Ultimately, Holliday unmasks and undoes the surprising mastermind behind the scheme. One thing that won’t be a surprise, however, is the fact, divulged by the title itself, that a Templar conspiracy underlies it all. Of course, there is a great deal more to the plot and narrative, but I will leave it to you to discover.

The Templar’s Code
Lynne Maxwell

The Templars make their next unnerving appearance (will they ever fade away?) in C.M. Palov’s The Templar’s Code. Characterizable as “Indiana Jones meets the DaVinci Code,” Palov’s thriller begins with a lecture by a noted archeologist who is intercepted afterward by a very frightened young man, who quickly establishes himself as a scholar in his own right, and claims to have discovered the location of symbols leading to a Templar treasure. Before he can fully articulate his claim, however, he is swiftly assassinated. The fact that he was targeted for assassination, naturally, lends credence to his story, and Caedmon Aisquith, accompanied by his paramour and assistant, Edie Miller, spring into action. While they are hot on the trail of the symbols and treasure, the assassin is carefully tracking them and positioning himself for the kill.

Since The Templar’s Code weighs in at a whopping 544 pages, you know that there are complications that continue to advance the plot and propel the chase. In addition to pulling off a clever plot in a satisfying narrative, Palov makes a significant contribution to the Dan Brown genre by focusing on the complex psychological profile of the assassin, thereby producing a fully developed character. Since this is not the central ambition of most thriller writers, who are driven by engaging plot structures, Palov offers us refreshing character insight. So, if you are in the mood for reading a Templar thriller, this one may well be the answer to your quest.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 04 May 2011 01:05

The Templars make their next unnerving appearance (will they ever fade away?) in C.M. Palov’s The Templar’s Code. Characterizable as “Indiana Jones meets the DaVinci Code,” Palov’s thriller begins with a lecture by a noted archeologist who is intercepted afterward by a very frightened young man, who quickly establishes himself as a scholar in his own right, and claims to have discovered the location of symbols leading to a Templar treasure. Before he can fully articulate his claim, however, he is swiftly assassinated. The fact that he was targeted for assassination, naturally, lends credence to his story, and Caedmon Aisquith, accompanied by his paramour and assistant, Edie Miller, spring into action. While they are hot on the trail of the symbols and treasure, the assassin is carefully tracking them and positioning himself for the kill.

Since The Templar’s Code weighs in at a whopping 544 pages, you know that there are complications that continue to advance the plot and propel the chase. In addition to pulling off a clever plot in a satisfying narrative, Palov makes a significant contribution to the Dan Brown genre by focusing on the complex psychological profile of the assassin, thereby producing a fully developed character. Since this is not the central ambition of most thriller writers, who are driven by engaging plot structures, Palov offers us refreshing character insight. So, if you are in the mood for reading a Templar thriller, this one may well be the answer to your quest.

Murder Your Darlings
Lynne Maxwell

Murder Your Darlings is a brilliant first novel by J.J. Murphy. Why brilliant? Murphy has undertaken the formidable task of introducing Dorothy Parker as a sleuth, accompanied by her colleagues of the famed Round Table at New York’s Algonquin Hotel.

Forgotten who Dorothy Parker is, or, rather, was? She was a gifted writer, oft published in Vanity Fair and The New Yorker during the 1920s and beyond. Principally, though, like Oscar Wilde, Parker was renowned for her scathing witticisms, many of which survive to the present day. Murphy has courageously ventured into Parker’s world, and does quite a creditable job. Not only does he capture Parker’s character, his invented witticisms are plausible as well as entertaining. And the mystery ain’t bad, either. In Murder Your Darlings the quest begins when a corpse is discovered under the Round Table itself. The dead man is readily identifiable as a critic for a small newspaper. Whodunit, and why on earth would anyone kill such a man? Join Parker and friends (including William Faulkner, a visitor to New York City) as they quip their way to a solution. I’m looking forward to more literary and urbane Algonquin Round Table Mysteries from Murphy.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 04 May 2011 01:05

Murder Your Darlings is a brilliant first novel by J.J. Murphy. Why brilliant? Murphy has undertaken the formidable task of introducing Dorothy Parker as a sleuth, accompanied by her colleagues of the famed Round Table at New York’s Algonquin Hotel.

Forgotten who Dorothy Parker is, or, rather, was? She was a gifted writer, oft published in Vanity Fair and The New Yorker during the 1920s and beyond. Principally, though, like Oscar Wilde, Parker was renowned for her scathing witticisms, many of which survive to the present day. Murphy has courageously ventured into Parker’s world, and does quite a creditable job. Not only does he capture Parker’s character, his invented witticisms are plausible as well as entertaining. And the mystery ain’t bad, either. In Murder Your Darlings the quest begins when a corpse is discovered under the Round Table itself. The dead man is readily identifiable as a critic for a small newspaper. Whodunit, and why on earth would anyone kill such a man? Join Parker and friends (including William Faulkner, a visitor to New York City) as they quip their way to a solution. I’m looking forward to more literary and urbane Algonquin Round Table Mysteries from Murphy.

Steve Hamilton's Inside Joke
Oline Cogdill

altLong-time readers of this blog know that I love to find the little inside jokes that pop up in mystery fiction. Authors often will give a nod to another's work or pay homage to a writer or slip in a reference that astute readers can pick up.

But it's important that these little asides don't call attention to themselves or take away from the seriousness of the plot.

Such is the case with Steve Hamilton's latest novel Misery Bay.

In Misery Bay, Hamilton, left, brings back his reluctant private investigator Alex McKnight, who last appeared in 2006's A Stolen Season. Hamilton recently won the Edgar Award for best novel for his stand-alone novel The Lock Artist.

altWithout giving away any of Misery Bay's plot twists, Alex McKnight has a very serious conversation with two cops -- Reed Coleman and Jim Fusilli -- while conducting an investigation into a young man's suicide. The encounter lasts only a couple of pages and never once does it take away from the dark plot or even hint at a wink-wink at the reader.

Still, I couldn't help but smile just a little bit knowing who the cops Coleman and Fusilli were named after.

altReed Farrel Coleman has published 12 novels, including the Moe Prager series (Innocent Monster is the latest) and two novels under his pen name Tony Spinosa.

Coleman's awards include the Macavity, Barry and the Anthony. He has won the Shamus for best novel three times, and has been twice nominated for the Edgar Award. Coleman is the former executive vice president of Mystery Writers of America.

altJames "Jim" Fusilli, whose day job is the rock and pop critic for the Wall Street Journal, wrote four well-received novels about novice PI Terry Orr, the last one was Hard, Hard City in 2004.

Last year, Fusilli became the first writer to sell a book to Audible without the novel first appearing in print.

The result is the excellent Narrows Gate, a sweeping tale about the Italian-American community set in the early part of the 20th century in Hoboken, N.J., where Fusilli grew up.

In Narrows Gate, gangsters rule the streets but the plot includes a singer, soldiers, businessmen and two young friends trying to survive. Comparisons to Mario Puzo would not be out of line.

I'd say Alex McKnight was in good company.

Super User 2
Sunday, 10 July 2011 06:07

altLong-time readers of this blog know that I love to find the little inside jokes that pop up in mystery fiction. Authors often will give a nod to another's work or pay homage to a writer or slip in a reference that astute readers can pick up.

But it's important that these little asides don't call attention to themselves or take away from the seriousness of the plot.

Such is the case with Steve Hamilton's latest novel Misery Bay.

In Misery Bay, Hamilton, left, brings back his reluctant private investigator Alex McKnight, who last appeared in 2006's A Stolen Season. Hamilton recently won the Edgar Award for best novel for his stand-alone novel The Lock Artist.

altWithout giving away any of Misery Bay's plot twists, Alex McKnight has a very serious conversation with two cops -- Reed Coleman and Jim Fusilli -- while conducting an investigation into a young man's suicide. The encounter lasts only a couple of pages and never once does it take away from the dark plot or even hint at a wink-wink at the reader.

Still, I couldn't help but smile just a little bit knowing who the cops Coleman and Fusilli were named after.

altReed Farrel Coleman has published 12 novels, including the Moe Prager series (Innocent Monster is the latest) and two novels under his pen name Tony Spinosa.

Coleman's awards include the Macavity, Barry and the Anthony. He has won the Shamus for best novel three times, and has been twice nominated for the Edgar Award. Coleman is the former executive vice president of Mystery Writers of America.

altJames "Jim" Fusilli, whose day job is the rock and pop critic for the Wall Street Journal, wrote four well-received novels about novice PI Terry Orr, the last one was Hard, Hard City in 2004.

Last year, Fusilli became the first writer to sell a book to Audible without the novel first appearing in print.

The result is the excellent Narrows Gate, a sweeping tale about the Italian-American community set in the early part of the 20th century in Hoboken, N.J., where Fusilli grew up.

In Narrows Gate, gangsters rule the streets but the plot includes a singer, soldiers, businessmen and two young friends trying to survive. Comparisons to Mario Puzo would not be out of line.

I'd say Alex McKnight was in good company.

Buzz Off
Lynne Maxwell
Hannah Reed has discovered a new hook to the cozy—beekeeping. In her first Queen Bee Mystery, Buzz Off, Reed introduces Story Fischer, a newly-divorced apprentice beekeeper in small-town Wisconsin. When her mentor is slain and another body discovered in Story’s kayak, our protagonist stubbornly assumes the duty of preserving her bees and solving the murders. To confound matters, Story’s philandering ex-husband becomes a suspect. Sure, he’s a cad, but is he a murderer? Read Story’s story to find out. You’ll get a buzz from this one, guaranteed.
Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 04 May 2011 01:05
Hannah Reed has discovered a new hook to the cozy—beekeeping. In her first Queen Bee Mystery, Buzz Off, Reed introduces Story Fischer, a newly-divorced apprentice beekeeper in small-town Wisconsin. When her mentor is slain and another body discovered in Story’s kayak, our protagonist stubbornly assumes the duty of preserving her bees and solving the murders. To confound matters, Story’s philandering ex-husband becomes a suspect. Sure, he’s a cad, but is he a murderer? Read Story’s story to find out. You’ll get a buzz from this one, guaranteed.
The Penguin Book of Victorian Women in Crime
Jon L. Breen

Editor Michael Sims gathers 11 stories about female detectives in British and American fiction from W.S. Hayward’s pioneering Mrs. Paschal in 1864 to Anna Katharine Green’s Violet Strange in 1915. Green’s humorous spinster sleuth Amelia Butterworth also appears in an excerpt from the 1897 novel That Affair Next Door (1897).

Like some of the editor’s other anthologies, this one has considerable reference value, with an enjoyable and informative 15-page introduction and substantial story notes plus three pages of secondary bibliography, including useful websites. Other authors included are Andrew Forrester, C.L. Pirkis, Mary E. Wilkins (Freeman), George R. Sims, Grant Allen, M. McDonnell Bodkin, Richard Marsh, and Hugh C. Weir. In explaining his selections, Sims humorously says he excluded Fergus Hume’s Hagar Stanley and Arthur B. Reeve’s Constance Dunlap out of boredom, “an emotion that every anthologist must employ as doorkeeper.” He regrets not including Lady Molly, whom he mistakenly credits to L.T. Meade and Robert Eustace rather than Baroness Orczy, “because reprint rights proved outrageously expensive.” It’s surprising the stories aren’t in the public domain. While the editor is an admiring expert on the works of Anna Katharine Green, having edited and introduced Penguin’s edition of The Leavenworth Case, his description of the crime in that novel as a “locked-room murder” is inaccurate.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 04 May 2011 01:05

sims_victorianwomenincrimeThis anthology featuring female Victorian sleuths is rich in both entertainment and reference value.

In Plain Sight Interview Part Ii
Oline Cogdill

altIt's a time of change for the fourth season of In Plain Sight.

Characters are changing. The marshall's office has a new muffin-bearing officer.

And Mary Shannon's pregnancy hasn't even been dealt with yet.

In Plain Sight—about the US Marshall’s highly secretive branch of the witness protection program (WITSEC) which relocates federal witnesses—airs at 10 pm Sundays on the USA Network.

altMystery Scene recently interviewed Mary McCormack, who plays Mary Shannon, and Frederick Weller who plays Marshall Mann. The first installment of the interview ran May 1, 2011.

Here's the second part of that interview.

Half of this season of In Plain Sight already had been shot when McCormack announced she was pregnant in real-life. McCormack and her husband producer Michael Morris are expecting their third child; they have two daughters.

Rather than having her stand behind desks, be seated a lot or wear jackets (in the New Mexico heat!) to try to hide her pregnancy, the writers are making Mary Shannon pregnant, too.

Will this new development make Mary Shannon even grumpier?

“I started out pretty cranky,” said McCormack, with a laugh.

“Yes, she might have been maxed out on crankiness already,” added Weller.

In Plain Sight melds solid plots with character studies each week. The chemistry between McCormack and Weller is a highlight of the series. The two are friends off-camera and McCormack is godmother to Weller’s daughter.

altThe actors have their own ideas about what keeps viewers returning.

“I think it's a great drama with a sense of humor. And I don't think that's a very common combination on television,” said Weller.

“USA really does characters well," added McCormack. “Even if you weren't interested in the procedural side of our show, or the witness protection side of it, I think the character relationships are really rich and fresh and funny. I love reading the scenes between me and Fred and I love Paul Ben-Victor's character so much.”

The WITSEC background helps, too.

“Witness protection just makes for exciting stories and it's a really rich sort of place to grab stories from,” said McCormack.

“People starting over completely, saying goodbye to their lives before. That never ends in terms of story opportunities.”

And Mary Shannon herself offers endless story opportunities, too.

“The pregnancy obviously is the huge shift around which all other shifts are defined,” said Weller.

“Mary Shannon is a person who doesn't let people in,” said McCormack.

“She barely lets Marshall in and he's the closest person in her life to her. And so to me the pregnancy is an opportunity for the audience to just know the real her. The audience has a really intimate relationship with her, even though she doesn't really allow anyone else to," said McCormack.

”And the stabilization of the family is continuing obviously. [Mary Shannon's sister] Brandi is engaged and getting married. And so far her relationship seems to be going great. And [Mary Shannon's] mother is still sober and doing great, and so that's all confusing for Mary Shannon. But I think in an interesting way.”

Photos: Mary McCormack and Frederick Weller, top; Weller and Paul Ben-Victor; McCormack. USA Network photos

Super User 2
Sunday, 22 May 2011 06:05

altIt's a time of change for the fourth season of In Plain Sight.

Characters are changing. The marshall's office has a new muffin-bearing officer.

And Mary Shannon's pregnancy hasn't even been dealt with yet.

In Plain Sight—about the US Marshall’s highly secretive branch of the witness protection program (WITSEC) which relocates federal witnesses—airs at 10 pm Sundays on the USA Network.

altMystery Scene recently interviewed Mary McCormack, who plays Mary Shannon, and Frederick Weller who plays Marshall Mann. The first installment of the interview ran May 1, 2011.

Here's the second part of that interview.

Half of this season of In Plain Sight already had been shot when McCormack announced she was pregnant in real-life. McCormack and her husband producer Michael Morris are expecting their third child; they have two daughters.

Rather than having her stand behind desks, be seated a lot or wear jackets (in the New Mexico heat!) to try to hide her pregnancy, the writers are making Mary Shannon pregnant, too.

Will this new development make Mary Shannon even grumpier?

“I started out pretty cranky,” said McCormack, with a laugh.

“Yes, she might have been maxed out on crankiness already,” added Weller.

In Plain Sight melds solid plots with character studies each week. The chemistry between McCormack and Weller is a highlight of the series. The two are friends off-camera and McCormack is godmother to Weller’s daughter.

altThe actors have their own ideas about what keeps viewers returning.

“I think it's a great drama with a sense of humor. And I don't think that's a very common combination on television,” said Weller.

“USA really does characters well," added McCormack. “Even if you weren't interested in the procedural side of our show, or the witness protection side of it, I think the character relationships are really rich and fresh and funny. I love reading the scenes between me and Fred and I love Paul Ben-Victor's character so much.”

The WITSEC background helps, too.

“Witness protection just makes for exciting stories and it's a really rich sort of place to grab stories from,” said McCormack.

“People starting over completely, saying goodbye to their lives before. That never ends in terms of story opportunities.”

And Mary Shannon herself offers endless story opportunities, too.

“The pregnancy obviously is the huge shift around which all other shifts are defined,” said Weller.

“Mary Shannon is a person who doesn't let people in,” said McCormack.

“She barely lets Marshall in and he's the closest person in her life to her. And so to me the pregnancy is an opportunity for the audience to just know the real her. The audience has a really intimate relationship with her, even though she doesn't really allow anyone else to," said McCormack.

”And the stabilization of the family is continuing obviously. [Mary Shannon's sister] Brandi is engaged and getting married. And so far her relationship seems to be going great. And [Mary Shannon's] mother is still sober and doing great, and so that's all confusing for Mary Shannon. But I think in an interesting way.”

Photos: Mary McCormack and Frederick Weller, top; Weller and Paul Ben-Victor; McCormack. USA Network photos

Jennifer Garner's New Alias Miss Marple
Oline Cogdill

titleCount me among the many who were fans of Alias, the 2001-2006 series that starred Jennifer Garner as Sydney Bristow, an international spy recruited while in college.

What an intriguing  concept to have a young, bright woman worrying about saving the world – and passing her final exams.

It was a concept almost equal to the brilliant Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which used high school as a metaphor for horror.

Garner was certainly one of the main reasons why Alias was more than a one-note pony. Sure, Garner has movie-star looks but she also gave the impression that she really was the girl next door, down to earth, a loyal friend and whip smart.

But will she make a good sleuth? Especially one of mystery fiction’s most iconic sleuths.

Jennifer Garner has been tapped to play Miss Marple, the detective from Agatha Christie, in what is being called a “Disney reboot.”

Now you, I and everybody knows that Miss Marple is an elderly lady who watches over the goings on around her, especially in the small English village of St. Mary Mead. Miss Marple was played by Margaret Rutherford in four films during the 1960s, Angela Lansbury in the 1980 movie The Mirror Crack’d, and Joan Hickson in several BBC TV movies.

Of those, Hickson is considered by many to be the quintessential Miss Marple, whom Christie had said she based on her own grandmother.

Naturally, if a film ever is made with Garner as Miss Marple, we’ll see a younger and sexier sleuth. But is that in fitting with the character? Do we want to see Miss Marple’s earlier life? And the new Miss Marple won’t be living in a small English village but in an American city, according to several reports.

Often ideas for films just become that – ideas that never make it onto the screen.

What are your thoughts on this?  

Super User 2
Wednesday, 27 July 2011 06:07

titleCount me among the many who were fans of Alias, the 2001-2006 series that starred Jennifer Garner as Sydney Bristow, an international spy recruited while in college.

What an intriguing  concept to have a young, bright woman worrying about saving the world – and passing her final exams.

It was a concept almost equal to the brilliant Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which used high school as a metaphor for horror.

Garner was certainly one of the main reasons why Alias was more than a one-note pony. Sure, Garner has movie-star looks but she also gave the impression that she really was the girl next door, down to earth, a loyal friend and whip smart.

But will she make a good sleuth? Especially one of mystery fiction’s most iconic sleuths.

Jennifer Garner has been tapped to play Miss Marple, the detective from Agatha Christie, in what is being called a “Disney reboot.”

Now you, I and everybody knows that Miss Marple is an elderly lady who watches over the goings on around her, especially in the small English village of St. Mary Mead. Miss Marple was played by Margaret Rutherford in four films during the 1960s, Angela Lansbury in the 1980 movie The Mirror Crack’d, and Joan Hickson in several BBC TV movies.

Of those, Hickson is considered by many to be the quintessential Miss Marple, whom Christie had said she based on her own grandmother.

Naturally, if a film ever is made with Garner as Miss Marple, we’ll see a younger and sexier sleuth. But is that in fitting with the character? Do we want to see Miss Marple’s earlier life? And the new Miss Marple won’t be living in a small English village but in an American city, according to several reports.

Often ideas for films just become that – ideas that never make it onto the screen.

What are your thoughts on this?  

Stolen Lives
Kevin Burton Smith

A lone wolf private eye with a dark, violent history? I think we’ve all had a sip of that brew. But author Mackenzie adds serious kick to the punch by making her hero a woman, and then setting the whole she-bang in South Africa’s Johannesburg, a place full of “crazy boomtown energy” and more than enough of its own dark, violent history.

In her second outing (after 2008’s Random Violence), hard-ass security specialist Jade de Jong is hired as a bodyguard by wealthy Pamela Jordan when her husband, the owner of a string of lucrative strip clubs, goes missing. Certainly Jade, a policeman’s daughter through and through, seems up to the task—she’s tough, determined, and totally focused, trained in various martial arts and armed with a Glock she’s not afraid to use—something that doesn’t sit well with her on-again, off-again lover David, a married police detective. And that’s the rub. Despite a fresh, eye-popping setting (Think you know South Africa? Think again), some genuinely nasty villains, a multiple-viewpoint story that ranges all over the globe, and an unsettling but intriguing plot that involves the international market of sexual slavery , far too much emphasis is wasted on Jade’s unsettled personal life, and even more aggravatingly, that of far too many secondary characters. With all those separate plot threads (romantic and otherwise) and their corresponding subplots clamoring for attention, it’s difficult for all but the most determined reader to keep track of—never mind care about—so many characters. And that includes Jade, who nearly gets lost in the shuffle. Which is a shame, because Jade herself is a complicated and compelling heroine and the author certainly has a deft hand with characters and action, and a real talent for exploring the darker side of human nature. It all makes for a heady but over-busy read. Perhaps the next time the author will trust Jade enough to give her a case as lean, clean, and mean as she is.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 05 May 2011 04:05

A lone wolf private eye with a dark, violent history? I think we’ve all had a sip of that brew. But author Mackenzie adds serious kick to the punch by making her hero a woman, and then setting the whole she-bang in South Africa’s Johannesburg, a place full of “crazy boomtown energy” and more than enough of its own dark, violent history.

In her second outing (after 2008’s Random Violence), hard-ass security specialist Jade de Jong is hired as a bodyguard by wealthy Pamela Jordan when her husband, the owner of a string of lucrative strip clubs, goes missing. Certainly Jade, a policeman’s daughter through and through, seems up to the task—she’s tough, determined, and totally focused, trained in various martial arts and armed with a Glock she’s not afraid to use—something that doesn’t sit well with her on-again, off-again lover David, a married police detective. And that’s the rub. Despite a fresh, eye-popping setting (Think you know South Africa? Think again), some genuinely nasty villains, a multiple-viewpoint story that ranges all over the globe, and an unsettling but intriguing plot that involves the international market of sexual slavery , far too much emphasis is wasted on Jade’s unsettled personal life, and even more aggravatingly, that of far too many secondary characters. With all those separate plot threads (romantic and otherwise) and their corresponding subplots clamoring for attention, it’s difficult for all but the most determined reader to keep track of—never mind care about—so many characters. And that includes Jade, who nearly gets lost in the shuffle. Which is a shame, because Jade herself is a complicated and compelling heroine and the author certainly has a deft hand with characters and action, and a real talent for exploring the darker side of human nature. It all makes for a heady but over-busy read. Perhaps the next time the author will trust Jade enough to give her a case as lean, clean, and mean as she is.

Treason at Lisson Grove
Betty Webb

It’s 1895, when amidst rumors of socialists and anarchists readying themselves to overthrow the British throne, Thomas Pitt, now working for England’s Special Branch, leaves for France in pursuit of a radical linked to the plot. He is unaware that Victor Narraway, his superior, is suspected of mishandling funds meant to pay an Irish informant. When the informant is murdered, Narraway is summarily removed from office, stranding Pitt in France and leaving his wife, Charlotte, on her own in London.

This sets up a serpentine plot that eventually sends Charlotte to Ireland with Narraway: he, to salvage his reputation and find the informant’s murderer; she, to save her beloved husband’s career. Before long, the two begin to suspect that Narraway’s downfall was caused by fallout from a case he’d once been involved in that brought about the deaths of an Irish couple tangentially connected to the IRA. When another murder occurs, Charlotte and Narraway find themselves without champions in a country that despises them for merely being English.

Perry writes smart books about smart people. She never condescends to her audience, expecting them to be as intelligent as her characters, and to have a good grasp of British history. Even though the action in her novels take place in the Victorian age, when women were supposed to have no real lives of their own, Charlotte’s ongoing rebellion is firmly grounded in the reality of that era’s social constraints. While women may have come a long way, baby, it’s Perry’s genius that she can show us how some attitudes have remained unchanged in 115 years.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 05 May 2011 04:05

perry_treasonatlissongroveThis smart Victorian-era thriller touches on British history, the IRA, and feminism.

A Drop of the Hard Stuff
Bob Smith

After a hiatus of more than six years, Lawrence Block has produced a new Matt Scudder book and it is a solid winner. It opens in the present as Scudder, chatting with a friend, relates the story of the murder of Jack Ellery, a childhood acquaintance with whom he had lost contact until the two met at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Jack was on the eighth step of AA’s 12-step program and was in the process of contacting all those whom he had harmed in his past to apologize and ask forgiveness—only instead of forgiveness, it seems someone may have given Jack the ultimate repose.

The reader accompanies Matt as he traverses his beloved New York City investigating each suspect, none of whom outwardly seem to have suitable cause to kill. Along the way Block provides a clear picture of AA, its rules and traditions, and especially its members, whose drinking addictions are sympathetically portrayed without belittlement or stereotyping. The conclusion might be a shocker, but after careful consideration the reaction will be, “But of course! It couldn’t be any other way.”

This is master storyteller Block at his best. He is an expert at creating fully developed characters, often with just a few lines of dialogue, and it is a pleasure to travel along-side Scudder as he visits his old haunts—the bars, churches, coffee shops, and other places that are as much a part of the story as are the characters. Loyal followers of the series will happily revisit, and new readers will discover, a New York seldom seen by tourists. Welcome back, Matt. Damn, we missed you!

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 05 May 2011 04:05

block_dropofthehardstuffAfter a hiatus of more than six years, Lawrence Block has produced a new Matt Scudder book.

Heads You Lose
Cheryl Solimini

Suffering from Spellman withdrawal? Until that dysfunctional detective family resurfaces in 2012, you may find some methadone-like relief in Lisa Lutz’s latest— a comic collaboration with poet/editor/ex-boyfriend David Hayward. This just might be the emergence of a new literary genre: the therapeutic thriller—couples counseling disguised as crime fiction. Or is it vice versa?

In the email exchange that precedes the first chapter, we learn that Lutz and Hayward shared not only a long-dissolved romantic history, but also a creative partnership that ended in “epic disaster.” Yet, Lutz, “a sucker for unfinished business,” lures her ex into a new project, and Hayward is game—“hopefully not in the hunting sense,” he adds. The duo then alternate writing duties, commenting on, and footnoting, each other’s efforts along the way. As the interpersonal missives increase in sarcasm and menace, the reader soon realizes exactly why these two didn’t make it (Thanksgiving food-poisoning and near-death road trip aside)—and fear for their characters’ fates as well.

Oh, yes—about the other plot. Lutz kicks it off by introducing us to Paul and Lacey Hansen, orphaned twentysomething siblings in rural northern California who discover a headless corpse on their homestead. Since that homestead is also their marijuana farm, they think it best to remove the body to a less incriminating spot.

But then, like so much unfinished business, the corpse returns to the scene of the crime, in an even less appealing state than before. As Heads You Lose is the first of Lutz’s novels to actually have a dead body, it’s nice that it gets so much action.

By the final chapter, the once-sleepy town is littered with victims—chosen, more or less, by how annoying that character is to each co-author. When Hayward trots out (or rather, limps out) Paul’s girlfriend, Brandy Chester (a brainy stripper disabled by a pole-dancing accident), it doesn’t take a PI to deduce that she’ll soon be in Lutz’s crosshairs.

Though Lutz and Hayward’s relationship may never have true closure, Heads You Lose wraps up the wacky with a satisfying whoo-hoo! This could be the start of a beautiful fictional friendship—if the plotting pair don’t try to whack each other first.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 05 May 2011 04:05

lutz_headsyouloseA therapeutic thriller—couples counseling disguised as hilarious crime fiction.

The White Devil
Bob Smith

Has the trend for vampire books subsided and will the horror void be filled by a resurgence of ghost stories? If so then The White Devil is right up there leading the charge. In a genre I’d categorize as “intellectual horror,” Justin Evans’ novel is for those who want cerebral stimulation while surrendering to that tingling chill that comes from being scared out of their wits. It deals with murder most gruesome, ghosts, and the life and loves of English poet Lord Byron.

Hoping to straighten him out before attending college, rebellious teenager Andrew Taylor is sent to England’s prestigious Harrow School by his parents. He had been expelled from his last school for doing drugs. Although an outsider, Andrew is cast in a school play about Lord Byron, to whom he bears an uncanny resemblance. The poet was a student at Harrow 200 years before and allegedly had a love affair with another male student, John Harness, which ended tragically. Harness’ spirit has hovered over the school ever since, but now manifests itself to Andrew, who watches in horror as the specter murders a classmate and threatens anyone close to Andrew. The ghost is persistent and Andrew is bedeviled as he tries to break free. Can he succeed before more of his friends are murdered or is his destiny controlled by the ghost?

Evans, who attended Harrow, describes its shadowy halls and dank cellars in eerie, atmospheric detail. His knowledge of Byron, whose poetry is quoted profusely, is first-rate. If, like me, you know little of the poet’s life, you’ll learn why he is so revered and why he is a favorite recurring figure in many Gothic romances. But be warned, although Andrew finds love and sex at Harrow, this is not a romance. It is an eerie, gory, horrific tale, perfect for a dark and stormy night.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 05 May 2011 04:05
evans_whitedevilAn intellectual horror for those who enjoy the tingling chill of being scared out of their wits.
Bent Road
Barbara Fister

In this debut novel set in the mid ’60s, a family of five moves from Detroit to an old house on the outskirts of a small Kansas town where Arthur Scott, the father of the family, grew up. The Scotts have a hard time adjusting to the isolation and the small-mindedness of the residents. Young Daniel has trouble making friends at school and his little sister Eve-ee retreats into a fantasy world, where she talks to her long-vanished aunt Eve and dresses in the clothes her aunt left behind when she died young. Eve-ee’s living Aunt Ruth has problems of her own. Her brutal husband is growing increasingly violent, yet when she leaves him to protect their unborn child, she is condemned by townsfolk for abandoning her marriage. When a child disappears from the town, rumors begin to fly about Ruth’s husband, who has been suspected for years of murdering Eve, Arthur and Ruth’s sister. Roy uses spare and elegant language to depict the increasing tension as the isolated family tries to protect Ruth from the hostility of the town, from her angry husband, and from the lengthening shadow of the secrets surrounding Eve’s death.

Readers may be reminded of Nancy Pickard’s novels set in small-town Kansas, where families keep secrets, but where the past cannot stay buried. Roy’s writing style is different in tone, though: cooler and more critical of rural society and its tendency to enforce a rigid moral code. Bent Road provides readers with an unsettling example of American Gothic.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 05 May 2011 05:05

In this debut novel set in the mid ’60s, a family of five moves from Detroit to an old house on the outskirts of a small Kansas town where Arthur Scott, the father of the family, grew up. The Scotts have a hard time adjusting to the isolation and the small-mindedness of the residents. Young Daniel has trouble making friends at school and his little sister Eve-ee retreats into a fantasy world, where she talks to her long-vanished aunt Eve and dresses in the clothes her aunt left behind when she died young. Eve-ee’s living Aunt Ruth has problems of her own. Her brutal husband is growing increasingly violent, yet when she leaves him to protect their unborn child, she is condemned by townsfolk for abandoning her marriage. When a child disappears from the town, rumors begin to fly about Ruth’s husband, who has been suspected for years of murdering Eve, Arthur and Ruth’s sister. Roy uses spare and elegant language to depict the increasing tension as the isolated family tries to protect Ruth from the hostility of the town, from her angry husband, and from the lengthening shadow of the secrets surrounding Eve’s death.

Readers may be reminded of Nancy Pickard’s novels set in small-town Kansas, where families keep secrets, but where the past cannot stay buried. Roy’s writing style is different in tone, though: cooler and more critical of rural society and its tendency to enforce a rigid moral code. Bent Road provides readers with an unsettling example of American Gothic.

Fade to Blue
Bob Smith

You don’t have to be a jazz fanatic to enjoy the Evan Horne series from Bill Moody because the mystery always stands firmly on its own, with the jazz motifs there to enhance the mood. In Fade to Blue, Ryan Stiles, Hollywood’s most bankable young star, is studying to take the role of a jazz pianist/detective—but he can’t play the piano. Who better than Evan, jazz pianist and amateur detective extraordinaire, to tutor the hotheaded star?

Evan moves into Stiles’ Beverly Hills estate where he encounters Hollywood at its best…and worst. Evan is surprised to discover that the plot of the movie revolves around one of his previous cases; and although he isn’t happy with this, he has signed a contract and can’t back out. Matters get worse when a paparazzo’s body is found at the bottom of a ravine, and suspicion of foul play falls on Stiles. The detective in Evan can’t help but investigate, especially when another death turns up. Evan doesn’t let Hollywood razzle-dazzle him, and sorts through the hype, lies, and inflated egos for the truth.

Like a good jam session, this book is equal parts pulse-racing excitement and laid back pleasure, with side trips in action that, like individual riffs, are both distinct and yet part of the whole. Quiet moments in small jazz cafes are juxtaposed with brisk action when Stiles’ explosive temper and ego erupt. Before you settle in with this fine mystery, put on a CD of any of the jazz greats and, guaranteed, you’ll have an excellent time.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 05 May 2011 05:05

You don’t have to be a jazz fanatic to enjoy the Evan Horne series from Bill Moody because the mystery always stands firmly on its own, with the jazz motifs there to enhance the mood. In Fade to Blue, Ryan Stiles, Hollywood’s most bankable young star, is studying to take the role of a jazz pianist/detective—but he can’t play the piano. Who better than Evan, jazz pianist and amateur detective extraordinaire, to tutor the hotheaded star?

Evan moves into Stiles’ Beverly Hills estate where he encounters Hollywood at its best…and worst. Evan is surprised to discover that the plot of the movie revolves around one of his previous cases; and although he isn’t happy with this, he has signed a contract and can’t back out. Matters get worse when a paparazzo’s body is found at the bottom of a ravine, and suspicion of foul play falls on Stiles. The detective in Evan can’t help but investigate, especially when another death turns up. Evan doesn’t let Hollywood razzle-dazzle him, and sorts through the hype, lies, and inflated egos for the truth.

Like a good jam session, this book is equal parts pulse-racing excitement and laid back pleasure, with side trips in action that, like individual riffs, are both distinct and yet part of the whole. Quiet moments in small jazz cafes are juxtaposed with brisk action when Stiles’ explosive temper and ego erupt. Before you settle in with this fine mystery, put on a CD of any of the jazz greats and, guaranteed, you’ll have an excellent time.

Live Wire
Betty Webb

One of the fascinating things about Harlan Coben’s thrillers is that although his plots never fail to exhilarate, he could remove entire story lines and still deliver engrossing books; his characters are that fascinating. In this outing for sports and entertainment agent Myron Bolitar, Suzze Trevantino, a former tennis great—and a former addict—is pregnant with her rocker husband’s baby. Someone has been spreading rumors that the baby isn’t his, and it’s damaging their relationship. When good guy Myron sets out to find the truth, he uncovers a snake’s nest built of sex, lies, and rock and roll.

Adding texture to the serpentine plot are Myron’s colorful friends and business associates. Ex-wrestler Esperanza is a bi-sexual beauty queen once called Little Pocahontas; Big Cyndi, the former Big Chief Mama, has a weakness for Batman costumes; super-rich Win is a schizoid blend of Captain America and torture-killer. All join forces to help Myron stay alive and kicking when he’s set upon by various and sundry thugs. That’s enough for a great read right there, but Coben has always found family dynamics intriguing, and here he leavens the craziness with a somber side plot involving Bolitar’s own disappeared brother Brad. The two have been estranged for years, partially because of Kitty, Brad’s deeply troubled wife, but now it appears that a reunion just might be possible.

Readers who have had the misfortune to have an addict in the family will understand the heartache underlying the humor in this book, and the lucky few who don’t will learn how the power of addiction can afflict even non-addicts.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 05 May 2011 05:05

One of the fascinating things about Harlan Coben’s thrillers is that although his plots never fail to exhilarate, he could remove entire story lines and still deliver engrossing books; his characters are that fascinating. In this outing for sports and entertainment agent Myron Bolitar, Suzze Trevantino, a former tennis great—and a former addict—is pregnant with her rocker husband’s baby. Someone has been spreading rumors that the baby isn’t his, and it’s damaging their relationship. When good guy Myron sets out to find the truth, he uncovers a snake’s nest built of sex, lies, and rock and roll.

Adding texture to the serpentine plot are Myron’s colorful friends and business associates. Ex-wrestler Esperanza is a bi-sexual beauty queen once called Little Pocahontas; Big Cyndi, the former Big Chief Mama, has a weakness for Batman costumes; super-rich Win is a schizoid blend of Captain America and torture-killer. All join forces to help Myron stay alive and kicking when he’s set upon by various and sundry thugs. That’s enough for a great read right there, but Coben has always found family dynamics intriguing, and here he leavens the craziness with a somber side plot involving Bolitar’s own disappeared brother Brad. The two have been estranged for years, partially because of Kitty, Brad’s deeply troubled wife, but now it appears that a reunion just might be possible.

Readers who have had the misfortune to have an addict in the family will understand the heartache underlying the humor in this book, and the lucky few who don’t will learn how the power of addiction can afflict even non-addicts.

The Fifth Witness
Kevin Burton Smith

Is Michael Connelly stepping out on Harry Bosch or what? Because lately it seems the restless author has been spending an inordinate amount of time with his criminal defense Los Angeles attorney Mickey Haller instead of staying at home with his bread-and-butter, troubled homicide cop. In less than three years, Haller (first introduced in The Lincoln Lawyer in 2005) has appeared in three subsequent novels and at least one short story. But while the Haller books seem to be doing well for their author, the profits apparently aren’t trickling down to Mickey.

His latest, the timely, angry The Fifth Witness, finds the perpetually on-the-make attorney still motorvating around town, hustling for clients, but now reduced to “foreclosure defense” cases—keeping banks and mortgage companies from illegally evicting his clients from their homes. Not exactly big bucks cases, maybe, but Mickey’s more than content to deal in volume—all from the back seat of his Lincoln, of course.

Still, a big paycheck would be nice, and one waltzes in when his foreclosure client, Lisa Trammel, an unpleasantly self-righteous single mom turned mortgage activist, is charged with the murder of Mitchell Bondurant, the mortgage specialist at her bank. Haller immediately takes on Lisa’s defense, his eye on the lucrative movie rights to the story.

But to call this story “ripped from the headlines” is to slight Connelly, whose story goes far beyond glib, simplistic newspaper accounts and sound-bite rhetoric, and digs deep into our current economic and cultural malaise. Connelly’s actually read a newspaper story or two and it shows, as he creates a surprisingly effective and unsettling tale that meshes his usual sterling courtroom intrigue, solid detective work, muscular plotting, and sharply etched characters with a large dumping of angry salt on the cynical, callous leeches—from Wall Street to Hollywood and beyond—who would profit from our suffering.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 05 May 2011 05:05

connelly_fifthwitnessCourtroom intrigue, solid detective work, muscular plotting, and sharply etched characters with a large dumping of angry salt on the cynical, callous leeches—from Wall Street to Hollywood and beyond.

Deadly Currents
Leslie Doran

Deadly Currents is the promising debut novel in Beth Groundwater’s new series entitled Rocky Mountain Outdoors Adventures Mysteries. Mandy Tanner, former river guide, is now a newly minted river ranger charged with keeping the Arkansas River and its visitors safe. It’s Mandy’s second week on patrol when she is stationed just below dangerous rapids watching out for rafters who might need help. Suddenly she sees Gonzo, an experienced guide employed by her Uncle Bill’s rafting business, in trouble with a full load of inexperienced passengers. The boat flips and Mandy rescues two from the murky waters, but one, Tom King, dies in her arms.

Unexpectedly, the rafter’s autopsy discloses that he was poisoned. Mandy’s relief from her own guilt over King’s death is short-lived though, when her beloved uncle dies—a victim of the stress of a potential lawsuit and the loss of business from the accident. As Mandy digs into King’s murder, she discovers that he was a land developer with a long list of people who may have wanted him dead: a betrayed wife, a scorned girlfriend, a disowned son, business rivals, and local environmentalists who opposed his development plans.

Author Groundwater taps the timely issue of environmentalists versus developers, which has become a common theme in many mysteries set in the increasingly not-so-Wild West, but also offers an intimate look at whitewater rafting and introduces readers to the small town of Salida, Colorado. This town owes its livelihood to the mighty Arkansas River and all the activities that go with thrilling water adventures.

Supporting Mandy are her best friend, Cynthia (always good for a new supply of dumb-blonde jokes); Detective Quintana, the local law enforcement representative; and new romantic interest and fellow “River Rat” Rob Juarez. The amiable cast, along with Groundwater’s fascinating firsthand knowledge of rafting, makes this a series worth watching.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 05 May 2011 05:05

Deadly Currents is the promising debut novel in Beth Groundwater’s new series entitled Rocky Mountain Outdoors Adventures Mysteries. Mandy Tanner, former river guide, is now a newly minted river ranger charged with keeping the Arkansas River and its visitors safe. It’s Mandy’s second week on patrol when she is stationed just below dangerous rapids watching out for rafters who might need help. Suddenly she sees Gonzo, an experienced guide employed by her Uncle Bill’s rafting business, in trouble with a full load of inexperienced passengers. The boat flips and Mandy rescues two from the murky waters, but one, Tom King, dies in her arms.

Unexpectedly, the rafter’s autopsy discloses that he was poisoned. Mandy’s relief from her own guilt over King’s death is short-lived though, when her beloved uncle dies—a victim of the stress of a potential lawsuit and the loss of business from the accident. As Mandy digs into King’s murder, she discovers that he was a land developer with a long list of people who may have wanted him dead: a betrayed wife, a scorned girlfriend, a disowned son, business rivals, and local environmentalists who opposed his development plans.

Author Groundwater taps the timely issue of environmentalists versus developers, which has become a common theme in many mysteries set in the increasingly not-so-Wild West, but also offers an intimate look at whitewater rafting and introduces readers to the small town of Salida, Colorado. This town owes its livelihood to the mighty Arkansas River and all the activities that go with thrilling water adventures.

Supporting Mandy are her best friend, Cynthia (always good for a new supply of dumb-blonde jokes); Detective Quintana, the local law enforcement representative; and new romantic interest and fellow “River Rat” Rob Juarez. The amiable cast, along with Groundwater’s fascinating firsthand knowledge of rafting, makes this a series worth watching.

Remote Control
M. Schlecht

Set in Sendai, Japan, this near-futuristic conspiracy thriller opens with the mid-parade murder of a newly elected prime minister. Ubiquitous public surveillance devices called Security Pods allow the government to quickly identify a prime suspect, Masaharu Aoyagi, but he’s just the fall guy, a mild-mannered former delivery-truck driver suddenly thrust into the role of Lee Harvey Oswald in this drama modeled on the JFK assassination. The police are after him, he has no idea why, and running seems to be the proper response.

As the manhunt kicks into high gear, Isaka carefully sprinkles in class updates from Aoyagi’s old circle of college friends. These friends, with whom he has lost touch, are each drawn into the current action, abetting his escape—sometimes without his knowledge—and providing sentimental balance to Aoyagi’s story. In fact, filled with Beatles references (the original Japanese title of the book is Golden Slumber, as in the Abbey Road medley) and off-kilter characters (e.g., an invalid with two leg casts and a collection of fake manhole covers), it’s as if Isaka has dropped a Haruki Murakami protagonist into a high-stakes thriller. Along the way, Aoyagi transforms from the kind of polite nice guy an ex-girlfriend breaks up with because she doesn’t want to “settle for too little” into the No.1 most wanted man in Japan. The kind who shares cup noodle ramen in a dirty squat with a serial killer known as “Cutter.”

Both a comment on contemporary social disconnection and a warning about what can happen when a complacent public welcomes the loss of privacy with open arms, Isaka’s Remote Control is a timely thriller. And a rare one that takes an ordinary guy, throws him into the fire, and doesn’t make him into some kind of “Sendai’s Bravest” hero at the end. Rather, he gets by, with a little help from his friends.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 05 May 2011 05:05

isaka_remotecontrolA mild-mannered former delivery-truck driver is thrust into the role the wrongly accused on the run in this mad chase from one of Japan's top thriller writers.

The Informationist
Daniel Luft

One thing is certain about Vanessa Michael Munroe, the heroine of Taylor Stevens’ first novel: she is badass. She is also a corporate spy who works solo and for herself; she breaks laws, enjoys fighting with muggers, has a body laced with scars but is still irresistible to men, is fluent in any language or dialect of Europe or Africa, holds several forged passports, and loves to ride a sleek, black motorcycle. That’s badass.

The Informationist begins when Munroe is lured out of Turkey back to America after a 10-year absence with a $5 million offer to find Texas oil baron Richard Burbank’s daughter, who has been missing in East Africa for four years. Emily Burbank’s father has spent millions on several organizations that have failed to find her and takes an expensive chance on Munroe’s one-woman establishment. The only hitch is that Munroe must take along one of Burbank’s employees, a security professional named Miles Bradford.

The plot, action, and characterization are quite simple as the two leads bump egos, bickering even while in mid-chase with Angolan assassins on their tail. But what matters here is the fun of the journey. This story travels where few American novels go, and the author is as comfortable describing the cities, villages, and political climates of Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon as she is describing downtown Dallas.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 05 May 2011 05:05

One thing is certain about Vanessa Michael Munroe, the heroine of Taylor Stevens’ first novel: she is badass. She is also a corporate spy who works solo and for herself; she breaks laws, enjoys fighting with muggers, has a body laced with scars but is still irresistible to men, is fluent in any language or dialect of Europe or Africa, holds several forged passports, and loves to ride a sleek, black motorcycle. That’s badass.

The Informationist begins when Munroe is lured out of Turkey back to America after a 10-year absence with a $5 million offer to find Texas oil baron Richard Burbank’s daughter, who has been missing in East Africa for four years. Emily Burbank’s father has spent millions on several organizations that have failed to find her and takes an expensive chance on Munroe’s one-woman establishment. The only hitch is that Munroe must take along one of Burbank’s employees, a security professional named Miles Bradford.

The plot, action, and characterization are quite simple as the two leads bump egos, bickering even while in mid-chase with Angolan assassins on their tail. But what matters here is the fun of the journey. This story travels where few American novels go, and the author is as comfortable describing the cities, villages, and political climates of Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon as she is describing downtown Dallas.