221 BBC: Writing for the World’s Only Complete Dramatised Canon and Beyond (With Some Observations Upon Previous Radio Appearances of Mr. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson)
Jon L. Breen

While major network radio drama gradually died out in the United States through the 1950s, the British never stopped taking the medium seriously. In this wittily titled volume, previously published in much shorter form in the UK, the principal writer for a complete dramatization of all the Sherlock Holmes stories describes his experiences in entertaining fashion with some especially interesting points, illustrated by script examples, on the process of adaptation. The series ran from 1989 to 1998 with the Baker Street duo played by Clive Merrison, who strongly resembles Holmes as drawn by Sidney Paget, and Michael Williams. Fifteen additional programs, drawn from the untold cases, were broadcast between 2002 and 2010, with Andrew Sachs taking over as Watson after the death of Williams. The script for one of these new cases, “The Abergavenny Murder,” is published in its entirety in an appendix.

Dates and credits for all the episodes reveal that many performers familiar to viewers of British TV and films worked in the series, among them Brian Blessed, Patrick Malahide, Peter Sallis, Dennis Quilley, Desmond Llewelyn, Edward Petherbridge, Harriet Walter, Timothy West, Eleanor Bron, Tom Baker, Lindsay Duncan, Susannah Corbett, Hugh Bonneville, and (in a surprise one-shot as Mrs. Hudson) Judi Dench, who was the wife of Michael Williams.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 10 August 2015 01:08
An entertaining look at the Sherlock Holmes BBC radio dramatizations
The Cozy Cookbook: More Than 100 Recipes From Today’s Bestselling Mystery Authors
Jon L. Breen

Completist collectors of mystery cookbooks, of which there must be a whole shelf-full by now, will probably want to add this selection of recipes, with some fictional excerpts, from Berkley’s lineup of cozy writers, even if it seems better cast as a convention promotional giveaway than something offered for sale. A small-print notice on the front cover notes that the book “contains previously published material.” Among the better-known contributors are Laura Childs, Cleo Coyle, and Julie Hyzy.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 10 August 2015 01:08
The Sherlock Holmes Companion: An Elementary Guide (Updated)
Jon L. Breen

You well may ask, do we need another book like this? No, not really, but it’s a handsome coffee-table volume, most notable for its many well-produced illustrations. Interviews with actors who have played Holmes (Roger Llewellyn, Douglas Wilmer) or Watson (David Burke, Edward Hardwicke, Philip Franks), with writers who have adapted them for books or TV (Caleb Carr, Bert Coules, Mark Gattiss), and with a Holmes scholar and museum curator (Catherine Cooke) provide some fresh viewpoints. Most of the other contents are familiar: story synopses, profiles of major characters, Doyle biography, history of media adaptations, etc.

The chapter putting Holmes in the context of detective-fiction history repeats the usual reductive generalizations about Golden Age detectives and makes the absurd statement that 50 years after Anna Katharine (here misspelled Catherine) Green’s debut in 1878, “the genre would be dominated by women.” After discussing the contribution of Wilkie Collins, can one really say that Doyle and Holmes brought respectability to the genre? And surely Sexton Blake was never more famous than Sherlock Holmes, even in Britain, let alone anywhere else in the world. Caleb Carr’s contention that Harry Potter has now overtaken Holmes is also highly dubious. A few years ago, some might have made such a claim for James Bond, but I doubt many would today.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 10 August 2015 01:08
Cop Shows: A Critical History of Police Dramas on Television
Jon L. Breen

The development of television police series is traced chronologically from Dragnet (premiered in 1951) to Justified (2010). Nineteen shows get full-chapter treatment, including recommended episodes and guides to further reading, while a 20th chapter considers dozens of others in a paragraph each. The subjects are well chosen, among them Highway Patrol, Naked City, Hawaii Five-O, Hill Street Blues, Cagney & Lacey, Law & Order, NYPD Blue, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, and The Wire. The summaries of the programs, their style, characters, social or political slant, and historical significance are efficiently done and mostly free of academic jargon. Though three of the five authors are British, coverage is limited to American product.

In the principal author’s generally excellent discussion of Columbo, some of the history gets scrambled: the pilot, which appeared as a TV movie in 1968, was not part of a revolving NBC Mystery Movie lineup; that series was inaugurated in September 1971 with the third Columbo case, “Murder by the Book.” And surely the contribution of Dial M for Murder to the popularity of inverted detection is attributable to Frederick Knott’s play and Hitchcock’s film more than to a later BBC TV series.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 10 August 2015 01:08
Target Utopia
Hank Wagner

Target Utopia, the 14th installment of Dale Brown and Jim DeFelice’s Dreamland series, finds team Whiplash dealing with an apparent theft of technology when several unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) appear unexpectedly during military operations near Malaysia. Besides the outrageousness of their sheer existence, it also rankles the team that the design of the UAVs seems to incorporate supposedly top-secret Whiplash technology. Thus begins a high-stakes game of hide-and-seek, as the team attempts to draw their mysterious enemy out of hiding. There are severe repercussions for the United States, the president, and Whiplash itself, as they come to realize that a new and powerful player has entered the geopolitical fray.

Fast-paced and exciting, Team Utopia can be enjoyed by fans of the series and newbies alike. This particular installment represents a nice jumping-on point for those not familiar with Whiplash’s backstory; though knowledge of the events depicted in previous books adds a certain richness to the reading experience. Brown and DeFelice also plant some intriguing seeds in this installment, which should bear interesting fruit in subsequent adventures.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 10 August 2015 01:08
The Readaholics and the Falcon Fiasco
Lynne Maxwell

When it’s time to relax, there is no better place to begin than by reading a book about books. Laura DiSilverio presents The Readaholics and the Falcon Fiasco, the inaugural novel in her Book Club Mystery series. You don’t need to be a super sleuth to guess that the “Falcon Fiasco” must have some tangential relationship to Dashiell Hammett’s classic, The Maltese Falcon; however, you will need to immerse yourself in this excellent book to discover how the connection plays out. DiSilverio introduces series protagonist Amy-Faye Johnson, a wedding planner in Heaven, Colorado, a small town nestled in the Rocky Mountains. Amy-Faye is a busy woman with a bustling career in event planning. Nonetheless, she remains closely connected to a circle of old friends who meet regularly as the Readaholics, a mystery book club. As fate would have it, one of the book club members dies suddenly. While the police and the victim’s brother declare the death a suicide, Amy-Faye and the Readaholics have known their friend for years, and are certain that she would never have killed herself. So who killed her? Amy-Faye decides that she should determine who would benefit from the death and follow the money to track down the killer. This isn’t the only item on Amy-Faye’s plate, though. She has also been hired, unwittingly, to plan the wedding of her ex-boyfriend. The past reasserts itself, raising long-buried passions. This promising series is addictive!

Teri Duerr
Monday, 10 August 2015 01:08
Murder at Barclay Meadow
Katrina Niidas Holm

Wendy Sand Eckel’s Murder at Barclay Meadow is the tale of Rosalie Hart, a woman who tries to rekindle her relationship with her husband after finally emptying their nest only to discover he’s taken a mistress. Unable to sleep in the bed where he betrayed her, Rosalie decamps to a farm she inherited on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. She plans to lick her wounds in private while pondering her future, but instead becomes fixated on Megan Johnston, a young college student whose body washes up on her property. The police rule the death an accident, but Rosalie remains unconvinced and launches an inquiry of her own.

Rosalie isn’t your typical traditional mystery heroine. At 45, she’s older than we’ve come to expect from the genre, but at the same time, the shelter of a long marriage has left her somewhat prudish and naive. Her profession doesn’t define her; in fact, she hasn’t held a job in quite some time. Rather than choosing a plucky sidekick or a potential love interest to help her crack the case, she assembles a Scooby Gang comprising the members of her memoir-writing class—none of whom are exactly cozy-novel archetypes themselves. Her motivation to concern herself with Megan’s murder is unique, as well. Rosalie tells herself she’s seeking justice for a victim who reminds her of her daughter, but while that’s true, she’s mostly just desperate for the diversion. When we meet her, she’s in pain and adrift, fumbling her way through the dissolution of her marriage and grieving the end of the life she once led. Her investigation lends purpose to her daily existence and distracts from her pain long enough for it to begin to fade.

Murder at Barclay Meadow is Eckel’s debut novel, and it’s a mildly paced but thoroughly engaging read. The plot is solid, and while I wouldn’t exactly call the mystery fair play, Eckel offers up enough suspects and red herrings to lend that illusion. The prose is atmospheric and intelligent; the author vividly describes the sights, scents, sounds, and sensations that make up Rosalie’s world. And the relationships Eckel’s crafts between characters are realistic and nuanced. Eckel’s training as a psychotherapist shines through; the book’s quietest moments are by far its most compelling, and she uses them to offer some shockingly insightful observations on divorce and its aftermath.

My only real criticism of Murder at Barclay Meadow is that Eckel doesn’t do nearly enough to develop her antagonists; they read like cartoon villains. The town sheriff is perhaps the worst offender, bullying Rosalie so aggressively and single-mindedly that their confrontations border on parody, sapping the story of tension and authenticity. The mystery may be the engine that drives the plot, but at its heart, it is a story about love, loss, and finding oneself. It’s entertainment and self-help wrapped up in a single murderous package, and it’s a refreshing change from the cozy norm.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 10 August 2015 01:08
Dead Rapunzel
Robin Agnew

This is the first book I’ve read in Victoria Houston’s long-lived Loon Lake series, and it’s a pure delight. The characters have an ease accrued over a long series, and I felt comfortable with them right away. There is Police Chief Llewellyn Ferris (Lew to you), and her lover and sometime helper, retired dentist Doc Osborne (who even Lew refers to as Doc).

Wealthy widow Rudd Tomlinson has been shoved in front of an oncoming truck and killed. When Rudd’s best friend Judith shows up on the scene where the two were scheduled to meet, she explicates the complicated and unpleasant Tomlinson family for the chief and the doc, and the three form an alliance, determined to find Rudd’s killer.

Rudd was the late-in-life second wife to the wealthy Philip Tomlinson; and as Judith tells it, it was a true love match after a long and unhappy first marriage for him. Two of his children were openly hostile to Rudd in life; the third and youngest, Kenzie, embraced Rudd and the happiness she brought to her father. None are happy to discover that Judith is the executor of the estate, and that she’s moving forward with plans to construct a museum on the vast Tomlinson property. If the killer isn’t found, all three children will be left without a penny.

Houston has a brisk and enjoyable storytelling style, punctuating her narrative with tales of fly and ice fishing, and with a wonderful, if brief, ice fishing scene. While I was easily able to figure out whodunit, I really enjoyed each and every character and the way Houston told her story. This is also a great book to read during the summer, as its set during a brutal Wisconsin winter. Houston’s also able to make you feel every bit of the freezing Wisconsin winter.

Sometimes, I don’t require anything more than a good story, well told. Houston delivers this in spades. And while the killer’s identity wasn’t a surprise, there’s a suspenseful and exciting piece at the end of the novel. Like fellow Wisconsinite Mary Logue, this is a writer to savor, even if the concise storytelling style of both authors make that enjoyable experience all too brief.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 10 August 2015 01:08
The Convictions of John Delahunt
Robin Agnew

Based on a true incident, historian Andrew Hughes turns to fiction to dramatize the story of John Delahunt, an informant for the Dublin Castle in the 1840s. The castle was the center of a virtual spy system with intelligence on everyone from the lowliest worker to the highest members of government, often thwarting radical movements deemed dangerous to society.

The book focuses on John Delahunt, a sometime student who falls for Helen, a young woman slightly out of his social class. Because one of his first cases involves keeping the young woman’s brother out of trouble, the family looks upon him somewhat favorably, and John and Helen are certainly in love.

John’s connection with Dublin Castle becomes full time and it’s on this income that he hopes to support his wife. But when Helen’s family discovers some of John’s more unsavory professional connections, they turn against him. Helen and John marry despite her family’s objections, and end up living in a tenement when she is disowned by her family.

Delahunt begins to see the underside of reporting to the Castle, but he now knows too much, has done too much, and he needs the money too much. He’s drawn along until a series of events leads to the tragic death of a young Italian, and eventually to the death of a young boy. The way it’s portrayed in the book, the killing is needless and brutal in every way.

John is eventually abandoned by Helen, and even his cohorts at Castle turn against him, as he’s awaiting execution for the murder of the child. With nothing left to lose, he writes the confession that serves as the basis of the novel.

While I’d recommend this book as a historical tour of 1840s Dublin, I wouldn’t recommend it as a crime novel. The death of the child lacked suspense and impact on me as a reader; I was far more engaged in the story of John and Helen. There’s a nice historical note at the end in which the author’s passion is evident; it’s a bit lacking in the novel itself.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 10 August 2015 01:08
Once Upon a Crime
Cheryl Solimini

Since her unfortunate foray into the forest with brother Hansel (aka Hans), Gretel has grown up—and out. It seems that Gretel’s sweet tooth has morphed into a meat tooth, her frequent feasting on the best that Bavarian butchers have to offer served up by Hans, now an excellent cook and an even better quaffer of beer and schnapps. (Gretel blames his drinking problem on the low self-esteem Hans has suffered since having to be rescued from the witch’s oven by his then-little sister.) Despite her height and girth, the now thirtysomething fairy-tale icon manages to outfit herself elaborately and fashionably whenever she reluctantly leaves her daybed.

But I—and author P. J. Brackston—digress! This is crime fiction after all, and so Gretel must earn her bread and butter and weisswurst as a private investigator for hire in her home hamlet of Gesternstadt, circa 1776. Surely, she will poke into the mysterious fire at the local cart-maker’s workshop. But, no, Gretel has her eyes out for cats—the three gone missing from the kitty-cluttered residence of her only paying customer, Frau Hapsburg. Thankfully, the two cases converge when Gretel finds a bell, not unlike those worn by the frau’s felines, amid the ashen rubble. Oh, and yes, there’s also that charred unclaimed corpse with a finger missing.

In this “prequel” to her Gretel and the Case of the Missing Frog Prints, Brackston (who is also a writer of romantic historical fantasy) has re-entered territory that is Grimm, but storytelling that is not. Tongue and other sandwich fillings firmly in cheek, she playfully updates classic childhood characters from a contemporary adult’s perspective, including Jack of beanstalk fame’s overlooked younger sister, a crone who cackles for cash, a lascivious troll with hygiene issues, a covetous giant with a speech impediment, and a fair princess who is anything but. Though Gretel spends as much time planning a meal and her wardrobe as working a lead, once she has been accused of kidnapping and murder and threatened with torture and hanging, she gets the job done. And so does Brackston, with an enchanting take on what happens after “happily ever after.”

Teri Duerr
Monday, 10 August 2015 01:08
Day Four
Betty Webb

Imagine a Dean Koontz novel set on a foundering cruise ship plagued by ghosts, a serial rapist, and the Norovirus and you have Day Four, a jaw-dropping thrill ride that takes you to some strange places.

When famed psychic Celine Del Ray boards the Beautiful Dreamer with a gaggle of her naive followers, it sets in motion a series of events that are either otherworldly or a case of mass hypnosis. Among the nearly 3,000 souls on the ship are Maddie, Celine’s burned-out assistant; Devi, a ship’s security officer from India; Jesse, a drug-addicted doctor from South Africa; and Xavier, a cynical Miami blogger determined to prove Celine a fraud.

In the beginning, all goes as planned, but a couple of days out into the Gulf of Mexico, the ship’s engines fail. So do the backup generators. All contact with the mainland is lost, and the voyage turns into an ugly nightmare. At first, the passengers are merely annoyed by the mounting inconveniences, but as ghostly apparitions begin roaming the foul-smelling hallways (the toilets no longer work), their annoyance turns into terror. When a storm rolls in and huge waves batter the paralyzed ship, they wonder if they’re all going to die. Some do.

Ghostly goings-on are standard stuff in the world of supernatural thrillers, but author Sarah Lotz isn’t satisfied grinding out a mere spookfest. The scares are there all right, but they are delivered in the midst of deeply considered character studies of people who are challenged by the unthinkable and the choices they have to make to stay alive. Watching their courage grow (or fail) as conditions worsen is one of the book’s major pleasures, and we wonder with them why no one has come to their aid.

It’s a risky thing for a writer not to answer all the questions her book poses, but Lotz bravely takes that risk. In the book’s final section, she pulls away from the action to give us a series of interviews with the survivors of the Beautiful Dreamer, and that’s when we realize that we may not ever get any answers, and that sometimes, that is the answer. Day Four is an audacious novel, written by an expert, a writer who knows when to describe, and when to withhold. It also doesn’t hurt that Lotz knows her way around the human heart.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 10 August 2015 01:08
Freedom’s Child
Jordan Foster

Freedom Oliver spends as much time pouring her own drinks as she does for the patrons at the Whammy bar in the remote Oregon coastal town of Painter. She has a reputation for taking matters into her own hands—or more accurately, fists—when the situation calls for it. The local cops not only know her by name, but Officer James Mattley is so familiar with her binge-drinking ways that he forgoes putting her in a holding cell to sober up and just drives her home. This means that he’s also privy to Freedom’s drunken stories about her children, Ethan and Layla, whose existence she denies when she’s sober. Mattley also warns his new partner about Freedom’s aversion to being overly handled, especially by cops, when she’s drunk—we learn that she was once raped by a cop. During her former life 20 years earlier, Freedom Oliver was known as Nessa Delaney, the wife of a sleazy NYPD detective whose hellish family makes most people’s in-laws look like saints.

The drama in the narrative, from Freedom’s penchant for alcohol to the repulsiveness of the various Delaney relations, is turned to the highest setting. Freedom doesn’t just drink, she gets blackout drunk; the Delaneys aren’t just unpleasant, they’re bordering on evil. It’s no surprise, then, that Freedom-as-Nessa kills her husband, Mark, in self-defense; he had it coming.

In an interesting twist, Mark’s brother, Matthew, is convicted and Nessa is placed in the Witness Protection Program. There’s just one problem: during the protracted legal battle to get Matthew to take the fall for the crime, she signed away her parental rights. Goodbye, Ethan and Layla. Hello, childless Freedom Oliver. Ethan and Layla are now Mason and Rebekah, who, in keeping with the rest of the plot’s propensity for the preposterous, were raised by religious zealots (to put it mildly) in Kentucky.

When Federal marshals alert Freedom that Matthew is out of prison and, naturally, wants revenge, she’s determined to save her children from the clutches of the Delaney clan. Coincidentally, at least for the narrative, Rebekah has disappeared from her cultish homestead, much to the consternation of big brother, Mason, now an up-and-coming attorney. With Rebekah in the wind and a vengeful Matthew on the loose, Freedom sets off on her cross-country journey on, what else, a motorcycle, with little more than a Glock and the clothes on her back.

Jax Miller is never short on plot; in fact, she crams too much into what could have been a compelling story of a woman’s destruction and path to possible redemption. Readers don’t need a doomsday cult and gunrunning—let alone the entire side story with Freedom and the Native Americans she encounters while tearing across the country on the stolen bike—to feel a connection to Freedom Oliver. She’s a tough, feral mother who wants to protect the children she barely knows—it would have improved the novel to let the excess plotlines go and focus on her.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 10 August 2015 01:08
The Fatal Flame
Rachel Prindle

In the third and final novel in the Timothy Wilde series (after Seven for a Secret and Gods of Gotham), old enemies return, as well as old friends, all of them entwining into a mystery where nothing is as it seems. In New York City, 1848, police officer Timothy Wilde, is approached by Robert Symmes, a devious alderman running for reelection, to find out who is behind the threats against Symmes’ life. Meanwhile, Timothy’s elder brother, Valentine, announces that he is running against Symmes, sparking a dangerous feud between the two candidates.

The Fatal Flame is a suspenseful read with many surprises, and excitement throughout: fires, feminist and labor rights movements, and a brothel takedown among other happenings. The period dialogue can be challenging (there is a glossary of terms) , the subject matter tough and gritty, but the characters in The Fatal Flame are complex and real. Some characters are lovable, some are downright repulsive, and some enigmatic, with intentions, good or bad, that aren’t revealed until the end of the book.

Timothy Wilde, an open-minded and witty man, is an endearing character. He injects humor with his wry dialogue and cares deeply for those in need without prejudice. There’s also Timothy’s brother, Valentine, a conflicted and sometimes unpleasant man; and Elen, Timothy’s no-nonsense landlady with a motherly side. All have their own pasts, ambitions, and shortcomings.

With nail-biting scenes, tender moments, and shocking revelations, The Fatal Flame is a good historical mystery novel for those looking for a deep, immersive, and emotionally satisfying read.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 10 August 2015 02:08
Superfluous Women
Jackie Houchin

Set in England in the 1920s, Superfluous Women is a cozy in the style of Miss Marple. Carola Dunn’s inquisitive heroine, Daisy Dalrymple, is not a spinster, however, for early in the series she marries Detective Chief Inspector Alec Fletcher of Scotland Yard and becomes his grudgingly tolerated partner in solving crime.

Following WWI there were two million more women than men in Britain. These “superfluous” women, their dreams of husbands and children dashed, turned instead to earning a living. Some pooled their resources and bought houses together, a practice often disdained by neighbors.

In this book, Daisy travels to Beaconsfield to escape the smog of London and convalesce from bronchitis. She also wants to meet up with an old school chum who’s recently moved there. Surprised but delighted to learn that her friend has two housemates she joins them for tea.

When Alec arrives for the weekend she persuades him to accept her new friends’ invitation for Sunday lunch. The women mention the previous owner’s wine collection and the fact that the door to the cellar is locked and the key missing. Alec agrees to pick the lock and discovers not wine, but a decomposing body at the foot of the steps.

As a witness Alec cannot officially investigate, and the resident police are called in. But without an identification of the victim and only a few dead-end clues, local Superintendent Underwood petitions Scotland Yard for Alec’s help.

First on the list of suspects are the three women, but Daisy, determined to exonerate her friends, begins digging. Her husband’s admonitions to keep out of police business are sweetly ignored, as she scrutinizes the citizens of Beaconsfield until one emerges with the motive, means, and opportunity.

Superfluous Women is a charming, easy-to-read, old-fashioned whodunit. There are enough culprits, clues, and rabbit trails to keep the cleverest fans entertained and guessing. Dunn’s characters are likable, or despicable, and entirely convincing. Her attention to historical detail and the sprinkling of quaint words and mannerisms throughout the book convey the period convincingly.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 10 August 2015 02:08
A classic cozy mystery set in 1920s England
Green Hell
Kevin Burton Smith

A fast sneeze of a book, but don’t dismiss Green Hell just because of its skimpy word count.

Truth? Ken Bruen doesn’t need a lot of words to tell his tales of perpetually falling Irish angel Jack Taylor—he knows the right ones. Bruen gets more done with a paragraph, a sentence, a word, even a fragment of a word, than most writers get in an entire 400-page doorstop. If his prose was any sharper, your eyeballs would bleed.

Jack’s back home in Galway, Ireland, now missing a few fingers and sporting a hearing aid, “if not hot to trot, at least ready to limp with attitude.” Volatile and unrepentant, he’s given up on his long fight against the booze, the pills, and the violence that have cost him so dearly over the years. His last good friend won’t even speak to him anymore.

Which leaves him plenty of time to drink, read, brood, and obsess.

His latest fixation is Anthony de Burgo, a much adored and well-connected University of Galway professor, whom Jack believes to be a serial rapist (or worse), who preys on his female students. And nobody seems to care; certainly not the Guarda. Which leaves it up to Jack, who’s more than willing to go all vigilante on the good professor’s arse.

Along the way, Jack befriends Brian Boru Kennedy, an idealistic American student, and enlists the young scholar in his quest to bring down de Burgo. Enthralled by his new companion, Boru ponders writing Jack’s biography, rough drafts of which comprise the first half of the book.

Longtime fans will know immediately that this isn’t likely to go smoothly. Even with the addition to Jack’s “team” of Em McKee, an enigmatic, seductive, and green-eyed goth girl, who worms her way into Jack’s life and has her own reasons for going after de Burgo.

Once again Bruen stacks the deck with his ragged, jagged litany of callouts, shout-outs and in-jokes, travel tips, political asides, quotations, scraps of poetry, bits of dialogue from favorite TV shows and movies, song lyrics and wisdom (“The only difference between a rut and a grave is the dimensions”). There’s even a metafictional cameo by Iain Glen, who portrayed Jack on Irish television.

Fortunately, the lonely man’s inner life is often as compelling as his external one; a brief respite from a world unrelentingly cold and grim, yet oddly life-affirming.

Shite happens in Green Hell, but life goes on. And all you have to do is meet Jack halfway.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 10 August 2015 02:08
Contract City
Sarah Prindle

The year is 2021 and America is rebuilding from a decade of unrest and riots following the assassination of the president and the imposition of martial law. Tulsa has become a privatized city, run by the FFT (Free Force Tulsa) security personnel. Affluent citizens live in typical suburban homes while homeless families live in Tent City on the outskirts of town.

Sara Paige Christie is a teenage filmmaker with a lot more than just college admissions on her mind—she suspects her mother of adultery, while her father, an FFT investigator, is too busy to spend much time with his family. But when Sara begins work on her latest film about an underground graffiti artist, all of that pales in comparison to the trouble that is coming.

An unknown artist is leaving graffiti messages all over Tulsa, with the same cryptic letters—WH2RR?? Sara doesn’t know what it means, but becomes suspicious when the FFT goes out of its way to censor any mention of it, scrubbing it from the walls, and erasing online references. She begins to investigate for a film, and soon discovers more questions than answers. Cars start following her. Someone texts her a warning to hand over her camera. And then she meets a mysterious young man named Billy, and Sara begins to realize that the FFT’s secrecy, the graffiti messages, and the simmering tensions between social classes may be connected. More importantly, they might be about to erupt into chaos that no one can control. As Sara tries to identify the graffiti artist, figure out what the message WH2RR?? means, and uncover the secrets the FFT is hiding, she also puts her own life in serious danger.

Contract City is an engaging mystery, but also works as an action-filled adventure, a futuristic story, and a cautionary tale about censorship, inequality, and justice. Author Mark Falkin, a former resident of Tulsa, creates a disturbing, yet plausible scenario of a young woman who is caught up in events beyond her control. The reader will likely be drawn into Sara’s plight as she worries over her parents’ marriage, sneaks into Tent City to film the poverty the FFT would rather ignore, and falls in love with an enigmatic character. The story is fast paced, the conflicts between social classes and different races are realistic, and the characters are well thought out—each with his or her own secrets and personal issues to contend with. Though the subject matter can be gritty at times, the book is entertaining, thought-provoking, and most of all—a timely reminder that the society we live in may not be so far away from becoming the society described in Contract City.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 10 August 2015 02:08

A sci-fi thriller for young readers that raises questions about freedoms, inequality, and justice. 

The Flicker Men
Vanessa Orr

This book hurt my brain, which is actually a compliment to author Ted Kosmatka. The Flicker Men raises serious issues concerning science, theology, free will, fate, and basically, our understanding of the universe—leaving the reader a lot to think about long after the last page is turned.

Eric Argus, a disgraced quantum physicist, undertakes an experiment that proves that some humans have a soul—and some don’t. This, in turn, attracts the attention of church leaders, religious zealots, other scientists, and a mysterious foundation leader who wants the experiment, and its creator, dead.

Despite dealing in lofty concepts, Eric comes across as an everyman; he’s just looking for a second chance, even while self-medicating himself with alcohol following a psychological breakdown at his previous job. Once his startling discovery is made, the story starts moving at a breakneck pace, with both Eric, and the reader, pulled into a disturbing world far outside the laboratory walls.

Because I’m not particularly science-minded, I was a little bit hesitant to delve into a story based on the replication of the “paradoxical double-slit experiment,” which demonstrates how an electron’s state alters depending on whether or not it is being observed. What I was pleasantly surprised to discover, however, is that despite the emphasis on quantum mechanics, the story line itself was so intriguing that I was able to enjoy the book even though I personally didn’t understand all of the aspects of the experiment itself. The story walked a fine line between science and science-fiction, and should please fans of both.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 10 August 2015 02:08
The President’s Shadow
Cheryl Solimini

It’s not easy being first lady. Just ask Shona Wallace. The only way she can indulge her private passion for gardening is in the predawn hours, on the only patch of White House grounds not under 24-hour surveillance. But her morning dig in the dirt becomes a national problem when she unearths a human arm, its fist clenching an artifact that links a convicted-but-escaped assassin, a decades-old Army special unit, and National Archivist Beecher White.

Geek-hero, citizen-spy Beecher returns again in the third of this Dan Brown-meets-Doris Kearns Goodwin political thriller series (following The Inner Circle and The Fifth Assassin). Author Brad Meltzer continues to till his fertile cache of state secrets, and seeds his time-traveling plot with conspiracy theories and obscure names dropped from American history (Hercules Mulligan and Alek Hidell—look them up). He has Beecher and President Orson Wallace working together on this one, despite their ongoing antipathy; as a current member of the Culper Ring, sworn since Revolutionary times to protect the presidency, Beecher may be the only one POTUS can trust when the threat points to an insider.

Meltzer hops between points of view and between years, weeks, and days to ratchet up the suspense, and doesn’t take a breath even in the final pages, as The Big Reveal gives way to another set of twists and deceptions that won’t restore anyone’s faith in the federal government.

The real tension, and resolution, however, is between fathers (and father figures) and their offspring. The series has shown how Beecher and his childhood friends Clementine and Marshall have each been shaped by the parent whose past, known or unknown, drives their present and may determine their future. In this book, the shadows cast by these men are finally brought to light. The ultimate question, though, is whether the characters can then make peace with themselves.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 10 August 2015 02:08
Benefit of the Doubt
Vanessa Orr

Neal Griffin, a 25-year veteran of law enforcement, may have delayed his true calling when he went into police work instead of novel writing. His first book, Benefit of the Doubt, is a very impressive debut that holds the reader rapt from the very first page.

Ben Sawyer, his wife Alex, and his son Jake, have moved to small-town Newburg, Wisconsin, after Ben, a policeman, almost kills a suspect in front of dozens of witnesses. Hired by his father-in-law, who was the town’s police chief until suffering a stroke, Ben is just trying to fit in and do his job, despite a lack of support from other members of the force. When his wife is arrested for murder and he loses his badge, he ends up not only taking on a number of corrupt cops, but also a newly released convict out for vengeance.

While Ben is a flawed character, you can’t help but root for the underdog in this novel. It’s also easy to like his only ally, Tia Suarez, a Latina rookie cop who knows that she is not ever going to fit into the old boy’s network—despite being tougher than all of them. While Harlan Lee, a convict who kills without remorse, is a very scary character, the boys in blue and their sadistic game of cat-and-mouse with Ben and his family are far more terrifying.

Do not start this book if you need to go to bed early—I couldn’t put it down, and ended up reading it all in one sitting. If it had been a TV movie, I would have been yelling at the screen as the story reached its climax. I wouldn’t be surprised to someday see it show up on the big screen. While Neal Griffin has obviously been quite successful in law enforcement, if this book is any indication, he may soon be embarking on a second career.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 10 August 2015 02:08
Bradstreet Gate
Robin Agnew

In the movie A League of Their Own, Tom Hanks famously tells one of his players, “There’s no crying in baseball.” Turning that quotation to my own purpose, I would say, there’s no squeamishness in mystery novels.

Mystery novels can, and do, use an extreme example of human behavior (murder) to highlight the best and the worst of human nature. While most of us don’t actually know someone who has been murdered, grief and rage are universal, two emotions often brought to light by crime. They aren’t pretty emotions and they aren’t for the squeamish.

I fear author Robin Kirman is a bit squeamish. In her debut mystery, she’s afraid to go deep, or even to look too closely at the murder that binds her story together. I was initially taken with her premise, which starts with the murder of a young Harvard student in the early 90s, and then takes three fellow students, who have only a tangential relationship to the murdered girl, and explicates their lives over the next decade.

Friends Georgia, Alice, and Charlie couldn’t be more different, but it turns out what they do have in common, is their connection to Professor Storrow, who is suspected of the crime. All of them have come to Harvard for different reasons, but really they go there because it’s freaking Harvard. The privileges granted to its elite students are examined in detail by Kirman throughout the novel.

Georgia, the beautiful daughter of an artist, has arrived by the most common route: elite education and expectations from an advantaged life. Charlie, from a working-class family where he is the overlooked one, is determined to shine, and he does, though he often seems a bit dorky as Kirman describes him, in his bow tie and seersucker pants. Alice, a Serb who lost her father early in life, is determined to be American and escape the clutches of a mother who never even wanted to learn English. For her, Harvard is the way forward.

When their classmate, Julie Patel, is murdered during finals of their senior year, their relationships are splintered, but, as Kirman shows, friendships formed at that time of life tend to follow you—whether you want them to or not.

Separate, subsequent encounters with a disturbingly changed Storrow after the crime, draw them back to each other a decade later through personal tragedy and the simple desire to reconnect. As Kirman examines the repercussions of the crime on each of their lives and ambitions over the years, the book leads up to the ten-year memorial of the crime, but the ending fails to make good on the author’s careful setup and falls flat. As an examination of relationships it works; as a mystery novel, it does not succeed.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 10 August 2015 02:08
Susan Illis

In this final installment of the Camille Verhoeven trilogy, French police commandant Verhoeven, still reeling from the murder of his wife Irène, confronts another personal tragedy when his new lover is brutally attacked in the course of a robbery. Apparently in the wrong place at the wrong time, Anne Forestier is beaten and shot at when three men ambush the Galerie Monier. Subverting numerous regulations, exploiting friendships, and lying shamelessly when necessary, Verhoeven guarantees his team will be assigned to the case, enabling him to keep a close, personal eye on Anne. She manages to identify two of her attackers, but even with a gendarme guarding her room, she feels vulnerable and sneaks out of the hospital. However, in fleeing, Anne only puts herself in greater danger.

His relationship with the case’s victim a secret, Verhoeven is in a race against time. Not only does he have to find the man who tried to kill Anne before the killer finds her, he needs to solve the crime in order to salvage his career. Divided into three parts, representing the three days from Anne’s assault until the case is closed, the narrative unfolds at a dizzying pace, with the reader struggling to keep up with Verhoeven’s brilliant discoveries. At a diminutive 4’ 11”, Verhoeven is an unlikely hero, but he seduces with his intellect and devotion to those few he cares about—even those who do not deserve his loyalty.

Verhoeven’s Paris is not the City of Lights, but rather a noir underworld full of prostitutes, corrupt cops, and vengeful Serbs. The memorable setting is an ideal backdrop to Pierre Lemaitre’s fast-paced novel. Although Camille is the third of the trilogy, it functions well as a standalone novel—but lovers of suspense will not want to miss the first two books.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 12 August 2015 10:08

The final installment of the Camille Verhoeven trilogy

The Temple of Light
Sharon Magee

In Daniela Piazza’s well-written, but overly long debut novel, it’s 1447, and Duke Filippo Maria Visconti of Milan is dying. Economic and political unrest rules the kingdom, and there’s concern as he’s left no heir. The duke calls Archdeacon Onorio to his death bed and reveals his secret: he does have an heir, a son, Niccolò, less than a year old. The duke orders Onorio to raise the boy in secret and tell no one until Onorio feels it’s necessary for Niccolò to take his rightful place as the duke of Milan. And thus, Niccolò is raised by his “uncle” in the shadow of the Santa Maria Nascente Cathedral, which is under construction. His best friends are two commoners: Lorenzo, who becomes a hired assassin for the ruling duke, and Angelica, the daughter of a baker, whom Niccolò falls in love with.

When Onorio eventually reveals to Niccolò that he’s the rightful heir to the duchy, Niccolò isn’t interested until Onorio reveals that he and other philosophers and wisemen are members of a secretive brotherhood, dealing in alchemy and the worship of the goddess Belisama. Niccolò is initiated into the brotherhood with the understanding that he will assume the duchy if the brotherhood deems it necessary. But eventually, as Niccolò’s duty to the brotherhood and Milan conflict with his love for Angelica, he must decide which path he will follow.

The story of Niccolò, Lorenzo, and Angelica is fascinating, although buried in an abundance of 15th-century Italian history that tends to overwhelm the story line. The inclusion of many historical figures in The Temple of Light who bear only slightly, if at all, on the story is superfluous. Buffs of this period in Italian history may enjoy the deep knowledge of the time, but most casual readers will find it more distracting than fascinating.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 12 August 2015 10:08
Blood Foam
Hank Wagner

After the harrowing events depicted in Fatal Harbor (2013), Lewis Cole, a retired Department of Defense analyst, is concentrating on healing, and on rebuilding his “half burnt” house. Unfortunately, a major storm system is bearing down on his hometown of Tyler Beach, threatening to decimate what remains of his home. Life becomes further complicated when his former lover, journalist Paula Quinn, asks for his help in locating her missing fiancé.

Cole agrees to look into the matter, but the story behind Mark Spencer’s disappearance is far more complex than Cole originally assumed. The stakes are frightfully high, with Cole the only one standing between Spencer and a dangerous miscreant seeking to even an old score with the attorney.

I’ve been reading in the genre for decades, so it comes as a very pleasant surprise for me to encounter the work of someone as accomplished as Brendan DuBois, a two-time winner of the Shamus Award for Best Short Story of the Year. Having been held rapt by the adventures of Lewis Cole and company in Blood Foam, I can only chuckle with delight knowing that the book has eight predecessors, and that DuBois (of whom no less a personage than Otto Penzler has said that it was “impossible to overpraise”) has also penned several critically acclaimed standalone novels, as well as enough short stories to fill several collections. Blood Foam has made me very happy, charging me up in a way that has become all too rare lately, and I eagerly look forward to sampling more of Mr. DuBois’ wares.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 12 August 2015 10:08
Movie Deal: "The Devil in White City"

larson devilinwhitecity
Erik Larson’s brilliant 2003 nonfiction book The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair That Changed America is one of the best true crime books I have ever read.

Mixing history with true crime, Larson showed how a serial killer hid in plain sight during the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, also known as the World’s Columbian Exposition.

In Chicago at the end of the 19th century amid the smoke of industry and the clatter of trains there lived two men, both handsome, both blue-eyed, and both unusually adept at their chosen skills, begins Larson’s tale.

For a dozen years there has been talk of a movie—and the book is indeed tailor-made for the films—but until now that has only been talk.

According to Deadline.com and another source, Paramount has closed a splashy deal to acquire Larson’s book. The sources added that the project will feature director Martin Scorsese re-teaming with Leonardo DiCaprio, left, who gets the killer role that he has wanted to play for a long time.

I can see Leonardo as Dr. HH Holmes, the serial killer believed to have murdered anywhere from 27 to 200 people. His crimes were not uncovered until after the World’s Fair had closed.

He went unsuspected because Chicago was wrapped up in hosting the World’s Fair of 1893.

dicaprio leonardo2015
Holmes constructed The World’s Fair Hotel, which catered to young single women. The hotel became known as a “murder castle,” with gas chamber and crematorium. Holmes would sell his victims’ skeletons  for medical and scientific study.

But The Devil in the White City also shows how Chicagoans were entranced by the World’s Fair and all the modern conveniences and attitudes it brought.

The Devil in the White City alternates between its look at Holmes and Daniel Burnham, an architect who was a director of works for the exposition and the builder of many of America’s most famous structures.

Burnham, the architect of the Flatiron Building in New York City and Union Station in Washington, DC, among others, organized the six-month fair despite political barriers and constant in-fighting among his teams. His mission was to out-Eiffel Eiffel, whose still-standing tower had been the hit of the Paris World’s Fair.

Today, the only building that survives is the Palace of Fine Arts, which was remade into Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry.

Originally, author Graham Moore, author of the novel The Sherlockian, was to write the script and the film was to have been out in 2013.

Didn’t quite work out that way.

Let’s hope The Devil in the White City’s time is here.

Oline Cogdill
Saturday, 15 August 2015 07:08
Movie Deal: Carla Norton

nortoncarla edgenormal
Matt Venne has built a reputation of writing film scripts that veer on horror—Masters of Horror, Fear Itself, and the miniseries adaptation of Stephen King’s Bag of Bones.

Now he has been tapped for a script that is a bit more realistic, yet just as terrifying.

Venne has written an adaptation of Carla Norton’s debut novel, The Edge of Normal.

The Edge of Normal, about a young woman rebuilding her life after being held by a kidnapper for years, offers more than a ripped-from-the-headlines pastiche, as I said in my review of Norton’s 2013 fiction debut.

My review also stated that Norton “delivers an emotional story of a woman fighting to regain her sense of self, to reach, at least, an edge of normal without falling. Reeve LeClaire, who was kidnaped when she was 12 and held for four years, doesn’t want people to see her only as a victim but as a survivor.

“Now 22 and living on her own in San Francisco, Reeve forces herself to deal with traumatic stress that will always linger because of her ordeal. She maintains a precise routine and sessions with a compassionate therapist who is an authority on ‘captivity syndrome,’” I added.

In 1988, Norton co-wrote the true crime book Perfect Victim about Colleen Stan, a young hitchhiker who was picked up in California by a couple who kept her captive as a sex slave for seven years.

Norton’s novel The Edge of Normal won the Royal Palm Literary Award and was a finalist for the Thriller Award.

According to Variety.com and a couple of other sources, Bold Films is developing the thriller as a movie after outbidding several other potential buyers for Venne’s script.

One of the things that made The Edge of Normal so intriguing was Norton’s compassionate view of victims and their recovery.

Hopefully, the film version can hold on to that aspect of The Edge of Normal.

Oline Cogdill
Wednesday, 19 August 2015 03:08