Greg Iles On the Refined Art of Reading
Greg Iles

iles gregWriters read differently than most people. We read the way that singers and songwriters listen to music, learning our trade and modifying our techniques by intuitively studying the work of others. In this sense, reading is not a luxury but a critical tool of our profession. As an aging writer, I find that my reading habits have changed significantly. The onset of vision problems has made the process more difficult, and consequently I choose books more carefully. With my “voracious reader” days behind me, I find myself re-reading classic works more often than discovering new novels. It’s not often that I start something new and decide its worth the investment of time required to finish it. As a younger reader I would finish almost everything, but I no longer have that luxury. Today, I would rather re-read a couple of Patrick OBrian novels than struggle through something mediocre. Nevertheless, I do occasionally discover new gems. One has been the Jack Taylor series by Irish novelist Ken Bruen. From the first chapter of the first book, The Guards, I knew that I was in the hands of a pro, and that what I search for in novels—gems of human insight—could be found aplenty in those pages.

To those readers under 40, I say this: don't take your great vision for granted, and build up your bank of vicarious experience and insight while its effortless for you. Your older self will thank you.

bruen guardsOn that note, I dont do product endorsements, but for those experiencing age-related vision problems, I would recommend the Kindle Paper White, which works differently from other digital readers. Im a lover of actual books, not devices, but I find that the Paper White comes closest to the experience of reading on paper. Most important, it projects light sideways through the screen, and not directly into your eye, which is ideal for late-night reading in bed. And of course most devices allow you to increase the font size of what you are reading. Sadly, a digital device will probably never smell or feel like a real book, but it can compensate for human frailty in many ways. So, let technology be your friend, and read on!

This “Writers on Reading” essay was originally published in At the Scene enews March 2017 as a first-look exclusive to our enewsletter subscribers. For more special content available first to our enewsletter subscribers, sign up here.

Teri Duerr
2017-03-06 18:12:01

iles greg"Writers read differently than most people....learning our trade and modifying our techniques by intuitively studying the work of others. In this sense, reading is not a luxury but a critical tool of our profession."

Anne Hillerman on Mr. Peterson's Books

hillerman anneWhen I was a sixth grader, a wonderful thing happen. A friend of my parents, a large, pale skinned gentleman named Don Peterson, gave me a book for Christmas.

Getting a book wasn’t unusual. My mother and father, both voracious and enthusiastic readers made sure my siblings and I grew up with the luxury of stories all around us. Before I could read, I slept with books. The Pokey Little Puppy and Johnny Crow’s Garden with its fabulous pictures of animals were my favorites.

But Mr. Peterson’s gift that Christmas was not just any book. He gave me the complete Sherlock Holmes, a huge volume bigger than the Bible and obviously meant for grownups because it had no pictures. Most people would not have considered it appropriate book for a shy, awkward 11-year-old. But Mr. Peterson was not the average guy.

I loved Mr. Peterson, maybe as much as my own dad. He worked with my dad at The Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper. He and his wife and their adopted Navajo twins lived in the same neighborhood as my rambunctious family. I loved Mr. Peterson because he told me silly little jokes about sunburned Zebras, and because he treated me like a grownup. I loved him even more after he introduced me to Sir Arthur Connon Doyle and the world of Baker Street. I read each of the four novels and 56 short stories in that giant book. My mysterious adventure started on Christmas night and lasted through the spring. That also was the year I got my first pair of glasses, but I don’t blame Sherlock or Mr. Peterson. Like many preteen girls growing up in the 1950s and '60s, I’d read Nancy Drew but I abandoned her after meeting Sherlock.

I stuck with my other favorite, however, the magical adventure stories of Edith Nesbit. Some wise adult in my lifemaybe it was Mr. Peterson againgave me Nesbit’s The Five Children and It. I still have that yellow book on my bookshelf, along with the fine, huge old Sherlock. That, and the other Nesbit stories may have appealed to me because they are complicated and clever and funny. Nesbit knew how to build suspense, a key factor in any who-done-it. The Five Children and It features a grumpy, odd-looking being called a Psammead who grants the children wishes, that, fulfilled, lead to trouble. The story enchanted me so much, I went to the library to see if Nesbit had written anything else and I found a few other of her books on the shelf. Like the Sherlock stories, they were full of puzzling developments and unexpected plot turns. I inhaled them.

Books sustained me as an introverted misfit teen. They became my friends, my tools to surviving the emotional roller coaster of adolescence. Because my parents valued good storiesand perhaps because my five siblings demanded much of their timeMom and Dad encouraged me to read broadly and deeply. They were pleased when I asked for a book in which to keep a journal and when I decided to write stories of my own.

My friend Mr. Peterson died before I published my first mystery, but I can still see his pleasure as he watched me open that big Sherlock Holmes book. What gives us readers more joy that sharing books we love with people we think will appreciate them?

Anne Hillerman authors the series featuring Jim Chee, Joe Leaphorn, and Bernadette Manuelito begun by her father, the bestselling author Tony Hillerman, in the 1970s.

This "Writers on Reading" essay was originally published in "At the Scene" enews April 2017 as a first-look exclusive to our enewsletter subscribers. For more special content available first to our enewsletter subscribers, sign up here.

Teri Duerr
2017-03-25 20:15:41
Lawyer-Novelist Anthony Franze Picks the Top Five Supreme Court Mysteries

Anthony Franze Credit Kristina Sherk

Anthony Franze, author and lawyer who’s represented clients in nearly 40 cases before the Supreme Court, shares his five favorite Supreme Court mysteries.

Photo by Kristina Sherk

With the U.S. Supreme Court in the news again—including this month’s partisan divide over the president’s latest high court nominee Neil Gorsuch—we thought it would be fitting to identify some of the top Supreme Court-related novels. And who better to make the picks than Anthony Franze, a lawyer who’s represented clients in nearly 40 cases in the Supreme Court, and author of novels set in the nation’s highest court. His latest, The Outsider, is about a Supreme Court law clerk who must use his knowledge of high court history and precedent to help catch a killer, a book the Associated Press called a “winning novel.” Franze shares his five favorite Supreme Court mysteries.

grisham pelicanbriefThe Pelican Brief
When people think of John Grisham, the first book that comes to mind is The Firm, his breakaway hit about a young lawyer hired by a firm that was in deep with the mob. But for my money, his follow-up packed a bigger punch. The Pelican Brief opens with the murder of two Supreme Court justices, one killed at a porno movie house. A young law student discovers a link between the murders, and the story moves at a rocket pace from there. The film adaptation, starring Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington, wasn’t bad either.

meltzer tenthjusticeThe Tenth Justice
Before he set his sights on history, Brad Meltzer wrote about a Supreme Court law clerk who was on the fast track to success until he inadvertently shared a classified secret with the wrong person. In The Tenth Justice, Meltzer pulled back the curtain at the Supreme Court like no one had before, and wrote a touching story of friendship along the way.

margolin supremejusticeSupreme Justice
Lawyer-turned-bestselling-novelist Phillip Margolin has the distinction of both writing about—and arguing before—the Supreme Court. He put his experience to good use in Supreme Justice, a story about a plot to influence an appeal before the high court, one that could expose secrets at the highest levels of government. Classic Margolin.

finder guiltymindsGuilty Minds
Joseph Finder’s Nick Heller returned in this 2016 bestseller. Heller is hired to help the Chief Justice of the United States stave off an explosive story by a gossip website claiming that the chief had liaisons with a high-end call girl. I’d read a grocery list if Finder wrote it, so the high court intrigue was a special treat.

rosentiel shiningjustice

Shining City
You couldn’t get a more ripped-from-the-headlines story than Tom Rosenstiel’s Shining City, a novel set amid a Supreme Court nomination battle. The veteran journalist skillfully used his contacts and years as a Beltway observer in this fly-on-the-wall view of power Washington. A fun mystery, and master class in the modern nomination process.

Anthony Franze is a lawyer in the Appellate and Supreme Court practice of a prominent Washington, D.C. law firm, and author of critically acclaimed novels set in the nation’s highest court, including The Advocate's Daughter, and his March 21, 2017, release, The Outsider (St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur).

Teri Duerr
2017-04-05 21:10:28

Anthony Franze Credit Kristina SherkAnthony Franze, author and lawyer who’s represented clients in nearly 40 cases before the Supreme Court, shares his five favorite Supreme Court mysteries.

2017 Thriller Awards Nominees

internationalthrillerwriterslogored

The International Thriller Writers (ITW) 2017 Thriller Awards winners will be announced on July 15, 2017, at the Grand Hyatt in New York City during the ITW Thrillerfest XII (July 11-15, 2017).

Congratulations to all the finalists!

BEST HARDCOVER NOVEL
You Will Know Me, by Megan Abbott (Little, Brown and Company)
Where It Hurts, by Reed Farrel Coleman (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
Before the Fall, by Noah Hawley (Grand Central Publishing)
Arrowood, by Laura McHugh (Spiegel & Grau)
Underground Airlines, by Ben H. Winters (Mulholland Books)

BEST FIRST NOVEL
Deadly Kiss, by Bob Bickford (Black Opal Books)
Type and Cross, by J.L. Delozier (WiDo Publishing)
Recall, by David McCaleb (Lyrical Underground)
The Drifter, by Nicholas Petrie (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
Palindrome, by E.Z. Rinsky (Witness Impulse)

BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL NOVEL
In the Clearing, by Robert Dugoni (Thomas & Mercer)
The Body Reader, by Anne Frasier (Thomas & Mercer)
The Minoan Cipher, by Paul Kemprecos (Suspense Publishing)
Kill Switch, by Jonathan Maberry (St. Martin’s Griffin)
Salvage, by Stephen Maher (Dundurn)

BEST SHORT STORY
"The Business of Death," by Eric Beetner in Unloaded: Crime Writers Writing Without Guns (Down & Out Books)
"The Peter Rabbit Killers," by Laura Benedict in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine
"The Man from Away," by Brendan DuBois in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine
"Big Momma," by Joyce Carol Oates in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine
"Parallel Play," by Art Taylor in Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning (Wildside Press)

BEST YOUNG ADULT NOVEL
Morning Star, by Pierce Brown (Del Rey)
Holding Smoke, by Elle Cosimano (Disney-Hyperion)
Steeplejack, by A.J. Hartley (TOR Teen)
Thieving Weasels, by Billy Taylor (Dial Books)
The Darkest Corners, by Kara Thomas (Delacorte Press)

BEST EBOOK ORIGINAL NOVEL
Romeo, by James Scott Bell (Compendium Press)
The Edge of Alone, by Sean Black (Sean Black)
Untouchable, by Sibel Hodge (Wonder Women Publishing)
Destroyer of Worlds, by J.F. Penn (J.F. Penn)
Breaker, by Richard Thomas (Alibi)

Teri Duerr
2017-04-06 15:04:08
At the Scene, Spring Issue #149

149cover465Hi Everyone,

When Donna Leon visited Venice as a young woman she fell passionately in love—with the city. For decades this affair has played out for all to see in her Commissario Guido Brunetti novels, most recently Earthly Remains. Indeed, Leon is so closely associated with Venice that it came as something of a shock to our interviewer, Oline Cogdill, to discover that Leon came to Italy by way of New Jersey. However she got there, Leon and her detective are now a fixture in the imaginative life of the city. Take a tour with her in this issue.

Never a household name, television writer Jackson Gillis nevertheless had a TV career that was remarkable for both its longevity—40 years—and its ubiquity. From Perry Mason to Columbo to Murder, She Wrote, Gillis turned out quality work in startling quantity. Michael Mallory takes the measure of the screenwriter’s career in this issue.

It used to be that simply solving a crime was the raison d'être for a mystery, but these days “universe shrinking” has turned many crime fiction plots into little more than domestic dramas. Read Nicholas Barber’s entertaining complaint in this issue for examples.

Fergus Hume may not be on your radar as a mega-bestelling author, but that’s because you’re living in the 21st century. Hume’s The Mystery of a Hansom Cab was crime fiction’s first global blockbuster 130 years ago. Craig Sisterson takes a look at the author and his bestseller set in Melbourne, Australia.

David Joy finds his corner of rural North Carolina to be rich in inspiration: “ Story still matters here. Cities have a tendency of de- stroying history. Everywhere I ride around here, every place has a story.” Oline Cogdill talks to the young author in this issue.

Sometimes the real mystery in a TV or film adaptation is how the filmmakers got it so wrong. Did they even read the book? (Anyone remember Whoopi Goldberg as Lawrence Block’s Bernie Rhodenbarr in Burglar?) TV and film critic Ron Miller takes a look at some quite good, and some quite strange, adaptations in “Why Can’t the Movie be Just Like the Book?”

Speaking of Lawrence Block, the author returns in this issue with the second installment of his tutorial “How to be a Writer Without Writing Anything.” Read it and learn.

Wendy Corsi Staub is a contemporary practitioner of “domestic” or “suburban” noir. As her many readers can attest, danger when you least expect it has a special frisson, and Staub is an expert at nerve-tingling suspense. John B. Valeri chats with her in this issue.

Enjoy!

Kate Stine
Editor-in-chief

Teri Duerr
2017-04-06 20:03:20
Spring Issue #149 Contents

149cover465

Features

David Joy

Crime in rural Appalachia.
by Oline H. Cogdill

Donna Leon: Life Along the Grand Canal

Venice through the eyes of the creator of Commissario Guido Brunetti.
by Oline H. Cogdill

The Small World of Modern Thrillers

A trend toward domestic drama is blighting TV and film thrillers.
by Nicholas Barber

Fergus Hume: The Accidental Pioneer

The tale behind crime fiction’s first global blockbuster.
by Craig Sisterson

Why Can’t the Movie Be Just Like the Book?

The sometimes twisted path from page to screen.
by Ron Miller

The Hook

First Lines That Caught Our Attention

How to Be a Writer Without Writing Anything, Part Two

The key is getting everyone else to do the work.
by Lawrence Block

My Book: Ex-Gridiron Gumshoes

by Andrew Welsh-Huggins

Wendy Corsi Staub

Danger where you least expect it.
by John B. Valeri

“Jersey Boys” Crossword

by Verna Suit

Departments

At the Scene

by Kate Stine

Mystery Miscellany

by Louis Phillips

Hints & Allegations

2017 Agatha Award Nominations; 2017 Left Coast Crime Awards.

Reviews

Small Press Reviews: Covering the Independents

by Betty Webb

Very Original: Paperback Originals Reviewed

by Lynne Maxwell & Hank Wagner

Sounds of Suspense: Audiobooks Reviewed

by Dick Lochte

What About Murder? Reference Books Reviewed

by Jon L. Breen

Short and Sweet: Short Stories Considered

by Ben Boulden

Mystery Scene Reviews

Miscellaneous

The Docket

Letters

Our Readers Recommend

Advertiser Info

Teri Duerr
2017-04-06 20:37:36
Spring Issue #149
Teri Duerr
2017-04-17 22:04:54
A Single Spy
Jay Roberts

William Christie’s A Single Spy uses a disputed story of World War II, Operation Long Jump, an alleged German plan to assassinate Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill, and Franklin Roosevelt at the 1943 Tehran Conference, around which to structure his breathless story of Russian spy Alexsi Smirnov.

Christie launches into Smirnov’s story from the time he is taken into custody by Russian officials in 1936. Alexsi is surprised to discover that not only has the state been following him since his childhood, they have a plan that doesn’t involve life in a gulag. He is to be trained as a spy and eventually sent on a deep cover operation inside of Nazi Germany.

The reader learns bits and pieces about Alexsi’s childhood, his training, and his thoughts as he goes about his mission, all the while silently wondering about the motivations, both real and imagined, of his superiors.

Christie, a former Marine Corps officer, exhibits the expected grasp of the story’s military history and procedures, managing to weave those details into the narrative without making it into a boring history lesson. Instead, he seeds the details inside each successive step in the story to give the reader a vivid sense of time and place.

Through Alexsi’s training, eventual undertaking of his mission, and his covert rise inside of the Nazi ranks, the story adroitly keeps up the intensity and thrills with timely placed action scenes. The book never seems to forget the thriller part of the equation in its quest to qualify for the historical half of things. You’ll wonder how you didn’t see the climax of the story coming, and it will leave you with a deeply felt desire to learn more about the intriguing Alexsi Smirnov.

A Single Spy puts you on the edge of your seat as you accompany its protagonist on his mission. The book is a top-notch work of historical fiction that pits one man against a world bent on tearing itself apart.

Teri Duerr
2017-04-17 22:22:57
Lucky Supreme
Kevin Burton Smith

The first in a proposed trilogy, Lucky Supreme introduces slightly dodgy tattoo artist and small business owner Darby Holland, a man with a messy past and a present that’s not so squeaky-clean either.

He runs Lucky Supreme, a rundown tattoo parlor in Portland, Oregon’s Old Town neighborhood, and is surrounded on a daily basis by street people of all stripes: whores, bikers, panhandlers, junkies, working stiffs, strippers, tourists, gang members, cops, punk rockers, outlaws, and his own misfit employees, not all of whom are trustworthy.

For example: Jason Bling, a former employee who went poof! a couple of years ago with about $180,000 worth of “flash” (tattoo design samples usually posted on the walls for customers) that Darby had inherited when he took over the shop. Seems the flash, by Roland Norton, a notorious but not particularly talented tattoo artist from the fifties, is now commanding inexplicably high prices from collectors.

So, when another of Darby’s former employees, Obi, spots Bling in Santa Cruz, a small beach town in central California, Darby— still smarting from the betrayal—figures it’s time to go on a little road trip. “I’m gonna go get my shit,” is how he puts it.

Being a hands-on kinda guy and having little use for the police, Darby figures he’ll just drive down, rough up Bling a little and get back the flash—or the cash. But things quickly go sideways, and soon Darby’s back at Lucky Supreme, licking his wounds and surrounded by his “troops,” preparing to square off against Bling’s boss, Nicholas Dong-ju, a ruthless Korean-American businessman who suspects Darby may still have some of Norton’s flash, and will stop at nothing to get it.

The author, a tattoo artist himself, gets props for not getting all soapy and fuzzy with his setting, and Darby makes for an intriguing narrator/storyteller, his black humor tinged with a rough poetry that initially seems forced but eventually really gets under your skin. More please.

Teri Duerr
2017-04-17 22:28:45
Quicksand
Katrina Niidas Holm

Swedish author Malin Persson Giolito’s excellent English-language debut is the story of Maria “Maja” Norberg—a pretty, popular 18-year-old who lives with her family in a wealthy suburb of Stockholm. Maja stands accused of helping her ultra-rich boyfriend, Sebastian Fagerman, plan and execute a mass shooting at Djursholm Upper Secondary School.

According to the prosecution, Maja and Sebastian wanted to exact revenge on those who had betrayed them and then take their own lives; Maja’s attorney, however, maintains that his client had no idea what Sebastian was plotting, and that everything Maja did that day was in self-defense. The book opens nine months post-massacre, on Maja’s first day in court.

Quicksand is an immersive and emotionally resonant tale that captures the complexity of adolescence and argues the idea that most tragedies are more complicated than the media coverage would suggest. Incisive social commentary complements the riveting central mystery; Persson Giolito takes advantage of her intricate plot to tackle such weighty issues as sexism, classism, the refugee crisis, and child abuse. The prose is evocative, the structure is elegant, and Rachel Willson-Broyles’ translation is flawless.

What really elevates Persson Giolito’s work, though, are her beautifully crafted characters—Maja, in particular. While the reader remains in the dark for most of the book as to Maja’s role in the attack, it’s impossible to avoid becoming invested in the young woman’s fate. Her observations—about journalism, justice, and life in general—are trenchant, her narrative voice is engaging, and her emotions ring true. Despite her snarky, stoic front, it gradually becomes clear that at her core, she’s just a scared child who’s struggling to process all that has happened. Regardless of whether or not she’s guilty, that realization is devastating.

Teri Duerr
2017-04-18 00:49:36
Marshall’s Law
Craig Sisterson

Dark, violent, and grimy, the latest tale from Ben Sanders shows the still-young Kiwi has found his stride when it comes to action- packed, gritty noir. His second novel starring ex-undercover cop Marshall Grade, who lives on his own terms despite being in witness protection, crackles with vengeful energy.

Federal Agent Lucas Cohen is grabbed while transporting a fugitive. But it is not him the abductors want. It is Marshall. When the former New York City cop, now lying low taking art classes in California after surviving a hit man and other nasties in New Mexico, hears of Cohen’s ordeal, he decides offense is the best form of defense. Marshall returns East, linking up with his former contacts in the drug world—questionable characters on both sides of the law. The big question: Who is hunting him, and why?

There is real zing to Sanders’ writing. While his prose can be bone-dry, the marrow is rich. Violence abounds. It would be too easy (and a little reductive) to call Marshall a Reacher-like hero, but Sanders actually nods more toward Elmore Leonard in style. There’s a terrific filmic quality to Marshall’s Law, and you can easily imagine the Coen brothers or Quentin Tarantino helming a screen adaptation. Personally, I missed the Southwest setting of American Blood, as that textured Marshall’s lone gunslinger persona, but this New York sojourn is still top-notch crime writing from a rising star.

Teri Duerr
2017-04-18 17:33:42
Police at the Station and They Don’t Look Friendly
Jay Roberts

The sixth book in the Detective Sean Duffy series may come with a rather unwieldy title, but the story itself is another fascinating look into a bygone era of policing. Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1988 is essentially a war zone. Divided between Catholics and Protestants with the IRA blowing stuff up all over the place, the city and the entire country is some- where most people would want to be far away from. So, you can imagine what it must be like to be a cop at the time. Particularly a Catholic one who has to check for bombs every time he goes to drive his car.

Sean Duffy is a man who is a wreck both personally and professionally. His career is going nowhere, and he’s not solving any cases because of the internecine politics being waged inside the Royal Ulster Constabulary on the basis of religious and interdepartmental skullduggery. If that isn’t enough, he drinks too much, smokes too much, and has a Protestant girlfriend (the mother of his child) who is hounding him to move away from all the danger.

When Duffy is called to the murder scene of a low-level drug dealer, his investigation soon leads him to suspect there is something larger going on. When a key witness in the murder disappears without a trace, instead of heeding the demands of his superiors to drop the case, Duffy is only more determined to solve it. But his stubbornness leads to grave danger for him and his family.

Adrian McKinty’s delineation of Duffy as one of the smartest people in whatever room he enters, even to the character’s detriment, is a nice touch. But the author smartly doesn’t make it something that alienates the reader (despite an unnecessary potshot at the music group U2). The supporting characters are strongly cast, whether they be friend or foe. In particular, Duffy’s two fellow detectives strike the interest enough that you could see them as characters headlining their own series of novels. McKinty’s hilarious use of language, particularly when insults are being hurled at one of Duffy’s higher ranking officers, can make you laugh out loud.

Whether your first exposure to Detective Sean Duffy or just the latest in your reading of the series, McKinty’s undeniable love of the character and keen grasp of the time and place his story occupies shines through and makes this another winning entry in the series.

Teri Duerr
2017-04-18 17:39:26
Gone Without a Trace
Katrina Niidas Holm

At the start of this creepy, adrenaline-fueled thriller from debut author Mary Torjussen, 32-year-old Hannah Monroe returns from a business trip to discover that her boyfriend, Matt Stone, has left her. His belongings are gone from her house. All trace of him has been removed from her phone. Her computer and iPad have been similarly sanitized, all of Matt’s social media accounts have been deactivated, and his telephone number is no longer in service. He even went so far as to quit his job.

Hannah is devastated; Matt was her world, and he gave her no indication that he was unhappy in their relationship. Sadness and humiliation quickly give way to obsession, though, and soon, Hannah is spending every waking moment searching for her wayward ex. Readers can’t help but sympathize—until Hannah starts receiving disturbing texts from unknown numbers and finding evidence of an intruder in her home. While a sane person would be terrified, Hannah becomes inexplicably convinced that Matt is trying to communicate with her and redoubles her efforts to find him.

Fans of Claire Mackintosh and J.T. Ellison will find plenty here to love. The concept is unique, with a clever setup that hooks on page one. Torjussen’s character work is solid and she does an excellent job of placing the reader inside Hannah’s increasingly unhinged mind. The writing is sleek, the pace is propulsive, and the tale’s tension remains palpable throughout.

In a subgenre where third-act twists are the norm, Gone Without a Trace is the rare domestic thriller that simultaneously shocks, challenges convention, and delivers an important social message. Readers will likely be split on how they feel about Torjussen’s big reveal (and whether or not she laid enough groundwork to earn it), but her authorial ambition is laudable, and the book’s final page is guaranteed to chill.

Teri Duerr
2017-04-18 17:47:12
Death in the Dark
Brian Skupin

Stacey Bishop was the pseudonym of George Antheil, an avant-garde composer known for his eccentric work, including the infamous Ballet Mécanique, which required a variety of mechanical engines for its performance. Death in the Dark, originally published in 1930, is an excellent Golden Age mystery set in the New York entertainment world that Antheil knew well.

Theatrical manager Dave Denny is killed at the beginning of the novel, in the first of three impossible crimes. Denny has been shot precisely in the center of his forehead in a pitch-black room during a party, with his wife, mother, and other acquaintances on the scene.

New York Public Prosecutor Howard Wayson is friends with the Denny family and also on the scene during the murder, but much like District Attorney Markham calling in Philo Vance in an S.S. Van Dine novel, he’s dismayingly incompetent, and so requests the help of his friend Stephan Bayard to sort out the confusion. In fact the parallels between this book and those of Van Dine (Willard Huntington Wright) are striking. Bayard is a cultural intellectual who frequently comments on art and music, the action takes place largely in the Denny’s stylish New York apartment during the 1920s, and the book is narrated by Bayard’s companion and purported author, George Stacey Bishop, who is almost as invisible as was Van Dine in the 12 Philo Vance novels. Bayard, however, is in no way annoying, as Vance could sometimes be, and neatly unravels this brain buster of a case.

There are parallels between the real lives of Antheil and Wright as well. Wright solicited and published the work of T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound in The Smart Set magazine, and Eliot and Pound helped Antheil write Death in the Dark! Antheil’s life and the story behind the book are almost as complex as the plot. Dr. Mauro Piccinini, an Antheil expert, provides details, including Antheil’s work with actress Hedy Lamarr to design the spread spectrum technology used in all cell phones today, in a lengthy afterword.

Teri Duerr
2017-04-18 17:54:08
If We Were Villains
Sarah Prindle

Shakespearean drama and murder become reality when a group of actors at an art school are questioned over the suspicious death of their colleague, Richard. One of the actors, Oliver Marks, is convicted of the death and spends a decade in prison for manslaughter. The day he is released, the detective who’d been in charge of the case comes to see him. Detective Colborne has always had lingering questions about what really happened 10 years ago and asks Oliver to tell him. What follows is Oliver’s recollection of the events that culminated in Richard’s death and Oliver’s imprisonment, revealing for the first time the hidden secrets and dangerous lies of the tight-knit group of young, ambitious theater friends.

M. L. Rio’s debut novel pulls the reader in from the first page with an air of mystery and questions about what Oliver knows. The group of actors range from the seductive Meredith to volatile Richard, from gentle, quiet Wren to free-spirited Alexander, whose roles on stage match those in their real lives. But when Richard begins to lash out at his fellow actors over a change in roles—and then turns up dead—the friends find themselves in the most challenging performance of all: hiding the truth of Richard’s death from the police and from their own consciences.

If We Were Villains is a well-written and gripping ode to the stage, with a dose of theater terms, Shakespearean allegories, and dialogue sometimes written as script. While anyone could enjoy this mystery about the dark side of friendship, love, and the unintended consequences when people step out of the “roles” they take on in real life, readers with a basic knowledge of Shakespeare and the theater will get more from it.

As Oliver tells Colborne what really happened, he confronts the past and his role in the scandal so he can move on with life outside of prison...and free himself from the mental prison that keeping secrets has kept him in for 10 years. A fascinating, unorthodox take on rivalry, friendship, and truth, If We Were Villains will draw readers in and leave them pondering the weight of our biggest actions and their consequences. Recommended.

Teri Duerr
2017-04-18 18:00:00
Mister Memory
Vanessa Orr

Imagine having a perfect memory—never forgetting anything that happens in your life. While it may at first seem like it might be a blessing, Marcel Després, otherwise known as Mister Memory, proves just how painful it can be. Along with the good, you remember the bad—in the case of Després, the fact that he murdered his wife. More difficult than that, however, is that with so many items in your head, your brain gets bogged down in details, or as Sedgwick puts it, “lost in cul-de-sacs of false logic.”

This “ability” and the death of his wife, Ondine, land Després at Salpêtrière Asylum in Paris, where Dr. Lucien Morel tries to get the near-catatonic sideshow performer to remember what happened. He is joined in his quest by Inspector Laurent Petit, a young detective who, while not sure of Després’ innocence, knows that something isn’t right about the way that police higher-ups are pushing for the case to be closed.

Everyone has an agenda in this story, and the real victim is Després, who is either being framed or who committed a murder but can’t untangle his thoughts in a way that unravels the mystery. Just like the doctor and the detective, the reader must be patient—many pages go by before Després gives up a clue. The tension in the story comes from wanting the truth to be discovered before his time runs out; the guilty parties having decided that his death is preferable to the chance that he could someday understand what he saw.

Similar to Sedgwick’s first novel for adults, A Love Like Blood, the author rarely uses two words when 20 will do. In this case, the style meshes perfectly with the plot; the reader needs to travel down all of the tangents of Després’ mind to truly understand what this condition must be like. This is a memorable book for many reasons; including an ending that Després and his prodigious mind deserve.

Teri Duerr
2017-04-18 18:04:59
Murder on the Serpentine
Joe Scarpato, Jr.

When Thomas Pitt, the head of England’s Special Branch, receives an in-person request from an aging Queen Victoria to privately investigate a seemingly accidental death, he knows he may be in for one of the toughest jobs of his career. The victim, Sir John Halberd, had been asked by the Queen to privately investigate Alan Kendrick, a close friend of the Prince of Wales, to discover if he was a malignant force in her son’s life. However, on the evening before he was to report to her, Halberd’s body was found, apparently drowned, in Hyde Park’s Serpentine lake.

Since the Prince will one day soon become her successor to the throne, the Queen is anxious to learn if Kendrick, a wealthy owner of superior race horses, is just a bad influence—in light of the Prince’s interest in wagering on races—or worse, on her son. As Pitt delves into the case, one where secrecy is of the utmost importance, he realizes that he cannot share his burden with anyone, including his wife, Charlotte, who has often helped him on difficult cases. When Pitt becomes convinced that the drowning death was murder; he also discovers that Kendrick has a seemingly unbreakable alibi for the time. Fortunately, Charlotte intuits some of Pitt’s concerns, and, with her sister, Emily, whose wealth through marriage gives her entrée into high-society circles, discovers information about Kendrick’s wife that helps move the case forward. A second death stymies the investigation and leaves Pitt unable to make an arrest, but he finds that there may be more than one way to skin a cat.

This is a nuanced murder mystery, particularly the interplay between Pitt and Kendrick, featuring high-level intrigue with historical connections to Germany and the Boer War. It’s also the 32nd and last entry in the Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series, a great one to go out on before the next generation of Pitts takes the stage.

Teri Duerr
2017-04-18 18:10:07
Flamingo Road
Rachel Prindle

Sasscer Hill’s series debut Flamingo Road follows Fia McKee, a Baltimore cop with a quick tongue and endless determination. As the story opens, Fia is put on leave while an incident involving her fatal use of force is being investigated. With time on her hands, Fia agrees to travel to Florida to help out her brother Patrick when he reveals that his 15-year-old daughter, Jilly, is coping badly after her mother’s abandonment. Fia has barely settled in, though, when a local gang butchers Jilly’s favorite horse and her niece goes missing. Looking into her niece’s disappearance, Fia finds herself undercover investigating the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau (TRPB) at a track in Florida, where racetrack workers are rumored to be illegally drugging their horses to run harder and win big.

In Flamingo Road, Hill proves that she can not only write a great mystery, she can also create a great character: Fia is a spirited young woman with a snarky attitude, and it is great fun to see her interact with her brother, Zanin, Jilly, and a whole cast of suspects and criminals. Fia is also a master of disguise, dressing and acting like a completely different person to get into the villains’ good graces while hiding her true intentions. The story is told in the first-person from Fia’s perspective, and serious happenings are balanced by comedy and banter.

Hill also offers detailed glimpses of Florida, including Gulfstream Park, where the horse races take place, and C-9 Basin, a wilderness known to harbor criminals and their deadly activities. As Fia and her loved ones become more deeply involved in the illegal goings-on at the track and the criminal gangs connected to it, it gets harder and harder to tell who is really on their side. A subplot also ties in the cold case of Fia’s father’s murder and the effects it still has on her and her family.

For fans of female sleuths, Flamingo Road is an entertaining novel, marking the welcome arrival of Fia McKee.

Teri Duerr
2017-04-18 18:15:01
Blue Light Yokohama
Ariell Cacciola

In the first of a presumed series featuring Tokyo Inspector Kosuke Iwata, Blue Light Yokohama captures the reader immediately with a murder that appears as if it is straight out of a blockbuster when a deranged woman stabs a cable car attendant as passengers dangle high above the city. Then fast forward 15 years to a series of ritualistic homicides that do not, at first, appear to be connected, but eventually weave together. Bizarre details abound—a heart taken from one of the bod- ies, a black sun drawn in ash on the wall, a lingering smell of incense in the air—and Iwata is brought in to make sense of the brutal crimes.

Blue Light Yokohama begins with all of the makings of an alluring murder mystery: five murders in five days without a single clue pointing to a culprit. But Iwata’s initial interactions are cumbersome and seem plucked from a run-of-the-mill television police procedural—heavy on dialogue, heavy on cliché, but light on character and plot development. Inspector Iwata fits easily into the mold of moody detectives who suffer in silence like so many others in the genre, and does little to make himself standout. The direction of the plot and stilted dialogue (Could it be something lost in translation?) jump from one scene to the next without enough connectivity.

The novel, however, succeeds in its descriptions of gritty Tokyo. When Iwata is on the streets, either mining suspects for more information or meditating on the tangled murders, Tokyo is a fascinating city bathed in light and dark. With crimes so interesting, it is a shame Iwata’s investigation and Blue Light Yokohama never really come together.

Teri Duerr
2017-04-18 18:21:11
A Clash of Spheres
Jean Gazis

In the eighth Sir Robert Carey mystery, the newly appointed deputy warden finds himself on the Scottish border, where blood feuds are imbibed with mother’s milk. Warned by the King of Spain of a possible plot against England and Queen Elizabeth I, Carey travels to the Scottish court of King James VI at Edinburgh to investigate, joined by Simon Anricks, a tooth-drawer, philosopher, and spy. Anricks is preparing to debate mathematician John Napier at court over the Copernican versus the Ptolemaic conceptions of the movement of the spheres. King James will declare the winner at a grand masque for the New Year, where costumed lords and ladies will portray the planets in a dance.

The mystery builds slowly and the author paints a splendid portrait of Elizabethan society at all levels, filled with homey details and colorful characters, as the narrative shifts among several intriguing characters—not only Carey, but also his henchman Henry Dodd, Dodd’s wife Janet, the former mining engineer Jonathan Hepburn, his paramour Marguerite (lady in waiting to the Queen of Scotland), Marguerite’s jealous, elderly husband, Sir David Graham, the Jesuit Father Crichton, Carey’s servant Hughie Tyndale, and even Dodd’s beloved horse, Whitesock.

Carey’s outward persona as the quintessential courtier, more interested in the latest court fashions than in the arts of war, provides cover for an adept sleuth with a steely will, while multiple intersecting feuds, plots, and jealousies keep the reader guessing until the final pages. The end is satisfying, but leaves open the possibility of future installments. There’s also a helpful glossary to explain historical terms such as cramoisie (a dark purplish red) and morion (a type of helmet).

Teri Duerr
2017-04-18 18:27:52
Dead in the Water
Sharon Magee

Driving a reinforced hearse around is, in itself, enough to make Mattie Winston memorable. But she’s also nearly 6 feet tall, wears a size 12 1⁄2 shoe, and is on the buxom side. She’s sometimes called a big girl—often to her face—but her stature, which she inherited from her barely remembered father, serves her well as deputy coroner of small town Sorenson, Wisconsin. In this eighth installment of the darkly humorous Mattie Winston Mysteries, Mattie is happily cohabiting with her fiancé, the hunky police detective Steve Hurley, planning their wedding, and raising their son, who is pushing the boundaries of the terrible twos.

When Carolyn Abernathy’s body is discovered on her kitchen floor, Mattie and Hurley are called in to investigate. Mattie’s workload is pushed to the limit when another body is reported bumping against the wall of the town dam along with a second report of an empty boat with what looks like pooled blood on a nearby lake. The body at the dam belongs to Mattie’s colleague Hal Dawson, as does the boat. Hal’s girlfriend is found at the bottom of the lake, bound and weighted with the boat’s anchor. As Mattie and Hurley investigate the deaths of Hal and his girlfriend, and the seemingly unrelated Abernathy case, evidence begins to point to an unlikely connection, and it appears Mattie’s long-gone father may some- how be involved.

Author Annelise Ryan has surrounded the delightful Mattie with a cast of endearing characters: her boss, Izzy, who, along with his partner, has just adopted a baby girl; her kooky mother, who goes on a cleaning frenzy and then declares she has a fatal illness whenever confronted with anything uncomfortable; and her half-sister Desi, who is half Mattie’s size and her best friend. Hopefully there are more Mattie episodes in store for readers. An entertaining read.

Teri Duerr
2017-04-18 18:32:44
Tell Me No Lies
Betty Webb

When her best friend is murdered, Appalachian newspaper publisher Ava Logan becomes an investigative reporter in Lynn Chandler Willis’ Tell Me No Lies. Ava also becomes temporary foster mother to Trish’s toddler, adding the child to her own brood. Fortunately, Ava’s children—Cole, 15, and Emma, 12—adore little Ivy and are happy to take over babysitting duties. Also helping out is Doretha, Ava’s own foster mother, who raised Ava when her mother was imprisoned for killing her father. Partially because of Ava’s traumatic childhood, her love life has become complicated. Although currently dating Rick, an attorney, she is carrying a torch for Grayson, the county sheriff. The familial and emotional complications in Tell Me No Lies are every bit as interesting as the whodunit part of the book, but that doesn’t mean the mystery lacks oomph. It certainly doesn’t. We learn almost immediately that Ava’s search for Trish’s killer endangers her own family, yet because of her love for her dead friend, she perseveres. Conflicts, both personal and professional, loom large in this riveting book. Author Willis gives us an excellent sense of small-town life where politics are always personal, and ginseng-poaching means the difference between dire poverty and financial comfort. Willis also shows us the morality-versus-money conflict when a publisher—in order to keep her newspaper afloat—must accept political ads from a candidate she dislikes. Written with an assured hand, Tell Me No Lies has only one flaw, and that’s in Ava’s emotional waterworks. She cries when she’s happy, she cries when she’s sad, she cries when she’s anxious, she cries when she’s hopeful. This somewhat damages her believability as a tough and independent newspaper publisher. Nonetheless, Tell Me No Lies gets top marks on the readability scale.

Teri Duerr
2017-04-19 17:01:10
Vicious Dogs
Betty Webb

Henry Brock’s Vicious Dogs isn’t going to be for everyone, since it begins with a decapitated cat. Still, the book’s dark humor keeps the grisly plot afloat. Our Canadian antihero is Derek Lasker, an unsuccessful private detective, who is not only living in his car, but also works as a guinea pig for drug companies. Lasker knows he’s a loser, but he’s funny about it. “I hated to think of all the crap that was floating around inside me.... Being infested with untested drugs was a bit more frightening than the recreational variety that I had favored in my younger days.” When worried father Bob Senior hires him to shadow Bob Junior, an unruly teen suspected of beheading the neighbor’s cat, Lasker is quick to take the case. Compared to other cases he’s worked, this one sounds dull, but the PI is tired of living on the street. As it turns out, decapitating cats may be the least of Bob Junior’s crimes. While following the young man, Lasker is led through Toronto’s mean streets, from a psychotic dojo master to a dogfighting ring that pits knife-wielding humans against Rottweilers. Thankfully, the dogfighting scene is mercifully short, although it still makes for uncomfortable reading. On a more positive note, author Brock loves to set stereotypes on their clichéd heads. There is a surprising turnaround when one of the bad guys turns out to be an animal lover who can’t wait to take the nasty Bob Junior apart. Despite its gruesome subject matter, Vicious Dogs remains an excellent, vibrant read, even though it does rather tarnish the image of Canada being an always gentle country where the most untoward behavior is ordering an Americano at a Tim Hortons.

Teri Duerr
2017-04-19 17:08:44
Murder Go Round
Lynne F. Maxwell

Murder Go Round is Carol J. Perry’s fourth entry in her Witch City Mystery series. Set in—where else?—Salem, Massachusetts, this fine series just grows better with each installment. Featuring Lee Barrett, a young widow who has magical powers, and her large yellow tabby cat, the familiar O’Ryan (don’t you love his name?), Murder Go Round begins innocuously with a casual outing to an auction of abandoned contents of storage lockers. On a lark, Lee and her retired librarian Aunt Ibby successfully bid on one of the lockers and enlist the aid of Lee’s beau, Detective Pete Mondello, to haul the loot back to Aunt Ibby’s house. Ibby is delighted with her find, a tarnished Russian samovar. Similarly, Lee is intrigued by a battered carousel horse that she recovered from the locker. Fortunately, Ibby knows a craftsman who can restore the horse, so Lee and Pete take it to his shop for the necessary repairs. Sounds uncomplicated, right? Nonetheless, Lee’s special visionary power gives her bad vibes about the situation, and O’Ryan, employing his own special powers, concurs. Not long thereafter, a body is discovered in the carpenter’s workshop and the carousel horse has been dismantled. What gives?

Let’s just stipulate that the plot is intricate, much like the matryoshka dolls and Fabergé eggs that populate the narrative. There is, indeed, a Russian connection here, and the author weaves a clever tale linking past to present. Not only does she link the murder, in a somewhat convoluted manner, to the slaughter of the Romanovs, but she also introduces a more contemporary phenomenon, the presence of the Russian mafia. Yes, really. It remains for Lee and Pete to penetrate the secret that connects the present murder to past mysterious deaths of a handful of Russian immigrants who served in various capacities in the Romanov household. And if you surmise that it involves Fabergé eggs, you would be correct.

Murder Go Round is entertaining fare, replete with compelling characters and a unique plot. You need look no further if you would like to suspend disbelief and revel in the amusement park that is Carol J. Perry’s Witch City.

Teri Duerr
2017-04-19 17:16:10
Death by Chocolate Lab
Lynne F. Maxwell

Death by Chocolate Lab is Bethany Blake’s inaugural entry in her new Lucky Paws Petsitting Mystery series. I was amused and intrigued by the lead character, Daphne Templeton, PhD, petsitter—and philosopher. Home from the killing fields of academe, Daphne and her basset hound, Socrates, live with her sister, a veterinarian, and attempts to grow her petsitting business in Sylvan Creek, Pennsylvania, deep in the Poconos. Apparently the town attracts dog lovers of a competitive nature, hence the market for obnoxious agility trainer Steve Beamus, ex-boyfriend of Daphne’s sister, Piper. While Steve is arrogant and annoying, Daphne is shocked when he is murdered on her sister’s property. Even more shocking is the fact that Piper becomes the prime suspect. In order to exonerate her sister, Daphne undertakes her own private investigation, which succeeds in exasperating the handsome Detective Jonathan Black, who has just moved to Sylvan Creek. A secondary mystery concerns the disappearance of Axis, Steve’s ever-present Labrador, who requires daily doses of medication. Who would steal Axis, and why?

Daphne sets forth in her vintage 1975 Volkswagen bus, repeatedly searching Steve’s home—and getting rescued by Detective Black when her van breaks down. On one of these forays, she discovers that the house is inhabited—by the son that no one knew Steve had. Curiouser and curiouser, but so is the behavior of some of the townspeople. Could the genial bookseller and his wife be behind the murder? Stay tuned for the surprise ending. Certainly, Death by Chocolate Lab solves numerous mysteries, principally the perennial question, “What does one do with a PhD in philosophy?”

Teri Duerr
2017-04-19 17:23:21