James W. Ziskin Maps His Journey
James W. Ziskin

Ziskin JamesI began my journey reading my mother’s childhood books: picture books, poetry, adventure stories, and tales of faraway places. I remember the muddy-brown-and-white lithograph bookplates, picturing a young girl in a wood and bearing the mysterious inscription “Ex libris Elizabeth W***.” (Sorry, her last name is what my middle initial stands for. And that name—like Rumpelstiltskin’s—must remain a secret.) Her books spanned a remarkable breadth of variety and genres. One Christmas, when she was seven, her parents gave her a beautifully illustrated translation of The Decameron. When I was a young boy, the language seemed old and dusty to me, and I never paid any attention to the book until I was studying Italian literature in grad school. That’s when I discovered just how wickedly ribald and downright filthy many of Boccaccio’s stories are. If you don’t believe me, try Googling “Putting the devil back in hell” for one modest example. Clearly, my grandparents hadn’t done their due diligence when selecting an appropriate book for their seven-year-old daughter.

The Decameron notwithstanding, I began my lifelong love of words and storytelling with Mom’s books. Long before I published my first novel, I studied languages (French, Italian, Spanish, German, and Hindi, with some Latin on the side). Over the years, my reading habits have changed, matured, and taken detours. And my journey has played an essential and formative role in my own writing. Here is a partial list of titles that plotted the road map I have followed.

My youngest days:
Highlights magazine. Goofus and Gallant. I was Team Goofus.
Alfred Noyes’s “The Highwayman.” “Then look for me by moonlight, watch for me by moonlight, I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way.”
The King’s Stilts. My favorite Seuss ever.
The Story of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, by Virginia Lee Burton
Beatrix Potter
James Whitcomb Riley, “The Raggedy Man”
Grimm’s Fairy Tales

At school:
7th grade: Great Expectations. Took two semesters for our class to finish it.
8th grade: Ivanhoe and Ethan Frome. Inspired choices for easily bored teens.
9th grade: As You Like It. They told us it was a comedy. Good thing, because we couldn’t tell.

Early teens:
Murder on the Orient Express, my first Agatha Christie.
Archie comics. I could never choose between Betty and Veronica.

Mid teens:
Playboy. Hey, I said I loved picture books.
The Carpetbaggers. The cover.
Flashman in the Great Game, by George MacDonald Fraser. Again, the cover. Later, when I finally read it, I fell in love with the series.

Late teens:
Kingsley Amis’ Lucky Jim. I was a budding Anglophile.
Hamlet: Borrowed it from school. Never returned it, thus validating Polonius’s advice to Laertes.
Williams: Sweet Bird of Youth, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, A Streetcar Named Desire
Orwell and Huxley. Perhaps now would be a good time to revisit these two….

My twenties:
Longfellow: Evangeline. My favorite epic poem.
Twain: Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer
Hemingway: A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Old Man and the Sea
Remarque: All Quiet on the Western Front, Arch of Triumph
Steinbeck: Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, Cannery Row, Of Mice and Men
García Márquez: One Hundred Years of Solitude, Love in the Time of Cholera
Roald Dahl. Who knew kids’ books could be so wicked and funny?

Grad school:
Dante
Petrarch
Boccaccio
Zola: The Rougon-Macquart series
Flaubert: Madame Bovary
Stendhal: The Red and the Black
Svevo: The Conscience of Zeno

Anglophilia:
P. G. Wodehouse: All of Bertie Wooster and Jeeves
Evelyn Waugh: Brideshead Revisited
Graham Greene: All of it. Every last word.

Favorite book about 19-century whaling: Moby-Dick

ziskin castthefirststoneAnd finally, these works showed me my calling and pointed the way:
Poe: “The Raven,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “Murders in the Rue Morgue”
Doyle: The Hound of the Baskervilles
Wouk: Winds of War, The Cain Mutiny
Forsyth: Day of the Jackal, The Odessa File
Sayers: Have His Carcase, anything else with Harriet Vane
Christie: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Murder on the Orient Express, etc.
Chandler: The Big Sleep
Eco: The Name of the Rose
Hammett: The Thin Man
Cain: The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity
Francis: Whip Hand
Paretsky: Indemnity Only
Block: Eight Million Ways to Die, When the Sacred Ginmill Closes

And now, back to the journey.

“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.”
—J. R. R. Tolkien

James W. Ziskin is author of the Edgar-, Anthony-, Barry-, and Lefty-Award nominated Ellie Stone Mysteries, from Seventh Street Books. Look for Cast the First Stone, the latest Ellie Stone mystery, available everywhere June 6, 2017.

This “Writers on Reading” essay was originally published in “At the Scene” enews June 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
2017-05-18 16:12:51
James Grippando on Broadway
Oline H. Cogdill

Grippando jamesxx
This year saw the release of James Grippando’s 25th novel, and his 13th featuring Miami defense lawyer Jack Swyteck.

Most Dangerous Place takes its title from a FBI statement that the most dangerous place for a woman between the ages of 20 and 30 is in a relationship with a man. Grippando, left, skillfully weaves this issue into a well-plotted novel that keeps the suspense high and the characters believable.

In Most Dangerous Place, Jack goes to the Miami airport to pick up his best friend from high school, Keith Ingraham, his wife, Isa Bornelli, and their five-year-old daughter, Melany. Jack hasn’t seen his friend for several years since Keith and his family have been living in Hong Kong. But shortly after the family lands, Isa is arrested and charged with murdering the man who raped her when she was at the University of Miami more than a dozen years before.

Grippando has made his reputation as a solid thriller writer who can be relied on for gripping, brisk plots.

But Grippando has been adding another title to his resume: Broadway producer. For several years now, Grippando has been investing in Broadway shows through his affiliation with Greenleaf Productions.

If you were among the readers who thought you saw Grippando get up on stage during the Tony Awards a couple of years ago, along with the other producers of Matilda, you were right.

Grippando is among the producers for Matilda. He also took a chance on Audra McDonald in Lady Day and the revival of Fiddler on the Roof.

The productions of which Grippando is one of the producers are now on three continents—Groundhog Day on Broadway, Dreamgirls on London’s West End, and Matilda in Australia.

andykarl gruondhoglaworderThe playbill for the musical Groundhog Day lists Grippando as one of the producers.

Groundhog Day is based on the movie of the same name and stars Andy Karl, rght, as the weatherman caught in a time warp. Here’s a review of Groundhog Day by my favorite theater critic.

Groundhog Day has seven Tony Award nominations, including one for Karl. By the way, Karl recently ended his run as Sgt. Mike Dodds in Season 17 of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

Look for Grippando when the producers come up on stage during the Tony Awards on June 11.

Photos: Top, James Grippando; photo courtesy Harper; Bottom, Andy Karl, photo by Joan Marcus

Oline Cogdill
2017-06-07 18:35:00
Sue Grafton: “Y” on Its Way
Oline H. Cogdill

graftonsue yisfor
Until a few weeks ago, the title of Sue Grafton’s second to last novel about Santa Barbara private detective Kinsey Millhone has been known only as Y Is for….

The mystery has been solved, and Y Is for Yesterday, from Marian Wood Books/Putnam, hits stores and reading devices on August 22.

It’s been a long, wonderful ride with Kinsey and company, and after Y Is for Yesterday, only Z Is for... is left.

The publisher describes Y Is for Yesterday’s plot:

“The darkest and most disturbing case report from the files of Kinsey Millhone, Y begins in 1979, when four teenage boys from an elite private school sexually assault a 14-year-old classmate—and film the attack. Not long after, the tape goes missing and the suspected thief, a fellow classmate, is murdered. In the investigation that follows, one boy turns state's evidence and two of his peers are convicted. But the ringleader escapes without a trace.

“Now, it's 1989 and one of the perpetrators, Fritz McCabe, has been released from prison. Moody, unrepentant, and angry, he is a virtual prisoner of his ever-watchful parents—until a copy of the missing tape arrives with a ransom demand. That's when the McCabes call Kinsey Millhone for help.”

Kinsey first came on the scene in 1982 with A Is for Alibi.

Grafton has kept with that naming convention throughout with B Is for Burglar, E Is for Evidence, P Is for Peril, and so on. The only exception has been the singular X, which came out in 2015 and soon landed in the top spot on several bestseller lists.

That brings me back to Y Is for Yesterday.

For me, Y Is for Yesterday has a different meaning, as it seems like just yesterday that Grafton, along with Marcia Muller and Sara Paretsky, brought me back to mysteries and set me on a career course I never expected.

I began reading mysteries when I was about eight or nine. I had pretty much read everything the children’s section of my hometown library had and wanted more—more stories, characters, more plots, just more.

That’s when my mother handed me some of her collection of mysteries she had read—many of them small hardcovers that cost pennies, or rather dimes, back in her day. Authors such as Agatha Christie, Rex Stout, Frances and Richard Lockridge (Mr. and Mrs. North), Mary Roberts Rinehart.

And I found that more I was looking for. (To this day, I have never read a Nancy Drew or a Hardy Boys novel.)

But decades later when I started working I became disenchanted with mysteries. The stories were not speaking to me, not addressing my concerns. I loved the mysteries that were then old-fashioned but I craved more contemporary stories that I could relate to.

I remember sitting in my driveway with one of my closest friends and talking about reading. He mentioned he had heard about this new author who was naming her books after the alphabet. “A Is for Alibi is the first one,” he said. “It’s that cute.”

It wasn’t just cute—it was what I needed.

Although I had pets, owned my own home, and loved clothes, I still found a kindred spirit in Kinsey, despite her petless, vagabond ways and habit of cutting her hair with nail scissors and owning one black dress.

We were single women, making our own way, navigating a new world and reveling in being independent.

At that point Grafton had about six novels out and I began to binge-read. A few months later, I was visiting my friend Toni, who handed me one of Sara Paretsky’s novels. And I was off.

The rest is, well, mystery-reading history.

Y Is for Yesterday. Y is for you, the reader.

Oline Cogdill
2017-06-03 18:50:00
Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer

macdonald ross

Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer debuted in the 1949 novel The Moving Target and has appeared in novels, radio programs, and on the screen over the decades since.

Photo: Author Ross Macdonald (Kenneth Millar)

In The Archer Files (Vintage Crime, softcover, $16) a collection of the complete short stories featuring private detective Lew Archer, its editor Tom Nolan provides a detailed biography of the Southern California sleuth culled from clues planted by author Ross Macdonald in the stories and 18 acclaimed novels.

Nolan tells us that, after serving in Army Intelligence during WWII, Archer set up shop in Hollywood. During roughly that same period, Navy Communications Officer Kenneth Millar (Macdonald’s real name) wrote his first private eye fiction, the short story "Find the Woman," featuring a sleuth named Joe Rogers, that merited an encouraging $300 third prize in a contest sponsored by Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.

macdonald movingtargetA while later, the story would be reprinted with Archer replacing Rogers. But the character’s official debut was in 1949’s The Moving Target when, at 35 and in the midst of a divorce, the character is summoned to Santa Teresa (the author’s fictional version of Santa Barbara) and the home of wealthy and unpleasant Elaine Sampson who hires him to find her missing alcoholic husband. The novel was clearly influenced by Raymond Chandler’s work, with several obvious nods to Chandler’s first Philip Marlowe novel The Big Sleep.

But by 1956’s The Barbarous Coast, Macdonald and Archer were leaving many of the hardboiled tropes behind, replaced by, as Nolan puts it in his excellent, meticulously detailed biography, Ross Macdonald (Scribner ebook, $12.99), “more subjective themes: personal identity, the family secret, the childhood trauma . . . how the buried past rises like a skeleton to confront the present.” The Galton Case (1959), with its debt to the Oedipus myth, is usually cited as the upward turning point in Macdonald’s creativity, to be followed by a series of remarkable novels ending with The Blue Hammer (1976).

AUDIOBOOKS
As best I can tell, the first audio versions of the Archer series were Random House cassettes, narrated by Peter Riegert (Crossing Delancey, The Sopranos) who hurried the prose a little too much. The real problem with the productions is that they were abridgments, making their unavailability no great loss. Fans should be much more satisfied by the recent release of over a dozen Archer audios by Blackstone Audio (unabridged, on CDs or downloadable via Audible, priced variably). Included are the key novels, The Moving Target, The Ivory Grin, The Barbarous Coast, The Galton Case, the disturbingly creepy The Wycherly Woman, The Chill and The Underground Man, as well as a personal favorite, The Zebra Striped Hearse, with its memorable characters, including a ubiquitous gang of surfer kids and an overall sad Sixties vibe. Adding to the pleasures of Macdonald’s prose is actor Grover Gardner’s interpretation of first-person narrator Archer – relentless, empathic but tough when it’s necessary, well-spoken, the kind of guy who, though his occupation demands a certain physical prowess, sounds as if he finds time to read a book every now and then.

MOVIES
lewarcher newmanIn the mid '60s, novelist and screenwriter William Goldman convinced producer Elliot Kastner to bring a Macdonald novel to the screen. Harper (1966), based on The Moving Target, starred Paul Newman as hero Lew Harper. The name change, long rumored to be because of the actor’s fondness for “H” titled-movies (Hud, Hombre), actually was due to Macdonald’s desire to retain the rights to the name “Lew Archer.”

The Drowning Pool (1975), based on Macdonald’s novel of the same name, also starred Newman, with its location changed from Southern California to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Though well acted (especially by Anthony Franciosa as a cop with a spot-on New Orleans accent and Murray Hamilton as a smiling bayou crime lord), it suffers by comparison with Harper, scriptwise and because of its unsubtle and at times unpleasant directorial excesses. Still, it has its moments.

Both films are available on Warner Bros. DVDs, at various prices.

The author has influenced many movies and TV series, but Twilight (1998; Paramount DVD, various prices) is the best Ross Macdonald film not based on anything the author wrote. Director Robert Benton and screenwriter Richard Russo created the ultimate Macdonald homagea tough but wistful study of friendship, loyalty, and murder with Paul Newman as a retired Archer-like thoughtful private eye, living on the estate of his similarly aging actor friends, Gene Hackman and Susan Sarandon, and their troublesome daughter Reese Witherspoon. With an impeccable supporting cast that includes James Garner, Giancarlo Esposito, Liev Schreiber, Margo Martindale and M. Emmet Walsha noir dream team.

In 2011, Deadline Hollywood announced that producer Joel Silver would partner with Random House Films in launching a Lew Archer movie series, beginning with The Galton Case. In 2015, Variety stated that Silver and Warner Bros. were planning an adaptation of Macdonald’s Black Money, which Joel and Ethan Coen would write and “possibly” direct. The Guardian, this past January, noted that the brothers’ next project would be writing and directing a Western anthology for television, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. No upcoming Macdonald project is listed on Joel Silver’s page on the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB).

RADIO
In 1996, Santa Monica FM station KCRW broadcast a 7½ hour adaptation of Macdonald’s Sleeping Beauty, enacted by a cast of 40, including its director Harris Yulin as Archer, Ed Asner, Tyne Daly, Shirley Knight, and Jennifer Tilly. This was followed in 2000 by a similarly timed adaptation of The Zebra Striped Hearse, with Yulin again directing and appearing as Archer, backed by another big cast including Stacy Keach, Marian Mercer, Anthony Zerbe, and Pamela Reed.

Both excellent productions were released in 6-cassette packages from Audio Partners but apparently are only available as bootleg copies.

TELEVISION
In 1958, Macdonald’s short story Find the Woman was adapted as a 60-minute addition to the CBS anthology series Pursuit, retitled Epitaph for a Golden Girl. Michael Rennie portrayed the private eye who, at the author’s insistence, was re-christened with his original name of Joe Rogers.

In 1974, NBC-TV televised a two-hour pilot based on The Underground Man, with Peter Graves as a passable Archer, though a bit more nostalgic than his literary counterpart. According to Nolan’s biography, the author found Douglas Heyes’ adaptation “rather obscure and hysterical.” But over 12 million viewers seemed to like it, enough for a series to follow, albeit with a different crew and cast. Not that it helped.

Archer (NBC-TV, 1975) featured a glum, mumbling Brian Keith as Lew Archer. Produced by David Karp, and written by Karp and assorted others, the stories, as I remember them, weren’t just noir but rather sour studies of crime and criminals. It was canceled after six episodes. Variety called it “one of the speediest executions on record.” Still, one can’t help being curious about the episode The Body Beautiful, which was penned by Leigh Brackett, the near legendary screenwriter who co-adapted Chandler’s The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye.

Neither the pilot with Peter Graves nor the six episodes with Brian Keith are available from standard sources, but bootleg copies of The Underground Man are available on iOffer.

For more information about Macdonald and his perceptive private detective, check out Tom Nolan’s biography and short story collection mentioned above and It’s All One Case: The Illustrated Ross Macdonald Archives, by Kevin Avery, Paul Nelson, Jeff Wong, and the author himself (Fantagraphics, hardcover, $44.99).

Dick Lochte is a well-known literary and drama critic and contributes the “Sounds of Suspense” audiobook review column to Mystery Scene. He received the 2003 Ellen Nehr Award for Excellence in Mystery Reviewing. His prize-winning Sleeping Dog and its sequel, Laughing Dog, are available from Brash Books.

Teri Duerr
2017-05-22 16:37:47
You Will Pay
Oline H. Cogdill

The prolific Lisa Jackson’s latest novel with a pedestrian plot and one-dimensional characters never quite catches fire. Still, You Will Pay moves at a brisk pace with a few interesting twists to hold readers' interest.

About 20 years ago, two teenage female counselors and a part-time worker disappeared from Camp Horseshoe, a religious camp in Oregon. A male counselor, Tyler Quade, was found alive, but with a knife in his back. At the time, many believed that an escaped prisoner was to blame for the attacks.

Two decades later, the jawbone belonging to one of the victims, Elle Brady, is found on the beach. With the case reopened, the surviving counselors are called to testify, including Lucas Dalton, now a police detective. Back then, Lucas, who is the son of the camp’s owner, had just broken up with Elle the night before she disappeared. While Lucas should not be handling the case, he continues to investigate, spurred on by guilt and the need to hide a few secrets. To add to the tension, the surviving counselors receive text photos of Elle in her coffin with the message “You will pay.”

You Will Pay brings to mind many horror films set at summer camps, while never quite rising to the thrill level of the best in this genre. Still, the finale is a surprise.

Teri Duerr
2017-05-23 16:15:09

jacksonyouwillpayA twist on horror films set at summer camps, You Will Pay never quite rising to the thrill level of the best in the genre.

Sister, Sister
Rachel Prindle

Clare Tennison is a successful lawyer, who lives in her childhood home in England with her mother, husband, and two young daughters. While she is close to her family and the people she works with, complete happiness has always eluded her. As a child, her father ran out on her family, taking Clare’s beloved little sister, Alice, with him. All attempts to find Alice over the years have come to nothing. Then one day, the family gets a letter from Alice herself, who has been living in the States and only recently found them. When Alice travels to England to see them, Clare hopes they can connect, but shortly after Alice’s arrival, Clare finds herself at odds with her sister and jealous of all the extra attention her family lavishes on her. Her unease grows as Alice shows strange, manipulative behavior, and Clare worries her long-lost sister may have contacted them for sinister reasons. Her mother and husband, Luke, think Clare is paranoid, leaving her feeling alone as she struggles to figure out what is really happening.

Sue Fortin challenges the romance of “happily ever after” by showing the initial awkwardness of Alice’s sudden return and how Clare struggles to find room for this near-stranger. She also shows how long-awaited moments do not always play out the way a person wants. Though there is a mystery at the heart of the novel, it’s really an examination of familial relationships. Sister, Sister is highly emotional with well-wrought characterization; Alice’s presence and Clare’s suspicion create deep feelings of anger, bitterness, envy, betrayal, and fear that impacts everyone in the family.

As Clare slowly learns the truth about Alice, she is faced with another more dangerous threat. The story picks up intensity with scenes that are both terrifying and revelatory at the same time. As a new addition to the mystery genre, Sister, Sister more than earns its place. Although some people may find the tone heavy, fans of suspense thrillers won’t want to miss this superb storytelling.

Teri Duerr
2017-05-23 16:48:39

fortinsistersisterA highly emotional, well-wrought thriller about the return of a long-lost sister and the secrets she brings with her.

Nonfiction: “The Brain Defense”
Oline H. Cogdill

daviskevin braindefense
Normally, I don’t read true crime books, but recently two crossed my desk that I could not pass up. Both books pulled me in with their strong narrative and meticulous research.

Today, I am focusing on one of those books.

Chicago journalist Kevin DavisThe Brain Defense: Murder in Manhattan and the Dawn of Neuroscience in America's Courtrooms (Penguin Press) combines true crime, brain science, and courtroom drama in a well-researched book.

What makes Davis’ book so absorbing is it takes the reader on journey that shows us how neuroscience intersected with criminal justice, setting a new standard in courtrooms and the law.

Davis’ story starts with the 1991 death of Barbara Weinstein, whose body fell from a 12th-story apartment on Manhattan’s East 72nd Street. The 56-year-old woman’s husband, Herbert, soon confessed to the police that he had hit his wife and then strangled her after an argument. He threw her body out of the apartment window to make her death appear to be a suicide.

Nothing in the case added up. The 65-year-old Herbert Weinstein was a quiet retired advertising executive. He didn’t have a criminal record, no history of violent behavior. He apparently didn’t even have a temper.

What made him snap?

After he was arrested, an MRI revealed a cyst the size of an orange on his brain’s frontal lobe. That’s the part of the brain that governs judgment and impulse control.

daviskevin photo by Anne Ryan
Could Weinstein’s brain have been broken, causing him to do something totally out of character?

Weinstein’s lawyer argued that the cyst had impaired Weinstein’s judgment and that he should not be held criminally responsible for the murder.

This became the first case in the United States in which a judge allowed a scan showing a defendant’s brain activity to be admitted as evidence to support a claim of innocence.

The Weinstein case ushered in a sea change in American courtrooms, as Davis shows. It wasn’t just a matter of one man’s medical issues. The ruling raised complicated questions about responsibility, free will, and how science affects moral questions.

Full disclosure—I worked with Kevin Davis, right, years ago at the Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale. He quickly became known as one of the best reporters the newspaper had. Since he left the Sun Sentinel, his reporting has appeared in a number of high-profile newspapers and magazines. He also is the author of Defending the Damned and The Wrong Man.

Davis meets the high standards I expect from him in The Brain Defense.

He doesn’t focus on the lurid details of Weinstein’s case but puts this crime and its ruling in context. Davis looks at a broader history of brain problems, from the bizarre stories of Phineas Gage, history’s most famous brain-injury survivor, and Charles Whitman, perpetrator of the 1966 Texas Tower massacre, to the role that brain damage may play in violent actions by football players and war veterans.

Davis also looks at how criminal lawyers continue to turn to neuroscience and the effects of brain injuries in determining guilt or innocence.

The Brain Defense: Murder in Manhattan and the Dawn of Neuroscience in America's Courtrooms is a fascinating read. Like any good book, the characters—who happen to be real people—are well explored. And the plot—which is all reality—is the stuff of an absorbing legal thriller.

Photo: Kevin Davis photo by Anne Ryan

Oline Cogdill
2017-06-10 21:25:00
Back to Egypt With Elizabeth Peters

petershess painted queen
When she passed away in 2013, Barbara Mertz—the real name of Elizabeth Peters—was working on an Amelia Peabody novel.

It’s been a long seven years since readers had a new story about Amelia, the daring, witty, parasol-toting Englishwoman whose adventures have taken her across Egypt through 19 novels and one nonfiction companion volume, Amelia Peabody's Egypt: A Compendium.

Amelia Peabody novels were launched in 1975 and featured a large array of family, friends, allies, and characters both fictional and based on historical figures.

Egyptologist Barbara Mertz knew her history and lore and included much about Egypt in her novels. The series started in 1884 and moved up through 1923. In addition to solid mystery plots, her novels also featured a good share of humor, romance and even a parody of Victorian-era adventure novels.

At the time of Mertz’s death, the 20th installment, The Painted Queen, was in the editing stages.

Now, The Painted Queen is set to be published on July 25. Mertz’s longtime friend and award-winning mystery writer, Joan Hess, finished the manuscript.

Hess used extensive notes and conversations with Mertz to complete The Painted Queen in Mertz’s style.

The Painted Queen will be the last novel in the Amelia series.

Although The Painted Queen is the 20th entry in the series, it actually was supposed to be the 14th, chronologically, as it takes place in 1912.

In The Painted Queen, Amelia and her archeologist husband Radcliffe Emerson are back in Egypt for another excavation season. Before they head to the field, they want one more night of comfort, so the couple retires to their favorite hotel for an elegant dinner and crisp sheets. The next morning, Emerson is at the Service des Antiquities to sort out their plan, while Amelia is taking a bubble bath. But just as she has eased into the tub, a man staggers into the bath chamber clutching his throat, gasping, “Murder” before collapsing to the floor.

The Painted Queen of the title refers to the iconic bust of Queen Nefertiti, chief consort of Pharaoh Akhenaten and stepmother to King Tutankhamun.

During her 50-year career, Mertz received numerous writing awards, starting with her first Anthony Award for Best Novel in 1989. Other honors include grandmaster and lifetime achievement awards from the Mystery Writers of America, Malice Domestic, and Bouchercon. In 2012, she was given the first Amelia Peabody Award, created in her honor, at the Malice Domestic convention.

Joan Hess is the author of the Claire Malloy Mysteries and the Arly Hanks Mysteries. She is a winner of the American Mystery Award, the Agatha Award, for which she has been nominated five times.

Finishing another’s manuscript or continuing a series after an author’s death has become an industry standard. Ace Atkins does a terrific job carrying on Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series. Also, Reed Coleman has picked up the mantle for Parker’s Jesse Stone novels.

Robert Ludlum novels have been continued by Gayle Lynds, Philip Shelby, Patrick Larkin, Eric Van Lustbader, James H. Cobb, Kyle Mills, Jamie Freveletti, Douglas Corleone, and excuse me if I have overlooked a couple.


Oline Cogdill
2017-06-14 21:30:00
Father's Day With “Better Call Saul,” “Bosch”
Oline H. Cogdill



boschandmaddie bosch2x
Since Father’s Day is June 18, let’s celebrate two TV fathers whose concern and love for their children bring a deeper understanding of their characters to the plots.

Those fathers are Harry Bosch in Bosch, available on Amazon Prime and based on the novels by Michael Connelly, and Mike Ehrmantraut on Better Call Saul, wrapping up its third season on the AMC channel.

Bosch

In Connelly’s novels, Bosch’s daughter Maddie didn’t show up until his ninth novel, Lost Light, published in 2003. But each season of Bosch on Amazon Prime is a combination of several novels. It makes sense to have Maddie appear as a teenager, given the age and experience of Harry at this point in time.

Titus Welliver is outstanding as Los Angeles Police Department Detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch, who is a homicide detective in the Hollywood Division (for those few readers who do not know this). Harry’s skills as a detective, and his tendency to be a bit of a lone wolf, are paramount to the series. The TV series keeps the spirit of Connelly’s novels as well as the intense characters that the author has honed throughout his novels.

But Harry’s relationship with his teenage daughter, Maddie, winningly played by Madison Lintz, adds a deeper aspect to Harry. For most of the three seasons of Bosch, Maddie has called her father Harry. It makes sense because for most of her life he has been a bit of a stranger, living in a different city, and sometimes a different country.

Relationships are hard for Harry, but Maddie is the one person for whom he has unconditional love.

The moment when Maddie finally calls him “Dad” is a turning point for both. And the look of extreme love and pride and even thankfulness that flitters across Welliver’s face is naked emotion, something Harry usually doesn’t show.

We see his hurt when Maddie tells Harry that he is like a turtle who does not let anyone else under his shell, even her at times. Deep in Season Three, Harry sits on the edge of Maddie’s bed while she is asleep, worried that something he has done could bring harm to his child. Again, Welliver shows the unconditional love that Harry has for his child and how he would do anything to protect her.

The chemistry between father and daughter is perfect. Lintz is a poised young actress who also appeared during the first two seasons of AMC's postapocalyptic series The Walking Dead.

The third season of Bosch is now on Amazon Prime, and it’s been renewed for a fourth season.

Better Call Saul

banksjonathan bettercallsaulFor Better Call Saul’s Mike Ehrmantraut, his granddaughter Kaylee is the only person he cares about.

Mike’s love for Kaylee is the sole pure thing in his life, and also his only connection to humanity. She is the reason why he pushes himself into doing things not quite legal, as he wants to be able to leave her as much money as he can. There is nothing he would not do to make life better for Kaylee and his daughter-in-law.

Jonathan Banks never falters in his portrayal of Mike Ehrmantraut, showing his compassion and love for Kaylee as well as his hardened soul when dealing with others. Banks has long been a go-to character actor but now that he is older he is even better. His hangdog look shows a complex character beneath.

Part of his love for his granddaughter stems from the guilt he carries about his deceased son. As a cop in Philadelphia, Mike was involved in corruption. He knows his son was murdered because of the sins he committed.

Mike also knows that his actions could bring harm to his remaining family, even as he tries to shield them. The scene in which he notices the twin assassins watching his granddaughter, and he literally tries to shield her with his body, tells us everything we need to know about Mike.

Top: Titus Welliver and Madison Lintz on the set of Bosch; photo courtesy Amazon Prime

Bottom: Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) with his granddaughter Kaylee in Better Call Saul; photo courtesy AMC

Oline Cogdill
2017-06-17 20:00:00
TV Series “Loch Ness” and Real Monsters
Oline H. Cogdill

Loch Ness on Acorn TV Laura Fraser as Annie Redford Siobhan Finneran as DCI Lauren Quigley EPISODE1 15
The Loch Ness Monster is one of those monster tales that has always fascinated me.

Does it, or did Nessie ever exist? Could it have been a dinosaur that somehow survived? A real monster lurking under the water? Or a figment of many imaginations? A legend that somehow became more real than reality?

The myth provides some of the backstory for the atmospheric new six-part crime drama Loch Ness that will stream on Acorn TV through July 24. It began June 19 so now you can start bingeing, because you will not be satisfied with watching just episode at a time. (A screener of the first four episodes was provided for review.)

Scotland’s famous loch is a stunning place to visit, so naturally it makes an evocative setting for the imaginative Loch Ness, written by Stephen Brady (Fortitude, Vera). The small town of Lochnafoy relies on its monster, Nessie, for its tourist trade. Without the legend of Nessie, most people would not have heard of the town. And local residents aren’t above “creating” their own monsters, cobbling animal skeletons to resemble a Nessie, and posting the photos. It brings in the press, and visitors. It’s good for business.

But murder isn’t good for business.

lochness acorn2
D.S. Annie Redford (Laura Fraser) is called in to solve her first murder case—or maybe cases. The body of local resident Niall Swift, a piano teacher, is found at the foot of Carn Mohr Mountain and, in an unrelated situation, an isolated human heart turns up on the loch shore. The deaths rock the small town’s residents who wonder if the killer is one of them.

Suspicion falling on local residents is a common theme in crime fiction, but Loch Ness rises above the clichéd for a gripping tale of a community and a woman juggling her career and her family life, especially her stubborn teenage daughter, Evie.

Loch Ness also becomes a female buddy series as Annie Redford teams up with DCI Lauren Quigley (Siobhan Finneran, who played Clare on Happy Valley and scheming maid Sarah O’Brien on Downton Abbey).

The series also features Don Gilet as forensic profiler, Blake Albrighton, who assists on the case. He has an unusual way of working but is known for getting results.

Laura Fraser—so terrific as the coolly lethal Lydia on Breaking Bad—is equally effective as an insightful detective trying to prove her skills to her colleagues, and herself. The scenes with Fraser and Finneran provide some of the most tense and intelligent.

The shots of the untamed nature near Lochnafoy are gorgeous and will make you want to book a trip to Scotland tomorrow—or after you’ve seen all six episodes.

Photos: Laura Fraser, left in both photos, and Siobhan Finneran right in both photos; photos courtesy Acorn TV

Oline Cogdill
2017-06-25 20:15:00
On Track With Tammy Kaehler
Oline H. Cogdill

kaehler tammy kissthebricks
Tammy Kaehler,
left, turned her fascination with auto racing into a series about racecar driver Kate Reilly. Kiss the Bricks is the fifth in this series. Her novels Braking Points, Avoidable Contact, and Red Flags also have won her awards from automotive journalists.

Here’s a question and answer session with Kaehler in which she discusses her novels.

In your novels featuring Kate Reilly, how are you able to generate a crime plot that works logically with the world of racing?
I always say that the racing world is a microcosm of the larger world, just with a little more drama and occasionally higher stakes. So most any crime is still going to be relevant in the racing world, because people are people wherever they go. That said, racing requires enormous amounts of money (they say the only way to make a small fortune in racing is to start with a big one), which really has driven people to crime in the past. My story line in Kiss the Bricks about drug smuggling to pay for racing is taken directly from real life. Honestly, with all the competition, speed, violence, rock-star personas, egos, glamour, and money floating around the racing world, it's not hard to imagine every kind of crime or criminal being attracted to it. In some ways, it's only surprising there aren't more crimes.

In addition, people in the racing world are involved in every kind of business and pursuit, whether they're drivers (including amateurs with other day jobs), sponsors, or fans. So I've always been able to tie any outlandish plot idea to someone involved in racing without any trouble.

Kiss the Bricks is set against the backdrop of the Indy 500. What were some of the highlights of being there?
The event is referred to as "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing," which is absolutely a true description, so anytime I get to see all of the pomp, circumstance, and competition in person, it's amazing. It's also fantastic to be there in person to see my primary book source and friend, Indy 500 competitor Pippa Mann, take to the track in person—it's a real thrill to see someone you know wheeling a car at 230 mph! But by far the most incredible experience, which I've been lucky enough to do for two years now, is actually working in the pits as an assistant spotter for the broadcast team (ESPN/ABC) during the race. It's a behind-the-scenes perspective that most people don't get.

Kaehlertammy kissbricksjacketWho were your primary influences in the mystery genre?
I was a mystery reader for years, and in fact, I can't remember when I wasn't dipping into The Complete Sherlock Holmes that was on my parents' shelf as a kid. I also loved Nancy Drew and later Agatha Christie's books. But it was really the steeple-chasing mysteries written by Dick Francis that inspired and influenced me to create Kate's world, because I wanted to entertain readers and teach them about a world they probably don't know anything about. I wanted to be the Dick Francis of auto racing with a female protagonist. I still do!

How directly do you connect to the racing world? And how do you conduct your research for the racing scenes?
Research is a huge part of what I do, because I've always made a point of every technical detail being correct. I ask a ton of questions. I go to races to keep in touch with the sources and friends I have, and by doing so, manage to meet more and more people. I'm not shy about asking for help, even for details as small as top speed down the front straight at the Long Beach Grand Prix. Of course, the racing scenes are the most critical, and I rely heavily on professional drivers to make sure I'm doing it right. In every book, I watch as many videos as possible, including in-car video of the exact car at the exact racetrack, and I ask questions of a driver before writing the scenes. The biggest step is then getting a pro to check the driving scenes and correct them. With Kiss the Bricks, Pippa Mann was an enormous help. I sent her lists and lists of questions—on everything from how to adjust the car to what she eats before the race—and she responded with pages and pages of answers. Then we went back and forth twice on the driving scenes, so that I had every detail right.

Do you have aspirations to become a competitive driver yourself?
No aspirations at all! While confident and comfortable on the L.A. freeways, I'm a chicken behind the wheel of a racecar, in part because I've come to appreciate the incredible skill professional drivers have. I absolutely trust the pros I've ridden with to not crash, and I understand just how much work it would take to get my skill to the same level. Not going to happen!

Oline Cogdill
2017-06-21 20:20:00
Summer Issue #150 Contents

150SUM cover 465

Features

Scott Turow: Testimony

A conversation with one of the stars of contemporary crime fiction.
by Oline H. Cogdill

Raffles: The Anti-Sherlock Holmes

This gentleman thief was as unrepentant as he was stylish.
by Michael Mallory

Linda Greenlaw: A Fisherman’s Tale

From fishing boat captain to celebrated writer.
by Cheryl Solimini

The Czar of Noir: Eddie Muller

The film impresario has a new show, Noir Alley, on Turner Classic Movies channel.
by Jake Hinkson

All Aboard: Train Mysteries

Railroads provide a fascinating setting for these novels.
by Ann Whetstone

Denise Mina

Communitarian values over individualism in crime fiction.
by Tom Nolan

All Aboard: Train Mysteries

Railroads provide a fascinating setting for these novels.
by Ann Whetstone

The Hook

First Lines That Caught Our Attention

Could You Let Us Out of Here?

The private eye in locked room and other impossible crimes.
by Kevin Burton Smith

Hallie Ephron

Triumph in the third act.
by John B. Valeri

Michael Connelly

Introducing a new LAPD detective, Renée Ballard of The Late Show.
by Craig Sisterson

Sisters in Crime 1987-2017

One of its founders looks back to the very beginning of a group that has changed the face of mystery.
by Sara Paretsky

“Girl Crazy” Crossword

by Verna Suit

Departments

At the Scene

by Kate Stine

Mystery Miscellany

by Louis Phillips

Hints & Allegations

2017 Edgar Awards; 2017 Agatha 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
2017-06-20 16:38:54
At the Scene, Summer Issue #150

150SUM cover 465Hi Everyone,

What were you doing 30 years ago? I was a wide-eyed Midwesterner happily getting used to life in the Big Apple. But as different as our situations may have been, I bet we had something in common: we were reading Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent, the publishing sensation of the year. Three decades on, Turow has accumulated a distinguished body of work, including his latest novel Testimony. Oline Cogdill talks to the author in this issue.

Sisters in Crime, whose ongoing mission is to promote the advancement, recognition and professional development of women crime writers, was another major arrival in 1987. Thirty years later the organization is still going strong and one of its founding mothers, Sara Paretsky, talks about why such an organization was needed then and remains essential today.

Created in 1899, Raffles, the gentleman thief, is one of crime fiction’s iconic characters. But lest you think his tales might be dated, here’s his manifesto on income inequality:

Why should I work when I could steal? Why settle down to some humdrum uncongenial billet when excitement, romance, danger, and a decent living were all going begging together? Of course, it’s very wrong, but we can’t all be moralists, and the distribution of wealth is very wrong to begin with.

The different routes to mystery writing never ceases to amaze me. A case in point is Linda Greenlaw, the seafaring captain of a fishing boat immortalized in the book and film, The Perfect Storm. Turns out there are a lot of ways to break the law on the high seas and Cheryl Solimini tackles the tale of this author’s journey.

Eddie Muller has earned the sobriquet “The Czar of Noir” with his indefatigable efforts to promote noir films through books, film festivals, movie preservation drives, personal appearances, and, now, a new show on Turner Movie Channel. Jake Hinkson catches up with him in this issue.

What’s that coming ’round the bend? Why it’s a long line of train mysteries, put together for your reading pleasure by bookseller Ann Whetstone.

In this issue, Kevin Burton Smith takes a look at an unusual corner of the PI field: locked room and other impossible crime stories featuring private eyes.

Craig Sisterson catches up with Michael Connelly as he debuts a series featuring Renée Ballard, an LAPD cop working the night shift. Connelly remarks that he was inspired to create this new series by two things: the inspiring career of a real-life LAPD detective and his 60th birthday.

For years, Hallie Ephron avoided following in the literary footsteps of her celebrated family but once she finally got started she quickly gained awards and readers. John B. Valeri talks to Ephron about success in the third act.

And, finally, Tom Nolan chats with Denise Mina who has some interesting thoughts on the high art/low art debate in literature.

Enjoy!

Kate Stine
Editor-in-chief

Teri Duerr
2017-06-20 16:50:35
Summer Issue #150
Teri Duerr
2017-06-20 16:55:51
James W. Ziskin on A Reader's Journey

ziskin james2017

"Over the years, my reading habits have changed, matured, and taken detours. And my journey has played an essential and formative role in my own writing. Here is a partial list of titles that plotted the road map I have followed."

I began my journey reading my mother's childhood books. Picture books, poetry, adventure stories, and tales of far-places. I remember the muddy brown-and-white lithograph bookplates, picturing a young girl in a wood and bearing the mysterious inscription "Ex libris Elizabeth W***." (Sorry, her last name is what my middle initial stands for. And that name—like Rumpelstiltskin’s—must remain a secret.) Her books spanned a remarkable breadth of variety and genres.

One Christmas, when she was seven, her parents gave her a beautifully illustrated translation of the Decameron. When I was a young boy, the language seemed old and dusty to me, and I never paid any attention to the book until I was studying Italian literature in grad school. That's when I discovered just how wickedly ribald and downright filthy many of Giovanni Boccaccio's stories are. If you don’t believe me, try Googling “Putting the devil back in hell” for one modest example. Clearly, my grandparents hadn't done their due diligence when selecting an appropriate book for their seven-year-old daughter.

The Decameron notwithstanding, I began my lifelong love of words and storytelling with Mom’s books. Long before I published my first novel, I studied languages (French, Italian, Spanish, German, and Hindi, with some Latin on the side). Over the years, my reading habits have changed, matured, and taken detours. And my journey has played an essential and formative role in my own writing. Here is a partial list of titles that plotted the road map I have followed:

My youngest days

Highlights Magazine. "Goofus and Gallant." I was Team Goofus.
• Alfred Noyes's “The Highwayman.” “Then look for me by moonlight, watch for me by moonlight, I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way.”
• The King's Stilts. My favorite Seuss ever.
• The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf
• Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton
• Beatrix Potter
• James Whitcomb Riley, “The Raggedy Man”
• Grimm’s Fairy Tales

At school

• 7th grade: Great Expectations. Took two semesters for our class to finish it.
• 8th grade: Ivanhoe and Ethan Frome. Inspired choices for easily bored teens.
• 9th grade: As You Like It. They told us it was a comedy. Good thing, because we couldn’t tell.

Early Teens

• Murder on the Orient Express, my first Agatha Christie.
• Archie comics. I could never choose between Betty and Veronica.

Mid teens

• Playboy. Hey, I said I loved picture books.
• The Carpetbaggers. The cover.
• Flashman in the Great Game by George MacDonald Fraser. Again, the cover. Later, when I finally read it, I fell in love with the series.

Late teens

• Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim. I was a budding Anglophile.
• Hamlet: Borrowed it from school. Never returned it, thus validating Polonius’s advice to Laertes.
• Williams: Sweet Bird of Youth, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, A Streetcar Named Desire
• Orwell and Huxley. Perhaps now would be a good time to re-visit these two…

My twenties

• Longfellow: Evangeline. My favorite epic poem.
• Twain: Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer
• Hemingway: A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Old Man and the Sea
• Remarque: All Quiet on the Western Front, Arch of Triumph
• Steinbeck: Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, Cannery Row, Of Mice and Men
• García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Love in the Time of Cholera
• Roald Dahl. Who knew kids’ books could be so wicked and funny?

Grad school

• Dante
• Petrarch
• Boccaccio
• Zola: The Rougon-Macquart series
• Flaubert: Madame Bovary
• Stendhal: The Red and the Black
• Svevo: The Conscience of Zeno

Anglophilia

• P. G. Wodehouse: All of Bertie Wooster and Jeeves
• Evelyn Waugh: Brideshead Revisited
• Graham Greene: All of it. Every last word.

Favorite book about nineteenth-century whaling: Moby-Dick

And finally, these works showed me my calling and pointed the way.

• Poe: “The Raven,” “The Tell-tale Heart,” “Murders in the Rue Morgue”
• Doyle: The Hound of the Baskervilles
• Wouk: Winds of War, The Cain Mutiny
• Forsyth: Day of the Jackal, The Odessa File • Sayers: Have His Carcase, anything else with Harriet Vane
• Christie: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Murder of the Orient Express, etc.
• Chandler: The Big Sleep
• Eco: The Name of the Rose
• Hammett: The Thin Man
• Cain: The Postman always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity
• Francis: Whip Hand
• Paretsky: Indemnity Only
• Block: Eight Million Ways to Die, When the Sacred Ginmill Closes

And now, back to the journey.

“The Road goes ever on and on Down from the door where it began.” —J. R. R. Tolkien

James W. Ziskin is the author of the Edgar-, Anthony-, Barry-, and Lefty-Award nominated Ellie Stone Mysteries, from Seventh Street Books.

This "Writers on Reading" essay was originally published in "At the Scene" enews June 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
2017-06-20 17:14:42
Fateful Mornings
Craig Sisterson

We’ve had to wait three years for a sequel to Tom Bouman’s exquisite, mesmerizing debut Dry Bones in the Valley (2014), which won an Edgar Award for best first novel among a host of other accolades, but at last we’re back alongside Officer Henry Farrell on his beat among the backwoods and byways of rural Pennsylvania.

Farrell is having a trouble-filled summer in Wild Thyme. While he’d rather be hunting turkey, drinking IPAs, and playing his fiddle, instead he’s busy dealing with the arrival of heroin, a surge in burglaries, and an adulterous fling from which he can’t seem to extract himself. When local handyman Kevin O’Keeffe’s drug-addled girlfriend disappears, and O’Keeffe gives a rambling semi-confession to maybe shooting a man, Farrell’s life gets even more complicated. He’s pulled in all sorts of directions by the various powers in his community as he tries to sort out the truth. His investigations take him across the state border to the backcountry equivalent of vice-filled back alleyways.

Fateful Mornings is an interesting, at times frustrating, read. Bouman’s elegant prose and knack for evoking backcountry life in vivid detail is again on show, but this sophomore effort lacks the tension and narrative drive of his debut. Dry Bones in the Valley earned comparisons to rural noir masters like John Hart and James Lee Burke, but in Fateful Mornings, Bouman veers more toward James Sallis territory, with formless and meandering plotting, in among lots of lovely description and characterization. He doesn’t quite, yet, have Sallis’ touch for making that work, but there’s still plenty of quality here.

Teri Duerr
2017-06-20 19:33:16

bouman fatefulmorningsWe’ve had to wait three years for a sequel to Tom Bouman’s exquisite, mesmerizing debut Dry Bones in the Valley (2014), which won an Edgar Award for best first novel among a host of other accolades, but at last we’re back alongside Officer Henry Farrell

Defectors
Jay Roberts

In 1949, CIA agent Frank Weeks is outed as a traitorous communist spy. He manages to escape capture and ends up in Russia. Fast forward 12 years and his younger brother Simon finds himself landing in Moscow to help edit Frank’s KGB-approved book about his life as a spy. Simon heads a struggling publishing company, having been forced to leave his State Department job after Frank’s betrayal, and this book is a coup for him. But Simon has also been briefed by the CIA on what to watch out for when dealing with his brother and any Soviet officials he might end up meeting.

After an initially joyful, albeit low-key, reunion with Frank and his wife, Simon finds himself walking a thin line between familial devotion and work on the book, while trying to avoid being unwittingly used as a pawn by either side of the Cold War.

Alongside other like-minded traitors in Moscow, Frank is tolerated by his Soviet superiors but is not trusted or fully accepted. He has minders who watch over him and exists in what is just a different kind of prison. When Frank drops a bombshell of a revelation on him and asks for his help, Simon is inextricably drawn into events he’d rather not be party to. Can Simon trust his brother or is this another game designed to prove Frank’s continued worth to the communists? In the end, choices are made, actions are taken, and lives are irrevocably changed, for better or for worse.

Like a lot of spy novels set during the Cold War, Defectors is short on extended explosive action sequences. But Joseph Kanon crafts an intensely oppressive and claustrophobic atmosphere that fuels the story’s narrative. You can feel the edgy despair from Frank and his wife as well as their fellow traitors. This more than compensates for any scarcity of bodies and bullets. The book doesn’t ask you to sympathize with those who betrayed their countries, but does subtly ask the question whom you trust when everyone around you has proven just how untrustworthy they actually are?

Teri Duerr
2017-06-20 19:42:08

kanon defectorsAn apt portrait of the intensely oppressive and claustrophobic atmosphere of Cold War espionage.

G-Man
Matt Fowler

Stephen Hunter’s latest in the Bob Lee Swagger novel floats between two time periods as the author spins his own narrative on the classic 1930s bank robbery stories that famously included John Dillinger and a host of other public enemies. Charles Swagger is hired to help track down Baby Face Nelson, a dangerous thug who appreciates the details and all that goes with the act of killing. This narrative interlopes on one of Swagger’s grandson, Bob Lee Swagger, who 80 years later finds a gun and cash on the family property he is selling and sets off to investigate the mysterious items. Along the way Bob realizes he is being followed.

Hunter’s new novel is an action-packed mystery that appears most comfortable when describing to the reader how guns make the characters feel. The bravado, the steely eyed caricatures, the hyper masculinity posited into the novel is exactly what one would come to expect of a book that shows a character spending time with a gun as a way to learn about his family history. And yet, it is the smaller moments in the novel that keep G-Man curious enough to continue on through the ultra-violent scenes. Bob’s search for his family identity gives Hunter a framing device with enough emotional resonance that it pushes the reader to finish the book, even as some of the constant gun-toting becomes exhausting.

Teri Duerr
2017-06-20 20:08:47

The Bob Lee Swagger novel floats between two time periods as the author spins his own narrative on the classic 1930s bank robbery stories that famously included John Dillinger and a host of other public enemies.

Part of the Silence
Eileen Brady

Part of the Silence takes place on the North Cornish coastline of England in rural Cornwall. The idyllic summer getaway with its beautiful scenery has been spoiled by something very nasty: a vicious attack on a newcomer followed by the murder of a 12-year-old girl that leaves the residents in a state of shock.

This somewhat messy psychological thriller from British writer Debbie Howells centers around the story of Evie Sherman, found beaten in a field, her memory gone. With no clear information available, Detective Abbie Rose turns to the only person able to identify the victim, Evie’s childhood friend Charlotte Harrison. But Charlotte knows Evie by a different name, Jen Russell, and Jen Russell has a disturbing past.

With that setup, readers are set adrift in a world where no one is who they appear to be. As Jen’s memory returns, she swears she has a three-year-old daughter, Angel, who is missing, but there is no evidence a daughter ever existed. (Readers have to accept this with a leap of faith, which given our modern, digital society I had problems with.) Detective Chief Inspector Jack Bentley, fresh from a vacation in Spain, is reluctantly pulled into the investigation. But first he and Detective Rose need to decide if the stories Jen tells are real—or are a cover-up for murder.

Teri Duerr
2017-06-20 20:13:24

The beautiful North Cornish landscape is marred by a vicious attack on a newcomer and the murder of a 12-year-old girl in this psychological thriller.

Invasion
Betty Webb

Luke Rhinehart’s Invasion pretends to be a science fiction novel—invading aliens and all—but before you’re a quarter of the way through you realize you’ve been hoodwinked into reading a political thriller more akin to George Orwell’s 1984 than anything else. Long Island fisherman Billy Morton is somewhat annoyed when a furry, sphere-shaped fish jumps into his boat and won’t go away. When it follows him home, the Morton children play with it like it’s a beach ball. Oddly enough, the furry sphere—which they name Louie—adores being played with. More funny fish, or FFs as they prefer to be called, soon show up in every city and country around the globe. Before long, the FFs are leading humans in numerous games and parades they dub Forthehelluvit. At first frightened by the “invasion,” humanity breathes a sigh of relief. Why, the FFs are friendly! And they have no intention of taking over the world!

That’s when the real villain of this thriller emerges: the US government. As it turns out, the government doesn’t want people to have fun. Too much fun is not productive, the government decides, because people are walking away from their dead-end jobs to play in the streets with the FFs. Therefore, the usual spy agencies (FBI, CIA, NSA, etc.) set out to eradicate the playful little aliens. If a few humans get killed in the process, well, it’s mere collateral damage. Invasion is a startling book in that at times it’s hilarious, while at others it’s dead serious. As in many political thrillers, harsh things are said about the government’s habit of turning what could be an asset into a liability, and to do it over an ever-increasing number of human corpses. While describing the increasing travails of the just-wanna-have-fun fuzzy aliens, Rhinehart takes aim at America’s political structure, the military, unbridled capitalism, and the slimy world of tax evasion via offshore banking. His arguments are compelling, but perhaps too extreme for some readers. At 440 pages, Invasion may be a fairly lengthy book, but the FFs are so wackadoodle lovable that most readers will be hoping for a sequel. After all, the world of science fiction loves sequels, even if they’re actually political thrillers.

Teri Duerr
2017-06-28 02:15:17
Oink
Betty Webb

J.L. Newton’s Oink is an indictment of the ramifications felt whenever Big Business inserts itself into scientific research. Yet the book manages (mostly) to disguise itself as a cozy with recipes. To up the cozy ante even more, the action takes place on a university campus, ivy-covered buildings and all. Readers expecting high-minded ivory towers, though, will find themselves shocked. The politics at Arbor State are more vicious than any back-alley knife fight, and the subsequent injuries can be just as fatal. Plant biology professor Peter Elliott is overseeing a study of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) when he is found comatose in the university’s hog barn with a poisoned piece of cornbread in his hand. After he is rushed off to the hospital, the finger-pointing begins. Emily Addams, a professor of women’s studies, fears that the cornbread may have come from her own kitchen. But the poisoning isn’t her only problem. The Powers That Be at the university are beholden to the money provided by Syndicon Corp., to continue their studies on GMO corn, so the ensuing investigation must step softly around the fact that the poisoned cornbread was baked with GMO corn. Another problem for Emily? The university is in the process of merging its various departments, an unsettling plan some fear might entail the dropping of various humanities studies. Although Oink’s tone is as gentle as most cozies, it is a strongly feminist book which can still be enjoyed by traditionalists. Emily, Oink’s strong and likable protagonist, believes that culture is influenced by food, and that many of humanity’s great leaps forward originated in kitchens. This makes Oink a whodunit not only to enjoy for its central mystery—who poisoned Professor Elliott and why?—but to learn from. The GMO and foodie discussions are well-handled by author Newton, a professor emerita at UC Davis. Newton is also the author of a memoir titled Tasting Home: Coming of Age in the Kitchen. Oink may be her first mystery, but it is so deftly plotted that it reads like she’s an old hand.

Teri Duerr
2017-06-28 02:24:31
Cottonmouths
Jean Gazis

Emily Skinner thought she’d left the aptly named Drear’s Bluff, Arkansas, behind when she went away to college in Little Rock. But when she drops out after two years, rattled by a failed love affair, she finds herself back in the small farming town ruled by gossip and born-again Christianity, saddled with student loan debt and unable to find a decent job. Her high school best friend—and secret crush—the beautiful and unpredictable Jody, is back too, living on the family farm with her fatherless baby. The teenage Troy, his football promise ended prematurely by an injury, crashes on Jody’s couch more often than not. Down on her luck, and down on herself, Emily is persuaded to take a job as live-in babysitter while Jody ostensibly works odd hours at a factory. It seems better than living at home with her judgmental and disappointed parents.

As Emily struggles with her still-overwhelming desire for the manipulative Jody, she finds disturbing hints that all is not what it seems to be. There’s a meth lab hidden in the chicken house, and Emily suspects that Jody may be dealing drugs, although she denies it. Emily tries to tell herself that she can remain separate from the suspicious activities of Troy and his partner August, but when the meth business turns dangerous, she finds her choices have horrifying consequences.

Cottonmouths paints a disturbing picture of deep darkness lurking just below the surface of small-town America. The tension between Emily’s guilt and shame over her failures and her “sinful” desires, and her wishful hopes that everything will turn out all right—if only Jody can be trusted—builds slowly but steadily. The drama reaches its climax when Jody reveals just how far she will go to save herself, and Emily realizes the final, difficult choice she must make.

Teri Duerr
2017-06-28 02:32:14
Karen Robards on Reading as Comfort Food

robards karen

"Books are my comfort, my inspiration, my gateway to worlds I'll never see and places I'll never go."

I was a reader long before I was a writer. I read anything, everything, fiction, non-fiction, all genres, all ages, all the time. Books are my comfort, my inspiration, my gateway to worlds I'll never see and places I'll never go.

Some of the books I read as a child remain among my favorites to this day: A Wrinkle in Time, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, The Hobbit, Kidnapped, Wuthering Heights. I can re-read them any time. They're the book equivalent of comfort food for me.

I read when I'm working, which means when I'm writing, because writing has been my full-time job for lo, these many years. Reading is what I do when I've written, say, five pages and I want to take a break. Reading is what I do when I'm writing away and I get stuck. Reading is what I do to motivate myself to start writing. Reading is what I do to reward myself when I'm finished writing for the day. Diving into my to-be-read pile is one of the first things I do when I finish a book.lengle awrinkleintime

I don't read to study the techniques of other writers or to parse book structure or to see what's out there or for any other reason than the sheer joy of it. I suppose absorbing those story building blocks happen, but they happen naturally, the way your skin tans if you sit in the sun.

If I could give one piece of advice to an aspiring writer, it would be read. Anything, everything, all the time. Read inside your genre. Read outside your genre. If you're writing adult fiction, read books written for children or young adults. The thing is, no matter who it's aimed at, a good book is a good book

When I hear writers say that they used to read but now that they are successful they don't have time, I want to tell them that they're missing the point. Immersing yourself in imaginary worlds is the goal. Creating one small imaginary world of your own is just a pit stop along the way.

Karen Robards is the New York Times, USA Today, and Publishers Weekly bestselling author of more than 50 books and one novella. Karen published her first novel at age 24 and has won multiple awards throughout her career, including six Silver Pens for favorite author.

This "Writers on Reading" essay was originally published in "At the Scene" enews July 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
2017-06-28 16:15:53
Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore
Robin Agnew

I began this intriguing, original novel thinking it was a cozy—the title, the bookstore setting, and the slightly fey characters led me to believe so—before suddenly encountering a suicide and a family violently murdered by hammer.

The main character, Lydia “Smith,” is a bookseller and it is a good guess that she’s probably working at The Tattered Cover in Denver, where the author Matthew Sullivan used to work. Like Powell’s Books in Portland, The Tattered Cover is a book mecca, with floors and floors of books. The bookstore setting is spot on, down to the customers the author calls “book frogs,” or the lonely folks who feel a kinship with books and stop by regularly to talk.

Lydia feels a kinship with the book frogs, especially with Joey. Unfortunately, the book kicks off with Lydia finding Joey dead on an upstairs level of the bookstore. What follows is her quest to figure out why Joey would want to kill himself. Joey has apparently left messages for Lydia ingeniously hidden throughout the tomes. Sullivan is quite adept at clues, and I won’t give away how Lydia finds them or figures them out as it’s one of the joys of this book.

The reemergence of a childhood friend, Raj (now a bookseller), meanwhile, opens up Lydia’s backstory and the night her and Raj’s close friend Carol and her parents were murdered by a killer dubbed “Hammer Man”—a killer who was never caught. Lydia, who was sleeping over the night of Carol’s murder, was found huddled under the family’s sink in the morning. Her librarian father moved them away to a remote cabin in the Colorado mountains after that night, and Lydia has never spoken about it since.

Raj’s reappearance in her life propels Lydia into her investigations, compelling her not only to find out what happened to Joey, but also to revisit what happened to Carol and her family. None of the pieces make sense until they do.


While the story lines are resolved, Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore is a very melancholy novel, one about the kinds of lost souls we all are at times. Like every lover of reading, the characters find much solace in books, one character even declaring that books saved his life. And indeed, there’s a hopeful message buried in the sadness of this book. Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore is the work of a surprising and original mind.

Teri Duerr
2017-06-28 17:53:26
Paradise Valley
Sharon Magee

C. J. Box certainly knows how to chill and thrill his readers. And while his Joe Pickett series is his mainstay, his Cassie Dewell mysteries rank right up there. Cassie, a war widow and single mom, is the tough, no-nonsense chief investigative officer for the Bakken County, North Dakota sheriff’s department. In Paradise Valley, the third installment of this series, she’s been hunting a long-haul trucker/serial killer, the Lizard King, who preys on “lot lizards”—prostitutes who work truck stops across the country. He’s managed to evade law enforcement’s best-laid plans to capture him for three years, but Cassie believes she’s finally set the perfect trap. When the trap blows up—literally—in her face, and several deputies, including her fiancé, end up dead, she takes the brunt of the blame and loses her job in the process. But she’s tough and resolute, and even more determined to track the Lizard King down, although she’s no longer in an official capacity.

At the same time, Kyle, the special-needs friend of her son, goes missing. When his grandmother asks Cassie to look for him, she agrees; after all, she’s unemployed and has time on her hands. As Cassie delves deeper into the two cases, the more they converge. She realizes time is running out, not only to find the Lizard King, but Kyle as well.

Throughout this book, as in all of his work, Box’s love of the outdoors shines through. The reader can almost breathe the mountain air and smell the pines. It’s easy to see why this bestselling author has won so many awards, including the Edgar, Anthony, Macavity, and two Barrys. With his cast of well-drawn characters and an edge-of-your-seat plot, this is sure to be another bestseller.

Teri Duerr
2017-06-28 17:58:08