Just Between Us
Oline H. Cogdill

How far are you willing to go to help a friend? That’s the dilemma faced by four women, whose bonds are forged over the time spent waiting for their children after school. The simplicity of their friendship takes on a new dimension, though, when domestic violence enters the equation.

Alison Riordan, Julie Phelps, and Sarah Walker are solidly middle-class mothers in the Pittsburgh suburb of Sewickley. But Heather Lysenko, the fourth member of their quartet, is in a different economic strata, married to the mega-rich plastic surgeon Viktor. The foursome enjoy their laughs and gossip sessions at the local coffeehouse, or over wine during their children’s play dates, but their friendships take a turn when Alison notices a nasty bruise on Heather’s arm. Is Heather a battered wife?

The theory is strengthened when Sarah spots a huge welt on Heather’s abdomen, and then Julie believes she overhears a threatening argument between the Lysenkos. The other women want to help Heather, but what can they do since Heather refuses to leave Viktor? And besides, as Alison says, “You never really know what happens in someone else’s marriage.”

Rebecca Drake imbues Just Between Us with characters who could easily be your next-door neighbors in a domestic thriller that examines how a violent incident tests her characters’ loyalties and affects each of their lives.

Alternating between each woman’s point of view, Drake realistically keeps the plot churning. These are suburban women not action heroines, and Drake sets their skills firmly within the boundaries of realism. Each woman tries to maintain a tight control on her secrets, but, of course, that never works out—much to the advantage of the plot, as private problems become weapons used against one another.

In Just Between Us, Drake explores the many shades of human experience to be found in even the most seemingly “normal” and mundane of settings. “There are no monsters,” Alison says, “just deeply flawed people.”

Teri Duerr
2018-03-08 21:27:53
Look for Her
Erica Ruth Neubauer

In 1976 teenager Annalise Wood went missing from a small village outside of Cambridge, England. It was all anyone in the area talked about, and echoes of Annalise's disappearance are still felt throughout the community

Laurie Ambrose, a Cambridge University psychologist, learns that firsthand when two young women with stories of Annalise come to see her within weeks of each other. Hannah, adopted as a baby, wonders if she is Annalise’s secret daughter. Anna Williams, an unsettling young woman, confides in Dr. Ambrose that she sometimes pretends to be Annalise to gain sympathy from men. Dr. Ambrose is troubled by the coincidence and the link to Annalise—even more so when Hannah dies under mysterious circumstances.

Morris Keene was forced into early retirement due to a hand injury he received on the job. Keene is now working cold cases as a civilian, and he is assigned Annalise’s case because a match in the DNA database has finally been made.

Keene draws his former partner Chloe Frohmann in from her maternity leave to do a little groundwork with him, interview a few witnesses, check up on old statements. But they soon discover that the body uncovered in 1992 and identified as Annalise might not have been her after all. So, who was buried next to that grove of poplars? And what became of Annalise?

The narrative shifts from person to person—Ambrose the psychologist, Frohman, Keene, Morris, and even Anna Williams, and includes “transcripts” from counseling appointments between Ambrose and her clients. All the jumping back and forth between narrative voices is jarring, and leaves the reader without the sense of knowing any one character well, but Winslow does do an excellent job of giving everyone distinctive voices. Winslow weaves the complex threads of the storyline together well, and displays insight into the darker sides of human psychology, exploring the secrets we keep and the attention we covet. Yet while Look for Her is an interesting read, it falls somewhat short of the mark to be truly engrossing.

Teri Duerr
2018-03-08 21:31:46
Force of Nature
Craig Sisterson

Relative newcomer Jane Harper, who penned arguably the crime novel of last year with The Dry, flips the script with her sophomore tale. At least weather-wise.

Only months after barely surviving the drought-stricken farming landscape of Kiewarra in southeastern Australia, Federal Agent Aaron Falk finds himself shivering in the waterlogged Giralang Ranges, hoping for the return of a key witness in a big fraud case he’s building.

Alice Russell hiked into the Giralangs with her work colleagues for a team-building trip that seems to have gone horribly awry. Five women hike in, only four make it out. The other women say Alice left the group of her own accord, trying to strike out for help after the group got into trouble. Falk and fellow Australian Federal Police officer Carmen Cooper wonder if brittle group dynamics may have played a part. Team-building, or team-breaking? Or is something more sinister at work: Could someone at the company have uncovered Alice’s role as a mole?

There’s an eerie quality to Force of Nature. As in her debut, Harper crafts a setting that casts a character-like shadow over the story line: there is a simmering, malevolent power to the isolated landscapes. Readers also get more insight into the character of Aaron Falk, particularly his troubled relationship with his father after they’d fled his childhood home of Kiewarra so many years before. Whether Force of Nature quite reaches the heights of The Dry is debatable, but it certainly shows Harper is no one-hit wonder.

Teri Duerr
2018-03-09 17:00:39
The Weight of an Infinite Sky
Oline H. Cogdill

The Western novel and Shakespeare’s Hamlet may seem like polar opposites, but Carrie La Seur skillfully weaves elements of both into her finely crafted second book. The Weight of an Infinite Sky delivers a lyrical, compelling look at a young man struggling with his identity and place within his family following the death of his father.

Anthony Fry returns home to Billings, Montana, to help his mother run the family cattle ranch following the sudden death of his father, Dean. While home, he hopes to also pursue his real passion, running a theater camp. Anthony quickly finds that his help at the ranch isn’t needed as much as he expected, though. His father's brother, Neal, has taken over operations at the ranch. And just three months after Dean’s death, Neal and Sarah marry.

As Hamlet would say, “A little month, or ere those shoes were old with which she followed my poor father's body.”

But an uncle-turned-stepfather isn’t Anthony’s only problem: a mining company is pressuring him to sell the ranch so coal can be strip-mined; his ex-girlfriend, Hilary, has also returned to town; and Anthony’s sleep is disturbed nightly by dreams about his father—oh, and one of his campers claims to have seen his father’s ghost near where he died.

In the hands of a lesser talent, the plot might seem contrived, but La Seur makes the story seem fresh by concentrating on intense character studies. While in Hamlet there is a clear division of good and evil, La Seur knows the value of shades of gray, and gives each character layers. Each is trying to find his or her place in the world as he or she struggles with the past and the future.

These big questions (Should Anthony have come back? What happened to his father? What would it mean to sell off the family’s ranch?) all unfold against Big Sky country’s breathtaking beauty, as well as its harshness. It is an evocative exploration, showing the meaning behind the title The Weight of an Infinite Sky.

Teri Duerr
2018-03-09 17:06:03
The Silent Room
Craig Sisterson

Former probation officer Mari Hannah has built a fine crime-writing reputation on the back of her tales set in the north of England starring Detective Chief Inspector Kate Daniels. Here, Hannah veers from that award-winning mystery series to deliver a hard-hitting standalone thriller. And she does it with aplomb.

It kicks into high gear early, as a prison van carrying a disgraced top cop is hijacked on the way to Durham Prison. But has former Special Branch officer DI Jack Fenwick been broken out by the villains he was in bed with, or kidnapped? His protégé and friend, DS Matthew Ryan, has been suspended and is under surveillance in the wake of his boss’ arrest on corruption charges, but still believes Fenwick is one of the good guys—a sentiment few of his colleagues share. As a manhunt gathers steam and an official investigation sputters, Ryan goes off-grid with a collection of unlikely allies to try to dig out the truth.

Hannah delivers pace and excitement in spades with The Silent Room, a ripsnorter of a thriller where most of the main cast move among shades of gray. She brings the characters to life as conflicted and multilayered human beings, rather than just moving pieces for the story line. There’s a lot to like about this tale, which will have you whirring though its pages to find out what happens to the people you have come to care about.

Teri Duerr
2018-03-09 17:11:36
My Brother’s Keeper
Craig Sisterson

Are some deeds too horrible to ever be forgiven, no matter the circumstances or how much time has passed? Are we more than our worst moment? These questions and other thought-provoking issues bubble just under the surface of New Zealand screenwriter Donna Malane’s sophomore crime novel.

My Brother’s Keeper is a sequel to the gritty and impressive Surrender (2010), and sees the welcome return of missing persons expert Diane Rowe, a compelling heroine whose personal and professional life regularly entangles her with the police—whether she likes it or not.

Rowe once again finds herself face-to-face with a killer in My Brother’s Keeper. But this time, it’s the killer asking for help. Recently released ex-con Karen comes to Rowe, wanting her to use her skills to track down Karen’s 14-year-old daughter, Sunny, and check that she’s okay. A simple task, perhaps, except Sunny has spent years trying to forget that her drug-addled mother tried to kill her and her little brother. Sunny survived, her brother didn’t.

Rowe is torn about taking the case, and her creeping sense of unease grows as she uncovers as many questions as answers. Is Sunny in danger? Why does Karen really want to say goodbye to her estranged daughter before fleeing abroad to a religious commune?

Unsurprisingly given Malane’s screen storytelling pedigree, the plotting and pacing of My Brother’s Keeper is excellent, with great visuals and action. But what makes this tale even richer is the portrayal of Rowe’s outer and inner worlds. She’s a fascinating heroine, authentic and flawed, who’s easy to empathize with, even if we question her choices at times. She intrigues, baffles, even frustrates.

My Brother’s Keeper is a complex tale that twists on itself as it builds to an exciting finale where past and present collide.

Teri Duerr
2018-03-09 17:14:54
Mood Indigo
Sharon Magee

In this, the ninth of Ed Ifkovic’s series about the playwright Edna Ferber, it’s been three years since the financial crash that started the Great Depression. The down-and-out huddle around trash-can fires on the cold streets of New York City, while above them sparkle the holiday lights of Noël Coward’s penthouse windows, where laughter and music from the playwright’s 33rd birthday party drift down.

Edna Ferber is in attendance, as is most of Broadway’s glitterati, including Irving Berlin, Clifton Webb, and Cole Porter. Into this glamorous gathering comes Dougie Maddox, the scion of an old-money family, and the love of his life, Belinda Ross, an actress whose meteoric rise on Broadway has made her everyone’s darling. But Belinda has a shady romantic history, and Dougie is the jealous type. So when Belinda is found dead in an Times Square automat with Dougie’s scarf wrapped around her neck, it’s little wonder he is the prime suspect.

But Edna can’t see what Dougie would gain by Belinda’s death, so she and her cohort, Noël Coward, investigate. Many suspects float to the surface: Belinda’s brother Jackson Roswell, left behind as she rose to fame; Tommy Stuyvesant, an older uberrich ex-suitor who still had a thing for Belinda; and the lascivious producer Cyrus Meerdom, who had also fallen under Belinda’s spell. As Edna and Noel find themselves delving not only into her glamorous New York life, but also her dirt-poor early existence with an ex-husband, more and more questions arise.

Ifkovic has done his research and brings the world of the 1930s rich and famous to life, but readers don’t have to be fans of the period to enjoy Mood Indigo; they only have to enjoy a well-written mystery.

Teri Duerr
2018-03-09 17:18:30
Matthew Fowler

In Dominic, Mark Pryor drops the audience into the world of the titular character, a prosecutor—and a self-proclaimed psychopath. When the brother of Dominic’s romantic partner gets into trouble and an inquisitive detective begins looking into a closed case Dominic was involved in, Dominic has to consider what and whom he is willing to sacrifice in order to stay out of trouble himself.

Pryor has put together a very readable book in a surprisingly lean form. And while the page count of the novel (239) might look short at first glace, the plot and steadily ramped-up tension make the novel feel whole and well rounded. Plot twist after plot twist ensures that the reader is sucked into the story. As the story slides in and out of the tertiary characters voices, readers also meet the coworkers and romantic interests of the protagonist, who collectively add to the portrait of the man at the center of the story. Even the office politics that the characters find themselves navigating are intriguing. This is of course mostly due to the perspective we get from our lead.

Dominic is, by his own admittance, a dangerous man with little-to-no empathy for other people. And yet, somehow Pryor rummages through Dominic’s psyche to create an unlikable character captivating enough that readers will question for whom they should ultimately be rooting.

Teri Duerr
2018-03-09 18:06:49
Death in the Stars
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

It’s 1927 Yorkshire, England, and British private investigator Kate Shackleton is hired by popular theater singer Selina Fellini to accompany her and her fellow theater troupe attraction, comic Billy Moffat, to a prime location for watching a total eclipse. Kate eagerly accepts the lucrative assignment, although her detective instincts raise concerns that the assignment may not be as simple as stated.

Shortly after the eclipse, Billy is discovered nearby, unconscious and gravely ill with the remains of a cigar next to him. Although his symptoms are initially deemed to be problems related to wartime injuries, Kate’s instincts kick in and she puts the cigar in her purse for later analysis, and finds that he was poisoned. Billy doesn’t recover, and Kate learns that he is the third member of the troupe to die in the past year under unusual circumstances, prompting Selina to ask Kate to stay on as companion/protector.

Is someone killing off the members of the troupe, and if so, why?

With the help of her housekeeper, Mrs. Sugden, and her friend, insurance investigator Jim Sykes, Kate begins looking into the puzzling mystery, interviewing the troupe manager and each of the remaining acts, from acrobats and a strong man to ballet dancers and a memory woman. Her final interview is with Selina’s husband, a man whose face was disfigured in the war. He shuns most people and spends much of his time in a hidden underground tunnel beneath the theater.

This well-written mystery brings to life the old vaudeville era in England, and includes one of the most effective red herrings I’ve ever come across.

Teri Duerr
2018-03-09 18:09:52
The French Girl
Sarah Prindle

In debut author Lexie Elliott’s suspense novel The French Girl, the dark side of friendship and love is explored through a circle of friends whose lives are interrupted by a murder investigation. Ten years prior to the beginning of the story, Londoner Kate Channing and her college friends vacationed in France, where they made the acquaintance of Severine, a mysterious young woman who then vanished without a trace.

When the story opens, Kate’s carefully constructed world—her fledgling business, her steady friendships—is turned inside out when Severine’s body is found in a well near the farmhouse where the group vacationed a decade ago. As the transnational investigation takes shape and the police ask tough questions, Kate and her friends face a horrible truth: one of them could be the murderer. Kate begins to wonder how well she really knows her friends. Could one of them have murdered Severine and why?

Elliott’s psychological thriller has a promising premise, teasing clues, and a suspenseful climax. Memorable characters also add to the mix, from Kate’s steadfast friend Lara to her ex-boyfriend Seb, to her overambitious frenemy Caro. Their relationships with one another make up a core part of the book, and multiple motives and alibis throw characters’ testimonies into question, adding to the sense of intrigue and mystery.

Parts of The French Girl seem overly lengthy at times, though it doesn’t go into enough detail about the pivotal summer when the murder took place. The lack of justice served at the end may also be especially aggravating for mystery readers, and make for a disappointing close to an otherwise gripping novel. Still, The French Girl is overall a solid read and lovers of mystery suspense may enjoy seeing if they can solve the mystery before Kate does.

Teri Duerr
2018-03-09 18:12:36
I Know My Name
Eileen Brady

In I Know My Name, a woman wakes up on a remote Greek island in the company of four strangers and no recollection of how she got there. Alternating chapters set on Kommeno Island, northwest of Crete, and in a suburban home on the outskirts of London, gradually reveal more about the mystery woman who we learn is the missing housewife and mother of two, Eloise Shelley. Information parceled out in small bitess force the reader to piece together the mystery of the woman’s identity along with the character.

What light can Joe, Hazel, Sariah, and George, the only people left on Kommeno Island, shed on the boating accident that stranded this unknown woman in their midst? As her memory begins to return, Eloise can’t help but notice that her new friends, all writers on an annual retreat, lack an internet connection and a working phone. The only boat that can take them off the island is lost in a storm. Yet they don’t seem concerned at all.

Back in London, the frustration and anxiety of Eloise’s husband, Lochlan, is especially well depicted as he desperately tries to find his wife, hide her absence from their four-year-old son, Max, and deal with being the prime suspect in his wife’s disappearance. Less well drawn are his inlaws, who initially seem strangely withdrawn from the mystery. Without giving too much away, it’s safe to say that the two story lines resolve in an unpredictable surprise that ultimately challenges the concept of identity.

Teri Duerr
2018-03-09 18:34:14
Craig Sisterson

There’s a brutal poetry and strange majesty to two-time Edgar winner James Lee Burke’s novels, a beguiling mix of beautiful passages and vile deeds, God-kissed landscapes and grotesque characters. Burke’s latest book sees the return of grizzled Louisiana investigator Dave Robicheaux for a 21st turn on the dance floor—and Robicheaux has plenty of eclectic partners to zydeco with.

Sparked by the tragic death of his wife in a motor vehicle accident, Robicheaux is teetering and about to topple. Assailed by his decades-long battle with alcoholism and penchant for morose thoughts, he tumbles off the wagon. Hard. He wakens from a blackout and finds himself the lead suspect for the killing of the man blamed for his wife’s death. And that’s not the only problem in Robicheaux’s life, as he and old pal Clete Purcel crisscross paths with a corpulent gangster who wants to be a Hollywood producer, dirty cops, venal criminals, race-baiting power players, a slimy local politician, and a local bestselling author. Oh, and there’s a bizarre killer who gives ice cream to kids and abhors impoliteness, before blowing people’s heads off.

Robicheaux is another masterpiece from Burke. The past elbows hard into the present, Robicheaux is haunted by dreams of Vietnam and ghostly sightings of Confederate soldiers, and the best and worst of humanity is often jarringly contained within the same characters. Robicheaux may be a “noble mon,” as Clete is wont to say, but there are plenty of times he hurts and kills without hesitation. This is a heady gumbo of a literary thriller where everything is multilayered, blending, contrasting, and suffused with flavor.

Teri Duerr
2018-03-09 18:38:31
Don’t Look for Me
Craig Sisterson

If you like page-whirring thrillers centered on an enigmatic, action-oriented central character, then you definitely want to give the Carter Blake books from Mason Cross a try. Although Cross is Scottish, he sets his tales in the United States; this fourth installment largely revolves around Las Vegas and the Southwest.

Having finally shrugged off the lethal shadow of his days working for the Winterlong organization, Blake is enjoying a sabbatical when a different part of his past unexpectedly flares back to life. He receives a message from an email address belonging to a woman, Carol, who meant a lot to him years ago, but who’d vanished after Blake’s actions put her in grave danger. Despite his exceptional talents for finding those who don’t want to be found, Blake had respected her final note: “Don’t look for me.”

But the email isn’t from Carol, instead former journalist Sarah Blackwell has found the address in a notebook left by her mysterious neighbor Rebecca, who vanished one night along with her husband after an altercation at a neighborhood party. The couple’s’ house was then burglarized by shady figures, but the police aren’t interested. Blake is interested, and worried.

Cross delivers a ripsnorter of a thriller, where the highly skilled Blake finds himself up against equally talented and well-financed adversaries. Plenty of suspense, violent action, tension, and twists blend into a propulsive narrative. A one-sitting read that keeps the revs high, while delivering some nice shading in terms of character and setting, Don’t Look for Me will leave readers wanting more Carter Blake.

Teri Duerr
2018-03-09 18:41:51
The Hush
Hank Wagner

Johnny Merrimon, the young hero of 2009’s The Last Child, returns in John Hart’s latest effort, The Hush. A minor local celebrity partially due to the events chronicled in The Last Child, Johnny has grown into an appealing, albeit moody 23-year-old, who rarely ranges beyond the 6,000 acres where he makes his home. A loner by nature, he seems to have a symbiotic relationship with Hush Arbor, as the area is known, protecting it from interlopers and poachers, while seemingly drawing energy and sustenance from his surroundings.

In the aftermath of a brutal killing in those mysterious woods, Johnny becomes a murder suspect. Although he knows he is innocent, he is going to have a devil of a time proving it, as the actual explanation is just a little short of mind boggling.

Ambitious and inventive, The Hush brings to mind the work of a wide range of authors, including William Faulkner, John Grisham, and Michael Koryta. Besides his winning cast of human characters, Hart manages to bring Raven County and its environs to vivid life, imbuing it with a dark personality all its own. A worthy sequel to the outstanding The Last Child, The Hush, a happy blend of legal thriller, murder mystery, Southern Gothic, and ghost story, is almost certain to become John Hart’s sixth New York Times bestseller.

Teri Duerr
2018-03-09 18:44:41
Laura Lippman, Brad Meltzer, James Rollins
Oline H. Cogdill

Most of the time, I pay little attention to Parade magazine when it comes in my Sunday newspaper.

I read the questions on the second page, flip through the rest, and am done.

(Yes, I get a newspaper delivered to my home; actually I get three newspapers every day.)

But lately, Parade has run a feature that I am most interested in—“Books We Love,” which lists three examples recommended by authors. And the first three are mystery writers.

Laura Lippman’s latest is Sunburn, a standalone novel of which I was most enthusiastic.

In my review, I wrote that Lippman’s 22nd novel Sunburn “ignites as a classic hard-boiled mystery and contemporary domestic thriller. Lust, deceit, and the simple quest of happiness rule the plot as Sunburn works well as an homage to Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, and Anne Tyler. Lippman delves into a study of contrasts with a story that is as cynical as it is hopeful, a look at hearts of darkness coupled with a domestic thriller.

Lippman’s three picks for Parade magazine are:

The Turner House by Angela Flournoy

Citizen Vince by Jess Walter

Sharp by Michelle Dean

Brad Meltzer’s latest novel is The Escape Artist, which marks Meltzer’s 20th anniversary as an author and launches a new series.

In my review I wrote, “Meltzer’s novels come with certain expectations—a plot filled with carefully researched but often obscure bits of American history and the government. Those facts may seem far-fetched but are true and elevate the characters’ adventures.”

Meltzer’s three picks for Parade magazine are:

Rivers of London: Volume 1 by Ben Aaronovitch

Vision (Marvel) by Tom King

The Oracle Year by Charles Soule

James Rollins’ latest Sigma Force thriller is The Demon Crown, which, as usual, has his mix of science, medicine, and technology. (I did not review this novel.)

Rollins’ three picks for Parade magazine are:

The Midnight Line by Lee Child

Artemis by Andy Weir

The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin

Oline Cogdill
2018-03-17 21:59:47
Dell Map Back Mysteries: They Don't Make 'Em Like That Anymore!
Gary Lovisi

The Dell Map Backs of the 1940s and 1950s were something special. It wasn't only their content as excellent as that often was; they were, quite simply, beautiful books.


No publisher put more effort into producing fine paperbacks books than Dell. The sturdy laminated covers of the early books showcased illustrations by fine artists such as Gerald Gregg. Later books in the series featured covers by artists such as Bill George and Robert Stanley. Inside, editorial flourishes such as the inclusion of a "Cast of Characters" signified quality publishing. But of course it was the detailed, beautifully rendered scene-of-the-crime representations on the back of these books that made the Dell Map Backs so popular at the time—and so collectible now.

Beginning with Dell Book #5 in 1943, a mystery novel titled Four Frightened Women by George Harmon Coxe, a thin band on the cover proclaimed to the reader "with crime map on back cover." Back cover maps would appear on an amazing 577 volumes from 1943 until 1952. Dell issued a wide array of Map Backs in all genres, but mysteries made up 50% of their list and these are the books that are of special interest to us. They comprise a beautiful series of books and hold a special place in the hearts of mystery readers and fans, yesterday and today.

stout_notquitedeadenoughDell editor Lloyd Smith, born in 1902, came up with the idea for the back cover maps (or someone at Western Publishing suggested the idea to him). Smith was, in essence, a one-man publishing whirlwind. According to most accounts, he designed and envisioned the series, originating the maps, casts of characters and other features, and even suggested the airbrushed covers that Gerald Gregg and others would paint so effectively.

Many of the maps were drawn by Chicago graphic artist Ruth Belew, who created at least 150 of the 577 maps. They showed anything from a nation or state with cities, streets, mountains, seas and lakes, to a Manhattan brownstone with diagrams of the various floors, or a country estate, showing rooms, gardens and outbuildings.

Many popular authors had their books reprinted as Dell Map Backs. Rex Stout and his famous Nero Wolfe stories appeared beginning with Dell Book #9 in 1943. In all, there would be a dozen Rex Stout Map Backs, each offering a unique look at his classic stories and characters. Other popular writers who had books in the series include David Dodge with It Ain't Hay (#27), a crime and drug novel. Its cover illustration depicts Death rowing a boat that carries a giant marijuana cigarette. On the back is a map of San Francisco "where marijuana and murder make a thrilling story."



The classic tough guy writer Dashiell Hammett had seven Map Backs. The earlier books featured airbrushed covers by Gerald Gregg and later books offered action-oriented and sexy girl cover art by Robert Stanley. While the Hammett covers very greatly in design and content, all are interesting. The maps on the back of these for the most part show the Continental Op's stomping ground in San Francisco. Various maps of 'Frisco appear on the back of at least 5 books: The Continental Op (#129) with a hanging man cover; The Return of The Continental Op (#154) with gun and badge on the cover; Dead Yellow Women (#308) with four dead Asian girls on a morgue slab; Blood Money (#486, reprints Dell #53) with a man pulling a dead woman from the water; and The Creeping Siamese(#538) with cover art showing a sexy girl holding a bloody dagger. Each shows various well-designed maps of the streets of the city where the stories take place.

Some later Dell Map Backs were reprints with new cover art of earlier titles in the Dell series.Hammett's A Man Called Spade (#411, reprints Dell #90) has a cover portrait of private dick Sam Spade by artist Robert Stanley. On the back is a map of the apartment of Max Bliss, the scene of a murder in the title story of this crime collection.

Some of the Map Backs did not have illustrated covers at all but used photos from the film adaptations of the works. Examples of these early movie tie-ins include Night And The City by Gerald Kersh (#374) and Death In A Doll's House by Hannah Lees and Lawrence Bachman (#356). The former cover shows actors Richard Widmark and Gene Tierney, and the later book—filmed under the title Shadow on the Wall—shows the stars of that film, Ann Southern and Zachary Scott.

George Harmon Coxe was a popular pulp and hardcover author in the 1930s and 40s and his Four Frightened Women (#5) was the first Dell Map Back from 1943. He also had many more in the series. Examples include his Kent Murdock novel Murder With Pictures (#101) showing a bold blue map of the apartment where murder takes place and the Flash Casey novel, Murder For Two (#276) with a surreal cover of a giant pencil marking out two dead women. Then there's Murder in Havana (#423), a later novel with a women in bondage cover by Robert Stanley and a back cover map showing Cuba and scenes from the novel.

Brett Halliday was another author who did well for years with Dell Books chronicling the hardboiled adventures of his tough Miami private eye, Mike Shayne. One such example is the dead girl in the water cover for Blood on Biscayne Bay (#268), with a map of Miami Beach and Biscayne Bay where the murder occurred.



Traditional mysteries held center stage in the Dell Map Back series. Agatha Christie's first Dell Book, and her first Map Back, was The Tuesday Club Murders (#8) from 1943. Many more of her fine books appeared over the years, including Appointment with Death (#105) with a stylish airbrushed cover by Gerald Gregg, featuring the Grim Reaper and a map showing the Holy Land with an insert scene of ancient Petra. The Mysterious Mr. Quin (#570) shows colorful harlequins on the cover while the back has scenes from Canada, France, and other story locations.

Other traditional mysteries in the line included: The Cross-Eyed Bean Murders by Dorothy B. Hughes (#48) with a map of Room 1000 at the Lorenzo Hotel; The Window At the White Cat by Mary Roberts Rinehart (#57); with a ghostly cat on the cover; Ill Met By Moonlight by Leslie Ford (#6 and the second Map Back) with a map of April Harbor, the town that was the scene of the murder; Hunt With The Hounds by Mignon G. Eberhart (#546) with a map of the state of Virginia and Bedford County; and The Accomplice by Matthew Head (#346) with a haunting cover showing a dead beauty in a chaise lounge with the Eiffel Tower outside her window.

Clayton Rawson's Great Merlini mysteries were popular entries in the Dell series. Rawson himself was a practicing magician as well as one of the premier writers of the "puzzle mystery." One of the best Map Backs is Rawson's The Headless Lady (#176) with a cover that shows a gruesome sideshow barker and a back cover map of the Mighty Hannun Show, the circus where the murder takes place.



Some writers only had one book in the Map Back series but what books! Cornell Woolrich's The Black Curtain (#208) had a forbidding, darkly atmospheric cover that accurately reflected his fiction. Popular noir icon David Goodis was represented by Dark Passage (#271), with a stark image of a fleeing prisoner on the front. On the back is a map of Irene Janney's apartment, the place the murderer uses as a hide-out in the novel.

Two popular mystery authors had books under pseudonyms in the Dell series. Erle Stanley Gardner, whose popular Perry Mason books were reprinted by rival paperback publisher Pocket Books, also had a separate series reprinted by Dell. This series chronicled the adventures of Bertha Cool and Donald Lamb and was written under the name of A.A. Fair. Crows Can't Count (#472) is one A.A. Fair Dell Map Back. John Dickson Carr not only had books published under his own name from Dell as Map Backs, but also under his popular pseudonym, Carter Dickson.


rawson_headlessladyIn 1983, William H. Lyles wrote the scholarly and influential Putting Dell on The Map: A History of the Dell Paperbacks (Greenwood Press). Since its publication interest in the Dell series, and especially the Map Backs, has grown. Today these books are collected avidly.

The design and style of the old Dell Map Backs has had a powerful impact upon editors, and publishers. Decades after the last Map Back was published in 1952, the books still influence the paperback market. For instance, in 1987, when IPL Books reissued The Headless Lady by Clayton Rawson, their edition showcased a back cover map drawn by Jennifer Place. This was based upon the original map on Dell Book #176. Then there are the first two books published in 2000 by the small Hollywood outfit, Uglytown Productions. By The Balls and Five Shots and A Funeral, both by Tom Fassbender and Jim Pascoe, are hardboiled satires, but in their design and format they look and feel just like classic Dell Map Backs. These fun books have become collectible in their own right.

By the time you read this article, a new crime novel will be published in the classic Dell Map Back format. A Trunkfull of Trouble (Gryphon Books, 2003) is by veteran mystery author Julius Fast. Fast, by the way, was the winner of the first ever Edgar Award in 1946.

Dell Books published an impressive array of authors. Most of them were popular authors of the 1940s and 50s, but many of them have gone on to become real legends today. These authors and these books are perennially popular. They just don't make 'em like that anymore!

Teri Duerr
2010-04-01 00:14:52


The Dell Map Backs of the 1940s and 1950s were, quite simply, beautiful books.

Posted by Oline H. Cogdill

(Posted by Oline H. Cogdill)

(Mystery Scene continues its ongoing series in which authors talk about their plots, characters or process.)

Author Michael Niemann’s third novel Illegal Holdings, which finds his series character, United Nations fraud investigator Valentin Vermeulen, on assignment in Maputo, Mozambique. He’s sent there to find out if the U.N. money is being properly used. But there is a little matter of a $5 million transfer that is missing.

Niemann grew up in a small town in Germany, 10n kilometers from the Dutch border. Crossing that border often at a young age sparked in him a curiosity about the larger world. He studied political science at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms Universität in Bonn and international studies at the University of Denver. A fiction writing course changed his career direction.

In this essay, Niemann shows how his character, Valentin Vermeulen, views the world and his background.

Here’s Valentin Vermeulen speaking:
How does a kid who grew up on a farm in western Belgium end up being a globetrotting investigator for the United Nations? Well, stuff happened. I should just leave it at that. The less said, the better. But you’re not going to be satisfied with that answer. I can see that.

So let’s get the formalities out of the way. My name is Valentin Vermeulen. I’m six feet tall, I got blond hair and my face is on the large side—rugged would be a kind description. I carry a Belgian/European Union passport. I was born a few years before The Clash started performing just across the North Sea. I used to fantasize about London. I’d be walking on the dike, staring across the steel gray water, and imagined being in a big city.

My village wasn’t on any map. Just a bunch of small farms, raising Guernsey cows and the crops necessary to feed them. Once a day, the coop truck stopped to pick up the 100 gallons of milk. Thinking back, I’m still amazed that my dad stuck it out as long as he did. By the late 1970s, the European Community was awash in milk and small producers like my father were totally unprofitable. The government wanted to consolidate farms and eventually, he threw in the towel.

We moved to Antwerp in 1983. Talk about culture shock. The biggest city in Belgium, a huge port, and me, the kid from the boondocks. The beginning was tough. But the hick from the sticks could stand on his own and learned the ropes. After school I was drafted and served in the Belgian military. The weird logic of bureaucracy assigned me to military intelligence. Good thing, too, instead of crawling through the dirt, I got to sit inside and analyze intelligence reports. The Cold War was still a thing and we were paranoid enough to see Soviet spies everywhere. As a draftee I didn’t do any spying in mufti, but I did get a course on clandestine investigations. It wasn’t really my thing. Gorbachov was in power and I could see that the Cold War was about to end. So I quit as soon as the conscription ended..

I enrolled at the law faculty of the University of Saint Ignatius of Antwerp. Justice had always been such an abstract idea and seemed to have little to do with the law. Observing my dad being pushed off the farm taught me that. It was all legal and it was unjust. How could that be? At the university, I learned that law isn’t some abstract concept, but something made and remade every day. Once I figured that out, I found my calling. I specialized in financial crimes.

That first year, I also found my first real love, Marieke, who was studying social work. We married right away and ten months later, our daughter Gaby was born. In hindsight, it was all too fast, we should’ve been more careful. But at the time we couldn’t wait to start our family.

I got good marks and the Crown Prosecutor’s office in Antwerp hired me right after I got my law degree. I was the financial guy in the organized crime unit. The cases kept on coming, each one as complex as the global connections that coalesced in our port city. I spent eighty to ninety hours a week at work. Once on a case, I couldn’t let it go. Worse than a dog with a bone. There were nights when I slept on the sofa in the coffee room because I stayed so long, it wasn’t worth going home.

My family noticed. I didn’t. When Marieke asked for a divorce. I had a dim understanding that all wasn’t well, but no clue how bad things were. And they were bad. We fought. A lot. Gaby couldn’t take it and ran away. The police didn’t do much. I searched for her and found her in some hell hole, strung out on heroin. I got her clean again, but she refused to speak to me for a long time. The short of it was, I had to get out of Antwerp, away from it all. And that’s how I ended up at the United Nations.

Not a story I am proud of, to be sure. But Gaby and I eventually made up. So there is little bit of a sweet ending.

Oline Cogdill
2018-03-20 14:41:42
Oline Cogdill

Several years ago, I interviewed Brad Parks for a Mystery Scene profile that ran in the Spring 2013 edition of Mystery Scene, Issue No. 129.

An evergreen question I often ask authors is: “where do you write?”

The answer often is surprising. Sure, a lot of authors have an office in their home, or actually go to an office. But some go to coffee shops or social clubs. Some have sheds in their back yards converted to a writing space. One had a guest house built in their back yard. Still another starts in his office but moves throughout the house as the story comes together.

Brad Parks had, perhaps, one of the oddest answers.

He went to his local Hardees.

Here’s an excerpt from that profile
“By 7 a.m. most mornings, Parks can be found at his local Hardees and, no, he’s not there for the fast food restaurant’s Original Thickburgers. While some authors write at a coffee shop, Parks takes his laptop to Hardees.

“It’s the only fast-food restaurant in the county,” said Parks. But there are more important reasons why he writes there. “It is not my home and I cannot be distracted [by chores] and it has no wireless internet and that is often my biggest distractor. A thousand words a day and lots of Coke Zero. That’s my plan.”

Parks’ corner in Hardees has now gained national recognition.

Well, kinda of.

In a way.

After the Staunton, Va., News-Leader recently ran a story about Parks that mentioned his writing space, Hardees responded with a tweet:

“Novelist @Brad_Parks has written seven novels at his local Hardee’s,” Hardee’s tweeted. “His eight, Closer than you know, drops Tuesday and will be a bestseller if it’s the last thing we do.”

The fast food restaurant even started a hastag: #BestsellerBrad.

Parks responded with this tweet: “Can’t believe it,” Parks’s tweet said. “Ten years after I started writing novels there, @Hardees is finally following me. I feel like I’ve won a Lifetime Achievement Award.”

Hardees also took out a full page ad in the News-Leader to show its support.

According to the News-Leader, Hardee’s will present Parks with a commemorative Lifetime Achievement Award plaque, which will likely be put on display on his booth at the Staunton location and personalized business cards, making Parks a Hardee’s ”Resident Novelist.”

“We love hearing about customers doing extraordinary things,” a Hardee’s spokesperson told the News-Leader. ”We nearly fell out of our chairs reading Brad’s story and knew right away we had to do something special for him,” the newspaper reported.

“We’re dedicating the booth Brad used in our local Hardee’s restaurant with a special plaque, and will rally our fans on Twitter to get Brad’s latest work on the best seller list,” the Hardees spokesman told the News-Leader.

According to the News-Leader, and my interview with him, Parks’ Hardees habit began in 2008 when he and his family were living in Middlesex, Va.

Parks wanted to get out of the house to write, far from the distractions of two small children, errands and normal household interruptions.

“The only place that was open at 6 a.m. was Hardee’s,” stated the News-Leader.

“Hardee’s was really the writing sanctuary,” Parks told the News-Leader.

When Parks and his family moved to Staunton, he continued his writing routine at the local Hardees.

Parks is the author of eight novels, six in his series about newspaper reporter Carter Ross and two standalones, Say Nothing and his latest Closer Than You Know.

Closer Than You Know is a domestic thriller about a woman whose life spirals out of control when her child is taken away from her after she is falsely accused of running one of the largest drug operations in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. My review is here.

As for Parks’ future with Hardees, expect him back there when he starts his new novel.

“The number one rule of writing is: When something works for you, stick with it,” Parks told me in an email. “Hardee’s works for me. I don’t plan on writing anywhere else.”

Oline Cogdill
2018-03-24 12:13:07