By Derek Gunn
Mystery and thriller writer…dog lover…dreamer—these are the words that greet you on Wendy Tyson’s website. The themes carry over into her writing and appeared in our correspondence during the writing of this article. I mean what’s not to like about this woman?
DEADLY ASSETS is the second book in the Allison Campbell mystery series but don’t let that worry you about jumping straight in. Allison Campbell is Philadelphia’s premier image consultant and helps others reinvent themselves. She is a gutsy woman who had to rebuild her life and her own confidence when an old case went wrong and she lost her practice and her husband. Today, she is well-heeled and polished and moves in a world of powerful executives, wealthy, eccentric ex-wives, and twisted ethics. And boy, are they eccentric!
Tyson’s background is in law and psychology and she lives near Philadelphia with her husband, three sons, and two of the aforementioned dogs, Labs Molly and Driggs. Tyson kindly supplied a concise summary of the first book for me, but DEADLY ASSETS is definitely a novel you can pick up and leap straight into. The characters introduce themselves quickly and the back story is revealed when background is needed.
The first thing that will strike you about this book is Tyson’s writing. I loved it from the first page; clouds bruising clear skies and ramshackle mansions that, similar to their owners, have seen better days, are just two of the well-crafted descriptions that had me breezing through the pages.
Elle Harrison is back in Merry Jones’s latest release, ELECTIVE PROCEDURES. Recovering from her husband Charlie’s death, Elle Harrison agrees to visit a fortuneteller with a girlfriend. The fortuneteller predicts that Elle will travel, meet a new man, and, oh, by the way—Elle’s aura is filled with death, the dead are drawn to her, and death will follow her everywhere.
Elle is shaken, but she tries to ignore the ridiculous prediction. She and her pals travel to Mexico where one of them has arranged cosmetic surgery, planning to recuperate in a plush hotel suite. But more is going on at the hotel than tummy tucks.
As dangers swirl, Elle is forced to face her unresolved issues with Charlie, even as she races to find the connections between the murders before more patients—including her friend—are killed.
And before she becomes prey herself.
Tell us something about ELECTIVE PROCEDURES that isn’t mentioned in the publisher’s synopsis.
Wow, there are so many things not mentioned. But the most important part to me is the psychological issues that the book deals with. For example, the protagonist, Elle Harrison, suffers from a mild dissociative disorder that causes her to mentally drift away when she’s under stress. So when things get dicey, Elle tends to go off into her thoughts, missing sometimes critical pieces of information. Her friends have learned to deal with this aspect of her character, and they call her dissociative incidents “pulling an Elle,” and they help her cope.
Some of the other characters in ELECTIVE PROCEDURES also deal with psychological issues such as body dysmorphic disorder, which causes a distorted self-image. Some of the people seeking cosmetic surgery in the book do so because they have this disorder and think they constantly need “fixing.”
Reporters make great fictional detectives: they are inquisitive, determined, and generally unarmed. James W. Ziskin proves how engrossing a journalist’s investigation can be in his latest novel, NO STONE UNTURNED: AN ELLIE STONE MYSTERY.
This charming tale, the sequel to Ellie’s first case, STYX AND STONE, is set in upstate New York. The story takes place in the 1960s when a young reporter who played by her own rules couldn’t count on computer analysis, cell phones, or 21st century CSI tools when searching for a killer. Ellie is a fascinating character and a strong protagonist, as her creator explains.
“She’s charming, witty, and magnetic,” Ziskin says. “She has a strong ethical compass, even if her personal mores are libertine. She knows she’s smart, probably smarter than anyone in the room, but she’s not arrogant.”
In fact, Ellie doesn’t see herself as a heroine, she just does what she feels a reporter should do. She learns of a twenty-one-year-old society girl found dead and half-buried in the woods. Ellie is the first reporter on the scene. Alone and far from her native New York City, Ellie sees this investigation as a chance to pull her career out of its downward spiral. In addition to a crafting a fine whodunit Ziskin uses the setting to good effect to reveal character in interesting ways. After all, upstate New York is itself an interesting character.
“I like the cultural conflicts and discoveries of a fish out of water at play in NO STONE UNTURNED,”he says. “Ellie is a sophisticated New York girl from a privileged, intellectual background. New Holland offers little of that world. But it does present many other challenges for her to surmount. “
Murder is once again the catalyst for mystery and P.I. intrigue in California as Karen Keskinen’s second novel, BLACK CURRENT, hits bookshelves, both real and virtual, this month. Denise Hamilton, author of DAMAGE CONTROL and editor of Akashic’s LOS ANGELES NOIR called Keskinen’s first book, BLOOD ORANGE, “[a]n impressive debut with echoes of Sue Grafton and Ross Macdonald featuring appealing characters, a twisty plot, buried family secrets, and a coastal California backdrop saturated in color and light.” Fans of that work will surely be eager to get their hands—and, more importantly, eyes—on the sequel, BLACK CURRENT, when it comes out this month.
THE BIG THRILL recently caught up with Karen so she could give us some insight into her latest entry in her mystery series, provide some clues to what readers should expect, and tell us a little about the story behind the stories.
Congratulations on your most recent novel, BLACK CURRENT! Tell us a little about your protagonist, P.I. Jaymie Zarlin, and how this second book picks up after BLOOD ORANGE lets off.
Jaymie moved to Santa Barbara, California, some three years before the events recorded in BLOOD ORANGE. She moved south to try to help her brother Brodie, who was living on the streets. When Brodie died in the downtown jail, Jaymie decided to remain in Santa Barbara and become a private investigator. The focus of her work was to find missing people. But that focus changed when she was hired to discover who’d killed Lili Molina, a Santa Barbara High School student found raped and murdered after the annual Solstice Parade. BLOOD ORANGE is the story of Jaymie’s investigation into Lili’s death and, subsequently, the death of Danny Armenta, a young man falsely accused of Lili’s murder.
By Karen Harper
Karen Harper caught up with very busy poet-turned-thriller-author, Erica Wright, just as she was getting ready to launch her debut novel. Erica is heading to New York City in June for events and publicity, and we wish her all the best—and to her intrepid heroine Kathleen Stone.
What is THE RED CHAMELEON about?
With a little help from the best wigmaker on the Atlantic seaboard, Kathleen Stone can take on a variety of personas, from a posh real estate agent to a petulant teenage boy. She was once a valuable undercover cop for the New York Police Department, but since her early retirement following a botched case, she has gone a little soft. These days, she mostly catches cheating spouses in flagrante. When one husband ends up not so much adulterous as dead, Kathleen must use her rusty skills to catch a killer.
You have two fascinating elements in your past: you are a poet and you have taught at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. What did you teach there? How have these experiences impacted your first novel?
I taught composition courses at John Jay, but snuck a little poetry onto the syllabus. Carolyn Forché’s “The Colonel” was always a favorite. My students definitely played a role in my interest in crime writing. They were mostly going into criminology, so I tried to educate myself on their career paths even if only to make our conferences more productive. I had no intention of writing a mystery novel when I started teaching, but looking back, it almost seems inevitable.
Poisoned Pen Press calls it “pet noir” and I assumed it was a cozy with cuss words and a cat. But no—author Clea Simon is back with another beautifully-written suspense story about a psychic with a penchant for animals who helps solve a local murder deep in a Massachusetts forest. For anyone interested in psychic phenomena, communicating with animals, and crime fiction—a much broader audience than one might imagine—you can count me in.
Simon recently agreed to answer a few questions for THE BIG THRILL.
Are you a pet psychic?
Ha! No, I am not! I wish I was a pet psychic. I started writing about Pru being one because I think any of us who loves our pets feels we can understand them. I mean, I have conversations with my cat all the time. I do think I can read her body language—but often I imagine her talking back to me and I hear her voice as having a snarky tone. And that interaction became the basis for Pru and her tabby Wallis.
Your “pet noir” series could easily have been a cozy. Why noir?
Cozies have gotten a bad rap—people think “cutesy.” I prefer the term “traditional mysteries” for my cozies, like my Dulcie Schwartz and Theda Krakow books. Little graphic sex or violence, and lots of focus on character. The Pru Marlowe books do have that noir edge, but I have the same goals for them. What interests me in books are the people, the characters. I like traditional mysteries because they focus on the people. I want to write books where everyone is, to some extent, someone you could sympathize with. Not that you would necessarily commit murder, but you could understand how a person could be driven to the edge by something. And, of course, I want readers to be able to relate to my protagonists, even when they’re a little bookish and unworldly (like Dulcie) or snappy and standoffish, as Pru can be.
When Otto Lidke got a tryout in pro football, he hired a lawyer friend named Jim Raiford to handle his contract. The negotiations were bungled, forcing both men into a career change. Trying to start a pro wrestling circuit in Denver, Lidke runs afoul of the national federation, which does everything it can—legal and otherwise—to stamp out his new venture. When shady business practices escalate into threats on his life, Lidke calls on Raiford, now a private investigator, to dig up some dirt on the men who are trying to put him out of business.
But instead he gets Raiford’s daughter, Julie—a whip-smart sleuth looking to prove she’s every bit as savvy as her father. As Julie and her dad dig into the vicious world of small-time wrestling, they find that though the fights may be fixed, the danger is all too real.
Perhaps I’m showing my age, but there used to be a commercial with the actor saying, “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on TV.” So let me rephrase that line. I’m not a cop, but I write about one in my books, including my latest novel, CIRCLE OF INFLUENCE.
This can be a problem. How can I pull off a realistic characterization of a profession when my only exposure to it (thankfully!) has been television shows and other books that may or may not have gotten it “right”?
Time to do my homework. Research!
There are those who dread research and look on it as drudgery. My response to them is, “You’re not doing it right!”
My first plunge into the world of law enforcement officers was the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police Citizen’s Academy. During the weekly sessions, I was able to watch police K-9s in action, tour the EOC (Emergency Operations Center) and the city’s crime lab, meet the SWAT team and see firsthand some of their cool “toys,” and I even got to shake the hand of the bomb squad’s robot. I hated to see it end.
A few months later, I went on a ride-along. Four hours patrolling with a wonderful police officer who willingly answered all my questions and shared part of his world with me. He took me into a house during a domestic dispute. Okay, I’m still not sure if that was a good idea or not, but it definitely showed what these brave men and women face every day. And when we responded to a call of “shots fired,” I learned about adrenaline. No, he didn’t let me out of the squad car for that one. Mostly, I tried to hide under the dash while peeking out to watch the cops in action. Enlightening, to say the least.
By Rick Reed
Donald Bain is the author and ghostwriter of more than 120 books. His novels in the Margaret Truman Capital Crimes series include MONUMENT TO MURDER, EXPERIMENT IN MURDER, UNDIPLOMATIC MURDER, and INTERNSHIP IN MURDER.
Now Bain brings back Jessica Fletcher for her most dangerous adventure yet in ALOHA BETRAYED, the latest entry in the wildly popular Murder, She Wrote series.
Jessica Fletcher visits Maui to participate in a law enforcement seminar. While there she learns of a controversial construction project that pits preservationists against progress, a plan to place the world’s largest solar telescope on the dormant, culturally treasured volcano Haleakla. When a body is found at the foot of a rocky escarpment Jessica becomes involved with the mysterious death. In the process she almost becomes part of the island’s lush scenery when someone, with a stake in the investigation, decides to send Jess to her death down the side of the famed crater.
It’s up to Jessica, and co-lecturer and legendary retired detective Mike Kane, to discover the truth behind the death.
ALOHA BETRAYED is the forty-first Murder, She Wrote novel written by the bestselling author of COFFEE, TEA OR ME? which with its three sequels sold more than five million copies worldwide.
We caught up with Bain in Cabot Cove, Maine, to find out what he has to say about the ALOHA BETRAYED—and what else we can expect from him and Jessica Fletcher.
Tell us about Jessica Fletcher. What kind of person is she?
I suppose the best answer is to indicate what kind of person Angela Lansbury is. Angela brought Jessica Fletcher to life on the TV screen, and infused the character with her own values and sensitivities. Angela is as nice a person as she is a talent, so no surprise that Jessica Fletcher is, too. She’s kind and loving, adores her hometown of Cabot Cove, her neighbors and friends, and refuses to abide injustice. She also possesses a keen analytic mind. When combined with her heightened inquisitiveness, that enables her to see through people, especially the bad guys. Of course she often annoys professional law enforcement officers like Cabot Cove’s sheriff Mort Metzger, but because she is invariably right they cut her some slack. I’m sure that in your distinguished career as a homicide detective, Rick, you’ve met a few folks like her.
By Don Helin
In her latest novel, THE JOHNSTOWN GIRLS, Kathleen George develops such an interesting plot that Author Stefannie Pitoff says, “George expertly pushes the boundaries of the mystery genre. I can’t wait for more superb novels to come.” In her novel, a woman of 103 tells the story of what really happened to her family in the Johnstown Flood, causing a journalist to investigate.
Kathleen George is the author of TAKEN, FALLEN, AFTERIMAGE, THE ODDS (Edgar finalist for best novel), HIDEOUT, SIMPLE, and A MEASURE OF BLOOD. She is also the editor of PITTSBURGH NOIR. A professor of Theatre Arts at Pitt, George has directed many plays, including several by Shakespeare. She credits her theatre background with giving her the tools to write thrillers.
I had the opportunity to catch up with Kathleen George the other day and ask her a few questions.
Is there anything special you’d like to tell us about THE JOHNSTOWN GIRLS?
Altogether it took twenty-five years to write! Yes. I started it a long time ago and have several versions. To tell the truth, I liked the impulse behind all the versions, but this is the one that seems to have the most steam. It has an engine that moves.
How did you get interested in the Johnstown Flood?
I was born and raised in Johnstown. We heard about the flood during those years, even though the Great Flood was too long ago for anyone to remember. My mother and father remembered the 1936 flood which was very bad, but of course nothing can compare to the flood of 1889. In that one over 2,000 people were killed in a matter of minutes. And the town was wiped out. Only to be rebuilt by determined survivors. We learned in school that Johnstown was now the flood free city. And of course that wasn’t true because there was another flood in 1977. I experienced that one, or the aftermath of it rather, because I went into town during the disaster-area recovery. But the novel is about women and their relationships. I had to do research into memory, twins, teaching, nursing, all kinds of things to flesh out these lives.
By Jeremy Burns
Many of us read and/or write thrillers, but Adrian McKinty’s own thrilling childhood has provided inspirational fodder for his latest book. IN THE MORNING I’LL BE GONE is the third book in the Sean Duffy trilogy by the award-winning Irish crime novelist, and it merges classic mystery tropes and modern thriller sensibilities with his first-hand experience in the Troubles in Northern Ireland. The author sat down with THE BIG THRILL this month to take readers behind the scenes of his latest project.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I was born and grew up in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland. I studied law and then philosophy at uni in England and then I moved to New York City. I was an illegal for my first few years in NYC working in bars, constructions sites, etc. Finally I married my girlfriend, got legal and I settled down with a job at the Columbia Med School library. In 2000, we moved to Denver, Colorado where I worked as a high school English teacher. My first novel, DEAD I WELL MAY BE, was written there. In 2004, DEAD I WELL MAY BE got short listed for the Dagger Award and was picked as the debut crime novel of the year by BOOKLIST.
Tell us about your new thriller, IN THE MORNING I’LL BE GONE.
It’s the 3rd book in my Sean Duffy trilogy that began with THE COLD COLD GROUND. It’s set in 1984, and it’s about a Catholic working in the largely Protestant RUC during the Troubles.
By Maynard Sims
LET DEATH BEGIN is the tenth published novel of writing duo Maynard Sims, and with another eight scheduled they are keeping busy. Thrillers are their favourite storyboard, be it supernatural or action. LET DEATH BEGIN is a mystery thriller set in the modern day around London, England. James Price is shot by a clown. Sara’s house is broken into. Mason is killed for what was stolen. Who is pulling the strings? Who wants James dead? What secrets do Sara and her brother need to stay hidden.
The story was inspired by the gangsters that held London to ransom. Unafraid of the police, and interested in power at whatever cost. In LET DEATH BEGIN two rival crime lords —Dyson and Moss — continue their battle even after death. Their families and loved ones are dragged into the bitter rivalries and thirst for revenge that threaten more lives.
James Price is involved whether he likes it or not. He is just coming to terms with being invalided out of the police after being shot when his new life of peace and quiet is shattered by his involvement with Sara. Her father was one of the crime bosses, and his secrets haven’t been buried with him.
By John Raab
Sandra Parshall’s latest book POISONED GROUND will be hitting shelves on March 4, 2014. It is the next book in her Rachel Goddard Mystery series. Sandra has been a writer for many years, working in the newspaper business as a reporter. You could say that she was born to write mysteries and suspense, since her first job was writing the weekend obituary for her hometown newspaper. From the SPARTANBURG HERALD to the BALTIMORE EVENING SUN to interviewing Hugh Hefner on his private jet, Sandra finally was able to pursue her passion in 2006 with the release of THE HEAT OF THE MOON and won the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. She has served on the national board of directors of Sisters in Crime and is a regular contributor to our very own THE BIG THRILL. It is thus with great pleasure that we have a chance to ask her some questions for a change. But first, here’s a description of her compelling new novel, POISONED GROUND:
When a powerful development company sets its sights on Mason Country, Virginia, as the location for a sprawling resort for the rich, the locals begin taking sides. Many residents see the resort as economic salvation for the small Blue Ridge Mountains community, while others fear the county will become financially dependent on a predatory company.
Few oppose the development more vocally than veterinarian Rachel Goddard. She sides with locals reluctant to sell their land and, in the process, complicates the life of her new husband, Sheriff Tom Bridger.
When a beloved couple is gunned down on the very farm they refused to sell, it seems supporters will stop at nothing to ensure the success of the resort. Now disagreement in the community has exploded into civil war with both sides lashing out. As the violence escalates, Rachel discovers the attacks are more sinister than they appear.
Can she bring the truth to light before her community tears itself apart?
By Dan Levy
It’s fair to say that a protagonist who beats the odds when everything is against her inspires most thriller writers. Or, maybe a writer has painted an antagonist so vividly in her mind, the story to thwart him aches to be told. Not Wendy K. Webb. Yes, bigger than life protagonists and evil antagonists are critical to her stories. But her muse comes from a different place than most, “Setting is what inspires story for me,” she says. “When I start a new novel, I first think of where I want to set it.”
As a gothic suspense novelist, the place (and its secrets) becomes more than a rich backdrop, it’s a character in the story. In her latest novel, THE VANISHING, Webb describes the setting as moving the house from Downton Abbey to the Minnesota wilderness. But Webb said she didn’t stop there, wondering, “What sort of eccentric nobleman might have built it? And, what strange things might have happened there over the years?”
From that came THE VANISHING, where recently-widowed Julia Bishop’s life is collapsing around her, when a stranger appears on her doorstep with an intriguing job offer—he asks Julia to be a companion for his elderly mother, the famous and rather eccentric horror novelist Amaris Sinclair, whom Julia has always admired… and who the whole world thinks is dead. Too intrigued to decline, Julia accepts the position, hoping she has found her chance to start anew.But when Julia arrives at Havenwood, she begins to suspect her too-good-to-be-true job offer is exactly that. Mysteries and secrets haunt the halls of Havenwood and the forest beyond. Why did Amaris Sinclair choose to vanish from the public eye more than a decade earlier? What are the whispers Julia hears? And why, exactly, was Julia brought to Havenwood in the first place?
By Dawn Ius
Holly West enjoys moonwalking to old Michael Jackson songs, watching movies, cooking, drinking, and obsessive dog petting.
Okay, the moonwalking part is totally made up, but the rest—especially the dog petting bit—is all true. No, really.
“That isn’t a joke,” she says. “I pretty much have to pet every dog I see.”
West says each of these hobbies play a role in feeding her creative well, an important motivator for the pastime that truly owns her heart: writing.
Before West penned MISTRESS OF FORTUNE, a hardboiled historical mystery, West studied screenwriting, and even drafted a couple of scripts, now stuffed into a drawer while she navigates the similar, and yet vastly different, world of novel writing. The screenwriting lessons, however, remain top of mind, particularly when it comes to mastering the art of storytelling.
“Studying screenwriting and watching films is a great way to learn story structure,” she says. “I’d advise anyone writing novels—especially genre fiction—to sit down and watch a few films in your genre. Pay attention to the story elements: how and when characters are introduced, where the ‘turning point’ scenes occur, how the climax is paced, and so on.”
By Ian Walkley
Helen Smith was ranked as America’s most popular mystery writer on Amazon last summer.Her latest release, BEYOND BELIEF, the second in the Emily Castle mysteries published by Thomas and Mercer is an entertaining mix of humor, mystery, and British eccentricities.
Smith writes novels, children’s books, poetry, plays, and screenplays. Her books have reached number one on Amazon’s bestseller lists in the US, UK, Canada, and Germany. Her first book, ALISON WONDERLAND, was one of the top five bestselling books from Amazon Publishing when it was launched in the US in 2011.
In BEYOND BELIEF, famed psychic Perspicacious Peg predicts a murder will occur at England’s Belief and Beyond conference, prompting her science-minded colleagues to recruit twenty-six-year-old budding sleuth Emily Castles to attend the event as a “future crimes investigator.” The suspected victim: celebrated magician Edmund Zenon, who plans to perform a daring stunt at the conference—and is offering fifty thousand pounds to any attendee who can prove that the paranormal exists.
In the seaside town of Torquay, Emily meets a colorful cast of characters: dramatic fortune-teller Madame Nova; kindly Bobby Blue Suit and his three psychic dachshunds; Sarah and Tim Taylor, devastated parents mourning their late son; and religious cult members Hilary, Trina, and the Colonel. Tensions rise as believers in science, the supernatural, and the spiritual clash with one another. But once a body count begins, Emily must excuse herself from the séances and positivity circles, and use old-fashioned detective work to find the killer.
Agatha Christie proved that great mysteries are driven by great characters and an exploration of the community those characters live in. Today Terry Shames reaffirms that fact with her latest novel, The Last Death of Jack Harbin: A Samuel Craddock Mystery.
The community Shames explores is the fictitious town of Jarrett Creek, Texas. The story begins with two best friends who join the Army just before the outbreak of the Gulf War. One is rejected and stays home to marry the girl they both loved. The other, Jack Harbin, returns from the war badly damaged. The two men are about to reconcile when Harbin is brutally murdered.
Ex-police chief Samuel Craddock has to investigate the murder. Craddock is a fascinating character with a good sense of humor and a kindly appreciation for human foibles. He might not consider himself a hero, but readers will.
“He has a strong sense of justice,” says author Terry Shames, “and doesn’t like it when things go wrong in his community because someone has strayed off course. At the same time, he doesn’t have false modesty—he knows when he’s doing a good job. His sense of self-worth is more important than recognition from outside.”
Mark Pryor is the author of THE BOOKSELLER and THE CRYPT THIEF, the first and second Hugo Marston novels, and the true-crime book AS SHE LAY SLEEPING. An assistant district attorney with the Travis County District Attorney’s Office in Austin, Texas, he is the creator of the true-crime blog DAConfidential. He has appeared on CBS News’s 48 HOURS and Discovery Channel’s DISCOVERY ID: COLD BLOOD.
Here are just some of the quotes Mark has accumulated:
“Mark Pryor is one of the smartest new writers on the block. His new novel is a doozy.”—Philip Kerr, author of A MAN WITHOUT A BREATH, a Bernie Gunther novel
“A tale of a city that’s gritty, utterly real and filled with surprises both horrifying and tender. Much like a baguette, this fabulous story is crusty on the outside, sweet on the inside, and once you’ve had a bit, you can’t wait for more.”—OPRAH.com
“Enough intrigue to satisfy every reader…. A fantastic debut!”—RT BOOK REVIEWS
“The Hugo Marston series now belongs on every espionage fan’s watch list.”—BOOKLIST
“A good bet for Cara Black fans.”—LIBRARY JOURNAL
Mark kindly answered the following questions for me last week.
By Gary Kriss
Harry Dolan hasn’t killed anybody in well over two years.
Now he’s about to make up for lost time.
“I’ve been waiting quite a while for this, so in that sense it’s a relief,” Dolan says of what’s about to occur, which, he divulges, begins with the murder of a beautiful young law student. But there’ll be more deaths to come, all methodically planned by Dolan over the course of eighteen months.
The one saving grace? Dolan’s mayhem will be confined to the four-hundred-sixteen pages of his new novel, THE LAST DEAD GIRL (Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam), which officially hits the shelves on January 9.
And while he can tranquilly create the most heinous of crimes on paper, Dolan isn’t quite as tranquil as he awaits publication day. “You always worry about how a book will do, how it’ll be received,” he says.
In the latest mystery from New York Times bestselling author Charles Todd, Inspector Ian Rutledge is summoned to the quiet, isolated Fen country to solve a series of seemingly unconnected murders before the killer strikes again
August 1920. A society wedding at Ely Cathedral in Cambridgeshire becomes a crime scene when a guest is shot just as the bride arrives. Two weeks later, after a fruitless search for clues, the local police are forced to call in Scotland Yard. But not before there is another shooting in a village close by. This second murder has a witness; the only problem is that her description of the killer is so horrific it’s unbelievable. Badgered by the police, she quickly recants her story.
Wisconsin coffeehouse owner Maggy Thorsen accompanies her main squeeze, Sheriff Jake Pavlik, to South Florida, where he’s been asked to speak at a mystery-writers’ conference. Maggy is anticipating a romantic arrival in their hotel suite, but when the opening night event turns out to be a re-enactment of Agatha Christie’s classic, Murder on the Orient Express, the couple reluctantly sets off on a night train into the Everglades. The idea is to solve the “crime” and return, but the troupe soon finds itself embroiled in a real-life murder mystery as creepy and baffling as any work of fiction.
By Basil Sands
Let me introduce you to a writer with a great read for your Mid-Winter’s reading list. Phyllis Smallman is the award winning author of the popular Sherri Travis mystery series. Dividing her year between the picture-perfect northern rainforest of Salt Spring Island BC in Canada and the sunny beaches of Florida, Phyllis writes some pretty darned good mysteries. Must be the combination of both coast’s worth of fresh sea air.
Phyllis, tell us about your newest mystery title, LONG GONE MAN.
LONG GAME MAN is the first book in a new series about a woman named Singer Brown, at least that’s name she gives the police. Singer left home at sixteen to join a rock band and almost made it to the top – except she had the bad luck of meeting Johnny. Now she lives in a beat-up old van, sings on the street for coins, and nurses an old hate.
One night she arrives on the last ferry to a small island in the Salish Sea, planning to kill the man who destroyed her life. At his mountain retreat a woman with a gun in her hand opens the door and says, “Come in.” On the floor behind her is a body. Someone else has already taken revenge on Johnny and now the murderer is coming after Singer.
How did you first get into writing, and what were the initial days of the journey toward publication like?
I wrote for nearly twenty years before I had a book published. Those first three manuscripts are still in a box somewhere. After being shortlisted for the Debut Dagger in the UK and the Malice Domestic in the US, I was published because I won an award, the Unhanged Arthur from the Crime Writers of Canada. That book, Margarita Nights, was nominated for best first novel the next year. The one thing I know is that I’d still be writing even if I’d never been published. I write because I have to, the same reason people play the piano or paint pictures. The process gives me pleasure.
Bestselling mystery author Beth Groundwater writes the Claire Hanover gift basket designer series (A REAL BASKET CASE, a Best First Novel Agatha Award finalist, and TO HELL IN A HANDBASKET). Her just released third novel in the series, A BASKET OF TROUBLE, blends her love for the outdoors once again with murder–this time in the horse-riding community. In A BASKET OF TROUBLE when Claire Hanover saddles up for the opening event of her brother Charley’s new riding stable, the last thing she expects is a murder investigation. Kyle Mendoza, one of the stable hands, is found dead in Gunpowder’s stall. Everyone thinks the horse trampled him, until it’s discovered someone killed Kyle before dragging him into the stall. Charley’s troubles worsen with Kyle’s family suing him and a rival stable owner wrangling up his clients, so Claire decides to find the real murderer before her brother’s business is put out to pasture.
Beth also writes the Rocky Mountain Outdoor Adventures series starring whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner (DEADLY CURRENTS, an Amazon #3 overall bestseller, WICKED EDDIES, finalist for the Rocky Award, and just released, FATAL DESCENT). She enjoys Colorado’s many outdoor activities, including skiing and whitewater rafting, and loves talking to book clubs. Visit her at her website.
By Don Helin
In her novel, IN THE SHADOW OF REVENGE, Patricia Hale unleashes a plot so exciting that one review reads, “IN THE SHADOW OF REVENGE intrigued me from its first pages and kept me enthused with its rich descriptions, brutally honest depictions of realistic characters and small town life.”
Childhood friendships mold us into the adults we become. So it goes for three nine year old girls in Millers Falls, Maine after a ruthless attack hits close to home. The experience keeps them bound to one another even as adults. But when an opportunity for revenge offers to set them free, the friends run headlong after vengeance, quickly learning that even justice can cut to the bone.
Patricia Hale received an MFA degree from Goddard College in Vermont. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, NH Writers Project and Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance. Besides writing, her interests include hiking, kayaking and yoga. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and two German Shepherds.
Two other favorite reviews:
“Quite a powerful story and hard hitting from the start.”
“A gripping read.”
A US Army officer, Randy Rawls traveled the world before retiring to south Florida, the setting for his Beth Bowman PI series (Midnight Ink). BEST DEFENSE is his latest release:
John Hammonds is a defense lawyer who has everything. When his five-year-old daughter is kidnapped, the police vow to do whatever is necessary to recover her. Hammonds has other ideas. He demands they step aside and allow Beth Bowman, local Private Investigator, to take the lead. Furthermore, the police must assist her or stay out of her way, whichever she decides. Beth and a bevy of friends know they must move fast and discreetly before the worst can happen.
“…a satisfying, lighthearted adventure.”—PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
“BEST DEFENSE is a quick read with a returning cast of quirky characters and a well-devised plot.”—FRESH FICTION
Child kidnapping and light-hearted are rarely used in the same sentence, but BEST DEFENSE includes both. Let’s start with a two-part question.
What led you to the kidnapping theme?
I want my stories to be topical and as fresh as today’s headlines. Unfortunately, the headlines today feature far too many kidnappings—and those kidnappings too often turn out badly. I wanted to write a story that would challenge me and challenge my readers, something in which the murder of two human beings takes a back seat to the drama of the rest of the tale. The kidnapping of a five-year-old girl is that story. I hope readers get as caught up in the search for Ashley as I did.
By Karen Harper
Karen Harper recently caught up with M.C. Grant (aka Grant McKenzie) for an interview about the latest book in his Dixie Flynn series, DEVIL WITH A GUN. A look at M.C.’s very ‘noirish’ website puts a reader in the mood for the variety of forms in which he writes, from thriller to screenplays to short stories.
What is DEVIL WITH A GUN about?
DEVIL WITH A GUN is the hair-raising sequel to Dixie Flynn’s first adventure, ANGEL WITH A BULLET. This time, however, the stakes are raised when crime reporter Dixie is told to write a fluff story for Father’s Day but ends up in an incendiary confrontation with the most ruthless killers in San Francisco. Before she knows it, Dixie’s simple missing-father story has turned into a violent battle of wills as she tries to help a woman escape a life and death struggle with the mob. For Dixie, the pen is mightier than the sword, but it’s going to take some handy work with whatever arsenal she can lay her hands on if she wants this story to have a happy ending.
Seldom is an author published in the range of fiction in which you have written: series thrillers and stand-alones, screenplay and short story. Do you have a favorite of these formats? What are some of the pros and cons of each for you?
The novel is my main playground, but because I’m such a visual writer I love exploring screenplays and working with the actors who are bringing my audiobooks to life. Short stories are also a passion because they are such a burst of imagination. Let’s face it, novels are hard work because you need to keep that inspiration and intensity alive for a number of months to get the whole story on the page. I’m not a fast writer, so there are definitely times when I need to kick my own ass to sit in the chair and write – even when I’m loving the story and characters I’m creating. Short stories, however, give me an opportunity to amp up the excitement and get that first draft on the page in a frantic, imagination-to-page word dump. Then, like all writing, the rewrite process begins, which gives every story its polish and shine. The difference between writing a series, compared to a stand-alone, is basically don’t kill off your main character :) OK, there’s more to it than that, but that’s probably Rule No. 1.
Leaphorn and Chee of the Navajo Nation Police are back in their business of investigation! Their latest mystery, SPIDER WOMAN’S DAUGHTER was written by Anne Hillerman, accomplished daughter of iconic mystery author Tony Hillerman, the creator of Leaphorn and Chee. The story begins with an unthinkable, heart-stopping moment.
Police Officer Bernadette Manuelito has just finished having breakfast with her colleagues when an unidentified shooter in a blue sedan guns one of them down in the parking lot. As the critically wounded man fights for his life in the hospital, the Navajo Nation Police and the FBI join forces to find the person who shot him. Clues point to a cold case from Joe Leaphorn’s past—but not so cold that Bernie and Chee’s own lives are not at risk.
SPIDER WOMAN’S DAUGHTER has inspired exciting peer reviews.
David Morrell, #1 NEW YORK TIMES bestselling author of MURDER AS A FINE ART, says: “A worthy continuation of Tony Hillerman’s Leaphorn & Chee series. His daughter Anne ably returns to Navajo Country in a colorful mystery that is both fascinating and vividly compelling. From its startling first scene to its gripping climax, SPIDER WOMAN’S DAUGHTER engages the reader in a complex web of intrigue and deception.”
Armed with Buddhist philosophy and wicked knife skills, Bai Jiang works at being a better person by following her conscience, while struggling with what she likes to think of as “aggressive assertiveness.”
When a girl goes missing in San Francisco’s Chinatown, Bai is called upon as a souxun, a people finder, to track down the lost girl. The trail leads to wannabe gangsters, flesh peddlers, and eventually to those who have marked Bai for death.
Enlisting the aid of her closest friend and partner, Lee–a sophisticated gay man who protects her, mostly from herself–and Jason–a triad assassin and the father of her daughter–they follow the girl across the Bay and across the country. Bai confronts paid assassins and triad hatchet men, only to find that being true to her beliefs as a Buddhist and staying alive are often at odds. At the same time, fighting a faceless enemy who seems committed to having her killed fills her with anger and fear that sometimes turns into a burning rage with deadly consequences.
By Lee Lindauer
Ellie Stone is a “modern girl” at the beginnings of the 60’s, caught up in a classic whodunit after her scholarly father is found nearly beaten to death. With a plot that meticulously ties together her father’s missing manuscript and the death of another professor with the tension and distrust of fellow colleagues and acquaintances, she is thrust into a whirlwind of classical music, linguistics, and stolen identities, Holocaust horrors and of course, the brilliance of Dante. As a journalist and a “goodtime girl,” Ms. Stone has a take-no-prisoner approach. She overwhelms the investigative nature of the police in lining up the clues that bring the story to its conclusion.
To get a sense of this fast-paced mystery, I took the liberty to learn a little bit more about STYX & STONE and the author, James Ziskin.
It is an interesting twist to set the novel at the beginning of 1960. Other than this being the appropriate time frame due to the historical circumstances of WWII and the Holocaust, did you find it intriguing to write about this period? (You were born in 1960, any coincidence?)
I like books that transport you to another time or place. I’ve always thought of 1960 as a very modern year. We were on the brink of the jet age and a world of modern conveniences, but that era also seems quaint and old fashioned to us today. And as you say, 1960 worked with my timeline, just fifteen years after the war. Long enough to cloud memories, but not enough time to forget. And, yes, I have a soft spot for the year I was born.
Take one missing heiress, an unscrupulous uncle, and a young vaudeville performer fallen on hard times; add several murdered girls, a mysterious Chinese herbalist, and a handsome bootlegger; then move from the seamy world of Prohibition-era vaudeville to Oregon’s rugged coast, and what do you have?
A formula for suspense, as Jessie finds herself torn between her deceitful charade and her determination to find out what really happened to the girl she is impersonating.
In 1917, Jessie Carr, fourteen years old and sole heiress to her family’s vast fortune, disappeared without a trace. Now, years later, her uncle Oliver Beckett thinks he’s found her: a young actress in a vaudeville playhouse is a dead ringer for his missing niece.
But when Oliver confronts the girl, he learns he’s wrong: orphaned young, Leah’s been acting since she was a toddler. Oliver, never one to miss an opportunity, makes a proposition–with his coaching, Leah can impersonate Jessie, claim the fortune, and split it with him. The role of a lifetime, he says. A one-way ticket to Sing Sing, she hears. But when she’s let go from her job, Oliver’s offer looks a lot more appealing. Leah agrees to the con, but secretly promises herself to try and find out what happened to the real Jessie. There’s only one problem: Leah’s act won’t fool the one person who knows the truth about Jessie’s disappearance.