My Book: Wrongful Death
L.J. Sellers

sellers ljHomeless twins inspire a story and a charity

On the streets of Eugene, Oregon, walk two brothers—tall, dark, and bone thin—identical homeless twins, pushing their carts, overflowing with empty cans and meager personal belongings. One walks with a limp, but he’s still out there every day with his brother, often until dark, picking up cans and bottles to recycle for cash. For them, it’s a job that buys food and toiletries, but at the end of their long work day, they have no place to call home.

They’ve been in my neighborhood for years, and I wanted to know their story. But there are 1,700 other homeless people in my hometown, and they all have stories. In 2013, when my novels found a bigger readership and my fortune changed for the better, I decided to get involved in the homeless issue and make a small difference if I could. I also realized that rather than discovering the twins’ real background, it was more important to write their story—a fictionalized account of how vulnerable homeless people are to crime and how unprotected they are by the justice and social systems. In fact, the homeless are often victimized by the courts and law enforcement personnel.

But for every officer who is quick to land a blow because a vagrant doesn’t move quickly enough, there are others in uniform who collect blankets and warm clothes for the homeless every winter and pass them out at the first sign of frost. Sometimes those impulses exist within the same law enforcement officer. I wanted to show those dichotomies in my story as well. So Wrongful Death, the tenth book in the Detective Jackson series, features a benevolent police officer who is killed—seemingly at the hands of a homeless man he was trying to help. In the story, the homeless community rallies to defend the street twin, and Jackson’s investigation is sidelined by protests and riots that threaten to get out of control.

The issues in Wrongful Death reflect the reality of street life in Eugene. Although the city has opened camps and established warming centers for cold nights, it’s never enough. Some people are chronically homeless because of mental illness or addiction issues. Others are temporarily homeless because of a financial setback. Those people are the easiest to help.

So as I plotted this story, I founded Housing Help, a charity dedicated to keeping families from becoming homeless. Its mission is simple: When a family faces eviction because of a short-term financial situation, Housing Help pays the rent to keep them in their home, sparing the children the emotional and educational setbacks that go along with displacement.

sellers wrongfuldeath

Research shows that most minimum-wage employees are one check away from homelessness. The most common reason for becoming homeless? Car trouble. A family spends the money to fix the car so the provider can get to work and keep their job, then they can’t pay the rent. Research also shows that keeping people in their homes—by paying a month’s rent or getting the car fixed—is much more cost effective than trying to help a family after they’re on the street.

So that’s what Housing Help does. It connects with families in need and helps them through a temporary financial crisis so they can keep their housing. Last year, Housing Help assisted six families, and we hope to do much more this year. To make that happen, I’ve dedicated a portion of the income from Wrongful Death to the charity.

Social issues always play a part in my crime fiction, but this Jackson story hits home for me more than anything else I’ve written. I still don’t know the street twins’ real story, but by writing about the broader issue, I’ve come to understand and support homeless people in a way I never expected.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 05 March 2015 11:03

Homeless twins inspire a story and a charity

The Devil You Know
Hank Wagner

In 1982, 11-year-old Evie Jones’ best friend Lianne Gagnon abruptly disappeared. Several weeks later, her body was discovered lying face down in the mud in a local park. Her death was deemed a homicide, but her alleged killer, who police publicly identified as local Robert Cameron, was never apprehended.

Cut to 1993. Evie now works as a rookie crime beat reporter for a major Toronto newspaper. Assigned to gather background material on a new series of sex crimes, she uses the paper’s resources (including a newfangled news service called LexisNexis) to obsessively pursue a private investigation into her friend’s cold case. Doing so, the likable and endearing heroine discovers some disturbing new facts concerning Lianne’s case, which lead her to believe that the killer may still be living nearby. Unfortunately, it also appears as if her investigations have caught the killer’s attention, as she senses a stalker dogging her footsteps.

The fact that this is Elisabeth de Mariaffi’s first novel is remarkable. She writes with great assurance and style, creating a sense of menace and paranoia so pervasive it virtually demands that you read “just one more chapter” before reluctantly turning in for the night. One chapter leads to another, and, before you realize it, you’ve raced to the end of this engaging and edgy thriller.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 06 March 2015 12:03
The Forgetting
Sarah Prindle

Georgiana “Georgie” Kendrick has always led a happy life; she lives with her wealthy parents in a lovely Boston neighborhood, she attends a private school, and enjoys practicing her oboe in hopes of becoming a professional musician. But when her heart fails unexpectedly and she receives a transplant, Georgie remembers things that never happened to her and she recognizes people she’s never met. Before long, Georgie realizes that she is remembering scenes from her heart donor’s life. And with each memory she gains from the donor, the more of her own memories she loses.

Initially, all Georgie knows about her donor is that she was a teenage girl whose body was left unclaimed. But when she looks deeper, she discovers the donor—only known as Annabel—had been living on the streets, was forced into prostitution, and committed suicide by leaping from a balcony. Georgie begins traveling into the poorest areas of Boston to find out what she can about Annabel—and figure out how to stop Annabel’s memories from replacing her own. She encounters a world where homeless teen girls are trafficked into the sex trade. Georgie also meets Nate, a young man trying to help the trafficked girls, and falls in love. But when she learns Annabel was actually murdered, love takes a backseat as Georgie and Nate work to figure out who killed Annabel—before Georgie loses her own memories entirely.

Nicole Maggi’s The Forgetting doesn’t shy away from tough subjects such as organ donations, child trafficking, and murder. The reader experiences, alongside Georgie, the survivor’s guilt that comes from living with the heart of a deceased person. The reader experiences the hopelessness Georgie and Nate feel when they worry about the girls they meet on the street, and Georgie’s fear as she gets closer to finding Annabel’s killer. But the reader also feels the stirrings of Georgie’s love for Nate, the sense of purpose she feels when looking for the murderer, and the peace that calms her when she practices her oboe.

As Georgie tries to reconcile her friends, family, and career dreams with her new experiences, she finds herself searching for more than a killer—Georgie finds she is searching for meaning in her own life. A suspenseful mystery involving love, identity, justice, and purpose, The Forgetting will surpass the highest expectations readers have.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 06 March 2015 12:03
Welcome to Tampa, Mystery Readers

freemanbrian seasonoffear
South Florida often is the locale of choice for mystery writers. And indeed the east coast of Florida seems to have a large number of published mystery writers.
Of course, Randy Wayne White owns the Gulf Coast of Florida, especially the Sanibel/Captiva area, and P.J. Parrish has given us a peek at the Fort Myers region.

But this month boasts two novels set in the Tampa environs, and this is good news for mystery readers.

Florida—the state I have called home for a long time—is more like several states, with each part of the Sunshine State different from the other. Sometimes I think all we share are the heat and the eccentric criminals.

Brian Freeman’s Season of Fear is set in Tampa, around the Florida gubernatorial race. The action takes us from Tampa to Clearwater to Lake Wales, a place I have never seen in a mystery.

Season of Fear nails the Tampa area, taking us to some of its landmarks, neighborhoods, and breathtaking vistas.

Freeman's hero in Season of Fear is Cab Bolton, who is on a brief leave from his job as a police detective in Naples, Florida. Naples is a great little town, full of lovely restaurants and good shopping.

When my friend Toni is down, we always head to Naples to spend the day. It’s only 90 miles away from Fort Lauderdale and we make it a day trip. I would love to see a mystery set in Naples.

Dennis Lehane wraps up his trilogy about crime in the early part of the 20th century with World Gone By, set in the Tampa of the early 1940s.

lehanedennis worldgoneby
Lehane perfectly illustrates how Florida was during the 1940s, when urban sprawl was a fantasy and Ybor City was the district for Tampa’s Latin population.

World Gone By takes the reader to the city’s docks, its various underworlds, and its politics.

World Gone By concludes Lehane’s trilogy that began with The Given Day (2008). The novel picks up the story of Joe Coughlin in 1942, a decade after the events in Lehane’s Edgar Award-winning Live by Night (2012).

Florida has few landmarks that last through the decades. One of the jokes down here is that while there are some things that are more than a hundred years old, most of our “historical” sites seem to have sprung up during the 1940s.

But Freeman and Lehane both show a few places in common, despite the decades separately the stories.

Both novels make a trip to the terrific Columbia Restaurant that is still going strong in Tampa’s Ybor City. Often called Florida’s oldest restaurant, the Columbia was established in 1905.

Of course Freeman and Lehane aren’t the only ones to have written about Tampa.

Ace Atkins delved into Tampa history with his White Shadow (2006) about the death of mob boss Charlie Wall during 1955.

In my review of White Shadow, I said: “It’s 1955 and corruption seeps through the streets of Tampa. Sicilian and Cuban criminals vie for control of the city while leaders of each group also have plans for casinos in Havana. The strong community of Ybor City is fragrant with its cigar factories, but also marred by gangsters. It’s a toss up over which group is worse – the criminals or the crooked police force. Everyone – whether upstanding citizen or crook – has his eye on a young Cuban revolutionary named Fidel.

atkinsace whiteshadow
Then the retired bootlegger and gambler Charlie Wall is bludgeoned in his home. The old kingpin nicknamed White Shadow once ruled Tampa and tales of his underground tunnels where shipments of rum were unloaded are still discussed.”

White Shadow also features a side trip to Gibsonton, a town where those who worked in carnival side shows settled, adding an intriguing glimpse into one of Florida’s secret enclaves.

Atkins had a string of excellent historical novels with various settings before he began his series about Mississippi sheriff Quinn Colson and his continuation of the Robert B. Parker Spencer novels.

And yes, the Columbia restaurant is in White Shadow.

Now, I can’t wait for a trip to Tampa…and dining at the Columbia.

Oline Cogdill
Saturday, 07 March 2015 10:03
Drawing Conclusions
Sheila Merritt

Drawing Conclusions by Deirdre Verne is an aptly titled novel since its protagonist, CeCe Prentice, is an artist and keen observer of personality traits. She lives an unconventional lifestyle as a freegan, embracing an environmentalist credo that includes scavenging leftover food found in dumpsters.

CeCe’s devout determination to shrink her environmental footprint rankles her father, the wealthy and esteemed geneticist Dr. William Prentice. He disinherited CeCe when she turned 18, lavishing all his attention on her fraternal twin brother, Teddy.

Ten years later, Teddy dies while at work in their father’s genetics facility. There are no overt signs of foul play, but Teddy was young and healthy, and his death suspicious. While mourning her brother’s death, CeCe is also threatened and Detective Frank DeRosa is assigned to protect her. They soon become allies in unraveling the mystery of her sibling’s demise.

Author Deirdre Verne imbues CeCe with intelligence and humor, and the snappy repartee between characters is delightful. The plotting, however, taxes credulity. There are multiple revelations about relationships so complex they rival the intricacies of the double helix. The science elements of genetics are well explained, but there’s an overload of information pertaining to the characters and their respective histories. Drawing Conclusions is more successful in highlighting ecological responsibility, as well as the impact and economics of genetic tampering.

Teri Duerr
Saturday, 07 March 2015 04:03
Hank Wagner

Unable to resist the entreaties of an attractive young man, freshman honors student Sarie Holland agrees to give him a ride to a local food joint and, on the way, to the house of a local drug dealer, so that the boy can restock the goods he peddles to fellow students. Nothing will happen, she tells herself, and besides, the boy is cute.

Little does Sarie know that ambitious Philadelphia narcotics cop Doug Wildey has chosen that night to stake out the rundown home from which the dealer currently operates. Unable to corral the boy, Wildey does manage to snag Sarie, transforming her, in the matter of a few hours, from mousey college student to Confidential Informant 137. As such, she is plunged into a dangerous world she needs to understand quickly, or perhaps forfeit her life.

Swierczynski’s writing is sharp, and his plotting is topnotch, but it’s his feel for his characters, and Sarie in particular, that sets Canary apart from other thrillers. Sarie’s transformation from teenager to capable adult is entirely believable, and she evolves in surprising ways as she ventures ever deeper into a surreal rabbit hole where nothing is as it seems. Her very normality makes her relatable from the instant we meet her, but it’s her heretofore hidden talent for thinking on her feet that will keep readers heavily invested in her adventures until they see how things play out.

Teri Duerr
Saturday, 07 March 2015 04:03
Death and the Redheaded Woman
Robin Agnew

Some formulas are there for a reason: they are effective. In Loretta Ross’ first novel featuring (redheaded) auctioneer Wren Morgan, many of the traditional mystery tropes are present and accounted for, but Ross is so skillful at telling her story, you won’t mind a bit. Somehow, she makes it fresh and enjoyable. Wren encounters the interestingly named, down-on-his-luck bounty hunter Death Bogart at the police station where she’s answering questions about a body she’s found on the property of an old mansion she’s inventorying for auction. As it happens, Wren and Death are united in wanting to find a missing cache of jewels in the aforesaid old mansion—only it seems there were two sets of missing jewels. The dead man, who turns out to be a fence, was probably looking for them too. I’ll leave it to the reader to discover the reason he was naked—it’s a pip.

This is a well-told story with appealing characters. Almost everyone in the book is kind and compassionate to one another, and when they are not, that person is a pariah. Wren is a stronger-than-expected young woman, and Death, an ex-Marine who has lost everything, is at times oddly vulnerable. Together they make a good team, and Ross doesn’t waste time having them dislike one another.

Despite the story’s many familiar tropes, what is not so expected are the flashbacks of war as seen through Death’s eyes that explain his physical and mental issues (and probable PTSD), some of which he is not owning up to. What is also not expected was a somewhat needlessly violent scene at the denouement. While I know mysteries include violence, certain books lead you to expect only a certain level of mayhem. Ross exceeds her limit a tiny bit, but that’s a small caveat.

Sometimes people will ask me why I love mysteries so much, and one of the reasons, of course, is that loose ends are tied up and stories are resolved, with the bad guys brought to justice. Order is restored. Another reason are the many ways mysteries illustrate a decent way to behave in the world. Cozy mysteries are especially good at this and Ross, in her first outing, is no exception. The author thoughtfully drops a hint as to what the next book might be about in the last chapter, and I am already looking forward to it.

Teri Duerr
Saturday, 07 March 2015 04:03
The Swimmer
Jordan Foster

In Joakim Zander’s thrilling debut, a former CIA spy, a Swedish PhD student (who happens to be Muslim), and a plucky EU parliament aide all race to prevent sensitive information about America’s “enhanced interrogation tactics” in Afghanistan from reaching the wrong hands.

Of course, enhanced interrogation tactics is a fancy way of saying torture, a practice that the former spy—whose checkered career the reader glimpses throughout the narrative—both abhors and is commanded to use in the field. Scarred from a tragic event 33 years earlier in Damascus, it’s obvious that he no longer sees eye to eye with the agency.

Across the Atlantic in Sweden at Uppsala University, Mammoud Shammosh is deep into his graduate work on the privatization of war and the use of torture as an interrogation technique on detainees when he’s contacted by a mysterious source who promises him a big scoop if Mammoud agrees to meet in Brussels following an upcoming academic conference. Soon Mammoud and his ex-girlfriend Klara Walldéen, an aide in Brussels with the European Union, are plunged into a chase across Europe when it becomes clear that powerful people will do anything to make sure the leaked information stays classified.

Zander devotes more attention to writing a compelling shoot-’em-up scene than he does to fleshing out his impressive roster of main and supporting characters, but the international intrigue and the compelling subject matter—particularly given the recently released Senate Intelligence Committee report—make this a genuinely gripping read.

Teri Duerr
Saturday, 07 March 2015 05:03
The Carrier
Robin Agnew

The Carrier opens with a terrific scene in a German airport where frequent flier Gaby Struthers is appalled by the fuss a fellow passenger is making over a delay. Despite Gaby’s dressing down, the anxious traveler, Lauren, latches onto Gaby and the two spend part of an uncomfortable night together in a terrible hotel as they wait for a replacement flight.

Lauren confesses she’s involved with a trial and is afraid that she’s sending an innocent man to jail. And author Sophie Hannah, whose love of coincidence is almost Victorian, then has Gaby discover that man is Tim Breary, the estranged love of Gaby’s life. From that moment, Gaby’s desire is for nothing more than to save Tim.

The plot then telescopes to look at the lives of Gaby, Tim, and Lauren. Tim had a bizarre living arrangement with a couple, Kerry and Dan, while taking care of his invalid wife Francine. It’s Francine who has been killed and it’s Tim who has confessed to killing her. It becomes clear, though, that Francine was an awful, unpleasant person, and that Tim was wildly unhappy in his marriage. I couldn’t quite get a handle on Francine’s apparent awfulness—though it’s fleshed out to some degree by the narrative device of a series of letters from Kerry and Dan found stuffed under Francine’s mattress.

At the beginning of the novel—the first hundred pages or so—I was totally riveted by Hannah’s story. As she began to peel the layers of characters back, however, I thought she was at times too thorough and at others not quite thorough enough. While both Francine and Tim are central, I felt I didn’t quite get a feeling for either their motives or their actions. Francine is almost a prop in the story line, used to reflect the other characters’ personalities.

Each of the players in the drama know each other well, and the only thing everyone agrees on in The Carrier is that everyone is lying. I was dying to know what had actually happened, and raced through the last third of the story to find out. Hannah is a fine, evocative writer, wonderful with character and setting, but to me the motives of the characters didn’t always ring true. That said, this is a worthwhile read, as Hannah has interesting things to say and an original way of saying them.

Teri Duerr
Saturday, 07 March 2015 05:03
The Figaro Murders
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

I never thought I’d see the day when the sleuth and mystery solver of two murders would be Mozart’s librettist on The Marriage of Figaro. The year is 1786. The place, Vienna. Lorenzo Da Ponte is the librettist who, while trying to help a friend find his real mother, becomes a reluctant detective when murder rears its ugly head in the Palais Gabler shortly after his visit there. He is given the choice of solving the crime or becoming its chief suspect.

In many ways, this takes the form of a classic British mystery with a defined group of suspects, each with differing motives, and all with the opportunity to commit the crime. What sets this apart is that most of the characters who people the plot, such as Da Ponte, Mozart, and Antonio Salieri, are historical figures working on real projects at that time and place. In addition to his investigating work, Da Ponte is also making last-minute changes to the libretto as tech rehearsal week looms for Figaro.

Much of the enjoyment of the book for me was the colorful and seemingly very realistic descriptions of the people and places of the time. This is not surprising since the author studied European history at Brandeis and is an opera enthusiast. The author’s note at the end is a must-read, as it explains in greater detail the historical accuracy of the characters and setting. This is Laura Lebow’s first novel, and hopefully the first of many.

Teri Duerr
Saturday, 07 March 2015 05:03
A Love Like Blood
Vanessa Orr

At first, I thought this was going to be just another vampire novel, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that Marcus Sedgwick’s examination of clinical vampirism, or the desire to drink blood, went far deeper than some Twilight-esque fantasy.

In 1944, just days after the liberation of Paris at the close of WWII, Englishman Charles Jackson sees something that he can’t believe—a man in a dark tunnel, drinking the blood of a murdered woman. Terrified, he turns away; but when he returns to the city seven years later, he sees the same man, Verovkin, in the company of a young woman—a woman he comes to love.

When she is murdered, Charles sets out to find her killer. As he chases the man around Europe, he learns just how deranged her killer is—and in the process, becomes almost as damaged as his prey. Though the story takes place over more than two decades, it reads like a gothic novel; it could just as easily be set in Victorian England during the days of Jack the Ripper as in postwar Europe.

The writing is elegant and at times spellbinding; it’s a book that I thought about even when I was not reading it. My only complaint is that Sedgwick’s references to blood get quite heavy-handed at times—while Verovkin, and in time, Charles, are both obsessed with blood and bloodletting, it seems that the author is also, to the point of overkill (pun intended). Toward the end of the book, the word blood appears 15 times in one paragraph. By this point in the story, the reader is well aware of both the power of blood and its importance to both the plot and the characters.

While Sedgwick is well-known for his young-adult fiction, this is his first foray into writing for adults, and he does an admirable job. The ending is especially impressive, and will make readers’ blood run cold.

Teri Duerr
Saturday, 07 March 2015 06:03
Crazy Love You
Robin Agnew

This book is a real knockout. At first I was so creeped out, I had to keep setting it aside, but as I got to the middle, I couldn’t stop. It’s hard to describe the plot without giving away Lisa Unger’s big twist, but I’ll give it a go.

This is the story of Ian and Priss, two very troubled souls. In the present, Ian is a successful graphic novelist, but in the past he was a miserable, bullied fat boy—and that’s the name of his graphic alter ego: Fatboy. Priss is Ian’s savior, as well as his eventual burden. Both of them live in a small town called the Hollows.

As Unger goes back and forth between Ian’s boyhood and his present, we discover the defining moment of his childhood: his mother, in a bout of postpartum depression, killed his baby sister. Ian had known enough to run away, but he’s scarred by what’s happened, and his family becomes a sad, dysfunctional shell. Ian begins to eat his problems, and only finds solace with pencil and paper.

After his sister’s death, Priss finds Ian in the woods behind his house. He feels that Priss is the only one on his side, even though she seems to be behind a series of terrible events that everyone in town thinks are his fault. He can’t explain himself or her to anyone. All that’s certain is that he’s the town pariah and his grief-stricken father is trying to pick up the pieces and keep Ian out of trouble.

Eventually, Ian of course grows up, goes to art school, moves to Manhattan, and becomes a successful artist. Priss is still a part of his life. She and Ian sleep together, use drugs together, and remain really, really bad for each other.

Ian also meets sweet Megan, a nanny, and they fall in love—much to Priss’ displeasure. When Ian tries to break from Priss, everything in his life gets worse in every possible way.

Crazy Love You is a haunting story of possession, addiction, and anger—all of them, for Ian, intertwined. For him, and unfortunately for Megan, all roads lead back to The Hollows. As a narrator, Ian is somewhat unreliable— or is he? Unger’s tricky psychological twists will keep you guessing until the last chapter. This is a compelling read that will not only scare you, but will keep you thinking after you finish the last page. Well done.

Teri Duerr
Saturday, 07 March 2015 06:03
Werewolf Cop
Sheila M. Merritt

In Andrew Klavan’s novel Werewolf Cop, Zach Adams and Martin Goulart are agents for Homeland Security’s Extraordinary Crimes Division based in New York City. Former Texan Zach, known as “The Cowboy,” is a family man with a devout Christian wife. Divorced and proudly politically incorrect, Goulart embodies his nickname of “Broadway Joe.” The duo complement one another despite their personality differences, and work in harmony solving cases that baffle others—until Goulart id suspected of leaking confidential information to their target, the international criminal mastermind Dominic Abend.

Zach is anguished by adulterous guilt stemming from a secret quickie, but is soon plagued by a bigger problem: While investigating a lead on Abend in Germany, he is attacked by a werewolf. From there, things get really hairy. The attack in Germany and Zach’s subsequent lupine transformations are graphic and chilling.

Klavan’s characters are finely etched, lending verisimilitude to the supernatural elements of the story. The narrative’s women are particularly intriguing: Zach’s wife Grace personifies strength of purpose, and his boss, Rebecca Abraham-Hartwell, is a properly tenacious director of Extraordinary Crimes. Even his fling, Margo Heatherton, wielding wild ultimatums while attempting to ensnare him, is a smart sociopath.

Incorporated throughout the yarn is philosophical rumination on the nature of sin, imparting a murky gravitas to the plot. That, and a denouement in which there is too much metaphysical conjecturing, detract from the book’s strengths.

Teri Duerr
Saturday, 07 March 2015 06:03
Shadow of the Raven
Eileen Brady

Historical accuracy is what we’ve come to expect from author Tessa Harris, and she delivers in this fifth installment of the Dr. Thomas Silkstone series. Set in late 18th-century England, Shadow of the Raven begins with the murder of Jeffrey Turgoose, a well-respected land surveyor. The American Dr. Silkstone, an anatomist, is asked by Turgoose’s good friend Sir Theodisius, to perform the autopsy. Have the people of the village of Brandwick taken revenge for the proposed fencing in of the surrounding woods which threatens their livelihoods, or is there a different motive?

As an outsider, Dr. Silkstone moves freely between the peasants and the gentry, ministering to both. He is familiar with the area, because his lost love, Lady Lydia Farrell, inherited the neighboring estate of Boughton, now run by Sir Montagu Malthus. His search for and subsequent meeting with her in the infamous Bedlam Hospital for the insane sheds light on a tragic fact of life of this era that I never knew: many sane women ended up institutionalized, committed by husbands or relatives.

For a small sum, doctors would declare a woman insane. Once locked up, she could be stripped of her wealth and property, and basically left to rot—a fact taken advantage of by Montagu. Cast-off mistresses, barren wives, and forgotten aristocrats mix with self-proclaimed witches and the mentally ill inmates. The heroine Lady Lydia is shackled, and regularly bled and purged until she is barely recognizable. By the time Thomas finds her, it is almost too late.

Of all the characters, Dr. Thomas Silkstone is particularly sympathetic, along with Lady Lydia and the warring peasants who are nicely drawn. As a villain, Sir Montagu has few redeeming qualities. Did he win this round? The cliffhanger ending will make you wonder.

Teri Duerr
Saturday, 07 March 2015 06:03
The Pocket Wife
Sharon Magee

Once in a while a book comes along that puts the reader so intimately in the protagonist’s head that they feel they are that character. Such is the case with Susan Crawford’s psychological thriller The Pocket Wife. Dana Catrell suffers from manic depression so severe she feels desperately close to the edge. The murder of her neighbor, Celia, just may have pushed her over. Dana, who was the last person to see her alive, only remembers a drunken screaming match. She can’t quite remember what happened, but believes she might have been so angry that she bashed her friend over the head with a vase.

Adding to Dana’s troubled state is her husband, who locks himself in the bathroom to hold whispered conversations on the phone. Dana is sure he’s having an affair, maybe even with Celia or a mystery woman Dana calls “The Tart.” Enter Jack Moss, the homicide detective assigned to Celia’s murder case. He’s suffering his own demons: a divorce and a recent separation, estrangement from one son, and the death of his other who was killed in Afghanistan. And he’s being badgered to close the case by an ambitious assistant district attorney, Lenora White, who has her sights on success and a promotion.

As pressures around Dana mount, she increasingly loses track of what is reality and what is not. She only knows she must figure out if she murdered Celia. And if not—then who did?

First-time novelist Crawford has the ability to put you inside the minds of her complex and fascinating characters, especially the manic Dana. Beautifully plotted with several didn’t-see-thatcoming twists, she keeps readers guessing until the breathtaking reveal.

Teri Duerr
Saturday, 07 March 2015 06:03
Things Half in Shadow
Sheila M. Merritt

Things Half in Shadow is set in the Philadelphia of 1869, where the specter of the Civil War remains a haunting presence. Many who have lost loved ones in the war seek solace in Spiritualism and the belief that loved ones can communicate from the afterlife. Crime reporter Edward Clark is a war veteran dispatched by his editor to expose the fraudulent mediums who prey on those in mourning.

When Clark attends a séance where a highly esteemed medium is murdered, he and his fellow guest, a stunning and conniving faux Spiritualist named Lucy Collins, become suspects in the locked-room mystery. The pair join forces to find the killer and clear their names. Clark is alternately entranced and exasperated by the cunning and manipulative Collins, who is a stark contrast to Violet Willoughby, his lovely and sweet fiancée.

Revelations about Clark’s own mysterious past connect to more than one murder in Things Half in Shadow. It’s revealed that Clark has adopted a new identity to mask a scandalous tragedy that occurred in his childhood, and author Finn adroitly ties those plot threads together.

Finn also does a superlative job in richly evoking the period, and peppering the narrative with historical figures such as the American photographer Matthew Brady and entertainment entrepreneur P.T. Barnum. Ultimately though, the characters who most enrich this highly entertaining novel are the complex and fascinating Edward Clark and Lucy Collins. Fortunately, Finn has them poised to return in the sequel.

Teri Duerr
Sunday, 08 March 2015 07:03
The Witch Hunter’s Tale
Robin Agnew

I’ve now read all three of Sam Thomas’ books about Bridget Hodgson, a midwife in York, England, in the 1640s at the height of the English Civil War. Wars make for good drama, with many things in flux, and such is the case with Thomas’ latest mystery, his best to date, in which his narrative skills keep pace with his knowledge as a historian.

This novel finds the city in an uproar over the hunting down, prosecution, and hanging of witches blamed for spreading a deathly illness. While today we would think of these persecuted women as harmless, dispossessed, probably friendless and old, in the 1640s witchcraft was no joke. One of the things Thomas absolutely excels at is giving his characters opinions that seem like views people of the time would have had. Here, Bridget’s belief in witches is absolute, while her midwifery assistant Martha (who appeared on Bridget’s doorstep in the first novel and has become an increasingly important character) is much more of a skeptic.

As any faithful reader of mysteries knows, it’s this yin and yang that makes for a strong pairing and dynamic storytelling, and Bridget and Martha are no exception to the rule. Their struggle to understand each other (outside the birthing chamber) often revolves around Martha’s willingness to bend rules or custom when it is expedient, and Bridget’s hewing to the letter of the law.

As the persecution of witches continues, Bridget’s family comes under attack and her nephew Will is placed in danger. Bridget has lost her naturally born children and her husband to death, but she’s found healing and family with Will, Martha, and the adoption of little Elizabeth. Bridget’s behind-the-scenes scheming to save Will finds her pairing up with old enemies and frenemies, and taking (sometimes illegal) measures to save the ones she loves.

Thomas is a bit of a ruthless author, however, and none of his characters are ever really safe. His ruthlessness is a quality possessed by only the very best writers—it makes for an exciting, unpredictable story. This one puts the upheaval and heartbreak of Bridget and Martha’s life in Puritan England at its center. Along the way you’ll learn a bit about 17th century midwifery and the persecution of witches, but you’ll come away from this book remembering the vivid characters and story. Sam Thomas is definitely a new historical author to keep an eye on.

Teri Duerr
Sunday, 08 March 2015 08:03
Cuba Straits
R. T. Davis

Following in the impressive wake of 21 previous Doc Ford novels, the latest thriller from Randy Wayne White features the irrepressible marine biologist leaving the safety of his South Florida home on Sanibel Island, traveling to nearby Cuba (ostensibly searching for endangered turtles but actually looking for something powerful and dangerous), and cooking up another not-to-bemissed adventure.

Here are some of the ingredients for Ford’s recipe for excitement and danger: begin with a Latin American revolutionary who seems to be involved in smuggling Cuban baseball players into the United States; add a somewhat insane and over-the-hill Cuban baseball player with a prison record; mix in a psychotic and very dangerous Russian intelligence agent; throw in a Santeria priest who happens also to be overly fond of small girls; and, of course, include Ford’s stoner buddy Tomlinson, who cannot resist the temptation to look for Cuban buried treasure (machine guns and Harley-Davidson motorcycles).

You may be thinking, what more could a reader want? But wait a moment, because there are a few more ingredients to consider: two Cuban children adrift in the waters south of Key West, a briefcase full of decades-old love letters from the Castro brothers to a mysterious woman, and (just to spice things up a bit further) evidence that Cuba had some involvement in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Finally, there is this: given recent news about the possible changes to American- Cuban relations—which is a marketer’s dream for the release of White’s latest novel—readers will have all the more reason to enjoy the intriguing settings, colorful characters, and eye-opening geopolitical dramas. When you mix everything together, you have a ready-to-serve and highly recommended first-class adventure. Enjoy!

Teri Duerr
Sunday, 08 March 2015 08:03
The Beige Man
Jordan Foster

Even with our worst winter storms, it’s rare that Americans in the lower 48 states experience the kind of bone-chilling cold that Swedes contend with every winter. It’s nearly Christmas in Göteborg and Detective Inspector Irene Huss and her colleagues in the Violent Crimes Unit are ready for a break. While no case involving the loss of life is easy, their latest investigation at least seems straightforward, albeit tragic: two young men steal a car off a crowded street, hit a pedestrian while attempting to evade police, and then torch the car before abandoning it in the woods.

Of course, nothing is ever simple in a crime novel. Not only is the hit-and-run victim a retired cop, Torleif Sandberg (known around the station as “Muesli” for his healthy eating habits), but when officers search the area around the abandoned car, they discover the body of a murdered girl. The investigation soon balloons into a multiple-task-force inquiry that stretches beyond car theft and vehicular homicide into the dark and dangerous world of human trafficking, where young girls, often from Eastern Europe, are bought and sold as sex slaves. Tursten underscores that the trafficking business is second only to narcotics—to which it is often closely linked—in yearly profits. Huss’ investigation takes her from frigid Sweden to the warmer climes of the Spanish island Tenerife—though the sunnier weather doesn’t make the sale of girls for sex (or worse, as she soon discovers) any more palatable.

In this excellent seventh entry in the series (originally published in Sweden in 2007), Tursten paints a compelling, flawed, and empathetic heroine who’s also very appealing. DI Huss is the kind of cop that we’d all want investigating our case.

Teri Duerr
Sunday, 08 March 2015 08:03
The Honest Folk of Guadeloupe
Betty Webb

In this intriguing novel set in 1990 on a collection of French islands in the Caribbean, the title phrase is used with considerable irony. Times are hard for the islanders (Indian, black, Creole, English, French), because to climb their way out of tin-roof-shack poverty they have to be either liars, thieves, or involved in the tourist trade.

When the body of a beautiful French tourist is found near a popular beach, everyone—especially government officials—goes into full cover-up mode. One of the only people interested in an honest solution to the crime is judge Anne Marie Laveaud. Under the French system of justice, the judge serves as an investigator, much like a US police detective, only with considerably more politics involved. Orders from on high cut short Laveaud’s previous investigation of politician Rudolphe Dugan’s presumed suicide, and now, facing obstacles from all quarters on both investigations, the judge must decide what is more important to her—her daughter, her career, or her pursuit of justice.

The Honest Folk of Guadeloupe is a fascinating book, partially because most of its characters are the opposite of honest. Even Laveaud, who was born in Algiers and raised in Paris, has secrets she must sometimes make compromises in order to keep.

The book serves as a nice respite from the US legal thriller genre by giving us a peek into the French legal system in the Caribbean. American readers unfamiliar with the Napoleonic Code will be intrigued by the serpentine pathways Laveaud must maneuver in order to achieve an honest verdict, a system that was set up by Napoleon himself to bring justice to the poor as well as the wealthy. That was the plan, anyway.

But, as rendered here, the Guadeloupe of 1990 is no egalitarian paradise. Although the islands that make up the French colonies may be lush and blessed with pristine beaches, they are a racial, cultural, and political quagmire only the brave and nimble-footed can successfully navigate. Fortunately for the hurting souls seeking her help, Anne Marie Laveaud is up to the task.

Teri Duerr
Sunday, 08 March 2015 08:03

williamshonestfolkofguadeloupeA fascinating look at the French legal system and the judge who navigates it in this novel set in the Caribbean

The Chessmen
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

When a small plane with the remains of a long-dead and apparently murdered pilot bobs to the surface of a loch in the Scottish Hebrides after a “bog burst,” ex-Detective Inspector Fin Macleod becomes an active participant in an investigation that’s full of twists, turns, and surprises. Although only recently returned to his native soil and hired as a security officer by a local landowner, Fin was a good friend of the pilot in their youth and knows many of the people on the island, most of whom remember the 20-year-old mystery of the missing plane.

Fin’s good friend, Whistler Macaskill, reacts very strangely when they inspect the wreckage together, and the mystery deepens. Before all is said and done, another murder occurs, and another whodunit needs to be investigated.

This intriguing story alternates between the present, the past, and the distant past, skillfully introducing all of the characters and motives that will play an integral part in the solution of the mysteries. It is powerfully written, both in the descriptions of the barren landscape and the complicated and constantly changing relationships of the primary people involved.

My only criticism of the book is that it wasn’t immediately clear from chapter to chapter whether we were in the past or the present, and I was a bit thrown when the story switched from third-person narrative to first person, and then back again. However, don’t let that deter you. The final chapters are both intriguing and moving.

Teri Duerr
Sunday, 08 March 2015 08:03
Little Black Lies
Vanessa Orr

If you liked the movie The Sixth Sense, you will like Little Black Lies, which has a worthy twist at the end. Zoe Goldman is a psychiatrist haunted by childhood memories of a fire that killed her birth mother—or at least that’s how she remembers it. But when she meets a new patient, a sociopath who killed her own mother, it triggers new memories of the fire which raise questions about what really happened.

The reader joins Zoe in her quest to unlock her past, sharing in her frustration when hypnotic regression fails to help or questions posed to the mother who raised her—who is now suffering from dementia—go unanswered. The fact that Zoe is on a number of medications also adds to the confusion, as the reader can’t always be sure that Zoe’s perceptions are accurate. Her brain is, as she says, “on spin cycle.”

This is a very fast-paced book, and Sandra Block does an excellent job of pulling the reader along with Zoe as she tries to get to the heart of what happened. Block is a master of description and uses Zoe’s perceptions to introduce the reader to her world, detailing Zoe’s psychiatrist’s office (it resembles the “inside of a yacht”) or her mother’s care home (a “huge Victorian tearoom…with happy mauve peasants playing flutes and toiling in the fields”). Zoe is also self-deprecating and funny, which adds a welcome note of levity to a story about madness and murder. The surrounding characters are also well-drawn, from her brother Scotty to the other medical residents to Sophia, Zoe’s enigmatic new patient.

I was surprised to learn that this was Block’s first novel, as it is quite an impressive debut. The story kept me hooked. I’m looking forward to seeing more from this new talent.

Teri Duerr
Sunday, 08 March 2015 08:03
Teri Duerr
Sunday, 08 March 2015 09:03
The First Wife
Sharon Magee

Erica Spindler began her literary life as a romance writer and it’s evident in The First Wife. While classified as suspense, it could more correctly be called romantic suspense—heavy on the romance.

Bailey Browne has always dreamed of being swept away by a knight in shining armor. While vacationing in the Grand Cayman Islands, she meets Logan Abbott, the dark and brooding owner of a Louisiana horse farm, sleeps with him within hours of their meeting, and marries him within days.

When he whisks her away to what she anticipates will be an idyllic life, she finds it anything but. Logan’s first wife, True, disappeared a few years back, something he’d neglected to mention. When confronted, he claims she was having an affair and left him; others, including Sheriff Billy Ray Williams, believe he killed her. Williams, who was obsessed with True, is on a mission to prove Logan’s guilt and to pin the disappearance of several other young women on him as well. Locals whisper to Bailey that she may be in danger of becoming Logan’s next victim.

After Bailey is knocked unconscious in a riding accident, she is unable to remember anything about what happened. But the family’s retainer is dead and she is covered in his blood. Bailey knows she must regain her memory to learn the truth about her husband and how the retainer’s murder fits into the puzzle of the missing women.

Spindler, a New York Times bestselling author with 30 published novels, has a way of keeping the reader guessing right to the end. Readers who like their mysteries peppered with a healthy dose of romance will find this the perfect book.

Teri Duerr
Sunday, 08 March 2015 09:03
Before He Finds Her
Jordan Foster

Sometimes family secrets are best left buried. Eighteen-year-old Melanie Denison knows this better than most. For the past decade and a half, she’s lived a secluded life in a tiny West Virginia town with her aunt and uncle, unable to enjoy any of the luxuries most teenagers take for granted. She can’t travel, use the Internet, or even apply to college, all because, 15 years ago, her father, Ramsey Miller, murdered his wife and, as far as everyone else knows, his three-year-old daughter, Meg (now known as Melanie).

Tired of living on such a short leash under the constant threat of her father’s return, Melanie decides not only to come out of hiding, but to solve her mother’s murder. Michael Kardos ably shifts back and forth between Melanie’s present-day investigation and the days and weeks leading up to Ramsey Miller’s crime. Melanie is a particularly clumsy amateur detective, given her extremely sheltered upbringing (seemingly without the presence of any crime television staples like Law & Order).

The deteriorating relationship between Ramsey and his wife, Allie, as well as his series of dead-end jobs, is a surprisingly more compelling story line than Melanie’s quest to uncover her past—even though Kardos does introduce several satisfying plot twists in the latter story line that will throw readers for a loop.

Each of the characters, in their own way, spends the narrative clinging to an idea on which their entire life is built, only to discover—often in the most painful, heartrending ways imaginable—that this thing they’re holding on to so tightly is actually a lie. It takes only takes one tiny shift, one bit of new information, for Melanie’s whole world to come crashing down.

Teri Duerr
Sunday, 08 March 2015 10:03