Monday, 08 May 2023

Brian Klingborg The Magistrate

"My hope as with all the Inspector Lu books is that it informs readers, as well as entertains them."


The third book in the Inspector Lu Fei series, The Magistrate, is about bad people doing bad things. Which, if you think about it, is an apt description of every other crime novel. But as with the first two books in the series, my goal in writing The Magistrate was to shed light on bad behavior that is intrinsically linked to its setting—China.

The plot of The Magistrate concerns a group of corrupt politicians who are being targeted by a shadowy figure who calls himself the Magistrate. Inspector Lu Fei gets involved when he comes to suspect his own investigation into the sex trafficking of young women from North Korea is somehow connected to this group of crooks and their anonymous tormentor.

Certainly, political corruption is not unique to China. But it seems like every other week another Chinese government official is on trial for taking bribes. By the Chinese Communist Party’s own accounting, more than one million officials have been punished for corruption since the country’s paramount leader, Xi Jinping, initiated an anti-corruption campaign a decade ago.

Imagine that—one million officials.

That number encompasses bureaucrats from the lowest levels of local government all the way up to members of the country’s top leadership. The Chinese have a pithy nickname for this wide-ranging group of scofflaws: “Tigers and Flies.”

Some might say corruption is baked into the clay of Chinese politics. In premodern times, local government was run by officials who were responsible for taxation, law enforcement, regional security, and maintaining social order. These officials were understaffed and underfunded and given their monopoly on power and their need to carry out their duties with limited resources, it was perhaps inevitable that corruption was widespread.

After the Communist Revolution, the government was reportedly very successful in reducing corruption (although that is up for debate). But following the market reforms in the late 1970s, officials (still grossly underpaid) seemed to take Deng Xiaoping at his word when he declared “to get rich is glorious.” And in the new go-go economy, there were lots of opportunities for under the table shenanigans—bribes for greasing bureaucratic wheels, property and land development deals, redistribution of state-owned assets—the list goes on.

And while Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign has stuck terror into the heart of many a dirty politician, critics say his goal is less about cleaning house—and more about getting rid of any potential rivals to power.

All of this is part of The Magistrate’s setting. But there is another, even more disturbing plotline, and that has to do with the sex trafficking of women who defect from North Korea, only to find themselves coerced into prostitution or forced marriage. These unfortunate girls and women really have nowhere to turn, because if they go to the Chinese authorities, they will be deported back to North Korea where chances are they will be sent to prison camps.

Of course, The Magistrate isn’t all doom and gloom. But my hope as with all the Inspector Lu books is that it informs readers, as well as entertains them.

Brian Klingborg has both a B.A. (University of California, Davis) and an M.A. (Harvard) in East Asian Studies and spent years living and working in Asia. He currently works in early childhood educational publishing and lives in New York City. Klingborg is the author of two nonfiction books on Shaolin kung fu; Kill Devil Falls; and the Lu Fei China mystery series (Thief of Souls and Wild Prey.)

China, Sex, and Politics in "The Magistrate"
Brian Klingborg
Saturday, 06 May 2023


Colleen Cambridge

Colleen Cambridge, the mystery pen name of Colleen Gleason, brings readers a new series this spring, beginning with Mastering the Art of French Murder. In it we meet Tabitha Knight, an American in postwar Paris who just happens to find herself neighbor to a talented Le Cordon Bleu student named... Julia Child. The two expats hit it off, bonding over their love of the City of Lights and all things delicious. But when a woman is found murdered in Julia's apartment building—stabbed with Julia's chef knife—Tabitha's journey of discovery becomes one to uncover a murderer and clear her new friend's name from the top of Inspector Merveille's suspect list.

Cambridge, a self-proclaimed foodie, is a woman of many interests. She's also the author of the historical Phyllida Bright series set in Agatha Christie's former home at Mallowan Hall; the author of several supernatural-tinged series, including Wicks Hollow, Stoker & Holmes, and New Vegas Chronicles (written as Colleen Gleason); and the thriller series Lincoln's White House Mysteries and Marina Alexander Adventures (written as C.M. Gleason). You can even find an earlier murder mystery set in Paris, Murder on the Champs-Élysées (2016), from her written as Alex Mandon.

Reading her latest culinary mystery is surely to leave you feeling hungry, so be sure to keep Cambridge's recipe for French Crepes Suzette as part of Mystery Scene's Recipes & Reading at the ready once you close those covers.

Robin Agnew for Mystery Scene: I love this time period, just post war. I would call it liminal, because it’s not wartime, but it’s not quite back to normal, either. What attracted you to this time and place?

Colleen Cambridge: Well, it was the time that Julia Child was in Paris, just learning to, the time chose me rather than me choosing the time. I already knew I was going to be doing a book with Julia Child in it when she was in Paris. It is a really interesting and beautiful time…Paris reawakening.

Have you always been a Julia Child fan?

I’m a foodie and a cook, and while I’ve always loved Julia Child because of those reasons, I didn’t know all that much about her when I started researching this book. But what I found out about her simply blew me away. She truly is a national treasure.

Mastering the Art of French Murder

Did you test out the cooking from Mastering the Art of French Murder, say, mayonnaise or cakes or roasted chicken? (I actually took notes when you wrote about the chicken. One way or another Julia still has plenty to teach all of us.)

I certainly did some of the cooking—I’ve made her omelettes and roasted a chicken. I haven’t attempted the Queen of Sheba Cake yet, but I definitely want to. I’ve made some of her fish dishes as well (I don’t eat meat), but most of what I’ve learned from her are general nuggets about what to buy and when, and how to prepare certain foods like mushrooms and scrambled eggs.

Were you “forced” to go to Paris for research? You really seem to have captured the feel of the city.

Sadly, no! I began working on this book when COVID was still a concern, and so I haven’t managed a trip there since I started this series. However, I’ve been to Paris twice before, so at least I had a taste of the city. I cannot wait to go back, and am looking at a possible trip this fall.

I loved Tabitha’s Grand-père and Oncle Rafe—so sweet and what a great family for her. How did you come up with her grandfather and uncle?

Honestly, I don’t know. They just dropped into my head. I knew I wanted Tabitha to be half-French because I didn’t want the language barrier, and because it gave her a reason to befriend Julia. And I needed a reason for her to be able to go to Paris and live there for an extended period of time. And then all at once, Grand-père and Oncle Rafe just simply were there. It was a serendipity.

I always respect the way you tell your stories, adhering to some of the classic rules of Golden Age detective novels: fair clues, red herrings, wrap up by the detective at the end, etc. Are those books an influence on your work?

Most definitely. I’ve been influenced by the Golden Age writers. They’re classics and a tradition for a reason. I think we see the denouement scenes all the time on the big and small screens, as well as in books, because they work—they clear up all the questions in a concise way. As Adrian Monk would say, “Here’s what happened…”

As for red herrings and clues, I definitely do my best to pepper them throughout the story, just as Dame Agatha did!

One of my favorite scenes in the book was when Tabitha describes the relighting of Paris and Eiffel Tower lights coming back on after a long, dark wartime. How did you research this bit of the book? It’s a small scene but so memorable.

I have several books that were written by Americans living in Paris right around that time—Julia Child’s My Life in France for one—and so I spent a lot of time reading and rereading those books to get a feel for the city. I honestly can’t remember which book I read it in, but I’ve got a memoir by Stanley Krakow and another one by Janet Flanner, and still other nonfiction books simply about that time. Lots of little details in those books just stuck in my head.

Colleen Cambridge's French Crepes Suzette

Get Cambridge's French Crepes Suzette Recipes and Reading here.

Can you talk about creating Tabitha's character a bit? She’s in a liminal space herself, figuring out her life going forward. Do you have a long character arc in mind for her?

I do have a basic idea where Tabitha is going with her life and her character arc. She’s certainly not ready to follow the “normal” woman’s path in 1950…. And the fun thing is, neither was Julia Child. One of the reasons Julia began taking cooking lessons was because she didn’t want to "just" be the wife of a diplomat (not that she didn’t enjoy elements of that). She and Tabitha are friends partly because they have this in common—and they talk about it a little more in A Murder Most French, the follow-up coming May 2024.

Tabitha is a wonderful (in my mind anyway) mixture of tomboy, engineer, and fashion-conscious young lady. And I love the fact that she carries both a Swiss Army knife and a tube of lipstick. The fact that she grew up (as I did) devouring mystery novels makes her the perfect person to get involved in these investigations—even if Inspecteur Merveille doesn’t agree.

What’s your favorite thing about sitting down to write every day? Least favorite?

I’m a voracious reader, always have been, and writing for me is like reading the very best book ever because I don’t plot things out ahead of time, so I’m almost reading the book as I’m writing it. And since I’m writing it, it’s got all of the things I enjoy in a book (no matter which book I’m writing). So I’m basically channeling the book as if I were a reader. That’s simplifying things, but you get the idea.

What I don’t like is when I’m stuck. And it happens, even though I’ve written over 40 full-length novels. When I’m stuck, it feels like a slog, and the scenes moooove everrrrr soooo slooooooooowly. But eventually I come out of it and off I go.

I also love learning about so many different and interesting things that go with my research—which is a reason I adore writing historical mysteries. The research is always such a pleasure, and often filled with interesting and delightful nuggets.

And what’s next for you, another American in Paris book?

Yes! But first, the third Phyllida Bright Mystery, Murder by Invitation Only, will be released at the end of August. Phyllida Bright is Agatha Christie’s housekeeper who keeps encountering dead bodies in 1930s Devon, and Murder by Invitation Only is a little bit of an homage to Christie’s A Murder Is Announced.

The second in Tabitha's series, An American in Paris Mystery, A Murder Most French, will be out a year from now—May 2024.

Colleen Gleason (aka Colleen Cambridge, C.M. Gleason, and Alex Mandon) is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling and award-winning author working in multiple genres from romance to steampunk, supernatural to traditional mystery. Whatever the genre, her stories feature strong heroines experiencing fast-paced adventures, danger, mystery, and of course, romance. But at the core of each story is the belief that every woman deserves a partner who accepts her for her strengths as well as her weaknesses—and vice versa. Cambridge lives in the Midwest United States with her family and two dogs, and is always working on her next book.

Robin AgnewRobin Agnew is a longtime Mystery Scene contributor and was the owner of Aunt Agatha's bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for 26 years. No longer a brick and mortar store, Aunt Agatha has an extensive used book collection is available at and the site is home to more of Robin's writing.

Colleen Cambridge et le meurte
Robin Agnew
Wednesday, 03 May 2023

For fans of YA adventure, Tyndale House has five book recommendations for readers, including a brand new series from D. J. Williams, debuting with Hunt for Eden's Star.

DJ Williams Hunt for Eden's StarHunt for Eden’s Star
(Beacon Hill Series, Book 1)
by D. J. Williams

From Hollywood producer and author D. J. Williams comes a globally inspired YA debut filled with compelling characters and adventure. Jack, a coming-of-age teen is thrown into a world of ancient secrets when he discovers a supernatural artifact that protects a weapon of mass destruction. With the help of a diverse group of friends, he embarks on a global adventure, seeking the truth about his sister’s death and uncovering two clandestine, supernatural societies waging an epic, hidden war that threatens the future of civilization along the way. As Jack races to collect ancient artifacts critical to the survival of the world, readers are transported to locales across Asia, from the lush jungles of the Philippines to the high-energy streets of Hong Kong. Themes of addiction, revenge, faith, and friendship emerge as Jack battles literal and psychological demons—and even his own friends and family—on his quest to thwart the forces of evil.


Matt Mikalatos The Crescent StoneThe Crescent Stone
(The Sunlit Lands Series, Book 1)
by Matt Mikalatos

Kirkus Reviews calls Matt Mikalatos' series a must-read for "Narnia fans who enjoy heavy snark" Meet Madeline Oliver, a girl living with a fatal lung disease. When a mysterious stranger named Hanali appears to Madeline and offers to heal her in exchange for one year of service to his people, Madeline's adventure begins. Her journey leads her to cross paths with Jason Wu, a boy who hides a guilty secret behind his jokester facade. Together, the two are swept into a strange land where they don’t know the rules and where their decisions carry consequences that reach further than they could ever guess. Fans of this series should also be on the lookout for the series bundle coming this summer.


Bryan Davis Raising DragonsRaising Dragons
(Dragons in Our Midst Series, Book 1)
by Brian Davis

Outcasts Billy and Bonnie find themselves drawn together by their shared dragon heritage: he breathes fire; she has wings. Their newly formed friendship is quickly tested, however, when they are forced to fight a malevolent slayer who wields a powerful, medieval weapon and is intent on exterminating their dragon kind forever. Soon they their lives turned upside down as they are thrust into a war to preserve an ancient secret legacy in Raising Dragons, a hair-raising, modern-day Arthurian adventure from author Bryan Davis that offers a glimpse into another world filled with knights, dragons, and fair maidens fighting to destroy evil.


Jess Corban A Gentle TyrannyA Gentle Tyranny
(Nedé Rising Series, Book 1)
by Jess Corban

What if women unraveled the evils of patriarchy? With men safely “gentled” in a worldwide Liberation, the matriarchy of Nedé has risen from the ashes. Seventeen-year-old Reina Pierce has never given a thought to the Brutes of old. Itching to escape her mother’s finca and keeping her training for the Alexia and her forbidden friendship a secret, her greatest worry is which Destiny she’ll choose on her next birthday. But when she’s selected as a candidate for the Succession instead, competing to become Nedé’s ninth Matriarch, she discovers their Eden has come at a cost she’s not sure she’s willing to pay. Jess Corban’s first novel of the Nedé Rising duology presents a new twist to the dystopian genre, delivering heart-pounding action, thought-provoking revelations, and a setting as lush as the jungles of Central America.


Jonathan Starrett The ArchitectThe Architect
(The Architect Series, Book 1)
by Jonathan Starrett

There’s a golden rule in Phantom City: “No one about when the Zeppelin is out.” But one night, 12-year-old Charlie Crane comes face-to-face with the Zeppelin, and instead of finding trouble, she is awakened. Determined to find the truth in a city plagued with lies, Charlie, along with a quirky band of unlikely heroes, works to free the people of Phantom City from the clutches of a shadowy villain. Helped by a mysterious Architect who only communicates over radio and telephone, Charlie wrestles with two big questions: Can she trust a guide she can’t see? And is the truth actually worth the trouble? Filled with sinister schemes, bumbling superheroes, unexpected friendships, and plenty of humor and plot twists, Jonathan Starrett's The Architect keeps readers on the edge of their seats.

Kick Off Adventure With 5 YA Series
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