Dead Heat
Hank Wagner

Dead Heat, by Allison Brennan, finds fledgling FBI agent Lucy Kincaid participating in a roundup of criminals with outstanding warrants. Lucy’s role in the operation expands when her unit discovers that one of the offenders has been using young boys as drug couriers, housing them in the basement of his sister’s home. Charged with finding one of the boys who has intimate knowledge of the operation, Lucy is targeted by the drug traffickers. It takes all her skill and wits, plus the intervention of her lover, security expert Sean Rogan, and members of her actual and extended family, simply to stay alive long enough to bring the cartel down.

Dead Heat is interesting both as a standalone novel and as an addition to Allison Brennan’s larger fictional universe—new readers can enjoy the book as a one-off, while longtime fans can savor this latest glimpse into the lives of the Kincaids. Lucy’s tragic history continues to inform, but not dominate, her ongoing story, as she refines her skills and attempts to navigate the dangerous and complex world she has chosen to inhabit. Brennan’s writing remains crisp, clear, and compelling.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-22 02:20:41
Military Book Fair Honors Soldiers

kava alex
If you are in the San Diego area on Nov. 8, here is an interesting event. The Military Book Fair aboard the USS Midway will include an array of authors who will be on hand to discuss their works, meet the public, and sign books.

Mystery authors scheduled to appear include Catherine Coulter, James Rollins, Grant Blackwood, Jan Burke, Alex Kava, at left, Allison Brennan, Ted Bell, T. Jefferson Parker, and others.

The fair will be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Nov. 8, at the USS Midway Museum in downtown San Diego.

Events will include panel discussions with authors and military veterans.

Organizers say that proceeds are earmarked for select Veteran Service Organizations (Congressionally chartered non-profits) including the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Fleet Reserve Assoc., and the Marine Corps League as well as non-profit veteran support groups including Veterans Village of San Diego (National Coalition for Homeless Veterans), Reboot (veterans transition services), United Service Organizations (USO), Authors United for Veterans, and others.

The non-profit organization US4Warriors runs this event.

Author projects honoring the military are ongoing.

For several years, the International Thriller Writers has worked with the USO/Armed Forces Entertainment to bring some of our top crime fiction writers to soldiers and military families. At various stops, the authors will discuss their works, talk with the soldiers, and families if around, and hand out copies of their books.

Last year, this USO tour included stops in Kuwait, Germany, the USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir in Virginia, and Walter Reed Bethesda National Military Medical Center.

Photo: Alex Kava

Oline Cogdill
2014-10-22 02:42:36
99 Times Out of 100
James W. Hall

james w hallThe filming of his novel Mystic River made Dennis Lehane that Hollywood rarity—a happy writer. But 99 times out of 100, our author reveals, events take a very different turn...

James W. Hall


When Dennis Lehane got the call from Clint, his fairy tale began. Major stars assembled, an excellent script evolved, Eastwood held it all together with calm and inspiration, and Mystic River went from the inky page to the glittering screen in a magical transformation that every writer fantasizes about. Oscar night and the whole megillah. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred it doesn’t happen that way. Not even close. Here’s one story from that other 99.

Ten years ago, my third novel Bones of Coral was optioned by a well-known producer. It was the third time that had happened for me, so I was both thrilled and wary. Already working on a good case of cynicism about Hollywood, I had joined the school of writers who rush that option check to the bank, hope it clears, and then sit back to wait and see how badly things screw up from there.

MGM signed on to make the movie and I was hired to write the script. So far so good. I’d already had this dubious honor before with my first novel, Under Cover of Daylight, and knew full well that my script-writing abilities were meager. Transforming 400 pages of carefully crafted prose into a hundred pages of mostly blank space was not exactly my idea of a good time. So I invited my friend and fellow thriller writer Les Standiford to help in that project. Les had done a stint at AFI (American Film Institute) in Hollywood and had a good handle on the script form. The two of us were summoned to Hollywood to meet with the producer and the studio executives, or the “development people” as they are called.

In Hollywood parlance, we “took a meeting.” A phrase that fittingly echoes “took a bullet.” We sat in a room with four young, smart, casually dressed folks whose only knowledge of Bones of Coral was the three page summary they’d read. But such flimsy familiarity with the story line didn’t deter them from making major suggestions about how it should be reshaped for film.

Get rid of Dougie Barnes was their first order. But wait. Dougie Barnes is the bad guy, a colorful wacko who has no pain threshold and no empathy for his victims and is fond of spouting rhyming couplets as he does his gruesome work. A kind of Rain Man with a .357. Without a bad guy, what do you have? But they were clear. Dougie Barnes had to go.

Later, upon reflection, I’ve assigned this Hollywood tendency a label. I call it “The Brad Pitt Effect.” It works like this: In order to get a major star involved in a film project, you have to assure the star that he’ll have the juiciest lines, the meatiest part. That he’ll outshine all the other characters and his adoring fans will adore him all the more. Unfortunately in Bones of Coral my bad guy, Dougie Barnes, had the best lines. Either he had to go, or be transformed into a character so bland he wouldn’t threaten Brad.

They made other major suggestions in that initial meeting, then pronounced it finished. Les and I staggered out in a daze. They’d optioned my novel, then for some reason decided they wanted us to create a brand new story. New characters, new actions, just the barest connection with the original.

We wrote the script, trying to do as we were told but somehow stay faithful to the story, too. When we turned in the finished product we were promptly fired. “Too close to the novel,” the MGM representative said. Huh?

I wondered what it was exactly that drew them to the story in the first place if they wanted me to write a completely different one for the screen.

Just so it’s clear, here’s a quickie summary of the three main threads of Bones of Coral. A young man who hasn’t seen his father in 30 years finds him murdered and sets out to discover who did it, and what his father has been doing during all those missing years. In the course of the story, the son accomplishes both of those things and in the process is reconciled to the abusive deserter that he thought his father was. Another thread goes like this: There is an unnaturally high incidence of multiple sclerosis in Key West. That same young man investigates possible causes of that high disease rate and finds links between it and a military testing program in which innocent civilian populations were used as unwitting experimental subjects. And finally, a young woman suffering from multiple sclerosis joins forces with our hero to discover the possible environmental triggers for her disease.

The new writer that MGM hired wrote a script that everyone at the studio loved. They wound up hiring a director, Hugh Hudson, who had won an Oscar for Chariots of Fire. Back in Florida as I heard each new move that MGM was making, I dropped my guard a little. Oh, my god, this is going to work. They’ve got a script, they’ve got a big-time director. They’re looking for major stars.

Alas, after spending a few million dollars on the project, the development people finally showed the script to Alan Ladd Jr., who was then the head of the studio. He promptly put the movie in “turnaround.” Turnaround is the Hollywood term for “graveyard.” Ladd’s comment was this: “It’s not the same story I remember buying.” Oh, really?

Turns out that Alan Ladd liked the one thread in the story that somehow got left out of the script. The plot line that focused on a son coming to peace with his father’s abusive behavior. It just so happens that this story had a close connection with Alan Ladd’s relationship with his own father. Whether he knew this consciously or not, I don’t know, but clearly on some level he wanted to make a movie that told his own story. The other two threads, the woman who fights bravely against her multiple sclerosis and the devious military testing that may have compromised the health of unsuspecting civilians appealed to the producer and the director for personal reasons as well. The producer had a sister with MS and the director believed the American military was deeply corrupt and wanted to make a movie that put forward that view.

So, as I discovered, all the principals were attracted to the project because it gave each of them a chance to tell a story they felt a personal connection with. But because they left out the boss’s story, the whole project was put on the shelf where it remains to this day. Didn’t anybody think to ask him, ‘Hey, Alan, which of these story lines do you like the best?”

Now when the movie people call, my heart still skips a beat. But it settles down a little more quickly than it used to and I find myself observing with detached amusement just how this latest Hollywood misadventure will play out.

Mystic River is that one out of a hundred. But as a veteran of the other 99 percent, I can say with some certainty that watching how a bunch of smart, creative, well-heeled people screw up is also first-rate entertainment.


James W. Hall’s latest novel is the Thorn mystery Going Dark.


This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Winter Issue #88.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-22 02:52:35

james w hallThe filming of his novel Mystic River made Dennis Lehane that Hollywood rarity—a happy writer. But 99 times out of 100, our author reveals, events take a very different turn...

Tell Me You’re Sorry
Hank Wagner

The authorities don’t figure greatly in Kevin O’Brien’s latest spine-tingler, Tell Me You’re Sorry. In fact, they are oblivious to the connection between several murders with similar fact patterns, because they take place in different locales. Here, a killer enters the lives of several widowers shortly after they are bereaved. After methodically draining them of their wealth, she mercilessly strikes them, and their families, down. It falls to the sister of one victim and the son of another to team up to discover what is actually occurring. Reminiscent of such classics as Cornell Woolrich’s The Bride Wore Black, and even Peter Straub’s Ghost Story, Tell Me You’re Sorry is effective and terrifying.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-23 05:29:43
Suffer the Children
Hank Wagner

Although other novels deal with nightmarish scenarios, none come close to exploring the level of horror one experiences in reading Suffer the Children. Here, Craig DiLouie posits a nasty malady which strikes down the world’s children. Three days later, even as many of the children are being buried in the mass graves dictated by circumstances, the dead begin to stir. Despair turns to joy as families are reunited, but that joy quickly dissipates when it is discovered that the newly risen require human blood to thrive. It’s truly a no-win, nightmare scenario, as parents have to decide just how far they will go to nurture their children, who grow more alien with each passing day. DiLouie’s latest evokes numerous and varied emotions, making it a true “novel of sensation,” as the earliest thrillers were apt to be described.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-23 05:34:06
Lawyers in Your Living Room!: Law on Television
Jon L. Breen

Though I missed this item when it first came out, it’s not too late to recommend it to my fellow legal mystery buffs. Following forewords by actors Sam Waterston and James Woods, far more substantial than most such signed by celebrities, UCLA law professor emeritus Michael Asimow and his contributors cover English-language legal-themed TV series exhaustively. The earliest show mentioned is On Trial, introduced as a discussion show in 1948 and revived as a dramatic anthology series in 1956 per Elayne Rapping’s excellent introduction. Even semi-reality daytime shows like Judge Judy are covered. Survey chapters discuss legal programs in France, Spain, Germany, and Brazil, all touching on the misunderstanding viewers get about their own legal systems from extensive exposure to American and British imports.

After a group of topical articles—the roles of writers and legal consultants, effects of TV trials on real-life jurors and public opinion, legal ethics—series old and new are discussed individually, giving air dates, main continuing cast credits, awards received, and sometimes a black-and-white still, proceeding from the pioneer models, Perry Mason and The Defenders, through L.A. Law, Law and Order, The Practice, Shark, Rumpole of the Bailey, Kavanaugh, QC, Judge John Deed, Ally McBeal, and Judging Amy, to the most recent shows as of 2009. Non-viewers will get a very good idea of the method, background, political slant, and general feel of each show, with examples of cases treated and legal issues raised. A final section examines lawyers as depicted on non-law series like Green Acres, Seinfeld, The Simpsons, and The West Wing.

The writing is readable and lively, suitable to both a lay and professional audience. The contributors are mostly law professors, with some TV professionals and other academics included. Best known to mystery buffs is Francis M. Nevins, who writes knowledgeably on Perry Mason, a character sometimes treated slightingly elsewhere in the book. According to one contributor, the legal system in the Mason series is “sterile and flawless,” the latter an odd descriptor to apply where the DA routinely brings innocent suspects to trial or preliminary hearing. Two contributors take pains to excuse what sound like serious legal or procedural boners in the short-lived girls club [sic lowercase] and Boston Legal, respectively.

Factual errors I could spot were rare, though it is not true that non-lawyer detective Columbo, mentioned in passing in the piece on Matlock, usually stumbled on the solution by accident, and the Rumpole article inaccurately implies the TV series was based on the books rather than the other way around. (Reviewed from the ebook edition.)

Teri Duerr
2014-10-23 05:42:26
The Search for Anne Perry
Jon L. Breen

In 1995, Anne Perry’s agent Meg Davis learned of an allegation that Perry, then known as Juliet Hulme, had been one of two teenage girls found guilty in 1954 of a notorious New Zealand murder. Calling her client to discuss possible legal action, Davis was told none was appropriate because the story was true. The author of this authorized biography of the Victorian mystery specialist makes an odd if understandable organizational choice. The narrative proper starts with Perry’s return to Great Britain and her establishment of a literary career, only getting around to her early life as Juliet Hulme nearly 150 pages in, then alternating, sometimes jarringly, between the two time periods. Thus Joanne Drayton could establish Perry as a sympathetic figure before getting around to the unpleasant details of the murder by teenagers Pauline Yvonne Parker and Hulme of Parker’s mother, and also prevent all the business information and somewhat excessive plot summaries of the early chapters from becoming anticlimactic as they would if addressed chronologically. The crime and the trial are eventually fully covered, and in the end, quibbles aside, the full story seems to have been told—or at least the closest to it anyone has come up to now. But the true-crime account and the professional biography of a bestselling writer often seem like two different books uncomfortably cohabitating.

The book was originally published in New Zealand in 2012. The bibliography of Perry’s works runs through that year.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-23 05:46:27
Uncommon Denominator
Hank Wagner

Karen Dionne is also a compelling writer, even when she’s playing in someone else’s sandbox, as she does gracefully in Uncommon Denominator, a prequel to the AMC series The Killing, which follows the murder investigations of Seattle homicide detectives Sarah Linden and Stephen Holder. Because this story is set before the events of Season One, the duo are not yet acquainted; while Linden is indeed working homicide, Holder is working undercover in narcotics. Eventually, their paths do cross, as the death of a meth cooker in an explosion and the execution-style killing of a man whose body is left in a shipping container are found to be connected. The book works as both a police procedural and a thriller, as Linden, Holder, and company methodically pursue justice.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-23 18:07:09
The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair
Dick Lochte

This may be, as Amazon informs us, a “publishing phenomenon...with sales of more than two million copies in Europe and rights sold in more than forty countries.” Well, it’s also one verrrrrry long novel and if it weren’t for my fondness for fiction about writers, I might have bailed after the sixth hour of the audio. That’s approximately when the third or fourth fact we’d been given about the murder of Nola Kellergan, an apparently sweet and lovely small-town 15-year-old, was proven false. By hour 17-plus, there’d been so many gimmicky turnabouts that I no longer cared who had done what to whom or why. No fault of reader Pierce Cravens. His youthful, slightly snotty voice is a fine match for the book’s narrator, Marcus Goldman, a preening, wildly successful first-novelist who introduces himself with the words “My book was the talk of the town.” In spite of his lofty bestseller status, the man his mom called Marcus the Magnificent has a problem: writer’s block. Seeking help, he hunts down his former professor and mentor, Harry Quebert, and is invited to the retiree’s digs in a New Hampshire village teeming with odd but not terribly interesting people. While there, the young writer stumbles onto the fact that, way back in 1975, his host, then in his mid-30s, had an unconsummated (he claims) affair with the aforementioned teenager. He’d loved Nola, Harry had, but he stopped seeing her because of their age difference. Nora’s response was to disappear. While Marcus is hanging out, waiting for book-two lightning to strike, the girl’s corpse is discovered and Quebert is arrested for the crime. Marcus, assisted by an affable local lawman, begins his own investigation of Nora’s demise. Discovering the real killer would be a win-win for him. He’d free his literary guru and have a subject for his second book. At this point, the novel has begun to resemble a legitimate, albeit familiar, mystery. Then, Geneva-born author Joel Dicker begins to goof on genre, playing with the chronology and interrupting it with sections of the book Marcus is writing and sections from Quebert’s decades-old bestseller The Origin of Evil. There are enough characters to populate two small towns (and several novels) and each seems to offer Marcus a piece of information that contradicts the other pieces, with a new jaw-dropping game-changer arriving every audio hour or so. I gather the novel debuted in France, which is where, I suspect, a lot of those two-million copies were sold and where it was awarded three literary prizes. Maybe it lost something in translation. Or maybe it’s that Jerry Lewis thing the French have.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-23 18:25:55
Dick Lochte

For some reason, the jewel box for Rex Kusler’s novel about Las Vegas private eyes Jim Snow and Alice James claims the audio is a little over four hours long. It’s actually closer to seven hours of a serviceable, B-movie-ish yarn in which the likable, romantically involved sleuths are hired by Cassie Lane, a voluptuous casino slot technician, to look into the murder of her former lover, a successful horseplayer named Billy Ryan. Their investigation is complicated by the fact that, shortly after Ryan’s death, his murderer, behind the wheel of his stolen car, struck and killed a pregnant teen in a hit-and-run. Reader Patrick Lawlor has a sincere, energetic delivery that complements this kind of plot-rich material, carrying the story past some elements (most notably, a character with a three-way split personality) that might otherwise not merely stretch credibility but snap it like a dry twig.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-23 20:56:15
Nothing Is Impossible
Bill Crider

I can’t think of a more perfect title for a collection of Ed Hoch’s stories about Dr. Sam Hawthorne than Nothing Is Impossible. The title applies as well to the author as it does to the stories. While it would be impossible for just about anyone else, Hoch had a story in every issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine for 34 consecutive years. I can’t see the future, but I doubt this record will be broken. Dr. Sam Hawthorne was one of many series characters created by Hoch, and when it comes to crimes that appear to be impossible to commit and impossible to solve Dr. Hawthorne is the go-to man. Nothing is too tricky for him, not even the one in the “The Problem of the Crying Room,” in which a man is apparently shot with a pistol, currently in the possession of the police, formerly owned by another man who confessed to the crime and committed suicide the day before the deed took place. One of the interesting features of the Dr. Hawthorne stories is that they take place in chronological order and are set firmly in a historical context, beginning with the first one set in 1922 and continuing through the final one set in 1944. This is the third collection of the stories (the subtitle is Further Problems of Dr. Sam Hawthorne), and it contains 15 of them, covering early 1932 to late 1936. Hoch’s death in 2008 brought an end to the series, but there are enough of them for several further collections. Janet Hutchings, editor of EQMM, provides an insightful introduction, and there’s a checklist of all the Dr. Hawthorne stories at the end of the volume.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-23 21:10:48
Small Plates
Bill Crider

A number of the stories in Small Plates, by Agatha-winner Katherine Hall Page, feature Faith Fairchild, caterer and minister’s wife, so you won’t be surprised to learn that recipes are included. It’s the stories that really matter, however, and since I like a good ghost story, I enjoyed “The Ghost of Winthrop.” There’s also a hidden will, always a good plot device. Faith doesn’t appear in “The Would- Be Widower,” a story that proves you should be careful what you wish for. The longest story in the book is the final one, “The Two Marys,” which also lacks Faith, but not faith. It’s a quite satisfying Christmas story that reads well any time of the year.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-23 21:14:34
Hoosier Hoops and Hijinks
Bill Crider

Hoosier Hoops and Hijinks, edited by Brenda Stewart and Tony Perona, is a themed anthology from the Speed City Indiana Sisters in Crime. Every story is about basketball in one way or another, and the stories are interspersed with bits of Hoosier basketball biography and history. Terence Faherty’s “The Big Slowdown” has the unnamed Hoosier eye making some clever deductions. Editor Stewart’s “Redemption” is about what can happen after a bad blunder in the Big Game. Diana Catt’s “The Art of the Game” is about art, all right, and a stalker, too. In Tony Perona’s “Snowplowed” a state senator’s past comes calling. There are 14 other good sports stories here, too, along with an introduction from Hank Phillippi Ryan.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-23 21:18:12
Dead Man’s Hand
Bill Crider

John Joseph Adams, editor of Dead Man’s Hand, presents 24 stories of the Weird West, many of them crime-related. Walter Jon Williams’ “The Golden Age” has the origin stories of some steampunk superheroes and supervillains at the time of the California gold rush. The Reverend Mercer, Joe Lansdale’s itinerant preacher, takes on a vampire in “The Red-Headed Dead.” Christie Yant’s “Dead Man’s Hand” jumbles the cards and the time streams. One of my favorite fantasy stories is Robert Bloch’s “The Hell-Bound Train,” and Mike Resnick pays it homage in “The Hell-Bound Stagecoach.” Beth Reavis’ “The Man with No Heart” takes its title literally. This anthology is a lot of fun if you’re looking for something out of the ordinary.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-23 21:34:27
The Lizard’s Ardent Uniform
Bill Crider

The award for the strangest title goes to The Lizard’s Ardent Uniform, edited by David Cranmer, who explains the book’s origin and purpose in his introduction. The stories are a mixture of crime, noir, and the “new weird.” Terrie Farley Moran’s excellent dark crime story, “Dust to Dust,” is reason enough to buy the book, but all the other stories are fine and strange.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-23 21:49:01
The Empire of Night
Annie Weissman

This is the third Christopher Marlowe Cobb thriller written by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Robert Olen Butler. Cobb is a former American journalist working for the Secret Service during World War I in 1915 London. He is assigned a cover as an American journalist who is sympathetic to the German cause, and tasked with discrediting Sir Albert Stockman, an English nobleman who is secretly working for the Germans. Cobb’s mother, Isabel Cobb, a renowned actress, is also working undercover. She is appearing in Hamlet in both London and Berlin, but her other job is to insinuate herself with Sir Albert. Unfortunately for Cobb, she falls in love with her target, further complicating the operation.

Cobb finds assistance in Jeremy, a British agent of German origin, and his assignment takes him on a journey through WWI Europe featuring period espionage tactics, cameos from figures like Albert Einstein, and an authentically rendered historical setting. The last quarter of the book keeps the reader on edge with satisfying plot twists as Cobb and fellow agents try to foil Sir Albert’s diabolical plan.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-23 22:08:08
A Tribute to Robert Barnard

malliet gm
I’ve always thought that dedicating a book to someone is such a wonderful thing to do. So many dedicate those pages to their spouses, parents, children, even agents and publishers.

Some, of course, dedicate to longtime fans or use the dedication as an auction item to raise money for charity.

So I was curious why G.M. Malliet, left, dedicates her latest novel A Demon Summer to the late, great Robert Barnard, at right.

And here is what she has to say:

“Robert Barnard introduced me to the wry, literate, beautifully written, and laugh-out-loud-funny mystery novel. I started reading him in my 20s or early 30s and I own all of his books. I will keep them no matter what, although the paperbacks are rather falling apart,” says Malliet.

“He is the only author I would always order from the UK in hardback (he tended to be published there first, and I could not wait for the US edition to come out). I had to read whatever he was writing as soon as I could get my hands on it. There is no author I've ever felt that way about and I doubt I will again,” says Malliet. Mystery Scene featured Malliet in the 2010 Winter issue.

“His later books became dark: I don't mean violent, exactly, but the themes were just dark and rather depressing. Convoluted family situations, is what I recall. It was the earlier books I fell in love with. Death of an Old Goat, of course—his first. Blood Brotherhood—set in a monastery and hysterically funny about religious types. Political Suicide—a complete romp, a skewering of politicians, which is easy to do but so difficult to do well.

“He took on the working class and the high and mighty, making no distinctions. I say he skewered types, especially petty tyrants, but there was just a wry humor and intelligence at work that was never mean-spirited.

“Anything I know about comic timing and sentence structure and the use of the English language and the slow buildup to the punch line I feel I owe to my reading and rereading of Robert Barnard. His plotting was excellent, too—I don't think I ever guessed who dunnit. But he was a lifelong Agatha Christie fan and it showed. I would also recommend highly to Agatha fans his bio of her: A Talent to Deceive,” adds Malliet.

barnard robert
Through the years, Malliet met Barnard a few times, mainly at the Malice Domestic conferences where “he could be found in the smoking area, so I would seek him out there. I was just in awe of him and gushed a lot, I'm afraid. Don’t ask me to recall what was said. It took all my courage to talk to him,” she says.

Malliet also remembers being seated at the same table as Barnard and wife, Louise, during a St. Hilda's conference where he was a main speaker. “But it was a large table for eight or ten people and the person he really spoke with was my husband who sat right next to him. Darn it! But that is how the seating fell out. I pumped my husband for details later and all I recall now is that Bob Barnard had a lovely pension by this time from his years teaching in Norway and was happily settled near Leeds. Still writing books, of course. I remember also that at this conference was an American woman, a big mystery fan, who I think told me she had showed up on his doorstep one day just to say ‘hi.’ I found that disturbing but I gather he wasn't bothered,” says Malliet.

And finally there was her fan letter to him.

“This was probably the second fan letter I've ever written in my life (the first was to P.D. James) but I started to realize Barnard would not be with us forever and I wanted him to know how much pleasure his books had given me over the years. . . . Sure enough, he wrote back on a postcard picturing heather on Haworth Moor. The card came from the Bronte Parsonage Museum, a cause to which he and his wife were devoted. This card in its enclosing envelope has remained on my bulletin board ever since, there to inspire me. It was stamped by the Royal Mail in Leeds with a date of 24.02.11 and on it he writes: “I am suffering all the ills of 70-plus, but I have another book of short stories coming out.” He goes on to talk about A Mansion and Its Murder coming out in the UK after some delay caused by a change of publisher,” she remembers.

Such memories and inspiration would be, of course, cause for a dedication.

Oline Cogdill
2014-10-25 20:30:38
The Stone Wife
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

A new Chief Superintendent Peter Diamond mystery is always a cause for celebration. This is the 13th, and I’ve read them all at least once. Whether you’re a true fan or a newcomer, you’ll love this latest entry.

During an art auction, the high bidder for a newly unearthed stone sculpture of Chaucer’s “Wife of Bath” is shot and killed while trying to prevent three masked gunmen from making off with the piece. Was the shooting an unplanned homicide by incompetent thieves, or was it a cleverly planned assassination disguised as a heist? With very little to go on to identify the gunmen, Diamond and his staff are forced to look at all aspects of the victim’s life, as well as the history of the Stone Wife.

What makes the Peter Diamond books so popular? The plots are complex, but not complicated. The characters are believable and not caricatures. The relationships between Diamond and his team are true to life—sometimes funny, sometimes contentious, but never forced. While most mysteries of this length (over 350 pages) include several murders and several investigations that somehow connect at the end, The Stone Wife makes do, most entertainingly, with one murder and several members of the team coming at the investigation from different angles.

Peter Lovesey has written 26 highly praised mysteries and is the recipient of the CWA Gold and Silver Daggers and the Diamond Dagger for Lifetime Achievement, in addition to many US honors.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-28 14:46:44
Murder at Brightwell
Robin Agnew

Set in 1932, this frothy historical tale succeeds more completely as a relationship fable than as a mystery. The opening sentence “It is an impossibly great trial to be married to a man one loves and hates in equal proportions” sets the tone for the entire novel.

The setup for the story is quite traditional: lovely Amory Ames, married to the rakish Milo (referred to in the first sentence), has been pondering the wisdom of her five-year marriage when her old suitor Gil turns up, asking a favor. His sister Emmaline is on the verge of what he feels will be a disastrous marriage, and he wants Amory to accompany him to Brightwell, a seaside hotel, to try and talk her out of the match.

Amory, frustrated by her husband’s own unannounced comings and goings and his wide reputation as a ladies man, scandalously agrees to go with Gil. When they arrive at the Brightwell, there are many nudge-nudge-wink-wink responses to the unmarried travellers. Inevitably, Emmaline’s dastardly fiancé is murdered, and Gil becomes the main suspect. Gil’s devastated sister won’t leave her room and Amory feels she must do what she can to clear her old flame’s name. Complicating matters is the surprising arrival of Milo, who has suddenly become very attentive to Amory.

The Brightwell’s vacationing group presents the reader with a wide array of suspects for the crime, and the seaside hotel is a perfect, secluded location.

To me, that’s all backdrop to the really interesting dilemma that Amory finds herself in romantically: Is it the steady, virtuous (and perhaps murderous) Gil who is the right man? Or is it the gorgeous, peripatetic Milo whom Amory belongs with? She feels she can trust neither, and the author is expert in keeping you guessing.

When a second murder occurs, the plot thickens. By the time I got to the end, I was as invested in the outcome of the killer’s identity as in which man Amory would ultimately choose. This is a pleasant, light, and surprisingly thoughtful read.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-28 14:56:05
Murder on the Ile Sordou
Sheila M. Merritt

In Murder on the Ile Sordou, M. L. Longworth employs the roman policier style of Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret books, while also tipping her hat to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None with an isolated island setting.

Examining Magistrate Antoine Verlaque goes to Sordou, near Marseille, for some rest and recreation with his significant other, law professor Marine Bonnet. They stay at the sumptuous Locanda Sordou, newly reopened after many decades. The resort boasts magnificent Mediterranean terrain and an up-and-coming chef in its kitchen. When a murder ensues, Verlaque’s vacation turns into a busman’s holiday.

In addition to Verlaque and Bonnet, the others staying at Locanda Sordou are Bonnet’s best friend Sylvie, an American husband and wife, a faded actor and his spouse and stepson, a moody teacher-poet, and a quarreling Parisian couple. The psyches of the vacationers are brilliantly delineated by Longworth, as is the superbly described hotel personnel. When it appears that the killer is likely a guest or a staff member, Verlaque is faced with a bit of soul searching—the sojourn has created camaraderie among the hotel inhabitants; the victim was the sole exception.

M. L. Longworth takes her time getting to the mystery in Murder on the Ile Sordou. This is a character-driven book, and the body isn’t discovered until almost halfway through the narrative. She lays the groundwork with a deft hand, slowly building up to the murder of the despicable victim.

The fourth novel in the Verlaque and Bonnet Provencal Mysteries is a splendid read, but requires a bit of patience. The pace saunters, but it’s a rewarding literary promenade.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-28 15:12:46
The Golden Hour
Oline H. Cogdill

International politics thrive on the “golden hour” principle: political trauma caused by a coup can be reversed if action is taken swiftly and professionally. But the key is the first 100 hours.

Author Todd Moss, a former diplomat, uses this principle for an exciting, multilayered look at international politics and the people who rule nations in his debut The Golden Hour.

Diplomat Judd Ryker’s belief in the golden hour is put to the test when he is named director of the new State Department Crisis Reaction Unit a few hours after a coup erupts in the West African country of Mali. Ryker knows the area well—he was a member of a team that evaluated water management in Kidal in northern Mali—but the former Amherst professor isn’t as prepared for the local attitudes that stymie his efforts to improve the situation. Various groups, countries, and even US agencies have their own agendas for the country, and Ryker finds that his office is a convenient scapegoat for others’ plans. It’s a landscape where enemies become friends, friends morph into enemies, and violence erupts quickly.

In The Golden Hour, Moss juggles complex political issues in an energetic plot inspired by the very real August 2008 coup in Mauritania in northwestern Africa. As Deputy Assistant Secretary of State at the time, Moss was sent by then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to negotiate with the junta leader, and he uses his experiences to deliver a credible international thriller that never succumbs to cynicism, even when showing how peace and co-existence can seemingly be impossible concepts to some. The result is a story where amoral characters mix with those trying to make a difference, although in international politics the difference between the two isn’t always clear.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-28 15:20:01
The Ploughmen
Eileen Brady

John Gload is an old man in his seventies, a former farmer who still bends down to sift the soil through his fingers. He is also a dispassionate killer. Author Kim Zupan, in his debut novel The Ploughmen, has created an intriguing plot based on the relationship between Gload, now a prisoner, and Valentine “Val” Millimaki, a young deputy in the Montana Copper County sheriff’s department. There are plenty of murders in this psychological crime story, but it’s no mystery who committed them even if the evidence is thin. Gload is understandably proud of his killing and disposal techniques, which over the years has left very little for coroners to identify.

The sheriff has reassigned Val to the night shift at the jail, in the hopes Val can get Gload to talk and possibly confess to some unsolved murders before his trial. What happens is a whole lot of something else. Not friendship, but a comfortable camaraderie grows between these two dissimilar, but complementary souls.

Val’s life is falling apart. His wife has moved out, Gload hasn’t confessed to anything, and all his search and rescue jobs for the last 13 months have ended badly. No live rescues, just bodies have been found. Only his three-year-old shepherd dog Tom provides the deputy a measure of comfort.

Periodically you have to wade through adjective-loaded prose, but if you stick with it, the writing evens out and rewards you with exquisite phrases like tracking “hieroglyphics of mice and squirrels” in the snow. Readers will feel the pull of the vast state of Montana and the area around the Missouri River Breaks as described through the eyes of Gload and Val.

If you’re looking for something unusual, The Ploughmen might be it. Val is a pleasant character to spend time with, and Gload, well, just be glad he’s fictional.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-28 16:11:04
Vanessa Orr

You is an incredible achievement for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that author Zoran Drvenkar manages to make the reader identify and sympathize with no less than 13 different characters, including a notorious criminal and a serial killer. The novel, which is written almost entirely in the second person, puts the reader in the minds of each character as the story unfolds—including one character who is sharing his perspective from the hereafter.

I was mesmerized by this tale of five very close-knit teenage girls who became the targets of one of Berlin’s most hardened underworld crime bosses. Drvenkar’s insight into the minds of girls this age is spot-on, from their concerns about boys to their looks to their love/hate relationship with each other.

While on its face the story may seem like a struggle between good and evil, being able to actually become each character and see the world through his or her eyes makes it quite clear that no one here is one-dimensional. The girls aren’t angels; the killers aren’t simply evil. There is ugliness from all sides, as well as occasional moments of exquisite beauty. This dichotomy kept me furiously turning pages. You know that all of the characters are on a collision course and you know that it can’t end well.

I plan to get Drvenkar’s first book, Sorry, to see more of this very formidable talent at work. I also want to read You again to appreciate the nuances of each character, since I sped through it so quickly the first time following the action. I highly recommend that you give it a read as well.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-28 16:18:02
Night of the Jaguar
Vanessa Orr

Night of the Jaguar, a debut novel by Joe Gannon, takes place in Nicaragua in the mid-1980s, a time and place with which Gannon is intimately familiar from his work as a freelance journalist during the Sandinista Revolution. Gannon paints a vivid picture of a country barely recovering from one conflict—the overthrow of General Somoza’s dictatorship—while descending into another as the Contras try to wrest power from the new Sandinista government. Chaos rules, and everyone, from the CIA-backed Contras to a US political delegation to Nicaragua’s own State Security, has their own agendas.

Ajax Montoya, a hero of the Sandinista revolution, is now a police captain after a fall from grace. Only six days sober, he is trying to solve a murder while suffering from delusions—neither he nor the reader knows whether his visions and paranoia are based in reality or are the result of too much alcohol and war-related stress. Gannon does a very good job of letting the reader feel the pressure-cooker atmosphere in which Montoya lives. In this shifting political climate, it’s almost impossible to tell where anyone’s loyalties lie, making Montoya question the motives of everyone around him. And the constant, unrelenting weight of feeling like one is always being watched at home and on the job is enough to make any person question his sanity.

The story starts off with a bloody confrontation, and bodies continue to pile up as Montoya does his best to try to solve a murder in a country where murder is routine. It’s a tough, violent place, and this bleakness overshadows the entire novel. While absolutely true to the time and place, this ugliness made it difficult for me to get through the book—the action pulls you along, but often to places you don’t want to go. A brief tryst with an American is really the only light in Montoya’s life—though I should add that, as far as sex scenes go, the couple’s pillow talk was more than a little awkward.

I would recommend this book for readers who like war stories and politically charged intrigue, though it left me depressed. War is hell—and so is life in a country where war never ends.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-28 16:36:40
Never Mind Miss Fox
Betty Web

Although not a big book at a slim 249 pages, Olivia Glazebrook’s second novel (after The Trouble With Alice) packs a big literary wallop. Written in short scenes, in different points of view, and with a plethora of time jumps forward and backward, Never Mind Miss Fox begins like a coming-of-age novel, then suddenly dumps the reader into the present reality of a dangerous marital crisis. This gorgeously crafted novel also ignores the widely accepted belief that a protagonist must be “likable” by giving us an antihero in Clive, a successful London barrister.

Just before his marriage, Clive did something dastardly while on a family vacation in France, and now his cruel past is catching up with him. There’s a lot of angry self-righteousness in Clive’s curiously insensitive heart, and when the secret of his crime emerges, he blames just about everyone around him. His circle of blame includes his parents, his wife Martha, his young daughter Eliza, even longtime family friend Miss Fox, who although she knows what Clive did, kept mum about it. In fact, the only person Clive doesn’t blame for his long-ago crime is himself. This makes Clive a bit of a sociopath, possibly even a psychopath, but instead of turning readers off, his attempts at self-defense when confronted with his seedy past become ever more fascinating as the book progresses.

This is where Glazebrook’s brilliance as a writer truly shines. In the chapters written in Clive’s voice, we see him trying to downplay the impact his crime has had on his family’s life. In the chapters written in Martha’s voice, we discover that she, too, has been carrying around a guilty secret. But it is the chapters written in little Eliza’s voice that reveal the heart of this sorrowful domestic drama. Although Eliza’s exact age is never given, her voice ranges from the whiny I-want-my-mommy stage, to the rebellious preteen who’s convinced she’s smarter than everyone.

It is Martha who finally gives voice to the book’s hardest truth, though, when she attempts to clean out a memory-filled attic and reflects: “Nothing could ever be got rid of. Even if something were carted away for trash it would still exist somewhere, buried in a hole or shredded into bits.” Wisdom to remember in a book to savor.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-28 16:41:16