Dead Line
Vanessa Orr

Daniel Trent is a specialist in kidnap and ransom negotiation. But when his fiancée, Aimée, is kidnapped, he finds himself facing the very nightmare that he’s coached numerous families through. His ordeal is made even more difficult when the prime suspect in Aimée’s disappearance, Jérôme Moreau, is kidnapped right in front of him, forcing Trent to reluctantly negotiate for Moreau’s return before he can get answers about his missing girlfriend.

Chris Ewan, author of five Good Thief titles and the standalone thriller Safe House, takes the reader on a terrifying journey into the underground world of European kidnappers. As a negotiator, Trent is all too familiar with what can go wrong, including, in this case, working with a family who may not want the victim back.

Ewan does a very good job of developing the characters, especially Trent, whom you can feel falling apart even as he tries to present a semblance of self-possession. Other well-drawn characters include Moreau’s manipulative trophy wife and pleasure-seeking son.

Trent’s paranoia is contagious, and the reader begins to wonder, just like Trent, who can be trusted when large sums of money are involved. The fact that he is on a deadline to find Moreau, and then Aimée, before they can be harmed, adds tension to the story and it kept me flipping pages late into the night. The story is skillfully plotted and, at times, shockingly violent, which is expected considering the subject matter. And while the reader can hope that the negotiation will end happily, Ewan makes it clear that this is not always the case. Even as my curiosity about Aimée’s fate drove me on, I almost dreaded coming to the end of the story. It’s a hard book to put down, and due to a surprise twist in the last few pages, even more difficult to forget once it’s finished.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-21 04:35:13
A Colder War
Sheila M. Merritt

In A Colder War, Charles Cumming explores the not-always-congenial alliance between Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) and their American “cousins” in the CIA. Cumming depicts the agencies as rivals jockeying for power and glory, even while working in tandem with one another.

A joint effort involving an Iranian military defector goes horribly awry when the defector is blown up in full view of the British and American agents assigned to his transfer. Another recently turned asset, an Iranian nuclear scientist, is assassinated. Then, a senior MI6 spy dies suspiciously in a private plane crash. British Intelligence begins an investigation into the crash and the ties it may have to the other deaths.

Enter Thomas Kell, a disgraced SIS agent. Years ago, Kell was part of an ignominious rendition conducted at the behest of the CIA, for which he took the brunt of the blame. Amelia Levene, the first female chief of MI6, brings him back into action. Kell once helped Amelia out of a career threatening situation and gained her trust. His reward now is the chance to redeem himself. A major hurdle, however, to Tom’s success is Amelia herself. She withholds key information from Kell during the mission, and he resents it.

It becomes evident that a mole is entrenched either in the British or American intelligence agencies, and the agent killed in the airplane crash gets scrutinized as a possible assisting apostate. Kell follows the traitor’s trail into Turkey, England, and the Ukraine. The settings are beautifully realized and a palpable sense of atmosphere in each place is conveyed. In some locales fatalities occur as collateral damage or premeditated murders. During his inquiry, Tom also falls for the extremely attractive daughter of the deceased M16 agent, but in true spy tradition, it’s a romance burdened by mutual distrust.

Cumming spins a sublime web of deceit. The intricacies of intrigue are brilliantly depicted in A Colder War, the sequel to A Foreign Country, which introduced Thomas Kell and won a 2012 CWA Ian Fleming Steel Dagger. A Colder War is an even better book, and surely one of the best spy novels of the year.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-21 04:38:21
Brainquake
Kevin Burton Smith

The late Samuel Fuller, journalist, war hero, and the acclaimed filmmaker who gave us Pickup on Noon Street, Shock Corridor, The Big Red One, et al., was not a subtle director. Hell, he was about as pugnacious and in-your-face as a director could be, with his stark, confrontational camera shots, and often bruising subject matter.

So it should come as no surprise that he wasn’t a subtle novelist, either: this book opens with a baby shooting his father in the face. Brainquake, written in the early ’90s during the last years of the author’s life while in he was in self-imposed exile in France, is finally published in English, and shows no lack of two-fisted fire.

Paul Page is the quiet man who suffers from what he calls brainquakes, debilitating blackouts that he has no control over. A loner by choice, circumstance, and temperament, he lives in a dumpy little waterfront shack “down in the Battery” on the edge of Manhattan, and only ventures out to work his job as a trusted bagman for the mob. Possessed of a bland, emotionless mug that gives nothing away, it’s hard to pin him down, but his simple life seems to suit him. He does his job. He writes poetry.

And then the poor sap falls in love...with a young mother whom he spies on regularly as she walks her baby in the park. But all is not as it seems. The young mother is a moll, with a quick eye for the main chance, and when the father of her baby is murdered in a spectacularly convoluted fashion, Paul and she are thrown together. At first she’s not interested, but then...

This isn’t so much a finely etched noir as it is pure, unadulterated pulp, full of a raw, rough energy. Fuller writes like he directs, with thick, almost cartoonish strokes, peopling this potboiler with broad-shouldered cops, killer priests, battered French Resistance fighters, damaged children, treacherous femme fatales, lovers on the run, and a bag of stolen money. Plus, of course, plenty of violence, both in New York and Paris, where everyone ends up. And caught up in the middle of it all is Paul, a dead-faced patsy whose wobbly mental health seems to be slipping away.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-21 04:42:41
Hold the Dark
M. Schlecht

In William Giraldi’s 2011 debut, Busy Monsters, a verbose magazine columnist relayed some tall tales from the search for his fiancée, who had run off on a quest to find the giant squid, in the company, naturally, of a virile squid hunter. Giraldi’s latest also stars a writer, and also features a strange mission to find an elusive animal. Nature essayist turned reluctant wolf hunter Russell Core is summoned to an Alaskan village by a grieving mother who asks for help in tracking down a killer wolf believed to have attacked her child. Despite being an outsider whom few will talk to, he is soon bearing witness to the village’s secrets.

From its ominous beginning, it’s clear that, unlike Busy Monsters, there will be no silliness to brighten the dim, spare pages of Hold the Dark. In fact the quiet menace of the fable-like opening pages is eventually blasted apart by Cormac McCarthy-esque levels of violence, brutality, and despair. Police from the nearest town get involved when it becomes clear that a wolf was not responsible for the child’s murder, and they are forced to deal with the boy’s father, Vernon Slone, just home on military leave. Slone leaves a trail of destruction when he learns the news. As for Core, he remains in Alaska, questioning his role in the investigation and but feeling drawn to a sort of ecstatic truth hiding in the wilderness.

It turns out, that truth is cold and hard. Readers looking for transcendence in this Alaskan tragedy will find little reward. But it’s not all existential atmospherics as the plot winds down to a life-or-death showdown for Core on the tundra. Giraldi is an ambitious writer still unpacking his tools, and this journey north toward the heart of darkness showcases his formidable command of character and setting.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-21 04:49:13
Half in Love With Artful Death
Vanessa Orr

Texas sheriff Dan Rhodes is having a busy week. In addition to vandalism at an art show hosted by the local community college, Rhodes must deal with some runaway donkeys, a robbery at a local convenience store, a naked woman in a roadside park, and a gang cooking meth.

While the crimes may be serious, watching how Rhodes deals with them is pretty entertaining. In this 21st book featuring the laid-back sheriff, there’s enough crime—and a host of characters—to keep a reader amused, even though, for a police procedural, there isn’t a lot of action. From a college math instructor who wants to be a cop, to a cranky retired track coach who has a fatal run-in with a Dale Earnhardt, Jr., statue, the quirky residents of Clearview, Texas, keep the sheriff on his toes and the reader flipping pages.

I especially liked Rhodes’ witty wife, Ivy, and the back-and-forth between them as he tries to explain the travails of his job, including getting dragged by a donkey, and needing to bring home a semi-naked woman for his wife to clothe.

While the book is lighthearted, it does touch on some more serious themes, such as domestic abuse, homophobia, and drug dealing. And while Rhodes may seem mellow for a lawman, that doesn’t mean that he isn’t serious about making people pay for their crimes.

This is a good book for those who like their mysteries relaxing and aren’t looking for action-driven drama. The sheriff always gets his man in the end—he just takes a little more time to get there.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-21 04:53:21
The Black Road
Robin Agnew

Tania Carver is the pseudonym of British couple Martyn and Linda Waites, which is appropriate as their books feature a husband and wife crime-solving team. The Black Road is book four in a series about policeman Phil Brennan and psychologist Marina Esposito. It’s a fine one to read first, however, because aside from a few references to Phil and past cases, it’s Marina’s story all the way.

This book is a straight-up, no-frills thriller. Marina and Phil’s vacation with Phil’s parents is tragically interrupted by a fire bomb that leaves Phil’s father dead, the rest of the party in the hospital, and Phil and Marina’s young daughter Josephina missing. After Marina gets a mysterious phone call telling her what to do if she ever wants to see Josephina again, Marina leaves the hospital, “borrows” a police car, and is on the lam at the mercy of her daughter’s kidnapper and his cryptic instructions.

As Marina gets closer and closer to her daughter, several strands of the story draw tighter, making the connections between The Black Road’s story lines—including one about a recently released killer working with a mysterious man named Jiminy Cricket, a disturbing pair of lovers who like to inflict pain on one another, and yet another a killer called the Golem—clearer and clearer.

Carver weaves her story with many threads, and while I thought this was a well-plotted book, I also thought it was far too long. I was ready for it to end about 100 pages before it actually did, somewhat dimming my interest in the resolution. It is too bad, as this is a good story and has some good characters and twists. I liked Marina and wanted to know more about her. It’s also a well-written book with a great sense of atmosphere and place. The author(s) leave Marina at a bit of a crossroads at the end, and I’m interested enough to perhaps discover where her new path might take her.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-21 04:58:56
Sinking Suspicions
Annie Weissman

This is the third mystery featuring Sadie Walela, a Cherokee woman in her late forties. In this outing, Sadie has sold her restaurant and decided to take over a Hawaiian travel business. She’s on a working vacation in Maui, missing her lawman boyfriend Lance, when she gets a call from back home in Oklahoma that her neighbor Buck Skinner, has gone missing. He’s a WWII marine vet who believes the IRS is going to take his land because someone is using his social security number and not paying taxes on the income earned. Buck’s only living relative, a niece in California, shows up to take control of Buck’s land with intentions to sell its water rights for a lot of money. When the man who stole Bucks identity turns up murdered, Buck is the prime suspect, and Sadie heads back home to help clear his name.

Cherokee author Sara Sue Hoklotubbe’s own viewpoint lends authenticity to the story and to her Cherokee characters. In Sinking Suspicions, she draws interesting parallels between the situation of native Hawaiians and that of the Cherokee people. The Oklahoma and Hawaiian settings are well rendered and the romantic subplot between Sadie and Lance is enjoyable. Definitely a good read.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-21 05:02:36
Dog Beach
Hank Wagner

Louie Mo has fallen on hard times since the days when he worked with the likes of Hong Kong cinema legends Jackie Chan and John Woo. These days he’s having to take on less desirable jobs, like shaking down unfortunates who are slow in paying their IOUs to a variety of bottom feeders.

His life changes in an instant while on the job, when he’s asked to put the fear of God into young, NYU-educated filmmaker Troy. When Mo confronts Troy, the young man recognizes him immediately, and begins to recite, in loving detail, the former movie stuntman’s various film credits. Seizing a once in a lifetime opportunity, Troy asks Mo to star in The Cage, to be shot from a screenplay written with Mo in mind. Seeing a chance to revive his film career, Mo enthusiastically agrees. Unfortunately, resurrecting his career also entails resurrecting the ghosts of his past, as certain parties he would rather avoid emerge from the shadows once word of his comeback hits the streets.

Reminiscent of Get Shorty and other works from the late Elmore Leonard, Dog Beach is the perfect antidote for those who desperately miss the master crime novelist—full of snappy dialogue and wild set-pieces, it even features a sexy female getaway driver who goes by the name of “Dutch.”

Immensely satisfying, always surprising, and often laugh-out-loud funny, John Fusco’s tightly plotted sophomore effort (the veteran screenwriter’s 2002 debut Paradise Salvage was shortlisted for a CWA’s Dagger for Best First Crime Novel) will most assuredly leave readers craving more.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-21 05:09:34
World of Trouble
Betty Webb

Apocalyptic trilogies have become so popular these days that many writers are banging them out with wildly varying degrees of success. But too many suffer from the “if-you-want-to-learn-what-happens-you-have-to-buy-the-next-book” syndrome, which means that none but the final book is truly satisfying. So thank heaven for Ben H. Winters, whose rare skill is to give each of his books the heft and weight of a standalone. We can pick up any one of these three masterful novels—The Last Policeman, Countdown City, and now World of Trouble—and experience a complete, and superb, read. But, oh, that wonderful series arc! To recap: In the Edgar-winning The Last Policeman, the world has just received the news that an asteroid will soon collide with the Earth, killing everyone. In reaction, most people either commit suicide or start working their way through their bucket lists. Few, including emergency workers, remain on their jobs. One of the only exceptions to this wave of deserters is Detective Hank Palace, who—while the world falls apart—continues to investigate crime. In Countdown City, as the asteroid nears Earth, little is left of civilization as we know it, but Palace soldiers on at his job, while stepping up the hunt for his vanished sister Nico. When last seen, Nico had joined a cult that believed it could stop the Doomsday collision. But now, in World of Trouble, the asteroid is mere days away, they have apparently failed, and worldwide chaos has increased. Still looking for Nico, Palace wanders through ruined cities and towns, hoping to be with his sister on the last day of the late, great planet Earth. During his search, he solves crimes, finds homes for orphans, and helps any distressed person or animal he comes across. One of the most unique aspects of The Last Policeman trilogy is its surprising sweetness, an element rare in apocalyptic fiction. That’s all down to Hank Palace. Although Palace can be tough, he is capable of great self-sacrifice. So almost as a gift to his gallant protagonist, at one point in the book author Winters lets Palace and his loyal dog Houdini catch their breath for a few days with a group of Amish who, because of their seclusion, aren’t aware of the impending apocalypse. This tender respite in Palace’s search for Nico gives him the courage to face whatever comes next—The End, or a last-minute miracle.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-21 23:39:11
Unnatural Murder
Betty Webb

Captain Josie Corsino has been with the Hollywood division of the LAPD for decades. She’s seen everything. Police procedurals sometimes focus on the “hows” of a murder investigation at the expense of the motivational “whys,” but the strength of the Corsino books is that they delve into each area. Author Dial, a 27-year veteran of the LAPD herself, has long been interested in the ways a criminal’s mind works. And like her protagonist, she is also fascinated by political snake nests. In Unnatural Murder, a group named the Police Protective League becomes involved in the case of a murdered Hollywood transvestite, and during the investigation, Corsino stumbles across a Machiavellian cover-up. When two more men—both ex-cops, both transvestites—are found dead, she suspects a close connection at the very top of the League’s political tree. The psychology of this unusual case in and of itself would be interesting enough, but paired with the psychology of the cops investigating the murders, “interesting” tips over into downright fascinating. Corsino’s trusted fellow cop, Detective “Red” Behan, brilliant but alcoholic, is on the verge of a career-ending bender. Red’s unhappy partner, Detective Ann Martin, is so paranoid about possible sexism in the ranks, she has the entire division on edge. Captain Corsino has problems, too. She’s separated from her husband, vaguely hoping for a reunion, but when her former lover is temporarily transferred to the Hollywood division to work the case, her personal life implodes. Cops are human, author Dial reminds us. Very human. The takeaway from Unnatural Murder is that despite all that messy humanity, cops really do try to do the right thing—even if the right thing will hurt them.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-21 23:48:29
Who Bombed the Train?
Betty Webb

Journalist Skeeter Hughes’ marriage is crumbling in Judith Yates Borger’s Who Bombed the Train? which begins when a terrorist attack in Minneapolis kills dozens and goes on to damage the life of the reporter covering it. Mayor Rachel Rand James, Hughes’ best friend, was one of the bombing victims, which leads many to believe the crime was political in nature. Suspicion first falls on the city’s Somali population—some of whom have been linked to Islamic extremists, but Skeeter isn’t convinced. In her time at the paper, she’s written at length about the immigrant community and knows the great majority are decent and hard-working, not America-hating terrorists. Then a tip reveals that since Minneapolis hosts the United States’ largest debit processing center, the bombing might have been a diversion to disguise the root crime—the theft of millions. Another tip points to a more personal motive. Skeeter finds herself following up several leads, each pointing to a different suspect. During all this, she has to deal with her rapidly disintegrating marriage. Her fellow-reporter husband has lost his job, and he’s taking his misery out on her. There’s a lot of material here for a slender (230 pages) book, but author Borger handles it deftly, never falling into the easy trap of presenting Skeeter as a superhero. Instead, Borger gives us an everywoman who is brave, loyal, and every bit as prone to mistakes as we are. Despite the high body count in this book, there are moments of humor, much of it delivered by two reporters nicknamed Slick and Dick. Who Bombed the Train? is a fast, satisfying read, and will gain even more fans for the gallant, if flawed, Skeeter Hughes.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-21 23:55:00
Mercy 6
Betty Webb

In David Bajo’s unusual Mercy 6, patients and staff are dropping dead from mysterious causes in Mercy 6, a large West Coast hospital. The chief suspect is an undiagnosed virus, but Dr. Anna Mendenhall—a moonlighting trauma specialist who was on duty when the first fatalities appeared—isn’t so certain. But something terrible is definitely happening, so terrible that Mendenhall understands the administration’s decision to quarantine Mercy 6. However, as more dying patients arrive in the ER, and corpses reach a critical mass in the hospital morgue, she begins to suspect that Mercy may not be ground zero of the outbreak after all. In her search for the outbreak’s true cause, she is thwarted by the security guards called in by the head of the hospital’s infectious diseases department. Because of the fear of a nationwide panic, even the hospital’s phones and Internet connection have been locked down. Up to this point, little has differentiated Mercy 6 from the standard medical thriller. But when Mendenhall orchestrates an escape from the hospital to find out what’s happening elsewhere in the city, Mercy 6 takes a hard left turn into unplumbed territory. Some medical thriller fans may cry “Foul!” when the cause of the outbreak is revealed, but more open-minded readers might cheer. Count me as the lead cheerleader, because there’s nothing I enjoy more than a surprise—and this book delivers a whopper. While Bajo’s writing style at times seems forced, especially with dialogue, he excels at ratcheting up the tension to an almost unbearable level. Mendenhall’s escape from Mercy 6 is a thrill-a-minute journey, complete with disguises, some of them improbable. And the ending is so shocking that I’m betting a large number of readers will go back to reread certain sections. I sure did.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-22 00:00:34
Basil Instinct
Lynne Maxwell

In Basil Instinct, Shelley Costa brings back Eve Angelotta, head chef of an upscale family-owned Italian restaurant. As readers of Costa’s Edgar-nominated series opener You Cannoli Die Once may recall, Eve has assumed primary responsibility for running Miracola, her grandmother’s dining establishment. Nonna still presides over the restaurant, however, and remains at the center of the action, which accelerates considerably when she is invited to join Belfiere, a secret society of female chefs. When Eve and her cousin, Landon, investigate the cultlike club, they become suspicious of its purpose, particularly when they encounter a blog post from a former member accusing the club of murdering select members by means of poison. In the process of protecting Nonna, she discovers surprising information about Belfiere. In the meantime, Eve also teaches a cooking class at a local vocational college where she meets a number of colorful students with varying degrees of talent. There is, however, one stellar student, Georgia, whom Eve hires to work at a special event at Miracola. This employment relationship is exceedingly short-lived, though, because Georgia is murdered in the process of closing the restaurant the night of the event. Who would want to kill gentle, talented Georgia, who, it turns out, had been a member of Belfiere? If the murderer isn’t a member of Belfiere, who else would want to terminate Georgia’s life? Certainly, the murderer can’t be Eve’s cousin Landon, even though he is the primary “person of interest” for the police. While the solution to the mystery is discernible because of subtle clues toward the book’s conclusion, Costa does a fine job of maintaining the suspense. If you enjoy clever plotting and witty repartee, Basil Instinct is definitely for you. Brava, Costa!

Teri Duerr
2014-10-22 02:03:03
Paw Enforcement
Lynne Maxwell

In Paw Enforcement, first in a new series, Diane Kelly deviates radically from her usual theme of death and taxes. This witty inaugural series installment introduces Megan Luz, rookie Fort Worth PD officer with a major anger management problem. Barely out of the academy, Megan has retaliated against her crude, obnoxious, sexist partner by Tasering him in an unmentionable, extremely delicate portion of his anatomy. When the police chief calls her to his office for disciplinary action, she fears for her job. While, in the end, she is not fired, she does receive an unexpected new assignment and partner—in the K-9 unit. Initially, this assignment does function as punishment, but eventually, after much trial and error, Megan and Brigit, her new canine partner, form a powerful bond, which ultimately proves to be a lifesaver on the job. While Brigit’s specialty is sniffing out contraband drugs, she also comes in handy when a serial bomber begins his attacks on Megan’s beat. As Megan takes her lunch break in the food court of the local mall, Brigit gives an alert signal, dashing over to a trash container and frantically digging for the offensive discards. Megan reacts quickly and discovers a bomb, not drugs, in the trash. Fortunately, she is able to clear the food court and prevent injury before the explosion ignites. Not only, then, does the bombing occur on her beat, but the search for the bomber becomes personal, for reasons that unfold toward the conclusion. Things get a lot worse for Megan before they get better, and she narrowly escapes with her life. Paw Enforcement is highly entertaining, especially if you enjoy irreverent humor of the Stephanie Plum variety.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-22 02:08:04
Murder With a Twist
Lynne Maxwell

Following last year’s series starter, Murder on the Rocks, this offbeat mystery also stars series protagonist Mackenzie “Mack” Dalton, owner of a Milwaukee bar. Abbott (actually, seasoned author Beth Amos) does indeed provide a clever plot twist since Mack has synesthetic psychic abilities that she can channel into solving crimes at the behest of her boyfriend, Duncan Albright, a Milwaukee police detective. Her synesthesia enables her to use of all her senses to reconstruct past scenarios. Mack is not altogether comfortable with this new career sideline, and, after handily solving a case involving murder disguised as suicide, she yearns to retreat to her business as bar owner. Duncan prevails, however, because he persuades Mack that her assistance is indispensable in identifying the murderer of a young mother and locating her kidnapped son. Mack relents, of course, and therein hangs the tale. She throws herself wholeheartedly into the search for the boy. Suffice it to say, Mack will not retire her investigative talents anytime soon. I love this series for its unique approach to crime-solving and the complexities of plot, and I hope you do, too. I’ll have another, please!

Teri Duerr
2014-10-22 02:14:31
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
Smashed
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