Eighteen
Dick Lochte

Fans of Edgar-winner Jan Burke will be happy to know that her excellent 2002 collection of short fiction, originally published in a limited trade edition, is now available in audio format.

Included among the 18 stories are: “Unharmed,” winner of both the Macavity and Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Readers Awards; “The Man in the Civil Suit,” an Agatha Award recipient; “The Abbey Ghosts,” an Edgar nominee; “Devotion,” an Agatha nominee; and “A Fine Set of Teeth,” a tale featuring Burke’s beloved series heroine Irene Kelly.

The first-mentioned, told by a would-be murderer who’s looking for a way to get rid of his overbearing housemate, is given a nice, nasty rendition by Peter Berkrot, who also narrates “The Muse,” a clever mystery-romance in which a knowledge of Hitchcock movies plays a key role, and “Devotion” a sort of sequel to the author’s Edgar-winning novel, Bones, featuring Irene Kelly’s husband, Frank, and Ben Sheridan and his cadaver dog Bingle.

The New Delhi-born, British-accented Ralph Lister handles several stiff-upper-lip historicals, “A Man of My Stature” and “An Unsuspected Condition of the Heart,” as well as “The Haunting of Carrick Hollow,” a vampire story co-written with Paul Sledzik. Among Amy McFadden’s vocal contributions are “The Mouse,” a non-mystery that nonetheless does feature a unique funeral, the witty “White Trash,” in which an imaginative homeowner finds a way to take care of next-door neighbors from hell, and the previously mentioned Irene story.

As satisfactory as McFadden’s rendition of “Teeth” is, it’s a pity we’re not given the opportunity of hearing the audio version mentioned in Edward D. Hoch’s introduction. Burke read that one herself, backed by her musician husband, Tim.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-14 21:02:21

burke eighteen audioThe author's excellent 2002 collection of short fiction, originally published in a limited trade edition, is now available in audio format.

Review: Wedding Planner Mystery Based on Deborah Donnelly Series

wedding1 hallmark
Lately, there has been an abundance of movie riches for mystery fans.

The Drop, based on Dennis Lehane’s work, A Walk Among the Tombstones, based on Lawrence Block’s novel, and Gone Girl, based on Gillian Flynn’s thriller, have all made terrific movie transitions.

Those films are solid treatments that do justice to the hard-edged novels.

But sometimes one needs a lighter type of story. That’s why we often crave dessert after a heavy meal. Well, that and because we always want dessert.

And sometimes a rich dessert is just too heavy. We want something light, airy, forgettable, something we don’t have to think about but will enjoy while we’re in the moment. Think about a marshmallow.

And that would be fluffy, marshmallow-like The Wedding Planner Mystery, which premieries at 9 p.m. ET/PT and 8 p.m. CT Sunday Oct. 19 on the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channel. (See the previous story on the Hallmark Channel reboot.)

It’s a lighter-than-air film that, while containing a number of clichés and unrealistic plot twists, is fun to watch. Murder, She Wrote had more memorable plots, but The Wedding Planner Mystery still is enjoyable.

Erica Durance stars as Carnegie Kincaid (Smallville), whose latest event quickly turns tragic when a bridesmaid is murdered, and days later another bridesmaid (Chelan Simmons, Final Destination 3) is kidnapped. The family has been the center of a high-profile fraud scheme, which the media is covering.

donnelly vieledtheats
Carnegie is being followed by a news reporter (Andrew W. Walker, When Calls the Heart), accused of plotting the crimes by a detective (Rick Ravanello, True Justice), and romanced by a handsome attorney (Brandon Beemer, The Bold and the Beautiful). She’s also being accused of inflating her bill.

The wedding planning aspects of the story are well handled and the charming Carnegie so winningly played by Durance makes up for a lot.

But this Pacific Northwest town must have the stupidest detectives to make Carnegie a person of interest.

And anyone who has read a mystery—or seen Jessica Fletcher in action—will spot the villains and holes in the plot.

Still, I had a good time watching and would love to see more of these wedding planner mysteries. And that wedding cake actually looked good.

The Wedding Planner Mystery is based on Deborah’s Donnelly’s novel Veiled Threats, the first of her appealing series.
And as I always say, enjoy the film, but read the book.

The Wedding Planner Mystery premieres at 9 p.m. ET/PT and 8 p.m. CT Sunday Oct. 19 on the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channel.

Photos: Erica Durance as Carnegie Kincaid
Courtesy Crown Media United States

Oline Cogdill
2014-10-18 15:11:02
Keep Your Friends Close
Oline Cogdill

Think of Keep Your Friends Close as a domestic version of the classic film All About Eve, in which a young woman insinuates herself into a group of the unsuspecting to wreak havoc on their lives.

To outsiders, Natasha “Natty” and Sean Wainwright have a rock-solid marriage, two bright children, and a thriving hotel in England’s Lake District. Although they married young and dropped out of college because of Natty’s first pregnancy, the couple has persevered. But pull back the curtain, and cracks emerge. Natty’s controlling, prickly personality sometimes makes Sean feel inadequate; but her approach also is why they have a successful business, and why Sean can afford luxurious cars.

Natty is looking forward to a visit from Eve Dalladay, her best friend from college. Eve is a sought-after therapist who, after a speaking tour in Scotland, will visit the Wainwrights’ hotel before heading back to America where she lives with her husband. But Eve’s visit has barely begun when Natty gets the call that her 14-year-old, Felicity, has fallen ill during a school outing in France. Natty makes the trip to be with her daughter, happy that Eve can at least stay a few days to help Sean and their other daughter, 16-year-old Alice.

But ten days later, when Natty and Felicity return, the household has undergone a drastic change. Sean and Eve are in love and Eve is now living at the hotel. Natty is determined to reclaim her family, but may be up against more than a mere home wrecker. Eve has manufactured her past, and on further investigation, Natty learns that Eve has a habit of seducing married men, siphoning off their money, and disappearing. And Eve is not above murder to get what she wants.

Paula Daly’s affinity for psychological intrigue shines in Keep Your Friends Close. Eve quickly emerges as an intriguing villain who is completely amoral. Her way of slithering into the Wainwright family, showing one side to Sean and Alice, and another aspect of her personality to Eve, elevates Keep Your Friends Close. While Sean seems to fall too easily for Eve, Daly illustrates how an unhappy person can be seduced through little gestures—an offer to pick up Chinese food, pouring a drink unasked, fetching a pillow. Daly also wisely keeps Natty’s sharp personality intact. While Natty’s situation of being the discarded wife makes her sympathetic, she remains controlling and tightly wound.

British author Daly has penned a superbly sinister plot full of believable twists. It will have readers wondering just how well they know their friends, and how secure their lives are.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-21 04:09:52
The Distance
Eileen Brady

Helen Giltrow’s debut novel The Distance is a stylish thriller not for the faint of heart. Torture and murder follow hero Simon Johanssen wherever he goes. And where he wants to be is in an experimental prison in England, where the inmates are running the show. Touted as “a self-regulating society” the Program is run by a private security firm during the daytime, but becomes a free-for-all under cover of night.

Simon is a hit man and his target is in the Program. But the job isn’t that simple. First, the target is an unidentified woman, and second, John Quillan, a ruthless prison boss, has a hit out, too—on Simon.

Simon enlists the help of socialite Charlotte Alton, code name Karla, whose specialty is creating new identities. She’s worked with Simon before, in fact, he’s the only one of her customers who knows her real name. Now armed with a fake identity and altered face, Simon enters the prison and is swept up in a firestorm of violence. Meanwhile, on the outside, frightened for Simon’s safety and fearing he’s walking into a trap, Karla tries to identify his mysterious target. What she finds out only makes things worse for both of them.

Giltrow writes with authority and a fair amount of style in her debut thriller. However, I found it hard to keep the various subplots in this story straight, especially since all three main characters operate under their own names plus their aliases. It’s also a leap of faith to believe in the Program, a prison experiment that mixes violent and nonviolent inmates together with predictably disastrous results. Readers who like their mysteries on the dark side, however, will enjoy this complicated, intriguing book.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-21 04:18:20
Assault With A Deadly Lie
Vanessa Orr

It’s a terrifying thought: the idea that someone can accuse you of a crime, and a SWAT team shows up at your door and drags you away. This is what happens in Assault With A Deadly Lie, the eighth installment of Lev Raphael’s Nick Hoffman mystery series.

One of the things that struck me most about this book was the idea that this could happen to anyone, at any time, and there is little or no recourse for those who have been victimized. Author Raphael does a very good job of driving this point home, as his protagonists, two faculty members at a Michigan university, watch their perfect life unravel as they try to recover from a seemingly unprovoked attack. The two men, Nick and Stefan, continue to be stalked and harassed, and their level of paranoia rises while their relationship suffers. While the story focuses on two gay men, Raphael makes it quite clear that no one is immune to this type of intrusion.

There is no shortage of people who dislike Nick and Stefan, from angry students who failed to receive scholarships to vengeful coworkers who believe that Nick and Stefan don’t deserve their positions in academia. While I found the characters to be likable enough, especially the men’s defense lawyer, tough-talking New Yorker Vanessa Liberati, Nick and Stefan are drawn a little stereotypically for my tastes. Constant references to what people are wearing (Louboutins, Manolo Blahnik, Cool Water cologne), and to their possessions (including a section dedicated to the Eames chairs and Liebherr freezer and fridge in their condo) became a distraction.

Overall, I appreciated this book, though probably less for the story itself than for the questions that it raised. To what ends would you go to protect yourself from someone set on ruining your life?

Teri Duerr
2014-10-21 04:25:19
Designated Daughters
Art Taylor

Family and friends far and wide gather at the hospice center bedside of Deborah Knott’s Aunt Rachel when the dying woman suddenly, surprisingly, begins to speak. Random phrases touch briefly on old stories and people long gone, hint vaguely toward rumors Rachel never would’ve shared when fully conscious, and circle back to the drowning death of her own brother decades before. There’s little sense to the stories, but everyone is pleased just to hear her voice—until she’s found suffocated with a pillow and suspicions arise that those delirious ramblings might’ve revealed something worth killing for.

Even the most devoted readers of Margaret Maron’s Deborah Knott series might struggle to keep track of everyone who stops by Aunt Rachel’s room and of the family history hinted at in her final monologues; I found myself wishing desperately for a glimpse of the cross-reference chart created by one deputy to track all the potential suspects. But careful attention is more than amply rewarded as the story unfolds. Tracking down old secrets ultimately uncovers a series of complex, often heartbreaking tales with no easy resolution in the present. And the truth about who killed Aunt Rachel proves surprising, almost cruelly ironic, and ultimately ripe for readers’ sympathies.

Along the way, both the central storyline and Deborah’s courtroom cases touch poignantly on myriad issues affecting the aging: elder abuse, inheritance squabbles, estate auction scams, the need for living wills, the ravages of memory loss, dementia, and Alzheimer’s—an array of burdens lightened by those designated daughters of the title, middle-aged children caring for their elderly parents and watching out for one another as well.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-21 04:29:22
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