The Murder Man
Oline Cogdill

Privileged youths who commit horrific acts that come back to wreck their lives—the trope has been fodder for many a crime fiction tale, not to mention more than a few horror films.

But Tony Parsons, the author of numerous award-winning bestsellers in Great Britain, makes this plot device seem fresh thanks to his energetic storytelling and his appealing hero, Det. Constable Max Wolfe. In The Murder Man, Parsons explores social class, morality, and politics in a multilayered, character-driven plot with numerous hairpin twists. The first of a new series, The Murder Man was released earlier this year in England as The Murder Bag.

Max is a good cop, but he also makes mistakes, takes chances, and sometimes acts on his intuition rather than the facts. That attitude occasionally works, such as when he disobeyed orders in order to head off a suicide bomber headed for a London train station. Max’s actions saved hundreds of lives and made him a hero. But whether his reassignment to homicide is a reward or a punishment is still to be seen.

His latest cases—the murder of Adam Jones, a homeless junkie, and the killing of Hugo Buck, an arrogant investment banker— at first seem to have no connection to each other. But the two men were once in the same class at Potter’s Field, an exclusive boarding school for the upper class. And the murderer is targeting more of their classmates from the same school.

Max isn’t always successful as he tries to skirt the land mines of upper class snobbery and office politics. He makes mistakes, and his bosses don’t always trust or believe him. But Max’s determination and sincere belief in justice propel him through his cases. At home, Max walks a tightrope as a single father to Scout, his five-year-old daughter, and as the new owner of a dog, Stan, whom he’s trying to housebreak. Parsons deftly balances the scenes of Max’s professional life and the often-heartbreaking scenes at home (Scout can’t understand why her mother left Max and her for another man, and neither does Max).

The complex plot moves at a fast clip and Parsons leaves plenty of room for Max’s next adventure which is great news for readers.

Teri Duerr
2015-01-03 21:43:56
Only the Dead
Robin Agnew

Author Vidar Sundstøl is Norwegian, yet sets his story on the shores of Lake Superior in Minnesota. His main character is a US Forest Services officer, Lance Hansen. The second of a trilogy, following 2013’s The Land of Dreams, this self-contained novel stands well on its own. It assumes the intelligence of the reader and hits the ground running, demanding that the reader catch up.

Sundstøl flashes between the story of Lance and his brother Andy, deer hunting in the woods, and a story of survival set during the brutal Minnesota winter of 1892.

In the first, a trek through the forest is fraught with tension for the Hansen brothers. The brothers are reluctant to even talk, afraid of what might come out in their conversation. Lance thinks Andy is a killer, responsible for the brutal death of a tourist, though another man is in prison for the crime. As the weather gets more brutal, the seeping of the cold into Lance’s bones is all too vividly described. The brothers, on edge, follow each other through the forest, unsure of the outcome, Lance’s suspicions and Andy’s possible guilt resting between them,

In the past is the story of a Christian pioneer who nearly freezes to death, but who is rescued by a Native American man. The nearly frozen man thinks his savior is actually trying to kill or poison him with what he perceives as a witch’s brew.

In both stories the magnificence of the north woods in winter is fully embraced, as is its sometimes death-dealing ferocity. In both, the characters are wary of and suspicious of one another—with or without reason—and past sheds a ray of doubt on readers’ interpretation of the present. Is Andy guilty? Lance’s evidence is slender. Even more profoundly, the book wrestles with the nature of dreams. Lance hasn’t dreamt in several years and that places him, in Native American terms, among the dead. Only the dead do not dream. As his dreams come back to him toward the end of the book thanks to the almost hallucinogenic nature of the ice storm that envelops him, his perceptions assume an unreality that has the reader questioning Lance’s assumptions.

This book is brief, intense, thoughtful, and profound. I almost wanted to pick it up again when I finished it because I’m sure there are nuances I missed on the first reading. When I am provided with an unexpected reading experience, I am nothing but grateful, and I am grateful for this lovely book.

Teri Duerr
2015-01-03 21:49:57
The Perfect Mother
Vanessa Orr

It’s the call every mother dreads; the middle- of-the-night message that your child is in trouble. In the case of Jennifer Lewis, her daughter Emma has been arrested for murder while studying abroad in Spain. While Jennifer believes that her daughter can do no wrong, the police, Emma’s defense team, and even her father have their doubts.

When Jennifer rushes to Spain to be by her daughter’s side, it becomes obvious that the picture-perfect view that she has of Emma and their relationship is skewed. Jennifer’s marriage is also in trouble, and she all but ignores her other two children to stay with Emma, even after Emma says that she doesn’t want her help.

The plotline itself is familiar: anyone who has followed the Amanda Knox case will see a very similar story here. What’s different is that the focus isn’t on Emma as much as it’s on Jennifer and how she deals with the fact that her daughter has now shown everyone—through the world media following the case—that their perfect family isn’t perfect.

It’s fascinating to watch Emma manipulate her mother, and to watch Jennifer make excuse after excuse for her daughter as more sordid facts come to light. It’s not hard to understand how Emma learned this talent either—Jennifer is also a master manipulator, most especially of her husband, and of Roberto Ortiz, the private detective in charge of investigating the case for Emma’s lawyer.

It’s absorbing to watch Jennifer’s flawless façade crack; and in fact, I read the book all in one sitting because I was riveted by her actions. While you would expect any mother to help her child in a bad situation, it left me wondering: Was she protecting her daughter or protecting herself?

Teri Duerr
2015-01-03 21:53:12
A Billion Ways to Die
Oline H. Cogdill

After a year of living under aliases and dodging false charges, market researcher Arthur Cathcart and his girlfriend Natsumi Fitzgerald want only one thing—to get their lives back. But the couple knows that won’t be simple. First, they have to dodge cops, criminals, and more bogus charges.

Arthur has been on the run since his wife was murdered by the same men who put a bullet in his head. Brain-damaged after being legally declared dead, Arthur has put his skills to work, helping to set up those who ruined his life. Along the way, he found a soul mate in blackjack dealer Natsumi, a dog, and a home in the Caribbean.

Arthur and Natsumi’s quiet life is interrupted when armed men board their sailboat, threatening them with torture unless they tell where they hid a missing billion dollars. The couple has no idea, but they know that they will never be safe unless they can prove that the charges against them of fraud, embezzlement, and murder in the US are false.

A Billion Ways to Die, the finale of Chris Knopf’s inventive three-novel series, works as an adventure story as well as a cerebral tale about two people who only want a normal life. Although part of Arthur’s brain is “pulpy,” that doesn’t stop this genius for using as much brain power as possible, with a little help from former FBI agent Shelly Gross, cyber expert Strider, and Arthur’s physician sister, Evelyn. Together, they utilize high-tech sleuthing and old-fashioned detective work throughout Knopf’s series.

Knopf ends his trilogy on a high note, with a resolution that gives peace to Arthur and Natsumi, and satisfaction to the readers who have followed their troubles.

Teri Duerr
2015-01-03 21:59:04
Seven Wonders

Jack Grady, the hero of author Ben Mezrich’s latest thriller Seven Wonders, is an anthropologist cut from the same cloth as Indiana Jones. If you jump on board, you’re in for a fast ride around the globe, with the bad guys only a half-step behind. It starts off with Jack’s autistic, savant-like twin brother, Jeremy, discovering a hidden mathematical pattern in the Ancient and Modern Wonders of the World. Unfortunately for Jeremy, this discovery seals his fate. When Jack flies back from Ephesus, Turkey, after learning of his brother’s murder, he decides to investigate the circumstances himself. With the help of his two plucky grad students, he breaks into MIT and his brother’s lab. Stir in a beautiful botanist named Sloane Costa, who is searching for a strange plant, and the adventure begins.

If you think this plot would make a great movie, well, you aren’t the only one. Twentieth Century Fox has already acquired the movie rights. Unfortunately, the book reads more like a screenplay, light on characterization and heavy on fast-paced action scenes that don’t always make sense. How many escapes from elaborate death traps do you need? However, the descriptions of the Modern Wonders of the World are spot on, allowing you to experience them without leaving your armchair. I found the drive up the Peruvian mountains to Machu Picchu, with the bus skirting the edge of the cliff, particularly vivid. So, if you’re in the mood for a light read, chock-full of gorgeous javelinthrowing Amazons, secret societies, ancient traps, and a hidden underwater entrance into the Taj Mahal, then this might be the one for you.

Teri Duerr
2015-01-03 22:03:38
Tradition of Deceit
Robin Agnew

The fifth novel in Kathleen Ernst’s series about historical museum curator Chloe Ellefson takes Chloe away from her work in Wisconsin to Minneapolis. It’s 1983 and Chloe’s friend Ariel is working to convert an old Gold Medal Flour mill into a museum when her boss turns up murdered. As Chloe tries to help her friend, she works off her anxiety by baking her way through old Pillsbury Bake-Off recipe books. That’s a response to stress I can get behind.

Meanwhile Chloe’s boyfriend, Officer Roehlke McKenn, is dealing with a second murder back home in Wisconsin—his partner and best friend, Rick. Roehlke shuts out Chloe after Rick is killed, and he takes on the task of finding his friend’s killer himself.

In keeping with the series style, there is also a historical story line set in the past. Reminding me a bit of Jeanne Dams’ view of turn-of-the-century South Bend, Indiana, in her Hilda Johanssen series, Ernst illuminates the hardscrabble life of the mill workers, starting around 1880, using a particular Polish-American family and a woman named Lidia as her focus. Lidia is one of the first to work in a section of the mill for female employees only called “No Man’s Land.”

Ernst illustrates the fundamental importance of grain for human life through her depiction of the mill, which at its peak produced flour for 12 million loaves of bread daily. She also gets to the heart of some elemental truths about male-female relationships, highlighting the problem of domestic abuse from 1917 forward.

If it sounds like the author is cramming a lot of material into her novel, she is, but she handles it easily, moving effortlessly between story threads. She also had me Googling madly for images of the Mill City Museum and for information on wycinanki, the Polish art of paper cutting that pops up throughout the novel.

With a wry voice and a light touch, this was a pleasant read with a really strong central female character. I liked Chloe’s unusual job, and along with enjoying a good story, I enjoyed learning a bit. The book includes a few photos at the end which brought things even more to life. Having lived in Minneapolis myself in the ’80s, where I worked across from the Pillsbury building, it held even more resonance to me. All in all, a very enjoyable reading experience.

Teri Duerr
2015-01-03 22:09:54
Enter Pale Death
Jackie Houchin

Enter Pale Death is the seventh in Cleverly’s intricately plotted historical mystery series starring Scotland Yard Assistant Commissioner Joe Sandilands, who first made his appearance in 2002 in The Last Kashmiri Rose.

This novel is set in London and rural Suffolk County in 1933. A death by misadventure, an art theft, and a suspicious suicide all take place on the country estate of Sir James Truelove. It’s good enough reason for Sandilands to throw aside caution, and perhaps his job, to pay an official visit to Suffolk County. The story begins with a detailed account of an unusual and ghastly death. The victim is Lady Lavinia Truelove, the jealous and mean-spirited wife of philandering estate owner and aspiring Home Secretary Sir James Truelove. The malicious killer is a great Suffolk stallion. Death by misadventure is pronounced, but there are whispers, and eventually Sandilands hears them.

Unexpectedly, Sir Truelove asks Sandilands for a favor: thwart a notorious art dealer and purchase a pair of family portraits for him at auction, portraits Truelove claims were secretly stolen from his estate years before. Also interested in the portraits is Suffolk Police Superintendent Adam Hunnyton, who is Truelove’s illegitimate half-brother.

Lastly, fast approaching is the 25th anniversary of the suicide of a young housemaid in Truelove’s employ, a suicide disclaimed vehemently by Hunnyton, her lover at the time. It takes another grisly murder and two near-miss attempts on his own life before the commissioner is satisfied, despite knowing that his evidence of the three murders will never stand up in court.

Cleverly weaves her web of mystery and intrigue so tightly that sometimes it is hard to follow. This is not a book to be breezed through lightly. Readers must consider every word and nuance, lest they miss a vital clue. The author’s meticulous research of the period gives readers a rich experience, but one that may entail consulting a dictionary now and then. Offhand quotes from Shakespeare, Chaucer, Milton, and other classics will enhance the tale and the enjoyment of language-lovers. Definitely worth the read to see it all untangled, the horse vindicated, and a twist of winsome romance at the end.

Teri Duerr
2015-01-03 22:26:41

Scotland Yard Assistant Commissioner Joe Sandilands is back in an intricately plotted historical mystery set in 1933 England.

Blue Avenue

It’s been 25 years since William “BB” Byrd has seen Belinda Mabry, the first, and possibly only, girl he ever loved, when she turns up dead at the start of Michael Wiley’s extremely graphic and downright unpleasant opening chapter.

BB lives in Jacksonville, Florida, with his wife, Susan, and 16-year-old son, Thomas, and it’s far from a happy family: Susan has slept in the guest bedroom since Thomas’ birth and Thomas contempt for his father, who routinely sleeps with a prostitute, is almost palpable.

Called to the scene of Belinda’s murder by his old friend Lt. Daniel Turner to identify the body, BB decides to take justice into his own hands and find the killer, who’s also murdered two other women. With the help of the mysterious, and very violent, Charles, who came to BB’s assistance during a long-ago altercation, BB starts piecing together Belinda’s life, leading him to her brother, Bobby, and son, Terrence. As he hones in on the killer—whose identity most readers will figure out long before he does—BB realizes that the murders are tied to an even wider scandal involving some noteworthy Florida men and a party gone horribly wrong in Jamaica.

While it’s far from necessary to have a likable hero, BB barely inspires the smallest spark of empathy in readers, and with the in-your-face depictions of sexual violence, Wiley’s new series is off to a lackluster start.

Teri Duerr
2015-01-03 22:30:10
Die Again
Jordan Foster

The gruesome death of a big-game hunter and well-known taxidermist propels homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles on a journey that takes them from the streets of Boston to the African bush in Tess Gerritsen’s 11th series installment (after 2012’s Last to Die).

Leon Gott is found skinned and eviscerated much in the same way as the menagerie mounted on his wall. The killer also stole a rare snow leopard pelt, causing Jane and Maura to wonder if the murder is the work of a jealous competitor or a rabid animal rights activist. Digging further into Gott’s history, the pair discover that the dead man’s son, Elliot, perished during a Botswana safari trip gone horribly awry.

Interspersed with the present-day investigation are chapters told from the viewpoint of the safari’s only surviving member, Millie, recounting the deadly trip six years earlier.

Though the connections are tenuous at first, Jane and Maura become convinced that not only is Gott’s death—along with a seemingly random homicide in the area—linked to the doomed safari, but that the killer could be part of an Africa-based cult with ties to murders across the country.

Jane and Maura’s friendship deepens with each series installment and readers—and viewers of TNT’s hit Rizzoli & Isles, based on Gerritsen’s work—will enjoy accompanying the two on what proves to be one of their most dangerous cases.

Teri Duerr
2015-01-03 22:38:06

gerritsen dieagainJane Rizzoli's latest investigation takes her from the streets of Boston to the African bush in Gerritsen’s 11th series installment.

Oline H. Cogdill

Virgil Flowers may not have the name recognition of Lucas Davenport in John Sandford’s other series. After all, Sandford has only written about Virgil eight times as opposed to his 24 novels about Lucas. But what Virgil lacks in longevity, he makes up for with his laconic charm, energetic investigations, and wry outlook on humanity and the urges that drive people to crime. Deadline is a prime example of why Virgil, an agent who reports to Lucas in the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, resonates with readers. Sandford’s latest outing finds Virgil tracking two cases that intersect in the Minnesota town of Trippton, located on the Mississippi River. Virgil’s old friend Johnson Johnson asks him to look into a string of dognappings that have local pet owners furious.The owners accuse the local “hillbillies,” led by smalltime motorcycle hood Roy Zorn, of augmenting their meth dealing by selling dogs to “bunchers” for resale to medical laboratories. If Virgil doesn’t do something, the dog owners are armed and ready to take matters into their own hands. Meanwhile, Trippton has another problem— the murder of local reporter Clancy Conley. In a closed-door meeting, members of the Buchanan County Consolidated School Board unanimously agreed to kill Clancy, who discovered that the board was embezzling from the school system. Virgil’s comment to Johnson, “You got a colorful town here,” is an understatement. With no help from the local sheriff, Virgil is pretty much on his own in dealing with panicky school board members, paranoid dognappers, and vengeful dog owners, although a 12-year-old boy and a high school janitor come to his aid to surprising effect. Sandford’s brisk pacing and affinity for twists and surprises lead Deadline to a thrilling conclusion. (The scene in which irate dog owners, nefarious dognappers, and several hundred extremely excited dogs all converge is a showstopper.) As for Lucas, he’s back in Minneapolis, no doubt working on a case that will find its way into Sandford’s next novel. That’s just fine with the laid-back Virgil, who finds his boss “a trifle intense.”

Teri Duerr
2015-01-03 22:42:07
The Best American Mystery Stories 2014
Jon L. Breen

This annual compilation is too consistent in pure quality for serious complaint, but to get my usual gripe out of the way first, the current volume represents a reversion (after last year’s refreshingly mystery-centric program) to a collection dominated by mainstream short stories with high literary aspirations and some connection to a crime.

Do I regret having read them? Not for a second. Would I like more of the distinctive elements (detection, surprise, reader misdirection) that characterize the mystery genre? Absolutely. There’s nothing wrong with drawing on the literary journals (ten of this year’s 20 entries) or The New Yorker (two more), but were there really only six from genre-specific periodicals, and one from a genre-specific original anthology worthy of selection?

As usual, the stories are arranged alphabetically by author, and this year the practice provides a fine curtain-raiser, for me the strongest tale in the book. Megan Abbott’s “My Heart Is Either Broken,” inspired by a notorious Florida case, concerns the abduction of an infant, its effect on the relationship of the parents, and the tabloid media’s suspicions of the partying mother. The case is solved, but the final scene is more chilling than the crime itself.

Roxane Gay’s deeply disturbing and believable “I Will Follow You,” in its combination of literary quality and appropriateness to a crime/mystery collection ranks second only to the Abbott story, with which it shares the subject of child abduction, though from an entirely different angle. We meet the victims in adulthood, two sisters who have always been inseparable, then learn of their horrible six weeks at ages ten and 11 with the evil Mr. Peter.

Sibling relationships are central to two other stories. Arguably outside the crime fiction genre, though it certainly presents a mystery, is Patricia Engel’s sensitively written “Aida,” in which one of twin teenage daughters disappears. It’s interesting as a study of twinship, but no solution is provided. Jodi Angel’s “Snuff” believably depicts the relationship of a teenage brother and sister in the 1970s, but despite the use of a snuff movie as a framing device, it isn’t really a crime story, and certainly not a mystery.

Some of the better entries in the book present a commendable variety of settings and approaches. Daniel Alarcón’s “Collectors” shows us inmates in a Latin American prison performing the work of a dissident playwright. James Lee Burke, as usual, provides one beautiful sentence after another in “Going Across Jordan,” an engrossing account of labor organizers among migrant workers in the 1930s. Ernest Finney’s “The Wrecker,” about a tow truck driver in Sacramento, California, has a solid fiction noir plot with just enough ambiguity in the ending. In Michelle Butler Hallett’s “Bush-Hammer Finish,” based on an actual Canadian murder case, literati clash in St. Johns, Newfoundland. Charlaine Harris’ “Small Kingdoms,” a sure-fire grabber of the what’s-going-on-here variety, begins with a high school principal killing her attacker and calmly going on to work. David H. Ingram’s “The Covering Storm,” a murder plot against the effective backdrop of the 1900 Galveston disaster, has a good surprise twist. Ed Kurtz’s suburban noir “A Good Marriage” goes from humorous, everyday start to shocking conclusion. Scott Loring Sanders’ “Pleasant Grove,” set in the Virginia mountain country, takes a dysfunctional family saga in unexpected directions.

Only three of the stories have (at least apparently) a detective-story structure. Jim Allyn’s “Princess Anne” is the best of them, and includes some subtly clever reader manipulation. A Michigan family makes a shrine of a dog’s grave on the grounds of their new home, and the previous owner turns up to reclaim the remains. But why the interest of the state police? Some suspicious readers may anticipate a particular twist ending—but are we right? Nancy Pauline Simpson’s “Festered Wounds,” set in the early 20th-century South, introduces a likable Holmes-Watson team, a young county nurse and an admiring deputy sheriff, but the actual mystery plot is disappointingly thin. Laura van den Berg’s “Antarctica,” about a young Massachusetts academic investigating the death of her brother in an explosion at an Antarctic research station, acts like a detective story for most of its length but, in withholding a real solution, turns out an anti-detective story.

Some literary heavyweights make an appearance. The title of Russell Banks’ “Former Marine” refers to an elderly hospitalized bank robber visited by his three sons, all in law enforcement. The shock ending is well handled, though the reason for one action by the sons may strain credibility. It’s hard to imagine why Joseph Heller’s lynch-mob story “Almost Like Christmas” was not published in his lifetime. Annie Proulx’s murder story “Rough Deeds,” set in early 1900s Canada, is a chapter from a novel-in-progress, and probably it will be a fine historical saga.

The two remaining stories struck me as some combination of overwritten, pretentious, and uninspired. But 90 percent is an A grade in most classrooms.

Teri Duerr
2015-01-03 22:55:11

lippman bestamericanmysterystories2014Though high-quality all around, a reversion (after last year’s refreshingly mystery-centric program) to a collection dominated by short stories with high literary aspirations and some connection to a crime.

The Hunting Dogs
Betty Webb

Perhaps because of the Nordic countries’ frigid climates, their mysteries have a tendency to be on the bleak side, and Jørn Lier Horst’s The Hunting Dogs, gracefully translated into English from the original Norwegian by Anne Bruce, is no exception.

Horst’s Detective William Wisting was first introduced to Norwegian readers in 2004’s Key Witness, but his work didn’t become available to the English-speaking world until 2010’s Dregs. Since then, Wisting’s wife, a foreign aid worker, was killed in Africa, he acquired a lover, and his daughter Line became a journalist. In this new outing, Wisting is on the verge of losing both his girlfriend and his title as Chief Inspector in the Criminal Investigation Department of the Larvik (Norway) Police Force. His superiors have accused him of faking evidence that put Rudolph Haglund, an innocent man, in prison. Now suspended from duty, it is up to Wisting to prove he didn’t orchestrate the transfer of Haglund’s DNA to cigarettes found at the crime scene where young Cecilia Linde was kidnapped, then murdered. Wisting’s daughter, certain that her father would never fabricate evidence, uses her own considerable newsroom savvy to uncover the truth.

Although there are no American-style car chases or shoot-outs in this mystery, the lack of flashy action is more than compensated for by the book’s depth. The Chief Inspector may not wear his heart on his sleeve, but because of Horst’s moody, nuanced writing, we know Wisting even better than he knows himself. We sympathize with his grief over his deceased wife, we understand his fears for his daughter’s safety, and we share his sorrow at being separated from the job he loves. Yet Wisting isn’t naive about the limits of police work. In one scene he muses that in the Haglund case, he and his colleagues acted like a pack of hunting dogs. “Rudolf Haglund was the man they had caught, but like any other hunting dogs, they had followed the warmest scene without further thought.”

It takes a brave man to admit to his mistakes, and by the conclusion of The Hunting Dogs, we are given further proof that Wisting is that man.

Teri Duerr
2015-01-03 23:14:24
State-by-State Authors

korytamichael 3
I try not to get involved with those games or quizzes on Facebook. Thank you very much, but I can waste time on my own.

But the one that is still circulating about how many states you’ve visited drew me in. I wasn’t too surprised that the quiz showed that the only states I haven’t visited are Hawaii, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, and North Dakota.

I immediately had two thoughts: "I need a road trip" and "I thought I had been to many of these states."

And I have…through mysteries.

When the novels are so detailed in their scenery, it makes me feel as if I am there. As they should.

So here’s a look at why I thought I had been to some of these states.

Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire novels are set in Wyoming, but he also has dipped into other states such as in A Serpent’s Tooth, which deals with polygamy groups in Wyoming, which is right across the border from South Dakota, Utah, and Colorado.

C.J. Box's series about Joe Pickett, a Wyoming game warden, gives us breathtaking scenery, area politics, and a complex hero.

Andrew Hunt’s 2012 novel City of Saints took us to Salt Lake City in 1930 when it was a fast-growing town with big-city concerns, dominated by the large, striking divisions between the wealthy and the middle class, and between those who follow the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and those who are not Mormons. The rough-hewn countryside, both beautiful and unforgiving, shrinks as the city limits expand. This Depression-era Utah background proves to be an evocative and mesmerizing setting for City of Saints. (Description comes from my review of City of Saints.)

Nevada Barr can be counted on to take us to just about every state in the union with her series heroine, park ranger Anna Pigeon. In The Rope, Barr takes us back to how Anna became a ranger, spending the summer working at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, which encompasses more than 1.2 million acres from Lees Ferry in Arizona to the Orange Cliffs of southern Utah.

Patricia Cornwell gave us a quick trip to Utah in her 1997 novel Unnatural Exposure in which Kay Scarpetta visits the U.S. government's huge biological defense
facility in Utah.

Nevada Barr comes through again with her 2001 Blood Lure that takes place in the Glacier/Waterton National Peace Park in Montana.

Michael Koryta’s Those Who Wish Me Dead, which I think is one of the best novels of 2013, skillfully melds a thrilling adventure story set against the Montana wilderness with a poignant coming of age story. To keep him safe, a teenage witness to murder is placed in a Montana wilderness training program for troubled teens run by a survival expert. Koryta, photo above, portrays vivid Montana landscapes pulsating with the smells and sounds of the great outdoors.

C.J. Box’s The Highway probably scared me more than any novel has. With three-dimensional characters and a gripping plot, The Highway is even more frightening because of its backstory. Box bases his story on the real hunt for a murderer working as a long-haul trucker—the FBI’s Highway Serial Killer Task Force. While the FBI’s task force statistics are numbing, Box never stoops to the prurient while delivering an edgy, compelling novel. Set in the remote corners of Montana, the isolated landscape lends a chilling atmosphere where the whine of an 18-wheeler and an unlit back road ratchet up the suspense. (Description comes from my review of The Highway.)

Carrie La Seur’s debut The Home Place, which I also listed as one of the best of 2013, chronicles a woman’s complicated relationship with her hometown of Billings, Montana, her relatives who stayed behind, and her ancestral history. In The Home Place, La Seur poignantly shows how characters are influenced by a sense of place, affecting their choices in life. The Montana land that makes up “the home place” has been owned by a family for generations, representing all that the family was, what it will be, and what it struggles with now. No one lives on the property, yet no one wants to sell the homestead either. This home place, about an hour from Billings, is a refuge, an offer of security, a place of contention, paralleling the family’s lives. (Description comes from my review of The Home Place.)

little elizabeth

Elizabeth Little’s debut, Dear Daughter, which I also listed as one of the best of 2013, revolves around an unlikable protagonist with a biting personality who was sent to prison for her mother’s brutal murder. The case was sketchy at the time, and now, 10 years later, the conviction has been overturned because of mismanaged evidence. Scant clues lead Jane to the tiny, crumbling town of Adeline, South Dakota, and the adjacent community of Ardelle. The barren, soulless South Dakota towns succinctly mirror a struggle with identity in this exciting debut by Little, photo at right.

Lori G. Armstrong has two series set in her home state. Former Black Ops Army sniper Mercy Gunderson has an uneasy return to civilian life on her family’s ranch in South Dakota in three novels. Private investigator Julie Collins looks into crime near Bear Butte in four novels.

Photos: Michael Koryta, top, Elizabeth Little, right.

Oline Cogdill
2015-01-03 20:20:00
James Patterson and Bookstores

patterson jamesms4
Eighty-one independent bookstores across the country got a lovely holiday present when author James Patterson, left, donated a total of $473,000 to those stores at the end of 2014.

This marks the third and final round of pledges that Patterson made last year. Patterson had pledged to donate $1 million to established bookstores that have dedicated children’s sections.

The third and final round of grants brings his total donation to $1,008,300 for 178 independent bookstores with children’s book sections. His first round of grants amounted to over $267,000, with 55 stores receiving funds, and the second round amounted to over $268,000, with 43 stores receiving funds

Patterson, best known for his thrillers about Alex Cross and his YA novels, also is a major supporter of literacy programs.

Patterson and two-time Miami Heat champion and New York Times bestselling author Dwyane Wade (A Father First: How My Life Became Bigger Than Basketball) have teamed up for two years in a row to promote children’s literacy. This past year, they also enlisted other NBA players, including LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Terrence Ross, and Dirk Nowitzki.

Patterson has twice been named Author of the Year by Children’s Choice Book Award, and is scheduled to be the guest speaker at this year’s Sleuthfest, Feb. 29 to March 1, in Deerfield Beach, Florida.

Oline Cogdill
2015-01-07 15:20:00
WEB Griffin on War and Writing

Griffin WEB 2014

"So have at it, you dumb son of a [expletive]. Write a [expletive] novel.”

And that's an order...

I went to Korea as a 22-year-old regular Army sergeant and became the "Go-For” of Lieutenant General ID White, who had been sent there to straighten-out the X United States Army Corps Group.

As his Go-For I performed varied assignments, which General White decided I could do more efficiently than other members of his staff, but I was surprised to learn that I was now also the Public Information Sergeant of X Corps Group. General White had relieved the full colonel who had been PIO (public information officer), and replaced him with a second lieutenant who knew something about public relations.

Understandably, the second lieutenant was having difficulty controlling his 13 combat correspondents. These were well-educated young PFCs (private first class) and corporals who had been journalists before being drafted. I was to do two things in my new assignment: first, control these wild men, and second, make sure that none of their dispatches—which were distributed around the world as Associated Press, United Press, and International News Service stories—mentioned his name.

I knew this was going to be interesting when I went to the mess tent and saw sitting at a table a tall hawk-featured PFC wearing a combat correspondent’s insignia and the combat infantry badge. On the table was a sign that read “4th Grade Thru College.” Across the tent, where the senior sergeants like me dined, was a sign reading, “First Three Grades Only.”

The PFC was John Sack, fresh from Harvard, where he had not only published the first two of his many books, but also had been the first man to be simultaneously editor of The Harvard Crimson and The Harvard Lampoonand the first Jew to be editor of either.

Truth being stranger than fiction, John and I became friends, and remained friends, until his death 60 years later.

One day, some months after we met, while sharing a bottle of Haig & Haig I had purloined from the general’s mess, I confessed that the few stories I had written and seen sent out “on the wire” had made me wonder if I too might hope one day to be a writer.

“[Expletive] Butterballs, you’re a better [expletive] writer now than anybody here but me. So have at it, you dumb son of a [expletive]. Write a [expletive] novel.”

butterworth comfortmewithlove

The first chapters of my first novel, Comfort Me With Love, were written in Kwanda-Ri, North Korea, shortly before John and I came home and got out of the Army, and General White left X Corps, to ultimately become Commander-in-Chief, Pacific.

W.E.B. Griffin is the #1 best-selling author of more than 50 epic novels in seven series, all of which have made The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Publishers Weekly, and other bestseller lists. More than 50 million of the books are in print in more than ten languages, including Hebrew, Chinese, Japanese, and Hungarian.

This "Writers on Reading" essay was originally published in "At the Scene" eNews January 2015 as a first-look exclusive to our enewsletter subscribers. For more special content available first to our enewsletter subscribers, sign up here.

Teri Duerr
2015-01-08 16:02:00

The Tony Hillerman Prize
for a best first mystery novel is one of my favorite competitions to launch new authors.

It is sponsored by Thomas Dunne Books and Minotaur Books, imprints of St. Martin's Press, and Wordharvest, co-founded by Hillerman’s daughter, Anne.

The Hillerman Prize is awarded annually to the best debut crime fiction set in the Southwest, which gives readers a new view of this region. The prize has garnered a reputation for introducing excellent authors, whose novels also respect the memory of the late Hillerman, who died in 2008

Some of the previous authors have made my best of the year debuts.

Andrew Hunt’s City of Saints, which won in 2012, was set in Depression Era Utah. Hunt’s novel showed that Salt Lake City in 1930 was an evocative setting to explore Utah’s history, its people and how a person with a deep faith lives in an increasingly secular world.

Tricia FieldsThe Territory, which won in 2010, delivered an action-packed yet personal story about the infiltration of Mexican drug cartels in a small Texas town. Chief of Police Josie Gray is a fully realized character who fights the good fight against all odds.

I also enjoyed Roy Chaney’s 2009 debut The Ragged End of Nowhere, a story about modern Las Vegas that also worked as a novel about the quest for identity as a man delves into the life of his estranged brother who recently died.

Last year, the competition introduced C.B. McKenzie’s Bad Country, set in Tucson, the Pascua Yaqui and Tohona O’odham Reservations and southernmost Arizona. And McKenzie is now up for an Edgar Award, which was announced recently.

The next author to bear the Tony Hillerman stamp will be John Fortunato, at left, whose Dark Reservations will come out in 2015.

According to his bio, Fortunato was a Captain in the U.S. Army, Military Intelligence, who served at the Pentagon during the early part of the Global War on Terrorism. He is now a Special Agent with the FBI and has earned an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. A native of Philadelphia, he currently lives in Michigan with his wife and three daughters.

I’ve always thought that a series that keeps alive the spirit of the late Hillerman’s novels is a terrific idea. The Southwest is a fascinating region and this contest has maintained a quality in its selections.

Hillerman's Joe Leaphorn/Jim Chee mysteries, set on the Navajo reservation, were the first “regional” mysteries to become national bestsellers. Hillerman, who died at the age of 83, was able to combine Navajo traditions and beliefs along with the stark beauty of the southwest in involving plots.

Hillerman’s daughter, Anne, launched the first Tony Hillerman Writers Conference in 2004. And Anne Hillerman brought back Leaphorn and Chee in her novel Spider Woman’s Daughter in 2013.

For more information, contact Hector DeJean at 646-307-5560 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The deadline for submissions to next year's competition will be June 1, 2015. For complete guidelines, visit

Oline Cogdill
2015-02-01 01:00:00
Michael Connelly's "The Burning Room"

Michael Connelly
’s plots are filled with gems as the author gives us insight into police work and the vagaries of life in Los Angeles.

Connelly’s latest, The Burning Room, looks at politics and how it can become a part of a police investigation, especially when a high-profile case is concerned.

Quoting from my review, “The Burning Room excels as a look at how power, prestige and the media can override the best intentions. Connelly also weaves in a bit of the immigrant experience that helped shape—and continues to mold—Los Angeles.”

And within this gem of a plot, Connelly also adds a couple of other smaller gems to his 19th novel about Harry Bosch.

While waiting for a plane to take off for a trip back to L.A. after interviewing a witness in Tulsa, Bosch passes the time by listening to the soundtrack from a documentary about saxophonist Frank Morgan.

Connelly knows a lot about the film, Sound of Redemption, about the late jazz saxophonist, Frank Morgan, as he was one of the producers. Connelly chronicled the filmmaking on its own Facebook page. Sound of Redemption was recently shown at the Palm Springs Film Festival.

“It’s a form of creativity I was not familiar with. It is a tribute to someone who inspired me and is a great story,” Connelly told me for a profile in Mystery Scene.

Connelly pays tribute to his journalism background by having reporter Jack McEvoy (The Poet) work for Fair Warning, an investigative website devoted to reporting and consumer protection investigations that is based in Los Angeles.

We’ll have to wait until the end of 2015 for another Connelly novel.

But the Amazon Original Series Bosch based on the Bosch series will be coming to Amazon Prime Instant Video. It will star Titus Welliver as Bosch, and co-star Annie Wersching and Jamie Hector. Connelly’s website has a couple of clips on this series.

Oline Cogdill
2015-01-14 13:40:00
Meeting Major Crimes

majorcirmes writerscast
One of my favorite parts of the most recent Bouchercon, held in Long Beach, California, was the special meet-and-greet some of us had with the writers and two cast members of the TNT series Major Crimes, which is wrapping up its mini season finale with a two-hour program on Monday, January 12, at 9 p.m.

Before Bouchercon’s scheduled Major Crimes panel, about 10 of us were able to sit down in a private session and hear their behind-the-scenes take on working for the series—and also hear some spoilers (which I won’t reveal here).

Those who attended were James Duff, executive producer and co-creator of Major Crimes (and also The Closer), writer and producer Adam Belanoff, executive story editor Damani Johnson, former police detective Mike Berchem, and writer Kendall Sherwood. Also joining were actors Jonathan Del Arco, who plays Dr. Morales, and Kathe Mazur, who plays DDA Hobbs—two personal favorites. More actors were scheduled to come but the season had just wrapped up.

One of the things that appeals to me about Major Crimes is that it is such a well-written series that manages with just a few scenes to show us the crimes, the behind-the-scenes work, and the personalities of the actors.

Major Crimes always has been about the “art of the deal”—which Duff said is how about 93 percent of homicide crimes are dealt with in the real world.

majorcrimes moralesoline2
The writers credit the show’s authenticity to Mike Berchem, who was a LAPD homicide detective for more than 29 years. The majority of the murders depicted on Major Crimes are from Berchem’s experience. He tells the writers how to handle scenarios and how to plant clues that may be explored later in an episode.

Unlike The Closer, which centered on Brenda Leigh Johnson, Major Crimes is an ensemble show. The detectives, support staff, and Hobbs have to work together to make that “art of the deal.” Writing for an ensemble is more difficult. “Brenda’s voice was always strong and clear,” said Duff, who added that the confession at the end of The Closer was the writers’ goal.

Now, no one voice, not even Captain Raydor's (Mary McDonnell), can define Major Crimes.

Berchem’s involvement is another example of how the ensemble works. Before he came on board, Berchem knew nothing about TV writing and, conversely, the writers didn’t know how a police detective handles homicides.

And not only is that appealing to me as a viewer, but listening to the writers and cast talk, that idea of an ensemble came across. The writing team works together on each episode, although one writer may take the lead. The writers are as much of an ensemble as the characters are.

And although this is an ensemble, some episodes may focus more on one of the cast members. We can thank Belanoff for those episodes that feature Flynn and Provenza.

And we will see future episodes—in the next season—that prominently feature Dr. Morales and DDA Hobbs, and we may finally learn their first names.

I raised the question of when we will see more of Dr. Morales, who is my favorite character in the series. We have been shown snippets of his personal life before, but I want to know more about this character. And we have seen actor Jonathan Del Arco show us how devastated Dr. Morales can be after an autopsy, especially when a child is involved. (You can see his reaction to my comments in the photo.)

TNT is considering a Major Crimes spin-off that would focus on Fritz Howard (Jon Tenney), who is the new deputy chief of the LAPD Special Operations Bureau, which is called SOB. The new series, which sounds like it could be another winner, also would be called SOB.

The two-hour finale on Tuesday will bring back Philip Stroh (Billy Burke), the serial killer from whom Rusty Beck (Graham Patrick Martin) escaped. There will be a “face-off” between the two.

But that is all I am going to say—except that I'm looking forward to more—and longer—seasons of Major Crimes.

Photos: Top, from left: James Duff, Mike Berchem, Kathe Mazur, Jonathan Del Arco, Damani Johnson, Kendall Sherwood, and Adam Belanoff; Below: Jonathan Del Arco shares a laugh with Oline Cogdill

Photos courtesy of Deborah Lacy and Kim Hammond

Oline Cogdill
2015-01-10 19:13:58
Betty Webb

When it comes to bleak and grim, Joe Clifford’s Lamentation is right up there with Nordic crime fiction, because the February weather in northern New Hampshire—where Clifford’s book is set—adds to the novel’s sharp edge. Protagonist Jay Porter scratches out a living “estate clearing,” packing up the remainders of other people’s lives. Meanwhile, his ex-girlfriend Jenny has moved in with former biker Brody, who is now playing father to Jay’s young son. Jay’s personal life is already messier than the estates he clears, but things get even worse when his drug-addicted older brother Chris is accused of murder and disappears. Usually in crime novels the protagonist is the person who solves the crime, but that isn’t quite the case here. Yes, Jay is desperate to find Chris, but mainly to keep him from freezing to death with a needle in his arm. Although technically a mystery (there is a murder and we have to wait until the end of the book to find out whodunit), Lamentation is more about codependency. Drugs kill, but the very act of loving a drug addict can be fatal, too. Rather than focusing on the present, or even the future, Jay remains chained to the past, to a time when his brother helped raise him after their parents were killed in an automobile accident. This lingering loyalty almost proves fatal to them both. Although Jay believes he’s a realist, his loyalties are to a man who doesn’t really exist anymore; Chris spreads heartbreak like a virus. But family is family, author Clifford seems to be saying in this touching, insightful novel, and we take what we can get—whatever the damage to ourselves.

Teri Duerr
2015-01-14 23:49:25
Blackmail, My Love
Betty Webb

In Katie Gilmartin’s gut-wrenching Blackmail, My Love a man has gone missing in the San Francisco of the early 1950s. Those of us who love the present-day broad-minded, sexually liberated city will be shocked to discover it wasn’t always so accommodating to the LBGT community. In fact, it was downright hostile, with crooked cops raiding gay-frequented establishments when they needed more arrests to fill their weekly quota. For added fun, the cops would then throw the more flamboyant arrestees into cells with hardened thugs, where they were brutalized and sometimes killed. This is the San Francisco protagonist Josephine “Jo” O’Connor arrives in from upstate New York, searching for her brother Jimmy, who appears to have dropped off the face of the earth. Growing up in a dysfunctional, alcoholic family, the two had to lean on each other for support, especially since Jimmy is gay, and Jo is lesbian. In her search for the disappeared Jimmy, Jo makes new friends in San Francisco’s underground gay community, but her forthright approach in a tentative time also makes enemies. Blackmail, My Love is at heart a story about a young woman coming to terms with herself in a difficult and dangerous era. During her search for her brother, Jo sheds the frilly dresses she wore back home and begins wearing tailored men’s suits. She wises up, too. Author Gilmartin—who is also the gifted artist who created the book’s gorgeous, noirish illustrations—is the perfect writer for this outstanding historical mystery. Gilmartin earned her PhD in cultural studies from Yale, with an emphasis on queer history, and has taught queer studies at the University of California, Berkeley and Santa Cruz. In her book, Gilmartin reveals the viciousness with which gay members of our society have historically been treated, and she supports Jo’s own trail of tears with masterly scholarship in a well-argued author’s note. Be sure and read it.

Teri Duerr
2015-01-15 00:04:59
Finding Sky
Betty Webb

Susan O’Brien’s Finding Sky presents an unlikely sleuth—divorcée Nicki Valentine, a woman so beset with child-care woes that it’s astounding she can even make it out of the house, let alone solve crimes. But appearances can be deceiving. Nicki, who is working on her master’s degree in forensic psychology, is a great organizer, and she knows how to use her free time (what little there is of it). Kenna, Nicki’s best friend, is about to adopt a child, but when the teenaged birth mother goes missing, Kenna appeals to the wannabe PI for help in locating the young woman. Good friend that she is, Nicki agrees, and begins combing the Virginia suburbs for clues, even though those clues lead her into dangerous gang territory. Nicki is smart enough to know that she doesn’t know enough, so she appeals for help from Dean, the hunky instructor at the PI academy she’s attending, and together they—but mainly Nicki—crack the case. Finding Sky has everything an astute reader could want in a woman-driven cozy: a plausible plot, a smart protagonist, sex appeal, and two adorable, if overactive, children. Thanks to the book’s savvy author, Finding Sky is eminently believable, too. Susan O’Brien is a registered private investigator who is well aware of the legal limitations PIs must adhere to, so she hasn’t written Nicki as a crime-fighting superwoman who solves crime using methods that in the real world, would land her in jail. Instead, O’Brien has written one of the most warm-hearted yet realistic cozies I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. I can’t wait to meet up with Nicki again.

Teri Duerr
2015-01-15 00:10:59
Black Sun Descending
Betty Webb

Stephen Legault’s Black Sun Descending reminds us of something that too many people have either forgotten, or never known in the first place: Decades of uranium mining in the desert Southwest not only poisoned the Navajo Reservation, but also despoiled the Grand Canyon. When university professor Dr. Silas Pearson’s four-years-vanished (and presumed dead) wife Penelope visits him in a dream, he resumes his search for her body. To his shock, he unearths a different murdered woman, this one buried in a heap of radioactive mine tailings near Moab, Utah. Pearson’s find brings the local law enforcers down on him, along with the feds. Given its real-life backdrop, this environmentally conscious mystery is both educational and intriguing, and Pearson’s search for his wife’s body is emotionally affecting. Unfortunately, the mystery is marred by too many references to the work of environmental activist Edward Abbey, which presupposes a familiarity with Abbey’s books that many readers won’t have. Some mentions are understandable given the fact that, when Penelope vanished, she was working on a book about Abbey, but they do take attention away from Black Sun Descending. And that’s a shame, because this fine novel could stand on its own.

Teri Duerr
2015-01-15 02:35:18
No Time to Die
Hank Wagner

As someone who writes on bioethics for The New York Times, Kira Peikoff brings a wealth of knowledge to her second novel, No Time to Die, whose main action centers on the search for an end to human aging. The focus of that search is 20-year-old Zoe Kincaid, who physically stopped aging at 14. Zoe’s DNA is of great interest to scientists, and to various business conglomerates who want to discover the genetic version of the fountain of youth. Zoe’s life is placed in jeopardy when she gets caught up in the ongoing, oft-times lethal battle between so-called bioterrorist Galileo and the Justice Department’s new (and fanatical) Bioethics Committee head Les Mahler. This intelligent thriller will keep you guessing until the very end, as Zoe desperately seeks out assistance in her quest to unlock the secrets harbored in her genome.

Teri Duerr
2015-01-15 02:41:03
Angel Killer
Hank Wagner

Andrew Mayne’s debut novel, Angel Killer, features newly minted FBI agent Jessica Blackwood, who as a child was tutored in the art of illusion by her father and grandfather, both professional magicians. When the Warlock, a killer with a flair for the dramatic, appears on the scene, FBI consultant Jeffrey Ailes enlists Blackwood’s assistance, hoping she will see things other agents don’t. Thus begins a tense battle of wits, as Blackwood pursues the increasingly flamboyant killer. Mayne, who has worked for David Copperfield, Penn & Teller, and David Blaine brings an expert eye to the proceedings, allowing readers a tantalizing glimpse into the otherwise secretive world of executing elaborate illusions.

Teri Duerr
2015-01-15 02:46:33
Hank Wagner

Janice Gable Bashman’s Predator, a fast-paced novel for young adults, tells the story of Bree Sunderland, a young woman who makes a strange find in the Galamonga Peat Bog in Connemara, Ireland: a huge severed hand covered with long hair. Although she and her scientist father were studying the bog to probe its preservative properties, the hand, which they believe belonged to a lycanthrope (i.e., a werewolf), may be the key to medical breakthroughs in healing, and in creating a new breed of super soldiers. As such, the hand is extremely valuable; the military and certain mercenaries will kill to possess it, while the ancient, secret society known as the Benandanti will kill to preserve its secrets. Tightly written, energetic, and imaginative, Predator is a gripping adventure story teeming with vivid characters and locales, driven by compelling ideas.

Asked what made a good detective story by The New York Times Book Review recently, Sara Paretsky answered, “Believable characters first, a good story, an understanding of how to pace dramatic action.” This is also the formula for a good thriller, and all three books above successfully adhere to it. If there are any flaws in these tales, they lay in the fact that each is the opening salvo in a series—the authors purposely leave numerous plot threads dangling. However, each will leave you eagerly anticipating the next installment in the ongoing saga.

Teri Duerr
2015-01-15 02:50:45