Location, Location, Location

slaughter coptown
Readers know that oftentimes the location of a novel becomes as important a character any fictional person.

When you think of Michael Connelly, you think of Los Angeles. Sara Paretsky’s V.I. Warshawski is forever linked to Chicago. Baltimore is as much a part of Laura Lippman’s novels as is her P.I. Tess Monaghan. Randy Wayne White’s Doc Ford “owns” Florida’s Gulf Coast.

I’ve been thinking about a novel’s location a lot lately as I prepare for the panel I will be moderating during the Edgar symposium. The panel is, you guessed it, on location.

The four authors on the panel each write about a different locale and each is up for an Edgar Award.

Tom Bouman, Best First Novel nominee, writes about northeastern Pennsylvania in Dry Bones in the Valley.

CB McKenzie, Best First Novel nominee, focuses on Arizona in Bad Country.

Karin Slaughter, Best Novel nominee, showcases Atlanta in her 16th novel Cop Town.

Lisa Turner, Best Paperback Original nominee, takes us to the various parts of Memphis, Tennessee, in The Gone Dead Train.

First, I want to wish each of the nominees best wishes.

Reading and, in a couple of cases, re-reading these novels, reinforced how well each of these authors showcased the area they are writing about. Each writes about an area that has been explored before in crime fiction, yet each brings a fresh perspective.

Each of these authors shows how location affects their characters. In addition, an area’s economic situation, its isolation or proximity to urban areas, and even the weather are part of the location and also inform the characters.

For example, Bad Country doesn’t just show beautiful vistas. The empty areas provide an easy path for illegals and drug traffickers to enter the country. And the main character lives in the only habitable dwelling in the remnants of a planned community in an area appropriately called The Hole.

mckenzie badcountry
The community in Dry Bones in the Valley is grappling with the steady encroachment of gas drilling, which will bring new wealth and erode neighborly trust.

The Gone Dead Train takes us to some of the poorest areas of Memphis, where many people are squatting in vacant homes.

Unlike Slaughter’s ongoing series about Sara Linton and Will Trent, the author sets Cop Town during the 1970s when Atlanta was just starting to show signs of economic growth. Cop Town shows how women were taking their rightful place in the police department, and faced overwhelming resistance. In Cop Town, it seems as if the male cops want to punish the women cops by sending them to poorest areas.

We are going to have a great time during the panel. Come if you can, and if you can’t, happy reading.

Oline Cogdill
2015-04-26 21:00:00
Why MWA and Other Writers’ Organizations Matter

bookstack open copy
My recent trip to New York City was terrific—a chance to catch up with friends, see some wonderful theater, and shop.

But the main reason for the trip was to attend the Edgar symposium, where I moderated a panel, and, of course, attend the Edgar Awards.

Now that I am unpacked, mostly, and caught up laundry, mostly, I’ve been thinking, What is the value of the Mystery Writers of America, which will celebrate its 70th year in 2016, and the Edgar Awards?

In my opinion, both matter a lot and both should be embraced by published writers, unpublished writers, planning to be writers, and, of course, readers.

Awards such as the Edgar, the Agatha and the Anthony, and organizations such as MWA and Sisters in Crime help us celebrate the genre.

And we should celebrate it.

Mystery readers, and writers, know that the genre often goes where no other form of literature can.

Mysteries, or crime fiction, or whatever label you need to use, show us who we are as a society. These novels act as today’s social novels, how we deal with contemporary issues as well as how we handle crimes and punishments.

I’ve said all that before, and why would we not want to celebrate that?

Any time the mystery community gives an award, the grumbles begin.

Actually, that happens any time an award in the arts is presented, whether it is the Edgar, the Oscar, the Tony, or any regional arts award. I hear everything from “We shouldn’t be competing against each other” to “They never honor [fill in the blank…cozies, thrillers, hard-boiled, women, minorities, etc.]” to “It’s all political” to “The awards don’t mean anything” to “When is it my turn?”.

I disagree with just about all those comments.

The awards don’t mean that authors are competing against each other; the awards are honoring some of the best books the genre has to offer. With so many wonderful books published each year, it’s fitting and right to honor as many books as possible.

Were the Edgars winners my picks?

Some were, some were not, but I am not going to elaborate on that.

It is not my place to second-guess any of the judges, of any awards.

I do an annual best-of list and some of my picks overlap the Edgars and other awards, and some do not.

And I think that is good because it points out how there are so many worthy books that no one list can have them all. I actually like when our lists contain some differences because it brings attention to more books.

And if an author’s book doesn’t make it to the list, that doesn’t mean it is bad. It just means that others were a notch above.

The genre is filled with many books I’d label B+ and A….and a large number I’d call A+. The competition is stiff, so stop grumbling about not making the list, and instead celebrate the best of the best.

The Edgars truly are the Oscars of the mystery world, and we need that.

I also love that the Agatha Awards celebrate the traditional mystery and the Anthonys are a fan-based award.

As for why MWA, Sisters in Crime, and the other organizations matter...

The mission statement says it all: “MWA is dedicated to promoting higher regard for crime writing and recognition and respect for those who write within the genre.”

Isn’t that enough reason?

I also am grouping Sisters in Crime, the Private Eye Writers of America, and other organizations in this. And their mission statements are similar.

Crime fiction and crime writers deserve respect and organizations fight for that respect. These groups are not just about established writers, but for anyone who is related to the genre.

These organizations educate us about the genre, keep us informed about the legalities, offer scholarships, discounts, sometimes can offer insurance, and make us think about why we love mysteries.

Sisters in Crime is entering its 28th year; MWA celebrates its 70th year in 2016; The Private Eye Writers of America has been going for 34 years.

Writing is a solitary enterprise, so having a group of others to be with is invaluable. And you cannot get that just from the Internet or social media.

One gets out of an organization what one wants to, and what a person puts into it. And these organizations are so worthwhile. Plus, the membership dues are quite affordable.

One more thing: anyone, whether a member of MWA or not, can attend the Edgars symposium, the Edgar banquet, or the seminars and workshops it sponsors around the country.

Likewise, Malice Domestic, Bouchercon, Left Coast Crime, and the other conferences, are open to anyone.

So all this matters; it matters a lot.

Enjoy who we are, honor the books that compose the genre, and, most of all, read and buy books.

Oline Cogdill
2015-05-06 10:05:00
Key West Competition, Award to Honor Jeremiah Healy

healyjerry bobblehead
In addition to becoming an annual event, the second Mystery Writers Key West Fest will launch a writing award to honor an author who made Florida his home.

The first Jeremiah Healy Mystery Writing Award—“The Jerry”—will be presented during the event, August 14-16 in Key West, Florida. The winner will receive a book publishing contract with Absolutely Amazing eBooks, free Mystery Writers Key West Fest registration, hotel accommodations for two nights, and a bobble-headed Jerry trophy (shown at left).

Healy, who died in August 2014, was the author of 13 novels about Boston-based private detective John Francis Cuddy and, under the pseudonym Terry Devane, wrote the Mairead O'Clare legal thriller series. Healy’s writing career began while a professor at the New England School of Law, where he taught for almost two decades. Healy wrote 18 novels and over 60 short stories, 15 of which won or were nominated for the Shamus Award.

A graduate of Rutgers College and Harvard Law School, Healy’s career path included stints as a military police lieutenant and a trial attorney.

For nearly 20 years, Healy lived in Fort Lauderdale, where he was active in the Florida chapter of Mystery Writers of America and the writers conference Sleuthfest. He also served as moderator and panelist at the first Mystery Writers Key West Fest in 2014.  

“The Jerry” is sponsored by Absolutely Amazing eBooks. Candidates for the Jeremiah Healy Mystery Writing Award should submit the first three pages of a finished, unpublished manuscript no later than June 30, 2015. There is no fee to enter, finalists will be notified August 1, and will have until August 10 to submit full manuscripts.

The award judging committee will be led by Healy's fiancée, mystery author Sandra Balzo, and includes Shirrel Rhoades, author, film critic, media consultant and publisher of Absolutely Amazing eBooks; Ted Hertel, attorney, author, reviewer and immediate past executive vice president of Mystery Writers of America; and Gary Warren Niebuhr, library director, reviewer and author of numerous nonfiction works on crime fiction, including Make Mine a Mystery: A Guide to Mystery and Detective Fiction and Read 'em Their Writes: A Handbook for Mystery Book Discussions.

This year’s Mystery Writers Key West Fest—“Murder & Mayhem in Paradise”—includes multiple workshops, presentations, panel discussions, and social events with crime fiction and true crime writers.

For information on the Second Annual Mystery Writers Key West Fest and complete Jeremiah Healy Mystery Writing Award competition guidelines and submission details, visit www.mysterywriterskeywestfest.com.

Oline Cogdill
2015-05-09 10:35:00
Spring Issue #139 Contents


139coverB 250




John Sandford

More than 25 years into a spectacular career at the top of the thriller charts, the creator of Minnesota cops Lucas Davenport and Virgil Flowers is only getting started.
by Oline H. Cogdill

The Unexpected Dorothy Gilman: Creator of Mrs. Pollifax

Dorothy Gilman struck a chord with her New Jersey grandmother turned CIA agent.
by Michael Mallory

Full Stream Ahead: Crime Shows on the Internet

New streaming services are a bonanza for crime and mystery fans, offering access to foreign and vintage offerings, and even high-quality original series and films.
by Kevin Burton Smith


A chat with the versatile Libby Fischer Hellmann.
by Ed Gorman

All She Wrote: Leigh Brackett’s Spectacular Career

From screenplays for The Big Sleep to Rio Bravo to The Empire Strikes Back, Brackett spanned decades and genres with ease.
by Jake Hinkson

Peter May: The Lewis Trilogy

As Americans catch on to the lauded series set in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, this writer takes on other worlds.
by Lynn Kaczmarek

Georges Simenon’s Maigret

Keeping some streets dark in the City of Light.
by Cara Black

Roaring in Retrospect Crossword

by Verna Suit




At the Scene

by Kate Stine

Mystery Miscellany

by Louis Phillips

Hints & Allegations

2015 Thriller Award nominations, 2015 Left Coast Crime Awards, 2015 Derringer Awards

The Hook

First lines that caught our attention

My Book

Cold Case: The Atlanta Child Murders, Wayne Williams, and the writing of Innocent Blood
by Michael Lister




Small Press Reviews: Covering the Independents

by Betty Webb

Very Original: Paperback Originals Reviewed

by Lynne Maxwell & Hank Wagner

What About Murder? Reference Books Reviewed

by Jon L. Breen

Sounds of Suspense: Audiobooks Reviewed

by Dick Lochte

Short & Sweet: Short Stories Considered

by Bill Crider

Mystery Scene Reviews




The Docket


Our Readers Recommend

Advertiser Info


Teri Duerr
2015-05-04 19:20:05





The Detections of Lillian de la Torre

A look at the historical mystery writer who put Dr. Sam Johnson on the case in witty short stories.
by Michael Mallory


Katherine Hall Page discusses her Faith Fairchild series, favorite authors, the writing life, and her new collection of short stories.
by Ed Gorman

Ben H. Winters: World of Trouble

It’s six months before an asteroid destroys Earth and detective Hank Palace continues his lone crusade to bring order to the apocalypse in the final book of this highly praised trilogy.
by KOline H. Cogdill

Paul Doiron: A Light in the Forest

It’s law and order Maine-style with Game Warden Mike Bowditch.
by Lynn Kaczmarek


This Elmore Leonard-inspired show has always had big ambitions —and the payoff is on the way.
by Jake Hinkson

Dorothy Salisbury Davis

A star in the 1950s to ’70s, Davis had a rich understanding of the human condition.
by Sarah Weinman

“Killer Wedding” Crossword

by Verna Suit




At the Scene

by Kate Stine

Mystery Miscellany

by Louis Phillips

Hints & Allegations

2014 Anthony Award nominations, Edgar Awards, Agatha Awards, Audie Awards, Lambda Awards, Arthur Ellis Awards

New Books

by Elaine Viets

Storytelling Through Totem Poles
by R.J. Harlick

The Hook

First lines that caught our attention




Small Press Reviews: Covering the Independents

by Betty Webb & Sharon Magee

Very Original: Paperback Originals Reviewed

by Lynne Maxwell & Hank Wagner

What About Murder? Reference Books Reviewed

by Jon L. Breen

Sounds of Suspense: Audiobooks Reviewed

by Dick Lochte

Short & Sweet: Short Stories Considered

by Bill Crider

Mystery Scene Reviews




The Docket


Our Readers Recommend

Advertiser Info


2015 Anthony Nominations

The nominees for the 2015 Anthony Awards have been announced.

These are for books published in 2014.

Winners are selected at Bouchercon by attendee vote and will be awarded during the conference, which is Oct. 8-11 in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Mystery Scene congratulates all the nominees.

Lamentation – Joe Clifford (Oceanview)
The Secret PlaceTana French (Hodder & Stoughton/Viking)
After I’m GoneLaura Lippman (William Morrow)
The Long Way Home Louise Penny (Minotaur)
Truth Be Told – Hank Phillippi Ryan (Forge)

Blessed Are the Dead – Kristi Belcamino (Witness Impulse)
Ice Shear – M.P. Cooley (William Morrow)
Invisible City – Julia Dahl (Minotaur)
The Life We Bury – Allen Eskens (Seventh Street)
The Black Hour – Lori Rader-Day (Seventh Street)

Stay With Me – Alison Gaylin (Harper)
The Killer Next Door – Alex Marwood (Penguin)
The Day She Died – Catriona McPherson (Midnight Ink)
World of Trouble – Ben H. Winters (Quirk)
No Stone Unturned – James W. Ziskin (Seventh Street)

The Figure of the Detective: A Literary History and Analysis – Charles Brownson (McFarland)
Death Dealer: How Cops and Cadaver Dogs Brought a Killer to Justice – Kate Clark Flora (New Horizon)
Dru’s Book Musings – Dru Ann Love (http://drusbookmusing.com)
Poe-Land: The Hallowed Haunts of Edgar Allan Poe – J.W. Ocker (Countryman)
Writes of Passage: Adventures on the Writer’s Journey – Hank Phillippi Ryan, editor (Henery)

“Honeymoon Sweet” Murder at the Beach: The Bouchercon Anthology 2014 – Craig Faustus Buck (Down & Out)
“The Shadow Knows” Chesapeake Crimes: Homicidal Holidays – Barb Goffman (Wildside)
“Howling at the Moon” Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Nov 2014 – Paul D. Marks (Dell)
“Of Dogs & Deceit” Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Nov 2014 – John Shepphird (Dell)
“The Odds Are Against Us” Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Nov 2014 – Art Taylor (Dell)

FaceOff – David Baldacci, editor (Simon & Schuster)
Murder at the Beach: The Bouchercon Anthology 2014 – Dana Cameron, editor (Down & Out)
Trouble in the Heartland: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Bruce Springsteen – Joe Clifford, editor (Gutter)
In the Company of Sherlock Holmes: Stories Inspired by the Holmes Canon – Laurie R. King & Leslie S. Klinger, editors (Pegasus Crime)
Carolina Crimes: 19 Tales of Love, Lust, and Longing – Karen Pullen, editor (Wildside)

Oline Cogdill
2015-05-05 11:20:00
The Immune System: A Dewey Decimal Novel
Betty Webb

We know that all good things must come to an end, and Nathan Larson’s The Immune System: A Dewey Decimal Novel gives us the final installment of one of the finest (and weirdest) thriller trilogies ever. After the apocalyptic adventures of Larson’s incorrigible protagonist in The Dewey Decimal System and The Nervous System, the author delivers a grand finale worthy of his grand—if brain-addled—hero. In the near-future, the few who survived the world-changing “Valentine’s Occurrence” are living in the rubble that was once Manhattan. This wasteland has been divided up between warring factions: the Coalition, the Chinese, the Russians, and a mysterious company called Cyna-corp. “Decimal,” as he is called since he can’t remember his own name, works as a freelance troubleshooter. In this, his last detail, he is asked to provide protection for two young Saudi royals. The job turns out to be rougher than previous assignments, because everyone in what’s left of Manhattan—and possibly the world—wants to kill them. Decimal is no fool. He realizes that given his many addictions (drugs, hand sanitizer, etc.), he should be the last person called on to protect anyone, let alone the last two surviving members of the House of Saud. Something is fishy somewhere. However, he’s also addicted to excitement, and can’t pass up the challenge. Therein begins a thrill ride of major proportions. Told in Decimal’s own brutal voice, a free-form, expletive-rife poetry rap perfectly suited to the chaos surrounding him, the plot rockets from rat-ridden basements to posh executive suites. Through it all, Decimal fights off not only outside adversaries, but also his own crazy urges. Due to an electronic implant in his neck, much of his memory has been erased and false memories implanted, so he no longer knows for certain which side he is on. This uncertainty lends piquancy to his every waking moment, because when he at long last falls in love, he can’t be sure if the emotion is real or programmed. There is physical action aplenty in this breathtaking novel—fistfights, shoot-outs, bombs, etc.— but during the finale of Larson’s glorious trilogy, we learn that in the end, the only struggle that ever mattered was Decimal’s struggle with himself.

Teri Duerr
2015-05-06 15:19:20

larsontheimmunesystemNathan Larson gives readers the final installment of one of the finest (and weirdest) thriller trilogies ever.

Ace Atkins on Elmore Leonard
Ace Atkins

Ace AtkinsLet Your Characters Do the Talking


Photo © Joe Worthem


Elmore “Dutch” Leonard died cool. There’s a certain kind of magic in a man who came of age during the Great Depression and refused to become dated, repetitive, or, worst of all, soft. Not only was he one of the best crime writers of all time, he was—no matter the year—the hippest.

When Elmore died two years ago at age 87, he was still going strong, with his hit TV show Justified and a newly published collection of short stories featuring Raylan Givens. There was a new movie in production and new fans discovering his work. His final years were peppered with some terrific books: Cuba Libre, Tishomingo Blues, Mr. Paradise, and The Hot Kid. I love the golden era of Dutch, all those gritty Detroit crime novels. But there was really something special about The Hot Kid, a meditation on storytelling and a return to Dutch’s childhood, when criminals were folk heroes.

He never tried to recycle old ideas and he never phoned it in. One of his last books wasn’t about his tried-and-true urban crime but instead Somali pirates. I think by always challenging himself, he never really got old. Or acted old. He never stopped evolving. He mastered the Western, producing stories that became classic films, Three-Ten to Yuma and Hombre. Then he ventured into the modern, real grit of Detroit, with the classics Swag, The Switch, and City Primeval. And by the time he’d become synonymous with Detroit, he moved on and arguably created the modern Florida crime novel with awesome books like LaBrava and Gold Coast. After that it was on to Cuba during the Spanish-American War, the Mississippi Delta, and Rwanda.

I was fortunate enough to know Dutch. We corresponded for several years, and I spent time with him both in my hometown of Oxford, Mississippi, and at a noir festival in Frontignan, France. He was as cool in person as the characters from his books. I recall us arriving at a press event during the festival and French newspapers giving him the rock star treatment he deserved.

Like an aging gunfighter, he didn’t speak much, but observed everything around him. The first thing he did when sitting down for an interview was light a cigarette and slowly blow out the smoke. He later told me, “That’s when you see the flashbulbs popping.”

It was the image seen on newsstands across France the next day.

On the trip, he told me he’d read my third novel, and admitted, “It’s not bad, but a lot of it reads like writing.” As longtime Leonard fans know, one of his 10 Rules of Writing was “If It Sounds Like Writing, I Rewrite It.” To try and overwrite or be ornate with your language simply wasn’t cool to Dutch. You disappear as the author.

You hang back and let your characters talk. The author’s job is to listen, learn, and evolve.

And hopefully you’ll stay cool and never grow old.


Ace Atkins is the bestselling author of 17 novels, including the US Army ranger Quinn Colson series, the Nick Travers series, and the and Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series. A former newspaper reporter and SEC football player, Ace lives in Oxford, Mississippi, with his family, where he’s friend to many dogs and several bartenders.


This “Writers on Reading” essay was originally published in At the Scene” eNews May 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
2015-05-06 17:58:28

Ace AtkinsNot only was he one of the best crime writers of all time, he was—no matter the year—the hippest.

Spouses & Other Crimes
Bill Crider

Spouses & Other Crimes is a collection of ten stories from Andrew Coburn. These aren’t mystery stories, but involve crimes of different kinds. “Bang Bang” tells about husband-and-wife vacationers who encounter the husband’s former college professor, a man who supposedly killed his wife but remains free after two mistrials. The wife finds herself unaccountably attracted to him. In “A Woolf in Vita’s Clothing,” a woman named Caroline, who has just killed her husband, meets a man named Chuck, who’s also a spouse murderer. They go on the road together in a journey that doesn’t end well for either. All the stories in this collection are written in Coburn’s finely honed prose, and are capable of creating a sense of unease as we read about what seems to be a ordinary world, but is just slightly off-center as are his characters. Spouses & Other Crimes is effective and haunting. Highly recommended for anyone looking for something a bit off the beaten track.

Teri Duerr
2015-05-06 18:07:14
Careless People: Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of The Great Gatsby
Jon L. Breen

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s celebrated novel The Great Gatsby (1925) is certainly a crime story, and even, in a sense, a detective story. In this enthralling blend of social history, literary criticism, biography, and true crime, Sarah Churchwell focuses on the year 1922, in which the novel was set, cutting from the action of Gatsby to the wild life of the partying Fitzgeralds to the notorious Hall-Mills murder case playing out in the newspapers of the time. The double shooting murder in New Brunswick, New Jersey, of Episcopal minister Edward W. Hall and choir singer Eleanor Mills, having an affair though both married to other people, has never been officially solved. Churchwell does an excellent job of balancing all her elements into a unified and intensely readable whole.

Forgive my airing a language pet peeve: Churchwell is guilty of repeated misuses of “begging the question,” an atrocity which seems to be diminishing in respectable circles.

Teri Duerr
2015-05-06 18:12:02
Hank Wagner

Elizabeth Heiter’s Vanished features Evelyn Baine, an FBI profiler who is haunted by the kidnapping and presumed murder of a childhood friend 18 years ago at the hands of the man known as the Nursery Rhyme killer. She also suffers from survivor’s guilt, after a recent revelation that she was also apparently targeted by the madman. Thus, when the killer resurfaces in her old hometown, she hastily volunteers to work the case. Little does she know that her investigation will be hindered by hostile locals, numerous suspects, and a killer with a kill-or-be-killed attitude.

Vanished is a dark and moody book; the despair is almost palpable. It’s ultimately uplifting, however, to vicariously experience Evelyn’s search for the truth. Her battle is hard fought, and vividly described through Heiter’s well-wrought, workmanlike prose. Each character is distinct and well rendered, and the plotting is admirable. A handsomely crafted mixture of police procedural and thriller, Vanished is a book whose events will haunt you well after you finish.

Teri Duerr
2015-05-06 18:22:48
Fry Another Day
Lynne Maxwell

Fry Another Day, by J.J. Cook (aka the indefatigable Joyce and Jim Lavene), is the second entry in the Biscuit Bowl Food Truck Mystery series, and it is a winner. Following on the heels of series opener Death on Eat Street, Fry Another Day stars Mobile, Alabama food truck owner Zoe Chase, with feline sidekick Crème Brulee. When Zoe enters her food truck, Biscuit Bowl, in a traveling cooking contest, she anticipates some stiff competition, but she certainly doesn’t expect to encounter actual stiffs. On the very first day of the contest, a fellow food truck owner meets an untimely demise when his refrigerator topples onto him. Suspecting that the death was no accident, Zoe confides her fears to a cop on the scene—and he is mowed down by a vehicle shortly thereafter. Still, Zoe and her friends—including, handsome lawyer, Miguel—soldier on, doing their best to win the competition fairly. In the end, Zoe guesses the identity of the killer, but not soon enough to avert a brush with death. The conclusion is surprising (to this reader, at least) because it defies convention. Fry Another Day is a truly satisfying cozy, and I can’t wait for the next series entrée. Guaranteed to raise your cholesterol count—but well worth it!

Teri Duerr
2015-05-06 18:37:07
Backstrom: He Who Kills the Dragon
Dick Lochte

Publicity for this novel describes Detective Superintendent Evert Backstrom of Sweden’s National Murder Squad as an “irascible, obdurate...persistently repulsive yet undeniably brilliant comic creation...winding his way through the black comedy of a crime scene and managing to upset nearly everyone in the process.” This is a spot-on description of the Americanized version of the character Rainn Wilson plays in the witty, woefully underrated Fox TV series based on Leif G.W. Persson’s fiction. Judging by He Who Kills the Dragon, book two in the series, the literary Backstrom comes up a bit short on the comedy scale, and maybe a bit too long on the repulsive chart. The plot finds the boorish homicide expert investigating the murder of an elderly, generally disliked alcoholic. The unknown killer used the victim’s tie to strangle him, this after having clubbed him with a fry pan lid and a hammer. Backstrom, under doctor’s orders to give up rich food and booze, pauses long enough from complaining about his despised rehab to survey the crime scene and begin his investigation. His progress struck me as both familiar and plodding. He eventually solves the crime—at the cost of a broken nose—but his dreary railings against contemporary mores and minorities (racial, sexual and/or combinations thereof) seem waaay too heavy-handed and sour to qualify as even Archie Bunker-like, so-dumb-it’s-funny amusing. Since Persson, a criminologist as well as an author, has been writing popular crime novels for over 30 years, amassing dozens of awards in his native Sweden, I suppose the prose may have lost something in Neil Smith’s translation. And though reader Erik Davies effectively provides a slew of proper-sounding Scandinavian accents, his gruff, croaky rendition of the constantly complaining Backstrom is particularly charmless and joyless. By contrast, Wilson’s TV version (seeking justice in a perennially rainy Portland, Oregon) may have a more abrasive, sharply nasal voice, but there’s a vulnerability to the character missing in this audio, along with an upbeat energy that somehow makes his arrogant, frequently obnoxious statements seem actually funny. The TV cases have been interesting and, perhaps most important, Backstrom’s teammates offer strong support. Like his associates in the novel, they are crimefighters who’ve suffered career setbacks. Unlike those in the novel, they’re smartly developed and distinctive, with personalities that more than compensate for Backstrom’s dark cynicism and arrogance.

Teri Duerr
2015-05-07 18:21:00
At the Scene, Spring Issue #139

139coverB 250Hi Everyone,

It’s quite an achievement to be well over 25 years into a literary career and still be on top, but John Sandford is no ordinary writer. Every time one of his “Prey” novels arrives, I have to pry it out of Brian’s fingers in order to send it out for review. Then a Virgil Flowers novel comes in and Teri has to pry it out of my fingers. (Luckily, Oline Cogdill gets her own review copies or there would be a riot in the Mystery Scene offices!) Oline has a chat with John Sandford, aka the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist John Camp in his private life, in this issue.

Also in this issue, Ed Gorman chats with Libby Fischer Hellmann, author of amateur sleuth and private eye novels as well as political thrillers, and Lynne Kaczmarek interviews the prolific Scottish author Peter May. Cara Black, creator of the bestselling Aimée Leduc series, considers Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret and his Paris, and Michael Mallory takes a look at Dorothy Gilman, who created the beloved Mrs. Pollifax, a New Jersey grandmother turned globetrotting CIA agent. That’s quite a range of crime fiction!

From The Big Sleep to Rio Bravo to The Empire Strikes Back, Leigh Brackett’s celebrated screenwriting career spanned genres and decades. Brackett also had a great run as a novelist and short story writer with a sideline in television scripts. Jake Hinkson takes a closer look in this issue.

Kevin Burton Smith offers a survey of the new streaming services and the avalanche of films and television shows, both new and old, which are now available to crime fans. It truly is a Golden Age of Television. We’d love to hear what you’re watching these days— write and let us know!

Kate Stine

Teri Duerr
2015-05-09 12:23:31
Bridges Burned
Betty Webb

Annette Dashofy’s Bridges Burned brings back the gritty but compassionate paramedic Zoe Chambers, a woman who never flinches when she has to pull mangled victims out of car wrecks. In this recent installment (after Lost Legacy and Circle of Influence), her heart is touched by the suffering of ten-year-old Maddie Farabee, whose mother died in a fiery house explosion. Maddie’s father Holt had dropped the girl off at a babysitter’s just before the inferno. Thanks to this coincidence and rumors of her parents’ marital discord, Maddie is now in danger of losing both her parents—one to death, the other to prison. Convinced that Maddie’s father is innocent of arson, Zoe sets out to find the real criminal. This initial setup is enough to drive any mystery, but author Dashofy adds a twist. Zoe is so filled with pity towards Maddie’s plight that she invites the girl and her penniless father to move into her own home. This arrangement doesn’t sit well with her boyfriend, Police Chief Pete Adams. Jealousy isn’t the only problem here—Adams is as convinced of Holt’s guilt as Zoe is of his innocence. Adams’ own investigation uncovers the unsettling fact that technically, the Farabee family were squatters. They had been evicted from their home, only to move back in under cover of darkness. Threading everything together in this morally complicated mystery is the recurring question: What happens when decent, intelligent people—using both heart and brains— arrive at different conclusions? Bridges Burned is first and foremost a top-flight mystery, but what makes it truly shine is that it’s also an astute exploration of the human psyche.

Teri Duerr
2015-05-13 16:29:28
Empty Rooms
Betty Webb

In Jeffrey J. Mariotte’s gripping Empty Rooms, a cop and an ex-cop pair up to examine the cold case of Angela Morton, an 11-year-old girl who went missing from her Detroit neighborhood 13 years earlier. Richie Krebbs, who was fired from his job as a patrolman with the Detroit PD and now works as a security guard, catches a young boy breaking into one of the many deserted homes in a desolate section of the city. The fact that the house once belonged to the ill-fated Morton family stirs Krebbs’ interest, and while poking around the old crime scene, he runs into Detective Frank Robey. Both men agree that, after all these years, the missing Angela must be long dead, but they are haunted by the fact that her killer is still out there, possibly continuing to prey upon other young girls. Believing that the case was dropped too soon, they form an off-the-record task force of two and set off to find Angela’s abductor. Following old leads, their hunt takes them from Detroit to Arizona, Virginia, and Nebraska. They eventually find themselves tracking a serial child molester who has branched out to killing women in gruesome ways. This is not a book for the timid or easily shocked: the theme of violence against children is rough stuff. Despite this, Empty Rooms remains a highly recommended read. This atmospheric novel is notable in its descriptions of a bleak and dying city filled with people who have lost almost all hope. The Detroit setting works as a perfect metaphor for the grieving families whose children vanished. Even more bleak are the chapters written in the point of view of a man named Charlie Welker, a child molester planning the abduction of yet another “angel” to live in his “child-friendly” dungeon. It may take a strong stomach to read those pages, but for readers who are baffled by the seeming lack of conscience exhibited by people who hurt children, Empty Rooms provides an answer.

Teri Duerr
2015-05-13 16:36:31
Cold Trail
Betty Webb

Janet Dawson’s Cold Trail brings Northern California’s wine country so alive you’ll want to pack up and move there. The book’s chilling first chapter finds PI Jeri Howard standing in a cold morgue, checking to see if the body of a man found murdered is her brother, Brian. When the dead man turns out to be a stranger, Jeri is only slightly relieved. Two weeks earlier, Brian failed to return from a hike, and his wife Sheila, and the rest of the family, are distraught. Following Brian’s now-cold trail leads Jeri from a dilapidated harbor, across scenic Sonoma County, and into the wild forest of a large state park. Jeri discovers that her brother’s life held many secrets: a crumbling marriage, a mysterious job change, and the possible cover-up of a student’s attempted suicide at the school where Brian taught. As Jeri’s investigation continues, she begins to suspect that his disappearance just might be connected to the proposed sale of a coastal tract being fought over by conservationists and a less-than-ethical marina owner eager to expand. Personal problems always make delicious fodder for mysteries, but in this intriguing book, the Northern California land issues sometimes eclipse them. Dawson informs us that former apple orchards have been replaced by vineyards, and the additional water required to grow grapes has caused an alarming drop in the water table. In addition, numerous illegal pot plantations springing up in the area are siphoning off even more water at the rate of 15 gallons per plant, per day, on plantations that can each contain thousands of plants. In lesser hands, so much factual information could be overwhelming. Not here. Dawson knows how to blend real history and real crime into an intriguing mystery about a missing man and the people, and the land, he loves. Some advice: don’t neglect to read the author’s afterword at the end of the book.

Teri Duerr
2015-05-13 16:42:06
Devils and Dust
Betty Webb

In J.D. Rhoades’ excellent Devils and Dust the author blends fact with fiction, guiding us into the dark world of human trafficking. Rhoades’ Jack Keller frequently acts before he thinks, and that’s the case here. When alerted that an old friend’s two young sons, Reuben and Edgar, have gone missing while being illegally transported into the US, Jack immediately sets off to find them. A time bomb primed to explode, he knows but cares little that his quest might bring him into conflict with vicious border gangs and the US and Mexican governments. What he doesn’t know is that another foe has been added to the mix—a militarist compound that uses the coyotes’ transports as slaves. The compound is run by the only semi-sane “General” Martin Walker, leader of the Church of Elohim, a cult formed in the belief that the “mud races” were put on Earth to become slaves of the superior white race. Captives who attempt to escape are killed. Author Rhoades has wisely told his tale in several voices: Jack’s, Rueben’s, and the General’s. Thus we get to experience firsthand Jack’s increasing rage, Rueben’s desperation, and the General’s self-righteous cruelty. The result is a real page-turner, one filled with unexpected alliances and deep relationships. One caution: a lynching scene is written in such horrific detail it might be too much for sensitive readers. And don’t miss the acknowledgments page at the end.

Teri Duerr
2015-05-13 16:49:36
Poe Evermore: The Legacy in Film, Music and Television
Jon L. Breen

Poe’s poems, essays, and stories are treated alphabetically by title, each entry of a page or more including a description of the work and wide-ranging, often surprising observations about its later influence, not only visual and musical as the subtitle proclaims, but literary as well. Echoes of Poe in the writings of Arthur Conan Doyle, Oscar Wilde, J. Sheridan Le Fanu, H.P. Lovecraft, and others are remarked upon. The very first entry, “The Angel of the Odd,” is seen as foreshadowing the silent-film slapstick of Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton. The most faithful film adaptation of “The Raven” is credited to an episode of The Simpsons. “Thou Art the Man,” though never given any screen adaptation, is cited as the inspiration for films of psychological suspense like Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope. Various Poe works have been used in progressive rock music, the 1975 album Tales of Mystery and Imagination by the Alan Parsons Project, and a 2003 stage musical by Eric Woolfson. The Roger Corman/Vincent Price films of the 1960s first drew author Huckvale, a British critic and researcher, to delve into Poe’s work.

The detective stories about C. Auguste Dupin have rarely shined in film adaptations. “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” despite the visual attraction of the homicidal ape, has not been faithfully adapted to the big screen: an atmospheric 1932 version with Bela Lugosi essentially leaves out Dupin, though there is a much different character of that surname; and a 1971 version is more like a remake of Phantom of the Opera. The most faithful was a 1986 TV version with George C. Scott as a much-altered Dupin. “The Mystery of Marie Roget,” considered the least of the three Dupin tales, became a 1942 Universal horror film significantly changed from the original. “The Purloined Letter” became a British TV case for Sherlock Holmes (!) that threw out the central plot point.

This learned and entertaining work of scholarship is bound to delight Poe buffs.

Teri Duerr
2015-05-13 17:26:47
Sources and Methods: A Companion Volume to the Novel Baker Street Irregular
Jon L. Breen

In 2010, the Mycroft and Moran imprint of Arkham House published an outstanding historical espionage novel by eminent Sherlockian and retired Pentagon Special Operations officer Jon Lellenberg. At the time, a companion volume elaborating on its sources and methods was promised, and that book is finally here as part of the author’s BSI (Baker Street Irregulars) Archival History Series. Any browser interested in the history of American Sherlockians (including such well-known figures as Rex Stout, Christopher Morley, and Elmer Davis) or in a realistic view of espionage from pre-World War II through the Cold War will find much of interest here and be prodded to seek out the parent novel, which is apparently out of print but available at somewhat elevated prices. Lellenberg reports that an agent who represented the novel for a time thought it could have sold to a major publisher and become a bestseller if the author would have dropped the final two postwar chapters, which would have been a bad decision artistically if not commercially.

Teri Duerr
2015-05-13 17:35:11
The Real World of Sherlock
Jon L. Breen

A Hunter College literature professor, whose work is highly familiar to readers of mystery journals and reference books, considers the influences on the creation of Sherlock Holmes, including the Dupin stories of Edgar Allan Poe, whose pattern Arthur Conan Doyle followed and also extended; the real-life analytical feats of Doyle’s mentor, Dr. Joseph Bell; and Doyle’s own crime investigations, apparently many more than generally believed. B.J. Rahn includes extensive accounts of Doyle’s best-known detective triumphs, the George Edalji and Oscar Slater cases. The book’s second section traces the history of the London Metropolitan Police and the new tools of scientific detection developed in the time of Holmes, though he employed them surprisingly rarely in his investigations. The familiar material is given a fresh slant, agreeably written, and full of surprising facts, observations, and insights. Holmes’ cocaine and opium use, for example, is mentioned only in five stories, and Rahn argues it is hardly fair to call him an addict. Add this engaging volume to the permanent Holmesian shelf.

Update: The paperback edition (Amberley, $16) adds many more illustrations plus a new 47-page chapter on “Sherlock Holmes and the Fair Sex,” which rebuts the charges of misogyny and heartlessness sometimes leveled at the Baker Street sleuth, finding many examples of his sensitive treatment of women and the depth of his feeling for Watson. Also surveyed are the real-life roles of women in the Victorian/Edwardian period when Holmes was active. The original edition has a sturdy hardcover binding and larger print than the revision. Absolute Sherlockian completists will undoubtedly want to keep both editions, but for the rest of us, the trade paperback revision is to be preferred.

Teri Duerr
2015-05-13 17:38:06
Internet Drama and Mystery Television Series, 1996-2014
Jon L. Breen

I was amazed to learn that enough Internet TV drama existed to make such a large book, and, even more so, that anyone would feel the need and have the patience to compile it. The first of the 405 alphabetical entries, The After, which lists only a 54-minute pilot episode, was created by Chris Carter of X-Files fame, and is clearly a fully professional effort, though Vincent Terrace doubts it will have a successful future. Most of those that follow consist of much shorter episodes, and appear to be amateur or fan-inspired products. Each entry aims to give a general storyline synopsis, episode guide, list of principal characters, cast and writer-producer-director credits, a website where the program can be viewed, the years of production, and commentary. The amount of available information varies widely, since these programs come and go, and data is often difficult to find. A 20-page index includes both show titles and names. Though it’s an admirable research job, the book’s appeal would seem to be limited to a very specialized audience—but that may be a 20th-century mind speaking.

Teri Duerr
2015-05-13 17:41:50
Hank Wagner

A kidnapping is at the heart of Kylie Brant’s 11, but, as the story commences, heroine Mia Deleon is five years past her three year ordeal. Sadly, few people accept her story of the time she spent under the control of the sadist she calls The Collector. Most think it’s a tale she concocted, to explain away the time she left home against her family’s wishes. Old fears are roused when The Collector decides he wants her back, sending his minions to reacquire her.

Fast, furious, and intense, 11 is the quintessential “girl on the run” novel, as Mia is forced to abandon the new life she has created is she wants a chance to survive. It also delivers a credible romance between her and security expert Jude Bishop, who reluctantly agrees to assist her, only to find himself falling in love with his client. Brant delivers several action scenes that scream to be depicted on film, so, hopefully, a movie deal is not out of the question.

Teri Duerr
2015-05-13 17:45:18
Hour of Need
Hank Wagner

Thriller Award nominee for Best First Novel Melinda Leigh delivers electrifying suspense in the small-town setting of Scarlet Falls, New York, in Hour of Need. Her tale begins when Lee and Kate Barrett are killed by a gunman, leaving their two small children orphans. Upon hearing of the tragedy, their uncle Grant rushes to their side from Afghanistan, where he is serving as a major in the army. Grant is overwhelmed by the situation, which is further complicated by the fact that the gunman still seems to be stalking his family for a secret file which attorney Lee had been compiling at the time of his demise. Grant finds himself in a life-or-death situation as dangerous as those he faced in the middle of a war zone.

The book’s chief strength is its characters, all of whom you will come to understand and appreciate as individuals—you’ll be attracted to the good guys and you will loathe the bad guys, and be pulled into what can only be labeled a suburban thriller. But make no mistake; the stakes are high in this novel, where even a child can become a target. With the exception of a couple of overly long lovemaking sequences toward the end, Leigh doesn’t miss a step, delivering an entertaining and engaging piece of work.

Teri Duerr
2015-05-13 17:49:01
A Root Awakening
Lynne Maxwell

Just in time for spring, Kate Collins (Linda Tsoutsouris) delivers A Root Awakening, 16th in her wildly popular Flower Shop Mystery series starring Abby Knight, law school washout and successful Indiana flower shop owner. Newly married to Marco, PI and bar/restaurant owner, Abby is house-hunting: Marco’s apartment is too cramped for the happy couple and Abby’s three-legged rescue dog, Seedy. Abby, Marco, and Seedy just happen to be visiting a house with their realtor, when a roofer cries for help and falls backward, landing hard underneath his heavy ladder. The accident isn’t the most puzzling aspect of their visit, however. Rather, Abby is haunted by her encounter with the tenants of the house, a woman with two children who seems strangely unconcerned about the seriously injured roofer. The woman hustles the children away, but not before the little girl, Daisy, observes that Seedy reminds her of her dog, while her mother suggests that Daisy has an overactive imagination and has never owned a dog. Abby cannot shake the idea that something is awry in the household, and this idea is confirmed when she returns to the house the next day, only to discover that the family has abruptly moved. Meanwhile, the roofer’s wife, Rosa, is convinced that someone deliberately pushed her husband’s ladder, and hires Marco and Abby to investigate. Author Collins masterfully pulls together radically different plot strands in a way that readers will enjoy and admire. A Root Awakening is a rewarding and refreshing entry in a mystery series that merits attention. Wake up and smell the flowers!

Teri Duerr
2015-05-13 17:53:22
By Book or by Crook
Lynne Maxwell

Eva Gates is also a veteran mystery author, but you probably know her as Vicki Delany, a Canadian writer not—until now—associated with the cozy genre. By Book or By Crook is the first entry in the delightful Lighthouse Library Mystery series, introducing Lucy Richardson, ex-Boston Brahmin and newly minted librarian in an Outer Banks library housed in a lighthouse. Along with an adorable and heroic cat, Charles, Lucy must solve a crime involving the murder of a prominent library trustee. To complicate matters, the murder occurs during a library reception to unveil a traveling exhibit of rare editions of Jane Austen’s novels. Which one of the party attendees is a murderer? And who is responsible for stealing the Austen books, one by one, from a locked display case?

Teri Duerr
2015-05-13 17:58:07