Lucy Lawless Stars in "My Life is Murder" on Acorn TV
By Oline H Cogdill

Viewers will see a different kind of Lucy Lawless when the actress’ latest series My Life Is Murder makes its U.S. and Canada premiere beginning Aug. 5 on Acorn TV.

Lawless says that Alexa Crowe, a former homicide detective, is the closest to her own persona than any role she has had.

“There is more of me in Alexa than any character,” said the Australian actress in a phone interview.

“For one thing, she’s a modern woman and she is my age,” said Lawless, who is 51. “She has a sexuality and has life experiences with losses and loves. I have never played a character like that.”

There’s also the wardrobe that excites Lawless. “It’s modern clothes,” she adds, enthusiastically.

That means no corsets, no armor, no Victorian dress, no outer space garb for Lawless whose roles have included the title character in the television series Xena: Warrior Princess (1995–2001); cylon model Number Three D'Anna Biers on the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica series (2005–2009); and Lucretia in the television series Spartacus: Blood and Sand (2010), its prequel Spartacus: Gods of the Arena (2011), its sequel Spartacus: Vengeance (2012); Countess Palatine Ingrid Von Marburg on the WGN America supernatural series Salem (2015); and Ruby on the Starz horror-comedy series Ash vs Evil Dead (2015–2018).

“I give women who had to endure those [old-fashioned] clothes a lot of credit just getting through the day,” said Lawless, who also had a recurring role as Diane Lewis-Swanson on the NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation (2012–2015).

The 10-episode My Life Is Murder has the makings of another successful series for Lawless.

Her Alexa left the Melbourne, Australia, police force after her husband, also a detective, was killed in the line of duty. His death left Alexa adrift, as the series illustrates. She’s cut herself off from others, spending her time baking bread and spending time with her cat that she refuses to acknowledge is really hers. (Don’t worry, he is well taken care of.)

Alexa’s pulled back into investigating tricky cases by her former boss, Detective-Inspector Kieran Hussey (Bernard Curry). Cases will include a male escort, the mortuary business, and identity theft. Set in Melbourne, My Life Is Murder also showcases the Victorian city that has become a cosmopolitan arts-centered city.

The comedy-drama also features a fine swath of sly humor. Alexa can figure out the most complicated cases but she’s having trouble fixing her bread machine. In another episode, she deals with her husband’s ashes, blending pathos and humor.

“Humor is a good part of the series and I get to ad lib quite a bit,” said Lawless, who also is an executive producer.

“The series allows me to bring so much of me to it, including the humor. Sometimes I’m not sure where Alexa ends and Lucy begins.”

Lawless is quick to give credit to the series creators, producers, writers, crew members and co-stars. She especially is enthusiastic about Ebony Vagulans who plays computer expert Madison Feliciano, who assists Alexa. Their relationship is a combination of mother and daughter; boss and sidekick, and just friends.

“Ebony will have a long, brilliant career and I take such pride that we found her first,” said Lawless.

“We knew instantly when she auditioned that she had the intelligence and sparkles that we needed. Ebony shows that her character has the ability to handle her end of the bargain, that Alexa could handle a task to her and she would figure out how to get it done without having her hand held.”

The crime element is very much in Lawless’ wheelhouse. Shes ays she is a crime buff, watching and reading both nonfiction and fiction books, TV series and movies. She also often attends murder trials wherever she is filming “to see how it works in different countries.”

“I am very much interested in crime fiction and nonfiction. The [genre] underpins the basics of human behavior in a most intense time of life.”

Lawless may always be remembered for her role in Xena: Warrior Princess series, which celebrates its 25th anniversary next year. Lawless says the character will always have a place in her heart and loves it when people ask about it.

Personally, she said, Xena “gave me everything, and not only a solid fan base who have kept with me through all the turns in my career. Xena is where I met my husband (Xena's executive producer, Pacific Renaissance Pictures CEO Robert G. “Rob” Tapert) and my two sons and allowed us to buy our home,” said Lawless who also has a daughter, Daisy.

“Xena set me up for life. I am endlessly grateful. I owe Xena everything.”

Xena also left a legacy of acceptances for many viewers. The relationship of Xena and Gabrielle (Renee O'Connor) became touchstones for lesbian and gay fans. As the series went on, it became an open secret that the two women were in love.

“I think Xena gave people a message that you can do it. You can have a better life, get out of a bad situation. That’s appealing to everyone but especially to those who are marginalized whether by sexuality, race, sex or just feeling like an outsider. We all fear being less than. That’s a universal message. And if any change is attributed to me than I am delighted to have help change,” said Lawless

Aside from acting, Lawless is a fearless activist for programs involving children, the LGBT community and the environment. “I’ve been given a platform; how could I not do my part to give back and make things better. I want to be part of the solution.”

Lawless’ appealing personality shines in My Life Is Murder. But she says one thing she will not do in the series is sing.

“That would be weird, it just would break that wall,” said Lawless, who has appeared in several musicals including Grease on Broadway, and Chicago in Los Angeles and New Zealand.

“Kelsey Grammar can get away with singing at the end of Frasier but it would be jarring if I did it. But I do get to use my foreign language skills—I studied language. And that has been fun.”

My Life Is Murder launches with its first two episodes to air on Aug. 5, 2019, on the streaming service Acorn TV, and will continue through Sept. 30. Check local listings. Visit

PHOTOS: Top Lucy Lawless; center Lawless with Ebony Vagulans; bottom, Lawless with Bernard Curry. Photos courtesy Acorn TV

Oline Cogdill
2019-08-03 00:02:34
Death by the Bay
Robin Agnew

Sometimes university presses have a gem of a series they cultivate. Patricia Skalka’s Sheriff Dave Cubiak series, set in beautiful Door County, Wisconsin, is just such a series. It's strongly reminiscent of Mary Logue’s fine Claire Watkins series, also set in a small Wisconsin town.

Like Claire, Dave has a tragic backstory that brings him to town, but by book five, Dave is settled, remarried, and has a young son. When a nearby scream interrupts Cubiak's regular lunch date at a hotel restaurant with his good friend the retired county coroner, Cubiak sprints into action only to find that a highly regarded and well-known doctor who was planning to deliver a speech at the hotel's medical conference has just died.

As the doctor is taken away, Cubiak hears another piercing scream and finds a hotel maid pointing at a photo of a man and a boy on an open laptop. The woman insists the boy is her brother Miguel, who was taken from her family by a doctor who promised to “cure” his Down syndrome. Miguel never returned home.

In a seemingly unrelated call to an isolated farm, Cubiak meets an elderly woman who turns out to have a similar story about a missing sister who suffered from polio. A friendly doctor offered to take her away and “cure” her when she was a child.

As Cubiak investigates, he realizes the case of the sister, taken years ago from an immigrant family who spoke little English, and the case of Miguel, taken from his Mexican family, are related. Skalka brings a heartbreaking and moving story to life while tying it to a clever mystery, as her hero untangles the threads of the case using common sense and solid police work. (He’s a step ahead of the reader, but not too far ahead.)

Set in one of the more glorious resort areas of the upper Midwest, Skalka brings to life a wonderful setting while highlighting the lives of the ordinary workers and struggling farmers who live there. The result in Death by the Bay is a highly intelligent and worthwhile read.

Teri Duerr
2019-08-06 15:34:49
Mysteries and Food: A Winning Combination

As a writer of culinary mysteries, I spend a fair amount of time in the kitchen. The recipes in my books are primarily from friends, although I do sneak my own creations in from time to time. Others have come from dear relatives who have passed on. In Italian families, it’s always about the food.

My father was born in Italy and came to America when he was a baby, after his father had died. Grandma may have understood little English, but her cooking skills needed no assistance. She could make everything from tomato sauce to wine. My father would bring her bags of grapes from the vines in our backyard. As a teenager, I considered it a tedious chore to stand outside, picking the lush red and purple grapes that stained my fingers in the hot, unforgiving sun, especially when I wasn’t even allowed to drink the wine! There were other things that I would much rather be doing.

My father had a vegetable garden that he faithfully tended every summer. I didn’t enjoy gardening and never understood why I had to help when I would rather escape somewhere to read the latest Nancy Drew or Agatha Christie novel I’d bought from the local bookstore. From a very young age, reading was my favorite pastime and Nancy, Miss Marple, and Hercule Poirot were some of my favorite people to spend time with.

Although my father and grandmother are both gone now, memories of those hot summer days live on. Years later, I wish I could turn the clock back and do things differently. How I wish I’d been more interested in learning about my heritage when I was a child. I’d inquire about the food and the language, which I never learned to speak, or ask about the country where my father had been born. What an opportunity I wasted!

My main character in Penne Dreadful is a chef who specializes in Italian food. Tessa Esposito finds cooking therapeutic, especially after a recent painful loss. I already had a bakery series and wanted to write another focused on main dishes that paid tribute to my Italian heritage. Although my cooking is passable, Tessa is far better in the kitchen than I could ever hope to be.

In order to research the series further, I took a sauce-making class. I already knew how to make tomato sauce fairly well, but also learned to prepare Bolognese, pesto, and carbonara—a few of my favorites since savoring my grandmother’s creations at a young age.

As with the grapes, my father gave most of what he grew in his garden to Grandma. I adored the zucchini bread she made, a cake-like substance. She added chocolate chips to her version and that sealed the deal for me.

Years later, a friend loaned me her personal recipe and after experimenting with it a bit, I found that it came close to Grandma’s.

Add a beverage and a good read and you have the perfect recipe for a summer day. I highly recommend Kimberly Belle’s The Marriage Lie. Wow. What an incredible journey this book took me on. I love suspense novels but find that I’m often disappointed if the ending is rushed or unsatisfying. Neither of these things occurred with The Marriage Lie. Kudos to Miss Belle for creating such an enthralling tale. I’m looking forward to reading her next book and have just the snack to go along with it!

Zucchini Bread
3 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups grated zucchini
2 tbsp. cinnamon
2 tbsp. vanilla
2 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
1 cup of chocolate chips or M&Ms (optional)

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Mix eggs, sugar, and oil together. Add in zucchini. The consistency will be a bit soupy. Stir in cinnamon, flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Mix in vanilla. If using chocolate chips or M&Ms, dust with flour and add to mixture.

Grease and flour two 9 by 5-inch sized loaf pans. Pour batter into pans and bake for one hour or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Bread may also be frozen after cooled completely by wrapping in aluminum foil and then placing inside freezer bags. Use a straw to remove any excess air.

Makes about eight (2” or 1” etc.,) slices per loaf.

USA Today bestselling author Catherine Bruns has written 15 mystery novels and several novellas in the past five years. She has a BA in English and performing arts and is a former newspaper reporter and press-release writer. Catherine lives in upstate New York with an all-male household that consists of her very patient husband, three sons, and several spoiled pets. Readers are invited to visit her website at

Teri Duerr
2019-08-06 16:15:34
Helen Phillips on Oscar Wilde’s “The Nightingale and the Rose”
Helen Phillips

photo: David Barry

Author Helen Phillips on looking for books that "get under my skin, inside my body."

I distinctly remember the first book that ever made me cry. It was The Nightingale and the Rose by Oscar Wilde, illustrated by Freire Wright and Michael Foreman. I was six years old when I discovered it on the bookshelf. Enthralled by the sunset colors of the cover, I begged my mother to read it to me before we left for a party.

A nightingale overhears a lovelorn student crying because the young woman he adores says she will only dance with him if he brings her red roses, but there are none left in the garden. Taking pity on this “true lover,” the nightingale consults with the barren rose bushes, and learns that there is only one way a rose can blossom after the frost: “If you want a red rose … you must build it out of music by moonlight, and stain it with your own heart’s-blood.” The nightingale, concluding that “Love is better than Life,” thrusts her heart onto the rose’s thorn. But when the student takes the perfect rose to the young woman, she rejects it, for another man has already sent her jewels, and the student throws the rose into the street, where it is crushed by a wheel.

I was beside myself when my mother finished reading the book, and I told her that I could not go to the party; I had to be by myself to cry.

Reading it now, I try to reinsert myself into my six-year-old self. Why were these words the first to unlock for me the exquisite pain that the written word can deliver? Why did this particular story—originally published in 1888—stir me so deeply?

Could it really be because I already intuited that sometimes great gestures of love and generosity are made in vain? Or was it simply the experience of encountering an antidote to Disney, a contrast to all the hopeful stories I had heard up to that point?

What strikes me now is the way the student misunderstands the nightingale: “She is like most artists; she is all style without any sincerity. She would not sacrifice herself for others. She thinks merely of music, and everybody knows that the arts are selfish.”

In any case, The Nightingale and the Rose was the gateway to my ongoing quest for books that get under my skin, inside my body. Since then, I have sought out the catharsis and the comfort of books that acknowledge and articulate the darker aspects of life.

Helen Phillips is the author of, most recently, the novel The Need. Her collection Some Possible Solutions received the 2017 John Gardner Fiction Book Award. Her novel The Beautiful Bureaucrat, a New York Times Notable Book of 2015, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the NYPL Young Lions Award. Her collection And Yet They Were Happy was named a notable collection by The Story Prize. She is also the author of the middle-grade novel Here Where the Sunbeams Are Green. Helen has received a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award and the Italo Calvino Prize in Fabulist Fiction, and her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, and Tin House, and on Selected Shorts. She is an associate professor at Brooklyn College and lives in Brooklyn with her husband, artist Adam Douglas Thompson, and their children.

Teri Duerr
2019-08-07 16:14:38
Jessica Martinez Wins 2019 Eleanor Taylor Bland Crime Fiction Writers of Color Award
Oline H Cogdill

Eleanor Taylor Bland’s influence on the mystery genre is respected.

Her first published novel, Dead Time (1992), introduced African-American police detective Marti MacAlister and set a tone for her subsequent novels as well as influenced other writers at the time.

Marti, recently transferred from Chicago to the small town of Lincoln Prairie, Illinois, was committed to her family, community and religious convictions. A hallmark of the series was how Bland weaved in social issues into the investigations of Marti and her partner, Polish American Vik Jessenovik.

By the way, Bland’s second book, Slow Burn, was the first one she had written, but she could not find a publisher interested. Still, she persisted.

Bland was known to be a personable, compassionate writer and generous to other authors. Her death in 2010 left a void.

But her influence on the genre continues through the Eleanor Taylor Bland Crime Fiction Writers of Color Award, which is given annually to an emerging writer of color who has not yet published a full-length work. Sponsored by Sisters in Crime the award was established in 2014 and carries a $2,000 grant.

Jessica Martinez, left, is the recipient of the 2019 Eleanor Taylor Bland Crime Fiction Writers of Color Award.

Judges Cheryl Head, Mia P. Manansala and Tonya Spratt-Williams said in a joint statement: "Ms. Martinez has great potential as a fresh new voice within the crime fiction community and capably displays a proficiency with humor. Her submission introduced the committee to a fun and witty protagonist and left the committee looking forward to her completed novel."

Martinez is a government worker by day and blogger/aspiring novelist by night, or by naptime for her boys, according to the press release. Martinez has worked in customer service for more than 15 years and has been writing on the side for years but recently started to hone her craft through classes at Santa Barbara City College, Arizona State University, attending SDSU’s Writer’s Conference, and writing blog posts. Jessica has a non-fiction blog where she writes about her real life encounters with difficult situations.

For more information about the award and how to apply, visit

Oline Cogdill
2019-08-16 12:06:08
Anna Lee Huber and the historical lady detective
Robin Agnew

Author Anna Lee Huber

Anna Lee Huber is the author of the Verity Kent series, set during WWII and the Lady Darby mysteries set in 19th century Britain. Her latest novel is book three in the Verity Kent series, Penny for Your Secrets, out this October.

Robin Agnew for Mystery Scene: Both of your series characters have really great backstories. How did you come up with Secret Service Agent Verity Kent's backstory?

Anna Lee Huber: The idea for Verity’s backstory actually came from browsing MI6, the British Secret Intelligence Service’s website. I had been considering writing a series set in World War I or immediately after, but I was looking for a unique angle. I read a brief snippet on the role of women in the service during the Great War, as well as the resistance networks working with the British inside the German-occupied territories of Belgium and northeastern France, and a light bulb went off in my head.

I’d heard of the women who worked for the Secret Service during WWII, but not WWI. I hadn’t even known women had been allowed to serve in such a capacity during that war. So I dove down the rabbit hole of research, diligently digging found a treasure trove of fascinating information about real women and organizations I’d never heard of. I instantly knew I wanted to base Verity on these women agents who had quietly done their bit, taking on immense danger and responsibility, and yet whom much of the world knew nothing about.

How about Lady Darby's backstory?

When I decided to try my hand at writing a historical mystery, I knew I wanted my main protagonist to be female and from the upper classes. However, I also wanted her to be awkward and uncertain. I wanted her to behave how I might if I were ever invited to a high society event.

So, I knew she couldn’t be one of those sleuths who charms everyone into talking to them, or gathers all the latest gossip. Which meant I had to consider what other skills could she bring to an investigation into murder? Instantly, I thought of medical knowledge, but in the first half of the 19th century, few women (except midwives), and almost no gentlewomen, had any familiarity with anatomy or medicine. It would have been completely scandalous.

I leapt over this hurdle by postulating that perhaps her late husband was the anatomist—one of great renowned, appointed by the king and given a baronetcy. And that perhaps his immense pride drove him to desire even greater fame. Fame he didn’t wish to share. So he married my heroine, a woman of great artistic talent, particularly in portraiture, and he forced her to create the illustrations for the definitive anatomy textbook he intended to write (a precursor to Gray’s Anatomy). Well, then my heroine might learn a great deal about the workings of the human body from observing her husband’s dissections, and should her unnatural part in those procedures become known, she would also become a figure of scandal and outrage. Swirl in the terror and distress of the years before the passing of the Anatomy Bill, when body snatchers turned murderers roamed the streets of Edinburgh and London, and I had a wealth of material to draw from.

In book seven, An Artless Demise, Lady Darby is about to have a baby. How do you think being a parent with affect her detecting? There are certainly other historical detectives that seem to balance babies and detecting.

It will most definitely affect Lady Darby, though perhaps not in ways readers might expect. She’s certainly anxious about becoming a mother. Her own mother died when she was eight, and that has made her wary of what motherhood will mean. She isn’t what I would call a nurturing figure, but she has a deep well of empathy and the ability to feel things very intensely. She is also independent and incomplete without her art and her detecting. This will all play into the pending birth of her child, and her struggle to balance all of the aspects of her life moving forward, much like many modern women struggle.

You are now writing two series. How do you keep them separated in your mind as you write? Does Verity ever intrude on Lady Darby, or vice versa, and you are forced to pull yourself back?

Thus far I have not had great difficulty in keeping them separate in my mind. I think it helps that they are such distinct characters from very different time periods. Though only separated by about 90 years, the mind-sets and dialogue and trappings of life are incredibly divergent. So if I hear 1920s slang coming from Lady Darby’s mouth, or find myself tempted to mention a motorcar, I know I’m not tapping into the right voice in my head. From time to time, it does happen, but I usually pull myself back fairly quickly.

What is trickier is keeping the tools available to my sleuths in each time period straight. While writing Penny for Your Secrets, I had to backtrack a few chapters after I realized Scotland Yard would almost certainly have tested for fingerprints—an innovation that is not available to Lady Darby and the newly formed metropolitan police in her time period.

In the latest Lady Darby book, one of the central themes is something called "burking," based on the real-life figures Burke and Hare. Can you tell us a bit about Burke and Hare and why this was intriguing to you?

Burke and Hare were a pair of men who lived in Edinburgh in the late 1820s, and somewhat accidentally stumbled upon the scheme of selling dead bodies to the anatomists of the city, and all without the danger of robbing the guarded new graves of the city. Their first corpse was a man who had died of natural causes in Hare’s boarding house, but the 15 bodies that followed were almost certainly all murdered for money.

Their preferred method for killing their drunk victims was sitting on the abdomen to compress the lungs and holding a hand over their mouth and nose. It came to be called “burking,” after Burke, who ultimately hung for the crimes when Hare turned King’s evidence. It was widely believed there were other burkers at work throughout the United Kingdom, profiting from a corrupt system, and this was proven two years later in London when a group of body snatchers were arrested and charged with murdering the corpse they were attempting to sell.

Given the backstory I’d decided to craft for Lady Darby, and the time period when I’d chosen to set her stories, I realized I couldn’t ignore the existence of Burke and Hare and the other burkers. So, I decided to utilize them to their full advantage. There’s also the added gruesome intrigue of learning about such ghoulish figures, and my own macabre fascination with the bizarre undertaking (pun intended).

You also have a historical romantic suspense novel published in 2016, Secrets in the Mist. Any chance there will be another Gothic Myths book?

Yes. I have a second Gothic Myths book in the works, and hope to continue the series beyond that. The books will be interconnected; however, this series will differ from my other two mystery series in that the heroine-narrator and hero will be different for each book. Book two will be Ella Winterton’s best friend Kate’s story. In many ways, Gothics are some of my first loves in fiction. Mary Stewart is my all-time favorite author, and Victoria Holt also ranks high on my list, as well as some more modern Gothic writers. So the Gothic Myths are a fun labor of love on my part.

Who have been your greatest influences as a mystery writer?

Definitely Mary Stewart, as I mentioned above. Also the authors behind Nancy Drew, whose books were perhaps my first foray into the mystery genre growing up. I pedaled my bike to the library every week to check out new entries in the series. Other influences have been Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, Victor Hugo, Susanna Kearsley, Deanna Raybourn, Diana Gabaldon, Tasha Alexander, Tracy Grant, and Georgette Heyer.

What gets you excited to sit down and get to work each day?

The opportunity to surprise myself. Sometimes it’s a short, but delightful piece of dialogue, and sometimes it’s a major plot twist. The only thing I know for sure is that every time I feel I’ve finally got everything figured out, my subconscious will throw me for a loop. Though it’s both infuriating and delightful, I know in the end, those loops and twists and turns make the story better. And if they can keep me on my toes, perhaps they can keep everyone else on their toes, too.

And finally, what's next?

The third Verity Kent novel, Penny for Your Secrets, releases on October 29, 2019, with fingerprints and all. I also hope to finish up the second Gothic Myths novel and release it late this year or very early next. After that, the eighth Lady Darby novel, A Stroke of Malice, will be published in April 2020. Finally, the historical anthology The Deadly Hours—which I’ve cowritten with Susanna Kearsley, Christine Trent, and CS Harris—is back on track and slated for publication in September 2020.

Anna Lee Huber is the Daphne award-winning author of the national bestselling Lady Darby Mysteries, the Verity Kent Mysteries, and the Gothic Myths series, as well as the anthology The Deadly Hours. She is a summa cum laude graduate of Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee, where she majored in music and minored in psychology. She currently resides in Indiana with her family and is hard at work on her next novel.

Teri Duerr
2019-08-19 20:25:21
Craig Sisterson

This debut literary thriller is what you’d call a Marmite book, with a capital M. While the writing and characterization can be exquisite, it is likely to divide readers due to its cast of unlikable, even noxious characters, including the self-absorbed, perhaps deluded, main character.

Cynthia is a bored and aimless 21- year-old who becomes obsessed with her fitness instructor, Anahera, fantasizing about future possibilities. When Anahera’s marriage implodes, the pair team up and head to a scenic coastal village to live a carefree life on a boat a few hours from the city. At least for a while.

Cynthia funds their trip with ill-gotten gains, but that’s not a problem, right? After all, Anahera is everything she wants. Or not. As the money dwindles and a series of strange things begin to unfold, Baby begins to take on a lurking sense of unease. Is Cynthia a flighty dreamer, or something more sinister? As the pages flow, there’s a feeling of a flashing red light just out of vision: danger, danger. While you may not empathize with many characters, there’s much to admire about the storytelling.

Regardless of whether the story clicks with some readers, Jochems shows immense talent in her first bow. She keeps us off-kilter, never sure whether the view we get has much connection to the truth. Baby is a brave novel, and it caught the eye of book judges. It won the Hubert Church Best First Book Award for Fiction, a general fiction prize, and was long-listed for the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Novel. Provocative themes, a claustrophobic sense of place—this is an atypical read, a book that lingers beyond the final page.

Teri Duerr
2019-09-23 18:56:28
Whisper Network
Vanessa Orr

In this era of #MeToo, it’s not surprising that stories about sexual harassment in the workplace would make it into a book. What is impressive is that Chandler Baker has managed to tie such an important topic in with an intriguing murder mystery and even add a little humor.

That’s not to say that this book is funny; in fact, it left me seething. And I would expect this is the reaction of many who read it, as it definitely hits a nerve with any woman who has ever been subjected to unwanted advances in the office. Baker’s litany of examples is uncannily accurate, and reads like a list of HR complaints that, not surprisingly, are never addressed.

The main characters in the story, Sloane, Ardie, and Grace, are all employees of Truviv, Inc., the world’s foremost athletic apparel brand, where office politics—and the ability to look the other way—all play a huge part in their careers. When a new, young female employee is targeted by their male boss, they decide to take action, which ultimately leads to someone’s death. Whether it is murder or suicide becomes the focus of an investigation, one that tests the women and their loyalties, but which is ultimately a testament to their solidarity.

Baker does a masterful job of weaving the women’s story in with employee statements and the deposition transcript, in which numerous witnesses share their impressions of Truviv’s corporate culture and events leading up to the death. This device moves the plot along while providing a unique look at how others in the company view, and often dismiss, sexual harassment. It also shows how the “blame the victim” mentality—of both men and women—not only supports harassers, but ensures that they never have to take responsibility for their actions.

While it might look like a simple whodunit, the Whisper Network has a far deeper message to share about what the #MeToo movement is trying to say. And that should be shouted from the rooftops.

Teri Duerr
2019-08-20 20:45:19
What Rose Forgot
Oline H. Cogdill

Taking a break from her perennial character National Park Service Ranger Anna Pigeon, Nevada Barr delivers a heartfelt, deeply moving tale about a woman fighting the throes of dementia and dealing with having control of her life ripped away.

Rose Dennis, a 68-year-old painter, wakes up in a woods in Charlotte, North Carolina, unaware of how she got there or why she’s wearing a hospital gown—she doesn’t even have a memory of having moved to North Carolina. Soon, two orderlies find her, tranquilize her, and literally drag her back to the memory care unit at a nursing home where she is handcuffed to her bed.

Rose’s memory is precarious—she’s mourning the loss of her husband, Harley, has early onset Alzheimer’s, and is also fighting off the effects of the heavy drugs she is given, but she knows there’s something important she needs to do and that she needs to get out. She eventually manages to return to her own home, where she is brutally attacked. Soon, with the help of her 13-year-old granddaughter, Mel, she is trying to piece together what she could have done to be a target of criminals.

The relationship between Mel and Rose forms the heart of the novel, as both find a mutual dependence on the other. Affectionate, yet also, at times, exasperated with each other, theirs is a typical family dynamic.

The excellent What Rose Forgot moves at a brisk pace as Barr delves deep into Rose’s psyche and her refusal to give up. Barr impressively shows how a once vibrant, independent woman copes with having all her choices stripped away and with being ignored by those caring for her. Readers will miss Anna, but will welcome this intriguing character who is instantly appealing.

Teri Duerr
2019-09-23 18:58:47
This Mortal Boy
Craig Sisterson

Fiona Kidman isn’t your typical first-time crime novelist. A doyenne of New Zealand storytelling, the 79-year-old is an award-winning novelist, poet, short-story writer, journalist, and scriptwriter. She has led many literary organizations, for which she was made a dame for her services to literature in 1998.

Now, she turns her sharp eye and flowing pen to a novelization of a real-life crime from her own childhood, and the deaths of two young men that later played a key role in New Zealand abolishing the death penalty.

The result, quite frankly, is brilliant. In This Mortal BoyKidman eloquently brings to life mid-1950s New Zealand, a nation still recovering from the scars of the Second World War. Onscreen James Dean is rebelling without a cause, and teens are looking for fun in ways that worry those in authority. Into this, young Paddy Black from Belfast is trying to find his way in a new land.

Why did this rather gentle young man thrust a knife into the neck of another beside a jukebox one night? Had he gone off the rails thanks to the bodgie (greaser) lifestyle? Was it callous murder by a young delinquent, or was the story more complex than what was published in the newspapers?

Kidman delivers rich characterization from the viewpoints of many associated with Paddy Black’s short life and sudden end. She takes readers beyond the courtroom, broader and deeper, giving us a textured look at a life that was more than a symbol, or entry in a history book. Throughout various times and perspectives, everything flows beautifully, building in tension and texture. A harrowing and haunting tale full of humanity that questions where justice lies, this is an important read from a master storyteller.

Teri Duerr
2019-09-23 19:01:38
The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols
Joseph Goodrich

The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols marks Nicholas Meyer’s return to the everpopular world of Sherlock Holmes. The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1974) united a cocaine-addicted Holmes with Sigmund Freud and launched a thousand pastiches in its wake. The West End Horror (1976) and The Canary Trainer (1993) followed. The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols partakes of the verve and originality that distinguish its predecessors.

London, 1905: Mycroft Holmes asks his younger brother Sherlock to investigate the origins of “The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion,” which appears to reveal a secret Jewish plot for world domination. Is this troublesome document real or a forgery? Holmes and Dr. Watson travel from Edwardian England to tsarist Russia in their search for the answer.

A hallmark of Meyer’s work is the mingling of historical and fictional characters. Protocols is no exception. The great detective and the good doctor cross paths with such real-life figures as Israel Zangwill, a noted playwright and Zionist; Chaim Weizmann, a professor of chemistry at the University of Manchester and, later, the first president of Israel; and, most importantly, the American Socialist leader William English Walling and his wife, the novelist Anna Strunsky Walling, recently returned from a year in Russia. Mrs. Walling serves as Holmes and Watson’s guide to that vast and troubled country. And as for the protocols, the real document has been repeatedly debunked as a forgery since it first appeared at the turn of the last century. Only the bigoted and the deranged give it any credence.

Holmes is timeless; so, alas, are hatred and prejudice. Meyer doesn’t shy away from detailing the physical and mental damage they exact. The effects of a pogrom in Kishinev are captured in Watson’s journal: “On those dusty, dried-mud streets, one could not help observing the vacant lots where homes once stood, their owners fled or dead. The charred ruins were gone, but square patches of ground remained ominously black.” Meyer offers a trenchant critique of anti-Semitism and the ways in which such pernicious beliefs take root in the public imagination.

Protocols is an effective thriller, rich in atmosphere and period detail, as well as a wise, affectionate, and sometimes deeply melancholy portrait of Holmes and his world. It’s a masterful concoction that Sherlockian devotees will savor.

Teri Duerr
2019-09-23 19:07:36
A Dangerous Engagement
Robin Agnew

The sixth book in Ashley Weaver’s engaging Amory Ames series finds the British society matron and her dashing husband Milo on the way to New York. It’s 1933, the very tail end of Prohibition, and the city is full of gangsters, nightclubs, and jazz singers.

Amory’s childhood friend Tabitha and her fiancé, Tom, are getting married. The lovely couple seem well suited for one another, but there are all sorts of underlying tensions for Amory and Milo to sort through. Tabitha keeps trying to share with Amory something that’s troubling her but she keeps getting cut off, and the tensions come to a head when one of the groomsmen is gunned down gangland-style on the steps of Tabitha’s family mansion outside Central Park.

The rest of the novel finds Amory attempting to slip into detective mode as she does back home in England, only to find that American cops aren’t so keen on her interference. When the police announce the case has been solved, Amory and Milo feel something is still off, and they continue to investigate.

Weaver’s heroine is a mix of naiveté, practicality, and smarts, and she and Milo work well together to find out who the killer might be. One of the real strengths of the Amory novels is the relationship between Amory and Milo, both characters independent and respectful of one another. Amory and Milo manage to eventually uncover many secrets that involve a gangster boss, a speakeasy, and Tabitha’s circle of friends.

The New York City setting is fun, but lightly handled—Weaver isn’t particularly concerned with period setting details. It is her fast-paced plotting and her completely relatable characters that carry the Amory Ames’ books. Readers enjoy Amory because, despite being a character from a century earlier, she seems like someone we might know and like today. She’s a well-painted and human character and the books are all the more enriched because of it.

Teri Duerr
2019-09-23 19:12:20
The Turn of the Key
Ariell Cacciola

In her fifth novel, The Turn of the Key, Ruth Ware has reached peak compulsive thriller. She has taken a page or two from the gothic genre of yesteryear, delightfully blended it with a bit of Henry James ghost story, and modernized it for our reading pleasure. The combination is a pastiche that works for readers of both crime and gothic novels, and the result might be her best book yet.

The novel begins with a series of letter fragments from a prison inmate addressed to a lawyer. Their tone is desperate and in them, Rowan Caine, a young woman awaiting trial for the murder of a child, insists on her innocence in an attempt to explain what led to all of this.

When Londoner Rowan answers an advert for a live-in nanny position in the remote Scottish Highlands, she thinks she has hit the jackpot. Ready for a change, Rowan is keen to start a new job and is happy when the shiny new family of Heatherbrae House offers her the post, even though there has been a series of nannies who have stayed a worryingly short amount of time—one even fleeing in less than a week. Rowan soon discovers that the house is feared to be dreadfully haunted.

From the beginning, Rowan is left with the three young children while the parents are away, given no time to become acclimated to running the house or the needs of her wards. The estate has been renovated and fitted as a “smart” house, requiring phone apps to turn on light fixtures and coffee makers, get hot water to stream out of shower heads, and stream movies on the television. There are cameras everywhere—even in the privacy of the bedrooms. And instead of phoning, the disembodied voice of the children’s mother chimes in over the house intercom to intrude unexpectedly whenever she wishes to check in.

It isn’t the modern technology, however, that is Rowan’s undoing. It is the old-fashioned ghost above her bedroom that really terrifies her. When the sun finally sets each night and the children are down to bed, Rowan hears pacing and scratching above her. Despite the spooky goings-on and a head full of local village gossip about the home’s previous owner (who poisoned his young daughter many years before), Rowan is determined to remain in her post.

Ware is adept at combining sleek modernity— the smart house, the ubiquity of cell phones—with the creaks and creepiness of the gothic genre: the pacing footsteps in an upstairs room, a disturbing unfinished warning letter left by a previous nanny, a veritable garden of local ghost lore, and, of course, a creepy Victorian-era doll’s head of unknown origin.

Ware’s The Turn of the Key is a thrilling love letter to the ghost story genre, and a mystery with plenty of turns up twisty attic staircases.

Teri Duerr
2019-09-23 19:20:45
Twisted at the Root
Jay Roberts

In Mystery Writers of America Grandmaster Ellen Hart’s latest Jane Lawless mystery, finding the truth is of the utmost importance when Jane’s father takes on the case of a former client, Rashad May, who was convicted of murdering his husband, Gideon.

Raymond Lawless never believed Rashad May was guilty of the crime that sent him to prison. So, when evidence turns up four years later that points toward a miscarriage of justice, Jane agrees to revisit the evidence that was used to convict her father’s client. But with a host of potential suspects new and old, sorting through all the stories could prove a tough nut to crack.

And Jane already has a lot going on. Besides running her popular restaurant, The Lyme House, Jane is dealing with her lover Julia’s health crisis, as well as tensions with her best friend Cordelia. Worse yet is a phone call from Jane’s sister-in-law Sigrid from England. It seems Jane’s brother Peter has gone missing.

The twists and turns in the story will keep readers on their toes trying to guess who was really responsible for Gideon’s death, but Hart gives just as much importance to her characters’ personal story lines—which are complex and very real after 26 books in the Lawless series. Jane’s recently renewed relationship with Julia has its own issues, but the love the two seem to have for each other is apparent. Cordelia is her usual self, grandiose and outsized in every respect, but still always there when needed. And Cordelia’s niece Hattie generally mystifies her aunt, but their relationship is always a charming addition to the series.

Twisted at the Root is an exquisitely crafted mystery and readers will once again laud Ellen Hart as a vibrant force in the world of mystery fiction.

Teri Duerr
2019-09-23 19:23:55
Death in Focus
Robin Agnew

Anne Perry is adding to her quiver with a new historical series featuring photographer Elena Standish. Death in Focus is set in 1933 and finds Elena in Amalfi, Italy, at an economic conference to photograph delegates. A beach encounter with one of the attendees leads to an intense and immediate attraction. When Ian asks Elena to go as far as Paris with him on her journey back to London, she readily agrees.

But the romance is cut short when Ian is stabbed on the train journey home. As he lies dying, he tells her he’s an MI6 agent with intel about the pending assassination of a Nazi official, which will be blamed on the British. He urges her to get the message to the British Embassy in Berlin. After delivering the message, Elena decides to attend the rally where the Nazi is speaking. She’s horrified by the rhetoric and by the faces filled with hate around her, but even worse, the assassination takes place despite her warning. When she stumbles back to her hotel she finds a sniper’s rifle, still warm, in the closet. Certain she’ll be charged with the crime, she runs.

Anne Perry is entirely expert at setting up a plot. In Elena, the innocent with a camera, she has also created a perfect central character. As the book progresses, Elena is steadily stripped of her naiveté.

On her journey she is sheltered by Jews and witnesses the atmosphere of fear and violence of pre-WWII Europe. She captures on film a Nazi book burning which she intends to send home to England as a record of what is happening in Germany. Through Elena’s eyes, Perry effectively illustrates the horrible dilemma the world faced in 1933 as the threat of war hung over the heads of people still recovering from the last one. Elena carries the novel leaving an indelible impression on the reader of a strong character who can rise to a challenge (there’s a scene with Elena in a red dress that’s not to be forgotten). Death in Focus is a worthy first series novel.

Teri Duerr
2019-09-23 19:54:16
The Vanished Bride
Jean Gazis

The Vanished Bride is the first installment in a projected Brontë sisters mystery series. The story opens in the summer of 1845, a moment when the three Brontë sisters, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne—and their brother Branwell—are all at home together again after having held various positions as teacher, governess, and tutor. They haven’t yet published any of their extraordinary works.

One August evening, Branwell brings home a lurid tale from his visit to the local pub. A wealthy young wife and mother, Elizabeth Chester of nearby Chester Grange, has disappeared. Her blood-spattered, empty bedroom was discovered by her children’s governess, Matilda French—who happens to be a former schoolmate of Charlotte and Emily. Horrified and intrigued, the three Brontë sisters resolve at once to call on their friend the next morning, setting off on what will become a determined quest to discover the truth about what really happened to the second Mrs. Chester—and the first.

It’s an endeavor that will throw them into unexpected and sometimes dangerous situations, requiring their combined intelligence, daring, imagination, and resourcefulness. Inventing a cover story that they are working for a male firm, the Bell Brothers, they refuse— as they did in real life—to settle for the dull, limited existence society prescribed for unmarried women without wealth.

While perhaps not destined to become as enduring as the Brontës’ own works, The Vanished Bride is well written, with lively and memorable dialogue, skillful characterization, and a new clue or twist in every chapter. The distinct personalities of thoughtful, empathetic Charlotte, headstrong, fanciful Emily, and Anne, who “wears her mildness like a kind of disguise... hiding a warrior within,” are deftly drawn through alternating points of view. Their bickering, yet deeply loving relationships with each other and Branwell are true to life. The plot cleverly evokes aspects of the Brontës’ well-known works, with touches, such as Emily’s purchase of dress material with a thunder-and-lightning pattern, that are based on historical fact.

Teri Duerr
2019-09-23 19:58:02
Iced in Paradise
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

When her mother becomes ill and the family’s business, a shave (not “shaved”) ice shack, needs help, Leilani Santiago leaves Seattle and her boyfriend to return to her home on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Not long after she arrives, she discovers the body of a young pro surfer. The murder weapon? A large chunk of ice. When her ne’er-do-well father, the victim’s surf coach, is deemed the chief suspect, she decides to begin her own investigation to clear his name.

Never one for beating about the bush, Leilani immediately begins questioning the deceased’s girlfriend and acquaintances and discovers that the girlfriend was also having a relationship with the victim’s father, a wealthy hotel and real estate tycoon who was trying to buy up much of the land on the island from the poor families who own it. Thanks to her less-than-subtle methods with him, she soon finds herself in jail for disturbing the peace. Complicating the issue are the internecine problems within her own family, an attractive young man who has purchased the property next to the ice shack, and the sudden appearance of her boyfriend from Seattle who tries to convince her to return with him to the mainland.

While I enjoyed the unusual characters and the surprising conclusion, what set this apart from most mysteries was the unique politics of the island—where, when the land tenure system changed, common laborers were given a portion of the land they tended— and how that became an integral part of the plot. What adds realism to the story is the author’s occasional use of Hawaiian Creole dialect by the islanders (while most of it is easily understood, a glossary is provided at the back of the book).

Teri Duerr
2019-09-23 20:07:39
The Murder List
Sharon Magee

Hank Phillippi Ryan’s latest standalone offering is a suspense novel that delves into what people will do for power. Rachel North is a Harvard Law student married to Jack Kirkland, a hugely successful, high-flying Boston defense attorney. Jack’s nemesis Martha Gardiner, is an equally driven first assistant DA to whom he’s just lost a murder case. So it’s like rubbing salt in a wound when Rachel tells him she’s been chosen to intern for the summer with Gardiner, an attorney who Jack believes uses unethical—possibly even illegal—tactics. Rachel promises to “research” Gardiner’s methods, though, and supply Jack with insider informationmaybe enough to bring the powerful woman down.

From Rachel’s first day on the job, Gardiner takes an interest in her, involving her in a high-profile murder case. A little strange, considering Martha is well aware of who Rachel’s husband is, but Rachel jumps at the chance to be in Gardiner’s inner circle. It’s only when Gardiner decides to reopen a murder case that Rachel was involved with years before that she begins to get twitchy vibes. Is there something sinister at play here? Or is it just Rachel’s imagination?

Author Ryan, the winner of many journalistic awards for her reporting and many writing awards for her fiction, spins a tale told through the eyes of her characters (mostly Rachel, but also Jack and Martha). In addition she uses flashbacks to Rachel’s days as chief of staff for the president of the state senate, a man she secretly lusts after. It was during this time that the murder happened and the senator was forced to resign. With a denouement that will leave readers stunned, this is a book well worth readers’ time.

Teri Duerr
2019-09-23 20:10:49
The Bitterroots
Jay Roberts

In author C. J. Box’s new Cassie Dewell novel, the heroine has left behind her career as a police officer. She’s started a new life in Montana as a private investigator after refusing to once again put herself in a position of being made a political scapegoat. But the scars of her previous life remain with her. Having caught The Lizard King, a serial killer responsible for numerous deaths, she still experiences nightmares about the experience.

She and her son, Ben, and mother, Isabel, have made this new life for themselves. Cassie’s business is doing well, Ben’s on the wrestling team at school, and Isabel—well, she’s still Isabel, a woman who never met a protest she wouldn’t take part in and who makes everyone else’s life miserable.

Held to a promise by local attorney Rachel Mitchell, Cassie ends up unwillingly investigating the case of Blake Kleinsasser. He’s accused of raping his niece, though he denies any knowledge of doing it. The evidence makes the case appear to be open-andshut and at first Cassie is willing to let the client hang. That is until the evidence starts appearing more and more suspect. Forced to go to Lochsa County, Montana, to talk to Blake’s family, Cassie finds that he went off to New York and made his own success. The Kleinsasser clan does nothing to hide their contempt for him, and what’s more, they basically own the county and wield their power without the least bit of subtlety. When Cassie winds up arrested on false charges, all bets are off as she works to find out just what the truth to the story is and to see actual justice done.

As much as I am a fan of the author’s Joe Pickett series, I’ve also come to eagerly anticipate each new Cassie Dewell book. She’s a fully realized character who shows just how resilient she is regardless of the dangerous situations she finds herself facing during the course of her investigation.

C. J. Box seems to offer a bit of an unintentional addendum to the adage about man being the most dangerous animal. In The Bitterroots, family can be far more dangerous still.

Teri Duerr
2019-09-23 20:15:38
Fiddling With Fate
Robin Agnew

Kathleen Ernst’s Chloe Ellefson books have a formula, but it’s such a good one, and so entertaining, I really don’t mind. Each book has two threads—one in the “present” (which in the case of these books are the 1980s), and one in the past. Chloe has explored many parts of history in her nine previous books, all relating in one way or another to her job as a museum curator in Stoughton, Wisconsin. Many of the novels incorporate Wisconsin’s Norwegian heritage, and Fiddling With Fate is no exception.

Upon her mother’s passing, Chloe discovers that her mother had set aside money for the two to visit Norway together. Her mother, whom Chloe only recently learned was adopted, had a passionate interest in her Scandinavian heritage. Chloe’s stricken by the thought that she and her mother didn’t have more time to talk about it.

When she finds some mysterious antiques in the back of her mother’s closet, even her mother’s closest friend, Hilda, doesn’t know what they are or what they mean. When Hilda is felled by an accident (or is it?) and ends up in a coma, Chloe vows to follow the mystery of the artifacts to Norway, where she’s accepted a job researching Norwegian folk dancing and fiddling traditions.

Chloe also has a kind of gift, for want of a better term. She picks up “vibes” from places and can often feel when something will go wrong. It’s a talent the women in Chloe’s family all share, and it turns out it is often historically sparked by a fiddler or fiddle playing, which traditionally religious Norwegians believed was the devil’s music. She and her fiancé Roelke end up in the tiny village of Utne, and the vibes in Norway prove to be particularly strong.

When one of the young women at their hotel, also a museum guide, is found murdered—followed by a very scary attempt on Chloe and Roelke’s life—Chloe’s quest assumes even more urgency. While Chloe’s goal is to uncover the secrets of her heritage, Roelke’s is simply to protect and support her. It’s their strong partnership that ultimately saves the day.

The historical threads and Chloe’s quest tie together at the end in a really lovely way, and the reader learns something about Norwegian folk traditions along the way. Ernst brings not only her characters to life, but also the Norwegian heritage Chloe is so desperate to uncover. As a reader, you feel the “genetic memories” that are pulling at Chloe as strongly as she does, and I guarantee you’ll be immersed in her story.

Teri Duerr
2019-09-23 20:18:57
The Passengers
Robert Allen Papinchak

John Marrs’ rapid-paced The Passengers is Speed on steroids, an adrenaline-pumped novel so heavily plotted that it is virtually impossible to hold back spoilers. In the near future, the UK House of Lords has voted unanimously to favor driverless cars on British roads with the intent to ban all non-autonomous vehicles within ten years’ time. What appears to be a reasonable solution to air pollution and safety concerns quickly escalates into a cautionary tale about artificial intelligence, government intervention, and moral relativism.

The titular passengers who find themselves locked in their driverless Level 5 vehicles include a 26-year-old special-needs teacher seven months pregnant with her first child, a 78-year-old actress past her professional prime, a married couple, an abused wife, a non-English-speaking Somali immigrant, a disabled war veteran, and a suicidal young man. Each hides a very dark secret. Among them is a bigamist, a pedophile, a blackmailer, an adulterer, and an alleged murderer.

Connecting all of them is a hacker with plans to determine their destiny. He programs each vehicle to drive to an “alternative destination” where the possibility of a death sentence awaits each passenger at the end of their trip. Along for the ride, so to speak, are the five members of the government committee charged with determining fault when an autonomous car is involved in any crash: a transport minister, a barrister, a religious pluralist, a pathologist, and a mental- health nurse trainee. The hacker demands the jury decide his passengers’ fates. Marrs widens the story further by turning the kidnappings into a media event when it becomes a worldwide live reality TV show where viewers get the chance to vote for their favorite passenger.

The parallel narrative lines converge as the countdown continues right up to the climactic last seconds. Finally, the clock runs out, but not before Marrs presents a few more surprises in the last big reveal. Some readers will have worked out the identity of the hacker early on. Nevertheless, The Passengers has a properly satisfying, head-spinning conclusion.

Teri Duerr
2019-09-23 20:22:53
Hudson’s Kill
Jean Gazis

Hudson’s Kill is a historical thriller set in New York City in 1803. The title of this action-packed sequel to the widely praised Devil’s Half Mile is a play on words. A “kill” in New York history meant a stream or watercourse, from the Dutch spoken by early settlers. (It remains in many regional place names.) Of course, to kill also means to murder. The rapidly growing city is a bubbling ferment of political and financial schemes, where rival gangs, free blacks and slaves, destitute immigrants, and wealthy property owners all jockey for power and influence. A special commission is deciding how to shape the city’s future; anyone with advance knowledge of the plan stands to make a fortune. Crime and prostitution are rampant, and there’s no formal police force—just a handful of city marshals and a mostly volunteer night watch.

In such a volatile environment, biracial schoolteacher Kerry O’Toole’s discovery of a viciously murdered, dark-skinned young girl sets off more than an ordinary criminal investigation. Her friend, City Marshal Justice Flanagan, an Irish immigrant, is determined to find out the girl’s identity and bring the killer to account despite limited resources and the seeming indifference of his chief. No one comes forward to claim the victim’s body, and Justy’s investigation soon ensnares him in a convoluted maze of public violence and secret depravity that reaches from the lowest to the highest elements of society, from Wall Street to the swampy fringes where the filthy stream called Hudson’s Kill will one day become Canal Street. There are hints of romantic attraction between Justy and Kerry, who is conducting her own, increasingly risky undercover investigation.

Hudson’s Kill reads like a fast-paced action movie with plentiful, surprising twists and turns. One dramatic event follows another with hardly a pause. Violent confrontations are vividly depicted, blow-by-blow, in sometimes gruesome detail. Colorful characters abound and authentic period slang, or “flash talk,” lends an air of realism to the vibrant dialogue that is occasionally undercut by the use of more modern expressions such as “you know the drill.” The issues of political corruption, financial speculation, race relations, gender roles, and human trafficking, however, are as real now as they were more than two centuries ago. The entertaining narrative sweeps the reader along, grounding sometimes far-fetched plot elements in gritty detail.

Teri Duerr
2019-09-23 20:26:03
Under the Cold Bright Lights
Benjamin Boulden

Under the Cold Bright Lights is a beautifully written, complex, and character-driven standalone police procedural set in Victoria, Australia. Alan Auhl retired from police work once, but was brought back as an Acting Sergeant in Victoria’s Cold Crimes Unit. Now his desk is littered with old investigations that were never quite closed. There is John Elphick, whose death was determined an accident, but whose daughters are certain he was murdered. There’s the ten-year-old murder of a young woman that has heated up since the prime suspect in the case, her boyfriend, was recently found buried under a concrete slab. There’s also a case Auhl was unable to prove when he was on the murder squad, a doctor suspected of killing his two wives—it’s on the books again because the good doctor has accused his current wife of trying to poison him.

Under the Cold Bright Lights’ major plotlines are woven together with smooth and lucid prose. The crimes are well-devised and interesting, but their main purpose is to serve as a backdrop for Auhl’s evolution. Auhl is an old and cynical cop whom fellow detectives don’t think much of and whose ex-wife lives with him only part-time. Over the years, he has become used to seeing bad people get what they want. Being back on the force and without much to lose is his opportunity to push back. His changing morality makes for some uncomfortable actions, but Auhl is far from a bad man. In fact, he’s the kind of guy who turns his home into a boarding house for anyone in need of shelter. The reader may not like everything Auhl does, but we understand his motives and his psychology. Under the Cold Bright Lights is as much a morality play as it is a mystery novel, and it’s this humanity that pulls it to the top of the genre.

Teri Duerr
2019-09-23 20:28:48
Mother Knows Best
Vanessa Orr

After Claire and Ethan Abrams’ eight-year-old son dies from a genetic mutation, Claire is desperate to have another child. When regular fertility programs don’t work, she convinces Ethan that they need to see Dr. Robert Nash, who illegally helps them conceive a baby—with three genetic parents. Their experiment is assisted by brilliant scientist Jillian Hendricks, who is obsessed with her career—and her boss.

When the news leaks out, sparking a legal and media frenzy, Robert and Claire flee, leaving Jillian to pay the price. After serving a prison sentence, she is ready to begin her life again—by destroying theirs.

The author, who has a master’s degree in bioethics, raises many important issues in Mother Knows Best about the challenges of genetically engineering embryos to prevent inherited diseases. By bookending the topic in a fast-moving thriller, she makes the science much more understandable to the layperson. She humanizes it even more by giving this “experiment” a human face: alternating chapters are told by Abby, the child born as a result of Nash’s work.

It is Abby, in fact, who unknowingly places her family in danger by taking a DNA test to surprise her mother. As a result, Jillian finds the family, who have been in hiding since Abby’s birth. The catand- mouse game that ensues is intense, and makes Claire and her husband question her sanity, especially when she begins seeing her dead son.

Whether or not you agree with genetic engineering or even know anything about it, this novel will make you think about the possibilities, and the consequences, of creating life in a lab. It will also make you wonder about how far a mother will go to protect her child, no matter how that child came to be hers.

Teri Duerr
2019-09-23 20:32:07
Kopp Sisters on the March
Katrina Niidas Holm

Set in the spring of 1917, Amy Stewart’s engaging fifth Kopp Sisters novel (after Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit) finds America on the brink of entering WWI. Tired of watching Constance mope over the loss of her job as a Bergen County sheriff’s deputy, Norma enrolls the three siblings at Camp Chevy Chase in Maryland. Run by the National Service School, the facility’s goal is to train women for the female duties of war (bandage- sewing, bed-making, etc.). Upon arriving, Fleurette becomes obsessed with staging a vaudeville show, Norma endeavors to convince the army of the military value of carrier pigeons, and Constance becomes the outpost’s reluctant leader after its originalmatron gets hurt. The trio is so absorbed in their activities that they fail to notice that one of their tentmates, “Roxie Collins,” is actually the notorious Beulah Binford, who hopes that joining the war effort will allow her to start over in France.

Less a mystery than a semifictionalized story about a reallife historical figure branded by her association with a real-life crime, this entertaining book packs plenty of punch. Artfully strewn flashbacks to Beulah’s scandalous past create tension and narrative drive, while vividly sketched characters and a thoughtfully crafted plot spotlight the misogyny of the criminal justice system, the predatory nature of the press, and society’s double standards regarding morality and sex. Humor and hijinks abound, but at its core, Stewart’s latest is a proudly feminist tale about strong, smart women finding the courage to seize control of their lives and chart their own paths. A hopeful, gratifying conclusion leaves readers eager to discover what the future holds for the series’ intrepid heroines.

Teri Duerr
2019-09-23 20:35:50