Liar’s Legacy
Hank Wagner

In her enthralling follow up to 2018’s Liar’s Paradox, the first Jack and Jill Thriller, author Stevens follows her lethal twin protagonists on their first adventure in a “post Broker” world, one where all the rules and relationships in the world of espionage and assassination have dramatically changed. In this strange, “What happens now?” type environment, the siblings, who have heretofore only known the macabre ministrations of their manipulative mother, receive a message from someone claiming to be their long-lost father, and so embark on a long journey to finally meet him face to face. It’s a perilous odyssey, fraught with danger, as they are pursued by multiple intelligence agencies, who seek to enlist their specialized services, or see them dead.

Liar’s Legacy is a rewarding, tense and exhausting read, heavy on action, suspense, paranoia, and tradecraft, but also careful to explore the psyches, perspectives, and intricate relationships among its large and varied cast. It’s a book that requires your strict attention, as there are many moving parts (so many, in fact, that a character pauses about a third of the way through to do a mental recap of the events up to that point, just to make sure he’s covering all his bases). It would help to have read Liar’s Paradox, as that would cast light on certain key relationships; there is also the unspoken promise of sequels, making this a transitional work. That said, it is still an effective standalone thriller, always surprising, always engaging, a visit to a treacherous world of sudden death, ever shifting alliances, and uneasy personal relationships.

Teri Duerr
2020-01-15 17:36:18
2020 Agatha Award Nominees
By Oline H. Cogdill

The award season continues with nominations for the 2020 Agatha Awards, which will be awarded during the Malice Domestic conference (May 1-3, 2020), and which is celebrating its 32nd year.

The nominated works are books published in 2019.

The Agatha ballots will be included in registration bags at Malice Domestic and will be chosen by those attending the conference.

Malice Domestic is a fun conference and I highly recommend it.

Mystery Scene congratulates all the nominees.

The 2019 Agatha Award Nominees

Best Contemporary Novel
Fatal Cajun Festival, by Ellen Byron (Crooked Lane Books)
The Long Call, by Ann Cleeves (Minotaur)
Fair Game, by Annette Dashofy (Henery Press)
The Missing Ones, by Edwin Hill (Kensington)
A Better Man, by Louise Penny (Minotaur)
The Murder List, by Hank Philippi Ryan (Forge)

Best First Mystery Novel
A Dream of Death, by Connie Berry (Crooked Lane Books)
One Night Gone, by Tara Laskowski (Graydon House, a division of Harlequin)
Murder Once Removed, by S. C. Perkins (Minotaur)
When It’s Time for Leaving, by Ang Pompano (Encircle Publications)
Staging for Murder, by Grace Topping (Henery Press)

Best Historical Mystery
Love and Death Among the Cheetahs, by Rhys Bowen (Penquin)
Murder Knocks Twice, by Susanna Calkins (Minotaur)
The Pearl Dagger, by L. A. Chandlar (Kensington)
Charity’s Burden, by Edith Maxwell (Midnight Ink)
The Naming Game, by Gabriel Valjan (Winter Goose Publishing)

Best Nonfiction
Frederic Dannay, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and the Art of the Detective Short Story, by Laird R. Blackwell (McFarland)
Blonde Rattlesnake: Burmah Adams, Tom White, and the 1933 Crime Spree that Terrified Los Angeles, by Julia Bricklin (Lyons Press)
Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud and the Last Trial of Harper Lee, by Casey Cep (Knopf)
The Mutual Admiration Society: How Dorothy L. Sayers and her Oxford Circle Remade the World for Women, by Mo Moulton (Basic Books)
The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper, by Hallie Rubenhold (Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt)

Best Children/Young Adult
Kazu Jones and the Denver Dognappers, by Shauna Holyoak (Disney Hyperion)
Two Can Keep a Secret, by Karen MacManus (Delacorte Press)
The Last Crystal ,by Frances Schoonmaker (Auctus Press)
Top Marks for Murder (A Most Unladylike Mystery), by Robin Stevens (Puffin)
Jada Sly, Artist and Spy, by Sherri Winston (Little Brown Books for Young Readers)

Best Short Story
"Grist for the Mill," by Kaye George in A Murder of Crows (Darkhouse Books)
"Alex’s Choice," by Barb Goffman in Crime Travel (Wildside Press)
"The Blue Ribbon," by Cynthia Kuhn in Malice Domestic 14: Mystery Most Edible (Wildside Press)
"The Last Word," by Shawn Reilly Simmons, Malice Domestic 14: Mystery Most Edible (Wildside Press)
"Better Days," by Art Taylor in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine

Oline Cogdill
2020-01-24 02:17:38
2020 Edgar Award Nominees Announced
By Oline H Cogdill

The nominees for the coveted Edgar Allan Poe Awards are announced as close to Poe’s birth as possible, and the announcement always falls on a Wednesday. (Trivia experts know that Poe was born on Jan. 19 and this year marks the 211th anniversary of his birthday.)

Here are the nominees for the 2020 Edgar Allan Poe Awards, honoring the best in mystery fiction, non-fiction and television published or produced in 2019.

The Edgar® Awards will be presented to the winners at the 74th Gala Banquet, April 30, 2020 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, New York City.

Mystery Scene congratulates all the nominees.

Fake Like Me, by Barbara Bourland (Hachette Book Group – Grand Central Publishing)
The Stranger Diaries, by Elly Griffiths (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
The River, by Peter Heller (Penguin Random House – Alfred A. Knopf)
Smoke and Ashes, by Abir Mukherjee (Pegasus Books)
Good Girl, Bad Girl, by Michael Robotham (Simon & Schuster Scribner)

My Lovely Wife, by Samantha Downing (Penguin Random House Berkley)
Miracle Creek, by Angie Kim (Farrar Straus and Giroux)
The Good Detective, by John McMahon (Penguin Random House – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
The Secrets We Kept, by Lara Prescott (Penguin Random House – Alfred A. Knopf)
Three-Fifths, by John Vercher (Polis Books – Agora Books)
American Spy, by Lauren Wilkinson (Penguin Random House – Random House)

Dread of Winter, by Susan Alice Bickford (Kensington Publishing)
Freedom Road, by William Lashner (Amazon Publishing – Thomas & Mercer)
Blood Relations, by Jonathan Moore (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt – Mariner Books)
February’s Son, by Alan Parks (Europa Editions – World Noir)
The Hotel Neversink, by Adam O’Fallon Price (Tin House Books)
The Bird Boys, by Lisa Sandlin (Cinco Puntos Press)

The Ghosts of Eden Park: The Bootleg King, the Women Who Pursued Him, and the Murder that Shocked Jazz-Age America, by Karen Abbott (Penguin Random House - Crown)
The Less People Know About Us: A Mystery of Betrayal, Family Secrets, and Stolen Identity, by Axton Betz-Hamilton (Hachette Book Group – Grand Central Publishing)
American Predator: The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century, by Maureen Callahan (Penguin Random House - Viking)
Norco '80: The True Story of the Most Spectacular Bank Robbery in American History, by Peter Houlahan (Counterpoint Press)
Indecent Advances: A Hidden History of True Crime and Prejudice Before Stonewall, by James Polchin (Counterpoint Press)

Hitchcock and the Censors, by John Billheimer (University Press of Kentucky)
Beyond the Thirty-Nine Steps: A Life of John Buchan, by Ursula Buchan (Bloomsbury Publishing)
The Hooded Gunman: An Illustrated History of Collins Crime Club ,by John Curran (Collins Crime Club)
Medieval Crime Fiction: A Critical Overview, by Anne McKendry (McFarland)
The Mutual Admiration Society: How Dorothy L. Sayers and her Oxford Circle Remade the World for Women, by Mo Moulton (Hachette Book Group – Basic Books)

“Turistas," from Paque Tu Lo Sepas, by Hector Acosta (Down & Out Books)
“One of These Nights," from Cutting Edge: New Stories of Mystery and Crime by Women Writers, by Livia Llewellyn (Akashic Books)
“The Passenger," from Sydney Noir, by Kirsten Tranter (Akashic Books)
“Home at Last," from Die Behind the Wheel: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Music of Steely Dan, by Sam Wiebe (Down & Out Books)
“Brother’s Keeper," from Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, by Dave Zeltserman (Dell Magazine)

The Collected Works of Gretchen Oyster, by Cary Fagan (Penguin Random House Canada – Tundra Books
Eventown, by Corey Ann Haydu (HarperCollins Children’s Books – Katherine Tegen Books)
The Whispers by Greg Howard (Penguin Young Readers – G.P. Putnam’s Sons BFYR)
All the Greys on Greene Street, by Laura Tucker (Penguin Young Readers – Viking BFYR)
Me and Sam-Sam Handle the Apocalypse, by Susan Vaught (Simon & Schuster Children’s Books – Paula Wiseman Books)

Catfishing on CatNet, by Naomi Kritzer (Tom Doherty Associates – Tor Teen)
Killing November, by Adriana Mather (Random House Children’s Books – Alfred A. Knopf BFYR)
Patron Saints of Nothing, by Randy Ribay (Penguin Young Readers - Kokila)
The Deceivers, by Kristen Simmons (Tom Doherty Associates – Tor Teen)
Wild and Crooked, by Leah Thomas (Bloomsbury Publishing)

“Season 5, Episode 3” – Line of Duty, Teleplay by Jed Mercurio (Acorn TV)
“Season 5, Episode 4” – Line of Duty, Teleplay by Jed Mercurio (Acorn TV)
“Episode 1” – Dublin Murders, Teleplay by Sarah Phelps (STARZ)
“Episode 1” – Manhunt, Teleplay by Ed Whitmore (Acorn TV)
“Episode 1” – The Wisting, Teleplay by Katherine Valen Zeiner & Trygve Allister Diesen (Sundance Now)

“There’s a Riot Goin’ On," from Milwaukee Noir, by Derrick Harriell (Akashic Books)

The Night Visitors, by Carol Goodman (HarperCollins – William Morrow)
One Night Gone, by Tara Laskowski (Harlequin – Graydon House)
Strangers at the Gate, by Catriona McPherson (Minotaur Books)
Where the Missing Go, by Emma Rowley (Kensington Publishing)
The Murder List, by Hank Phillippi Ryan (Tom Doherty Associates – Forge Books)

Shamed, by Linda Castillo (Minotaur Books)
Borrowed Time, by Tracy Clark (Kensington Publishing)
The Missing Ones, by Edwin Hill (Kensington Publishing)
The Satapur Moonstone, by Sujata Massey (Soho Crime)
The Alchemist’s Illusion, by Gigi Pandian (Midnight Ink)
Girl Gone Missing, by Marcie R. Rendon (Cincos Puntos Press)

Oline Cogdill
2020-01-24 02:35:35
Duffy Brown on Bearing Her Love of Sherlock

I love Sherlock Holmes as do many others. In fact, I’d say my love of Sherlock Holmes is one of the reasons I write mysteries.

My author bio reads, "While others girls dreamed of dating Brad Pitt, Duffy Brown longed to take Sherlock Holmes to the prom. My license plate is 'Shrlok 1' and the frame around it reads 'Come Watson come the game as afoot.'"

My daughter-in-law once felt the need to remind me that Sherlock Holmes was indeed a fictional character and not a real person... How dare she! And then there was wanting to get my VW Beetle shrink-wrapped in hunter-cap tweed complete with earflapsthat was a bit of an obsession.

Then, I bought a bear. Not just any bear, but a seven-foot Sherlock bear and I take him everywhere. He just fits in the back of my SUV if I lay the seats down and wedge him kittywampus. And, I had to buy him his own cart to wheel him around.

Then I needed to tie him to the cart so he wouldn’t flip over. At times Sherlock Bears looks a bit like Sherlock in bondage but some things can’t be helped. I added to Sherlock Bear’s already dapper attire by buying him his very own bright yellow crime scene tape scarf that reads "Crime Scene Do Not Cross." He looks so dashing!

Sherlock Bear serves many purposes. My BFF draws a ton of attention. Pushing Sherlock Bear across the skywalk in downtown Cincinnati had cars stopping on 6th Street and people pointing.

Sherlock does tend to steal the show! Crowds gather, selfies are taken, lots of chatter about the love of Sherlock, favorite Sherlock mystery, and who best portrayed Sherlock in film. (Personally, I do love Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock, but all Sherlocks are amazing. Hands down Martin Freeman has to be the best Watson ever.)

One of the most exciting places I’ve taken Sherlock Bear is on a riverboat. A paddle wheeler, no less. He accompanied me on a reader-writer Two Dames Mystery Weekend that I do annually with Tonya Kappes and 75 readers. Getting Sherlock onboard the boat was a real challenge; he almost didn’t fit down the gangplank!!

I know this is a lot of Sherlockmania but there is a reason for my great love of the guy. He’s smart, he’s handsome, and he solves mysteries in unique ways that I just love. And now I have him wherever I go. My only regret is that Sherlock Bear’s legs don’t bend, so I can’t have him ride shotgun in my VW convertible!

So here’s to all things Sherlock Holmes and those of us who think he is best detective ever. I wish you a Sherlock Bear of your own someday or at the very least a selfie with him. Happy reading and always remember... Life’s a mystery. Enjoy!

Duffy Brown loves anything with a mystery. While others girls dreamed of dating Brad Pitt, Duffy longed to take Sherlock Holmes to the prom. She has two cats, Spooky and Dr. Watson, her license plate is Sherlok and she conjures up whodunnit stories of her very own for Berkley Prime Crime. Duffy's national bestselling Consignment Shop Mystery series is set in Savannah and the Cycle Path Mysteries are set on Mackinac Island.

This "Writers on Reading" essay was originally published in "At the Scene" enews February 2020 as a first-look exclusive to our enewsletter subscribers. For more special content available first to our enewsletter subscribers, sign up here.

Teri Duerr
2020-01-27 20:04:32
All Kinds of Ugly
Kevin Burton Smith

Back in the '70s, Ralph Dennis (1931–88) cranked out 12 books featuring Atlanta private eye Jim Hardman, and his go-to guy and drinking buddy, Hump Evans. They came, rode the paperback waves for a while, and then disappeared.

Too bad—Dennis was a fine writer, a master of believable action and surprising heart, with characters who could dish out the tough guy banter with the best of them. And, at a time when the PI genre was still awakening from the Big Sleep of the Tighty-Whiteys, the idea of a black-and-white team of PIs was fresh, bold, and maybe even revolutionary. Oh, sure, Bob Parker had Spenser and Hawk, but by the time Hawk showed up in the series, Dennis had already cranked out seven or so books featuring Jim and Hump.

Unfortunately, the Hardman books were published (and packaged) as Men’s Adventures—those numbered paperback odes to sex, violence, and front-of-the-brain thinking that were all the rage, churned out by a cadre of writers often hiding behind corporate pen names. Fans of the genre, however, generally weren’t looking for what Dennis was dishing out, and mystery readers who might have appreciated them weren’t even aware of their existence. Those few who were aware—or were turned on to them years later—loved them for what they were: smart, compassionate private eye novels that could easily go 15 rounds with any of their contemporaries.

Which is why it was such a blast when crime writer (and Hardman fan) Lee Goldberg nailed the rights, and brought the original dirty dozen back into print under his own Brash Books imprint a few years ago, with introductions by Joe Lansdale, another huge fan of the series.

But even more amazing? Brash has just unleashed the thirteenth and final entry in the series, based on The Polish Wife, an unpublished manuscript by Dennis. There’s an interesting afterword by Goldberg on how he found it and transformed it into All Kinds of Ugly, a far more Hardman-like title.

Ugly’s a beauty, though; a pure distillation of grade A, hardboiled pulp that dares to reaches for more. Jim’s not getting any younger, and his long-term girlfriend Marcy has finally dumped him. Heartbroken, he accepts a case from a wealthy, elderly industrialist, Harrison Gault, that takes him to London on the trail of the old man’s missing grandson, Harrison Gault III, but it’s a bust—the man is dead. Instead, Jim brings his attractive young widow, Anna Piroski, back to Atlanta. She’s pregnant. With Harrison Gault IV.

The old man insists on welcoming her into the fold, and Jim figures that’s that. But the trouble-prone Anna has gotten under his skin. Despite his best efforts, he's reluctantly drawn back into her messy life, a noirish (and very seventies-ish) swirl of bad choices, bad drugs… and violence.

But underneath it all floats the enduring friendship of Jim and Hump, the foundation upon which the series is built, as the two hard-drinking middle-aged losers (Jim’s an ex-cop, Hump’s a former pro football player) try to deal with a hard and confusing world, trying to take control of their own lives.

It’s a fitting conclusion to a series that coulda/shoulda been a contender.

Teri Duerr
2020-02-14 17:18:51
At the Scene, Spring Issue #163

163 Winter Cover, Nick Petrie

Hi Everyone,

Nick Petrie began meeting military veterans while working as a home inspector. Those conversations in basements, attics, and front yards with men and women returning from their tours of duty gave Petrie an insight into their struggles with civilian life. The result is Petrie’s Peter Ash, a veteran struggling with PTSD, and one of thriller fiction’s new stars. Oline Cogdill talks to the author in this issue.

Not all writers are content to stay behind the keyboard. Plenty of them, including many mystery authors, have stepped into the spotlight in various movies, TV shows, and commercials. Michael Mallory gives us a cast list in “Ready for a Close-up: Crime Writers Caught on Camera.”

One of my favorite features is our “Fave Raves of the Year” chosen annually by Mystery Scene critics. I’m sure to find overlooked gems in these recommendations—and the variety of takes is always refreshing. While I enjoy seeing the Edgar Award nominations each year, it seems to me they can’t really begin to cover the “best” in such a diverse field. Our six pages of “Fave Raves” is a step in the right direction!

Brian and I are really enjoying the new ABC TV series Stumptown. Based on Greg Rucka’s prickly Portland PI Dex Parios, it’s got a terrific cast, good writing, and a lot of energy. Kevin Burton Smith likes Stumptown, too, and has high hopes for its future.

A free promotion of a Nora Roberts book from the drugstore eventually led Erica Spindler to her criminous career. But it’s her art training that she credits for her very visual writing style. “After all, writing is just painting pictures with words,” says Spindler, who earned an MFA from the University of New Orleans. John Valeri talks to Spindler in this issue.

Our legal fiction expert, Jon L. Breen, gathers together his most recent selection of notable courtroom thrillers for your entertainment in this issue.

As he tells John Valeri, Phillip Margolin’s legal career was inspired by fiction: “I tore through Erle Stanley Gardner’s Perry Mason novels and the Ellery Queen mysteries,” he says. “By the seventh grade, I had decided that the only thing I wanted to do was try murder cases.” And, once he had successfully done that, Margolin circled around to writing legal thrillers himself!

Now in its 21st season, Midsomer Murders continues to enchant fans of British mystery TV. Pat H. Broeske talks to producers and writers, including Anthony Horowitz who helped create Midsomer Murders, about the cozy phenomenon. “I think particularly now, with so many difficulties surrounding politics and the media, people look back very nostalgically on an England that consisted of smaller, quieter communities where everyone knew everyone and life was simpler,” Horowitz says.

Also in this issue, we have interesting My Book essays contributed by Claudia Riess, Nancy Bilyeau, and Art Taylor.


Kate Stine

Teri Duerr
2020-02-17 19:38:22
Spring Issue #163 Contents

163 Winter Cover, Nick Petrie


Nick Petrie

His Peter Ash thrillers about a war veteran with PTSD offer full-throttled, kinetic action, irresistible plots, and a hero that is damaged yet decent, and, as the occasion demands, dangerous.
by Oline H. Cogdill

Ready for a Close-Up: Crime Writers Caught on Camera

These authors moved from behind a desk to in front of a camera.
by Michael Mallory

Fave Raves

Our contributors choose their favorite entertainments of 2019.

Dex Parios

The Portland ’tec in ABC’s new Stumptown could be the best PI to grace the small screen in years.
by Kevin Burton Smith

Erica Spindler

The author traded paintbrush for pen and found her true calling.
by John B. Valeri

Legal Briefs

Current courtroom thrillers.
by Jon L. Breen

Phillip Margolin

Mystery fiction turned him into a lawyer, then into a writer himself.
by John B. Valeri

My Book: False Light

An art history mystery, with an emphasis on history.
by Claudia Riess

My Book: Dreamland

Coney Island intrigue at the turn of the last century.
by Nancy Bilyeau

My Book: The Boy Detective & The Summer of ’74

Stories of the complex, conflict-ridden social and cultural history of the South.
by Art Taylor

Midsomer Murders

A survey of two decades of British cozy TV entertainment.
by Pat H. Broeske

The Hook

First lines that caught our attention.

“The Chicago Way” Crossword

by Verna Suit


At the Scene

by Kate Stine

Mystery Miscellany

by Louis Phillips

Hints & Allegations

The 2020 Edgar Award nominations from Mystery Writers of America; 2020 Grand Master Barbara Neely


Small Press Reviews: Covering the Independents

by Betty Webb

Very Original: Paperback Originals Reviewed

by Hank Wagner and Robin Agnew

Sounds of Suspense: Audiobooks Reviewed

by Dick Lochte

What About Murder? Reference Books Reviewed

by Jon L. Breen

Short and Sweet: Short Stories Considered

by Ben Boulden

Mystery Scene Reviews


The Docket


Advertising Info

Teri Duerr
2020-02-17 19:53:48
The Aosawa Murders
Betty Webb

Riku Onda’s The Aosawa Murders is one of the best books in any genre I’ve read all year. Set in a fictional Japanese city, it follows the aftermath of a mass poisoning that totaled 17 deaths, nearly wiping out the entire Aosawa family. The police believe they have their killer when a young deliveryman commits suicide, leaving behind a mysterious note that appears to confess to the slaying. The note does not, however, reveal his motive. Eleven years later, Makiko Saiga, who had been one of the children who discovered the bodies of the slain Aosawas, has written The Forgotten Festival. She has always believed that her friends and playmates were killed by someone else, not the deliveryman, and her book is her attempt to bring about true justice. When The Forgotten Festival becomes a bestseller, people who had known the wealthy Aosawas (the physician father ran a medical clinic attached to the residence), start opening up to the young author, sharing their memories of that horrifying day. Among them is beautiful and blind Hisako, the sole Aosawa to survive the massacre. To a certain extent, Makiko suspects Hisako, but can’t figure out how the blind girl could have pulled off such a horrendous crime unaided. And besides, Hisako seems eager enough to tell of her own memories of the event, and they are heart-wrenching.

There are many different voices in this extraordinary book. There are Makiko’s and her brother Junji’s recollections, both as children and later as adults; the voice of Detective Teru, who has his own doubts about the deliveryman’s guilt; the tobacconist, who believes a woman had to have been behind the crime; and even the daughter of the housekeeper who was originally blamed for the deaths. In the end, everyone has a theory, but which theory comes closest to the truth? At one point, the frustrated Makiko muses, “Truth is nothing more than a subject seen from a certain perspective.” In other words, “truth” is entirely subjective. But there are 17 dead Aosawas, and death is not simply a perspective—it is real. The Aosawa Murders won the Mystery Writers of Japan Award for Fiction, and was hailed as a masterpiece. I agree. Although there are many different characters in this book, and it slides from voice to voice, from the murky past to the vivid present, from the fog-draped countryside to the crowded city, there is an organic whole here which is breathtaking. Author Onda’s masterpiece is so filled with observations on the human condition that smitten readers might be tempted to tear out and frame certain pages—or at least copy them down. My favorite was “There are two different kinds of people in this world, I believe, those who frequent bookshops and those who do not.”

Teri Duerr
2020-02-18 14:55:26
Untamed Shore
Betty Webb

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Untamed Shore is an engrossing book set in 1979, in a seaside Baja California town known for its shark fishing. Seventeen-year-old Viridiana is a fan of the old film noirs she watches on her mother’s ancient TV set, and she fantasizes about the glamorous lives of Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Cliff. But her real life is dull until three Americans arrive in town and hire her to be their interpreter (she speaks four languages, going on five). The wealthy Ambrose is short-tempered, his new and much-younger wife Daisy is manipulative, and Daisy’s brother Gregory is movie-star handsome. The innocent Viridiana immediately falls for Gregory. But Viridiana’s saving grace is that she is as intelligent as she is innocent. When Ambrose dies falling down the stairs, Viridiana suspects it might not have been an accident. She soon finds herself drawn into a plot that mirrors the noirs she so loves. The town’s police are crooked, and Viridiana’s bitter mother is too wrapped up in her own misery to notice what her daughter is going through. Viridiana’s fantasies about getting out of the ugly little town increase. “Men could leave. Her father had left. But a woman couldn’t leave. Especially if she had a kid. A woman was chained.” Untamed Shore takes us through Viridiana’s loss of innocence, then into her heightened sense of awareness, and finally into a plan for a better life. The only problem is, to get away she might have to leave town arm in arm with a murderer. Viridiana’s love of noirs provides the backdrop for her predicament. “She hadn’t known what movie she was in, hadn’t known the ending, or the sort of music that would play over the credits.” By the ending of Untamed Shore, a 17-year-old girl makes a decision that is astounding in both its maturity and its cynicism.

Teri Duerr
2020-02-18 15:03:49
Written Out
Betty Webb

I laughed my way through the sardonic pages of Howard Mittelmark’s Written Out, wherein our hero Roger Olivetti proceeds to shoot himself in the foot again and again and again. A onetime high-flying novelist and editor at a New York publishing house, poor old Roger loses his job, his Manhattan apartment, his marriage, and ends up crashing in his mother’s much-hated basement on Long Island. And it’s all his fault. He has big plans, though, such as finally sitting down to writing that breakthrough novel he knows he’s capable of. But first, he decides to get drunk. Bad decision. He winds up having sex with a mobster’s ex-wife. The mobster, being of a kindly nature, only breaks a few of Roger’s toes, leaving his fingers free to type out his self-proclaimed masterpiece. Enter writer’s block. Limping only slightly, he turns his back on his stalled novel and sets off to find a new job in publishing. But, oops! He finds himself blackballed because he slept with his own agent’s wife. Roger’s penchant for making bad decisions eventually leads him to a job in a vastly different industry—that of hit man. Gritting his teeth, he duly knocks off an elderly woman who belongs to his mother’s book group, and after that, another old lady. Hey, a man’s gotta work, right? But being a hit man turns out not to be as much fun as it is in the movies, so when his own ex-wife’s new boyfriend, a big-time Hollywood star, offers Roger the job of ghostwriting his memoir, he jumps at the chance. Again, there’s a problem. The star doesn’t want a standard memoir—he wants it written from the point of view of his enormous penis. Thus Roger’s woes continue, almost all of them caused by his utter idiocy. In a way, Written Out is a modern twist on Voltaire’s Candide, and it offers many snarkily amusing insights about today’s publishing industry. In one hilarious passage about a famous female novelist, Roger muses, “Famous novelists weren’t actually famous, they were just famous to other novelists who aspired to being famous novelists, and to readers, who still only aspired to being novelists. The only novelists that were genuinely famous were famous for being rich novelists, not for having written novels.”

Teri Duerr
2020-02-18 17:33:00
Crime Travel
Betty Webb

We leave the world as we know it for the engrossing anthology Crime Travel, edited by Barb Goffman, forward by Donna Andrews. Here we encounter a wonderful blending of crime and sci-fi, which ranges all the way from Anna Castle’s wry “The Sneeze,” wherein a woman’s sneeze propels her backwards to the Elizabethan era, to Adam Meyer’s “The Fourteenth Floor,” where a security guard in a skyscraper gets a glimpse of a foreboding future. The wide array of tales so ably put together by Goffman are enormous fun, and now and then, genuinely touching. I was particularly drawn to Korina Moss’ empathetic “On the Boardwalk,” and Goffman’s own “Alex’s Choice,” which at first looks like a heartbreaker, but turns out not to be. If I had to pick one of these stories as a favorite—and they’re all good—it would have to be “The Sneeze.” There’s just something truly fine in reading about a Diet Coke-slugging modern broad pretending to be an Elizabethan slattern while hunting down a playwright who may—or may not—have collaborated with William Shakespeare.

Teri Duerr
2020-02-18 17:37:48
An Incantation of Cats: A Witch Cats of Cambridge Mystery
Betty Webb

Clea Simon’s An Incantation of Cats: A Witch Cats of Cambridge Mystery is an otherworldly fun trip, in which the cat sisters—seal point Laurel, creamsicle Harriet, and calico Clara—have joined forces to help Becca, a witch detective and their “person,” solve Wiccan-related mysteries. They also try to rejuvenate Becca’s fading love life after she’s been dumped by her boyfriend. The cats are great fun, especially pushy Laurel, who thinks she knows everything. But it’s Clara who is actually the brains of the litter, partially because she has no trouble deciphering the websites Becca keeps logging on to for information. True, Clara can’t exactly read, but she’s a whiz at putting together the meanings of graphics and photos. Together, the three cats and their Wiccan person make a nifty team of Holmes-style detectives, although Becca isn’t always cognizant of the help she’s getting from her feline friends. This time out, a woman suspects an employee might be stealing from her, and a man may have been “helped” to die of a heart attack. Both cases turn out to be more complicated than they first appear, but the cats—led by the youngest but wisest Clara—eventually figure it out. As for me, I couldn’t figure out which group provided the most fun: the clueless humans or the ever-so-sly cats.

Teri Duerr
2020-02-18 17:45:47
Sell Low, Sweet Harriet
Robin Agnew

Beginning Sherry Harris’ Garage Sale series with installment eight, Sell Low, Sweet Harriet, I was instantly comfortable with former military spouse Sarah Winston, a divorcée who lives near the base, volunteers at the base thrift shop, and runs garage and estate sales for a living. While the further I read, the more I wanted to know the story of Sarah’s divorce, I was still comfortable with her current situation. She lives alone, has a serious romantic relationship, and enough of an association with the local police that they ask her to “listen” when she’s out and about after a military wife is found dead during an ice storm in very suspicious circumstances.

The dead woman appears to have been well loved, and her husband is cleared of suspicion early on—for an ingenious reason I’ve never encountered before in a mystery novel. Sarah keeps her ears open as the gossip flows among the military wives in the victim’s social group, and it’s soon clear who the mean girls and alphas are, but she tries to keep her preconceptions aside as she searches for the killer.

Sarah’s estate sale business is one of the stronger elements of this novel. She is asked to run a sale for two former CIA agents whose children need their house cleared. Because of their professions, there are many interesting items, and Harris ramps up the suspense with an early, unexpected break-in. She also adds the character of Harriet, who is so fully realized, interesting, and enigmatic that I wanted to see more of her, a wish that I hope comes true in future installments.

Harris ably ties all the elements of her story together, seamlessly stitching the estate sale, the boyfriend, the landlady, and the mystery of the dead spouse into an engaging and clever whole. Sarah is a wonderful character, apparently inspired by Kinsey Millhone, and she certainly has her kick-ass moments, though her wardrobe is much, much more extensive than Kinsey’s. This was an incredibly enjoyable book.

Teri Duerr
2020-02-18 17:52:50
Buried to the Brim
Robin Agnew

In Buried to the Brim Jenn McKinlay appears to be wrapping up her Hat Shop mystery series, although she adds “for now” in an opening note. If it is indeed the last in the series, it’s a fitting coda to Scarlett Parker's adventures in the millinery trade. She’s engaged to the dishy Harrison (Harry to you), and happily managing her busy London hat shop with cousin Viv, who makes the fascinators they sell.

In this outing Scarlett must step in for Harry’s Aunt Betty, who is showing her corgi Freddy at the Pet and Wellness Society’s charity dog show. While the Pet and Wellness Society is very much a real organization, the event here is an amalgam of an agility and obedience show with a bit of a standard conformation show thrown in at the end for good measure. Despite the dog show details being a bit sketchy (I was a dog show brat, so I noticed while most readers probably won’t) this book is a blue ribbon ton of fun. And of course, the dog in question has to have a hat fashioned by Viv.

Because Aunt Viv is feuding with the show’s sponsor, she’s barred from entry, and Scarlett must sub. While McKinlay may not have the show details exactly right, she nails the backstage gossip that goes on at these events. When the murdered body of the sponsor is discovered—by Freddy, no less—things quite naturally get dicey. I appreciated the light tone and wit of this novel, as well as the crisply drawn characters, and I loved the hat shop business.

Things seem to conclude well for Scarlett, with a happy engagement to Harry, and a satisfying, clever resolution to the mystery. This book unfolds so easily and enjoyably that I almost finished it in one sitting. If you find yourself missing the hat shop when you’re done, go back to the beginning, as I plan to. Luckily for readers, McKinlay writes several other series.

Teri Duerr
2020-02-18 18:32:58
Hems & Homicide
Robin Agnew

Elizabeth Penney’s Hems & Homicide is first in a new series set in tiny Blueberry Cove, Maine. Central character Iris Buckley lives with the person who raised her, her Grammie, and is planning to open a store selling vintage textiles and handmade aprons with a vintage feel.

Because this is the first in a series, Penney spends time introducing Iris’ friend group, setting the stage of the town and the relationships between the various characters, and explaining (to a degree) Iris’ “origin story,” though, like every good mystery novelist, she isn’t revealing everything about her heroine in the first book.

This story has two threads, one in the past, involving a skull Iris stumbles over in the basement of her as-yet-unrenovated store, and one concerning a fresher corpse that also turns up there. Because the dead woman—recognized by Grammie as “Star Moonshine,” a wandering hippie girl from the tail end of the ’60s—had ties to many of Blueberry Cove’s older citizens, there’s a nice suspect pool for the police and Iris, who both believe the two crimes are connected.

The parts that involve the vintage fabrics and textiles Iris finds around the county were the most captivating and original of the whole novel, setting it apart from similar cozies. I’m looking forward to where Penney goes with her next outing—and hoping she might take a page from Barbara Michaels’ classic Shattered Silk (1986) and make the materials themselves more of a focal point.

Teri Duerr
2020-02-18 18:37:16
All Kinds of Ugly
Hank Wagner

Ralph Dennis’ All Kinds of Ugly is the much-fabled “lost” Hardman novel. Discovered amongst a cache of the author’s effects by Brash Books publisher (and crackerjack writer in his own right) Lee Goldberg, in 2019, it’s a book that began life as the 13th Hardman novel, but morphed into a non-series book called The Polish Wife. Recognizing just what he had uncovered, Goldberg reworked the story back to its original form, sending Hardman to London, seeking the missing heir of a wealthy Georgia industrialist. What he finds there haunts him for the next year or so, as he becomes involved with the heir’s widow, to whom he’s instinctually attracted, despite her questionable background. The book earns its evocative title—it’s quintessential Hardman, a worthy denouement to the legendary series.

Teri Duerr
2020-02-18 18:40:48
Red Specter
Hank Wagner

The riveting Red Specter is the fifth Tier One thriller penned by Brian Andrews and Jeffrey Wilson. Here the covert team of battle-hardened US operatives reacts to the attacks of the Russian counterpart to their highly secret operation, whose chief mission is the utter destruction of their American doppelgangers. When the crew attempts to turn the tables on their nemeses, mayhem ensues. A winning mix of action, drama, and tradecraft, this novel evokes positive aspects of the work of both John le Carré and Tom Clancy. You will definitely want to seek out past, and future, installments in this series.

Teri Duerr
2020-02-18 18:44:31
The Twisted Book of Shadows
Hank Wagner

The Twisted Book of Shadows, edited by Christopher Golden and James A. Moore, is an anthology of weird tales with a decidedly different point of view. Seeking new voices, and new ideas, the editors instituted a blind screening process, reviewing several hundred submissions with no inkling of who they were reading. The result is a winning mix of 19 stories, with nary a King, Koontz, Barker, or other brand name in the mix, a solid tribute to the legendary editor who inspired it, Charles L. Grant of Shadows fame. Read it one tale per sitting, so as to savor its contents.

Teri Duerr
2020-02-18 18:50:30
Lightning Wears a Red Cape
Hank Wagner

Errick Nunnally’s action-packed Lightning Wears a Red Cape is a welcome addition to the literary superhero genre, as the author builds a world peopled by a diverse assortment of superpowered beings with a variety of agendas, both good and evil. These supers are all too human, more often than not suffering from incidents from their past, and their emotions, which make them all the more relatable. Still, that doesn’t stop them from being caught up in grim, gritty, larger-than-life experiences and adventures, which is what comic book storytelling is all about. An obvious labor of love from Nunnally, this very well-crafted, very human novel leaves the reader wanting more.

Teri Duerr
2020-02-18 19:00:26
Clowns vs. Spiders
Hank Wagner

Clowns vs. Spiders by Jeff Strand effectively exploits the best of two syndromes, coulrophobia (fear of clowns) and arachnophobia (fear of spiders) in one very scary, but also very funny, package. It tells the tale of a down-on-its-luck clown troupe whose situation suddenly grows even worse when it is confronted with the silent, lethal, and relentless menace of a decidedly creepy community of massive super-spiders. In the tradition of the great Robert Bloch, Strand delivers wry humor and gut-wrenching horror and tension with equal effectiveness, seamlessly evoking fear and laughs, often within the very same sentence.

Teri Duerr
2020-02-18 19:03:42
The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols: Adapted From the Journals of John H. Watson, MD
Dick Lochte

Meyer, whose bestselling 1974 pastiche, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, prompted a literary smorgasbord of fresh, if not always picante, Sherlock Holmes tales, lifts the cloche on another of Dr. Watson’s lost journals. Like its precedents—Seven-Per-Cent, The West End Horror (1976) and The Canary Trainer (1993)—Peculiar combines fiction with genuine history and stylish wit and charm with steadfast deduction. Also included is a bracing reminder for devotees of today’s political nattering that oft-told vile lies often have a longer lifespan than vampires. In this Watson journal “adaptation,” Holmes and the good doctor are dining in London on January 5, 1905, not exactly celebrating the sleuth’s 50th birthday, when they are called to duty by Sherlock’s spymaster brother Mycroft. A troubling manuscript has been found on the body of a murdered British Secret Service agent: a shockingly anti-Semitic document, The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, purporting to be the minutes of a secret meeting in which the Elders plotted Jewish global domination. It’s presumably a fabrication, but the Great Detective must immediately begin a sub-rosa search for proof of its illegitimacy. This he does, traveling with Watson and a stunning feminist, Anna Strunsky, whom the doctor describes as resembling Rebecca from Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe (imagine a glowing, youthful Elizabeth Taylor, who played the role in the film). The trio travels from Paris to tsarist Russia, part of that aboard that most noir of conveyances, the Orient Express. There’s a truly unpleasant villain, a sneeringly arrogant anti-Semite, of course, and an assortment of imaginative dangers and chapter cliff-hangers. Reader Robb (Downton Abbey’s Dr. Clarkson) provides this doctor with a very proper British voice and outlook. His Holmes has, mainly, an attitude of sharp impatience, but there are also moments of uncertainty, self-doubt, and even warmth, as well as a hint of eroticism that might have surprised Conan Doyle as much as it does Watson. Sprinkled throughout the novel are numerous notations—some explaining historical points, others referencing events in the original canon or in Meyer’s continuations—read by the author in a serious, professorial manner that adds much to the production’s overall sense of playfulness. There’s also a fascinating interview with Meyer, conducted by Leslie S. Klinger, whose The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, published by W.W. Norton and Co. in 2004 (short stories) and 2005 (novels), is still available in various volume permutations, print and electronic. But not audio. For that, one might try Sherlock Holmes, featuring an unsurprisingly engaging performance by Stephen Fry, available only from Audible. Some have complained that, unlike the UK production, the US version does not include The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes. Others may find spending nearly 63 hours with Sherlock and the doc to be quite satisfactory.

Teri Duerr
2020-02-18 19:09:28
Blue Moon
Dick Lochte

A little blunter than the other 23 adventures of Jack Reacher, this one has Child’s massive, quick-thinking drifter strolling through a generic noir city, interrupting a mugging and thereafter assuming a responsibility for the man he rescues, Aaron Shevik, a senior citizen carrying a suspiciously large amount of cash. Overwhelming medical expenses have placed Shevik and his gentle wife under the sway of a brutal Albanian loan shark/mob boss. For reasons explained by Child, Reacher decides to assume Shevik’s identity in making a payoff and finds himself in the middle of a turf war between Albanian thugs and Ukrainian mobsters. Reacher gathers a doughty crew of noble locals to help him play one gang against the other, hoping that the war will result in hundreds of discarded, deceased gangsters. That’s when they’ll lower the hammer on whoever is left. The not-quite-as-planned result is violent and undeniably suspenseful, but a trifle chilly. This may be due more to Brick’s narration than Child’s prose. Dick Hill, the series’ previous reader, has a breezy, slightly cynical delivery that includes a fair amount of next-door-neighbor warmth. Brick, on the other hand, while not lacking emotion, tends to speak in a crisp, impersonal manner. This makes him a smart match for Greg Hurwitz’s books about Orphan X, a protagonist trying to keep his feelings under wraps while coming to grips with his past. But Reacher’s not that guy. He’s outgoing to the point of being a beneficent nudge and he and this particularly active, intense yarn do not benefit from a distancing narration.

Teri Duerr
2020-02-18 19:14:38
The Night Fire
Dick Lochte

What has the audio version of Connelly’s 33rd novel to offer? Well, it features the aging, but ever-popular Harry Bosch, retired from the LAPD and, one suspects, soon from series life, along with his presumed replacement, quirky night watch detective Renée Ballard, working on separate cases as well as in collaboration. (They’ve previously shared The Late Show and Dark Sacred Night.) Also on board is Harry’s half-brother, Mickey Haller, the Lincoln Lawyer, doing his courtroom thing. There’s the author’s superior skill in crafting totally authentic tales of crime and punishment. And all of this is narrated by the continuing team of Welliver (TV’s Bosch), and actress Lakin. So, if you’re a fan, you probably don’t need to know that the intriguing case the detectives are working in tandem involves a murder book for a 20-year-old unsolved homicide willed to Harry by his late mentor. Or that Harry is also helping Mickey in defending a mentally ill man accused of murdering a superior court judge. Or that Renée’s official night-shift assignment concerns a homeless man killed in an arson fire. Three cases for the price of one, not to mention the personal subplots, including a heads-up on Harry’s daughter’s progress with her criminology studies. A bargain by any standard.

Teri Duerr
2020-02-18 19:18:54
Agent Running in the Field
Dick Lochte

Among the writers who read their own novels, le Carré stands alone, delivering his elegantly constructed prose in a well-modulated, almost soothing voice that captures the subtleties of emotions and accents of his creations better than any professional actor. And in first-person narratives like this one, he excels to the point of seemingly becoming the book’s aging, disillusioned Secret Service Agent Nat. “In (today’s) England,” he notes, “nobody has a surname.” While some of the author’s fictional examinations of Britain’s spy complex deal with Big Consequences, this one is more personal. There may be talk of spy craft, Russian defection, the threat of terrorism, and the dangerous follies of this country’s leader and England’s Brexit, but, actually, it’s all about Nat who, sensing his own redundancy in “the secret world,” reluctantly accepts his final assignment, caretaking a fading London spy substation he considers “a dumping ground for resettled defectors of no value.” No wonder that he finds some pleasure in being the badminton champion of the Athleticus Club. When a brash new member named Ed challenges him on the court, he’s at first amused by the young man’s almost painful social awkwardness. But as the games take on a regularity, a father-son relationship develops, extending beyond the club, first into Nat’s personal life and then, inevitably and regrettably, into his professional one.

Teri Duerr
2020-02-18 19:24:22
Hitchcock and the Censors
Jon L. Breen

Throughout his career, Alfred Hitchcock battled governmental and industry censors of his films. These struggles are alluded to in many of the biographies and critical studies of this most written about of film directors, but Billheimer’s is the first to concentrate on issues of censorship, including a general history of its occurrence from the beginning of the motion picture industry.

The classic British films of the 1930s first had to satisfy the British Board of Film Censors, who were more concerned about political matters, such as avoiding perceived insult to their European neighbors, than the moral and sexual obsessions that occupied the American Production Code, which became a factor in export. The destruction of the BBFC’s records during the wartime bombing of London limited the material available to researchers, but Billheimer had extensive access to primary sources on the Production Code. He also includes a chapter on television, where Hitchcock faced a wider group of censors, including the FCC, sponsors, and networks.

Hitchcock seemed to relish the struggle and delighted in the negotiations it entailed, often agreeing to cut some words, lines of dialogue, or scenes in order to get in others he considered more essential. Indeed, elements flagged by the Production Code censors, some of which seem hot stuff by standards of their time, wound up in the final film regardless. How did the steamy hotel undressing scene of Margaret Lockwood and her two friends in The Lady Vanishes, OK in Britain, get past the American censors? It couldn’t be cut because their conversation included plot points important to the story. A line by Michael Redgrave’s character in the same film was flagged but survives in the copies available today: “My father always taught me never to desert a lady in trouble…he even carried it as far as marrying my mother.” The stricture most damaging to Hitchcock’s films was probably the firm directive that evil must be punished, which served to weaken Suspicion, Strangers on a Train, and Rebecca among others. In his television programs, Hitchcock got around this requirement in his humorous and unconvincing statement at the end of many half hours that the criminal actually was found out and faced justice.

Billheimer concludes, “Toward the end of his career, the Production Code Office was little more than a nuisance to Hitchcock....But the damage done by censors to his early American films can never be undone. And we will never know what other movies he might have made if he hadn’t adjusted his own sights to fit within the censors’ limits.” This book is an essential addition to any Hitchcock shelf.

Billheimer, a reliable researcher, rarely makes noticeable errors. One exception: Hitchcock’s Under Capricorn (1949), acquired for the newly formed Transatlantic Pictures, was based on a novel by Helen Simpson, an old friend of Hitchcock. But Hitch could not have “negotiated a favorable price” with Simpson after the war since she had died in 1940.

Teri Duerr
2020-02-18 19:29:12