Teri Duerr
2022-11-15 01:35:13
Winter Issue #174, Louise Penny
Teri Duerr
2022-11-15 01:40:50
Murder Out of Character
Kristina Niidas Holm

It’s been five months since Marvella “Marvey” Harris—the 28-year-old protagonist of Olivia Matthews’ enchanting second Peach Coast Library Mystery, Murder Out of Character—left New York City for Peach Coast, Georgia, in order to become the library’s director of community engagement. Sure, she misses her family, but she adores her new job, and her new friends—particularly indie bookseller Jo Gomez and newspaper editor/publisher Spencer Holt—have made her feel right at home.

Marvey doesn’t think much of it when beloved high school basketball coach Hank Figg is found dead in his house; though it’s peculiar for such a fit, active person to pass at age 30, the police see no obvious signs of foul play. Then, while cleaning up after the library’s Summer Solicitation Drive cocktail party, Marvey discovers a scrap of paper that gives her pause. On it appear four names: the recently deceased Hank Figg, bank CFO Nelle Kenton, bike store owner Brittany Wilson, and Marvey’s good pal (and secret crush) Spencer Holt. Pause turns to panic when, three days later, someone poisons Nelle Kenton. Did Marvey stumble across a hit list? Both Spencer and Deputy Jedidiah Whatley find the notion preposterous, but that just makes Marvey all the more determined to ID the list-writer before he or she strikes again.

Matthews (a pseudonym for author Patricia Sargeant) serves up a heaping helping of literary comfort food with this ebullient sequel to 2021’s Murder by Page One, which enthusiastically champions literacy and libraries. The cast is vibrant and diverse, the stakes are clear and significant, and the neatly constructed plot deftly balances small-town drama with small-town charm. Dashes of romance and gentle humor provide the perfect seasoning.

Teri Duerr
2022-11-21 21:47:36
The Plot Thickets
Robin Agnew
Teri Duerr
2022-11-21 21:50:15
The Hot Beat
Hank Wagner

Written and first published circa 1960, Robert Silverberg’s The Hot Beat tells the story of Bob McKay, once an up-and-coming musician, now down on his luck, and flirting with alcoholism and self-destruction. His luck goes from bad to worse when he is accused of murdering a B-girl by the police, despite having built a very flimsy case against him. Fortunately, he does have people who believe in him, including his former lover, and an intrepid investigative reporter, who try to find the truth before McKay ends up on death row.

Reflecting its author’s germinal skill set at the time, this book is more interesting as an artifact of his career than as a thriller, per se. But, it’s a fascinating artifact, a true product of its time: You can feel Silverberg working the tropes, inserting lascivious, suggestive language, stretching and padding each and every sentence to their utter limits. After all, when you were getting paid by the word, you threw in everything but the proverbial kitchen sink.

Teri Duerr
2022-11-21 21:53:32
A Secret About a Secret
Dick Lochte
Teri Duerr
2022-11-21 21:59:09
The Life of Crime: Detecting the History of Mysteries and Their Creators
Pat H. Broeske

Curious about the history of mysteries and the folks who write them? You could take a master class that spans months and costs serious bucks. Or, you could buy Martin Edwards’ latest genre compendium and curl up with it on your sofa. But do so with care...the book weighs in at 2.6 pounds.

In The Life of Crime: Detecting the History of Mysteries and Their Creators (724 pages), Edwards gives the reader the full monty with his authoritative, eye-opening, and entertaining opus. He is well-qualified to do so, as the archivist of the Crime Writers’ Association, president of the Detection Club, and author of titles including the hefty The Golden Age of Murder: The Mystery of the Writers Who Invented the Modern Detective Story (2015).

Comprised of 55 chapters with endnotes, the final 100 pages devoted to bibliography and indexes, The Life of Crime scrutinizes the genre through changing eras, subgenres, and specific writers.

Citing novelist-critic Julian Symon’s 50-plus year-old Mortal Consequences: A History From the Detective Story to the Crime Novel as impetus for this project, Edwards utilizes what he calls “novelistic techniques”—accessible rather than scholarly writing—to chart the genre’s story. Chapters begin with a tantalizing anecdote, which leads to an examination of topic. Many names and claims to fame will resonate with genre enthusiasts. Just as many will surprise.

What was the first book about a manhunt? Long before John Buchan’s masterful The Thirty-Nine Steps (1915) there was Things as They Are: The Adventures of Caleb Williams, written by William Godwin in…1794. Oh, Godwin gave the genre another benchmark when he and his wife, the pioneering feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, produced daughter Mary, who would go on to pen Frankenstein. Readers of Ruth Rendell will be glad to hear that, as a fledgling journalist, she faked her attendance at an event she was assigned to cover. Writing the piece as if she’d been there, she was unaware the guest speaker had dropped dead at the gathering. Fired from her job, she decided to write a mystery. A chapter on genre rogues gives a nod to Arthur Conan Doyle’s brother-in-law, E.W. Hornung, creator of the debonair A.J. Raffles, cricketer by day, burglar by night.

Naturally, Doyle’s Great Detective gets his own chapter and other usual suspects—among them, Christie, Highsmith, Hammett, and Chandler—are also prominently featured.

But there are also accolades for the offbeat. Like the scientific mysteries of R. Austin Freeman, who personally tested his assorted theories. And how about Astrogen Kerby, aka Astro, the psychic and charlatan who solves crimes in the anonymously published 1912 short story collection The Master of Mysteries? A cipher within the book identified the author as Gelett Burgess who, per an endnote, is credited with originating the term, “blurb.” Yes, some of the book’s details are deliciously arcane.

Edwards doesn’t neglect the challenges of early female crime writers, some of whom felt it necessary to utilize male pseudonyms or gender-neutral monikers. Discussing genre diversity, Edwards charts the talents and turbulent personal life of Black writer Chester Himes, moving on to the impact wielded by the black-Jewish Walter Mosley, and his PI, Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins. The pros and cons of various Asian crime-fighters are also explored, and props given to the first gay detective.

I could go on and on...about the book’s coverage of Scandinavian crime, noir (and more noir), domestic suspense, psychological suspense, police procedurals, even my personal favorite, Ross Macdonald. But if I continued it would become a master class, and I’d have to charge tuition. Get this book instead. It’s an essential for mystery lovers.

Teri Duerr
2022-11-21 22:06:13
The Best Mystery Stories of the Year 2022

The Best Mystery Stories of the Year 2022, edited by Sara Paretsky and Otto Penzler, is a marvelous “best of year” anthology coming to bookstores this fall. There are 21 stories, mostly from American writers, but with a couple international voices thrown in for good measure: Jo Nesbø from Norway and Ireland’s Colin Barrett. The source publications are as diverse as the stories—The New Yorker, The Briar Cliff Review, The Cincinnati Review, Harper’s Magazine, and of course the usual suspects are represented also: Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, etc.

Doug Allyn’s “Kiss of Life” is a smooth and darkly entertaining novella about responsibility, parental love, hope, and betrayal. Its summertime Lake Michigan setting, with beaches, bikinis, and tourists, provides an intriguing contrast with the tale’s seedier happenings. “Avalon” by Michael Connelly is a small-town procedural—or small-island procedural since it is set on California’s Catalina Island—where a stranger arrives with a gun and bad intentions. Susan Frith’s “Better Austens” is a clever and completely original dystopian tale about mothers, crime, corporate greed, and Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. Its deceptively cheerful tone—grandmas and cookies—mask the story’s disturbing reality. Colson Whitehead, Tom Larsen, Joyce Carol Oates, and Kristine Kathryn Rusch add magnificent stories, too.

Teri Duerr
2022-11-21 22:16:52
Hunt a Killer "Month of Mystery"
Hunt a Killer as a sponsored article

"Solve a cold case, find a missing friend, bring justice to bear... hunt a killer?? I know you have what it takes, Detective. Will you help me find out what happened?"

December is the "Month of Mystery" at Hunt a Killer, the immersive murder mystery game site that aims to bring your holiday game night to new heights by putting you and your fellow detectives on the case. You'll sort through evidence like autopsy reports and physical items, piecing together clues along with interactive digital gameplay in order to solve the crime.

Players can choose from three types of games: Hunt a Killer's traditional monthly subscription told through "episodes" or boxes, wherein each box is filled with clues that bring players closer a solution each month; six-episode boxed-sets featuring previous games that allow players to tackle all 10–15 hours of gameplay at once; or single-experience premium games, perfect for one night of killer fun.

In addition to the very best promotional discounts of the year, the "Month of Mystery: 30 days. 30 deals. 30 moments of mystery" treats mystery lovers to "The Larksburg Librarian," an exclusive online short story written by Adam Mueller that will be told in daily increments throughout the month.

From what I heard, Randy was finishing up for the day and wanted to make sure the mayor had everything he needed before she left. She knocked on his door but he didn’t answer. Maybe she thought he was taking a nap. For whatever reason, she didn’t knock again until she had her jacket and her bag, ready to go. When De Smedt didn’t answer again, she helped herself into his office, and that’s when she found his body…. —Read "The Larksburg Librarian" at www.huntakiller.com/month-of-mystery/

For their special month, Hunt a Killer has also set up "What Happened...?" a sampler of eight fictional web-based experiences, crafted by Hunt a Killer, which jump start detectives into the action of several of their popular games. Just like a real detective, you must establish means, motives, and opportunity to figure out who the killer is and solve the case. More than just a murder mystery, each case tells a whole story wherein everyone has a secret to uncover.

Perfect for mystery and crime junkies, each Hunt a Killer box is a complete murder mystery to solve. Choose from small, medium, and large cases, puzzles, books, or a monthly subscription membership. With various game styles, prices, difficulty levels, and storylines, you can customize game night to your interests and skill level.

www. huntakiller.com

Teri Duerr
2022-11-28 01:01:53
Trail of the Fallen
Benjamin Boulden

Bart Paul’s fourth Tommy Smith mystery, Trail of the Fallen, finds Tommy and his wife Sarah, a deputy sheriff, raising their rambunctious and foul-mouthed preteen foster daughter, Audie, and their newborn infant in rural Fremont County on the eastern-side of California’s Sierra Nevada. Tommy, a former Army sniper, suffers from PTSD from his combat experiences in Afghanistan. Winter is coming and Tommy’s nightmares are getting worse when his shared past with Sarah threatens to overtake them. Sarah’s first husband, Kip, has organized a breakout from Folsom Prison and the U.S. Marshals believe the escaped convicts are headed towards a stash of military grade sniper rifles that were stolen from a Marine base.

Tommy and Sarah believe Kip—a psychopath and a cold-blooded killer—is coming to their side of the Sierra Nevada mountains to exact payback for when Tommy shot him. The authorities are skeptical that Kip would risk being captured for a personal grudge, but as the convicts continue to evade capture and the search area expands, Tommy and Sarah find themselves in the middle of a violent showdown.

Trail of the Fallen is below the standard of Paul’s previous Tommy Smith adventures, but it is still a highly charged and entertaining read. Tommy’s PTSD—the nightmares and paranoia—are well-drawn, as are Sarah and Audie. The narrative is literate with an easy style. Vivid descriptions of the harsh Sierra Nevada winter give it substance and atmosphere.

The story develops slowly. With a repetitive flair, Tommy provides the same details to at least three different law enforcement officers, and a couple scenes, which could have been exciting, are played-out on television with Tommy watching. But once Trail of the Fallen hits its stride, hold on because you’re in for a terrific ride.

Teri Duerr
2022-12-01 17:32:53
The Marsh Queen
Benjamin Boulden

Virginia Hartman’s debut novel, The Marsh Queen, introduces the capable Loni Murrow. Loni is a bird artist for the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, and the last thing she wants is to go back to her childhood home in Florida’s panhandle. The little town of Tenetkee holds memories of her father’s early death and her “difficult” mother, but when her brother, Phil, calls and asks Loni to come home and help with their mother, who has recently broken her wrist in a fall and is suffering with dementia, Loni leaves her her well-ordered and somewhat reclusive lifestyle to return.

When Loni arrives in Tenetkee, she finds her mother in an assisted living facility and Phil, along with his aggressive and unlikable wife, preparing to sell the family home. Loni thinks both decisions are premature, but her apprehensions are soon superseded by a mystery set in motion by a note she finds written to her mother: “There are some things I have to tell you about Boyd’s death.”

Boyd, Loni’s father, drowned when she was 12. His death was officially ruled an accident, but at the time there were rumors it was suicide. Loni, doing her best to get along with Phil and her mother, sets out to find the woman who wrote the note and discover what actually happened to her dad.

The Marsh Queen is a richly textured and atmospheric mystery. Hartman’s loving descriptions of nature and her vivid portrayal of how our personal history, personified by Loni’s, can bend and sometimes break us, work to enhance the narrative. The story meanders away from the plot a few times, but the engaging prose, the likable Loni, and the compelling mystery bring it back without much trouble or notice. The Marsh Queen is a strong debut, certain to bring most readers back for Hartman’s next book.

Teri Duerr
2022-12-01 17:39:51
Stephen Spotswood on Neil Gaiman
Stephen Spotswood

Stephen Spotswood

The cover artist was Dave McKean. The book was The Sandman. And that’s how I discovered Neil Gaiman.

I hadn’t bought a comic book since I was 11. Amazing Spider-Man #316 with Venom standing over our bloody hero was a step too far for my parents. Too strange, too violent, too demonic.

I should have hid it better, but it was too late. In the trash they all went.

Cut to five years later. My high school drama class is doing secret Santa and the person whose name I drew wants an obscure graphic novel. Bookstores don’t carry it, so I’m directed to Captain Blue Hen Comics in Newark, Delaware. Wandering the store I notice a couple of boxes of comics on sale for ten cents a piece. Curious, I start flipping through.

Midway through the first box, I stop. It’s the cover that gets me. A shadow-box assemblage of lost objects and mysterious figures whose meaning I can’t hope to stitch together on my own.

It begs to be taken home and opened. So I do.

The cover artist was Dave McKean. The book was The Sandman. And that’s how I discovered Neil Gaiman. Idle curiosity and a handful of dimes.

These days millions know and adore Gaiman. From American Gods or Good Omens or Coraline. Thanks to Netflix, tens of millions were just introduced to The Sandman.

To me, at 16, it was a revelation. This story of a god learning to be a better person. It mixed the mythological with the base muck of everyday life; glorious schemes with petty emotions; grand overtures with dirty limericks. And the cast was full of queer, trans, and gender-fluid characters, which in 1994 was not something you saw on the regular.

My parents had given up on policing my reading material by then, but oh if they’d only known. Here was a comic with actual demons. With the Devil himself–brooding and beautiful, a four-color Renaissance sculpture questioning all the rules that had been imposed on him.

I could relate.

Neil Gaiman The SandmanI followed The Sandman to its bittersweet end a few years later, and then followed Gaiman into his career as a novelist and eventually carried him with me into my own career as a writer.

He taught me through example that it doesn’t matter how strange or larger-than-life a character is as long as at their heart they have things they desire, things they fear, things they would risk it all for. If they have dreams and nightmares.

Sometimes you end up loving those characters, or sometimes you end up hating them, but the important thing is you understand them. Maybe see yourself hiding beneath their skin.

And–with the very special ones—you take them home and invite them to hide beneath yours.

Stephen Spotswood (he/him) is an award-winning playwright, journalist, and educator. As a journalist, he has spent much of the last two decades writing about the aftermath of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the struggles of wounded veterans. His dramatic work has been widely produced across the United States. He makes his home in Washington, D.C., with his wife, young adult author Jessica Spotswood.

Teri Duerr
2022-12-12 16:18:53
The Bullet That Missed
Craig Sisterson

In a time of tumult, there’s something wonderfully comforting about Richard Osman’s mysteries starring a quartet of eccentric characters living out their so-called dotage at a retirement village in the British countryside. Following along with the escapades and (mis)adventures of Elizabeth, Rob, Joyce, and Ibrahim—aka The Thursday Murder Club—is the reading equivalent of snuggling up under a weighted blanket with a cup of something nice as the rain pours down outside. Clever puzzles, witty company.

Enchanting and endearing aren’t words that crime reviewers often use (unlike “gripping” or “page-turning”), but for Osman’s tales they certainly suit. In The Bullet That Missed, the third in a series that’s garnered record-breaking popularity in the midst of the pandemic, our heroes are faced with a puzzling cold case as well as a very right-now threat to their own mortality.

The intrepid Joyce lures regional TV news presenter Mike Waghorn to a meeting with their murder club to discuss the case of his former colleague Bethany Waites, who vanished a decade ago after investigating a huge fraud. Meanwhile, Elizabeth, a retired spy, has to deal with the decline into dementia of her beloved husband Stephen—a condition not helped when the pair are kidnapped by a cryptocurrency whiz who wants Elizabeth to kill an old KGB adversary. If she doesn’t, then Joyce will die. Can Elizabeth kill again to save a life?

As the Thursday Murder Club juggles cases old and threats new, while dealing with aging bodies, new loves, and puzzling events, readers are treated to a wonderful, warmhearted romp. It’s not all cozy fun. Some serious issues are covered, and Osman delves into a full range of life’s ups and downs: time passing, friendships gained and gone, mortality, loss and grief.

Through it all though, Osman spins a vibrant tale full of well-drawn characters—the central quartet and wider cast including police officers Donna and Chris, handyman Bogdan, past enemies, and new associates—that has a terrifically warm, funny tone. A delightful read in a very good series. I’m looking forward to more.

Teri Duerr
2022-12-09 16:42:09
A World of Curiosities
Robin Agnew

To create her 18th novel, A World of Curiosities, Louise Penny begins with two major jumping-off points for her central characters. One is the initial encounter of Inspector Gamache and his eventual second, Jean-Guy Beauvoir. The other is the moment Gamache chooses homicide over intelligence as his specialty.

That moment is based on a real shooting at Quebec’s École Polytechnique in 1989, when a gunman instructed male students to leave and then shot and killed 14 female students, because he felt women should not be engineers. Penny, who covered the event in her former incarnation as a journalist, treats it respectfully and doesn’t dwell on it—though it obviously affected both the author and her character, who chooses to pursue homicide investigation and resolves to never carry a gun as a result.

Gamache’s investigation in the novel (and his relationship with Jean-Guy) begins with the discovery of a young addict on the shores of a remote lake and the eventual path taken by both Gamache and Jean-Guy with the woman’s very troubled children.

Fast forward 15 years or so, and the nowgrown children of the long-ago dead woman found on the lakeshore have become two troublesome and troubled characters. Gamache and Jean-Guy have formed different and conflicting relationships with the children, one with each sibling. It’s up to Gamache (and the reader) to decipher which of the siblings is actually the more dangerous.

A secondary subplot involves bookstore owner Myrna, who confesses she needs more living space. The possibility of Myrna leaving Three Pines cannot be tolerated and the villagers conveniently discover another room in her loft that has been mysteriously bricked over. When they break through to the other side, they discover a huge painting that appears to be “The Paston Treasure” (c. 1670), a depiction of a British explorer’s cabinet of treasures. On further inspection, the painting is revealed to be a clever copy of the original, and it’s salted with clues for Gamache to decipher and follow.

As he does, Gamache begins to uncover the dark implications and the dangerous nature of the person who left the trail of clues. In truly classic fashion, Gamache must also decipher who around him can be trusted. This is a complex story structure, and it suits this complicated mystery, which really rests on the characters within it, characters that Penny paints delicately with her own artist’s brush.

It’s remarkable to me that Penny, after 18 novels, can hit it out of the park, turning in perhaps one of the best novels of her now long career. A World of Curiosities is a rumination on forgiveness and the difficulties that are often involved in forgiving another person. It’s a simple and at the same time profound notion, typical of Penny. But simple and profound notions aside, Penny’s also created a complex and compelling mystery novel, a story so rich and full of detail that it’s impossible to look away.

Teri Duerr
2022-12-09 16:46:56
Bleeding Heart Yard
Pat H. Broeske

“Memory is a dynamic thing, it’s constantly being updated,” remarks a character in Bleeding Heart Yard, an engrossing tale of a school reunion gone horribly wrong. A murder takes place at the celebratory gathering. Is it linked to an earlier tragedy—and possible repressed memories?

From Elly Griffiths, author of the series featuring forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway, and another with 1950s Brighton investigators Stephens and Mephisto, this efficient thriller marks the third outing for Harbinder Kaur. A gay Sikh, the diminutive Kaur recently moved to London, where she’s now a DI. At 38, she’s living apart from her parents for the first time, and—with the occurrence at the reunion—is investigating the highest-profile case of her career.

The victim is a well-known Conservative MP. His closest pals at the posh school— they called themselves The Group—also became headline-makers. They include another MP, as well as a popular actress, and a handsome pop star, plus a would-be writer who earns her living teaching, and a police officer who works under DI Kaur. The book begins with that officer’s bombshell revelation: Two decades earlier she killed someone—with help from her classmates. Over time, she’s managed to erase the memory.

With the discovery that there’s a tie between the MP’s murder and the earlier death, Kaur and her team begin grilling the alumni, who are themselves asking questions—and reestablishing old relationships. Then comes another death. “It’s like living in bloody Midsomer,” comments the singer. “Our friends dying one by one.”

Griffiths delivers the story in alternating points of view that interconnect and sometimes overlap. It’s a delicate dance that works because the characters and their relationships intrigue, and because of the way that clues are carefully laid out. Not everything is seamless: Striking as he is, the lead singer of the stadium-filling pop group never rings true, professionally. Also, some literary references might require the assistance of Wikipedia, such as the poet Richard Barham and his work The Ingoldsby Legends. The latter is linked to an actual cobbled courtyard in Britain called Bleeding Heart Yard. As described in this book, it sounds as if it’s worth a visit. (Hey, there’s a pub.) But I’d steer clear of any high school reunions. Reminiscing can be murder.

Teri Duerr
2022-12-09 16:51:59
The Twist of a Knife
Benjamin Boulden

The Twist of a Knife, Anthony Horowitz’s fourth novel in which the author plays the bumbling sidekick to the brilliant and now former Detective Inspector Hawthorne, is a marvelous closed-circle whodunit with enough clues for a careful reader to solve—but not too easily—and more than a little humor. When the original three-book true-crime contract between Horowitz and Hawthorne is fulfilled, Horowitz declines Hawthorne’s overtures for a fourth. Horowitz claims it’s because the theatrical release of his clever and comedic thriller, Mindgame, is taking all of his energy. But really, Horowitz can’t stand Hawthorne’s persnickety, overbearing, and secretive personality.

When Mindgame’s London opening is thoroughly panned by Margaret Throsby, the critic for the Sunday Times, the play’s future is in doubt. And when Margaret is found stabbed to death in her home with a dagger given to Horowitz as a first night gift from the play’s producer—his fingerprints still on the handle—he finds himself as the prime suspect. He enlists the help of a reluctant Hawthorne and together, mostly through Hawthorne’s brilliant deductions while Horowitz muddles in confusion, they corral the real killer in an Agatha Christie-style denouement.

The Twist of a Knife is a modern comedic take on the Golden Age whodunit with a nicely developed and puzzling plot. Horowitz’s self-deprecating humor, from his thinning hair to his weak-kneed panic at being arrested, is often hilarious, but it never infringes upon the seriousness of the underlying mystery. Hawthorne’s genius, along with his mysterious background, is Sherlockian, but he is very much a modern incarnation: divorced, a father, and with bills to pay. Horowitz’s inside baseball with his other work, especially the Alex Rider young adult novels, is interesting and the theatrical setting is fascinating. But the best part, simply put, is the wild and fine-tuned mystery at The Twist of a Knife’s center.

Teri Duerr
2022-12-09 22:59:40
The Missing Wife and the Stone Fen Siamese
Debbie Haupt

In her third book starring animal rescuer and ceramist Clarice Beech, Kate High gifts readers with a suspenseful tale set in the picturesque English countryside, a solid plot, a puzzling mystery with many diverse suspects but few clues, and a protagonist knee-deep in family secrets and lies. All the while, High manages to keep her audience on its toes connecting the dots from page one until the “Holy cow!” ending.

After learning of the death of her dear friend and favorite student, Colin Compton-Smythe, Clarice agrees to accompany his daughter, Emily, to the funeral at the deceased’s family home, Stone Fen Manor.

Through Emily, Clarice learns of Colin’s horrid childhood and the messed-up family scene awaiting her at Stone Fen. Supposedly, Colin was abandoned by his mother Avril when he was just five—a story Colin never believed. Emily convinces Clarice to look into Avril’s disappearance.

Upon arriving at the imposing English manor, complete with a gigantic Siamese edifice, Clarice is catapulted into a dysfunctional family mess that includes Colin’s delirious great-aunt, cantankerous father, contentious half-sister, and belligerent stepmom.

There is mystery afoot and Clarice’s sleuthing is innovative and effective while her presence is commanding without being threatening. Fans of British gothic mysteries, strong women protagonists, and animal tales will find The Missing Wife and the Stone Fen Siamese unputdownable.

Teri Duerr
2022-12-09 23:02:50
Craig Sisterson

Every year legendary Scottish storyteller Val McDermid harnesses her own popularity to showcase some of the most interesting new voices in the genre at her sold-out “New Blood” panel at the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate, England. (This year’s panel included South Carolina debut novelist Stacy Willingham, British-Australian author Emma Styles, and indigenous filmmaker turned crime novelist Michael Bennett.) But while McDermid is always keen to uplift and shine light on others, her latest novel 1989 shows the modern- day Queen of Crime’s own crown still glistens brightly.

Ten years on in time and place from last year’s introduction to the life and crimes (solving) of Allie Burns, the Scottish journalist is now living in Manchester with her girlfriend Rona, tapping out stories and managing freelancers as head of northern news for a tabloid with a notorious owner.

AIDS is rampant, the world is mourning Lockerbie victims killed in a terrorist bombing of a Pan Am flight, and both the Iron Curtain and the Iron Lady (conservative British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher) are still standing strong—for now. It’s a time soaked in grief, and meanwhile Allie’s big boss, Ace Lockhart, is in a media war with Rupert Murdoch while also—unbeknownst to almost everyone—being the target of someone linked to his wartime past.

Allie’s investigations into why AIDS patients are migrating south from Scotland are getting warped and rewritten into sensationalist trash to fuel hysteria. As Allie digs into truths powerful people want hidden, she journeys to East Berlin, putting herself behind an Iron Curtain that’s beginning to corrode.

1989 is a wonderfully absorbing novel that gets increasingly layered as chapters fly by. McDermid masterfully juggles several big real-life issues along with intertwined crime plotlines: abduction, pseudo-spy craft, murder, revenge. From Allie and Rona to several new faces, the characters are fascinating. Two books in, this is a terrific series, and I can’t wait to see what unfolds as the millennium looms.

Teri Duerr
2022-12-09 23:08:04
Theft of an Idol
Robin Agnew

This is the third novel in Dana Stabenow’s series set in ancient Egypt during the reign of Cleopatra. While the famous queen is indeed a character in the novel, the main protagonist is Tetisheri, the queen’s “Eye of Isis.” Tetisheri and Cleopatra, once childhood companions, have morphed into an adult relationship where Tetisheri functions as Cleopatra’s investigator with the power to mete out justice on her behalf. She is indeed Cleopatra’s eye on the ground.

The book opens at a performance of Lysistrata, and the crowd is buzzing as the Queen will be in attendance. When the curtain is about to come up, however, it appears that Herminia, the star of the performance, is a no show. The play goes on because Cleopatra stands up and insists the audience respect the understudy, but when the show is over, she seeks out Tetisheri and tasks her to find Herminia. Tetisheri and her companion, Apollodorus, attempt to locate Herminia, first in Alexandria, and then journey down the Nile to Memphis where Herminia grew up.

Stabenow really sets the scene, steeping the book in Egyptian life and culture. She gives readers a detailed look at temples and the various gods they honor. Different temples and gods lend distinct flavors to their cities. In Memphis, the two temples honor Seshat and Ptah. It is at these temples that Tetisheri and Apollodorus begin their search.

Stabenow gets down to the nitty gritty of the lives led by more regular people in Egypt—exposing secrets that would be right at home in the 21st century. While art and culture may change, bad behavior and human cruelty apparently does not. There is also a secondary plot involving a tomb robbery. Cleopatra’s reign was at the tail end of Egyptian dominance just before the Romans were about to take over and there were tombs thousands of years old at that point that were regularly sacked.

Stabenow, of course, is also known for her action-packed Kate Shugak and Liam Campbell series set in the Alaskan wilds, and this background shows in her vivid storytelling, which includes well-done action scenes and some very traditional investigative detective work. She has always honored and obviously loves the mystery genre. Even when telling a story in ancient Egypt, her love for detective fiction—and for telling a good story—is on full display. And when Tetisheri and Apollodorus (and Cleopatra) are there to set things to rights, justice prevails. Theft of an Idol is a very satisfying read.

Teri Duerr
2022-12-09 23:11:34
Pat H. Broeske

What if a roll of the dice dictated every aspect of your life? As conjured up by Penn Jillette, master magician and bestselling author of both fiction and nonfiction, Random takes us on a crazy, dizzy, and inventive journey in which Las Vegas born and bred Bobby Ingersoll opts to let Chance guide his life.

Bobby is faced with having to come up with enough money to pay off his card-counting father’s debts to a local mobster. It’s a do or die thing; his father’s life, and those of the entire family, Bobby included, are at stake. But Bobby’s job, driving up and down the Strip in a truck emblazoned with advertising billboards for Vegas commodities such as live nude dancing girls, won’t bring in the $2.5 million owed crime lord Fraser Ruphart. So Bobby comes up with the dumb idea to more or less rob Ruphart, which leads to him stumbling on a turf war shootout and ends with him aquiring a Gucci bag filled with nearly half a million. As the clock strikes midnight on Bobby’s 21st birthday, he takes the money to a casino and places the bet that will change his life. And makes him a believer in Chance.

The newly wealthy Bobby buys a detective agency and encounters a string of colorful folks, some of whom become allies. But not everyone is on board with Bobby’s determination to make his every move at random. After all, random choices can lead to...trouble. With bad guys...and personal relationships, as when Bobby kinda, sorta falls in love. (Though, really, he isn’t that picky.)

It’s crazy. It can also be challenging, as Jillette—in his crime fiction debut—discourses on luck, philosophy, gaming tactics, his avowed atheism and more, all while delivering profanity-laced details of Bobby’s antics. Bobby, meantime, shows his cards with multiple shout-outs to comic book superheroes, Snake Plissken (of John Carpenter’s cult film Escape From New York), musician Kamasi Washington, and more.

All this, plus oodles of nods to Vegas highlights... including Lotus of Siam (amazing Thai food!), the Orleans’ “hopping” poker room, Mac King’s magic show at the Excalibur, the Golden Nugget, the Andiamo steakhouse at the D (where Bobby gets hauled off by security), the Flamingo’s Piff the Magic Dragon (and his tiny Chihuahua sidekick), etc.

Like a night in Vegas experienced with a buzz on, this all becomes a tipsy ride—with the sometimes infuriating but mostly likable Bobby behind the wheel. Entertaining reading for anyone who likes a gamble.

Teri Duerr
2022-12-09 23:15:11
Small Game
Sarah Prindle

The only child of survivalist parents and an employee at a survival school, Mara feels she is qualified when she’s chosen to participate in a new reality show called Civilization. Mara and four other contestants are taken to the woods, where they must live off the land for six weeks while cameras record their every move. But one morning, they wake up to find the crew has mysteriously disappeared. Unsure at first if it’s part of the challenge, the survivors soon realize that they have been abandoned in the woods with no plan on how to get home.

Now Mara must ally with complete strangers—some of whom have little survival experience—to live. Food, clean water, shelter, heat, all the things previously taken for granted must now be fought for in the wilderness. Even with her vast experience, Mara is shocked by how difficult and dangerous it is to be cut off from the rest of the world. As they face various perilous situations, the survivors begin to wonder—Will any of them make it home again?

Blair Braverman’s novel is a suspenseful story that throws her characters into a scary scenario and explores the ways they cope with the challenge. Her characters are from different walks of life with very little in common, and it’s interesting how their strengths and weaknesses play off one another as they struggle to find food, to light a fire, to treat a serious injury. Suspense builds as the survivors struggle through their ordeal, which will keep the reader guessing who—if anyone—lives.

Small Game is a gripping, thought-provoking thriller that challenges readers to dig deep and consider if they have what it takes to survive. Recommended.

Teri Duerr
2022-12-09 23:18:00
Desert Star
Eileen Brady

In this gem of a book, author Michael Connelly gives Bosch what he wants: the chance to clear up one of those cold cases that haunt him, this one a murdered family. Bosch once helped build a rock garden of remembrance where their remains were found. The bright flowers of the desert star mark the isolated spot, but he never caught their killer.

Desert Star finds an older, still-determined Bosch, waiting out an unwanted retirement. But fate and the past step in to change that when L.A. City Council Member Pearlman, eager to solve the decades-old killing of his 16 year-old-sister, Sarah, brings back the Open-Unsolved Unit. Heading up the team is Renée Ballard, who seeks out the skilled detective with a seductive promise: Bosch can work on his “special” cold cases if he concentrates on Sarah Pearlman’s murder first.

Harry Bosch accepts, but does he follow orders? Yes, and no. In a tight, tense plot clues to both cold cases are discovered through a combination of the latest genetic genealogy testing and old-fashioned footwork. Bosch is relentless, but keeps himself to himself. Not even his daughter knows the extent to which he is willing to go to obtain justice for the victims. Desert Star is the fifth pairing of Bosch and Ballard and ranks with his best.

Teri Duerr
2022-12-09 23:21:00
After She’d Gone
Craig Sisterson
Teri Duerr
2022-12-09 23:23:26
My Book: "Blind Faith"
Alicia Beckman (aka Leslie Budewitz)

Leslie Budewitz

During my senior year of high school in Billings, Montana, I gave a ride to a new girl, dropping her off at a motel on the edge of downtown where she lived with her grandmother and her little sister. I never saw her again.

Every few years in the decades since, I wondered who she was and why she was there. Our Catholic high school was small. Many of us had known each other since grade school. A “new kid” senior year was highly unusual.

And where had she gone? I knew I would never have an answer, unless I wrote one myself. Clearly, though, it was not one of my cozies, written under my real name Leslie Budewitz, but a suspense novel written as Alicia Beckman. The title that came as soon as I began to write aptly describes my process of discovering the story: Blind Faith.

(About six weeks into the first draft, it occurred to me that her grandmother may simply have lacked the $300 tuition and she’d transferred to public school. But I’m a crime writer, and that train had left the station.)

Psychologists describe creativity as a function of three main factors: plasticity, or mental flexibility; divergence, or associative thinking; and convergence, the ability to pull ideas together and make them tenable. All three are at play when writers connect one idea or image to another and another, and bend them into story.

Blind Faith by Alicia BeckmanAnd that’s what happened as I began to write about lawyer Lindsay Keller, who discovers a piece of evidence connected to the cold case murder of Father Michael Leary, one of her favorite high school teachers. She’s convinced it’s connected to Carrie West, the “new girl” who came to town senior year, and to an incident that occurred when Lindsay walked home with Carrie after school to meet her little sister and her grandmother, the priests’ new housekeeper. An incident shoved into the corners of her mind by another tragedy, so she barely noticed that Carrie never returned to school.

But what was that incident? I read a newspaper account of the murder of a priest in a small town in western Montana, not far from where I live. Days after the man disappeared, a pile of clothes stained with his blood was found at a highway turnout. A week later, his car was discovered miles away, along with his cash-stuffed wallet. His body has never been found. The case is still unsolved, nearly 40 years later, though the theory remains revenge for child molestation—a horror I wanted to stay a million miles away from. What other deadly secrets might a priest hold? Who would kill to keep him quiet?

And what did it have to do with two sisters and their widowed grandmother, and a lawyer who lets imperfect justice derail her passion for justice?

I hope you’ll read Blind Faith, and find out.

As Alicia Beckman, Leslie Budewitz writes moody suspense. She is also the author of two light-hearted mystery series: the Spice Shop Mysteries, set in Seattle, and the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, set in northwest Montana. Budewitz is a three-time Agatha Award winner and has been recognized for Spur, Derringer, Anthony, and Macavity awards. Leslie loves to cook, eat, hike, travel, garden, and paint—not necessarily in that order. She lives in northwest Montana with her husband, Don Beans, a singer-songwriter and doctor of natural medicine, and their gray tuxedo, officially named Squirt but affectionately called Mr. Kitten.

Teri Duerr
2022-12-12 17:55:43
Review: "Roots of Film Noir: Precursors from the Silent Era to the 1940s"
Pat H. Broeske

Roots of Film Noir: Precursors from the Silent Era to the 1940s
by Kevin Grant
McFarland, November 2022, $39.95

There are so many books on the subject that it’s sometimes difficult to discern one from the other, so kudos to author Kevin Grant, for breaking new ground with Roots of Film Noir: Precursors from the Silent Era to the 1940s (McFarland, November 2022, 252 pages, $39.95). True, others have cited the influence of Hollywood gangster movies and German expressionism, but this entry, which follows the writer’s 2019 study, Vigilantes: Private Justice in Popular Cinema, goes beyond ruminations of the usual suspects with a detailed title-by-title lineup of more than 90 noir ancestors, complete with what Grant considers the bloodlines (so to speak).

Is the character of Barbara Stanwyck’s sexually bold Lily Powers, in 1933’s then-daring Baby Doll, a precursor to the man-eating Phyllis Dietrichson (also Stanwyck) of 1944’s noir classic Double Indemnity? Did Louise Brooks’s commanding performance in the 1929 silent, Pandora’s Box, anticipate the genre staple, the femme fatale? What about the characters, themes and settings of German Strassenfilme (aka “street film”)? Or the dark claustrophobia of French poetic realism? They certainly embrace noir tropes.

While US-made films—especially B-movies—constitute the bulk of Grant’s “proto-noir” selections, there are a dozen or more from the UK, plus a dozen from France, at least nine from Germany, and several from Japan, including Yasujiró Ozu’s 1933 gangster ode Dragnet Girl.

Grant also singles out persons of interest not typically associated with the genre, including directors Fritz Lang and Alfred Hitchcock. Lang’s M gets props for daring to elicit sympathy for its depiction (by Peter Lorre) of a child killer tormented by his urges—in the same way that the psychologically tortured men of noir commanded concern. As for Hitchcock, Grant explores the noir threads that run through titles dating to the silent 1926 Jack the Ripper tale The Lodger, as well as “modern” offerings such as the gothic Rebecca (1941).

Grant utilized a stack of respected genre works for this noir examination. Along with providing end-of-chapter source notes, and production-distribution tidbits, he includes information on where to view the movies (i.e. streaming services, DVD series). Plenty of artwork, including reproductions of the various films’ posters, adds to the package.

Thanks to this book, noir enthusiasts will find much to ponder—and plenty to add to their “must watch” lists. Me, I’m now on the trail of Night World (1932), Mary Burns, Fugitive (1935), and Nancy Steele is Missing! (1937).

Southern California native Pat H. Broeske is a longtime reviewer for Mystery Scene. As a mystery devotee, and a former film industry journalist, she often writes about the intersection of Hollywood & crime, including film noir.   

Teri Duerr
2022-12-19 11:40:15