In "The Spare Room" by Andrea Bartz, Three Is a Dangerous Crowd
John B. Valeri

Photo credit: Savannah Lauren

"Once I started thinking about it, I realized the lockdown was the perfect backdrop for claustrophobic suspense: It turned every home into a crucible. I’ve always loved writing about close-knit, closed-door social milieux...and in 2020 the pandemic forced us all to hunker down and cinch the drawstrings of our lives."

New York Times bestselling author Andrea Bartz is well known for writing scalpel-sharp observations about what she calls “close-knit, closed-door social milieux”—and the COVID-19 pandemic provided an opportunity to explore such dynamics in intriguing—if initially unappealing—new ways.

In Bartz's standalone suspense novel, The Spare Room (2023, Ballantine Books), Bartz introduces thirtysomething Kelly Doyle, who finds herself falling out with her fiancé as the pandemic rages around her. So when the opportunity to quarantine with an old high school acquaintance arises, she jumps at the chance. Sabrina is a successful writer and social media darling whose husband, Nathan, has a high-powered career in the US Department of Defense—and their gated mansion on the outskirts of Washington, DC, offers the promise of safety. But what begins as a bit of flirtatious fun between the three escalates when the couple invite Kelly into their marital bed.

Surprised by her attraction to both Nathan and Sabrina, Kelly enters into a romantic entanglement with them. But the exhilaration of this new experience soon begins to wear thin, leaving her to wonder where exactly she fits into their already established relationship—and her uncertainty only deepens when she learns that their last lover went missing under mysterious circumstances. With far more questions than answers, Kelly’s spacious new home becomes a claustrophobic prison as she embarks on a deadly search for truth.

Mystery Scene contributor John B. Valeri ask Bartz about the literal and emotional truths that inspired The Spare Room

John B. Valeri for Mystery Scene: The Spare Room’s origins are rooted in the pandemic. What compelled you to write about covid times, and how did you endeavor to capture the realities of quarantine without allowing it to overwhelm the narrative?

Andrea Bartz: Although the book was inspired by my own lockdown experience—after staring at the walls of my studio apartment for a few months, I packed up and moved in with a high school friend and her family—I initially pitched the book to my editor without a pandemic setting. “Who wants to read about it?!” I cried. “There’s a reason so few books are set during the Spanish flu!” But my editor pointed out that the pandemic allowed living situations like mine (and my protagonist’s) to arise: When else had so many independent adults abruptly begun crashing with friends?

Once I started thinking about it, I realized the lockdown was the perfect backdrop for claustrophobic suspense: It turned every home into a crucible. I’ve always loved writing about close-knit, closed-door social milieux (from the perfect-seeming members of a glamorous, all-female coworking space in The Herd to the cooler-than-thou hipsters in The Lost Night), and in 2020 the pandemic forced us all to hunker down and cinch the drawstrings of our lives. The eerie silence and tension of that period made my authorly spider sense tingle: The empty streets and quiet dread reminded me of a Hitchcock film, and as newscasters hammered home that stranger danger was real, that anyone could kill us, that we should truly trust no one, I noticed the messaging echoed some of my favorite horror films.

Though the pandemic is simply the backdrop for The Spare Room, not the focus, I loved turning the isolation and fear up to 11 for dramatic effect. Recoiling from touch, never meeting the neighbors, not answering the door, crossing the street to avoid another person, being unable to see someone’s entire face—these are the tiny, terrifying things we dealt with every day, and while they don’t drive the book’s narrative, they certainly contribute to its unsettling tone.

Your protagonist, Kelly, is vulnerable at the story’s outset, both in terms of her mental state and physical space. How do her circumstances separated from her fiancé, living with veritable strangers make her more susceptible to possible manipulations, and more questioning of people’s motivations (including her own)?

Early in the pandemic, when I was still living alone in Brooklyn, I started seeing my therapist over this kooky little service called Zoom. (Such novelty!) One week, she asked if I’d had any real-life (socially distanced) conversations with friends since we last spoke. “No,” I told her, “but I feel pretty good this week. I don’t think I need to make more plans.” She explained that the brain’s self-protective mechanisms automatically kick in to handle the current situation—to make it feel normal and fine, even when it’s not. (Anyone who’s ever yelled, “What took me so long?” after finally leaving a relationship or job can attest to this!) “You do need to see other people,” she told me. “Even if you don’t feel like it.”

As you noted, Kelly’s miserable at the book’s onset—she’s friendless and jobless in a new city after following her fiancé there, and then, once lockdown hits, trapping them in their townhouse, he calls off the wedding. In non-pandemic times she could just leave, but not now. So it makes sense that an invitation from Sabrina, someone she hasn’t spoken to in years—a high school friend with whom she’s rekindled a friendship out of lockdown boredom—seems like a great choice. Then, not long after moving in with Sabrina and her husband, Kelly starts to fall for them—and willingly enters a three-way relationship despite a parade of red flags.

We talked a lot about “unprecedented times” back in 2020, and Kelly’s in a stew of unprecedented experiences: She’s in a global pandemic, cut off from the rest of the world (including the friends who might normally go, “Honey, what are you doing?”), discovering her bisexuality, and exploring polyamory. She’s a neophyte in every possible realm! So it’s no surprise she convinces herself that she can trust the couple she’s infatuated with and explains away all the warning signs. Like my therapist said, the brain works hard to convince us everything is fine. Without her usual reality checks, let alone any possible escape route, Kelly is beyond vulnerable.

The book is a locked-room mystery of sorts. How did you find the constraints of this setup to be both a convenience and a challenge to creating baffling but ultimately believable crime(s)?

If you were going to commit a major crime in your own home, you really couldn’t choose a better time than the lockdown. Who would know? Who would investigate? How would anyone stumble onto the crime scene or cover-up? We were all tucked away in our own pandemic worlds—who knows what really went on behind locked doors? For those reasons, covid was a real boon to characters determined to get away with things. We suspense authors often have to twist ourselves in knots to explain how anyone could think they’d get off scot-free, but state-sponsored social isolation did some of the heavy lifting for me. Though this book isn’t a traditional whodunit, I had so much fun playing with the locked-room setup as the metaphorical walls close in on Kelly and her “perfect” quarantine living situation.

Kelly is surprised by the naturalness with which she finds herself attracted to Sabrina. In what ways were you able to draw upon your own emotional experiences to inform her discovery of being bisexual?

I met my partner Julia in late-summer 2020—and nearly three years later, as we share a car, our pets, and a home address, I officially consider myself queer. But before we started dating, I’d always identified as heterosexual. In many ways, the slow pace and isolation of the pandemic allowed me to start listening to my inner, wiser self: I was thousands of miles from my conservative, traditional upbringing, and hundreds of miles from my close friends, who—though loving and accepting—saw me as a straight woman. And, like many people, when I woke up from the trance of pre-pandemic busy-ness, I looked around and thought, “Wait—my life doesn’t need to be what I thought it was. Do I actually want the things I’m going after?”

I showed Kelly working through many of the same emotions and experiences I’d had: grief over letting go of long-held ideas about herself, forehead-slapping revelations at all the clues she missed (“Wait, straight women don’t get crushes on other women?!”), and surprise at how not-weird this new kind of relationship feels, to name a few.

threesomeKelly enters a romantic relationship with Sabrina and Nathan, both as a threesome and as a couple with each. What are her perceptions of the power play(s) that exist within their union(s)—and how are her suspicions heightened as she becomes more intimate with them, both individually and as a threesome?

Kelly’s understanding of polyamory shifts throughout her character arc: At first, she trusts Sabrina and Nathan to show her a triad should work, but by the end of the book, she realizes the way they went about it was, frankly, all wrong. Kelly’s painfully aware that Sabrina and Nathan share a marriage license, a deed, a last name, and decades of shared experience; she can’t possibly catch up on their institutional knowledge of each other. She also feels unclear on so many of the rules of their relationship, struggling to navigate sexual encounters with one or both, how to discuss one partner with the other, and so on. But perhaps the biggest issue is that Nathan and Sabrina shut Kelly down when she seeks clarity—and is there a bigger power play than keeping someone in the dark about how they’re “supposed” to behave?

It was a real challenge to capture these shifting dynamics among the three main characters, especially as Kelly (along with the reader) tries to parse whether Sabrina and Nathan are being willfully obtuse—or doing their best in a tricky situation. I write without an outline, never sure what’ll come next, so the couple even kept me on my toes!

Sabrina and Nathan’s former lover Elizabeth remains a presence throughout the book despite being absent under mysterious circumstances. Tell us about the establishment of her character and the ways in which she haunts Kelly, Sabrina, and Nathan, albeit differently.

As a character, Elizabeth was as slippery as an eel—I had trouble pinning her down even as I worked through several drafts, and her backstory was one of the final elements I hammered into place. I knew Kelly was fascinated by her, maybe even a little obsessed with her…when you’ve got a massive crush on someone, you can’t help but fixate on their latest lover, right? I knew she had to care about and even see herself in this ex so that the revelation that Elizabeth was missing would pack an emotional punch. For Kelly, Elizabeth represents wild, sexy new possibilities—the opposite of her norm-y husband and 2.5-kids life plan.

In The Spare Room, I had fun weaving in ephemera that hinted at a former lover, including the secret Polaroids and half-written manuscript from Sabrina. The physical clues helped me understand the different lenses through which key characters viewed mysterious, enigmatic Elizabeth.

The book is erotically charged without being gratuitous. In terms of sexuality: How did you approach the question of what to show on the page vs. what to leave to the reader’s imagination?

This book would not have worked if Kelly weren’t deeply in love with her hosts—“A young woman moves in with some friends and then idiotically sticks around when she discovers they might be dangerous” is not a great pitch. And the narrative follows her sexual awakening, a huge shake-up to her self-identity that helps explain why she allows herself to be swept up in this thrilling, passionate, unpredictable new relationship. In short: I always knew I’d have to write some sex scenes!

I decided to show more of that first, unexpected, identity-shifting threesome, as well as a later sex scene where Kelly winds up feeling unsafe (no spoilers)—but other than those two, I did a lot of fade-to-black when things were heating up. There are also some intimate scenes that sort of fade in after the event, with characters cuddling and talking in bed. It’s interesting to me that some reviewers seem fixated on what they deem tons of graphic sex…and I can’t help wondering if queer and poly couplings are what make the scenes stick out, compared to spicy moments in other thrillers.

Leave us with a teaser: What comes next?

I’m currently hard at work on my fifth novel, which will come out in 2025. I can’t say too much yet, but whereas The Spare Room was a departure from my past books, this one is sort of a return to form: There’s an immersive tropical setting, an exclusive, fascinating social scene, and a dead body right from the jump. I have no idea how it’ll end, but I’m having a blast writing it!


The Lost Night (2019)
The Herd (2020)
We Were Never Here (2021)
The Spare Room (2023)

John B ValeriJohn B. Valeri is a lifelong lover of books and the people who write them and the host of Central Booking, where he interviews authors and other industry insiders. Valeri is a contributor to CrimeReads, Crimespree Magazine, Criminal Element, Mystery Scene MagazineThe National Book Review, The New York Journal of BooksThe News and TimesThe Strand Magazine, and Suspense Magazine. He regularly moderates author events and book discussions at bookstores and libraries throughout Connecticut, and serves on the planning committee for CrimeCONN, a one-day reader/writer mystery conference cosponsored by Mystery Writers of America/New York Chapter.


Teri Duerr
2023-06-20 00:00:50
Review: "The Final Girls Support Group" by Grady Hendrix
Hank Wagner


The Final Girl Support Group
by Grady Hendrix
Berkley, June 2023, $17, paperback

Very high concept, very meta, The Final Girl Support Group, by Grady Hendrix, celebrates the tropes and dashes preconceptions of the so-called Slasher film genre. “Final Girls," are the "real-world" women whose tragic experiences inspire the seemingly endless stream of horror movies featuring high kill counts and a plethora of plucky, never-say-die heroines.

Five of these women are now in support group therapy together, having lived through traumas most could hardly comprehend. They do their best to move on from these experiences, dealing with the fallout in myriad and surprising ways. Most do manage to cope, with varying degrees of success, but, one by one, they begin falling under attack from a mysterious killer, who seems intent on exterminating them. As they again face imminent death, they are forced to revisit their sad histories, and confront the fallout caused by their coping mechanisms.

One of their number, Lynette Tarkington, whose Final Girl status has been questioned in the press and by serial killer aficionados, finds herself on her way to becoming the literal last woman standing as she desperately seeks to uncover the identity of their merciless stalker.

Hendrix’s latest is a sly, ironic, subversive, and darkly funny novel, one that delivers unexpected laughs and chills, exciting action and covert commentary on a society that seemingly can’t get enough of these women in peril. A love letter to slasher films, it’s also critical of them, harshly condemning the pillars of these movies, which seemingly celebrate the cheapness of life and the vulnerability of women. Given its release date, I want desperately to say it makes for “terrific summer reading,” but, truth is, it’s a gripping, highly readable piece of work that will thrill you any time of year.

A review of this novel in hardcover first appeared in the print issue of Mystery Scene Magazine.

Teri Duerr
2023-06-17 21:32:04
An Interview With Lawrence Block: Never Can Say Goodbye
Kevin Burton Smith


On his 85th birthday, Lawrence Block brings readers The Autobiography of Matthew Scudder, one hell of a weird-as-I-damn-well-please read.

Never can say goodbye... No, no, no… The Autobiography of Matthew Scudder, purportedly by Lawrence Block, published on the MWA Grandmaster’s 85th birthday, is something else. It’s a head spinner; a captivating memoir of Block’s most popular character. Purportedly written by Scudder himself.

It straddles the line between art and subject, between fiction and reality, between creator and art, between truth and lie, and our perceptions of them all.

“Look, I’m an old man,” says Matt (now more or less the same age as Block) “My mind’s like an old river, turning this way and that, and in no particular hurry to get where’s going.” At times Matt balks at details, and delves deeply into facets of his life he thought he’d forgotten. He moves back and forth in time.

But he keeps on writing.

He skips over major parts of his life, shrugging them off as inessential or already covered by Block, or just as something he didn’t feel like talking about. The Autobiography also serves as a sort of prequel to the series, mostly focused on the first 35 or so years of his life, figuring there’s already a “sufficient printed record” of the years since The Sins of the Fathers. It wanders along, enjoying a relaxed, late-night confessional vibe, not so much read as overheard.

Block has been urged over the years to write more about Matthew Scudder—maybe not to produce another novel, though he says, “I’m assured such would be welcome—but to furnish a biographical report on the man himself…”


“The notion of writing about Scudder, of jotting down facts and observations about the fellow, has always rankled. I’ve turned surly when interviewers ask for a physical description, or seek out ways in which his personal history is or is not similar to mine,” Block says.

Trying to avoid the minefields of rankling or surliness, I asked Block how it went.

“Actually, It was both surprisingly easy and surprisingly difficult. The original suggestion, you’ll note, was that I write 4,000 words or so about Matthew Scudder. I knew I didn’t want to write four words, let alone 4,000, about the man, but I became more sanguine about it when I thought of shifting the assignment to the man himself.” Let Matt do it?

“Exactly. But when I actually sat down at my desk for The Autobiography of Matthew Scudder, I knew right away I’d need a lot more than 4,000 words to do what I wanted to do. And a day or two into it I knew I’d be writing at least 25K, and quite possibly a good deal more than that. It wound up around 65,000 words, which makes it novel length; indeed, it’s longer by a good margin than any of the first three books in the series.”


Lawrence Block SINS OF THE FATHERI’ve been a huge fan of Block’s fictionalized adventures of New York City private eye Matthew Scudder almost from the moment back in my teens when I picked up a battered, tattered paperback of the series debut Sins of the Father at a rummage sale. The subsequent series, the tweaked and twisted tellings of Matt’s adventures, rendered in first person, have added up to a healthy chunk of Block’s professional career in the last 50 years.

In those early novels we were told Scudder’s fall-from-grace backstory: a husband, a father and a cop, one of New York's Finest. A decent-enough detective, honest enough to get by, although certainly no saint, and already a little too fond of the bottle. Until it all came crashing down, with Matt, off-duty and under the influence, trying to stop an armed holdup. A stray bullet in the ensuing shootout took the life of a little girl, and Matt soon found himself divorced and jobless.

Those early novels found him staggering through life in various stages of drunkenness, living in a Manhattan hotel and taking on the occasional job, doing "favors for friends," slowly drinking his way into the grave, amid increasingly frequent blackouts and less frequent half-ass attempts to “handle” his addiction.

Until the watershed moment of Shamus Award-winning Eight Million Ways to Die, the 1982 novel, the fifth in the series, in which Matt finally realizes—and admits—that he’s an alcoholic. And that was that. Five books, that even now, could stand as one of the all-time Great American Detective series.

Block told everyone who would listen that the Scudder series was toast, stick a fork in it, it’s done, until he brought him back in a 1984 short story "By the Dawn's Early Light," published in Playboy, which also nabbed a Shamus Award. Which was later expanded and adapted into the novel When the Sacred Ginmill Closes (1986). Since then the series has evolved, following Matt, now a recovering alcoholic, gradually coming to terms with his life. There are slips along the way, and mistakes, but he perseveres. In later books, he's become a licensed investigator, and even remarries (to Elaine, a former hooker who he first encountered in his days as a beat cop). There have been 12 more novels and numerous short stories and novellas since then, plus a graphic novel and a couple of feature films.

Lawrence Block TELLING LIES FOR FUN & PROFITAnd then maybe eight or so years ago, Block told everyone he was stepping away from writing. Mind you, this is the same cheeky bugger who once published a writing guide entitled Telling Lies for Fun & Profit.

So really, how far can we trust him?

Since his “stepping away,” he’s become a one-man publishing industry, slowly rereleasing his back catalog. He’s edited several anthologies, and written a novella, A Time to Scatter Stones, that seemed like a final, unexpectedly sensual farewell to Matt and Elaine. He also put out Dead Girl Blues (2020), a standalone crime novel, and The Burglar Who Met Fredric Brown (2022), an oddball (possible) goodbye to another of Block’s popular characters, amateur sleuth/bookstore owner/gentleman thief Bernie Rhodenbarr.


And now this, a novel written purportedly in Matt’s own voice, the PI turned a reluctant chronicler of his own (fictional) life, scribbling away, not even sure why. Block (as Matt) seems assured and focused in the series; yet Matt is tentative here, more casual, resentful, and mildly peeved at times, dismissive of Block’s embellishments in his “slightly fictionalized” rendition of Matt’s “real-life” adventures.

And yet, as is his wont, Matt has allowed Block to put his name on the cover. Without any indication Matt himself has profited from any of it.


Still, it’s a delight to hear Matt doing the talking, for once. This is a book without any big drama or reveals (and what there is, is mostly downplayed) beyond one man’s life and times, the things that happened to him, a few random thoughts and reminisces about family, friends, etc. And yet I found it all compelling and even fascinating. There are no serial killers, psychotic murderers, Big Apple whack jobs, or any of Block’s stock-in-trade, except in passing. Those were already covered in the books.

Matt complains at times, “It’s a slog, remembering all of this, writing it down,” and even wonders, “Is anybody going to want to read all this?”

I wanted to reassure him that, “Yes, we do,” but characteristically, he was unavailable to interview. The man, after all, does value his privacy.

So I had to settle for Block. We swapped a few emails. I apologized for the smoke from all those Canadian wildfires that had rendered New York City’s air almost unbreathable, and then stealing a line from a million Amazon reviews, I assured Block that the pages practically turned themselves. How did the writing go?

“Well, writing’s a different process for me than it used to be. An hour or two at my desk and I’m done. When I'm on a book, it's generally a matter of sitting at my desk after (or instead of) breakfast and working for a few hours. Aging happens, and affects everything, writing included. I'm less inclined these days to start anything, less committed to finishing it, and able to put in fewer hours at a stretch. It can still go well, and often does, but not always. I used to go away to write, more often than not. I'd hole up in a writers colony or take a hotel room and focus entirely on writing. I haven't done that in some years now, and can't imagine wanting to. I'd rather stay home.

“At the risk of appearing precious or disingenuous,” continued Block, “I might say that writing the book was for me very much as it was for Matthew—letting the narrative go where it wanted, sometimes deleting a day’s work at the day’s end, having material in the book occur in my imagination like a long-forgotten memory surfacing in Matthew’s consciousness. In this respect, I was more interested and involved in the writing of this book than anything I can recall.

“I don’t think there was ever a moment during the several months I spent when I questioned the value of what I was doing,” he added. “I knew it was the book I wanted to be writing. I also knew it was one I’d want to self-publish; that’s been true of virtually everything I’ve done in recent years, but it seemed particularly clear here, because the likely audience for it would be small.” I was surprised. “Small?”

“Well, I couldn’t imagine anyone wanting to read it, or being able to read it with enjoyment, who wasn’t already a fairly committed fan of the series.” I pleaded guilty,, assuring him I was fairly committed. Or should be.

“Even then, I couldn’t take reader enthusiasm for granted; someone who read the books just for the stories, or in the hope that TJ would say something amusing—well, why would he give a rat’s ass about Matt’s disappointment at being unable to take third-year Latin?”

Uh, guilty. Girding my loins, I asked him if he was pleased with the end result?

“Yes. Very pleased,” he admitted. “Exhilarated, really. Lynne (Block’s wife) is my first reader, and she gave me the perfect compliment. She said she had to keep reminding herself that what she was reading was fiction.”

That’s what I was getting at. I asked Block if he sometimes found himself unsure whose life exactly he was putting down? Or going back over the previous books? Obviously, there are always overlaps between a writer and his subject—otherwise anyone could write anything—but did he find himself cannibalizing parts of other people’s lives (not just his) or scraps of his own fiction for Scudder’s?

“The question’s a good one,” he admitted. “I knew going in that the last thing I wanted to do was go back to the books, or repeat material I’d already covered. I wanted to cover material I hadn’t previously addressed, and to do that I had to invent. All Matthew’s family background, all the material on his early years, just came to me as I wrote it. I hadn’t given it much thought before, I’d never known anything about his first wife’s background or how he wound up at the police academy or, well, much of anything. There’s nothing in my own personal history that corresponds to his. Our families were nothing alike, our ethnic backgrounds, our childhoods—entirely different. The closest we come to overlapping is that I did read Cicero in third-year Latin, at Louis J. Bennett High School in Buffalo, [New York,] an opportunity that was denied to Matthew at James Monroe High in the Bronx. My teacher was Miss Daly, not Miss Rudin, and some 25 years earlier she had been my mother’s Latin teacher.”

High Schools of Lawrence Block and Matthew Scudder

(Right) Louis J. Bennett High School in Buffalo, New York, the site of Lawrence Block's third-year Latin studies with Miss Daly and (left) James Monroe High School in the Bronx, the teenage stomping grounds of young Matthew Scudder.


And so it goes, as Matt recounts his life, right up to the present, offering a glimpse of his and Elaine’s life, their friends…. Matt’s still attending meetings and they see Mick and his wife frequently. Life goes on, as it does for Block himself.

“Regrets. Yes, of course. There are things I could have done better,” Matt confesses at the book’s conclusion. “But no bitter regrets, not really, because I truly like where I am. And the trip that got me here has had its moments.”

I found it just so unexpectedly moving, and I told Block so.

“Thanks,” he said, and threw me a zinger that still has my head spinning. “One way to look at the book—and to all books, really—that might be interesting. The book immediately preceding this one,The Burglar Who Met Fredric Brown, posits a parallel universe (a multiverse for you kiddies out there) into which Bernie and his friend Carolyn are catapulted, a world in which the two banes of Bernie’s existence, online bookselling and security cameras, do not exist. I hit on this because it was the only way I could imagine Bernie’s continuing existence as a burglar and bookseller, and it solved that problem while presenting others, but all in all it worked well for me—and for Bernie.


“I mention this because since then—and perhaps before it as well—I’ve realized that every work of fiction takes place in a parallel world, specifically a world in which everything implied or recounted in The Autobiography is true… everything Matt tells us is literally true—or at least as true as his own memory and perceptions can make it.

“In our world, of course, all of this is a work of the imagination, and specifically of my imagination. A reader can so regard it, or—to the extent that I’ve done my job effectively—he/she can enter into the book’s universe.

“Now you and I, Kevin, are in this world, although we’ve both spent time in the book’s world. But this world is the real one, right?

“Well, we’d have to think so, wouldn’t we?”

Weird, right?

A Lawrence Block Matthew Scudder Reading List

The Sins of the Fathers (1976)
Time to Murder and Create (1979)
In the Midst of Death (1976)
A Stab in the Dark (1981)
Eight Million Ways to Die (1982)
When the Sacred Ginmill Closes (1986)
Out on the Cutting Edge (1989)
A Ticket to the Boneyard (1990)
A Dance at the Slaughterhouse (1991)
A Walk Among the Tombstones (1992)
The Devil Knows You're Dead (1993)
A Long Line of Dead Men (1994)
Even the Wicked (1996)
Everybody Dies (1998)
Hope to Die (2001)
All the Flowers Are Dying (2005)
A Drop of the Hard Stuff (2011)
The Night and The Music (2013)

Other books
The Autobiography of Matthew Scudder (2023)

Omnibus editions
The Matt Scudder Mysteries (1997)
The Matt Scudder Mysteries Vol 2 (1997)

Kevin Burton Smith is a Montreal editor, author, critic, essayist, would-be cartoonist, blogger and Twittist currently stationed in the peculiar state-of-mind known as Southern California. His often rather dubious but always enthusiastic writings on crime fiction, music, film, bicycling, and sundry other topics have appeared in web and print publications all over the world, including Mystery Scene, Crimespree, The Rap Sheet, January Magazine, Details, Blue Murder, The Mystery Readers Journal, Word Wrights, Over My Dead Body, Crime Time (Britain), Crime Factory (Australia) and Musica Jazz (Italy). He is also the founder/editor of the award-winning Thrilling Detective Web Site, the internet's (erm...) premier resource for fans of fictional private eyes and other tough guys and gals in literature, film, radio, television and other media. 

Teri Duerr
2023-06-23 17:59:54
2023 Ngaio Marsh Award Contenders Announced
Mystery Scene

Ngaio Marsh Best Novel List
The long list for the 2023 Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Novel has just been announced. Ngaio Marsh Awards, named for "Queen of Crime" Dame Ngaio Marsh, celebrate excellence in New Zealand crime, mystery, and thriller writing.

“I’d like to think Dame Ngaio would be proud of how our modern Kiwi storytellers are continuing her literary legacy, bringing fresh perspectives and a cool mix of fascinating tales to one of the world’s most popular storytelling forms,” said awards founder Craig Sisterson. “In crime and thriller writing it’s natural for authors to make it really tough on their characters,” continued Sisterson, “but our entrants made it tough on our judges too. This year’s long list is a wonderful showcase of Kiwi creativity, with a great range of stories that explore some deep and very important issues in among the page-turning intrigue and thrills.”

The long list is currently being considered by an international judging panel of crime and thriller writing experts from the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand. Finalists for Best Novel, Best First Novel, and Best Nonfiction will be announced in August, with the finalists celebrated and the winners announced as part of a special event held in association with WORD Christchurch later in the year.

Mystery Scene congratulates all the authors here on their success and recognition.


Too Far From Antibes, by Bede Scott (Penguin SEA)
Exit .45, by Ben Sanders (Allen & Unwin)
Remember Me, by Charity Norman (Allen & Unwin)
Blue Hotel, by Chad Taylor (Brio Books)
Poor People With Money, by Dominic Hoey (Penguin)
The Darkest Sin, by DV Bishop (Macmillan)
The Doctor's Wife, by Fiona Sussman (Bateman Books)
Miracle, by Jennifer Lane
Better the Blood, by Michael Bennett (Simon & Schuster)
In Her Blood, by Nikki Crutchley (HarperCollins)
The Pain Tourist, by Paul Cleave (Upstart Press) 
Blood Matters, by Reneìe (The Cuba Press)
The Slow Roll, by Simon Lendrum (Upstart Press)
Paper Cage, by Tom Baragwanath (Text Publishing)

Teri Duerr
2023-06-30 12:54:49
Marc Cameron on His New Arliss Cutter Novel "Breakneck"
Hank Wagner

Marc Cameron

A brief interview with Marc Cameron, focusing on his latest Arliss Cutter novel, Breakneck, in which Cutter and associates are assigned to protect a controversial Supreme Court Justice visiting Alaska.

Hank Wagner for Mystery Scene: I just finished Breakneck, which represents the fifth appearance of central character Deputy U.S. Marshal Arliss Cutter. I enjoyed it immensely, finding the characters engaging, and the book's setting, the great state of Alaska, enthralling. It's my first taste of the series, but it was easy for me to quickly get up to speed on the characters and their shared history. Does it take a concerted effort on your part to weave that information into the narrative?

Marc Cameron: It’s always a bit of a juggle to reintroduce continuing characters in new ways. I want readers who have picked up a book in the middle of the series to understand what’s going on without making longtime series readers bored. That said, there’s something comforting—to me at least—in coming back to familiar parts of a series.

I read a lot of Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir’s Destroyer series when I was in middle school. My friends and I loved finding out how they were going to use “His name was Remo and…” in chapter one or two of every book. Arliss Cutter rarely smiles—so I customarily find a new situation to put him in where someone would normally be smiling, but he does not. His partner, Deputy U.S. Marshal Lola Teariki’s reaction to the same situation helps to demonstrate her character in slightly different ways from previous books. Still, I have to let the reader know early that Lola is of Cook Island Maori descent and Cutter is a big, surfer-looking dude with mussed blond hair and a resting mean mug. Beyond that, I have usually written some other book in between each Arliss Cutter—either a Jack Ryan for the Clancy estate or one of my own Jericho Quinn novels. That means I’m itching to get back to writing about Arliss, Lola, and the others, so it’s fun for me to reacquaint myself with them. Every book feels like Book 1 in the series when I start it. I usually end up putting in too much reintroduction in the early draft, and cutting a bunch down the road.

Do series devotees ever call you on it if you mess up the continuity?

Oh sure they do. I see these characters pretty clearly in my head—and try very hard to keep the continuity going through the series. I’m human though, so I make errors. I only know if I get emails though. I don’t read Amazon reviews, so maybe there’s a lot more of chastising going on there than I realize. I’m happy to get reviews, but I read them only occasionally when my wife says there’s a funny one. I used to hang out on Amazon when a book was released, but stopped about three Jericho Quinn books in. Nothing good can come of it.

I either start feeling too complacent because people rave or crappy because something I wrote didn’t resonate with them…or I made some horrible grammar or content error that they want to rub my nose in. I do try to answer every email though—except for the mean-spirited ones. I got an email from a nuclear physicist once who said he enjoyed State of Emergency (Jericho Quinn #3), but pointed out that I had transposed the numbers on the half-life of a plutonium isotope. I thanked him and let him know I was just happy a nuclear physicist was reading my adventure books. I enjoy that kind of interaction.

It feels to me like this book is part of an ongoing, continuous story, a roman-fleuve, I think it's called. At this point, do you feel like you're checking in on the characters, keeping the audience up-to-date on their activities, with you finding that out fresh, or do you feel as if you are reporting on history you already 'know”?

A bit of both, I suppose. I’m a meticulous plotter so I tend to have a good idea about the general story arc. That said, I don’t hold myself to any outline and often veer far afield from where I’d planned to go. My general MO is to come up with the situation/dilemma and then plunk the characters into it, allowing them to sort things out (or not) the way their personalities and skills allow. When I find I’ve written myself into a corner, it’s usually because I’ve tried to make a character behave in a way that isn’t consistent with their makeup. So, while I don’t know the plot or outcome of every book, I feel confident that I know how the characters are going to react to given situations. Mostly.

Arliss and Mim and Lola and Joe Bill and Chief Phillips and Grumpy have all lived in my head for so long that I do sometimes feel like I know them as friends. Rather than reporting, I’d say I’m rooting for things to turn out a certain way

Alaska Railroad map

It's no secret that a lot of the action takes place on a speeding train. Did you have to do a lot of research on the Glacier Discovery train? What about the physics of the related action sequences? That was some pretty harrowing stuff.

My wife and I have taken several trips on the Alaska Railroad, some of them to research Breakneck. I had originally planned to set the wilderness scenes farther north so we took the Anchorage to Fairbanks trip going by Denali National Park. My wife is a retired teacher and one of the railroad staff happened to be a former student. I could see the wheels turning in his head while I asked my research questions about walking on top of trains, tunnels, train speed, etc. He’s the one who suggested the Glacier Discovery. It was already late fall so the trains were done making that run for the season, but I took other trips, some in the middle of winter. I had tons of good talks with staff, fleshing out ideas and exploring, as you say, the physics, of the action sequences.

I ended up hiring a bush pilot to fly me over the remote areas I wanted to write about, comparing maps with aerial view of tunnels, bridges, and rivers. My wife and I took the first springtime trip on the Glacier Discovery in between drafts of the manuscript so I was able to tweak a few things before I turned it in. As far as the physics go, everything that happens in the book is possible, though as with much of what Cutter and Lola do, is very dangerous. Cutter even addresses the dangers of the train-top escapades with his nephews at the end of the book.

Marc Cameron’s Jericho Quinn thriller series debuted in 2011. Since then, he’s written eight Quinn novels and four Arliss Cutter novels featuring a deputy U.S. Marshal based in Alaska. He is also the author of six Tom Clancy/Jack Ryan novels for the Tom Clancy estate. A retired Chief Deputy U.S. Marshal, Marc spent nearly 30 years in law enforcement. He holds a second-degree black belt in jujitsu and is a certified law enforcement scuba diver and man-tracking instructor. Originally from Texas, Marc is an avid outdoorsman, sailor, and adventure motorcyclist. He and his wife live in Alaska where they raised their three children.

Teri Duerr
2023-07-10 19:31:06
Michael Koryta on Island Justice and "An Honest Man"
Michael Koryta

Michael Koryta

Island Justice. Two words. Enough to inspire a novel.

One of my favorite movies for all-time rewatchability is Jaws. A photograph of Quint in the bow of the Orca oversees my library in Maine. He’s a fine tone-setter and doesn’t fall asleep on the job. On the surface (pardon my shark puns), there doesn’t seem to be much overlap between my latest novel, An Honest Man, which is about a man named Israel Pike returning home after serving a prison sentence for murdering his father. Israel is a lobsterman by trade, and not much time has passed since his parole before he spots a yacht adrift, rows out to see what the trouble is, and discovers the bodies of seven murdered men—two of them rival U.S. Senate candidates. The one similarity would seem to be Israel’s home location: Salvation Point Island.

Jaws attacking The Orca, courtesy Universal

Jaws attacking The Orca, courtesy of Univeral Pictures

But there’s another one. Salvation Point is an island manned by a police force that consists of exactly one deputy. Chief Brody on Amity Island in Jaws did have some help, although they don’t contribute much in the movie or the novel, but my fictional island has one man for a simple reason that is one of the inspirations for the novel: It is true.

In 2020, I read about a murder that occurred on Vinalhaven, an island off the coast of Maine. The murder wasn’t spectacular, just tragic, sorrowful violence. A lobsterman named Roger Feltis was killed with an ax after a simmering feud turned into an all-out brawl. As with most murders, the investigation was quick and simple. There were eye witnesses, there was an arrest—although, in this case, there still have not been charges, an explanation of which would take more words than I’m allocated here, and probably still leave all of us scratching our heads. But the single thing that stood out to me about this particular, real-world crime, was a passing reference to “the island’s sole police officer.”

An Honest Man by Michael KorytaImpossible, I thought. I’d been to Vinalhaven. I’d enjoyed one of my all-time favorite Fourth of July celebrations there. I’d had beers at the Sand Bar. Above the Sand Bar, there are a couple small apartments. In 2020, one of them was rented by Roger Feltis. Vinalhaven is a bucolic place, and the locals are mostly great most of the time, but it is still a community filled with tough people carving out a tough living 15 miles out in a tough ocean. There are problems. There are crimes. It seemed like a lot for one guy.

It absolutely did when the man accused by six eyewitnesses of murdering Feltis was returned to the island with a police escort, and someone livestreamed the event. Locals massed along the pier, shouting at the prisoner and the police. One voice, off camera, caught my ear and engaged my imagination.

“We call you, you come out, nothing fucking happens. That is why vigilantes and Vinalhaven island justice is the way we do shit.”

Island Justice.

Two words.

Enough to inspire a novel.

That’s the process for me – inspirations knock around endlessly, sweeping in and pulling back, ceaseless as the tide—and my beloved Chief Brody from Jaws met with the hauntingly wonderful phrase “island justice” and one day when I was on a walk along the coast in the fog, I thought, “What if that lone deputy was a crooked cop?” I suspect most readers will never think of Vinalhaven or Jaws, but that’s fine—I know they’re in the mix.

Michael Koryta is a New York Times-bestselling author whose work has been translated into more than 20 languages and has won or been nominated for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, Edgar® Award, Shamus Award, Barry Award, Quill Award, International Thriller Writers Award, and the Golden Dagger. They’ve been selected as “best books of the year” by numerous publications. Hiking, camping, boating, and fishing are all likely to occupy his free time when he’s not working on a new book. Some of his favorite spots are the Beartooth Mountains of Montana, the flowages of the Northwoods in Wisconsin, St. Petersburg, Florida, and the Maine midcoast.


Teri Duerr
2023-07-17 17:13:24
Review: "Dead and Gone" by Joanna Schauffhausen
Jay Roberts

Dead and Gone by Joanna Schauffhausen

Dead and Gone
by Joanna Schauffhausen
Minotaur Books, August 2023, $28

In author Joanna Schaffhausen's third Annalisa Vega thriller, the Chicago police detective finds herself investigating the mysterious death of Sam Tran, a former cop-turned-PI. Annalisa's investigation takes a surprising turn when the dead man's phone starts ringing—and on the other end is her brother Vinny! Having sent one brother to jail for murder and getting her father confined to house arrest for covering that crime up, Annalisa isn't exactly the most popular member of her family or with her fellow cops. So the last thing she needs is another family member mixed up in one of her cases.

As it turns out, Vinny had hired Tran to investigate a possible stalker targeting his daughter, Quinn. But nothing had come of the investigation so far. As Annalisa and her partner Nick dig into the case, they find themselves looking at Tran's open cases for possible motives for his murder. As they search, the detective duo find themselves turning up questions—and answers—to Tran's cases as well. As they follow each successive clue, they learn that Quinn just might have a stalker after all. And when another coed goes missing, the heat is on. Stymied by a lack of jurisdiction on the college campus, there is little they can do in an official capacity though.

In order to protect her niece and track down Sam's killer, Annalisa is determined to bring a crazed killer to justice. But will it be in time to stop any more bodies from falling, or will she be faced with losing more of her family?

There are a lot of individual story elements for readers to follow in Dead and Gone. With so many disparate plotlines, the writer risks giving short shrift to some of them so that things can eventually tie together as the reader comes to the story's resolution. But Schaffhausen does a masterful job of weaving each of her separate plots together. Readers will be amazed how tightly woven the overall complexity of the narrative turns out to be.

Annalisa is dealing not only with a bunch of crimes to investigate, but also the upheaval in her personal life. From feeling exiled from her family to potential changes for her on the most intimate of levels, the detective has a lot on her plate. But it is her headstrong determination to bring justice to the victim(s) of this story that will leave readers breathless as they read each successive chapter.

Schaffhausen's Dead and Gone is a race through dark places that propels mystery fans toward a shocking conclusion. Excellent plotting and rich characterization make this one of the most singularly entertaining thrillers of the year.

Teri Duerr
2023-08-07 13:28:07
Review: "The Puzzle of Blackstone Lodge" by Martin Edwards
Jay Roberts

The Puzzle at Blackstone Lodge by Martin Edwards
The Puzzle of Blackstone Lodge
by Martin Edwards
Poisoned Pen Press, August 2023, $16.99 trade paperback

In 1606 Yorkshire, England, a man vanishes from a locked room. More than 300 years later, it happens again!

In author Martin Edwards third Rachel Savernake Golden Age mystery, Fleet Street journalist Nell Fagan heads out to the dank and grim English countryside, hoping to regain her reputation as a reporter by reporting on a series of deaths at a local sanatorium. While there, Nell stays at the infamous lodge where the mysterious disappearances occurred, one in 1606 and the second 300 years later.

The reporter tries to interest Rachel Savernake in helping her search for the truth, but Rachel is reluctant—Nell has lied to her before. Nell continues looking into things on her own, but when a possible attempt is made on her life, she tries again to get Rachel's help. But then, Nell disappears.

Now fully engaged in finding out what Nell was investigating and how it might've led to her disappearance, Rachel and her chosen compatriots find themselves in Yorkshire—and with no shortage of potential suspects for the suspicious sanatorium deaths and Nell's disappearance.

Is it the reclusive neighbor that holds himself apart from the rest of the townsfolk? The brutish parish rector who displays no mercy or compassion towards anyone, including his increasingly skittish and unstable wife? What secrets does the family that runs the sanatorium hold? Is the friendly town doctor somehow involved in all the goings-on? What's the story with the old and decidedly unfriendly woman staying at the local hotel?

Rachel, her journalist friend Jacob Flint, and her other allies find themselves tested to find out the truth of all matters. Especially as they attempt to stay one step ahead of a cunning killer who will stop at nothing to keep secrets from coming to light.

Author Martin Edwards does a phenomenal job of making the reader feel as if they are in the English countryside of the 1930s. The densely written descriptions of the various locations fuel the imagination, giving readers the sense of time and place, from the dark and foreboding moors to the interactions of the characters from various stations of the English class system. And just when you think you know where things are going, he skillfully plays with those expectations, yet keeps you glued to the page to see where the story is going next.

The way Edwards draws you into the plot with the reporter Nell Fagan before fully involving Rachel Savernake is a nice touch. As for Savernake herself, she's an intriguing figure to say the least. There's a bit of a Holmesian touch to her observations and attitudes, but the writer does a great job of moving Rachel beyond a simple homage to The Great Detective and making her come to life as a fully realized character in her own right. I also greatly enjoyed the character of Jacob Flint who is unwillingly drawn into the story through his friendships with both Nell and Rachel. Flint has his own subplot involving a fake medium, but between that and his assistance to Rachel, the character comes to acquit himself quite nicely.

With murder, disappearances, and any number of hidden motives, betrayals, and deadly secrets, The Puzzle of Blackstone Lodge is sure to galvanize mystery readers into becoming fans of Rachel Savernake and set about clamoring for more of her adventures.

Teri Duerr
2023-08-14 17:16:29
James R. Benn Finally Gives Boyle a Rest in "Proud Sorrows"—Well, Sort of
Robin Agnew

Author James R. Benn

Proud Sorrows is the 18th novel in James R. Benn’s Billy Boyle series. Set during WWII, the series features U.S. Army Captain Billy, the nephew of Dwight Eisenhower, who is sent all over the place on special assignment by his uncle. Benn’s meticulously plotted and suspenseful books are always full of historical detail and character development with a great mystery at the center. In Proud Sorrows Billy is, theoretically, getting some much needed R & R with his sweetheart Diana, though what he actually gets, of course, is a mystery. A crashed German bomber is found off the coast with a British officer inside, and the discovery sets off further murder and trouble for the military and the small English village nearby.

Read on to hear about Benn's inspiration for his new novel, a fascinating amalgam of Dorothy L. Sayers, ghostly fighter planes, and lost treasure, plus a sneak peek and what's to come in installment 19.

Robin Agnew for Mystery Scene: This series has such an interesting and unusual premise, and it gives you latitude to look at a lot of different aspects of WWII. How did you come up with the concept of Eisenhower’s nephew as your main character?

James Benn: When I was planning out the first book, I wanted exactly the kind of latitude you bring up. Having Ike be Billy’s uncle, as well as superior, allowed me to send Billy anywhere General Eisenhower wanted him to go. That also gave a junior officer a lot of authority, and I enjoy the tension that brings when Billy encounters senior brass who resent his interference. And having a familial connection provides important texture to the relationship. In the first few books especially, Billy is driven by a desire not to disappoint Uncle Ike.

Dorothy L. Sayers I recently read your essay on Dorothy L. Sayers and the influence she’s had on your work. Can you talk about that influence in this novel, which is truly a village mystery?

DLS brought me into the crime fiction universe. When I decided to give Billy and company some leave (finally!), I decided it made sense to bring them to Sir Richard’s Seaton Manor. But I’d forgotten where I’d placed it, so I had to go back to the first book and look it up. Lo and behold, it was smack dab in The Nine Tailors country of Dorothy L. Sayers. She grew up there, and it was the setting of one of the best Lord Peter Wimsey stories. So her ethos became part of the book, and even more so when I discovered that, historically, the actor (and then captain in the Royal Armoured Corps) Ian Carmichael could be inserted into the plot. What more can a mystery writer ask for?

In your book a character suffers from what we today would acknowledge as PTSD. How was that kind of thing dealt with (or not) in the '40s?

Much better in the 1940s of WWII than in the First World War. The character is the only man in the village to have come back from the trenches of 1918, and he is likely to have received no medical care while in the service. The British had a category for men who suffered from what was then called "shell shock"—it was LMF (lacking moral fiber).

This novel centers on a very particular geographical location, which, thanks to the tides, reveals the wreckage of the fighter plane at the heart of the mystery. Can you talk a bit about the inspiration for both the wreckage and the location?

I’d long been fascinated by the Maid of Harlech, an American fighter plane that crashed off the coast of Wales. Over the decades, it has appeared and then disappeared as the sands and tides washed over it. I’d tucked that away to use and decided this was the book for it, but I had to shift the location to the east coast of England, in Norfolk, at one end of the Wash.

The Wash is a tidal estuary with strong, swift tides, even better at burying and revealing an airplane. When I realized I had Seaton Manor located close by, I knew I had the makings of a story. In my tale, it’s a German bomber, and what is found inside kicks off the mystery.

You also reference missing crown jewels, dating back to King John. What’s the story there? What should readers know about it?

Most people probably don’t. King John (the bad king from the Robin Hood tales) was putting down revolts, and traveling, as monarchs did in those days, with his crown jewels. That treasure included not only his crown and jewels, but gold goblets, crosses, and other valuables. He was in a hurry and decided to use a shortcut across the Wash when the tide was out. His guides miscalculated, and the baggage train, treasure, and men, were swept away. People are still hunting for it.

I thought the relationship between Billy and his love interest Diana is interesting in this novel. They’re actually getting to spend time together after being apart—and it does not go so smoothly. Tell us more about about this developing friendship/romance?

I’m trying to develop a realistic love story here, and it is difficult for them to see a vision for their future together now that the war seems to be nearing its final stages. Will Billy stay in England? Would Diana be happy in Southie? Earlier on, when they were living on a knife’s edge, it was easy to be passionate. Now they have to deal with the notion that they might just both survive. Then what?

Was there really a camp for high-ranking Nazi officers in King’s Lynn in West Norfolk, England? I know the British had prisoners of war, but reading about this camp was something new to me.

No, the facility at Marston Hall is fictional, but the interrogations that went on there are realistic and were found in POW camps everywhere. The Ritchie Boys were experts at playing the Germans, using psychological tricks and intimidations.

I loved the character of the local village vicar, who is really be well placed as far as knowing people’s secrets were concerned. He's such an interesting and compassionate character. Can you talk more about creating him?

I’ve had a number of secondary characters, like the vicar, who are staying on in their jobs beyond normal retirement because of the shortage of younger men, all off to war. He presented himself to me draped in melancholy, doing his best to serve his flock while not always approving of how they treated each other. (As shown at the funeral of David Archer.)

I love the way you’ve managed this long series, maintaining the same essential cast of characters, but keeping the books really fresh. What’s your method? How do you keep changing things up?

I try to vary the setting and theme of each book. I don’t want back-to-back books to be too much alike. I hope regular readers enjoy the change of pace and have a feel for exploring something new with the characters they’ve come to know. I think in a long-running series, readers want the familiar, but presented in new way. The same stuff, but different, each time. Tricky, that.

Do you have a favorite character in the series other than Billy? I am a fan of Big Mike, myself.

He’s so much fun. I won’t name favorites, not even Billy, but sometimes it’s the supporting characters who are the most fun to write. I just finished next year’s book, Phantom, which features David Niven. He almost stole the show.

NARA Archives Battle of the Bulge 1944

Photograph of The Battle of the Bulge, December 16, 1944, taken from a captured Nazi. (Later changed to Public domain based on NARA archives.) Original version at NARA:


What’s next for Billy and Kaz? Are they headed back into battle or on another dangerous assignment?

In Phantom (2024) they are in Paris working with the Monuments Men and a Counter Intelligence Corps agent named Jerome David Salinger. They’re on the trail of a gang trafficking in looted artwork, and while following leads near the front line, come into contact with a German offensive: the Battle of the Bulge.

What’s the most fun for you to write, suspense, battle scenes, character interactions...or all three? You excel at all of them.

Thank you. All are easy when I’m in the flow and have a strong sense of where the story is taking me. All are laborious when I’m struggling to put the pieces together.

Finally, hard question—do you have a favorite book in the series to date, or is it always the one you’ve just finished?

It’s definitely not the one I’m working on, because I am always positive that this is the one that’s going to fall apart and make no sense. I can’t save favorite, but the most recent always holds the most promise, so I’ll go with that.

Thanks so much for allowing me to blather on about all things Billy!

James R. Benn is the author of the Billy Boyle WWII mysteries. He has been a finalist for the Dilys, Barry, and Macavity awards. He lives on the Gulf Coast of Florida with his wife, Deborah Mandel, a retired psychotherapist who currently works as a copy editor and writer who offers him many insights, a good critical read, and much else. He’s a graduate of the University of Connecticut and received his MLS degree from Southern Connecticut State University. He is a member of the Mystery Writers of America and the Author's Guild. He worked in the library and information technology fields for over 35 years before retiring to write full-time.

Robin AgnewRobin Agnew is a longtime Mystery Scene contributor and was the owner of Aunt Agatha's bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for 26 years. No longer a brick and mortar store, Aunt Agatha has an extensive used book collection is available at and the site is home to more of Robin's writing.


Teri Duerr
2023-09-21 18:27:37
Q&A With Nat Segaloff, Author of "The Exorcist Legacy: 50 Years of Fear"
Pat H. Broeske

Nat Segaloff, photo JB Lahmani

Photo by JB Lahmani

Multi-hyphenate Nat Segaloff has been a film critic, a reporter, a broadcaster, a TV producer (A&E’s Biography, etc.), a college instructor—that’s a short list—and, oh yeah, has written several dozen books. They include a tome on etiquette (never send an email when you’re mad!), another on tall tales and legends, but predominantly concern movies and moviemakers.

The latest, The Exorcist Legacy: 50 Years of Fear (2023, Kensington), is a deep dive into the film that left an iconic and devilish imprint on popular culture, and which benefits from the author’s longtime personal associations with filmmaker William Friedkin and author William Peter Blatty, who wrote the 1971 bestseller on which The Exorcist is based, and its Oscar-winning screenplay adaptation.

Segaloff’s own ties to The Exorcist date to the film’s December 1973 opening—when, as the publicist for a chain of theaters, he helped arrange a special advance screening. Years later Segaloff authored Hurricane Billy: The Stormy Life and Films of William Friedkin (1990), based on extensive interviews with the controversial auteur. Friedkin had first shaken up Hollywood in 1971 with the gritty crime drama The French Connection, which won five Oscars, including Best Director and Best Picture. The Exorcist was his legendary follow-up.

Mystery Scene contributor Pat H. Broeske is an admirer of The Exorcist —and other Friedkin films—who interviewed the late filmmaker on several occasions. After reading The Exorcist Legacy she spoke to the North Hollywood-based Segaloff about the movie that, he feels, “may be the most misunderstood classic of its time.” Take heed: There are spoilers—a requisite for assessing the 50-plus-year-old book-turned-film and its follow-ups.

Pat H. Broeske for Mystery Scene: Some of our readers might think of The Exorcist as a horror film. But, it’s much more than that, isn’t it? William Peter Blatty called it a whodunit—a supernatural murder mystery. Can you elaborate on the mystery elements of the book and film?

Nat Segaloff: There are four stories that weave through The Exorcist, and they are all fully developed. But the major story is a murder mystery. Somebody has killed movie director Burke Dennings [played by Jack MacGowran] and Lieutenant William Kinderman [Lee J. Cobb] is trying to find out who did it.

The other stories, are, of course, a mother, Chris MacNeil [Ellen Burstyn], trying to protect her child Regan [Linda Blair] from forces she doesn't understand, a young priest [Jason Miller] having his faith restored, and having it restored to the point where he sacrifices his life for someone he never knew. The fourth is the elderly priest, Father Merrin [Max von Sydow], coming up against an old enemy of his, the demon.

There have been many movies about the battle between good and evil. Why are we talking about this particular film, 50 years later? What made it a phenomenon?

I can guess a couple of things. First, it doesn’t have any stars. Let me specify that Billy [Friedkin] didn’t want to cast stars. Though Ellen Burstyn had made The Last Picture Show, she wasn't a star. For Jason Miller, this was his first film. And the first big film for Linda Blair. Max von Sydow wasn’t widely known over here [in the States]. The only recognizable face is Lee J. Cobb, who had sort of been out of view for a while.

So there weren’t stars in the film, therefore the audience related to the characters as people...

And you also have the fact that the film was just damned effective. It works. It works out on all the different levels, the subplots, the characters. And the overarching aspect of the film is that it looks real. There's no CGI. When the bed shakes, when Regan elevates, when the walls crack or things fall over, the famous “pea soup” shock—those things really happened in front of the camera because of Dick Smith’s makeup and Marcel Vercoutere’s mechanical effects. So the film has a documentary looks like a documentary about some kid who's possessed. It looks real—and it taps into lots of different pressure points.

You write about how the film resonates on different levels with different people.

Yes, for instance, the notion of a mother protecting a child is quite pervasive and very powerful. When reports arose of people getting sick watching the film, the point at which they got sick and ran out of the theater was not the head spinning, or the pea soup. It was the arteriogram procedure. A cold clinical scene set in a hospital. Regan getting tested. And do you know, 99% of the people who fled the theater were men. Women were there to protect a child, and having gone through the pain of childbirth, certainly understood what was involved.

The film certainly has a formidable villain.

When you see a horror movie in a theater, the Frankenstein monster, Dracula, Freddy Krueger, whoever, they stay in the theater. But Satan is another matter. Satan is a very real force to many people—and could be waiting for you at home.

Religion is so pervasive in our society that the ecosystem affects people who are given to believe in religion quite profoundly. The Catholic Church, of course, embraced the film because it essentially follows the company line.

During the filming of The Exorcist there were a number of seemingly inexplicable occurrences. A set burned down, there were unexpected deaths; other strange things that led to talk of an Exorcist curse. But you discount that theory.

I talked to Terry Donnelly, the production manager/first assistant director. I've known Terry for a thousand years. I’ve spoken to other people, too, and I believe statistically, when you have, say, 500 people working on a movie for three years, and you factor in their families and their friends, something's gonna happen that connects all these people.

The Exorcist was nominated for a staggering 10 Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director. It won only two, for adapted screenplay and sound. In your book you discuss the backlash against the movie by certain members of the Motion Picture Academy.

There was some backstabbing, shall we say, going between certain influential members of the Academy, led by George Cukor...

You were working in movie exhibition then. Tell us about holding a special screening of The Exorcist before it opened to the public.

I was publicity director for the Sack Theatres chain in Boston. The screening occurred the day before the official opening—that means it was Christmas Day, because the movie opened on December 26. William Friedkin had given permission to have the screening so that the weekly youth papers could make their deadlines. We didn’t know bupkis about what was going to happen in that movie. We didn't know we were supposed to puke. We didn’t know we were supposed to have our beliefs challenged. All we saw was a great movie.

Now, the asterisk there is that I was standing outside the theater, guarding it, so that people who weren't invited didn't get in. When I'd hear a noise [from the movie] I would rush back in, and of course, by then I'd missed what was happening. It was a few days later when I finally caught the full film.

I went on to meet William Friedkin by a very strange occurrence when I and my executives were indicted by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for blasphemy, obscenity, and corrupting the morals of a minor. It seems that a [woman] who lived in the suburbs had brought her underage daughter to see the R-rated film and claimed the film had hurt the girl.... We had to go for a summary judgment. William Friedkin called our offices from California to offer us moral I first met him over the phone. That began a friendship that lasted for 50 years. Let me add that we got that case thrown out, ironically enough, on the first day of Lent.

Before we started this interview, I read you an excerpt from Friedkin’s own book (2013’s The Friedkin Connection: A Memoir), where he talks about his disappointment over not having made his Citizen Kane.

Billy is, was, very introspective. And he had so many dreams. It was sort of like a race car that's up on blocks. He was a director who had lots of ideas, but couldn’t work all the time, and he worked longer than most.... He really did want to make his Citizen Kane, although many of us think he made four of them—French Connection, The Exorcist, Sorcerer, and To Live and Die in L.A. Not bad.

There was a lot of press when Friedkin recently passed away (on August 7, 2023, of heart failure and pneumonia). Did you know he was ailing?

You're the first person I've spoken to about Friedkin's death, and I've been trying to put my own feelings in order about that, because, of course, we were friends for half a century, and I'm trying to be a journalist on the one hand and a mourner on the other . . .

The Caine Mutiny Court MartialThe company line was that, for nearly 88-years-old, he was doing really well. I suspected, of course, that he was reaching the end of his life, but certainly not the end of his productivity, because he has a new film opening in Venice next month, a remake of The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial.

We did not speak for my Exorcist book. I tried a couple of times to reach out to him, but he was busy. But I got all the Billy Friedkin stories I needed back when I was writing Hurricane Billy. You know, people have a tendency to embellish stories over the years. So I would rather go with the stories I heard from Billy when The Exorcist was simply a hit, and before it became a classic.

How about Blatty? How did your paths first cross?

I met William Peter Blatty when he was coming through Boston to promote The Ninth Configuration, which he wrote and directed himself, based on his book of the same name, which was a reworking of his earlier novel, Twinkle, Twinkle, “Killer” Kane. It's part of his trilogy of faith. The Exorcist, The Ninth Configuration, and The Exorcist III [based on his novel, Legion] are his religious pictures. I know some people say these are about the mystery of faith. But to Blatty, who was a devout Catholic, faith was not a mystery.

I interviewed Blatty about his writings and all aspects of his life and we kept in touch afterward. Not always on the record. Let me add that he was a mensch, a wonderful man.

Your book goes into the tiff between Blatty and Friedkin over scenes from the novel that were left out of The Exorcist. Some of them made it into the director’s cut. And then there were all those sequels and spin-offs.

The Exorcist was never planned as a franchise. It became a franchise when Morgan Creek Entertainment bought the property

My head felt like it was spinning—I have to say that—when I read about the different versions of the original film and of the various follow-ups. Plus a TV series I never saw. And now there’s another Exorcist film coming—and Ellen Burstyn is involved.

Right, it’s planned to be a trilogy. [For] the first film, The Exorcist: Believer, Ellen will recreate her role of Chris MacNeil. She’s going to help a father whose child has been possessed.

There you go. The legacy continues. Speaking of continuing, what’s your next project?

Say Hello to My Little Friend: A Century of Scarface. It’s the 40th anniversary of the Brian De Palma-Al Pacino reimagining of the 1932 Howard Hawks' film classic.

The Exorcist: Believer (2023)

The Exorcist: Believer opens October 6, 2023 in theaters.

Pat H. Broeske is mystery devotee who regularly reviews for Mystery Scene. Based in Southern California, the veteran journalist-author is a former staff writer for the Los Angeles Times – where she sometimes wrote about horror, science fiction, and fantasy films, including The Exorcist and its offspring.

Teri Duerr
2023-10-05 17:20:42
Julia Kelly's Debut Mystery Takes Flight With "A Traitor in Whitehall"
Robin Agnew


Julia Kelly wows with her debut historical mystery A Traitor in Whitehall. Kelly is a veteran of romance and straight historical fiction, so this is far from a freshman effort. The first in the Parisian Orphan series, features Evelyne Redfern, a young woman working the munitions line in wartime London. When Redfern is offered a job as a typist for the government, she's excited to step up in the world and do her part for the war effort, but she soon finds herself putting her mystery novel "expertise" to work when one of colleagues, a fellow typist, is murdered.

Mystery Scene contributor Robin Agnew found A Traitor in Whitehall "impossible to put down," saying, "There’s a murder, a bit of espionage, and a budding romance , making for an all around terrific read." Agnew recently caught up with Kelly to discuss her new venture into mystery.

Robin Agnew for Mystery Scene: Reading your bio, I saw that you started in romance, then moved to historical fiction, and this latest book is an historical mystery. Can you talk about the progression and why you wanted to write a mystery?

Julia Kelly: Both of my parents are great readers, but my mother in particular is a crime fiction aficionado, so mystery novels have always been a part of my life. However, it took some time to figure out what kind of mystery I wanted to write.

Mysteries were always on the back burner for me, but I started out writing first romance and then historical fiction, which is where I really found both a voice and an audience. Perhaps it isn’t too surprising then that when the idea for A Traitor in Whitehall popped into my head, I had no doubt that it would be a historical mystery!

This book is set during WWII, a period you have written about frequently. With so many books set during that time period, how did you manage to make A Traitor in Whitehall standout?

I really wanted to focus on creating a memorable character with a very strong voice in my amateur detective, Evelyne Redfern. Evelyne is a young woman who has had a taste of the notorious life thanks to the antics of her parents, but at the beginning of A Traitor in Whitehall, she’s still figuring out who she is. I like to think that, throughout the course of this book and over the entire Parisian Orphan series, she learns more and more about herself while also solving some dastardly crimes.

Photo of the original plan for the Cabinet War Rooms. (PA/Imperial War Museums)

Photo of the original plan for the Cabinet War Rooms. (Credit: PA/Imperial War Museums)

One of the details that really fascinated me was that the women working for Churchill and his ministers had to sleep down in the bunker while they were on duty. What kind of research did this book involve, and can you talk about the bunker where the work of the war was carried out?

The idea for A Traitor in Whitehall struck me while I was walking through the Churchill War Rooms (the modern name for the Cabinet War Rooms, where the book is set) with a friend. It’s probably no surprise then that I leaned heavily on the museum and its excellent print and digital catalogs for both inspiration and research.

One of the more unglamorous things that I learned was that staff would work multiple day shifts, sleeping in the Dock. This was essentially a dormitory separated by gender and outfitted with bunk beds. There are oral histories of some of the women who worked in the Cabinet War Rooms, and several of them recall the unpleasant smell of the chemical toilets and unwelcome visits from curious rats.

I loved the character of Evelyne and her background, which is quite detailed. Can you talk about how you created the backstory for her? Will her father make an appearance in future books?

I had a blast creating Evelyne’s backstory, so I’m glad to hear you enjoyed the end result! I knew from the start that I wanted a bilingual character who spoke French and English like a native because I wanted to give myself some possible inroads into France later on in the series. To that end, I decided to give Evelyne a French socialite mother and an English explorer father.

I knew that Evelyne’s relationship with her father would be estranged from page one, so to counter that I made her relationship with her deceased mother very strong. Evelyne wears her maman’s watch and her earrings, and some of her mother’s pieces of advice guide her throughout the book.

One of the formative events in Evelyne’s life is her parents’ custody battle for her in the French courts. This is when she earns the nickname the “Parisian Orphan” from the international press covering the trial. That case and Evelyne’s nickname were inspired by the real custody battle over the heiress Gloria Vanderbilt, which earned Gloria the nickname “Poor little rich girl.”

I also liked Aunt Amelia, and it seems like there is more to discover about her. Will she be appearing again?

Aunt Amelia is one of my favorite characters to write, and I have plans for her that definitely include appearances in later books. She’s a woman who has strong opinions and secrets of her own!

I loved the fact also that Evelyn is a dedicated mystery fan. One of the things I enjoyed about the book was imagining getting to read, say, Busman’s Honeymoon when it was first published. Are you a big fan of Golden Age mysteries yourself?

Golden Age mysteries were my bread and butter when I was growing up, and they hold a large place in my heart to this day. I had a great time going back and rereading some old favorites as well as exploring some titles I hadn’t managed to get to. I’m doing my best to slip in as many mentions as I can wherever I can.

This book to me was structured very much as a traditional mystery, with the war as a background. I appreciated the detective work and also wondered how difficult it was to come from historical fiction and create a mystery, which I imagine has different constraints for a writer.

It was refreshing to write a book where the central focus is ultimately on solving a puzzle. In my historical novels, often the emotional growth of the main character is the big driving force of the book. However, in A Traitor in Whitehall, laying out a murder mystery and then bringing the reader along as my sleuth solved it presented a slightly different set of challenges. I think it stretched me as a writer, and I found a lot of joy in learning as I went.

Were there actually leaks in Churchill’s bunker as you discuss? Or would that kind of thing have been so secret no one would have ever known about it?

One of the things that has always struck me about the research I’ve done into all sorts of aspects of World War II is how seriously people took their duties and responsibilities. Early in A Traitor in Whitehall, Evelyne signs a document under something called the Official Secrets Act, which basically compelled people doing sensitive work not to speak about what they were doing to anyone. People took this so seriously that the public didn’t begin to learn about places like the Cabinet War Rooms and Bletchley Park until decades after the war when things started to be declassified.

To that end, I didn’t encounter any leaks on the scale of what I write about in A Traitor in Whitehall during my research. However, the beauty of writing fiction is being able to take some artistic license from time to time!

Switchboard operators and typists in Winston Churchill's War Room 60. (Credit: PA/Imperial War Museums)

I also liked the detail of the blitz, which of course I’ve read about before, but you really brought it home with the girls running to the phones when they could to check on their families. Can you talk about researching the blitz and finding new details for readers?

The Blitz is one of those subjects that, when you begin researching it, it’s almost impossible to wrap your mind around how devastating it was. I live in London and I know as a historical fiction writer that entire parts of the city I’m familiar with are completely different than they were before 1940 because of the bombs that fell.

I wanted to make sure to include little details to try to make a modern reader empathize with what was happening to Londoners in those terrifying first days. Things like the air raid sirens had been a part of wartime life before the Blitz, but never had they been so threatening. Public air raid shelters and gas masks became a necessity. The detail about the typists, who were effectively shut off from much of the world while they were on their shifts, desperately trying to find out what had happened to their families as more information came in about the parts of the city that had been hit hopefully reflects a little bit of what those early Blitz days might have been like.

Finally, is there a book in your life that has been transformational for you—something, when you read it, changed the way you looked at reading or writing?

I read Jane Austen’s Persuasion when I was about 18, and it absolutely gripped me. Never before had I read a character in Anne Elliot who was flawed, quiet, regretful, and yet comes into her own by the end of the book. I’ve always enjoyed Pride and Prejudice and the confidence of a character like Elizabeth Bennett, but I’ve always felt far more connected to Anne Elliot.

Julia Kelly is the international bestselling author of historical fiction and historical mystery novels about the extraordinary stories of the past. Her books have been translated into 13 languages. In addition to writing, she’s been an Emmy-nominated producer, journalist, marketing professional, and (for one summer) a tea waitress. Julia called Los Angeles, Iowa, and New York City home before settling in London.

Robin AgnewRobin Agnew is a longtime Mystery Scene contributor and was the owner of Aunt Agatha's bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for 26 years. No longer a brick and mortar store, Aunt Agatha has an extensive used book collection is available at and the site is home to more of Robin's writing.

Teri Duerr
2023-10-09 13:36:45
Review: "Judgment Prey" by John Sandford
Dick Lochte

Judgment Prey
by John Sandford
read by Robert Petkoff
Penguin Audio, 11 hours, unabridged $40

Book 33 in John Sandford’s Prey series finds his heroes, Lucas Davenport and Virgil Flowers, again dueting, this time assisting local law and the FBI on the hunt for the murderer of a St. Paul, Minnesota, judge and his two young sons. The combination of hard-charging, wealthy (from the sale of a tech device) Davenport and the much more laid-back Flowers is as appealing as always, and their bro repartee has its usual witty potency. In their previous investigation, Righteous Prey (2022), Lucas suffered a bullet wound to his leg from which he is now recovering. When the two lawmen first meet here, Virgil takes one look at the immaculately dressed Lucas, leaning on a cane with a horn handle, and says, “I knew you must have a fashion cane somewhere.... Is there a sword in this one?”

Adding to the novel’s appeal is Virgil's struggle with his secondary career as a budding crime novelist, which includes advice for other would-be fictioneers. Perusing a Mick Herron Slough House novel, he decides the book he’s writing needs better scene settings and characterization. He’d written nonfiction before, but novels were different. “His mother had a sewing machine that had a built-in zigzag stitch, which he thought of as a metaphor for fiction-writing. It wasn’t done in a straight line. You constantly went back and forth. If something needed to be changed, enhanced, made-up, twisted, go back and do it. It’s fiction.”

The author, a bestseller and a Pulitzer Prize-winner under his real name John Roswell Camp, has an unerringly engaging style, but he might have paid more attention to Virgil’s advice. After 32 Preys, his plot here, though intriguing, is a bit thinner than usual. There are a few good twists linking two separate killers and two separate crimes, but the villains themselves aren’t on a par with past protagonists. And the two sleuths’ progress is a bit more haphazard than in the past.

Not particularly helpful, reader Robert Petkoff, though a capable performer with a well-modulated, often-effective delivery, isn’t quite the match for the material as was the series’ previous narrator Robert Ferrone. Ferrone’s hoarser voice added a depth to the prose, while his timing burnished both the furious pace and the funny moments of Preys past.

Dick LochteDick Lochte burst onto the crime-writing scene with Sleeping Dog and has continued to take the genre by storm ever since, becoming a Los Angeles Times bestselling author of 10 books of crime fiction and earning the highest honors a writer can attain in the mystery genre.

Teri Duerr
2023-10-16 21:59:00
"Glory Be" a Smart Debut from Danielle Arceneaux
Robin Agnew

Danielle Arceneaux

Danielle Arceneaux’s first novel, Glory Be, is a knockout. Glory Broussard is an older, heavier, African American woman living in Lafayette, Louisiana. She’s sometimes obnoxious, but also fearless and brave. She’s one of the more interesting and fully realized characters I’ve encountered in a long while. She’s not all good, she’s not all bad—in short, she’s human. By the end of her first adventure, you’ll be a little in love with her.

Arceneaux’s prose and storytelling seem far more sophisticated than the author's status as a communications strategist turned debut author might suggest. I loved everything about this book and was thrilled to speak with the author about her new series.

Robin Agnew for Mystery Scene: First of all, what is your own background? Did you, by chance, grow up in Louisiana where your novel is set?

Danielle Arceneaux: I am “of” Louisiana, but not technically from Louisiana. My parents and my large family are from in and around Lafayette, and still live there. As a young man, my father enlisted in the military and was stationed in Houston briefly, which was where I was born. When I was a couple years old we moved to a Marine Corps base in Twentynine Palms, California, and that’s where I was raised and lived until I went to college. Most people know this area as Joshua Tree.

In fact, when we moved off the base and into the town itself, we lived on one of the main roads into the Joshua Tree National Park campgrounds. It wasn’t even a national park when I grew up there in the '70s and '80s. It was a national monument, and growing up we called it The Monument. I’m saddened by how touristy it has become. All the real estate is getting snatched up and turned into Airbnbs, but growing up it was still extremely rural, isolated, and wild.

New Orleans Original DaiqurisJust about every summer I’d spend weeks in Louisiana, running amok with my cousins. My grandparents were still sharecroppers in the 1980s, raising livestock and living in a house where we’d fetch well water and use an outhouse. The land is still untouched, and there’s a tree growing through the old house.

I grew up toggling between California and Louisiana, which really helps when writing about the South. I know Louisiana well, but I’m able to keep it at arm’s length. There are things that only exist in Louisiana that I’m still flabbergasted by, like the fact that drive-thru daiquiri establishments are real. The zoning, or lack thereof, always stands out to me when I visit. There are big expensive houses next to junkyards next to a nail salon. Readers will notice these things in Glory Be.

Are you a long time mystery fan, or did you just plunge in? Have you always wanted to write?

I’ve always loved mysteries, devouring Nancy Drew and Encyclopedia Brown as a kid. As an '80s kid there wasn’t a ton of supervision, so I always stayed up late watching shows like Cagney & Lacey, Remington Steele, Hill Street Blues, Murder, She Wrote, etc.

As a child, I announced to anyone who would listen that I wanted to be a writer, but didn’t get my butt properly in a chair until a few years ago. Better late than never, I suppose.

Looking at your website I see you are a longtime brand strategist. Your photo also shows you looking rather young and glamorous—kind of the opposite of Glory (though I see a resemblance to Glory’s daughter, Delphine)!

I’m probably not as young as you think; I am nearly 50! And as for glamorous, that’s kind! On the surface level, I understand why people might identify me with Delphine, Glory’s daughter. I live in Brooklyn and work with clients in public relations and marketing, which requires a certain level of polish, confidence and professionalism.

I have deep empathy for all the characters in Glory Be, but Glory, of course, is the main attraction. There aren’t a lot of women in pop culture who are older, complex, heavier and Black—and unapologetic about all of those things. Culturally we are hyper focused on younger people, but I’ve always enjoyed talking to older women. Someone once told me that the average book buyer is a woman in her 50s, yet we don’t see this represented from a main character perspective. It made me want to write something to and for this audience. I’m also keenly interested in how one ages with some measure of grace, bravery and openness. Glory is a good vessel to explore this because she has a great deal of courage, along with limitations and blind spots.

While there are many typically cozy elements in your novel, it’s not really what I would think of as a cozy, because of the harder edge of some of the circumstances (drugs and dog fighting for example) and the clear-eyed look you take at the racism in the South. What were you envisioning when you sat down to write?

I probably should have thought about this more when I sat down to write it! This conversation about genre has truly caught me by surprise. It’s not something I anticipated or thought through. I had a fun launch event at The Mysterious Bookshop in New York City and the booksellers told me it was their “unclassifiable” pick of the month. And some reviews on Goodreads have said that it’s not a typical cozy. Some readers love this, and others seem a little surprised.

I think it’s fair to say that it’s a traditional mystery or a cozy with an edge. Somewhere along the way, cozies became a very cliched genre, and I say this with zero snobbery whatsoever. People should read what they enjoy, but the American cozies can be a bit too saccharin in my view. British cozies have more punch. I hope books like Glory Be expand the genre.

With regards to the racism in the book, I was trying to depict the full experience of Glory's life, which has had some triumphs, but a lot of disappointments and racism. Glory’s race, along with her weight and age, makes her invisible and overlooked. These are important elements—not only do they shape her character and motivation, but being disregarded by others also happens to make her a great detective.

I thought it was great that Glory is a bookie—an occupation that I think of as old school, really. But you tie Glory into the community in interesting ways through her profession.

I liked the idea of Glory holding court somewhere on a regular basis, and her job as a bookie gives her a perch to interact with everyone in Lafayette, from the well-to-do to the fringes of society. I did some research into this when I started the book, and apparently the local bookie is still alive and well, even in this moment of online gambling and mass legalization of gambling across the country.

I also liked the novel's moral gray areas. Glory is many things, some of them obnoxious and unpleasant, but by the end of the novel, the reader has really come to love her and be on her side. You flesh out her character and made her so human. Can you talk about that a bit?

I had a lot of fun writing Glory and her characterization was pretty effortless. I have a theory that there are only two groups of people who are allowed to be grumpy and say inappropriate things without getting into too much trouble: children and women of a certain age. Glory has a lot of redeeming qualities, but as you said, she can also be narrow-minded, judgmental, and even petty. We all have parts of our personalities that are not pretty. Most of us have prejudices, inappropriate thoughts, intrusive thinking, jealousies, and resentments. With Glory, all of this is on naked display.

I recently caught Steel Magnolias on television and it occurred to me that Glory is a lot like Ouiser Boudreaux, the Shirley MacLaine character. Ouiser never stops complaining and has a very particular and distinctly Southern point-of-view about how people should behave. Yet as the movie goes on, you do see a softer side to her. You realize that her prickly exterior is more of a knee-jerk reaction to the changing world around her, as opposed to true malevolence. That’s how I think of Glory.

Also, she’s far older than you, I think—I was relating to her myself a good bit as I think I’m closer to her age. The scene where she talks about getting up for church hours early to get ready and get her creaky body moving felt so true! Did you rely on older relatives, perhaps?

Like I said earlier, I’m older than you probably realized! I’m certainly quite creaky in the morning and have issues with plantar fasciitis, so I know what it’s like to wake up with a limp from time to time. But yes, my mother is in her late 70s and it does take her quite a bit of time to get ready in the mornings. A lot of that comes from her.

Glory is full of bluster and confidence in public, and showing those aches and pains reveals a different side to her. Privately, she struggles more than she would ever let on to her acquaintances at church.

I also thought this was a subtle portrayal of grief. Maybe moving past grief doesn’t involve solving a murder, but Glory getting herself moving, and Delphine really looking around at the way her mother is living, all illustrate her grief. Was that a theme in your mind, or did it kind of develop as you wrote?

Yes, this was intentional and part of my quest to make her a complex and visceral character.

We live in a culture of self improvement. Grieving and depressed? Go to therapy, take the meds, and exercise! That’s great in theory, but in practice that’s much harder. Not everyone has access to psychotherapy or meds; and even if they do, there’s still a stigma around those things, especially within certain age groups and even more so within the Black community.

Grief can manifest itself in a lot of different ways, not just the stereotypical sadness that immediately comes to mind. In Glory’s case, her house has become unwieldy. Getting help requires a certain clarity and level of functioning. Delphine provides this clarity, even if it’s forced. And giving Glory a mission also helps.

I did not want to tie this up in too neat a bow. Glory is certainly better by the end of the book, but I think she will struggle with her losses for some time.

I thought the tone of the book, which covers some truly dark subjects, still had a lightness. How did you navigate that divide?

When I first shared it with my writer’s group, I was worried that people found Glory to be so funny. That wasn’t my intent at all, and I can’t write a joke to save my life. I came to realize that the humor comes from the fact that Glory sees the world through a very specific prism, and circumstances in the book force her to confront people and circumstances that she wants nothing to do with. That tension between Glory’s worldview, and the world as it actually is, drives the humor. I stopped worrying about it and let Glory take the wheel. It also lightens up the subject matter.

That said, I was concerned about her antics being interpreted as silly or slapstick. Delphine, her daughter, helps temper this. She is always there to reign in Glory’s worst instincts. And the darker elements you mentioned, mainly the violence that Glory encounters as part of her investigation, helps to keep the book a mystery and not overly comedic.

Are you thinking (I hope the answer is “Yes.”) that you’ve started a series? I think there is much more you can do with this fabulous character.

Yes, book two is in the works and is on track to be published next fall. Glory will have a whole new set of challenges to navigate!

Finally, can you talk about a book that was transformational for you as a reader or writer?

Flavia de Luce

Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce series was a light bulb moment. I thought…here is a character that is funny and whip-smart and flawed, and yet totally lovable. And back to my theory that only children and women of certain age can get away with things…her being 11 really gives this character permission to do some pretty psychotic things with impunity! I’ve read them all, and I can barely remember a single murder or plotline, because Flavia is the star. A mystery writer needs a serviceable plot and murder, but a memorable character will always trump plot.

His books are probably cozier than mine (the English village, the vicar, etc.), but just below the surface the family is dealing with hard circumstances. The mother has died and the father has grown cold and detached. She and her siblings inhabit a falling down mansion in need of repair. Dodger, the household assistant, has trauma from the war and occasionally disappears into his PTSD.

This series was an eye opener for me. It was full of charm and humor, but also a real depth of emotion. When I read his books, I thought, “I’d like to write something like this one day.” I’ve heard rumblings that another installment is on the way, and I hope with all my heart that it’s true.

Danielle Arceneaux lives and works in Brooklyn, New York, and returns to Lafayette frequently.

Robin Agnew is a longtime Mystery Scene contributor and was the owner of Aunt Agatha's bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for 26 years. No longer a brick and mortar store, Aunt Agatha has an extensive used book collection is available at and the site is home to more of Robin's writing.

Teri Duerr
2023-10-25 19:06:57
Meet Maggie Bird, Tess Gerritsen's New Leading Lady in "The Spy Coast"
John B. Valeri

Tess Gerritsen

It all began with a voice in her head. Having written more than 30 novels in an illustrious career that’s spanned nearly four decades, Tess Gerritsen knew better than to tune it out. Instead, she tuned in—and then she committed that voice to paper. The result is The Spy Coast—the first book in a new series for Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer imprint. Inspired by the community of retired spies that make their home in her coastal Maine town—and following an unexpected return to Rizzoli & Isles with 2022’s Listen to Me—Gerritsen introduces an enigmatic new heroine.

Maggie Bird is living as a recluse on a chicken farm in New England after having left the CIA following a mission gone wrong. But when a dead body turns up in her driveway, the message is clear: somebody knows who she is, where she lives, and what she’s done.

With local authorities (deliberately) stymied, Maggie and the “Martini Club”—a small group of fellow former operatives—must put their old skills to the test. But solving this present-day murder mystery means looking to the past, and Maggie’s haunted history. Can she finally put those ghosts to rest or will her newfound solitude be forever shattered?

Tess Gerritsen was kind enough to reveal all the intel on her new spy thriller to Mystery Scene feature writer John B. Valeri.

John B. Valeri for Mystery Scene: The Spy Coast is the first in a new series (The Martini Club) following many years of having alternated Rizzoli & Isles books with standalone novels. What compelled you to enter into a new and continuing saga? And how did you endeavor to establish a world that could sustain both singular book and series storytelling?

Tess Gerritsen: The story was inspired by a peculiar feature of my town in Maine. Soon after I moved here, several decades ago, I discovered that a surprising number of CIA retirees live here. I've heard various explanations for why they've chosen Maine, and perhaps they're all true. ("It's a place where people respect your privacy. It's far from any nuclear targets. It's long been a location for safe houses.")

I thought about what stories they could tell, and wondered what retirement is like for them. That's when I heard the voice of Maggie Bird in my head: I'm not the woman I used to be. And that launched the novel for me, as I let Maggie's voice tell the story of her past, and of her troubled present. When I started writing the book, I didn't know it would turn into a series. It's the characters who pulled me in, who charmed me, and by the end of The Spy Coast, I wanted to watch what they did next.

Mystery Scene Issue 138 Rizzoli & IslesYou’ve written many books across a multitude of subgenres, from romantic suspense and historical fiction to police procedurals and medical/scientific thrillers. Here, you tackle a new area: espionage. Tell us about the real-life entry point into this enigmatic realm. How did you go about capturing the physical, emotional, and operative realities of the spy trade in an authentic way?

Instead of focusing on the technical and operational details of spycraft, I wanted to write about the emotional and psychological stresses of being a spy. How does it affect your friendships, your romantic relationships? How can you trust that this new friend you've made doesn't have secondary gain from the relationship?

My undergraduate degree in college was cultural anthropology, so that colors my approach whenever I write about a new occupation. I want to know what it's like to be part of the "tribe," and my research strategy was to start off by reading memoirs by retired spies. Of course I also researched operational details and global issues like the London Laundromat and Russian operations in the west, but it was Maggie's emotional journey that was the real heart of the story.

Readers will come to know your main character, Maggie Bird, in both her retirement years and the prime of her career as a spy. How did this construct allow you to explore age and gender stereotypes? In what ways does Maggie use these (mis)perceptions to her advantage throughout the different stages of her life?

That construct of past/present allowed me to show how Maggie became the woman she is today. At the start, we know her as only a Maine chicken farmer who happens to be very good with a rifle. As fresh details about her are revealed, the reader realizes she's more than just a farmer, and she has a group of friends, also retirees, who seem to be a bit peculiar as well. We start off thinking, "Oh, they're just old retired folks."

And that is how older people are so often viewed in American society: "They're just retired folks." That's the stereotype I want to smash in this book, a stereotype that, ironically enough, works to Maggie's advantage because she's underestimated by local police chief Jo Thibodeau. Being underestimated, it turns out, is actually a superpower for Maggie and her friends.

Tess Gerritsen

Despite her extraordinary skills and training, Maggie is human—and therefore subject to the same insecurities and weaknesses as the rest of us. How does her personal life create opportunities for peril—and, in non-spoiler terms, what hold does the past have on the present?

That's exactly how I wanted to approach the espionage genre: When the personal collides with the professional, the result is catastrophe. From the start, I felt that Maggie is a haunted person, that she lives with ghosts from her past. My primary emotion as I wrote her character was sadness. As a working spy, she's quick, she's smart, she's capable, she's patriotic. But as a human being, she's vulnerable. As are we all.

The book’s primary setting, coastal Maine, is one that you’re intimately familiar with. In a general sense, how do you see place as an enhancement to plot—and, more specifically, in what ways does The Spy Coast’s desolate midwinter backdrop underscore the tonal and thematic elements you were hoping to capture?

I've lived in Maine for 33 years now, and I'm so glad to finally be able to feature this beautiful landscape in a story. There's an almost mythical element to this place, perhaps inspired by Stephen King stories. There are small, isolated towns and harsh weather and stoic Yankees here. There's also a mixing of locals and people from away, with inevitable conflicts between them. So yes, it is a wonderful setting for a story—or a series.

Given the international implications at play, there’s also a bit of globetrotting throughout the story. What was your approach to capturing a rich sense of international culture and intrigue despite the fragmented nature of the narrative?

I've been to all the places I write about in The Spy Coast: Bangkok, Istanbul, Gümüslük, London, Como. My visits there were never for research, but always for pleasure, and sometimes the most authentic way to describe a place isn't about geographical accuracy, but rather about sensory memory. What did Bangkok smell like? What does the sand feel like on a Turkish beach? It's those memories I mined for the story, because those are the same memories Maggie would have as well.

During the writing of this book, you shared on social media that you’d reached a point of frustration and uncertainty—which you said inevitably happens at some stage of every project. How have you learned to overcome these nagging doubts? And what advice would you offer other, perhaps less seasoned, writers, in terms of conquering their own inner demons?

I have those doubts with every book I write! In fact, I just went through a similarly tough patch with the book I'm finishing now. My chaotic process is partly to blame. I don't have an outline, and I write by the seat of my pants, which means I don't know what happens next. I have to get there to find out, and then I get stuck. The way I've dealt with it in the past is to simply walk away from the story. Take a walk, take a long drive, lie on the couch and stare at the ceiling. It's always scary because it feels like I've "lost the touch," that I'll never write another book. But then I remember that I've done this 30 times before, and I've always managed to get unstuck. I just have to have faith that I will manage it this time as well.

Leave us with a teaser: What comes next?

I'm finishing up The Summer Guests, a sequel. Once again it features Maggie and her band of retired spies, as well as police chief Jo Thibodeau, working together to find a missing girl—only to uncover a skeleton of a long-lost woman.

Tess Gerritsen began to write fiction and in 1987, her first novel, Call After Midnight. Her first medical thriller, Harvest, was released in hardcover in 1996, and it marked her debut on the New York Times bestseller list. Her novels have hit bestseller lists ever since. Among her titles are Gravity, The Surgeon, Vanish, The Bone Garden, and The Spy Coast. Her books have been translated into 40 languages, and more than 40 million copies have been sold around the world. Her series of novels featuring homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles inspired the hit TNT television series Rizzoli & Isles, starring Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander. Gerritsen has won the Nero Wolfe Award (for Vanish) and the Rita Award (for The Surgeon). She and her son Josh produced a feature-length documentary, Magnificent Beast, about the ancient origins of the pig taboo. It aired on PBS channels around the country. Their previous film, Island Zero, was a feature-length horror movie that was released in 2018.

John B ValeriJohn B. Valeri is a lifelong lover of books and the people who write them and the host of Central Booking, where he interviews authors and other industry insiders. Valeri is a contributor to CrimeReads, Crimespree Magazine, Criminal Element, Mystery Scene MagazineThe National Book Review, The New York Journal of BooksThe News and TimesThe Strand Magazine, and Suspense Magazine. He regularly moderates author events and book discussions at bookstores and libraries throughout Connecticut, and serves on the planning committee for CrimeCONN, a one-day reader/writer mystery conference cosponsored by Mystery Writers of America/New York Chapter.

Teri Duerr
2023-10-31 16:27:22
Review: "The Best American Mystery and Suspense, 2023," edited by Lisa Unger
Ben Boulden

Best American Mystery & Suspense 2023

Best American Mystery and Suspense, 2023
edited by Lisa Unger and Steph Cha
Mariner, $18.99

The Best American Mystery and Suspense, 2023, edited by Lisa Unger and Steph Cha, is (as usual) a quality affair. This year’s anthology, like all of those with Steph Cha as the senior editor, does a fine job of mingling well-known genre writers—such as S. A. Cosby, Jess Walter, and Walter Mosley—with the unexpected, Sylvia Moreno-Garcia, and, even better, a bunch of lesser-known but no-less-talented writers.

Leigh Newman’s “Valley of the Moon” is a slow-burning and absorbing tale about two sisters from a broken family. Set in Anchorage, Alaska, it draws a dark and chilling reminder that we are, at least sometimes, prisoners to our shared past.

“Not Exit,” by Walter Mosley, is a hard-as-nails, noirish thriller about a slow-witted savant, Tom Exit, with an uncanny talent for remembering everything he is told. After Tom is sent to Rikers Island for interfering with a police investigation he is victimized by both guards and his fellow inmates. But Mosley adds a surprise that elevates “Not Exit” from its bleak reality and into something exceptional.

Sylvia Moreno-Garcia’s “The Land of Milk and Honey” is an atmospheric and richly detailed Mexican gothic with undertones of horror and a deliciously devious denouement. Set in a crumbling mansion in an unnamed city and told with a lyrical, almost poetic quality: “There lived an old man and six women, just them and no one else.” When a young man comes to reside in the house, he brings life to one of the women…but to write more would spoil the fun.

“33 Clues into the Disappearance of My Sister,” by the incomparable Joyce Carol Oates, is a brilliant novella about the rivalry between two sisters. The narrator is unreliable, the Upstate New York setting is bleak— almost gothic—and the emotional impact of loneliness and sorrow is melancholy and sharp. The best part, the story went somewhere this reader never saw coming.

Anthony Neil Smith’s marvelously titled, “The Ticks Will Eat You Whole,” is a playful and clever tale about a husband learning something dark and surprising about his wife’s past, while hiking through the woods to disperse the ashes of his father-in-law. “Love Interest,” by Jess Walter, is an entrancing journey into what-may-have-been for a retired film star from the 1960s and 1970s. A private eye story, of sorts, “Love Interest” crosses the threshold between reality and our willful illusions about film and its stars. It is a near perfect story in every sense.

The Best American Mystery and Suspense, 2023, includes other fine tales by Joseph S. Walker, Jacqueline Freimor, James A. Hearn, Jervey Tervalon, and others.

Ben Boulden is the author of Western novels Blaze! Red Rock Rampage and  Blaze! Spanish Gold, as well as the novella Merrick. He writes the column “Short & Sweet: Short Stories Considered” for Mystery Scene Magazine and has written more than 300 reviews, articles, and essays. He blogs haphazardly at Gravetapping and is married with a daughter, a dog, a one-eyed cat, and a fish named Drink-Drink.

Teri Duerr
2023-11-13 18:37:07
Celeste Connally Invites Readers to "Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Lord"
Robin Agnew

Celeste Connally

Celeste Connally’s debut historical Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Lord is an entertaining, hard to stop reading mash-up of romance, adventure, a big swoony ball, and a socially sensitive mystery. She introduces a fierce new character, Lady Petra Forsyth, who has just announced to society at large that she plans to remain unmarried. She’s greeted with derision and disbelief, and she handles it all beautifully. This is a wonderful series kickoff.

Robin Agnew for Mystery Scene: You’ve made a switch from cozy to historical mystery—what brought that on?

Celeste Connally: I’m a huge fan of historical fiction. The first books I ever read and loved were set in the past, and I grew up watching period dramas and classic movies, so it was a very natural transition for me. Plus, my cozy mysteries (which I adored writing, and haven’t given up the idea of writing more) were all about the past, with my main character being a genealogist. I all but set myself up for writing historical mysteries with that series! Also, the idea for Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Lord came when I was bingeing period dramas during the pandemic, so I do have to give credit to my comfort shows for sending me down a path I’ve long felt was part of my writing destiny.

How did you balance the character of Lady Petra to make her seem of her time, while also a strong and appealing for a contemporary reader?

The lovely thing was, I didn’t have to balance all that much after I learned through my research how often women in the Regency really did flout the rules. How so many were more relatable to us as modern-day women then you would think.

One example is Jane Austen herself. If you read her letters, there are parts where she sounds so amazingly of our times that you almost have to remind yourself that she was born in 1775 and passed away in 1817, before the Regency era (1811–1820) even concluded.

All the same, I wrote Petra as I saw her—clever and resilient and upbeat and curious and headstrong—but I kept a check on her actions to make certain she would remain the properly brought-up lady of her times. I also felt like Petra enjoyed all the trappings of her femininity, and her place in society in general, but that she had a rebellious, tomboyish side to her, as well as a desire to do what was right over what might have been easy. The combination of all that made the balancing act a fairly smooth one.

How common was it in 1815 for a woman to have her own fortune? And then, if she married, it all went to her husband, correct?

This answer could get very long, so I’m going to keep it to general terms. It was actually quite realistic for me to write Lady Petra as having money of her own that she inherited. Oftentimes, a woman’s money did come from having her father grant her a dowry during the marriage negotiations and contracts, but women could and did inherit money as well. However, no matter where her money came from, if a woman married, her monies, her possessions, and any children she would later bear became her husband’s from the moment they married due to the English law known as coverture. There might be provisions in her marriage contract that stated that her husband could not touch the principle of her dowry monies, but unless the daughter came from a powerful family who they could ensure their daughter’s monies would be kept safe, there was very little to prevent the husband from taking as much (or all) that he liked, if he were so inclined. (Which not all were, of course!)

I liked the combination in this book of romance, adventure, and some more serious social commentary. Kind of a Deanna Raybourn-Anne Perry mash-up. Can you talk a bit about the tone of the book and what kinds of things were important to you as you were writing Petra’s story?

It makes me very happy that you saw in my book what I wanted readers to see and feel. I’m honored by both comparisons, but I especially love Deanna Raybourn’s Veronica Speedwell mysteries. Her writing is brilliant, so the comparison makes me feel (to be very on-brand) a bit swoony!

This is my fourth published mystery, and I’ve found that I particularly love writing two things: action scenes and banter (especially romantic banter). Also, a wonderful bookseller coined my earlier cozy mysteries as “light thrillers,” and I felt that suited me and my writing very well. Yet, while I like my books to have a lighter tone, some humor, and definitely some romance, I really like writing in a few taut scenes, as well as depth. I want my main character to be relatable in her flaws and to be open to learning and growing as a person. With Lady Petra, that means that her sheltered existence and gentle upbringing will be challenged when she goes against social norms, and when her eyes are truly opened to the issues and lack of rights faced by her fellow women.

There are now several excellent series set around this time. What makes yours stand out and what calls to you about the Regency period?

I agree that there are excellent series set during the Regency era, no doubt. I’d like to believe it’s the faster pace of my story combined with the unique situation of my main character of Lady Petra that sets mine apart. At least, that’s what I love about it!

As for the Regency, it’s been a love of mine since I was very young, thanks to my wonderful mother introducing me to PBS literally from the day I was born, and the fantastic period dramas it aired. And of course, because of Jane Austen, whose novels made many of those future historical dramas possible. Also, I loved the fashion, and despite the very strict social rules of the Regency, it was actually a slightly freer time period in relation to the later, more austere, Victorian era. Of the pre-20th-century eras, the Regency is my favorite, and therefore setting my book during that period was simply a given.

There were several interesting characters whom I’m hoping will be carried through a series. One that really intrigued me was the female herbalist-pharmacist. Can you talk about developing her character a bit?

The character of Frances Bardwell, daughter of Sir Bartie, the apothecarist to the Royal Family, emerged almost out of nowhere, and I’ve been intrigued by her ever since. I decided on a whim that her mother (Sir Bartie’s second wife) is from Spain with Moorish roots, and that naturally lent a bit of something extra fascinating in Frances that you don’t often see in Regency characters. Beyond inheriting her father’s talents for herbalism and apothecary arts, she’s serious, introspective, watchful, and loyal, and I feel like she does a good job of rounding out the foursome that is Petra’s newfound band of girlfriends. I have fun things in store for Frances, and I hope to get to see them play out!

I thought you really captured what must have almost been the chaos of a huge ball like the one that opens the story. Can you talk about your research on this aspect of Regency life?

I went down a warren of rabbit holes in researching Regency balls, and I loved every second of it. From the fact that balls were almost always held around the full moon so that carriages had as much light as possible by which to travel, to the guests that could number from a few dozen to well over four hundred, to the song that opened the ball (usually a minuet), it was all interesting to me. One of my favorite facts was that the festivities didn’t end until after breakfast the next morning, well after a supper that happened around one o’clock in the morning. And at that supper, the hostess always served white soup, which is a creamy soup made from veal, rice, cream, and finely ground almonds. Also, those who were partners for the “supper dance,” which was the dance directly before the meal was served, usually walked into the dining room together, but there was not generally a formal seating arrangement otherwise. Clearly I found it all fascinating and would have made the ball scenes twice as long if I could because there were so many fun details to write!

I once heard Laurie King say at a conference that when you write a book about the past you are really writing about the present. I’m not sure how you could keep that out of a book, it seems unavoidable, but can you talk about some of the real kind of social issues you write about in this book and how they might connect to the present?

I’d have to agree with Laurie, and I think the reason why writing about the past is really writing about the present, in my opinion, is because of the old adage that as much as things change, they stay the same.

Still, my adding in social commentary actually came as a bit of a surprise. Somewhat because I’m a pantser and I rarely know exactly what I’m going to write before I do, but also because, while I do try to have depth in my books, I didn’t specifically set out to make a statement. It came out naturally as an extension of what Petra was feeling and going through as she navigated—without giving away too much of the plot—both the mystery of her missing friend combined with the judgment, censure, and even ill will that surrounded her decision to remain unmarried. In my opinion, much, if not all, of what Petra feels remains very true to this day when it comes to women, our rights, and how we are perceived and respected in society. And I did my best to have Petra express herself with passion, objectivity, and a measure of eloquence.

And how does a girl from Texas make her way to Regency England? Who are your literary and historical influences?

I’m a Texas girl with a mostly British ancestry, and I’ve been an Anglophile since my earliest days. Some of the earliest books I read were from British authors, and just some I could count as favorites and influences include Jane Austen, Agatha Christie, Dick Francis, James Herriot, Martha Grimes, and Jacqueline Winspear. In fact, when I was writing my very first book and many years from being published, I paid a talented editor to review my manuscript. One of her comments was that the dialogue of my modern-day main character sounded a bit formal and that it was “okay to use contractions.” I remember how much I laughed at myself for this, and thought that if anything indicated I should write a historical novel at some point, her comments were a sign! So, while I don’t plan to limit myself as to genre or time period, I really feel as if it’s my destiny to write historical fiction.

Finally, what might be next for Petra in what, I hope, will be a long series?

I, too, have my fingers crossed that it will be a long series! I would love that so much. For now, the second book in the series, titled All’s Fair in Love and Treachery will be out next year (exact date to be determined), and I’m very excited about it. It’s set during the real-life three days of citywide celebrations that took place in London after word reached the city that Napoleon had been defeated at the Battle of Waterloo. It was so much fun to write, and I hope that will show through!

Celeste Connally is an Agatha Award nominee, and a former freelance writer and editor. A lifelong devotee of historical novels and adaptations fueled by her passion for history—plus weekly doses of PBS Masterpiece—Celeste loves reading and writing about women from the past who didn’t always do as they were told.

Robin Agnew is a longtime Mystery Scene contributor and was the owner of Aunt Agatha's bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for 26 years. No longer a brick and mortar store, Aunt Agatha has an extensive used book collection is available at and the site is home to more of Robin's writing.

Teri Duerr
2023-11-17 22:01:02
Review: "Resurrection Walk" by Michael Connelly
Jay Roberts

Resurrection Walk 
by Michael Connelly
Little, Brown and Company, November 2023, $30

As author Michael Connelly's latest novel Resurrection Walk opens, attorney Mickey Haller is on hand for the release of one of his clients, a man wrongly convicted of murder, but successfully exonerated by the Lincoln Lawyer.

Haller's success leads to his office being inundated with letters from people who claim they, too, were wrongly accused, and pleading for the lawyer's help. Haller hires his half-brother, Harry Bosch, to help wade through the stacks of mail. Most of the claims are set aside, but when Bosch comes across a letter from Lucinda Sanz, he is intrigued enough to bring it to Haller's attention.

Sanz pleaded no contest to killing her husband, a Sheriff's deputy, but has always maintained she her innocence, even while taking the plea on the recommendation of her second-string lawyer. As Bosch and Haller begin to look into the matter, a case fraught with a number of landmines (a murdered deputy and a DA's office unwilling to reopen the case), it quickly becomes clear that Sanz may indeed be innocent.

The path to justice for Lucinda isn't an easy one, though. Haller, Bosch, and the rest of their team will have to fight their way past a string of betrayals, a long and documented history of corruption, a hard-nosed judge, and a legal system that is stacked against their client. In order for truth to win out and Lucinda to receive true justice, Haller will have to expose a coverup that swallowed up his client and puts him in danger.

Author Connelly is a superb crime fiction writer and Resurrection Walk is just the latest in a long line of books that serve that reputation. From the investigation before the court case begins to a series of legal confrontations that displays Connelly's deft ability to pack in plenty of legalese without bogging down the book's pacing, there's plenty of gut-wrenching intensity that will have readers on the edge of their seats. Readers also get a very real sense of the motivations of everyone in the story, however briefly they are woven into the plot. Resurrection Walk is one of the more compelling and involving legal thrillers of the year.

Teri Duerr
2023-11-22 18:56:08
2023 Ngaio Marsh Award Winners
Teri Duerr

2023 Ngaio Marsh Award Winners

The 14th Ngaio Marsh Awards celebrating excellence in crime, mystery, thriller, and suspense writing in New Zealand, announced Best Novel, Best Non-Fiction, and Best First Novel winners at its annual awards ceremony Friday, November 17, 2023, in Christchurch, New Zealand. Founded in 2010, the award is named after celebrated Golden Age crime writer Ngaio Marsh.

“It was a superb night to cap an outstanding year for the Ngaio Marsh Awards, with our terrifically strong and varied group of finalists,” says founder Craig Sisterson. “This year’s winners are world-class writers, who collectively showcase how our local take on one of the world’s most popular forms of storytelling—and our Kiwi creative artists in general—can like our sportspeople match up against the best from anywhere.”

Congratulations to all the winners.

Remember Me, by Charity Norman (Allen & Unwin)

Missing Persons, by Steve Braunias (HarperCollins)

Better the Blood, by Michael Bennett (Simon & Schuster)

2023 Ngaio Marsh Award Winners

Pictured L–R: Michael Bennett, Charity Norman, and Steve Braunias. Photo courtesy of NGAIO Marsh Awards

Teri Duerr
2023-11-29 16:29:12
REVIEW: "Deus X" by Stephen Mack Jones
Kurt Anthony Krug

Deus X
by Stephen Mack Jones
Soho Crime, November 2023, $27.95

Deus X is the fourth novel in Stephen Mack Jones’ mystery series starring former Detroit cop August Snow—and easily his best.

For the uninitiated, Snow debuted in his eponymous novel in 2017. A Blaxican (half-Black, half-Mexican) veteran of the Marines, Snow walks in two worlds. Forced off the Detroit Police Department by a cabal of corrupt cops and politicians, he sued and won $12 million in a wrong dismissal suit, earning many enemies along the way on both sides of the thin blue line.

Snow now works as a private investigator in Detroit’s Mexicantown neighborhood, helping people in need. In Deus X, Father Michael Grabowski, the priest who baptized Snow and a close family friend, retires unexpectedly. Snow finds this suspicious, especially after Father Grabwoski goes missing. Looking into it, Snow learns Deus X, a splinter cell of the Knights Templar who have forsaken their own souls in order to protect God’s Church on Earth, has put a hit on the priest, who has been accused of abusing children. Refusing to believe this, Snow does everything in his power to help Grabowski, putting his life on the line as he runs afoul of a deadly Deus X assassin.

One interesting aspect of Snow’s character is that since he’s made of money, he can both kill off or buy off those is his way. One of the funniest scenes in the book has Snow buying off three would-be hit men. You can tell Jones had a lot of fun writing that chapter.

Jones really hits his stride with Deus X—it has the perfect balance of plot, characterization, and dialogue. Tomás, his tough-as-nails godfather (I always picture actor Danny Trejo from Grindhouse as Tomás), and computer hacker par excellence Lucy aid Snow in his mission to save the priest. Jones seems more comfortable writing both supporting characters, whose roles are much stronger, this time out.

Without question, Jones has joined the ranks of the always-impressive Loren D. Estleman and the late, lamented Elmore “Dutch” Leonard as one of the best authors writing mysteries set in Detroit. Deus X is primo reading—don’t pass it up!

Teri Duerr
2023-11-29 18:20:13
PBS Series "Agatha Christie: Lucy Worsley on the Mystery Queen"
Pat H. Broeske

A decade ago British TV presenter Lucy Worsley examined her nation’s obsession with crime.

“Every murder tells a good story,” she said of the British docu-series A Very British Murder, which investigated the real crimes that influenced novelists such as Charles Dickens, Agatha Christie, and Graham Greene, and the filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock.

More recently, Worsley has become best known for a spate of programs with a regal hook, many with her name attached. It’s hardly surprising: The Oxford graduate is chief curator at Historic Royal Palaces, the independent charity responsible for maintaining such iconic sites as the Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace. Recent hosting credits include Lucy Worsley’s Royal Myths and Secrets, Lucy Worsley’s Royal Palace Secrets, and Lucy Worsley’s Royal Photo Album, to name but a few.

Ah, but she hasn’t forgotten her criminal past.

Agatha Christie: Lucy Worsley on the Mystery Queen (note the title’s regal reference!), debuts Sunday, December 3, 2023, with two subsequent episodes on December 10 and 17, on PBS,, and the PBS App.

During a recent Zoom roundtable interview session, Worsley discussed the production and her Christie compulsion, giving a nod to a Christie trope when she quipped, “If our Zoom call were an Agatha Christie story, I'm telling you, the murderer would be one of us.”

The series builds on Worsley’s critically admired 2022 biography, Agatha Christie: An Elusive Woman, and she hopes it will further debunk misconceptions, including the forgivable impression that the mystery author was always gray-haired and of AARP status.

“She wasn’t like Miss Marple,” Worsley said, referencing Christie’s elderly spinster crime-solver. On the contrary, when Agatha Christie came to fame, explained Worsley, “physically, she was young, she was blonde, she was strong, she liked surfing and driving fast cars.”

Lucy Worsley with (left to right) Ruth Ware, Jean Kwok, and Kate MossePictured L–R: Ruth Ware, Jean Kwok, Kate Mosse, and Lucy Worsley in a gathering of Christie aficionados featured on Agatha Christie: Lucy Worsley on the Mystery Queen.

The series weaves period and contemporary footage with interviews with various experts—including other Christie historians, mystery writers, and authorities on topics including the women of World War I, psychiatry in the 1920s, and archaeology, the latter a subject that would profoundly affect Christie’s life.

To illustrate parallels between events in Christie’s life and her writings, Worsley was filmed visiting significant locales, including an archaeological dig where Christie met the man who would become her second husband. Scenes of Worsley making her way through a Middle Eastern marketplace appear in black and white, grainy effects simulating vintage footage. There are also reenactments, as much a popular element of Worsley’s shows as her blonde bob, bright lipstick, and unmistakable narrative delivery (She has difficulty with the letter “r”).

Utilizing materials from Christie archives, Worsley gets to show viewers the first-ever detective story penned by Christie. It’s a kind of spoof, written for a hospital magazine when Christie was with the Voluntary Aid Detachment, working with injured World War I veterans. A harbinger of the signature story elements to come, the piece involves a murder, poison, and a close circle of suspects. For Worsley, discovery of the piece was “a super wow moment.”

There are additional revelations, most notably involving Christie’s headline-making 11-day disappearance in 1926. In the series, Worsley calls the subsequent search for the author “the biggest manhunt yet seen in Britain.” No less an authority than Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of the great Sherlock Holmes and a noted believer in the supernatural, tried to aid the quest—by enlisting the help of a psychic.

For dramatic effect, Worsley visits the same rustic site where Christie’s automobile was found abandoned.

It was at a spa hotel, 230 miles north of where she was last seen, that Christie was finally found. She had checked in using the name of her cheating husband’s mistress.

Both in the series and during the interview session, Worsley expressed ire that many people at the time, and still today, considered the disappearance a publicity stunt to sell books.

Agatha Christie Portrait courtesy HarperCollinsCalling such speculation “deeply wrong and deeply unfair,” Worsley added, “She was ill,” carrying out her actions while in “a fugue state” not unlike the shellshock that afflicted veterans of World War I. Further, Worsley believes Christie sought help for memory loss following her breakdown. After consultations with the Royal College of Psychiatrists, Worsley and her team were able to pinpoint the treating psychiatrist. “And you won’t hear about him anywhere else because he’s a new discovery in our program.”

There’s even a photograph of the doctor, which Worsley proudly presents to the cameras. She cites one of the titles Christie wrote under a nom de plume—unknown to readers during most of her lifetime—as a thinly veiled account of what really happened.

In Grant’s Bread, written under the Christie pseudonym Mary Westmacott, a woman with an unfaithful husband loses her memory, and goes on to be aided by a doctor who sounds an awful lot like the same man who may have treated Christie. There are six Mary Westmacott books, and while none are mysteries, Worsley believes they are “vital for understanding the real Agatha,” revelatory in regard to Christie’s personal life. At the time the Westmacott books were written, the pseudonym shielded Christie from scrutiny. “Even as her books were getting more and more globally successful...,” Worsley explained, “she became ever sort of more meek and more humble and never let anybody into her process, if you like.”

Christie’s mysteries, on the other hand, were game changers for the genre. It was she who famously startled readers with a story told by an unreliable narrator (a work Worsley discusses in the series following a helpful spoiler alert). Christie also popularized “mysteries of the past”—aka historical mysteries (Murder in Mesopotamia). The ABC Murders is one of the earliest of the serial killer genre. The Mousetrap, which remains the longest running play in the world, illustrates the power of raiding from true crime; the show includes a segment on the horrific child abuse case that inspired the story.

The series doesn’t sidestep the controversy that some Christie materials are today deemed politically incorrect or insensitive. A segment discusses the book that was eventually retitled And Then There Were None (and, in the United States, Ten Little Indians).

Worsley is up-front about Christie’s disapproval of various screen adaptations of her work. As a “control freak,” said Worsley during the roundtable, “[Christie] didn’t like the idea of people taking and messing with her characters.” Pressed about specific depictions, Worsley said that Christie wouldn’t have given a thumbs-up to any actor portraying her characters. That includes David Suchet’s popular depiction of the famed detective on TV’s long-running series, Agatha Christie’s Poirot. No matter that it holds special meaning to Worsley. “I mean, this is how I came to Agatha Christie. I used to watch it on Sunday nights at my granny’s.”

Worsley also grew up in the shadow of Sherlock Holmes—“who I absolutely love.” Worsley's next venture, Killing Sherlock, will examine the life of creator Conan Doyle, and “the kind of toxic relationship he had with his hero.”

For now, fans of both Worsley and the enigmatic Christie can enjoy the series dedicated to the writer whose first success, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, was published nearly 100 years ago. Worsley’s personal charm and exuberance, and her knowledge of the great Christie, makes for a production that’s every bit as satisfying as sitting down with a good mystery.

Pat H. Broeske teaches Film as Lit for a Southern California college and is a mystery devotee who regularly reviews for Mystery Scene. Broeske is also a veteran journalist-author and a former staff writer for the Los Angeles Times.

Teri Duerr
2023-11-30 20:20:24
Review: "Lost Hours" by Paige Shelton
Jay Roberts

Lost Hours
by Paige Shelton
Minotaur Books, December 2023, $28

In author Paige Shelton's Lost Hours, the fifth book in her Alaska Wild series, Beth Rivers is marking one year since she escaped her kidnapper and disappeared to Benedict, Alaska.

If all is not well with Beth, things are at least looking up. With her story now known throughout the world, she's focusing on her career as a thriller writer while tentatively looking ahead to returning to Missouri, the scene of her traumatizing abduction. She's reconnected with her long-lost father, though it is still at an arm's length. Add in Tex, the man she's been sort of seeing, and a growing fondness for the townspeople of Benedict, and Beth has seemingly gotten back on solid footing.

While taking in the sights of the Alaskan glaciers with Tex, a woman appears on the shore of an island as Beth's cruise ship passes by. The woman is covered in blood and soon a rescue party is dispatched. The woman, Sadie, clearly traumatized, tells a story about being kidnapped and how she escaped after being brought to the island. Beth can't help but feel a connection, having lived through her own harrowing experience, and draws the woman out of her shocked state to get more details.

Once back on the mainland, the chief of police begins an investigation and picture begins to emerge: Sadie is hiding in witness protection and doesn't trust the Juneau police who are supposed to be watching over her, and several details that aren't fitting quite right. Where's the body of the kidnapper (supposedly killed by a bear)? Is there a reason the woman is so afraid the cops.

Meanwhile, Beth's father asks her to spend time with a tourist family, who has booked him and his boat to show them around—their daughter, Gracie, is a big fan of Beth's thriller writing. But when Gracie disappears in what seems to be another kidnapping, the drama kicks up to a fever pitch. Now Beth is looking into two different crimes, but are they really separate or are they somehow tied together?

Author Paige Shelton does yet another superb job in building up the mystery and then parsing out clues that will have readers questioning what they thought they knew. And just when the reveal of whodunit seems be the end of things, Shelton shakes the snow globe and upends Beth's life once more.

With a plot full of of intrigue and a cast of characters whose secrets, lies, and truths jump off the page, Lost Hours will have you fully engrossed from start to finish.

Teri Duerr
2023-12-07 01:36:01
10 Great Mystery and Crime Series to Enjoy the Season With
Pat H. Broeske

It’s the most wonderful time of the year—right? Winter is one of the very best seasons to spend some time with old friends—in this case great shows worthy of a revisit (or a first-time discovery), all from the comfort of your favorite armchair. And though you can always stream, various services are always shifting their content. DVDs may sound like throwbacks, but being able to pull a favorite movie or series right off the shelf can beat cloud storage and feels particularly fitting for these groundbreaking shows—moreso since DVDs generally boast better picture and sound. Plus, many DVD releases include great extras—like alternate scenes and special interviews—that seldom stream.

Herewith, ten suggestions—some of them genre landmarks, some of them pxackaged in lavish box sets (but shop around, as some outlets are offering discounts), most of which can be had with the press of a key.

Foyle's War

Foyle's War the Complete Saga DVDsFoyle’s War: The Complete Saga ($199.99)

One of the great mystery series—this is also a superlative historical survey of Britain during World War II. Michael Kitchen stars as understated, deeply humane Detective Chief Inspector Christopher Foyle. Frustrated at not being part of the war effort due to his age, the World War I vet is needed to solve crimes on the home front, in the English coastal town of Hastings.

Spanning the years 1940–1947, and the beginnings of the Cold War, the series was written and created by the wildly diverse and prolific Anthony Horowitz (the Midsomer Murders co-creator and screenwriter is also a novelist of children’s, YA and adult mystery-suspense). It finds Foyle and his team—driver Samantha “Sam” Stewart (an engaging Honeysuckle Weeks) and, in the early seasons, Sgt. Paul Milner (stalwart Anthony Howell)—dealing with black marketeers, spies, saboteurs, germ warfare, war profiteering, corrupt government officials, evacuees, Nazi sympathizers, interned “enemy aliens”—and murder aplenty.

This is a beautifully produced time capsule, with a compelling central character in pursuit of justice for all.

The boxed set includes all eight seasons, five-plus hours of bonus features, and a 24-page booklet. In it, Horowitz writes that he hopes the series “has done justice to an extraordinary time.” Mission accomplished!


Inspector Morris

Inspector Morris: The Complete Series DVDInspector Morse: The Complete Case Files ($124.99)

He drives a burgundy Jaguar Mark 2, loves poetry and opera (especially Wagner), is at home with the classics and works the daily crossword puzzle. He also appreciates single malts—often to a fault. Erudite Inspector Morse, memorably portrayed by John Thaw, is as tragic as he is mesmerizing. Self-destructive, unable to find love, he also sometimes denigrates the work of younger sidekick, Sergeant Lewis (Kevin Whately), as they investigate crime-ridden Oxford.

When the series first aired, from 1987 to 2000, the title character was so beloved that his eventual demise, and the program’s finale, led to reams of woeful column inches in the national press. No matter that author Colin Dexter once called his creation “ungracious, mean and curmudgeonly.” Morse has also been called the “quintessentially English detective.”

Along with complex plotting and oft-cerebral clues, the series welcomed a spate of great guest stars—some just newcomers, at the time. Among the who’s who: Sean Bean, John Gielgud, Michael Kitchen (Foyle!), Jonny Lee Miller, Rachel Weisz and Robert Stephens. For starry presence, there’s also the stirring theme music by Barrington Pheloung.

This 17-disc set contains 33 episodes. Find out why the Daily Telegraph called it “a televised Holy Grail.”



Endeavor: Pilot Film & Complete Seasons 1–9Endeavour: Pilot Film & Complete Seasons 1–9 ($99.99)

There was considerable skepticism when it was announced there would be a prequel to Inspector Morse. Especially as there was already a spin-off series, the popular Inspector Lewis, with Morse’s Kevin Whately continuing in the role following the death of the Inspector. Originally conceived as a standalone to mark the 25th anniversary of the first episode of Morse, Endeavour wound up with a nine-season run.

It’s got a different look and feel than the original Morse. “We wanted to do Endeavour-noir with this one,” is how creator-writer Russell Lewis put it. Opening in 1965, when the younger Morse (Shaun Evans) is a junior detective, the series makes use of the swingin’ sixties by including beehive hairdos, mini-skirts, and plots involving women’s lib, shaggy-haired musicians, gurus and mind-altering drugs.

With Detective Chief Inspector “Fred” Thursday (Roger Allam, in more than fine form) as his mentor, and, as the series progresses, a scene-stealing Anton Lesser as chief superintendent, Morse’s idiosyncracies and detective skills take shape. Yes, he works crosswords, and attends (solo) many an opera. But he also falls in love with a free-spirited photojournalist who leaves him in order to cover the war in Vietnam. He is also enamored by Thursday’s daughter, Joan (Sara Vickers). We also see his fractured family relationships.

It’s a detailed evolution of a character whose melancholy will aid in his crime-solving. Often to the music of Wagner—and that of Barrington Pheloung.

Includes the “bonus documentary” Morse & The Last Endeavour, and four hours of bonus video.


Helen Mirren in Prime Suspect

Prime Suspect: The Complete SeriesPrime Suspect: The Complete Collection ($139.99)

Long before the TV phenomenon The Crown, it was Helen Mirren on the throne in the feature film The Queen (2006), for which she won an Oscar. And before female cops became a TV staple, Mirren was battling stereotypes and institutional sexism as Inspector Jane Tennison, for which she won four Emmys and a trio of British Academy Television Awards (the BATA).

The series ran seven seasons, from 1991 to 2006: some are multipart serials, others are self-contained stories. As Tennison climbs the ranks to Detective Superintendent, what’s most memorable is the way in which she tries to out think “villains” (as the Brits refer to bad guys), imprisoning murderers and pedophiles, and winning the respect of her squad. Along the way she chain smokes, drinks too much, faces family issues, and deals with an unwanted pregnancy. “Jane is a vulnerable, flawed person,” Mirren once said, admitting that, when the series wrapped, she kept her character’s police ID.

Includes a nearly hour-long behind the scenes special.


Breaking Bad

Breaking Bad: The Complete SeriesBreaking Bad: The Complete Series ($149.99)

Is this the greatest American crime series, ever? It’s got my vote.

For character development, alone, the show is unsurpassed. Frustrated chemistry teacher Walter White (Bryan Cranston) is instructing kids who are oblivious to what he’s teaching. He’s got a pregnant wife (Anna Gunn), and a high school age son who suffers from cerebral palsy (RJ Mitte). To make ends meet he works part time at the car wash. By the time he finds out he has a terminal disease (Stage 4 lung cancer, never mind that he’s never smoked), his blustery, big mouth DEA brother-in-law Hank (Dean Norris) has already educated him on the big money that can be made off meth. Did we mention that White’s insurance won’t cover the cost of his medical treatments? Or that a former student named Jesse Pinkman (the engaging Aaron Paul), has ties to the drug world? With this, a great character—make that characters—are born.

Over five seasons, White’s evolution from desperate, sad family man to deadly drug kingpin is never less than riveting. And the series’ supporting characters have become a pop culture rogue’s gallery, with too many names to mention here (though serious props to Giancarlo Esposito’s Gus Fring and Jonathan Banks for his depiction of Mike Ehrmantraut). Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk), a legend in his own right, first pops in this as legal counsel to White’s chilling alter ego, Heisenberg.

A series so well-crafted and thought-provoking it has spawned university studies, as well as a line of merchandising, Breaking Bad is not only essential viewing, it’s also the show to curl up with for a binge-watching weekend. Thank you, creator-writer-director Vince Gilligan.


24 Season 5 Cast

24: Complete Series24: The Complete Series (With Live Another Day) ($225)

This series was already in production when America was attacked on September 11, 2001. But in the aftermath of 9/11, the story of federal agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland, in a career best role), who works for the Los Angeles-based Counter Terrorist Unit, took on new meaning. The fact that the series was conceived to take place in real time, with each of its 24 episodes running an hour, provided a further sense of urgency, as Bauer literally raced against the clock, over a single day, to thwart baddies.

As creator/executive producer/showrunner Howard Gordon told the Hollywood news site, Bauer “was really fighting part of, I think, everybody’s rage and confusion of how much...the law enforcement and intelligence apparatus had missed this attack.”

A lot could be written about 24. (I myself hope to say more at a later date.) It altered the scope and delivery of the political thriller. It also generated controversy with Bauer’s by-whatever-means-necessary approach to dealing with the enemy, and allegations of Islamophobia. But, this is a series that delivers over eight-plus seasons. (A Writer’s Guild strike resulted in a TV movie, and season nine is a limited series.)

With memorable performances by Dennis Haysbert (as a pre-Obama-era Black President), Penny Johnson Jerald as the scheming First Lady, Mary Lynn Rajskub as the unit’s computer techie, Carlos Bernard as Bauer’s colleague and friend (at least until, well, never mind…), William Devane as the Secretary of Defense, who goes on to become president while secretly suffering Alzheimer’s, and a slew of characters with other hidden agendas, led by Bauer’s colleague and former lover Nina Myers (played by Sarah Clarke), connected to one of the series’ many great plot twists.

Extras on this humongous set (56 discs!) include special features and clips of the cast at Comic Con.



Homeland: Seasons 1–8Homeland – various packages of Seasons 1–8 (prices vary)

Where unreliable narrators are concerned, Gone Girl’s Amy Dunne has nothing on Carrie Mathison, the CIA agent who is secretly grappling with bipolar disorder while trying to convince superiors about possible sleeper agents, pending attacks, presidential subterfuge and other threats of the anxious, post-9/11 age.

24 was in its eighth season when its creator, Howard Gordon, teamed with Alex Gansa for this geopolitical thriller (based on an Israeli series).

Claire Danes pulls out all stops for her depiction of Carrie, an oft-disturbing character given to manic highs and the lowest of lows. Heck, the first season wraps with a shot of her strapped to a gurney, receiving electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). “We didn’t want Carrie to be wearing a white hat the whole time…. We wanted the viewer to wonder, is her paranoia real, or is it all in her head?” Gansa once told me.

Spanning eight seasons—too many, according to some reviewers—the series examines shifting alliances, personal as well as political, with Carrie representing the paranoia of modern times.

With Mandy Patinkin as Carrie’s mentor-sometimes antagonist Saul Berenson, and Damian Lewis as Nicholas Brody, the American POW who is more than he seems.



Luther: Complete SeriesLuther – various packages of Seasons 1–5 (prices vary)

A British procedural like no other, this series follows maverick London DCI John Luther (Idris Elba), as he tracks murderers while playing cat and mouse with a seductive serial killer named Alice Morgan, to whose charms he is not totally immune.

Created by novelist-screenwriter Neil Cross and airing from 2010–2015, the psychological thriller lets the viewer in on the identity of the bad guys early on. The suspense comes from Luther’s efforts: as Cross once explained, it’s a “howcatchem,” or “inverted detective story,” as opposed to a “whodunit.”

Though Elba first became known to American audiences via The Wire, the charismatic and talented actor, who is also a music producer, disc jockey and rapper, now ranks as one of the most dynamic of crime fighters, albeit one who gives in to the dark side.



Shetland: Seasons 1 & 2Shetland: Seasons One & Two ($39.99)

Based on the novels by Ann Cleeves (whose Vera Stanhope books became the series Vera), this Scottish noir focuses on the very decent Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez, as he maintains law and order on the bleak Shetland Islands.

Perez, as created by Cleeves, was big and tall with black hair. When the strawberry-blonde, five-foot-eleven Douglas Henshall was cast, Cleeves said, “It’s so much better to get a good actor than someone who looks like my Jimmy but can’t act.” Henshall proved so good he top-lined the series for seven seasons, only recently exiting the island-set crime drama.

The first two seasons draw from a quartet of Cleeves titles, including Red Bones, about the murder of an archaeology student and Raven Black, which was actually the first of her Shetland mysteries. In the breakthrough (award-winning) work, the murder of a teenage girl on a beach is tied to an unsolved disappearance years earlier.

It’s impossible not to like Perez, his DS Alison “Tosh” McIntosh (Alison O’Donnell) and DC Sandy Wilson (Steven Robertson), as they take on the island’s tough terrain and bleak weather, in pursuit of justice.


Angela Lansbury Murder, She Wrote

Murder, She Wrote: The Complete SeriesMurder, She Wrote: The Complete Series ($129.99)

We’re going out with something comforting, criminal behavior notwithstanding. From 1984 to 1996, mystery writer/amateur sleuth Jessica Fletcher (Angela Lansbury) was on the case in the once-bucolic coastal community of Cabot Cove.

That 12-season run made Fletcher a household name, spawning a board game, as well as a series of mysteries “coauthored” by Jessica Fletcher that have sold millions of copies. Number 58, Murder, She Wrote: Murder Backstage, will be published next year.

As for the show, the writing is crisp, there are some twists on familiar storylines (Jessica as the jury forewoman in a nod to Twelve Angry Men), and some unexpected forays, as when Jessica goes to a writers’ conference and winds up in a in a JFK assassination investigation. And what’s not to like about the array of guest stars, who include June Allyson, Tippi Hedren, George Clooney, Joaquin Phoenix! But mostly, it’s Lansbury’s show (though the role was created with Jean Stapleton in mind), and she’s all-in.

The boxed set includes various interviews with Lansbury, and the series’ famous “crossover” episode with Magnum, P.I.

Pat H. Broeske teaches Film as Lit for a Southern California college and is a mystery devotee who regularly reviews for Mystery Scene. Broeske is also a veteran journalist-author and a former staff writer for the Los Angeles Times.


Teri Duerr
2023-12-18 03:41:15
Review: "The Christmas Guest" by Peter Swanson
Pat H. Broeske

The Christmas Guest
by Peter Swanson
William Morrow, October 2023, $19.99

Those familiar with Peter Swanson’s writings know that he likes to play a shell game with plot twists and character identity, and that the reader sometimes scores (the terrific Eight Perfect Murders) but can also come away feeling swindled (Every Vow You Break). I read his latest, the 96-page novella The Christmas Guest, wondering if, in the spirit of the holidays, I’d feel compelled to give it a charitable pass. But I don’t have to shill; Swanson has pulled off a winning entry.

The Christmas Guest is largely told through 30-year-old diary entries of Ashley Smith, an art student who, in 1989, is invited to join classmate Emma Chapman, and her family, for the holidays. “I’m actually going to an English country house for Christmas!” writes the lonely, orphaned American. “It sounds like the beginning of a romance novel, or else maybe a murder mystery.” Umm, foreshadowing is a Swanson signature.

Once she reaches Starvewood Hall—yeah, it’s got its own name—and meets Emma’s weird parents, our narrator enthusiastically details day to day activities and dishes about the others gathered at the estate. They include Emma’s handsome, enigmatic brother, Adam, as well as a touchy-feely author of spy novels named Daniel.

Ashley also describes a night at the pub where one of the patrons is completely taken aback by her appearance. Turns out Ashley strongly resembles a local teenager who was found murdered a few months back. Adam, who had had been seeing the girl, was questioned about the still-unsolved crime.

Returning to Starvewood, Ashley finds herself alternately creeped out and excited by what she’s discovered. Remembering her late mother’s love of gothic thrillers, she imagines herself on a book cover, fleeing from a foreboding house. Only instead of wearing a nightgown she’s in her PJ bottoms and a UCLA t-shirt.

A cunning plotter, Swanson is adept at both embracing and dashing reader expectations. It may be a slender volume, but The Christmas Guest delivers plenty of surprises—and a rather evil twist. You can read it in a single sitting, but the characters and their alliances will linger, much like the Ghost of Christmas Past. While delivering the scent of pine boughs and blood-spattered murder, this book reminds that less is often more.

Teri Duerr
2023-12-20 17:20:49
Review: "Have Yourself a Deadly Little Christmas" by Vicki Delany
Jay Roberts

Have Yourself a Deadly Little Christmas
by Vicki Delany
Crooked Lane Books, September 2023, $30.99

In Have Yourself a Deadly Little Christmas, author Vicki Delany's 6th Year-Round Christmas mystery series, shop owner Merry Wilkinson finds that in America's "Christmas Town" of Rudolph, New York, it is beginning to look a lot like murder.

Merry's mother, a former opera star, has been talked into joining the cast of a musical version of A Christmas Carol as part of the town's annual Christmas play—and that's where things take a turn for everyone involved when the body of one of the amateur theater actors turns up murdered in Merry's store, Mrs. Claus’s Treasures.

Paula Monahan wasn't exactly the most beloved person in town and the list of suspects is long and quite varied. Between her trouble-making during rehearsals and issues in her personal and professional life, any number of people have good reason to have wanted Paula dead.

Merry vows to stay out the investigation, but when her store clerk Jackie and Merry's mother are among the suspects, she can't help but start asking questions—even after Detective Diane Simmonds makes it clear she doesn't want Merry involved. It isn't long before the clues lead to threats and even an attempted attack on Merry's mother. Even so, Merry is indefatigable in the the face of danger as she tries to figure out who murdered Paula.

The relationships between the regular series characters continue to grow and evolve in this book. I like the cordial but still somewhat distant relationship between Merry and Detective Simmonds. Clearly they are friendly but keep each other at an arm's length—largely due to Merry's unwelcome nosing around. The supporting cast as a whole is great. Merry's parents are so different from each other and yet they perfectly complement one another at the same time. Merry's coworkers and fellow business owners provide their own moments of fun. The clueless way Merry's clerk Jackie goes through life could be off-putting, but here it works. Even an antagonistic business owner named Margie is given a moment to shine. Heck, I even loved all the ego-driven characters that made up the massively dysfunctional theater group.

There's a number of believable twists and turns in the plot of Have Yourself a Deadly Little Christmas, but what really made this book such a draw was how once the reveal is made, you realize that the killer was staring you in the face the whole time and yet you never realized it. That's what makes this series, one that has become dear to my heart, such a great read with each successive novel. Add to that the fact that I'm not usually one to get carried away by holiday spirit, yet enjoyed my time in Rudolph, and it is a great testament to the strength of Vicki Delany's writing. Simply put, Have Yourself a Deadly Little Christmas is a wonderful gift for mystery lovers everywhere.

Teri Duerr
2023-12-21 05:36:11
2024 Edgar Allan Poe Award Nominations
Teri Duerr

Mystery Writers of America has announced the nominees for the 2024 Edgar Allan Poe Awards, honoring the best in mystery fiction, nonfiction, and television published or produced in 2023. The 78th Annual Edgar® Awards will be celebrated on Wednesday, May 1, 2024, at the New York Marriott Marquis Times Square. Congratulations to all of this year's nominees!


Flags on the Bayou, by James Lee Burke (Grove Atlantic – Atlantic Monthly Press)
All the Sinners Bleed, by S.A. Cosby (Flatiron Books)
The Madwomen of Paris, by Jennifer Cody Epstein (Penguin Random House – Ballantine Books)
Bright Young Women, by Jessica Knoll (Simon & Schuster – Simon Element – Marysue Rucci Books)
An Honest Man, by Michael Koryta (Hachette Book Group – Little, Brown and Company – Mulholland Books)
The River We Remember, by William Kent Krueger (Simon & Schuster – Atria Books)
Crook Manifesto, by Colson Whitehead (Penguin Random House – Doubleday)


The Peacock and the Sparrow, by I.S. Berry (Simon & Schuster – Atria Books)
The Golden Gate, by Amy Chua (Macmillan Publishing – Minotaur Books)
Small Town Sins, by Ken Jaworowski (Macmillan Publishing – Henry Holt and Co.)
The Last Russian Doll, by Kristen Loesch (Penguin Random House – Berkley)
Murder by Degrees, by Ritu Mukerji (Simon & Schuster)


Boomtown, by A.F. Carter (Penzler Publishers - Mysterious Press)
Hide, by Tracy Clark (Amazon Publishing – Thomas & Mercer)
The Taken Ones, by Jess Lourey (Amazon Publishing – Thomas & Mercer)
Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers, by Jesse Q. Sutanto (Penguin Random House – Berkley)
Lowdown Road, by Scott Von Doviak (Hard Case Crime)


In Light of All Darkness: Inside the Polly Klaas Kidnapping and the Search for America’s Child, by Kim Cross (Hachette Book Group – Grand Central Publishing)
Number Go Up: Inside Crypto’s Wild Rise and Staggering Fall, by Zeke Faux (Penguin Random House – Crown Currency)
Tangled Vines: Power, Privilege, and the Murdaugh Family Murders, by John Glatt (Macmillan Publishers – St. Martin’s Press)
Crooked: The Roaring ’20s Tale of a Corrupt Attorney General, a Crusading Senator, and the Birth of the American Political Scandal, by Nathan Masters (Hachette Book Group – Hachette Books)
I Know Who You Are: How an Amateur DNA Sleuth Unmasked the Golden State Killer and Changed Crime Fighting Forever, by Barbara Rae-Venter (Penguin Random House – Ballantine Books)
The Lost Sons of Omaha: Two Young Men in an American Tragedy, by Joe Sexton (Simon & Schuster – Scribner)


Perplexing Plots: Popular Storytelling and the Poetics of Murder, by David Bordwell (Columbia University Press)
Spillane: King of Pulp Fiction, by Max Allan Collins & James L. Traylor (Penzler Publishers – Mysterious Press)
A Mystery of Mysteries: The Death and Life of Edgar Allan Poe, by Mark Dawidziak (Macmillan Publishing – St. Martin’s Press)
Fallen Angel: The Life of Edgar Allan Poe, by Robert Morgan (LSU Press)
Love Me Fierce in Danger – The Life of James Ellroy, by Steven Powell (Bloomsbury Publishing – Bloomsbury Academic)


“Hallowed Ground,” by Linda Castillo (Macmillan Publishers – Minotaur Books)
“Thriller,” Thriller by Heather Graham (Blackstone Publishing)
“Miss Direction,” Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, September-October 2023 by Rob Osler (Dell Magazines)
“The Rise,” Amazon Original Stories, by Ian Rankin (Amazon Publishing)
“Pigeon Tony’s Last Stand,” Amazon Original Stories, by Lisa Scottoline (Amazon Publishing)


Myrtle, Means, and Opportunity, by Elizabeth C. Bunce (Hachette Book Group – Workman Publishing – Algonquin Young Readers)
The Ghosts of Rancho Espanto, by Adrianna Cuevas (Macmillan Publishers – Farrar, Straus and Giroux BFYR)
Epic Ellisons: Cosmos Camp, by Lamar Giles (HarperCollins Publishers – Versify)
The Jules Verne Prophecy, by Larry Schwarz & Iva-Marie Palmer (Hachette Book Group – Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
What Happened to Rachel Riley? by Claire Swinarski (HarperCollins Publishers – Quill Tree Books)


Girl Forgotten, by April Henry (Hachette Book Group – Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
Star Splitter, by Matthew J. Kirby (Penguin Young Readers – Dutton Books for Young Readers)
The Sharp Edge of Silence, by Cameron Kelly Rosenblum (HarperCollins Publishers – Quill Tree Books)
My Flawless Life, by Yvonne Woon (HarperCollins Publishers – Katherine Tegen Books)
Just Do This One Thing for Me, by Laura Zimmerman (Penguin Young Readers – Dutton Books for Young Readers)


“Time of the Monkey” – Poker Face, written by Wyatt Cain & Charlie Peppers (Peacock)
“I’m a Pretty Observant Guy” – Will Trent, written by Liz Heldens (ABC)
“Dead Man’s Hand” – Poker Face, written by Rian Johnson (Peacock)
“Hózhó Náhásdlii (Beauty is Restore)” – Dark Winds, written by Graham Roland & John Wirth (AMC)
“Escape from Shit Mountain” – Poker Face, written by Nora Zuckerman & Lilla Zuckerman (Peacock)


“Errand for a Neighbor,” Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, January-February 2023, by Bill Bassman (Dell Magazines)
“The Body in Cell Two,” Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, May-June 2023, by Kate Hohl (Dell Magazines)
“The Soiled Dove of Shallow Hollow,” Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, January-February 2023, by Sean McCluskey (Dell Magazines)
“It’s Half Your Fault,” Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, July-August 2023, by Meghan Leigh Paulk (Dell Magazines)
“Two Hours West of Nothing,” Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, September-October 2023, by Gabriela Stiteler (Dell Magazines)


Play the Fool, by Lina Chern (Penguin Random House – Bantam)
The Bones of the Story, by Carol Goodman (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
Of Manners and Murder, by Anastasia Hastings (Macmillan Publishers – Minotaur Books)
The Three Deaths, of Willa Stannard by Kate Robards (Crooked Lane Books)
Murder in Postscript, by Mary Winters (Penguin Random House – Berkley)


Hard Rain, by Samantha Jayne Allen (Macmillan Publishers – Minotaur Books)
An Evil Heart, by Linda Castillo (Macmillan Publishers – Minotaur Books)
Bad, Bad Seymour Brown, by Susan Isaacs (Grove Atlantic – Atlantic Monthly Press)
Past Lyingm, by Val McDermid (Grove Atlantic – Atlantic Monthly Press)
A Stolen Child, by Sarah Stewart Taylor (Macmillan Publishers – Minotaur Books)


Glory Be, by Danielle Arceneaux (Pegasus Books – Pegasus Crime)
Misfortune Cookie, by Vivien Chien (Macmillan – St. Martin’s Paperbacks)
Hot Pot Murder, by Jennifer J. Chow (Penguin Random House – Berkley)
Murder of an Amish Bridegroom, by Patricia Johns (Crooked Lane Books)
The Body in the Back Garden, by Mark Waddell (Crooked Lane Books)


Katherine Hall Page
R.L. Stine


Michaela Hamilton

Teri Duerr
2024-01-23 15:30:20