Paris is for Authors: The City of Lights with Cara Black and Susan Elia MacNeal


Research in Paris, a tough job but someone's got to do it, non? Authors Susan Elia MacNeal and Cara Black discuss one of their writing inspirations, the City of Lights.

Image courtesy of

Susan Elia MacNeal: Recently, New York Times bestselling novelist Cara Black (author of the Aimée Leduc series) and I crossed paths in Paris for one day. We had grand plans to meet up for dinner in the Marais—but then I canceled because of blisters (what was I thinking, trying to wear chic shoes on Paris pavements?)—and Cara had jetlag. But we did (and do!) have a lot to say on researching novels in Paris. And so until we can get back to the City of Light, this is what two novelists working in Paris are talking about—including research, pastries, and Philip Kerr.

Cara Black: Bonjour, Susan! Next time I know we’ll make it to the Hemingway Bar in the newly re-opened Ritz.…

MacNeal: Bonjour, Cara! Yes, I'm so sorry we didn't connect, but my hotel was right by the Leduc Detective Agency, so I felt close to both you and Aimee!

I've been to Paris twice before, but only for short periods of time and did mostly touristy things—the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower. This trip was different—devoted to World War II research, mostly of Britain's SOE (Special Operation Executive) secret agents who were sent to Paris as part of F-Section's “Prosper Network” and their connections with the Résistants. History tells us that there was one French SOE agent who was a double—or perhaps even a triple?

So I wandered around all of the relevant sites, such as 84 Avenue Foch (Gestapo headquarters dealing with foreign threats) and the Palais Garnier (one of my characters is a ballet dancer working undercover in the Paris Opéra Ballet).

What were you doing in Paris?

Black 3Black: Alors, Susan, I was getting wearing out my walking shoes on the streets of the sixth arrondissement. So much so, that I rode the Velib’, those bikes the City of Paris offer— the first half hour is free—to cruise the neighborhood. Riding a bike is something that helps me map out the "territory," as it were, and make more sense of the arrondissement as a whole. And after indulging at a patisserie—in the name of research—it keeps the weight down. This time I was re-checking distance and time—those logistics like, could Aimée walk to the Metro in time from here or would this passage make sense for her to take?

Several scenes happen in the wonderful Jardin du Luxembourg, so I spent a lot of time walking those gravel paths, sitting under the trees, and watching the boules players.

A question for you Susan, Philip Kerr, who writes the Bernie Gunther series, said that in his books he works within the lines of history and simulates the explanations of what could have happened. Your heroine, Maggie Hope, deals with historical characters and real events, so when you’re researching and the SOE files, as you point out, aren’t available, would you tend to agree with Kerr?

It’s always interesting to see how true to the perceived historical past you can veer from, what do you think?

Black 1MacNeal: I managed to bypass (most) pastries, but did indulge in some ice cream on Île Saint-Louis.…

Black: Sigh. Ah, Berthillon. Of course, Aimée lives around the corner.

MacNeal: Of course! And if I could live in Paris, it would be there.

Cara, so funny you bring up Philip Kerr! Not only do I love his books, but I handled the U.S. reprints of his books when I was at Viking/Penguin in the early 90s! I love the Kerr quote and, yes, I definitely write about "what could have happened."

In this case, with The Paris Spy, most of the relevant files that tell the “real” story were either burned in a fire in 1946 (accident or deliberate?) or are not allowed to be opened until 2036. So I'm bound and determined to live that long to see what "really" happened to some of the real SOE spies in France. But in the meantime, it affords a lot of freedom to create what could have happened.

Since you've begun writing the Aimee Leduc series, technology has changed so much—pagers, answering machines, email, cell phones. Have all the new gadgets thrown you any curve balls as you continue the series? And how was it going back in time to write Aimee's prequel, Murder on the Quai?

Black: 2036 to open the SOE Archives? Wow, that sounds like the military archives in the Chateau de Vincennes. I was told that for some files they could only be opened 100 years, or more, from the last person’s death. The only explanation I heard was that it was to protect the descendants.

I loved writing about 1989, that’s when Murder on the Quai is set and it remains vivid to me since it’s when the Berlin Wall fell. I remember a divided Germany, being questioned by the Stasi for taking photos of the Wall. But my Aimée Leduc series is set in the 90s, from 1993 and only up to 1999 so far. Technology represents challenges in some ways and in some ways not. Aimée doesn’t have to worry about Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram because they didn’t exist, and Google was evolving but it hadn’t become what it is now. Aimée uses dial-up. Remember that?

I’m guessing you use newspapers and magazines of the day, which I find incredibly helpful for fashion and world events. For me, Paris Match gave a snapshot of that week in 1989 and all the things that were on sale, what demonstrations were going on and what celebrities were doing. How about you? How specific do you like to get, and tell me about visiting the Paris Opera. Did you get behind the scenes, so to speak?

MacNeal: I do remember dial-up internet! It seems so insanely slow now.

Oh and yes, I got to go to the Palais Garnier! What a thrill! I saw a ballet there—a repertory program by students of the Paris Opéra Ballet school—and also did a behind-the-scenes tour. Having a glass of champagne during intermission and walking the length of the Foyer de la Danse was magical.

Ah, research in Paris—life is tough, right? You're so lucky to have all your books set there. What’s your favorite place to do research?

Black 5Black: My research takes a lot of forms. Sometimes it’s walking the streets at different times of the day to see how the light falls, note the regulars drinking their aperitif at the café. Or meeting up with [my friend] Gilles, who is an expert on underground Paris and has written several books about it. He even invited me to a party in the old quarry under the hospital and once to a air raid shelter used by the Luftwaffe under the Jardins du Luxembourg. It’s fascinating to see the layers of history under the pavement and cobblestones.

In the book I’m working on a lot of the story hinges on what happens under Paris. I met Gilles’ friends who travel with a crowbar, seriously, and pop the manhole covers and delve underground. There are so many layers—the sewers, the Metro, the telephone and fiber optic cables all with their own levels. How about you?

MacNeal: I agree about research—going at the right time of year, knowing what flowers are in bloom, how the light looks at a certain time of day.... I also like walking the exact routes my characters would take. Yes, you can look on a map, but, nothing beats really knowing in your bones what it feels like and what you might see.

I love that your friend Gilles took you to an air-raid shelter—underground Paris must be fascinating. It's so important to talk to people who are/were really there. I remember in Arisaig, Scotland, I was able to speak with a woman who was a girl during World War II and remembered what it was like to have the SOE training camps scattered around the area—and how proud everyone was to do "their bit." I'm also forever indebted to a friend of mine who's a London Blitz survivor, who reads over my manuscripts. She's filled in so many wonderful details.

Cara, I can't believe I've never asked you this, but what’s your connection to Paris?

Black: Susan, You are so fortunate to have a friend who lived during the Blitz and reads your work! My friend Toli, in his 80s, was a Résistant who loves to drive around Paris at night and show me places where he lived and hid during the war—those details he shares are amazing.

My connection to Paris comes from having a Francophile father and uncle who lived there and sent me to a French school. I guess my love affair with Paris started from that.

MacNeal: And now my love affair has just begun….

À bientôt, Cara! Until we meet at the Hemingway Bar at the Ritz!

Images throughout courtesy of Cara Black.

Susan Elia MacNeal is the Barry Award–winning and Edgar, ITW Thriller, Dilys, Agatha, Macavity, and Lefty Award–nominated author of the New York Times bestselling Maggie Hope mysteries, including Mr. Churchill’s Secretary, Princess Elizabeth’s Spy, His Majesty’s Hope, The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent, and Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante. She lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn, with her husband and child. She’s hard at work on the next Maggie Hope novel, The Paris Spy, which Bantam Books will publish in hardcover in August 2017.

Cara Black is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of 14 books in the Private Investigator Aimée Leduc series, which is set in Paris. Cara has received multiple nominations for the Anthony and Macavity Awards, a Washington Post Book World Book of the Year citation, the Médaille de la Ville de Paris—the Paris City Medal, which is awarded in recognition of contribution to international culture—and invitations to be the Guest of Honor at conferences such as the Paris Polar Crime Festival and Left Coast Crime. With more than 400,000 books in print, the Aimée Leduc series has been translated into German, Norwegian, Japanese, French, Spanish, Italian, and Hebrew.

Teri Duerr
2016-08-19 19:22:14
Bouchercon in New Orleans
Oline H. Cogdill

loehfelmbill letdeiloutBy OLINE H. COGDILL

Each year, I write about Bouchercon, the largest conference for mystery fans.

Bouchercon, for those who are not familiar with it, is a fan-based conference, which means that it is for readers to connect with their favorite authors and meet new ones. This year, Bouchercon is September 15 to 18 in New Orleans.

The conference doesn’t stress the craft of writing, like Sleuthfest, though anyone interested in writing will glean something from Bouchercon.

The main focus of Bouchercon is to look at trends, isssues, and how authors work. For example, this year I am moderating the panel “Even in the Quiet Moments,” subtitled “A good story doesn’t always rely on all-out action,” with authors M.O. Walsh, Tracy Kiely, Leigh Perry, William Lashner, and Annette Dashofy, at 3 p.m. Sept. 17.

I have only missed one Bouchercon since 1997. (Full disclosure, last year I joined the Bouchercon board.) Each Bouchercon has been different—some well organized, some a mess; some in cool areas, some in places I never want to return to.

No matter, I have never had a bad time at Bouchercon.

And because Bouchercon is in a different area each year, I think it is a great excuse to read authors from that area.

So here is a quick primer on Louisiana authors for those going to Bouchercon, or those opting for armchair travels. These are in no particular order and I am sure I have missed a few, so please tell us who I’ve missed.

James Lee Burke: Burke’s novels about Dave Robicheaux have been a longtime favorite. Through the years and some 20 novels, Burke has allowed the Louisiana detective to change and go through many life experiences.

Bill Loehfelm: The rebuilding of New Orleans is a metaphor for the emotional recovery of police detective Maureen Coughlin, who finds a fresh start with the city’s police force. Loehfelm’s novels feature an authentic view of New Orleans’ myriad neighborhoods, bars, and restaurants.

herrengreg batonrougebingoGreg Herren: The prolific Herren writes two series about New Orleans’ private detectives. The darker Chanse MacLeod and the lighter Scotty Bradley are both gay men with a strong connection to their homes in New Orleans. Herren’s wicked sense of humor especially shows in his Scotty novels.

Nevada Barr: The author of the bestselling Anna Pigeon novels lives in New Orleans, but has set only one novel, Burn (2010), about the National Park Service ranger in her hometown. In Burn, Anna is assigned to the New Orleans Jazz National Heritage Park where the rangers’ duties are to preserve the area’s music.

Attica Locke: Locke’s novel The Cutting Season (2012) showed the changing face of racism and classism on a Louisiana antebellum mansion that’s managed as a tourist stop by an African American woman whose ancestors were slaves on the plantation.

Tom Cooper: Cooper, who lives in New Orleans, delivered a funny, yet poignant novel with his debut. The Marauders is set in Louisiana’s Barataria swamp after the ecological disaster that was the BP oil spill.

Ethan Brown: Investigative journalist Ethan Brown has two nonfiction books set in New Orleans, the newly released Murder in the Bayou and Shake the Devil Off.

Charlaine Harris: Harris’ popular Sookie Stackhouse novels invented a new genre—the Southern Vampire mystery. Set in Louisiana, these novels gave us a whole new look at vampires and were the basis of the popular HBO series True Blood.

David Fulmer: Fulmer wrote four well-received novels about Creole detective Valentin St. Cyr, set in Storyville, the red-light district that thrived during the early 1900s in New Orleans.

nevadabarr burnBarbara Hambly: Hambly’s excellent novels devled deep into Big Easy history with hero Benjamin January, a former slave who is a surgeon and music teacher in 1830s New Orleans.

Julie Smith: Smith’s novels about police detective Skip Langdon took readers to the New Orleans Jazz Festival, Mardi Gras, and city government. Smith also may have been the first to write about a group of people who connected virtually, through an online bulletin board, in her novel New Orleans Beat.

Sophie Dunbar: The late Dunbar has four charmingly light mysteries about New Orleans beauty salon owner Clair Claiborne. Her books are Behind Eclaire’s Door (1993), A Bad Hair Day (1996), Redneck Riviera (1998), and Shiveree (1999). Dunbar died of cancer in 2001.

Oline Cogdill
2016-08-27 20:10:12
Back Lash
Betty Webb

Chris Knopf’s Back Lash takes us from the shores of Southampton to the Bronx as Sam, an ex-boxer recovering from brain injury, tries to unravel the mystery of his father’s murder 40 years earlier. This is no dear-old-dad tale. André Acquillo, a mechanic, was a vicious man who delighted in beating his wife and his children—especially Sam. André held his family in the grip of terror until the night he was beaten to death in the bathroom of a New York dive bar. Few mourned him. Even one of the cops called to the scene is recorded as saying the killers had done the world a favor. Long resentful of his father, Sam at first agrees, but his quest takes a surprising turn when he discovers that André led a double life, keeping two different families in two different places and treating those two families very, very differently. Sam also learns some of his father’s acquaintances (André Acquillo had no actual friends) were borderline criminals—and some not so borderline. Knowing that after 40 years, memories can’t always be trusted, Sam begins to dig even deeper, and in the process attracts the attention of men who have a go at adding to his already-present brain injury. He eventually comes to realize he never really knew his father at all—and maybe not even himself. Watching Sam Acquillo grow toward self-realization in this riveting novel is one of the book’s major pleasures. During this series (beginning with The Last Refuge) Sam has come a long way from the man whose boxing injuries saddled him with enough brain damage to sabotage a once-cushy life. Now that we’ve begun delving into Sam’s battered childhood, we can see that not all those blows originated in the ring. Author Knopf has a rare gift for creating a protagonist who vacillates between self-destruction and self-preservation. Fortunately for his fans, self-preservation wins out in Back Lash, leaving room for yet another gritty Sam Acquillo adventure.

Teri Duerr
2016-08-30 17:08:46
Husbands and Lap Dogs Breathe Their Last
Betty Webb

If you’re in the mood for some laughs, David Steven Rappoport’s Husbands and Lap Dogs Breathe Their Last is as riotous as mystery novels get. Seeking a little diversion, amateur sleuth Cummings Flynn Wanamaker attends a meeting of the Mathers Society, a Chicago occult group heavily into steampunk, tricked-out costumes and all. During the evening, Surendra, the speaker, suddenly bursts into flames while discussing the “sexual wisdom path.” A case of spontaneous combustion brought upon by the subject matter? Cummings suspects arson. Although Surendra’s appalled audience puts out the fire quickly, it is too late; the sexual wisdom path expert has been burned to a crisp. Not only that, but the valuable Craddock brooch she was wearing has vanished. When one of the members of the Society hires Cummings to get to the bottom of this dual tragedy (the loss of the brooch is mourned over more than the woman), Cummings plunges into the city’s occult underbelly. Difficulty arises from the fact that most people in attendance that fateful night were known by their steampunk names, such as Lolita, Queen Victoria (a male), Mandrake, Winky, etc. These fey folks change their personas with the same ease that ordinary people change clothes, but therein lies this wickedly funny book’s charms. Not only do the steampunks cavort with names, they play with unusual careers, too, from beekeeping to writing Christian erotica to building full-scale replicas of medieval torture devices. As the daffy investigation winds on, author Rappoport also gives us a delightful journey into the exotic realm of yarn crawling, via stops at stores named Sheep Ahoy and Purls and Curls (a yarn shop/beauty salon combo). It gets even goofier from there. Murders aside (there are two), Husbands and Lap Dogs Breathe Their Last is a sure cure for the blues. And although much of author Rappoport’s delightful journey into the weird is highly tongue in cheek, there is also wisdom to be found here. In an amazing speech that references the Khmer Rouge, the English Civil War, and the defenestration of Prague in 1618, a steampunk beekeeper states, “The trouble in the world does not result from the pursuit of the irrational but from certainty.” One point: readers who are offended by same-sex marriages might want to pass this one by, because there are several happily married same-sex couples in this unique book, including Cummings’ own marriage to Odin, the non-steampunk love of his life.

Teri Duerr
2016-08-30 17:12:53
A Portrait to Die For
Betty Webb

In Radine Trees Nehring’s fine A Portrait to Die For, protagonist Carrie McCrite is volunteering at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, in preparation for a new exhibit. But as she familiarizes herself with the paintings, she notices a discrepancy in Twins With Daisies. In the painting, the girl is holding eight daisies, but the boy only has seven. But a reproduction of the painting in one of the fine art books on display shows each twin holding eight daisies. Puzzled, she determines to find an answer to the discrepancy. Carrie’s quest leads her into some of the murkier paths of the art world, one filled with the kind of chicanery that could lead to some serious prison time for those involved. In the meantime, Carrie’s family and friends are not pleased that after promising not to involve herself in criminal cases again, she reverts to type and begins nosing around. A Portrait to Die For isn’t for the shoot-’em-up, car-crash, shove-someone-off-a-cliff crowd. It is a sedate, carefully paced mystery more concerned with puzzles than with thrills. That’s because for all her volunteer work and snooping, Carrie is basically a homebody. She doesn’t carry a gun or lock-picking tools, and she doesn’t have an investigative license. But Miss Marple was a homebody, too, and look at the cases she wound up solving.

Teri Duerr
2016-08-30 17:18:24
Dark Road Home
Betty Webb

Anna Carlisle’s Dark Road Home is a reminder that small towns aren’t always safer than big cities. When a female body is discovered in a cooler, it solves the disappearance of Lily Sullivan, a 14-year-old who went missing 20 years earlier. Lily’s disappearance changed her sister Gin’s life in more ways than one. Gin lost both a sister and her boyfriend, Jake Crosby, who was the crime’s chief suspect. In order to help with the reopened investigation, Gin leaves her job as a forensic pathologist at the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office and returns home to Trumbull, Pennsylvania. Her memories of the town, and even those of her own family, aren’t good. Being in Trumbull again cements her belief in the wisdom of having cut her ties to the town years earlier. Loaded with nostalgia, the book starts out strongly, introducing a slew of characters, each of whom may be a suspect in Lily’s disappearance. But for a forensic pathologist who once helped identify bodies after the Srebrenica massacre, Gin appears surprisingly weak. She is prone to attacks of dizziness when upset, and once almost faints during an autopsy. This frailty makes her come across more like a Victorian heroine than a contemporary, street-smart Chicago pathologist. This misstep also lends a dated feel to the writing. Still, Dark Road Home does have its good points, such as author Carlisle’s deft handling of family secrets, and her descriptions of small-town life gone bad.

Teri Duerr
2016-08-30 17:22:28
Midnight Bites
Bill Crider

If you read YA vampire fiction, then you know about Rachel Caine’s Morganville Vampires series. A small Texas town with vampires? What’s not to like? That series appears to have gone on hiatus for a while, but Midnight Bites collects 22 short stories about various characters from the books, sometimes presenting their backstories, sometimes giving a glimpse into events not covered in the novels, and sometimes enlarging on her characters’ relationships. Six of the stories are new, and many of the others have been hard to find up until now. Caine knows her vampires and provides each story with an interesting and entertaining introduction. If you’ve ever wondered about the series, this would be a good place to find out more, and if you’re already a fan, you’ll want this book for sure.

Teri Duerr
2016-08-30 17:34:51
Reining in Murder
Lynne F. Maxwell

Galloping into the winner’s circle is Reining in Murder, first in newcomer Leigh Hearon’s Carson Stables Mystery series. This strikingly polished first mystery is, quite simply, remarkable. Reining in Murder has it all: rounded characters, likable protagonist, thrilling, perfectly paced plot, and impeccable narrative style. Oh, and did I mention the animals, principally horses? As an unabashed animal lover, I’m a natural fan of animal-based mysteries; however, Hearon would have won me over, regardless.

This engrossing novel introduces Annie Carson, horse trainer and owner of a ranch in Washington State. Not only does Annie run her own stable, but she also volunteers on a horse rescue team. Her skills are in demand when a horse trailer overturns in an accident that kills the driver of the truck. Annie races to the scene and manages to safely extricate the terrified thoroughbred from the trailer and get him home to the comfort of her own stables, where her mellow burro, Trotter, calms and befriends new horses. Annie discovers that the thoroughbred was supposed to be delivered to the stables of Hilda Colbert, a wealthy local woman dedicated to competition in horse shows. For various reasons, the horse, Trooper, never does get to his destination, becoming, instead, a beloved member of Annie’s animal family that includes, at various stages, a stableful of horses, her donkey, an adult dog, two puppies, a kitten, and a flock of lambs. (You see what I mean about the animals!) When Annie attempts to deliver the horse, she discovers that Hilda has been brutally slain. Moreover, the police investigation into the original accident reveals the truck driver had been drugged.

Intertwined with the various unsolved puzzles, there is a romantic element to the book, as well. When Marcus Colbert, Hilda’s husband who lives in California, arrives to arrange Hilda’s affairs, Annie is immediately drawn to him; however, the police suspect that he is the murderer. Can Annie’s judgment be off to that degree? After all, the animals seem to trust Marcus, and they generally excel at divining human character. You already know the answer to this question, which places you in a position superior to that of the police, who persist in accusing Marcus, especially after he disappears under exceedingly questionable circumstances.

Ultimately, in fearful symmetry, Annie is called to the scene of another horse emergency: the conflagration of Hilda’s farm and the threat to the 18 horses housed in her stables. In a thrilling denouement, Annie saves all of the horses—and identifies the murderer and his co-conspirator. Despite the complexity of the plot, Leigh Hearon masterfully maintains the suspense to the finish line, which is quite an accomplishment. She succeeds in doing this even as she educates the reader about the intricacies of maintaining and training horses. As you might imagine, I will be champing at the bit to read Saddle Up for Murder, slated for publication this October.

Teri Duerr
2016-08-30 17:39:25
Reading Up a Storm
Lynne F. Maxwell

In Reading Up a Storm, by Canadian author Eva Gates (aka Vicki Delany), readers will revel in the exploits of librarian Lucy Richardson, who has the enviable privilege of living and working in a library housed in a North Carolina Outer Banks lighthouse. While I admit to living vicariously through Lucy, by no means do I envy her penchant for murder investigations! In this perfect summer read, Lucy must piece together mysteries past and present in order to discover who killed a seemingly prosperous, newly returned native. Who could benefit from his death? Would his young, gold-digging mistress destroy her meal ticket? How about his estranged son? Or maybe the killer is Lucy’s new friend, Stephanie, who just discovered that the man was her father? Possibilities abound, and once she solves the mysteries, Lucy sails ahead in her burgeoning relationship with Connor, the handsome mayor of the town. While I thoroughly enjoyed the narrative, I hope that Gates/Delany makes the next installment more library-centric, with wonder cat Charles playing a more prominent role. Once a librarian, always a librarian, I suppose!

Teri Duerr
2016-08-30 17:44:08
Vanilla Beaned
Lynne F. Maxwell

Save some room for Jenn McKinlay’s scrumptious Cupcake Bakery Mystery Vanilla Beaned. I anticipate that readers will devour it as lustily as I did. Old friends Melanie Cooper and Angie De Laura go to Vegas to discuss franchising their cupcake shop. Initially opposed to the idea, Mel is won over by the showgirl/expert baker franchisee. Unfortunately, someone wants to kill the deal and ends up killing an innocent man instead. Mel identifies the perpetrator, and the deal proceeds. Surprisingly, Vanilla Beaned explores the serious nature of love, for better or worse. Happily, what happens in Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas in this instance, and Mel’s love life shows new promise. A superb beach read!

Teri Duerr
2016-08-30 17:53:56
The Big Rewind
Hank Wagner

A botched delivery plays an important part in the central action of Libby Cudmore’s first novel, The Big Rewind, as young Brooklynite Jett Bennett mistakenly receives a package meant for her vivacious neighbor, the social butterfly known as KitKat. Hoping to put it in her friend’s hands, Jett drops by her apartment, only to find KitKat lying dead in her blood-splattered kitchen. As the police begin to focus on the deceased’s boyfriend Bronco as their prime suspect, Jett and BFF Sid play the part of amateur sleuths, embarking on a quixotic quest to clear him. Eventually, Jett realizes the contents of the package, an old fashioned cassette mix tape, might provide clues as to the identity of KitKat’s murderer.

Cudmore’s exceptional debut takes readers on a dark journey through modern-day Brooklyn, as Jett’s search for the truth also leads her to embark on an intriguing voyage of self-discovery. Jett is a winning narrator: funny, cynical, and hard edged, oftentimes too hip for the room, she also displays a poignant vulnerability which will win over readers. Consistently amusing, but nevertheless intense, The Big Rewind makes for riveting entertainment.

Teri Duerr
2016-08-30 17:58:17
The Rowdy Coyote Rumble
Hank Wagner

Ann Charles’ The Rowdy Coyote Rumble, the fourth book in her likable Jackrabbit Junction series, is riveting, primarily because of its expansive, varied, and colorful cast. This time out, the feisty, strong-willed Morgan sisters (Claire, Ronnie, and Kate) and their extended family not only have to deal with their myriad relationship issues (too numerous and complex to go into here), but also with FBI surveillance, the arrival of a mysterious, typewritten note telling a family member that they are now “the proud owner of the Humdigger mine,” and with the threat of a killer called the “Polar Bear,” a criminal famous for his habit of squeezing his victims to death.

As with previous entries in this series of mysteries, which bring to mind the work of authors as diverse as Joe R. Lansdale, Janet Evanovich, and (yes) Louisa May Alcott, this installment brims with sisterly camaraderie, good humor, and mayhem. Readers will race from chapter to chapter, just to see what crazy things happen next.

Teri Duerr
2016-08-30 18:03:01
The Cruelest Cut
Hank Wagner

Former police detective Rick Reed’s The Cruelest Cut features Evansville, Indiana policeman Jack Murphy. On the mend from a vicious attack which opens the novel, Murphy finds himself investigating a series of brutal murders, all linked by the strange messages found at each crime scene. Those messages lead Murphy and his team to a grim conclusion: the killer is speaking directly to the detective, warning Murphy that he will soon became a victim himself. Meanwhile, the frequency of the killings accelerates, becoming more grotesque and ghastly with each succeeding attack.

Reed is adept at holding a reader’s interest, whether he’s writing about depraved killers stalking their prey, or about the back office politics of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department. He also displays a great knack for character detail, allowing each member of his expansive cast to shine whenever they appear, no matter how briefly. Finally, he proves disturbingly adept at describing graphic violence, which makes his action sequences all the more compelling. Unfortunately, it also leaves you wondering whether you really did lock the doors before you went to bed.

Teri Duerr
2016-08-30 18:07:04
The Other Side of Silence
Dick Lochte

Here’s a Bernie we can all get behind. As sharp, sophisticated and dryly humorous as ever, Philip Kerr’s series protagonist, Bernie Gunther, takes us back to 1965 when, at 65, he’s living on the French Riviera, using the pseudonym Walter Wolf while serving as concierge at Cap Ferrat’s luxe Grand Hotel. There he meets an assortment of fascinating characters, not the least of whom is the novelist—and secret spymaster (historical fact) W. Somerset Maugham. The popular writer emerges as a major player in the plot, a mesmerizing gent who shifts personalities from self-absorbed literary lion to uncertain prisoner in his own villa to secret agent to blackmailee to blackmailer. The novel concerns itself with postwar spies and a secret film of several very influential world leaders having a gay romp at Somerset’s estate. There’s also a vile former Nazi SS captain named Henning, who, two decades before, engineered the death of thousands trying to escape the city of Konigsberg before the Russian invasion. Included among them was a woman Bernie loved. Henning’s presence at the Grand Hotel results in a crucial part of Bernie’s jigsaw past falling into place and leads to what might be called the ultimate challenge to our likable hero’s stern moral code. As he has previously demonstrated, reader John Lee’s British accent seems perfectly in tune with Bernie’s mordant narration. He’s totally effective rendering the book’s sexy femme fatale, adding an aural Prussian sneer to Henning’s dialogue, and making Robin Maugham, Somerset’s nephew, seem particularly unlikable and unctuous. He also provides a reasonable voice for Somerset, whose croaky British delivery those as old as I may remember from his announcement at the start of his early TV anthology episodes, “Hello, my name is Somerset Maugham and I have a story to tell you.”

Teri Duerr
2016-08-30 18:12:38
Dick Lochte

Just as it seemed stories about post-Sopranos crime families and hit men were played out, Tod Goldberg has come up with a refreshing new take. Like a combination of Mario Puzo and Donald Westlake (with both of his literary personae operating in tandem), his off-kilter style flirts with comedy while being as deadly as a bullet to the heart. His antihero, Sal Cupertine, an infamously reliable hit man, has experienced his first failure, leaving three dead FBI agents in his wake. He’s given an option by the Chicago mafia: immediate death or a new face and relocation to Las Vegas where, as Rabbi David Cohen, he will dispense Talmudic wisdom to a wealthy congregation. He settles in, surprising himself by enjoying his new crime-free life. But there are a couple of flies in the purified ointment. Jeff Hopper, sidelined by the FBI after the agents under his wing were killed by Sal, has gone rogue and is relentlessly searching for him. And the mob wants to desecrate the temple’s new cemetery by using it as a body dump. In less-thoughtful hands, the book’s smart concept could have gone broad, comedy-wise. Though he is not adverse to desert-dry wit or satiric situations, Goldberg is more interested in his characters, and what’s going on in their heads that leads them to behave the way they do, no matter how offbeat. When it comes to this audio, he might want to visit a Vegas casino himself, considering his luck in landing a top reader. Johnny Heller is not merely a talented audio narrator, his voice has a unique, classic radio drama quality that he can alter with just a subtle shift. There’s a scene in a restaurant where Sal, now known as David, is breakfasting with a legitimate rabbi and a mobster named Benny. Heller uses pretty much the same voice for each, but there’s no doubt who’s speaking. David sounds uncomfortable, the rabbi is a bit ponderous, and Benny, without the use of obvious mafia vernacular, comes off as dangerous as a python. Vocal magic.

Teri Duerr
2016-08-30 18:19:12
The Travelers
Dick Lochte

Pavone’s third globe-hopping thriller follows Travelers magazine journalist Will Rhodes from New York to Capri, Bordeaux, Paris, London, Stockholm and other exotic ports of call. In Argentina, he’s seduced by Elle, a proclaimed Austrian who later admits to being an American CIA agent. Threatening to show photos from their liaison to his wife, Chloe, Elle conscripts Will into doing odd jobs for the agency. When one of those involves snooping at the Travelers office, Will begins to suspect that just about everyone involved, Elle, his boss Malcolm Sommer, other magazine employees, and even Chloe, is leading a secret life. I’m a sucker for books with background locations or business settings I know well. I loved Pavone’s last thriller, The Accident, which took part in the literary world of authors and agents, with a mysterious manuscript causing all the suspense and mayhem. This novel reminded me of the years I spent toiling in the magazine arena, part of which did involve travel of a sort. But even without that, as was the case in The Accident, there are enough strong characterizations, twists of plot, shocks and surprises to make The Travelers an audiobook that’s easy to recommend. It helps, of course, that reader Paul Michael handles the book’s foreign dialects effortlessly, ditto the female voices that range from Elle’s sexy maneuvering to Chloe’s almost too forgiving acceptance. His most important contribution, however, is to add more than a hint of bemusement to the present-tense narration, eschewing any glum, downbeat feeling one might otherwise experience as the hapless Will, after giving in to his temptation, winds up paying for it in oh so many ways.

Teri Duerr
2016-08-30 18:24:40
Television’s Female Spies and Crimefighters: 600 Characters and Shows, 1950s to the Present
Jon L. Breen

A concise introduction on the history of female spies and detectives on TV precedes alphabetical entries on the series and characters covered. Major characters are accorded separate entries; secondary figures are cross referenced to the shows in which they appear. Coverage is limited to shows that have appeared on American television, whether network, cable, or syndicated. Thus, quite a few British plus some Canadian and Australian series are included. To be considered, a character must actually perform some investigative or espionage function; apparently this accounts for the absence of Della Street of the Perry Mason series, a decision many may disagree with. An appendix annotates some of the “most rewatchable” series available on DVD, among them seasons of Honey West, Cagney & Lacey, McMillan and Wife, Remington Steele, Rizzoli & Iles, and Rosemary & Thyme.

The clear and respectful coverage of the 1950s underlines the author’s meticulousness and sense of history. The first season of The Adventures of Superman (1952-53), in which Phyllis Coates appeared as probing reporter Lois Lane, is credited with a “noir sensibility...directed at an adult audience.” Pamela North, as played by Barbara Britton in Mr. and Mrs. North beginning in 1952, is deemed a better detective than her husband or their police contact. Even more significant, the short-lived Decoy: Police Woman (1957-58) starred Beverly Garland as TV’s pioneer female cop.

Teri Duerr
2016-08-30 21:22:53
A Dark and Stormy Oeuvre: Crime, Magic and Power in the Novels of Edward Bulwer-Lytton
Jon L. Breen

“It was a dark and stormy night” never struck me as such a terrible sentence. Nothing divinely inspired, certainly, but informative as to the weather, and certainly not deserving to be immortalized as a specimen of lousy writing. The author of this volume certainly feels that way, finding his subject underappreciated, misunderstood, and unfairly tarred by having a contest for bad fiction named for him. Edward Bulwer-Lytton (1803-1873) wrote many novels dealing with crime, notably his first, Pelham (1828), and the two “Newgate novels,” Paul Clifford (1830), whence came that notorious weather report, concerning “a possible prototype of E.W. Hornung’s gentleman thief Raffles”; and Eugene Aram (1832), which “anticipated Alfred Hitchcock’s film adaptation of Robert Bloch’s Psycho in 1960.” He was also a student of the occult, in which area he may have influenced prolific 20th-century thriller writer Dennis Wheatley. The difference between them: in A Strange Story (1862), Bulwer-Lytton’s “real point was to discuss the nature of the soul and its relation to mortality. Wheatley never professed to be writing more than a good story, but the occult element that made Wheatley so popular was exactly what caused Bulwer- Lytton’s critics to censure him.”

The many references to those who may have influenced or been influenced by Bulwer-Lytton shows author Huckvale’s wide knowledge of English literature as well as contemporary popular culture. Among the names mentioned: Poe, Dickens, Shaw, Haggard, Rohmer, Doyle, and Wilde. This is a very readable and enjoyable exploration of a unique literary figure’s life and work.

Teri Duerr
2016-08-30 21:27:07
After Sherlock Holmes: The Evolution of British and American Detective Stories, 1891-1914
Jon L. Breen

Any new work from one of the most readable, prolific, and perceptive academic scholars of mystery fiction is most welcome. LeRoy Lad Panek comes to his topic more as historian than literary critic, and his writing holds as much for the serious fan as for his fellow professors. Arthur Conan Doyle’s success with Sherlock Holmes inspired a productive transitional period in which the magazine short story was the dominant medium for fictional detection in both Britain and America. This survey covers the major writers (Anna Katharine Green, R. Austin Freeman, G.K. Chesterton, Melville Davisson Post), lesser figures well-known to specialists (Dick Donovan, L.T. Meade, Rodrigues Ottolengui, Headon Hill), and some I venture will be completely unfamiliar to almost everybody (David Christie Murray, R.T. Casson, Herbert Keen). Who, for example, knew that Harrison Jewell Holt in a December 1912 story introduced a blind detective, Stephen Garth, antedating Ernest Bramah’s Max Carrados, who would not appear until late in 1913? Panek’s tantalizing descriptions of the various series show the surprising variety of detective fiction in this seminal period.

The opening chapter outlines the development of the detective story, already a thriving genre in the mid-19th-century, through the appearance of Holmes. The chapter “What is a Detective Story?” quotes many attempts to define the genre, showing that the puzzle comparison came as early as an 1868 piece on Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone and that the idea of fair play to the reader in the provision of clues was posited and defended early in the 20th century well before it was commonly practiced by the Golden Age masters. Chapters on criminal heroes and criminal masterminds cover some familiar writers (Edgar Wallace, E.W. Hornung, E. Phillips Oppenheim, Sax Rohmer), but many more forgotten bylines. An appendix gives some brief biographical information on the authors covered. The index is hit-and-miss; of several Ellery Queen references, only one is indexed.

Teri Duerr
2016-08-30 21:34:10
Charcoal Joe
Kevin Burton Smith

Ezekiel may be his given name, but most folks assume Mosley’s African-American private eye Easy Rawlins earned his nickname because of his willingness to have sex anywhere, anytime. Certainly he’s had his share of dalliances over the years, and the 14th and latest novel in this acclaimed series features several women who do the nasty—or want to—with Easy.

But that may be about the only thing in his life that is easy. He is pushing 50, trying to quit smoking, and raising his young adopted daughter, Feather, on his own. His fiancée, Bonnie Shay, has just announced she is marrying another man, and his friend Mouse, “one of the most dangerous men alive,” is looking to hire Easy on behalf of Rufus Tyler, aka “Charcoal Joe,” who is pretty deadly himself.

A man who can “make things happen where no one else could see the possibilities,” and who is not overly concerned with the legality of any of them, Joe has fingers in a lot of pies. But what he wants Easy to do seems straightforward enough—help clear Seymour Braithwaite, a young black scientist, who’s been arrested for a beach-house murder he almost surely had nothing to do with. But of course there’s more to it than that, and Easy isn’t naive.

What follows is a dog’s breakfast of twisted and misplaced love, racial distrust, greed, betrayal, and paranoia, fueled by money and blood, all played out against the sun-bleached backdrop of late-’60s Los Angeles. Easy makes for a fascinating tour guide, taking readers far from the usual tourist haunts, and encountering racism everywhere he goes, be it swank mansions, corporate headquarters, or coffee shops. Fortunately, he is mellowing as he gets older. And while “in the United States you had to fight for your freedom every damn day,” he tries not to resort to violence, “no matter how good that…might have felt.”

But in Easy’s world, violence, be it racial or otherwise, is never far away. And even Fearless Jones, the affable hero from another of Mosley’s series, and Easy’s two partners from the newly formed WRENS-L detective agency, Saul Lynx and “Whisper” Natly, may not be enough to protect him.

Because ultimately it is Easy, the battered but defiant good man in the wrong place, who has to face down the lies and deceit, uncover some sort of truth, and see that justice, or at least a reasonable facsimile of it, is done.

Teri Duerr
2016-08-30 22:04:15
The Second Life of Nick Mason
Cheryl Solimini

The Second Life of Nick Mason is a long way from Paradise, the remote Upper Peninsula town where Edgar-winning author Steve Hamilton set ten of his previous novels featuring Detroit ex-cop Alex McKnight. In this first of a new series, Hamilton’s Nick Mason is a newly released convict, out after serving only five years of the 25-to-life sentence he received as an accessory to the killing of a federal agent. In McKnight’s stead, Hamilton gives us Frank Sandoval, the police detective who helped convict Mason and who can’t wait for a second chance to put him behind bars.

But this is Nick’s story and his second chance.

A street kid turned thief turned family man, Nick thought his past was behind him—until he let an old pal pull him into a bad deal gone worse. In prison, he followed a personal set of rules that kept him under the radar—until Darius Cole, a double-lifer who runs the city’s underworld from within his glass cell, made Nick an offer of an early release he tried to, but couldn’t, refuse.

Now “free” and holed up in a $5 million townhouse with a view of Lake Michigan, Nick is back in Chicago, the scene of his crimes, with no idea what will come next. He waits for his cell phone to ring, knowing that whatever he is asked to do will drag him farther downstream from the one thing he is willing to fight for, a relationship with his young daughter.

Hamilton skillfully stirs up sympathy for his antihero, even as he ratchets up the moral stakes. Was Nick’s fate shaped by the rough neighborhood he grew up in? Sure, he robbed drug dealers and shady businesses, but so did the local cops. Did he really have no choice but to put the next chapter of his life into Cole’s hands? That may be hard to justify once Nick begins carrying out Cole’s orders, with Detective Sandoval dogging his every step. Is Nick “a good man in a bad situation,” as one character describes him, or a bad man making his own bad situations? With the promise of more Nick Mason to come, we’ll get at least a second chance to find out—and it will be worth the wait.

Teri Duerr
2016-08-30 22:10:04
Underground Airlines
Betty Webb

Readers of Ben Winters’ Edgar-winning Last Policeman series know he is not afraid to tackle the Big Subject. Now, with the scathing but brilliant Underground Airlines, he has upped the ante. In the former trilogy he wiped out the entire human race. In this one, he may make readers wonder if an apocalypse might not actually be merciful.

Fair warning: this alternate history does not make for beach reading. Underground Airlines is set in an alternate America where president-elect Abraham Lincoln is assassinated before reaching the White House, and the Civil War is never fought. Rather, the North and South broker an agreement to preserve the Union and confine legal slavery to the “Hard Four” Southern states—while the North otherwise turns a blind eye to slavery’s horrors. The decades march by and the Hard Four plantations evolve into mega-corporations that deal in everything from bath towels to electronics—all produced by a slave economy.

In this not-so-brave new world, the word slave is no longer politically correct. In polite conversation, African Americans born in the Hard Four are referred to as “persons bound to labor,” or peeb for short. God help any peeb who dares to escape: he will be returned, then tortured, then sold into worse conditions than those he already endured. In order to “save the Union,” but in reality to keep prices low, federal policy is to return any escaped slave who is captured in the so-called “free states.” Many of the government agents tasked with policing escapees are themselves escaped slaves, maintaining their hard-won freedom only by hunting other escapees.

One such agent is Victor, an agent with 209 captures to his credit. Kept in check by an electronic tracker placed in his body, Victor has numbed himself to his morally repugnant job. He knows that if he refuses to work, he will himself be returned to the hellish Hard Four. But when he is ordered to hunt down a runaway named Jackdaw, Victor finds himself in the middle of the abolitionist movement and multiplying questions of conscience. Victor is fierce, brave, sly, and conflicted. By turns hero and villain, he is a man who will drag another man back into chains in order to save himself, yet he also repeatedly risks his freedom to help the book’s other key character, Martha. The tenderly drawn Martha Flowers is a white single mother with a mixed son sired by an escaped (and ultimately captured) slave. She is on a quest to find the man she loves, and after a chance meeting with Victor, her fate becomes entwined with his.

Alternate history novels are nothing new, but Winters does an exceptional job in Underground Airlines (a play on the Underground Railroad) of weaving brief portraits of real people and real institutions into his imagined world: the bondage of his brothers adds to Michael Jackson’s depression, Jesse Owens and James Brown are former slaves escaped to the freedom-loving arms of Canada. And many of the issues raised in Winters’ fiction are very real: maintaining low gas and energy prices at the cost of exploiting others, a belief that if an injustice does not happen to you or someone you love, it doesn’t count. Once again, Winters has given readers a moral think piece in the package of a suspense novel. To be sure, there is plenty of plot and action here, escape after escape, betrayal after betrayal, but ultimately, Underground Airlines asks hard questions about the human soul, questions that perhaps we should all be asking ourselves on a daily basis.

Teri Duerr
2016-08-30 22:19:35
End of Watch
Kevin Burton Smith

For years, Stephen King has threatened us with a straight crime novel, but nothing could have prepared us for Mr. Mercedes (2014), his first real foray into the genre. No telekinetic teens battling their hormones, no haunted sedans or family pets who won’t stay dead—just a relentlessly chilling read. It was the first salvo in a trilogy that introduced retired homicide detective Bill Hodges, lonely and almost suicidal, and still troubled by an unsolved case, that of a man who deliberately drove a stolen Mercedes into a crowd of innocent bystanders, killing eight of them and wounding countless others. Unbeknownst to Bill, though, he’d become the obsession of the still-at-large killer, Brady Hartsfield, a young whack job with a thing about suicide. The cat-and-mouse battle between the two nabbed a well-deserved Edgar for best novel, and was quickly followed by Finders Keepers (2015), which found a newly revitalized Hodges, now working as a skip tracer. It was another nail-biter, brilliantly staged, with just a whiff of the supernatural beginning to creep in from the edges.

But by that point, who cared? King nails the essence of his often broken and damaged characters with such unerring ferocity and razor-sharp compassion that it is hard to disbelieve anything that subsequently happens to them. Which brings us to End of Watch, the highly anticipated conclusion of the trilogy. Any attempts at playing it “straight” are long gone. The woowoo is here.

But fear not: Hodges is here, too—getting on in years, but glad to be alive, running his small skip-tracing agency with his partner Holly Gibney. His own obsessions with Brady have passed—he no longer feels compelled to regularly visit the local mental ward where Brady’s been in a coma for years. But Brady isn’t quite as brain-dead as everyone thinks, and he’s definitely not finished with Bill. He’s got plans. Big plans. Almost unbelievable plans that merge thought control, the internet, our own worst angels, and obsolete game consoles.

This is Stephen King, after all, inveterate pop-culture watcher, chronicler of all our worst fears and obsessions, and unrepentant master storyteller. The crime fiction clothes may be new, Steve, but you wear them well. Please don’t let them hang in the closest too long.

Teri Duerr
2016-08-30 22:23:47
Oline H. Cogdill

Maine game warden Mike Bowditch’s fractured relationship with his late father has always been a major plot point in Paul Doiron’s series. Jack Bowditch was, when he was on his best behavior, a rage-filled poacher given to fights and humiliating law enforcement. He wasn’t much of a father, paying attention to Mike when it best suited him. But, oh boy, was Jack Bowditch charming, especially to women, and he had numerous affairs.

Yet Mike at first doesn’t want to believe Amber Langstrom, a stranger who shows up late one night at his Sebago Lake home claiming he has a half-brother, Adam, who is missing. Adam was serving 18 months in a minimum-security prison for the statutory rape of his young girlfriend. Adam was on a work release, but he hasn’t shown up for work or to report to his parole officer. Mike sees a bit of resemblance in Adam’s photo: his “anger was as familiar as the color of his eyes. I had seen it too many times in my father’s face and, sometimes, in my own bathroom mirror.”

Initially, Mike refuses to help. But he reconsiders when an on-the-job injury brings an enforced leave of absence. The investigation takes him to a down-at-the-heels ski resort called Widowmaker in Maine’s Rangeley Lakes region, and to a logging camp staffed with paroled sex offenders.

Widowmaker’s brisk plot showcases the beauty of Maine from its economically depressed areas to its prosperous tourist regions to its remote vistas where a person can easily disappear. A subplot involving Mike’s attempts to save a wolf-dog further illustrates Doiron’s appreciation of the great outdoors. But it is the vagaries of family that drive Widowmaker. The legacy of Mike’s father continues, influencing how the 28-year-old warden conducts his life, as well as how others view him. In his seventh entry in an always gripping series, Doiron continues to excavate more sides of his young game warden.

Teri Duerr
2016-08-31 16:11:14
Roots of Murder
Jean Gazis

Newly widowed by a drunk driver, Nell McGraw tries to hold herself together while running the Pelican Bay Crier, the small-town weekly newspaper that her late husband’s grandfather founded in Pelican Bay, Mississippi, and mothering her two bereaved children, Lizzie and Josh. Then a friend on a morning hike stumbles upon old human bones buried on state park land that was donated decades ago by the current mayor’s family. The evidence points to murder, possibly dating back to the civil rights era.

No shrinking violet, Nell is determined to get to the bottom of the story and see justice done, however belatedly. But the investigation threatens to expose long-forgotten evils that the town’s elite would rather stay buried. Nell, a Yankee transplant, can’t be sure whether it is safe to trust anyone in authority as she navigates the local politics of her adopted home in Dixie. The jailed drunk driver’s redneck family is pressuring her to drop all charges, and the powers that be are pressuring her to drop the murder investigation—at least until after the upcoming mayoral election. But Nell and her small team of junior reporters are determined not to back down, even in the face of clear and mounting danger.

Roots of Murder offers colorful—yet wholly believable—characters in an atmospheric setting, as well as a richly nuanced treatment of racial relations that doesn’t settle for easy answers. Nell’s imperious mother-in-law, the good ol’ boy sheriff, the buffoonish police chief, the diverse mayoral candidates, the young journalists, and even the children are memorable. Nell’s grief and anger are palpable, and so is the suspense as the threats escalate and serious violence is finally unleashed. Roots of Murder combines a gripping mystery with well-honed literary fiction.

Teri Duerr
2016-08-31 16:16:14