Haunted Heart: the Life and Times of Stephen King
Jon L. Breen

This Edgar-nominee is highly readable, efficiently organized, and most welcome as the first book-length King biography. Besides being a formidable writer paradoxically underrated as a result of his success and productivity (plus his identification with the horror genre), King emerges as an admirable human being: philanthropist, family man, and generous supporter and advocate of fellow writers. That said, wife Tabitha King, herself an accomplished novelist, comes across as a saint, possessing extraordinary patience and wisdom to deal with his quirks and excesses.

Among the interesting details are the jaw-dropping extent of his alcoholism and cocaine addiction, both finally defeated, and his incredibly draconian contract with Doubleday, which he was able to break only by letting them publish a book he hated, Pet Sematary. Though little critical commentary is provided, King’s various bestsellers are described and placed in the context of the events of his life. The subject, who was not interviewed for the book, neither authorized nor obstructed it. The author interviewed many friends and associates and quotes frequently from King’s published writings and interviews. Occasional repetition and internal contradiction prove minor annoyances. Careless editing allowed a whole sentence (“Steve and Tabby had fallen into a comfortable rhythm of spending half the year in Maine and the other half in Florida”) to turn up on both pages 219 and 226. Eight pages of photographs are interesting but limited, lacking a single shot of his wife or children.

The Mystery Writers of America’s Grand Master Award to Stephen King was controversial in some quarters. Anyone who doubts he’s a mystery writer might consider that Ed McBain and John D. MacDonald were among his earliest influences and (per Otto Penzler) his taste in detective fiction extends to P.D. James.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-28 00:16:08

This Edgar-nominee is highly readable, efficiently organized, and most welcome.

Blood on the Stage, 1925-1950: Milestone Plays of Crime, Mystery, and Detection: an Annotated Repertoire
Jon L. Breen

The previous volume of this landmark reference, covering 1900 to 1925 and reviewed here in issue #106, was less than half the length. This one covers 150 more plays, each with at least one English-language production, with plot summaries, production histories, author biographies, and other notes of interest. Playwrights again include both mystery specialists (e.g., Agatha Christie, Rufus King, Edgar Wallace, Dorothy L. Sayers) and writers not normally associated with crime fiction (e.g., Maxwell Anderson, Eugene O’Neill, Elmer Rice, Lillian Hellman). Special subjects treated in the appendices, often extending outside the stated chronological parameters, include on-stage poison, courtroom and jury room drama, death-house depictions, imperiled children, and Lizzie Borden.

No reference so rich in names, dates, and facts could be free of error, and I noted occasional typos and minor misstatements. In a note on the play Keeper of the Keys, Kabatchnik overstates the contribution of Philip MacDonald to the Charlie Chan films: the British novelist wrote the screenplay for Charlie Chan in London and the original story for Charlie Chan in Paris but was not involved in the Honolulu sleuth’s later globetrotting.

Occasional quibbles apart, Kabatchnik is making an extraordinary contribution to mystery scholarship. The first volume didn’t get the Edgar nomination I predicted for it; maybe this one will.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-28 00:29:28

kabatchnik_bloodonthestageThe second volume of a landmark reference series, this one covering 150 of the most murderous plays from 1900-1925.

John Dickson Carr in Paperback: an English Language Bibliography
Jon L. Breen

Despite the British origin of this chapbook, most of the paperbacks noted are American, publishers ranging from Ace to Zebra. Carr’s books are arranged alphabetically by US title, with cross-references from British variants, listing paperback editions chronologically, giving publisher, identifying number, year of publication, cover artist where known, and information as alternate titles, authors of introductory material, and cover size variations. Notes call attention to typographical errors, presence or absence of dedications, and other textual differences. Eight pages reproduce covers in color, four to a page. Carr’s books are also listed chronologically, from 1930 (It Walks by Night) to 2008 (To the Gallows, a collection of plays, some written with Val Gielgud). Appendices list Carr’s publications in pamphlet form, appearances of his novels in magazines and newspapers, and paperback editions that Keirans believes exist but has not been able to track down. This is a fine addition to the Carr reference shelf.

(Order from Geoff Bradley, 9 Vicarage Hill, South Benfleet, Essex, SS7 1PA, UK.)

Teri Duerr
2010-04-28 00:35:09

Despite the British origin of this chapbook, most of the paperbacks noted are American, publishers ranging from Ace to Zebra. Carr’s books are arranged alphabetically by US title, with cross-references from British variants, listing paperback editions chronologically, giving publisher, identifying number, year of publication, cover artist where known, and information as alternate titles, authors of introductory material, and cover size variations. Notes call attention to typographical errors, presence or absence of dedications, and other textual differences. Eight pages reproduce covers in color, four to a page. Carr’s books are also listed chronologically, from 1930 (It Walks by Night) to 2008 (To the Gallows, a collection of plays, some written with Val Gielgud). Appendices list Carr’s publications in pamphlet form, appearances of his novels in magazines and newspapers, and paperback editions that Keirans believes exist but has not been able to track down. This is a fine addition to the Carr reference shelf.

(Order from Geoff Bradley, 9 Vicarage Hill, South Benfleet, Essex, SS7 1PA, UK.)

Sherlock Holmes Handbook, 2nd Edition
Jon L. Breen

It’s hard to imagine a better-written or more thorough single-volume Sherlockian reference than this one, including summaries of all the books and stories in the canon, profiles of the major continuing characters, notes on publishing histories, the biography of Arthur Conan Doyle, the Victorian milieu, Doyle’s notable contemporaries, British law and police work, Holmes in pastiche and parody; stage, film, radio, and TV adaptations; the history of Sherlockian fandom, including notable public and private library collections; tourist attractions, and academic scholarship. In his introduction, Redmond notes that the biggest difference from the 1993 first edition is the proliferation of Internet resources.

A section on the general history of detective fiction may raise reader hackles, both for its dismissive opinions (Christie’s novels “enjoyable but forgettable”? the Perry Mason novels “interchangeable”?) and factual misstatements (the character Ellery Queen does not appear in The Glass Village, and the hardboiled school was well underway before the 1940s).

Teri Duerr
2010-04-28 00:42:10

redmond_sherlockholmeshandbookLong one of the best and most thorough single-volume Sherlockian references available, Christopher Redmond's handbook gets an update for the Internet age.

The Secret of the Bradford House
Roberta Rogow

In Albert A. Bell, Jr.’s The Secret of the Bradford House Steve and Kendra, two preteens spending the summer in Kentucky’s Land Between the Lakes, go ghost hunting. A large family has moved into the area, right next to the spooky old Bradford house that is being turned into a bed-and-breakfast by the relatives of the old woman who was the last direct heir of the Bradford family. Rachel, the newcomer, insists she’s seen lights in the supposedly empty building. Kendra is just as sure there’s a rational explanation for the lights, noises and other spectral phenomena. Steve is caught between the feuding females, as the three of them explore local lore at the library and do some hands-on sleuthing at the house. Baseball cards, the First World War, and a very current problem afflicting returning soldiers, all play a part in solving the mystery and recovering a most unusual treasure. Notes at the end of the book explain some of the elements of the story that may be unfamiliar to younger readers, such as vaudeville, the 1918 influenza epidemic, and the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. Once again, Bell provides a good mix of history, mystery, and very real relationships between young people.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-28 00:52:03

In Albert A. Bell, Jr.’s The Secret of the Bradford House Steve and Kendra, two preteens spending the summer in Kentucky’s Land Between the Lakes, go ghost hunting. A large family has moved into the area, right next to the spooky old Bradford house that is being turned into a bed-and-breakfast by the relatives of the old woman who was the last direct heir of the Bradford family. Rachel, the newcomer, insists she’s seen lights in the supposedly empty building. Kendra is just as sure there’s a rational explanation for the lights, noises and other spectral phenomena. Steve is caught between the feuding females, as the three of them explore local lore at the library and do some hands-on sleuthing at the house. Baseball cards, the First World War, and a very current problem afflicting returning soldiers, all play a part in solving the mystery and recovering a most unusual treasure. Notes at the end of the book explain some of the elements of the story that may be unfamiliar to younger readers, such as vaudeville, the 1918 influenza epidemic, and the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder. Once again, Bell provides a good mix of history, mystery, and very real relationships between young people.

The Sherlock Files: the Case That Time Forgot
Roberta Rogow

History is evoked in the latest installment of The Sherlock Files: The Case that Time Forgot by Tracy Barrett. Xander and Xena, descendants of Sherlock Holmes, are Americans in Britain, ready to solve two more mysteries. A thief is operating in their school, filching small items from student lockers, and the upstart Americans are challenged to find the culprit. At the same time, their friend Karim relates a fantastic tale of a magical Egyptian amulet with the power to stop time that’s gone missing. The two cases become one when a vital clue is stolen from Xander’s school locker. The trail leads across London, from Cleopatra’s Needle to Big Ben’s tower, to an obscure museum, where the treasure hunt reaches a surprising conclusion. There’s plenty of local color to add to the adventure, as the two Americans deal with British customs with aplomb and a dash of danger.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-28 00:57:56

History is evoked in the latest installment of The Sherlock Files: The Case that Time Forgot by Tracy Barrett. Xander and Xena, descendants of Sherlock Holmes, are Americans in Britain, ready to solve two more mysteries. A thief is operating in their school, filching small items from student lockers, and the upstart Americans are challenged to find the culprit. At the same time, their friend Karim relates a fantastic tale of a magical Egyptian amulet with the power to stop time that’s gone missing. The two cases become one when a vital clue is stolen from Xander’s school locker. The trail leads across London, from Cleopatra’s Needle to Big Ben’s tower, to an obscure museum, where the treasure hunt reaches a surprising conclusion. There’s plenty of local color to add to the adventure, as the two Americans deal with British customs with aplomb and a dash of danger.

Griff Carver, Hallway Patrol
Roberta Rogow

Jim Krieg’s Griff Carver, Hallway Patrol skewers the tough cop subgenre by bringing it to the suburbs. Rampart Middle School may have the reputation of being the safest school in town, but Griff Carver knows better. He’s been on the job since kindergarten, and he sees beneath the shiny surface to the slimy stuff below, a world where gangs rule and everything is for sale, including test answers, term papers, and fake bathroom passes. Characters include: Griff, the hall-wise cop, who enforces the law on his own terms; the head of the Hallway Patrol, caught between the principal’s office and his own sense of justice; the naive, by-the-book partner, who learns the truth the hard way; the savvy reporter, out to get a story any way she can; and the forensics geeks of the Omicron Science Club, who provide the vital evidence that nails the perps. Alas, even as in the adult world, criminals do not always pay for their misdeeds, but fear not! With Griff Carver on patrol, it’s only a matter of time before justice will be served. Young readers may not get the parody aspects of this revelation of urban evil, but adults will relish the echoes of Wambaugh and McBain as the sixth-grade Serpico fights corruption and nails his man.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-28 01:03:10

krieg_griffcarver A winning grade school Serpico serving up justice in the halls of middle school.

Missing Grace
Roberta Rogow

Missing Grace by Elizabeth McDavid Jones involves would-be reporter Kit in a case of dog-napping and possible pedigree fraud when her basset hound, Grace, is stolen right off the back porch. Kit enlists the help of her friends, Stirling and Ruthie, to track down the fiends. Using her reporter’s skills, Kit goes from the local hobo jungle to the mansions of the wealthy, as she uncovers the evidence that will nab a crafty swindler and retrieves her beloved pet. “A Peek into the Past” explains how dog shows provided entertainment during the lean years of the Great Depression.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-28 01:12:05

Missing Grace by Elizabeth McDavid Jones involves would-be reporter Kit in a case of dog-napping and possible pedigree fraud when her basset hound, Grace, is stolen right off the back porch. Kit enlists the help of her friends, Stirling and Ruthie, to track down the fiends. Using her reporter’s skills, Kit goes from the local hobo jungle to the mansions of the wealthy, as she uncovers the evidence that will nab a crafty swindler and retrieves her beloved pet. “A Peek into the Past” explains how dog shows provided entertainment during the lean years of the Great Depression.

Secrets at Camp Nokomis
Roberta Rogow

In an earlier era, immigrant girl Rebecca Rubin finds mysteries in Secrets at Camp Nokomis by Jacqueline Dembar Greene, when she escapes the polio epidemic raging in the tenements of New York City for a week at summer camp. At first all goes well, but there are strange things happening that spoil the fun. Why does Tina disappear from time to time, and what does she keep in her trunk? Why are the bunk-mates turning against Rebecca, and favoring red-headed Corky? And is there really a Windigo in the woods? Rebecca learns a lot more than woodcraft at summer camp, as all is revealed in a surprising conclusion. “A Peek into the Past” explains how city kids could get away from the city’s heat, smells, and sickness thanks to charitable organizations. The “Peek” also explains the impact of polio, before the general use of the vaccines that make this disease a thing of the past in the United States.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-28 01:17:11

It's 1916 and American Girl Rebecca escapes the polio epidemic in New York City for summer camp.

The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter
Roberta Rogow

In The Puzzle of the Paper Daughter by Kathryn Reiss, Julie Albright, the American Girl living in San Francisco in 1977, is drawn into a mystery that dates back some 50 years when she finds a scrap of paper with Chinese characters on it jammed into the lining of an old jacket. When she brings the paper to her Chinese friend’s family restaurant, Julie learns of the early days of Chinese immigration, and the “paper daughters” who had to memorize details of the lives of putative parents before they were allowed past Angel Island and into the United States. The mystery deepens when two dolls are stolen from the apartment over the restaurant. The trail leads from the old immigration center at Angel Island to Oakland, where old friends meet and a lost treasure is found. “A Peek into the Past” reveals the unhappy truths about Asian immigration in the early 20th century, and the fate of the Angel Island facility.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-28 01:21:16

reiss_puzzleofpaperdaughterAmerican Girl Julie Albright investigates a mystery centered on the early days of Chinese immigration, and the “paper daughters” who came through Angel Island on their way to the United States.

The Singer’s Gun
Betty Webb

Emily St. John Mandel’s The Singer’s Gun one of the most unique suspense novels to come along. Given its ease in combining post-9/11 anxiety with bucolic acceptance, and criminal cynicism with religious mysticism, it is also one of the most admirable.

This gorgeously-written book opens in New York City, where Alexandra Broden, a US government agent, is searching for Anton Walker, a young New York executive who has disappeared. In one of the novel’s many time/country/point-of-view jumps, we are swept to Ischia, a small island off the coast of Italy, where the before-disappearance Anton and Sophie, his fiancée, are about to marry. But Sophie has cold feet; she’s prone to that. As soon as we realize that this relationship is doomed, we travel farther backwards, returning to Manhattan, where increased security concerns at Anton’s office have revealed troubling blips in his resume. Although not exactly fired, Anton is slowly “nudged” away from his job, and in the process, loses his comfy office and Elena, his trusted secretary. As the book time-jumps and jitters along, we learn that although Anton has tried to distance himself from his family’s overtly criminal activities, he isn’t perfectly honest, either. One of his lapses from the straight and narrow returns to haunt him when his cousin Aria blackmails him into carrying out one last score.

The themes in The Singer’s Gun are complex but never baffling. Here we find a family so steeped in criminality that they turn a blind eye to the safety of their only son, who in turn is a man so indoctrinated in dishonesty that he commits a minor crime—one with fatal consequences—out of sheer laziness. But we also find a forgiving world where redemption is always possible and holiness can be found in a house pet or a woman’s sunhat. Big in concept, flawless in tone, The Singer’s Gun is a tender and astounding tour de force.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-28 01:25:03

Emily St. John Mandel’s The Singer’s Gun one of the most unique suspense novels to come along. Given its ease in combining post-9/11 anxiety with bucolic acceptance, and criminal cynicism with religious mysticism, it is also one of the most admirable.

This gorgeously-written book opens in New York City, where Alexandra Broden, a US government agent, is searching for Anton Walker, a young New York executive who has disappeared. In one of the novel’s many time/country/point-of-view jumps, we are swept to Ischia, a small island off the coast of Italy, where the before-disappearance Anton and Sophie, his fiancée, are about to marry. But Sophie has cold feet; she’s prone to that. As soon as we realize that this relationship is doomed, we travel farther backwards, returning to Manhattan, where increased security concerns at Anton’s office have revealed troubling blips in his resume. Although not exactly fired, Anton is slowly “nudged” away from his job, and in the process, loses his comfy office and Elena, his trusted secretary. As the book time-jumps and jitters along, we learn that although Anton has tried to distance himself from his family’s overtly criminal activities, he isn’t perfectly honest, either. One of his lapses from the straight and narrow returns to haunt him when his cousin Aria blackmails him into carrying out one last score.

The themes in The Singer’s Gun are complex but never baffling. Here we find a family so steeped in criminality that they turn a blind eye to the safety of their only son, who in turn is a man so indoctrinated in dishonesty that he commits a minor crime—one with fatal consequences—out of sheer laziness. But we also find a forgiving world where redemption is always possible and holiness can be found in a house pet or a woman’s sunhat. Big in concept, flawless in tone, The Singer’s Gun is a tender and astounding tour de force.

The Fall
Betty Webb

David Fulmer’s The Fall reminds us why we left home in the first place. Although his dreams of Broadway stardom fell flat, New Yorker Richard Zale has carved out a career acting in television commercials, and a comfortable personal life with his wife and two daughters. He’s a lucky man and he knows it. This minor Eden is shattered when he hears that Joey, his long-ago best friend, has fallen to his death from a high ledge. By all accounts, Joey was a failure, living in a run-down trailer, doing drugs and playing old Beatles tunes to numb the bleakness of his small town life. Feeling guilty that he’d let his friendship with Joey slide, Richard returns home to Pennsylvania merely to pay his respects to Joey’s sister, but instead, finds himself cast into a garbage pit of small town corruption and mangled lives. Richard soon realizes that the enemies he and Joey made in high school remain enemies, and the bullies they’d known continue to torment the helpless. Even more dangerously, Richard discovers that lost loves don’t necessarily remain lost. The road-not-taken material is handled so beautifully by Fulmer, winner of the 2002 Shamus Award, that we can glimpse bits of ourselves. As Richard burrows deeper into his past, we ourselves begin to examine the kind of person we’ve become—or the person we try to convince ourselves we’ve become.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-28 01:31:15

David Fulmer’s The Fall reminds us why we left home in the first place. Although his dreams of Broadway stardom fell flat, New Yorker Richard Zale has carved out a career acting in television commercials, and a comfortable personal life with his wife and two daughters. He’s a lucky man and he knows it. This minor Eden is shattered when he hears that Joey, his long-ago best friend, has fallen to his death from a high ledge. By all accounts, Joey was a failure, living in a run-down trailer, doing drugs and playing old Beatles tunes to numb the bleakness of his small town life. Feeling guilty that he’d let his friendship with Joey slide, Richard returns home to Pennsylvania merely to pay his respects to Joey’s sister, but instead, finds himself cast into a garbage pit of small town corruption and mangled lives. Richard soon realizes that the enemies he and Joey made in high school remain enemies, and the bullies they’d known continue to torment the helpless. Even more dangerously, Richard discovers that lost loves don’t necessarily remain lost. The road-not-taken material is handled so beautifully by Fulmer, winner of the 2002 Shamus Award, that we can glimpse bits of ourselves. As Richard burrows deeper into his past, we ourselves begin to examine the kind of person we’ve become—or the person we try to convince ourselves we’ve become.

The Fall Girl
Betty Webb

The attempt to escape one’s past is the theme of Kaye C. Hill’s The Fall Girl. Masquerading as an amateur investigator, Lexy Lomax is hiding out from her vicious husband in a seaside British cottage and gets sucked into a possible murder case when she’s hired by a local teenage girl. Rowana was trying to bring good luck to her financially-strapped father via a “magic” spell, causing—she believes—a distant family friend to die, leaving her fortune to the guilt-ridden girl. Pooh-poohing any possibility of magic, Lexy sets out to discover what really happened by temporarily moving into the dead woman’s house. Thus ensconced, Lexy learns about the legend of Old Shuck, a black ghost dog who roams the countryside, signaling evil events to come. Even spookier is the family of ex-circus performers who are attempting to take possession of the dead woman’s cottage—no matter the price. Playing pivotal roles in this madcap mystery are Kinky, Lexy’s nasty-tempered Chihuahua, and Milo, Lexy’s policeman friend. Sassy Lexy frequently acts with more guts than sense, but that’s why reading about her is so much fun. Screw-up though Lexy may be, she’s also courageous, good-hearted, and quick to clean up the messes she makes. Fans of British cozies will love Fall Girl, especially if they revel in Chihuahua-toting amateur detectives and evocative, I-want-to-live-there descriptions of the Suffolk sea coast.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-28 01:35:31

hill_fallgirlA madcap mystery featuring gutsy, amateur investigator Lexy Lomax and her Chihuahua named Kinky.

Law and Disorder: a Camilla Macphee Mystery
Betty Webb

Mary Jane Maffini’s Law and Disorder: A Camilla MacPhee Mystery, set in Ottawa, Canada, during the famed Dragon Boat Festival. A serial killer has been torturing and murdering Ottawa’s attorneys, first announcing his intentions by sending future victims letters containing lawyer jokes. (Example: Why did the chicken cross the road? To sue the chicken on the other side.) Victim’s advocate Camilla MacPhee becomes involved in the case when one of her friends, a “reformed” dyslexic burglar and his family, are also targeted by the killer, ostensibly because he knows more than he should. As the dragon boat races begin, dead lawyers’ bodies accumulate. In many ways, Camilla is an unlikely sleuth. Her household is untidy, with “temporary” pets and an astoundingly inept assistant who has no sense of personal boundaries. But she’s as smart as she is disorganized, and by the end of this frequently laugh-out-loud book, we know whodunit and the surprising reason why.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-28 01:40:14

Mary Jane Maffini’s Law and Disorder: A Camilla MacPhee Mystery, set in Ottawa, Canada, during the famed Dragon Boat Festival. A serial killer has been torturing and murdering Ottawa’s attorneys, first announcing his intentions by sending future victims letters containing lawyer jokes. (Example: Why did the chicken cross the road? To sue the chicken on the other side.) Victim’s advocate Camilla MacPhee becomes involved in the case when one of her friends, a “reformed” dyslexic burglar and his family, are also targeted by the killer, ostensibly because he knows more than he should. As the dragon boat races begin, dead lawyers’ bodies accumulate. In many ways, Camilla is an unlikely sleuth. Her household is untidy, with “temporary” pets and an astoundingly inept assistant who has no sense of personal boundaries. But she’s as smart as she is disorganized, and by the end of this frequently laugh-out-loud book, we know whodunit and the surprising reason why.

Midnight Fires
Betty Webb

At first glance, Nancy Means Wright’s Midnight Fires might come across as just another riff on the Jane Eyre tradition, but if you’re looking for a Gothic historical starring a naive but well-meaning governess threatened by unseen evil, look elsewhere. The governess here is Mary Wollstonecraft, based on the real-life mother of Frankenstein author, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly, and the setting is 1786 Ireland, a time when English landlords treated the Irish with horrific brutality. Upon her arrival at a grand Irish estate, Mary discovers that her new employers embody the worst traits of English landlords; Lord Kingsborough even sets the locals’ heads on fire to punish them for being “uppity.” Aghast at this treatment of the Irish, Mary sets out to make friends with them, clamoring to join an underground resistance movement called The Defenders. Meanwhile, back at the castle, she begins to feel affection for some of the Lord’s many children while maintaining her loathing for some others. And no wonder. The mother is a hysterical fool, the sons are skilled at getting local girls pregnant, and various younger siblings behave as if they are as mentally disturbed as they are spoiled. In short, Mary has signed on to be governess in a house of hell, where murder is deemed a common sense solution to any problem. While not a romantic take on the life of an English governess, Midnight Fires serves a different purpose: anyone who doesn’t understand Ireland’s centuries-old loathing for British rule would do well to read it.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-28 01:48:14

At first glance, Nancy Means Wright’s Midnight Fires might come across as just another riff on the Jane Eyre tradition, but if you’re looking for a Gothic historical starring a naive but well-meaning governess threatened by unseen evil, look elsewhere. The governess here is Mary Wollstonecraft, based on the real-life mother of Frankenstein author, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly, and the setting is 1786 Ireland, a time when English landlords treated the Irish with horrific brutality. Upon her arrival at a grand Irish estate, Mary discovers that her new employers embody the worst traits of English landlords; Lord Kingsborough even sets the locals’ heads on fire to punish them for being “uppity.” Aghast at this treatment of the Irish, Mary sets out to make friends with them, clamoring to join an underground resistance movement called The Defenders. Meanwhile, back at the castle, she begins to feel affection for some of the Lord’s many children while maintaining her loathing for some others. And no wonder. The mother is a hysterical fool, the sons are skilled at getting local girls pregnant, and various younger siblings behave as if they are as mentally disturbed as they are spoiled. In short, Mary has signed on to be governess in a house of hell, where murder is deemed a common sense solution to any problem. While not a romantic take on the life of an English governess, Midnight Fires serves a different purpose: anyone who doesn’t understand Ireland’s centuries-old loathing for British rule would do well to read it.

Cold Winter Nights
Betty Webb

Anne White’s Cold Winter Nights: A Lake George Mystery is set in fictional Emerald Point, on the other side of the lake from the very real Lake George Village. Mayor Loren Graham wishes to govern her town with as little fuss and red tape as possible, but when Denise, a nurse at the local hospital, is found dead, skeletons begin clattering out of numerous Emerald Point closets. It seems that Denise never met a man she didn’t like, and as word of her many affairs leak out, successful businessmen begin tiptoeing around the subject of adultery, leaving their wives to seethe in jealous rages. Everyone settles down temporarily when a homeless man dubbed “The Woodsman” is arrested, but when he is identified as Loren’s old childhood friend, the town turns its collective wrath on her. Along the way, we get hints about Loren’s unhappy childhood and the role The Woodsman played in it, but nothing more than hints. While spending time in the lakeside village of Emerald Point is always pleasurable, the ending of Nights is a bit abrupt this time out, in some ways leaving more questions than answers.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-28 01:52:27

Anne White’s Cold Winter Nights: A Lake George Mystery is set in fictional Emerald Point, on the other side of the lake from the very real Lake George Village. Mayor Loren Graham wishes to govern her town with as little fuss and red tape as possible, but when Denise, a nurse at the local hospital, is found dead, skeletons begin clattering out of numerous Emerald Point closets. It seems that Denise never met a man she didn’t like, and as word of her many affairs leak out, successful businessmen begin tiptoeing around the subject of adultery, leaving their wives to seethe in jealous rages. Everyone settles down temporarily when a homeless man dubbed “The Woodsman” is arrested, but when he is identified as Loren’s old childhood friend, the town turns its collective wrath on her. Along the way, we get hints about Loren’s unhappy childhood and the role The Woodsman played in it, but nothing more than hints. While spending time in the lakeside village of Emerald Point is always pleasurable, the ending of Nights is a bit abrupt this time out, in some ways leaving more questions than answers.

Pretty in Ink
Lynne F. Maxwell

To this reader, tattoos are the stuff of horror rather than mystery, but in Pretty in Ink, Karen E. Olson proves that they can be both. Following The Missing Ink, this is Olson’s second Tattoo Shop Mystery featuring Las Vegas tattoo shop owner and artist, Brett Kavanaugh. Having abandoned her native New Jersey for Sin City, Brett puts her degree in fine arts to fine use as she designs original tattoos for her many clients. In Pretty in Ink she doesn’t have much opportunity to exercise her artistry, though, because she is caught up investigating a bizarre scheme involving her employee Charlotte, a gaggle of drag queens, multiple murders, mounds of money and the deadly poison ricin. How does all of this fit together?

Well, let’s just agree that it’s complicated and can only be teased out by reading the book through to its whirlwind conclusion. Let me warn you, though, that there’s so much action here that I wish I’d taken Dramamine as I followed Brett and her rival tattoo shop owner (and, perhaps, future love interest?) Jeff Coleman on their quest to locate Charlotte and halt a deadly killer. Olson’s imagination here defies full description, but you can easily experience it firsthand as you share the adventures of Brett Kavanaugh, an amateur sleuth whose handiwork will be forever emblazoned upon your memory, much like a tattoo. While I’m still not inclined to get a tattoo, I’m now convinced that they can definitely add color to one’s life!

Teri Duerr
2010-04-28 01:59:08

To this reader, tattoos are the stuff of horror rather than mystery, but in Pretty in Ink, Karen E. Olson proves that they can be both. Following The Missing Ink, this is Olson’s second Tattoo Shop Mystery featuring Las Vegas tattoo shop owner and artist, Brett Kavanaugh. Having abandoned her native New Jersey for Sin City, Brett puts her degree in fine arts to fine use as she designs original tattoos for her many clients. In Pretty in Ink she doesn’t have much opportunity to exercise her artistry, though, because she is caught up investigating a bizarre scheme involving her employee Charlotte, a gaggle of drag queens, multiple murders, mounds of money and the deadly poison ricin. How does all of this fit together?

Well, let’s just agree that it’s complicated and can only be teased out by reading the book through to its whirlwind conclusion. Let me warn you, though, that there’s so much action here that I wish I’d taken Dramamine as I followed Brett and her rival tattoo shop owner (and, perhaps, future love interest?) Jeff Coleman on their quest to locate Charlotte and halt a deadly killer. Olson’s imagination here defies full description, but you can easily experience it firsthand as you share the adventures of Brett Kavanaugh, an amateur sleuth whose handiwork will be forever emblazoned upon your memory, much like a tattoo. While I’m still not inclined to get a tattoo, I’m now convinced that they can definitely add color to one’s life!

Bookplate Special
Lynne F. Maxwell

Lorna Barrett’s Bookplate Special is the third engaging installment in her Booktown Mystery Series starring Tricia Miles, owner of Haven’t Got a Clue, a delightful bookshop specializing in the mystery genre. Tricia lives and works in the town of Stoneham, New Hampshire, a sort of literary tourist trap sporting numerous specialty book shops catering to the hordes of tourists descending upon the town to sample its New England quaintness. Stoneham, of course, is deceptively placid; in reality, its tranquil exterior conceals a disturbing spike in homicides, all of which have some tangential connection to Tricia.

In Bookplate Special, Tricia plays reluctant host to her manipulative former college roommate Pammy, until she calls a halt to the indefinitely prolonged, unwelcome visit and ejects her guest unceremoniously. Pammy does not go gentle into the good night, though; rather, she is murdered, and her corpse is discovered in a trash can. Clearly, Pammy was a “difficult” woman, but what could she have done to provoke such vicious animosity? Tricia goes into sleuthing mode in her attempt to solve the mystery. Along the way, she discovers freegans, people who forage through garbage for their food. Not only did Pammy apparently attach herself to the freegans, but other familiar townsfolk, including Tricia’s employee Ginny, also belonged to the group. The freegans aren’t the only surprise awaiting Tricia, however. She also struggles to discover what Stuart Paige, a wealthy philanthropist and major donor to the town, had to do with Pammy and with the town’s inhabitants. Unfortunately, her zealous investigation stirs up more trouble, as dangerous secrets come to light and generate additional mayhem.

As always in the stellar Booktown series, Barrett masterfully weaves her plot strands together in a manner guaranteed to surprise and please. I’m looking forward to more time curled up with the fourth Booktown Mystery, Chapter and Hearse, in August.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-28 02:05:19

Lorna Barrett’s Bookplate Special is the third engaging installment in her Booktown Mystery Series starring Tricia Miles, owner of Haven’t Got a Clue, a delightful bookshop specializing in the mystery genre. Tricia lives and works in the town of Stoneham, New Hampshire, a sort of literary tourist trap sporting numerous specialty book shops catering to the hordes of tourists descending upon the town to sample its New England quaintness. Stoneham, of course, is deceptively placid; in reality, its tranquil exterior conceals a disturbing spike in homicides, all of which have some tangential connection to Tricia.

In Bookplate Special, Tricia plays reluctant host to her manipulative former college roommate Pammy, until she calls a halt to the indefinitely prolonged, unwelcome visit and ejects her guest unceremoniously. Pammy does not go gentle into the good night, though; rather, she is murdered, and her corpse is discovered in a trash can. Clearly, Pammy was a “difficult” woman, but what could she have done to provoke such vicious animosity? Tricia goes into sleuthing mode in her attempt to solve the mystery. Along the way, she discovers freegans, people who forage through garbage for their food. Not only did Pammy apparently attach herself to the freegans, but other familiar townsfolk, including Tricia’s employee Ginny, also belonged to the group. The freegans aren’t the only surprise awaiting Tricia, however. She also struggles to discover what Stuart Paige, a wealthy philanthropist and major donor to the town, had to do with Pammy and with the town’s inhabitants. Unfortunately, her zealous investigation stirs up more trouble, as dangerous secrets come to light and generate additional mayhem.

As always in the stellar Booktown series, Barrett masterfully weaves her plot strands together in a manner guaranteed to surprise and please. I’m looking forward to more time curled up with the fourth Booktown Mystery, Chapter and Hearse, in August.

If Books Could Kill
Lynne F. Maxwell

Kate Carlisle’s If Books Could Kill is a deft mystery with a compelling literary theme. Brooklyn Wainwright, protagonist in Carlisle’s Bibliophile Mystery Series, is an expert on book restoration, which also turns out to be a surprisingly dangerous craft because of human jealousies. (Is nothing immune?) Having recently dealt with the murder of her mentor, Abraham, and having narrowly averted her own murder, Brooklyn travels to Edinburgh, Scotland to attend the annual book fair. Hoping to relax and to enjoy the fair with old friends, Brooklyn’s plans are immediately thwarted when she runs into Kyle McVee, an old lover who cheated on her shamelessly. Over a drink in an atmospheric pub, Kyle asks Brooklyn to authenticate a unique book of poems that he has unearthed, suspecting that they were, as purported, written by Scottish literary saint Robert Burns, and were concealed because they recounted an affair and illegitimate child with a member of the British monarchy. Then Kyle receives a phone call and rushes off, leaving Brooklyn alone with the book. That evening, Brooklyn and her friend Helen discover Kyle’s body while they are on a ghost tour of Edinburgh, and Brooklyn assumes that the murder is connected with Kyle’s discovery of the unique book. As another body emerges and she escapes several “accidents,” Brooklyn is even more certain that the book is at the heart of the violence.

Meanwhile, comic relief shows up in the form of Brooklyn’s parents, old hippies who live on a now-prosperous commune in California wine country. Their New Age beliefs, retro jargon and screwball antics are alone worth the price of the book. The laughs are temporary, though, because violence erupts again, leading to a startling revelation, as Brooklyn arrives at the solution to the mystery. Kate Carlisle is one mystery author whose books will never be in need of restoration.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-28 02:11:11

Kate Carlisle’s If Books Could Kill is a deft mystery with a compelling literary theme. Brooklyn Wainwright, protagonist in Carlisle’s Bibliophile Mystery Series, is an expert on book restoration, which also turns out to be a surprisingly dangerous craft because of human jealousies. (Is nothing immune?) Having recently dealt with the murder of her mentor, Abraham, and having narrowly averted her own murder, Brooklyn travels to Edinburgh, Scotland to attend the annual book fair. Hoping to relax and to enjoy the fair with old friends, Brooklyn’s plans are immediately thwarted when she runs into Kyle McVee, an old lover who cheated on her shamelessly. Over a drink in an atmospheric pub, Kyle asks Brooklyn to authenticate a unique book of poems that he has unearthed, suspecting that they were, as purported, written by Scottish literary saint Robert Burns, and were concealed because they recounted an affair and illegitimate child with a member of the British monarchy. Then Kyle receives a phone call and rushes off, leaving Brooklyn alone with the book. That evening, Brooklyn and her friend Helen discover Kyle’s body while they are on a ghost tour of Edinburgh, and Brooklyn assumes that the murder is connected with Kyle’s discovery of the unique book. As another body emerges and she escapes several “accidents,” Brooklyn is even more certain that the book is at the heart of the violence.

Meanwhile, comic relief shows up in the form of Brooklyn’s parents, old hippies who live on a now-prosperous commune in California wine country. Their New Age beliefs, retro jargon and screwball antics are alone worth the price of the book. The laughs are temporary, though, because violence erupts again, leading to a startling revelation, as Brooklyn arrives at the solution to the mystery. Kate Carlisle is one mystery author whose books will never be in need of restoration.

How to Wash a Cat
Lynne F. Maxwell

Here’s a first mystery that’s made a meteoric rise on the bestseller charts, and my suspicion is that the clever title is responsible for capturing the curiosity of numerous readers. After all, who could resist a book entitled How to Wash a Cat? And could it possibly be about washing cats? I don’t think I’m giving much away by divulging that the book’s focus is far removed (but not completely) from the subtle art of cat washing. Instead, it is an odd tribute to fog-enshrouded San Francisco, suffused in history and mystery. The novel’s narrator, unnamed until the very end, is the niece of a peculiar antiques dealer named Oscar. The narrator, for reasons unexplained, shuns human contact, instead seeking comfort in the order and ritual of accountancy. When she suddenly inherits Oscar’s building and business, she reluctantly emerges into a semi-social world populated by peculiar characters—almost caricatures, really—who draw her into solving a mystery about the death of one of the city’s founding fathers, who apparently faked his death by means of a secret potion. Oscar has left secret maps and messages for his niece, hinting at the existence of a subterranean tunnel system. Where is this tunnel and where does it lead? Why does it exist? The narrator, accompanied by her infinitely patient and compliant cats Rupert and Isabella, explores the possibilities.

The surreal plot and at times less-than-real characters, will keep you guessing. I’m even wondering whether I’ve ever read a bestselling mystery with nary a scintilla of romance. Very mysterious, indeed. How to wash a cat? Very carefully!

Teri Duerr
2010-04-28 02:18:25

Here’s a first mystery that’s made a meteoric rise on the bestseller charts, and my suspicion is that the clever title is responsible for capturing the curiosity of numerous readers. After all, who could resist a book entitled How to Wash a Cat? And could it possibly be about washing cats? I don’t think I’m giving much away by divulging that the book’s focus is far removed (but not completely) from the subtle art of cat washing. Instead, it is an odd tribute to fog-enshrouded San Francisco, suffused in history and mystery. The novel’s narrator, unnamed until the very end, is the niece of a peculiar antiques dealer named Oscar. The narrator, for reasons unexplained, shuns human contact, instead seeking comfort in the order and ritual of accountancy. When she suddenly inherits Oscar’s building and business, she reluctantly emerges into a semi-social world populated by peculiar characters—almost caricatures, really—who draw her into solving a mystery about the death of one of the city’s founding fathers, who apparently faked his death by means of a secret potion. Oscar has left secret maps and messages for his niece, hinting at the existence of a subterranean tunnel system. Where is this tunnel and where does it lead? Why does it exist? The narrator, accompanied by her infinitely patient and compliant cats Rupert and Isabella, explores the possibilities.

The surreal plot and at times less-than-real characters, will keep you guessing. I’m even wondering whether I’ve ever read a bestselling mystery with nary a scintilla of romance. Very mysterious, indeed. How to wash a cat? Very carefully!

Edgar Award Winners 2010

Congratulations to this year's Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award winners, announced last week. The winners are...

Best Novel
The Last Child, by John Hart

Best First Novel
In the Shadow of Gotham, by Stefanie Pintoff

Best Paperback Original
Body Blows, by Marc Strange


Best Critical/Biographical Book
The Lineup: The World's Greatest Crime Writers Tell the Inside Story of Their Greatest Detectives, edited by Otto Penzler

Best Fact Crime
Columbine, by Dave Cullen

Best Short Story
"Amapola" in Pheonix Noir, by Luis Alberto Urrea

Best Young Adult Novel
Reality Check, by Peter Abrahams

Best Juvenile
Closed for the Season, by Mary Downing Hahn

Best Television Episode Teleplay
"Place of Execution," Teleplay by Patrick Harbinson

Robert L. Fish Memorial Award
"A Dreadful Day" from Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine by Dan Warthman

Simon & Schuster - Mary Higgins Clark Award
Awakening by S.J. Bolton

Grand Master
Dorothy Gilman

Raven Awards
Mystery Lovers Bookshop, Oakmont, Pennsylvania
Zev Buffman, International Mystery Writers' Festival


Ellery Queen Award
Poisoned Pen Press (Barbara Peters & Robert Rosenwald)

Teri Duerr
2010-04-30 20:20:20

Congratulations to this year's Mystery Writers of America Edgar Award winners, announced last week. The winners are...

Best Novel
The Last Child, by John Hart

Best First Novel
In the Shadow of Gotham, by Stefanie Pintoff

Best Paperback Original
Body Blows, by Marc Strange


Best Critical/Biographical Book
The Lineup: The World's Greatest Crime Writers Tell the Inside Story of Their Greatest Detectives, edited by Otto Penzler

Best Fact Crime
Columbine, by Dave Cullen

Best Short Story
"Amapola" in Pheonix Noir, by Luis Alberto Urrea

Best Young Adult Novel
Reality Check, by Peter Abrahams

Best Juvenile
Closed for the Season, by Mary Downing Hahn

Best Television Episode Teleplay
"Place of Execution," Teleplay by Patrick Harbinson

Robert L. Fish Memorial Award
"A Dreadful Day" from Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine by Dan Warthman

Simon & Schuster - Mary Higgins Clark Award
Awakening by S.J. Bolton

Grand Master
Dorothy Gilman

Raven Awards
Mystery Lovers Bookshop, Oakmont, Pennsylvania
Zev Buffman, International Mystery Writers' Festival


Ellery Queen Award
Poisoned Pen Press (Barbara Peters & Robert Rosenwald)

The Red Blazer Girls: the Ring of Rocamadou
Roberta Rogow

In The Red Blazer Girls: The Ring of Rocamadour by Michael D. Beil, students at a classy private school in New York City embark on a treasure hunt when one of them spies a mysterious figure in the window of the church next to the school. Puzzles, anagrams, and some abstruse mathematics lead the Red Blazer Girls through a maze of clues to find a missing ring. Along the way, the girls find solutions to various family problems, and strengthen their friendships. These are blissfully normal girls, who aren't afraid to ask for adult assistance when they need it, but are able to face danger when it appears.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-30 20:39:43

Puzzles, anagrams, and some abstruse mathematics lead the Red Blazer Girls through a maze of clues.

Joey Fly, Private Eye in Creepy Crawly Crime
Roberta Rogow

Joey Fly Private Eye in Creepy Crawly Crime by Aaron Reynolds and Neil Numberman is a graphic novel set in the Bug City, where Joey Fly and his bumbling assistant Sammy Stingtail tackle the cases that find their way to their seedy office.

When Delilah, the glamorous butterfly, hires Joey Fly to find her missing pencil case, he knows he's on the trail of something big. Watch out for visual and verbal puns, as Fly and his assistant uncover the nastiness of Bug City. Reynolds has the dialog down pat, while Numberman's graphic illustrations depict Bug City in all its splendor and grit. There is jealousy and hate, and a more-or-less happy ending, and a list of items for youngsters to discover in the illustrations. Fun for adults as well as kids.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-30 20:49:24

The buzzzzz on the Edgar-nominated graphic novel for kids featuring the bug PI Joey Fly.

If the Witness Lied
Roberta Rogow

Caroline Cooney is known for her suspenseful stories, and If the Witness Lied is one of her best. The four Fountain children have been scattered as their family disintegrates. First, Mother dies of cancer, then Father is killed in what looks like a pointless accident. Could baby Tris really have pulled the brake on the car, causing the fatal crash? With Maddy and Smithy at separate schools, it's up to young Jack to try to put things together. Why does Aunt Cheryl want to expose young Tris to the publicity of a reality show? Why are the bills piling up? Jack tries to get his grandparents to do something, but in the end, the older children have to work together to expose the monster in the family. a heart-wrenching thriller that will have readers rooting for the family that learns how to come together to survive.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-30 20:58:24

Caroline Cooney is known for her suspenseful stories, and If the Witness Lied is one of her best. The four Fountain children have been scattered as their family disintegrates. First, Mother dies of cancer, then Father is killed in what looks like a pointless accident. Could baby Tris really have pulled the brake on the car, causing the fatal crash? With Maddy and Smithy at separate schools, it's up to young Jack to try to put things together. Why does Aunt Cheryl want to expose young Tris to the publicity of a reality show? Why are the bills piling up? Jack tries to get his grandparents to do something, but in the end, the older children have to work together to expose the monster in the family. a heart-wrenching thriller that will have readers rooting for the family that learns how to come together to survive.

Shadowed Summer
Roberta Rogow

Shadowed Summer, by Saundra Mitchell is Southern Gothic, with a twist. Iris and her family have come home to the small Louisiana town in the wake of Katrina and its aftermath, and as far as she can tell, there is nothing worth coming home to. Then Elijah appears, a wild spirit, perhaps a ghost? Iris has to find out what happened 14 years ago, to set Elijah free from his earthly presence. The answer reveals a family secret that has festered for 15 years or more. Plenty of atmosphere, and a persistent young sleuth make this a riveting tale.

Teri Duerr
2010-04-30 21:06:37

mitchell_shadowedsummerAn Edgar-nominated Southern Gothic for young adults set in post-Katrina Louisiana.