My Book: Listening In
Hank Phillippi Ryan

Ryan_HankPhillippiWhen you’re undercover and carrying a hidden camera, there’s no room for error


No question, the renegade doctor was looking at my chest and that presented a major problem. I was wearing thick glasses instead of my usual contacts. My on-air hair had never looked so disheveled. Even my friends wouldn’t have recognized me without my usual television makeup. I was undercover and in disguise. At least I thought so but the doctor’s wandering eyes were making me nervous.

A source had told us this guy was lying to patients about his history as an obstetrician. He’d been hammered with malpractice suits, and lost, time after time after time. The state had suspended his license. But state laws at the time didn’t require him to tell that to potential patients. Back then, to find a doctor’s legal history, a patient would have to search court files, which in some cases were sealed. Our TV news story, tentatively titled Private Practices, would explore whether doctors’ legal histories should be easier to check. We thought the public had a right to know.

What I hoped the “doctor” didn’t know: That cigarette burn hole on the front pocket of my rumpled denim work shirt was actually the opening for a tiny camera lens. (We called it Button-Cam.) A thin wire snaked down from behind it, under my shirt, and tucked under my belt. Attached to that and zipped into my goofy-looking fanny pack, was the guts of the hidden camera. I hoped the lens was pointed at his face. I hoped the tape was rolling in my pack. And I sure hoped Doctor X didn’t realize it.

When you’re undercover and carrying a hidden camera, there’s no room for error. As an investigative reporter, you always wonder: Will this be the time I get caught?

I silently chanted my mantra and the first rule of undercover shooting: The target doesn’t know. The target doesn’t know. The last thing this guy figured was that the two middle- aged people sitting in his low-rent office were actually a television reporter and producer posing as husband and wife. But even though what we were doing was perfectly legal, for the benefit of the public, and on the side of the good guys—when you’re on the reporter side of the camera, there’s never a moment when you feel certain it will work. Every moment is stomach-twistingly tense.

But in television, if it’s not on video, it didn’t happen. So we had to get the video.

He kept looking at my chest. I ignored it. We finished the interview. Bingo. He kept his secret past a secret. And we got outta there.

A few months before, with a fake ponytail sticking out from under a Red Sox cap and wearing a dowdy dress, I had posed as a potential victim at what a source had divulged was a recruitment meeting for a cult. A shady group was luring vulnerable young women into handing over their money in return for some “salvation.”

This time, our fancy Button-Cam was in the engineer's shop for repairs, but the cult meeting was that night. It was now or never. So I resorted to a more-old-fashioned method—and by old-fashioned, I mean risky.

I’d cut a quarter-sized hole in the side of an old purse and tucked a regular Hi-8 camera inside, using black electrician’s tape to hold the lens against the hole. Then I tied a flowery silk scarf over the strap of the purse. When the scarf was down, the lens was covered and I’d only have pictures of the scarf. When I moved the scarf aside, the lens would show, and I could get pictures of the cult meeting. Of course that also meant the lens was pretty visible.

ryan_airtimeIt was as good as it was going to get.

Out in the parking lot I pushed the camera’s record button, I adjusted the scarf (and my phony persona), and walked through the door pretending I was just another guest.

Standing in the back of the room, I assessed the situation, then moved the scarf aside. Rolling with video.

Smiling and soft-spoken girls looking just out of college circulated quietly, offering lemonade. One caught my eye from across the room and I saw her decide to approach me. Closer. Closer. Too close. The scarf went over the lens.

I took the lemonade. I didn’t drink it. I was trying to look like someone who might be vulnerable to being brainwashed, but not too vulnerable. I was a little apprehensive about the lemonade.

The music was loud. The lights were bright. A woman stepped to a podium at the front of the room. I knew my camera was still rolling. I knew the tape inside was only 30 minutes long. Thirty minutes of scarf was not going to cut it.

I moved the scarf aside.

And then—I felt a tap on my shoulder.

I turned. A man in a suit looked at me through narrowed eyes.

“What’s in your purse?” he asked.

In television, you’re only as good as your last story. I briefly wondered if this would be the last story I ever did.

But I remembered the second rule of undercover shooting: The best defense is a good offense.

Scarf down. I turned on the charm. I giggled, and in a non-Hank voice chirped, “Yes, my mother always tells me I carry too much stuff.” He looked at me, not quite convinced.

I moved to another tactic. “You’re making me uncomfortable,” I said, making my voice edgier. “Are you supposed to be asking women that?”

He turned on his heel. Outta there. And then I high-tailed it for the door. Outta there.

The story was a blockbuster. That cult church is no more. And now in Massachusetts, doctors must list their malpractice cases on state-mandated public profiles.

The high stakes and the high stress, the decisions and the deadlines—I was hoping to change the world a bit. After more than 30 years in television, I want the fictional reporter Charlotte McNally to show readers the authentic inside scoop on reporting. The good news and the bad news.

Air Time, the third of the Charlotte McNally Mystery series, goes behind the scenes of big-city airports, where Charlie discovers a scheme so timely and workable you’ll wonder why someone hasn’t tried it. You’ll never look at air travel the same way.

As part of the story, Charlie (using a method you’ll now recognize) begins her undercover investigation into murder and an international smuggling ring by carrying a hidden camera into—well, I won’t give that away.

But let’s just say: Been there. Done that.

Air Time by Hank Phillippi Ryan, Mira, September 2009

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Fall Issue #111.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 04 October 2012 01:10

Ryan_HankPhillippiWhen you’re undercover and carrying a hidden camera, there’s no room for error

A Killing in the Hills
Bob Smith

In the hill country of rural West Virginia, three retired men are brutally murdered while having their morning coffee in the local café. A prosecuting attorney, Bella Elkins, becomes involved after the crime’s only witness, her daughter Carly, identifies the murderer as a young man who was pushing drugs at a party she had attended. While clues lead Bella closer to the world of illegal prescription drug trading, Carly decides to track the killer on her own, and discovers her snooping mother is the killer’s next target.

While surly Carly, unhappy with her parents’ divorce and wanting to return to DC to be with her father, receives her due, Bella is the main focus of Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Julia Keller’s first work of fiction, and a more complex character would be hard to find: At the age of ten she witnessed her elder sister murder their sexually abusive father; as an orphan she went from one foster home to another but survived, earned a law degree, wed another lawyer, and moved to DC. After the marriage foundered, Bella returned to her roots along with her teenage daughter.

If you are a reader who enjoys multiple plots and detailed back stories, this is the book for you. In addition to the murders, the drug investigation, and the search to uncover the identity of the ‘boss’ behind the drug ring, there is the back story of Bella’s youth, her relationships with her jailed sister and her divorced husband, and her dealings with the sheriff and the other townspeople. Add to that Carly’s struggles with teenage angst and the efforts of the killer to avoid capture. Although Keller ties it all up fairly well, I had trouble accepting the identity of the main villain. The announcement comes out of nowhere and is in violation of the clues that have come before. My reaction was disappointment at the conclusion of an otherwise fine story.

Teri Duerr
Sunday, 07 October 2012 08:10

In the hill country of rural West Virginia, three retired men are brutally murdered while having their morning coffee in the local café. A prosecuting attorney, Bella Elkins, becomes involved after the crime’s only witness, her daughter Carly, identifies the murderer as a young man who was pushing drugs at a party she had attended. While clues lead Bella closer to the world of illegal prescription drug trading, Carly decides to track the killer on her own, and discovers her snooping mother is the killer’s next target.

While surly Carly, unhappy with her parents’ divorce and wanting to return to DC to be with her father, receives her due, Bella is the main focus of Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Julia Keller’s first work of fiction, and a more complex character would be hard to find: At the age of ten she witnessed her elder sister murder their sexually abusive father; as an orphan she went from one foster home to another but survived, earned a law degree, wed another lawyer, and moved to DC. After the marriage foundered, Bella returned to her roots along with her teenage daughter.

If you are a reader who enjoys multiple plots and detailed back stories, this is the book for you. In addition to the murders, the drug investigation, and the search to uncover the identity of the ‘boss’ behind the drug ring, there is the back story of Bella’s youth, her relationships with her jailed sister and her divorced husband, and her dealings with the sheriff and the other townspeople. Add to that Carly’s struggles with teenage angst and the efforts of the killer to avoid capture. Although Keller ties it all up fairly well, I had trouble accepting the identity of the main villain. The announcement comes out of nowhere and is in violation of the clues that have come before. My reaction was disappointment at the conclusion of an otherwise fine story.

Blackberry Winter
Hilary Daninhirsch

The term “blackberry winter” refers to a weather phenomenon: the unexpected return of a wintry day in the midst of spring. In this novel, a blackberry winter links two families separated in time by almost 80 years.

A freak May snowstorm hit Seattle in 1933, and when another occurs on the same date in the present day, Claire Aldridge, a reporter for a Seattle newspaper, is assigned to research both blackberry winters and write a feature. At first, Claire is reluctant, thinking that there could not possibly be a story, let alone a connection. But soon Claire learns that on the day of the 1933 blackberry winter, a little boy named Daniel disappeared from his apartment while his mother, Vera, was at work.

The story weaves between past and present, with Claire and Vera alternating the narration. Despite a separation in time, Claire, who has also endured an overwhelming loss, forms an emotional connection to Vera. This link, along with Claire’s personal grief, compels her to learn the truth about what happened to Daniel, even if in the process she might have to sacrifice her already fragile marriage.

Blackberry Winter never loses momentum. The reader is as caught up in the mystery as Claire. Both narrators are flawed, though likable, and Jio’s writing is engaging and fluid. And while the ending is perhaps a little too tidy, it will prove satisfying for many readers.

Teri Duerr
Sunday, 07 October 2012 08:10

jio_blackberrywinterA story of two women connected by a springtime storm and separated in time by almost 80 years and a mysterious disappearance.

Rogue
M/ Schlecht

Disclaimer: Despite its title, Sarah Palin was neither celebrated nor slandered in the making of this novel. Instead it’s a canny mashup of Jason Bourne and Mission Impossible starring master thief Robin Monarch, a panther-like Argentinian who grew up in the slums of Buenos Aires digging for garbage and who now spies for the CIA. Well, not for long. When a botched mission reveals the true purpose of his statesponsored theft, a disillusioned Monarch decides to ditch his employer and operate discreetly as a freelancer, according to his own moral code. Okay, fine...he goes rogue.

Co-author (along with James Patterson) of recent hit Private Games as well as his own popular thrillers, Mark Sullivan is no amateur when it comes to the manufacturing of New York Times bestselling units (The Escape Artist, The Art of Rendition). In addition to this novel, his publisher has released three recent e-stories to introduce readers to Monarch. And Sullivan ticks the right boxes with a tall, dark, handsome main character and his assorted gang of multicultural accomplices (a Samoan-American heavyweight and an Asian-American computer expert. Sigh.), who are (almost) always two moves ahead of their adversaries, including Russian and Chechen gangsters and powerful figures in US politics, business, and the CIA itself. Throw in some exotic locations, beautiful women, futuristic polonium- powered weaponry, collect healthy advance, and proceed directly to front display of airport bookstore.

In fact, Sullivan has delivered quite a thriller. Monarch hops countries like stones in a stream while a corrupt, vindictive CIA official tries to follow with drones and mercenaries. But corruption is relative in a rogue universe. Following his vanishing act, Monarch turns to stealing jewels from high society in St. Moritz, Switzerland. Huh? Turns out he’s a cross between James Bond and Robin Hood, as the profits from his theft flow back to disadvantaged children in Buenos Aires who are growing up just like he did. Sullivan twists the standard spy-action playbook and makes memorable even cameo characters like a young Algiers pickpocket who enters the frame for a page or three. And even better, it all holds together till the end.

Teri Duerr
Sunday, 07 October 2012 08:10

sullivan_rogueA canny mashup of Jason Bourne and Mission Impossible starring master Argentinian thief and spy Robin Monarch.

Imitation of Death
Lourdes Venard

When a novel’s amateur detective lives in Beverly Hills and is the daughter of a famous screen star, you might expect a book that touches on the idiosyncrasies of Tinseltown. When the author herself is the daughter of a Hollywood legend, you get a book that does that and more, playfully skewering today’s celebrity culture along the way.

The protagonist is Nikki Harper, a real estate agent whose mother is Victoria Bordeaux, a goddess of ’50s and ’60s films. The author is Cheryl Crane, who works in real estate and is the only child of glamorous femme fatale actress Lana Turner (one of whose movies was Imitation of Life). The rest (we think) is fiction.

Nikki Harper, whose sleuthing skills first came to light in The Bad Always Die Twice, is back in service after a body is found in an alley behind her mother’s house. Her mother’s gardener, Jorge Delgado, is arrested for the crime, although neither Nikki or Victoria believe for a moment he could have done it. Jorge, also the son of Victoria’s housekeeper, grew up with Nikki. When Jorge refuses to even defend his innocence, Nikki sets out to uncover the truth.

While it seems that the victim, an abusive man who was in and out of rehab constantly, irritated everyone from friends to casual acquaintances, Nikki’s list of suspects actually begins to dwindle the more she investigates. As she asks questions, she finds herself crossing more and more people off the list. An ingenious twist at the end reveals the killer, but not before Nikki has taken us on a whirlwind tour of La La Land, complete with an Elvis impersonator, birthday parties with red carpets, and a celebrity chef whose shtick is creating trompe l’oeil food (cream puffs that look like meatballs, for example).

Imitation of Death is a lighthearted read. Still, there are enough sharp edges and unlikable people in the story to make one believe Hollywood is better experienced on screen—or in a novel.

Teri Duerr
Sunday, 07 October 2012 09:10

crane_imitationofdeath

Caravan of Thieves
Derek Hill

Rollie Waters joined the Marines to get away from his father, Dan, a first-rate con artist and thief. Dan taught Rollie every deceptive, dirty trick he knew, which is why Rollie fled: He didn’t want to be like his father. Ironically, his talents for duplicity are put to great use working undercover in Afghanistan. And now, back in the States, Rollie is coerced by the US government to find Dan, who he learns stole millions of US dollars from the stash of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. The search goes easily enough, but Rollie breaks from the Feds to do it. Now, the Marines and government agents are after Rollie and his father. But going after two con men is easier said than done.

David Rich, a former Hollywood screenwriter, keeps things tight and gripping in his first novel. Rollie is an engaging main character, not bad like his father, but he knows (and uses) all of the techniques of deception to further his own agenda. His ability to fool people served him well in Afghanistan, where he posed as an Afghan and brokered deals with tribal warlords while trying to push the Taliban out of the region. His expertise in deception helps Rollie at home, as well, as he navigates a treacherous path to find out the most elusive mystery in his life: who he really is.

It’s Dan, the grifter, who steals the show, though, casting his immense shadow over the proceedings. He’s easily the best character in the book, and Rich does a superb job of portraying him as both venal and charismatic. One of the major enjoyable aspects of the book is anticipating how Rollie will outmaneuver and out-con his own father…if he can at all. This is a terrific debut and will please fans of muscular, action-oriented plotting tempered with humor and humanity.

Teri Duerr
Sunday, 07 October 2012 09:10

Rollie Waters joined the Marines to get away from his father, Dan, a first-rate con artist and thief. Dan taught Rollie every deceptive, dirty trick he knew, which is why Rollie fled: He didn’t want to be like his father. Ironically, his talents for duplicity are put to great use working undercover in Afghanistan. And now, back in the States, Rollie is coerced by the US government to find Dan, who he learns stole millions of US dollars from the stash of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. The search goes easily enough, but Rollie breaks from the Feds to do it. Now, the Marines and government agents are after Rollie and his father. But going after two con men is easier said than done.

David Rich, a former Hollywood screenwriter, keeps things tight and gripping in his first novel. Rollie is an engaging main character, not bad like his father, but he knows (and uses) all of the techniques of deception to further his own agenda. His ability to fool people served him well in Afghanistan, where he posed as an Afghan and brokered deals with tribal warlords while trying to push the Taliban out of the region. His expertise in deception helps Rollie at home, as well, as he navigates a treacherous path to find out the most elusive mystery in his life: who he really is.

It’s Dan, the grifter, who steals the show, though, casting his immense shadow over the proceedings. He’s easily the best character in the book, and Rich does a superb job of portraying him as both venal and charismatic. One of the major enjoyable aspects of the book is anticipating how Rollie will outmaneuver and out-con his own father…if he can at all. This is a terrific debut and will please fans of muscular, action-oriented plotting tempered with humor and humanity.

A Pimp’s Notes
Kevin Burton Smith

This sporty little import by acclaimed Italian writer Giorgio Faletti tries to take on the big, full-throttled thrillers wreaking havoc on recent international bestseller lists, but simply lacks the horsepower.

In ornate, overly fussy language, narrator Bravo starts off with a flashback to the fateful night his penis was lopped off. Although startling, the mutilation is announced so bluntly—and dismissed almost as quickly—that it comes off as more of a writer’s stunt than a true plot point. A gentleman pimp by trade—serving some of Milan’s most powerful citizens—and possessing the obligatory heart of gold, Bravo’s world ranges from street-level gambling joints, seedy nightclubs, and shabby apartments to the opulent digs of some of his wealthiest clients. This includes a swank villa in Lesmo, outside of Monza, where a vicious massacre leaves several “very important people”—and several of Bravo’s girls—slaughtered, and Bravo the number one suspect.

It’s a frame, of course, but it leaves the hapless procurer pursued by not just the police but by gangsters and terrorists as well. Considering the political and social volatility of the time—it’s 1978 and former Italian prime minister Aldo Moro has just been kidnapped by the Red Brigades—you have a potential powder keg of a plot.

But it never quite gels. Perhaps it’s the translation, or even cultural differences, but more likely it’s simply that Faletti overwrites the story. The polite, aloof Bravo is too fond of his own voice, and as the story unfolds, his philosophical musings start to resemble the cryptic word puzzles, of which he’s so inordinately fond, to the point where one wishes he’d just shut up and get on with it.

Because the story itself is so solid—an innocent man caught in a rapidly closing noose; a swirling cascade of betrayals both predictable and shocking; a grudging, surprisingly tender relationship between adversaries that is strikingly nuanced—readers may forgive the overly cool detachment and overly convenient coincidences.

Teri Duerr
Sunday, 07 October 2012 09:10

This sporty little import by acclaimed Italian writer Giorgio Faletti tries to take on the big, full-throttled thrillers wreaking havoc on recent international bestseller lists, but simply lacks the horsepower.

In ornate, overly fussy language, narrator Bravo starts off with a flashback to the fateful night his penis was lopped off. Although startling, the mutilation is announced so bluntly—and dismissed almost as quickly—that it comes off as more of a writer’s stunt than a true plot point. A gentleman pimp by trade—serving some of Milan’s most powerful citizens—and possessing the obligatory heart of gold, Bravo’s world ranges from street-level gambling joints, seedy nightclubs, and shabby apartments to the opulent digs of some of his wealthiest clients. This includes a swank villa in Lesmo, outside of Monza, where a vicious massacre leaves several “very important people”—and several of Bravo’s girls—slaughtered, and Bravo the number one suspect.

It’s a frame, of course, but it leaves the hapless procurer pursued by not just the police but by gangsters and terrorists as well. Considering the political and social volatility of the time—it’s 1978 and former Italian prime minister Aldo Moro has just been kidnapped by the Red Brigades—you have a potential powder keg of a plot.

But it never quite gels. Perhaps it’s the translation, or even cultural differences, but more likely it’s simply that Faletti overwrites the story. The polite, aloof Bravo is too fond of his own voice, and as the story unfolds, his philosophical musings start to resemble the cryptic word puzzles, of which he’s so inordinately fond, to the point where one wishes he’d just shut up and get on with it.

Because the story itself is so solid—an innocent man caught in a rapidly closing noose; a swirling cascade of betrayals both predictable and shocking; a grudging, surprisingly tender relationship between adversaries that is strikingly nuanced—readers may forgive the overly cool detachment and overly convenient coincidences.

Miss Me When I’m Gone
Debbi Mack

Memoirist Gretchen Waters takes a fatal tumble down a set of a library steps following a reading for her bestselling post-divorce journal of self-discovery expressed through the lives of female country music performers, Tammyland (a “honky-tonk Eat, Pray, Love”). Her literary executor and old college friend, Jamie Madden, isn’t convinced it was an accident. Married and pregnant with her first child, Jamie is tasked with organizing Waters’ new manuscript, and discovers the project was doomed in more ways than one. Waters had not only developed a bad case of writer’s block, but had strayed far from her original intent in writing her sequel (ostensibly a male country music artist version of Tammyland).

Through excerpts from Waters’ manuscript, Jamie and readers learn about the darker insecurities beneath Waters’ quirky and successful public life, as well as the writer’s increasingly troubling attempts to find her father and discover the truth about her mother’s murder. Despite her husband’s concerns, Jamie feels she must honor her friend’s memory by finishing her work—no matter what. Jamie’s efforts take her on the country road to interview people—some of whom may have deadly secrets and agendas.

Emily Arsenault develops the plot and her two female leads with great attention to detail. The narrative is a fascinating patchwork of book excerpts, emails, interviews, straight narrative, and other storytelling devices. Blended together, the writing works beautifully to create a highly suspenseful story rich with country-western music lore and overlaid with insights into the complex reality of friendships and our missed opportunities to connect.

Teri Duerr
Sunday, 07 October 2012 09:10

Memoirist Gretchen Waters takes a fatal tumble down a set of a library steps following a reading for her bestselling post-divorce journal of self-discovery expressed through the lives of female country music performers, Tammyland (a “honky-tonk Eat, Pray, Love”). Her literary executor and old college friend, Jamie Madden, isn’t convinced it was an accident. Married and pregnant with her first child, Jamie is tasked with organizing Waters’ new manuscript, and discovers the project was doomed in more ways than one. Waters had not only developed a bad case of writer’s block, but had strayed far from her original intent in writing her sequel (ostensibly a male country music artist version of Tammyland).

Through excerpts from Waters’ manuscript, Jamie and readers learn about the darker insecurities beneath Waters’ quirky and successful public life, as well as the writer’s increasingly troubling attempts to find her father and discover the truth about her mother’s murder. Despite her husband’s concerns, Jamie feels she must honor her friend’s memory by finishing her work—no matter what. Jamie’s efforts take her on the country road to interview people—some of whom may have deadly secrets and agendas.

Emily Arsenault develops the plot and her two female leads with great attention to detail. The narrative is a fascinating patchwork of book excerpts, emails, interviews, straight narrative, and other storytelling devices. Blended together, the writing works beautifully to create a highly suspenseful story rich with country-western music lore and overlaid with insights into the complex reality of friendships and our missed opportunities to connect.

Death of a Schoolgirl
Bob Smith

Have you ever wondered what happened to plucky Jane Eyre and her beloved Mr. Rochester? Well wonder no more for author Joanna Campbell Slan has produced the perfect sequel to Charlotte Brontë’s classic. They are happily married, have a son, and seem settled in for years of blissful domesticity. But trouble occurs when they receive a plea for help from Rochester’s ward, Adèle Varens, who is in a private school in London. Rochester, under a doctor’s care for his eyes that were damaged in a fire, cannot travel, so it is up to Jane to make the hazardous journey alone.

Arriving at the school, Jane sees the body of a young girl being carried out. It becomes apparent that the dead girl was murdered; and as Jane learns more, it is also apparent that the girl was mean and vicious and widely hated. However, for unknown, mysterious reasons she was the head mistress’ favorite. To protect Adèle and to track down the murderer, Jane must do some old fashion sleuthing. Nan Miller, an old mate from Jane’s school days, is a teacher at the school, and together they conspire to have Jane taken on as a temporary instructor.

Sufficient praise cannot be given to Joanna Campbell Slan for the authenticity of this remarkable book. It flows effortlessly, as if Brontë herself were doing the writing, and it rings absolutely true. But authenticity in and of itself is hardly sufficient to satisfy today’s reader. We need a solid mystery with worthy suspects, logical but cleverly disguised clues, atmosphere, and fully developed and believable characters. Have no fear—this book delivers. It is a joy for lovers of the original novel, as well as those who savor a good mystery. The author has a hit on her hands, and hopefully will follow it up with many more adventures for Jane.

Teri Duerr
Sunday, 07 October 2012 09:10

Have you ever wondered what happened to plucky Jane Eyre and her beloved Mr. Rochester? Well wonder no more for author Joanna Campbell Slan has produced the perfect sequel to Charlotte Brontë’s classic. They are happily married, have a son, and seem settled in for years of blissful domesticity. But trouble occurs when they receive a plea for help from Rochester’s ward, Adèle Varens, who is in a private school in London. Rochester, under a doctor’s care for his eyes that were damaged in a fire, cannot travel, so it is up to Jane to make the hazardous journey alone.

Arriving at the school, Jane sees the body of a young girl being carried out. It becomes apparent that the dead girl was murdered; and as Jane learns more, it is also apparent that the girl was mean and vicious and widely hated. However, for unknown, mysterious reasons she was the head mistress’ favorite. To protect Adèle and to track down the murderer, Jane must do some old fashion sleuthing. Nan Miller, an old mate from Jane’s school days, is a teacher at the school, and together they conspire to have Jane taken on as a temporary instructor.

Sufficient praise cannot be given to Joanna Campbell Slan for the authenticity of this remarkable book. It flows effortlessly, as if Brontë herself were doing the writing, and it rings absolutely true. But authenticity in and of itself is hardly sufficient to satisfy today’s reader. We need a solid mystery with worthy suspects, logical but cleverly disguised clues, atmosphere, and fully developed and believable characters. Have no fear—this book delivers. It is a joy for lovers of the original novel, as well as those who savor a good mystery. The author has a hit on her hands, and hopefully will follow it up with many more adventures for Jane.

The Code
Bob Smith

To true fans, especially in Canada, hockey is more than just a sport; it’s a religion. Young skaters are coddled and pursued in the hopes of finding a budding Wayne Gretsky. Brad Shade, a journeyman pro hockey player for 14 years, is now a scout and evaluating Billy Mays, Jr., a talented teenager in a junior league. Shade accepts an invitation to participate in an old-timer’s game at the arena where Billy is training under Red Hanratty, an ornery but highly regarded coach. There he meets Billy’s father, a failed hockey player, but a highly successful businessman who will do anything to further his son’s career. When Hanratty and the team’s doctor are murdered, Shade suspects that it is somehow connected to Billy’s prospects.

The protagonist, Shade, is a bitter man who sees only the greed and duplicity of the people who run the game. Joyce debunks what he calls “the code,” i.e., a belief that those involved in the sport are in it for the glory and thrill of playing. He shows us that it’s the ego boosting coupled with the money to be made that are the major motivators in the game.

You don’t have to be a die-hard hockey fan to enjoy this novel, but it helps. Author G.B. Joyce is a well-known Canadian sports columnist and, although he has written six books, this is his first attempt at fiction. It isn’t easy to get into the flow of his writing—he uses sports jargon with the assumption that the reader knows as much as he does. But once you get into step with Joyce’s prose you’ll be hooked until the very end. This is not an easy read, but one that will have you thinking about it long after you close the covers. It’s a sports mystery not to be missed.

Teri Duerr
Sunday, 07 October 2012 09:10

joyce_codeIn Canada, hockey is more than just a sport; it’s deadly serious.

Robert B. Parker’s Fool Me Twice
Hank Wagner

The title of Michael Brandman’s latest Jesse Stone book is somewhat ironic, as it represents his second effort to reproduce the intangibles that made Robert Parker’s series so popular. The irony stems from the fact that Brandman is much more successful in doing this in his sophomore effort than in his initial try, 2011’s Killing the Blues.

Brandman’s Stone has moved on from the perpetual pity party he loved to throw in the Parker novels. Jesse is now at peace with his past, no longer pining for his ex-wife or wondering what might have come from his truncated baseball career. In this way, he’s become more like another Parker character, Spenser: a man living by a personal code and trying to keep his little corner of the universe neat and tidy. Fool Me Twice has Stone doing just that, as three matters come to occupy his attention: the presence of a movie company filming in Paradise, a careless teen whose indifference to her own safety has come to threaten anyone who crosses her path, and the local water company’s overbilling of its customers. Each situation yields surprises, which will keep readers guessing.

Brandman’s continued efforts to emulate Parker’s spare writing style and story structure are admirable, something he improves on with each new effort. Also admirable is his decision to dispense with the more annoying aspects of that style. A prime example of such a choice is trusting his readers to be able to follow conversations without the myriad (and annoying) “said”s to which Parker seemed addicted. They won’t be missed.

Teri Duerr
Sunday, 07 October 2012 09:10

brandman_foolmetwiceMichael Brandman continues the adventures of Robert B. Parker's Jesse Stone.

The Best American Mystery Stories 2012
Jon L. Breen

Regular readers know my usual reservation about this annual series, that it devalues bread-and-butter crime and detective fiction in favor of self-consciously literary efforts that strain the boundaries of mystery even by series editor Otto Penzler's very broad definition. So, rather than belabor that point, I'll get right to the stories, 20 of them, selected by guest editor Robert Crais after Penzler had narrowed the huge number caught in Michele Slung's broadly cast nets to a manageable 50. For fellow statistics buffs, half the stories included came from literary journals (twice as many as last year), two from The New Yorker, three (down from eight) from original anthologies, three from Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, and two from single-author collections. The result is about average for the series, or perhaps a bit below, but there is quality work here, and, as always, I was grateful for the chance to read some fine stories I would have missed otherwise.

Three stand out as particularly excellent, two of them coincidentally centered on father-son relationships. In Mary Gaitskill's "The Other Place," a chillingly understated exercise in non-supernatural horror, a father begins by remarking on his son'fascination with violence, and then the reader gradually gets to know the father better. Thomas J. Rice's "Hard Truths," the longest story in the book, has the breadth and complexity of a full-length novel. In rural Ireland of 1958, an early teen responsible beyond his years admires his strong and locally feared mother and dreads the return of his legendarily prodigal father. Few will anticipate where this story is going. "Half- Lives" by Tim L. Williams is a strong contemporary example of the traditional first-person private-eye tale. Memphis sleuth Charlie Raines investigates the murder of an African-American youth and exposes deeply entrenched corruption. But after the main action is over, he asks the reader, "How would you want it to end?" Then he tells you about the aftermath, and the answer is a dose of depressing reality.

Two real genre pros show that devious plotting has not been completely banished. T. Jefferson Parker's "Vic Primeval," featuring San Diego cop Robbie Brownlaw from Parker's 2006 novel The Fallen, is smoothly told, unpretentious, relaxed, and confident, a real detective story and arguably a fairly clued one at that. Kristine Kathryn Rusch's "Local Knowledge" is a solid police procedural about a small-town cop taken off the case of a murdered high school classmate. Of course, he winds up investigating anyway, albeit unofficially, after convincing the detective in charge, an out-of-town import, that it helps to know the players.

The mixed bag that remains includes other notable work. Peter S. Beagle's "The Bridge Partner," in which a timid bridge player is shocked to find her partner apparently intends to kill her, is marked by straightforward writing and enigmatic menace. K. L. Cook's "Filament," about a bad marriage in rural Texas, is interestingly structured, telling the reader what is to come but not exactly how. Jason DeYoung's "The Funeral Bill," in which a tenant believes the landlord should pay for his wife'funeral because the house was haunted, is complex, original, and challenging. Also recommended: Kathleen Ford's "Man on the Run," a suspenseful character study about two elderly sisters seeking home help; Thomas McGuane's "The Good Samaritan," another father-son relationship, odd but well-written and enthralling; and Daniel Woodrell's "Returning the River," a brief but powerful statement about family loss and criminal psychology.

Most of the others had their drawbacks for this reader but at least some points of interest. Two general comments are applicable to the series as a whole.

In several of the volumes, there have been stories that are either the first chapter of a novel, a vignette that cries out for expansion into a longer piece of fiction, or a complex story that clearly needs greater length to do it justice. In this year's book, I had that feeling about Lones Seiber's chain gang story "Icarus," and sure enough the author'note at the end reveals he'written a novel-length version. A partial or skeletal novel may also be a good short story, but not necessarily.

Then there's the question of arrangement. The annual volume, for understandable reasons and probably according to the publisher'style for their whole Best American series, presents the stories alphabetically by author instead of looking for some kind of a natural flow. Tom Andes' "The Hit"—excruciatingly overwritten, full of strained similes, and as a crime story unsurprising—is the weakest story in the book. The easiest solution would be not to choose it in the first place, but at least a stronger opening could have been sought. It also kicks off three stories in a row that center on dysfunctional marriages. Interesting for comparison, true, but it also threatens monotony. Nathan Oates' "Looking for Service," which is not really a crime story at all and fails to make the behavior of its protagonist believable, is distractingly similar in situation to the story by Gina Paoli that follows it. Not a major fault admittedly, and probably easier and less controversial than having to decide on a batting order.

Quibbles aside, this annual volume is automatically worthy of attention.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 08 October 2012 10:10

crais_bestamericanstories2012How does the 2012 batch measure up? Genre expert Jon L. Breen looks at all 20 stories.

Mystery Lovers' Kitchen October Recipe Roundup
Mystery Scene

mysteryloverskitchen_header

Mystery authors share treats perfect for the autumn season.

Since 2009 the authors behind Mystery Lovers' Kitchen have been cooking up crime and culinary delights with wit and wisdom for their voracious readership.

As the weather cools and ovens heat up, mystery authors Krista Davis, Cleo Coyle, Avery Aames/Daryl Gerber, Annie Knox/Wendy Lyn Watson, Sheila Connolly, Ellery Adams, Lucy Burdette, Peg Cochran, and Mary Jane Maffini were kind enough to share six of their favorite seasonal treats with Mystery Scene readers.

"I have to tell you that even though I've seen all [the recipes] before, I'm laughing!" said Krista Davis, author of the forthcoming Wagtail Mysteries and the Domestic Diva Mysteries featuring Sophie Winston. "We certainly are a gruesome crew!"

If you enjoy these recipes or have more to share, please let us know at our Mystery Scene Facebook page.

aames_goatcheesecupcakes

GHOST CHEESE CUPCAKES (GLUTEN-FREE)
by Avery Aames (Cheese Shop Mysteries)

INGREDIENTS
1 1/2 cups sweet white rice flour
3/4 cup tapioca flour
1 1/2 cups sweet white rice flour
3/4 cup tapioca flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
4 eggs
1 1/4 cups white sugar
2/3 cup Best Foods mayonnaise (GF)
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons gluten-free vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  • Mix the sweet rice flour, tapioca flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and xanthan gum together and set aside.
  • Mix the eggs, sugar, and mayonnaise until fluffy.
  • Add milk and vanilla and mix well. Add the flour mixture. Mix well again.
  • Using soup ladle, pour batter into the cupcake liners.
  • Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 15-17 minutes. Cakes are done when they spring back when lightly touched or when a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.
  • Put on wire rack to cool so they don’t get “moist” on the bottom.
  • Let cool completely then frost, if desired.

FROSTING
4 ounces goat cheese—room temperature
3 ounces cream cheese—room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar (more if necessary)
1/2 cup pure maple syrup

  • Mix all in a blender.
  • May be saved in the refrigerator in an air-tight container.

NOTES: This recipe can be made "normally." Just replace the flour with regular flour and don't use the xanthan gum. And you can use real vanilla. This recipe will make 2 dozen cupcakes or 1 dozen cupcakes and one 9 x 9 cake. Perfect for kids and adults.

View the original post at Mystery Lovers' Kitchen.


adams_tombstonepie

TOMBSTONE PIE
by Ellery Adams (Books by the Bay Mysteries and Charmed Pie Shoppe Mysteries)

INGREDIENTS
3 cups finely ground chocolate sandwich cookie crumbs, divided (I use either 100-calorie Oreos or chocolate Teddy Grahams, but any type of chocolate wafer cookie will work)
3 tablespoons melted butter
1 can (12 fluid ounces) evaporated milk
2 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 3/4 cups (11.5-ounce package) Milk Chocolate Morsels
8 Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies
Black writing gel
Assorted spooky Halloween candies—gummy worms, body parts, bones, etc.

DIRECTIONS
COMBINE 1 1/2 cups cookie crumbs and butter in 9-inch deep-dish pie plate. Press crumb mixture onto bottom and upsides of pie plate. Set aside remaining 1 1/2 cups crumbs for dirt topping.

WHISK together evaporated milk, egg yolks, and cornstarch in medium saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture is very hot and thickens slightly; do not boil. Remove from heat. Stir in morsels until completely melted and mixture is smooth.

POUR into crust. Refrigerate for 3 hours or until set. Sprinkle with remaining cookie crumbs. Press crumbs down gently.

DECORATE cookie tombstones. Insert tombstones around edge of pie. With spoon, mound cookie crumbs to form “fresh graves.” Decorate graveyard with candy to make your pie super-spooky!

NOTES: This pie won’t travel well and some of your candy will sink a bit in the chocolate, but it’s a great pie for little guys and ghouls to decorate themselves. My youngest troll loved licking the spoon after slaving over the hot stove.

View the original post at Mystery Lovers' Kitchen.


connolly_killercakeKILLER RED VELVET CAKE
by Sheila Connolly (Orchard Mysteries, Museum Mysteries, and forthcoming County Cork Mysteries)

INGREDIENTS (cake)
Butter for pans
3 1/2 cups cake flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa (not Dutch process)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 cups vegetable oil (neutral in flavor)
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) red food coloring
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 1/2 teaspoons white vinegar

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Brush three round 9-inch layer cake pans with butter and line bottoms with parchment paper.
Whisk cake flour, cocoa, and salt in a bowl.

Place oil and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat at medium speed until well-blended. Beat in the eggs one at a time. With machine on low, very slowly add red food coloring. (Take care: it may splash.) Add the vanilla. Add the flour mixture alternately with buttermilk in two batches (each). Scrape down the bowl and beat just long enough to combine.

Place baking soda in a small dish, stir in vinegar (it will foam) and add to the batter with the mixer running. Beat for 10 seconds.

Divide the batter among the pans, place them in the oven, and bake until a cake tester comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool in pans for 20 minutes. Then remove the layers from the pans, flip them over and peel off the parchment. Cool completely before frosting.

NOTES: Yields 3 cake layers. (I warned you this was big!)

INGREDIENTS (frosting)
2 cups heavy cream, cold
12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
12 ounces mascarpone
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

DIRECTIONS
Softly whip cream by hand, in electric mixer, or in food processor. Cover in bowl and refrigerate.

Blend the cream cheese and mascarpone in an electric mixer until smooth. Add vanilla, blend briefly, and then gradually add confectioners’ sugar. Blend well. You want this to be stiff, but not so stiff that you can't fold in the cream. Fold in the whipped cream. Refrigerate until needed.

Yield: Icing for top and sides and between layers of a 3-layer cake.

NOTES: You can use your favorite cream cheese frosting recipe—there are plenty out there. The basic components are cream cheese and confectioners' sugar, but you can swap in butter, mascarpone, crème fraiche, etc. for part of the cream cheese. Just keep tasting until it seems right to you—and make lots, because you have a lot of cake to cover.

And finally…blood! (Bet you never thought you'd see a recipe for this!)
1 cup light corn syrup
1 tablespoon water
2 tablespoons red food coloring

DIRECTIONS
Mix until you get the consistency you want. If it looks too bright for you, you can add other colors in small amounts. Choose your favorite large knife and stab away!

View the original post at Mystery Lovers' Kitchen.


coyle_chocofudgecookieChocolate Fudge Pumpkin Cookies With Pumpkin Glaze
by Cleo Coyle (Coffeehouse Mysteries and co-author of Haunted Bookshop Mysteries)

INGREDIENTS
1 box (18.25 ounces) of devil’s food cake mix
1 can (15 ounces) pureed pumpkin (100% pumpkin and not pie filling)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (or equivalent of chopped chocolate)
Cleo’s Pumpkin Glaze (recipe below)

DIRECTIONS
Step 1—Make Batter: First pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly coat a baking sheet with non-stick spray or grease with oil or butter. (For best results, do not use parchment paper. The cookie batter needs to feel the full heat of the baking pan.) In a mixing bowl, combine entire box of cake mix with canned pumpkin and vanilla. Do not add any additional liquid. Gently stir, working the canned pumpkin into the cake mix until a blended, wet batter forms. (This may take a minute, but trust me, it will work.) Finally, fold in the chocolate chips.

Step 2—Drop and Bake: Drop batter by tablespoon onto the prepared baking sheet. Bake in a pre-heated 350 degrees F oven for 12 to 15 minutes. Do not over-bake. Cookies should be a bit soft and gooey in the center. While warm, they will be very soft on the outside, as well. Allow them to cool on the pan a few minutes and then transfer carefully to a rack to finish cooling. (They will always be somewhat soft because these are gooey fudge brownie cookies, not hard and crunchy cookies.)

Step 3—Decorate: Finish with a drizzle of Cleo’s Pumpkin Glaze (recipe below).

NOTES: Because pumpkin takes the place of shortening in these cookies, they are best eaten within a day or two. Store in refrigerator.

CLEO’S EASY PUMPKIN GLAZE

INGREDIENTS
2 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (*see note below to make your own)
1 teaspoon vanilla
Food coloring (orange OR red and yellow to make orange)
2 cups powdered sugar

DIRECTIONS
Step 1—In a medium saucepan, combine butter, water, pumpkin pie spice, vanilla, and food coloring. Heat slowly, stirring until butter melts. At no time should this mixture simmer or boil.

Step 2—Add the powdered sugar and stir until it all completely melts into the liquid. Whisk to remove any lumps and blend into a smooth, thick glaze. If the glaze is too thick, whisk in a bit more water.

Step 3—While the glaze is still warm, use a fork to drizzle it over the cookies. As the glaze cools, it will harden. If the glaze hardens in the pan, simply return the pan to the stovetop and warm the glaze while whisking. If needed, add a bit more water to thin the glaze back to the right consistency for drizzling.

NOTES: Pumpkin pie spice is available in most grocery store spice sections. To make your own, simply mix the following ground spices for 1 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice: 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ginger, 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice or ground cloves, and 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg.

View the original post at Mystery Lovers' Kitchen.


knox_brainscandycorn"BRAINS" CINNAMON CANDY CORN
by Annie Knox (forthcoming Pet Boutique Mysteries and Mysteries A La Mode, as Wendy Lyn Watson)

INGREDIENTS
1 9-ounce bag cinnamon candies
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 cup butter (two sticks), cut in cubes
8 quarts popped popcorn

DIRECTIONS
Make sure you pull all the old maids from the popcorn, as they will break your teeth. Preheat oven to 250 degrees F. Line two large cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In a saucepan, combine the candy, corn syrup, and butter. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Continue cooking for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour candy syrup over popcorn and toss to coat.

Spread the candy-coated popcorn on cookie sheets. Bake 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.

Remove from oven and dump popcorn onto clean parchment or wax paper. Allow the corn to cool, break apart, and serve (in a monster head, if at all possible).

View the original post at Mystery Lovers' Kitchen.


davis_scaryakichickenCHICKEN SCARY-AKI MONSTER FINGERS
by Krista Davis (Domestic Diva Mysteries and forthcoming Wagtail Mysteries)

INGREDIENTS
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 teaspoons minced garlic
6 tablespoons apricot preserves
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1 package chicken tenders (about 9 chicken tenders)
Almonds, sliced or halved

DIRECTIONS
Whisk the cornstarch into the orange juice until dissolved. Pour into a small pot, along with the soy sauce, garlic, apricot preserves, and ginger. Stir or whisk. Bring to a gentle boil, stirring constantly. Cook at a gentle boil for approximately 1 minute, stirring. Set aside to cool.

When cool, pour 1 cup of the sauce into a zip-top bag and add the chicken tenders. Squeeze out any excess air and be sure the meat is covered with the sauce. Marinate in the refrigerator at least one hour. Refrigerate the remainder of the marinade.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Cover a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Place the chicken tenders on the foil and squeeze any excess marinade in the bag onto them.

Place one almond slice or half on the pointy end of each chicken tender (as a fingernail). Bake 15 minutes.

Heat the reserved marinade and serve in little bowls as a dipping sauce.

View the original post at Mystery Lovers' Kitchen.

All recipes courtesy of Mystery Lovers' Kitchen:
www.mysteryloverskitchen.com
www.facebook.com/MysteryLoversKitchen

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 09 October 2012 09:10

coyle_chocofudgecookieMystery authors share treats perfect for the spookiest season

Garment of Shadows
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

Some novels grab you by the throat from the very first words. This is such a novel. Mary Russell, young wife of Sherlock Holmes, awakens in a dark room one morning with a severe headache, dizziness, and bruises all over her body. She has no idea who she is or where she is, but knows she has to be somewhere soon to do something important, and she mustn't be caught.

Over the next several days, through her wits and her various unusual talents, she is able not only to survive, but also to determine that she is in Morocco in 1924, and that a piece of paper in her pocket with a few unintelligible scribbles is of major importance. Very slowly she begins to remember who she is, although, when she is initially reunited with Sherlock, she does not remember him.

This is the 13th novel in the bestselling Mary Russell series. It's an unusual mystery adventure that combines actual history and historical figures with an intriguing and complex fictional plot surrounding the Rif revolt in North Africa against the French and Spaniards. As in the previous books, Russell remains the primary character, with the able assistance of Holmes.

Multi-award-winning author Laurie King pulls the reader into the story quickly and brings to life the sights, sounds, and smells of Moroccan towns and deserts, while adhering to the history of an era with which I was previously unfamiliar. Although not a classic murder mystery in the strictest sense, this is an enjoyable story with lots of Holmesian touches and a cast of interesting and unusual characters.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 10 October 2012 07:10

king_garmentofshadowsSome novels grab you by the throat from the very first words. This 13th in the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series is just such a novel...

A Death in Valencia
Derek Hill

The body of a beloved chef is found in the tranquil Mediterranean waters off Valencia, Spain. The chef, Pep Roures, was renowned for his delicious paellas and Chief Inspector Max Cámara knew them well. Cámara and his associates in the Policia Nacional investigate, but as Cámara pieces together who murdered Roures, his own private life becomes more complicated. The old tenement building where he lives alone collapses and a mother and child whom he knew are killed. Cámara also starts unraveling deep political corruption in the local government. Valencia is changing in troubling ways and Cámara is starting to think it may not recover. He grows increasingly despondent, questioning his own purpose.

This is American-born Jason Webster's second novel featuring the moody but engaging Cámara (the first was 2011's Or the Bulls Kill You), and its sparse prose brilliantly conjures up a city in flux. The author always focuses on the right detail: His descriptions of Roures' restaurant and the rapidly gentrifying working class El Cabanyal district, where much of the book takes place, are beautifully handled and vibrant. Webster's Valencia feels authentic and lived-in, and written from careful observation.

The political tension that builds up in the book between leftist protesters and the Catholic Church (the Pope pays the city a visit) is also deftly conveyed, exposing how deep the wounds still are from the days of the Spanish Civil War. The real strength of the novel, however, is Cámara himself. He's a complex character and comes off as both intelligent and worldly in the ways of human depravity. Yet, he's always humane. That's the important difference between Cámara and other cynical detectives of this type. Fans of Donna Leon and Manual Vázquez Montalbán should find this new series of interest. Highly recommended.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 10 October 2012 08:10

webster_deathinvalenciaThe second novel to feature the moody but engaging Chief Inspector Max Cámara of Spain

Face of the Enemy
Lynn Kaczmarek

It's late November 1941 and Masako Fumi's artwork is being shown at a New York City gallery. The opening for the paintings, swaths of crimson, green, and yellow with inked calligraphic figures, is grand, but not everyone in attendance appreciates the Japanese artist or her avant-garde work.

A week later Japan bombs Pearl Harbor and Masako Fumi is taken from her home in the middle of the night by the FBI, despite protests from her sick husband, Robert, and his nurse, Louise Hunter. When the gallery owner of Masako's show is found murdered, homicide detective Michael McKenna has suspicions about Masako as well. Together with human rights lawyer Abe Pritzker, Louise is determined to find a way to free Masako and prove her innocence.

Joanne Dobson is the author of the Professor Karen Pelletier series and Beverle Graves Myers writes the 18th-century castrato singer Tito Amato series. Together, the two have recreated the frightening paranoia prevalent in the US after Pearl Harbor in this first novel in their New York in Wartime series. New York City is in chaos, and racism and xenophobia against Japanese and German residents is widespread. The racist language of the times, read in this time of political correctness, is jarring but believable.

Louise Hunter is a protagonist caught in the middle of a horrible situation, trying to solve a murder while the world around her is at war. But I was particularly drawn to Masako Fumi: frightened, worried about her husband, and being held on Ellis Island without counsel. I can't help but think about all the others at the time, in that same position, without friends to help them.

Face of the Enemy is a fine mystery with engaging characters; but even more, it's a story of one of the most troubling times in American history, carefully depicted by two talented writers.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 10 October 2012 08:10

dobson_faceoftheenemyA compelling series debut, from two talented writers, set against the troubling times of WWII and Japanese internment.

The Vanishing Point
Hank Wagner

As if traveling with a small child is not difficult enough, UK native Stephanie Harker knows her visits to the airport will be complicated by the presence of a metal plate in her leg. Knowing she will be stopped at security, she instructs her young son Jimmy to "guard" their luggage. After being pulled aside, she experiences a nightmare vision: Jimmy, being escorted away from the area by a stranger. Her frantic efforts to stop the kidnapping are misinterpreted, and she is tasered for her defiance. Thus begins crime writer Val McDermid's latest thriller, The Vanishing Point.

The remainder of the book follows Stephanie as she relates her backstory to the authorities in the hopes that something in her past will shed light on her terrifying present. Readers learn of her unique relationship with the reality TV celebrity Scarlett Higgins, and how it has lead to Stephanie having custody of Scarlett's child, Jimmy. It's a compelling tale of family, friendship, celebrity, loyalty, and betrayal.

McDermid peppers the story of the two women with warmth and good humor, relating their personal struggles with their intimate relationships and their professions, Stephanie as a ghost writer, Scarlett as someone famous for being famous. She also manages to create a good deal of suspense, never letting readers forget what's at stake. Those trying to solve the kidnapping before final revelations are made will do so only with great difficulty, as McDermid, though always playing fair, provides several convincing diversions. With a denouement as violent as it is surprising, readers will be pleased, but exhausted, when they reach the story's shocking final line.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 10 October 2012 09:10

mcdermid_vanishingpointA child's terrifying disappearance kickstarts this tale of family, friendship, and betrayal.

Resurrection Express
Debbi Mack

Elroy Coffin, computer geek and high-tech criminal, is serving time in a maximum security prison and nursing a deep-seated hatred for a man named David Hartman, whom he holds responsible for the deaths of his father and his wife, Toni. Unexpectedly, Jayne Jenison, a "concerned citizen" with loads of dough, turns up and offers him an early release and a chance for payback against Hartman. Coffin initially balks until he's told that his father and Toni are, in fact, alive—and Hartman is holding Toni as a kind of hostage. Enraged, Coffin is quick to take the deal. Naturally, Jenison has a much larger secret agenda.

Complicating Coffin's search, Romano's protagonist must overcome the side effects of a brain injury incurred when he was shot in the head. Because of this, it's impossible for Coffin to remember Toni's face: he can only recall the scent of roses and rusty metal.

In trying to thwart Hartman's plans by assisting Jenison's military cadre, Coffin becomes a pawn trapped between factions with conflicting political and personal objectives. To find the truth, Coffin must confront his fears and release his rage. In an interesting twist, Coffin bonds with some tough female soldiers, who help him work out his problems.

Resurrection Express moves like a bullet train on a twisting track. Coffin tells the story with great intensity, but he's an unreliable narrator and he knows it. This makes his entire life a guessing game. Just when Coffin thinks he knows what's going on, the rug gets pulled out from under him—repeatedly. The result is a slick, satisfying thriller, in which the reader is constantly wondering, who is on whose side.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 10 October 2012 09:10

Elroy Coffin, computer geek and high-tech criminal, is serving time in a maximum security prison and nursing a deep-seated hatred for a man named David Hartman, whom he holds responsible for the deaths of his father and his wife, Toni. Unexpectedly, Jayne Jenison, a "concerned citizen" with loads of dough, turns up and offers him an early release and a chance for payback against Hartman. Coffin initially balks until he's told that his father and Toni are, in fact, alive—and Hartman is holding Toni as a kind of hostage. Enraged, Coffin is quick to take the deal. Naturally, Jenison has a much larger secret agenda.

Complicating Coffin's search, Romano's protagonist must overcome the side effects of a brain injury incurred when he was shot in the head. Because of this, it's impossible for Coffin to remember Toni's face: he can only recall the scent of roses and rusty metal.

In trying to thwart Hartman's plans by assisting Jenison's military cadre, Coffin becomes a pawn trapped between factions with conflicting political and personal objectives. To find the truth, Coffin must confront his fears and release his rage. In an interesting twist, Coffin bonds with some tough female soldiers, who help him work out his problems.

Resurrection Express moves like a bullet train on a twisting track. Coffin tells the story with great intensity, but he's an unreliable narrator and he knows it. This makes his entire life a guessing game. Just when Coffin thinks he knows what's going on, the rug gets pulled out from under him—repeatedly. The result is a slick, satisfying thriller, in which the reader is constantly wondering, who is on whose side.

Going to the Bad
Sue Emmons

Family matters come to the fore in this third outing for Lilly Hawkins, a TV news photographer in Bakersfield, California. To Lilly's horror, a call to cover a shooting finds her beloved "Uncle Bud" not only the victim but left in a coma and unlikely to recover. To discover the identity of his assailant, Lilly prowls everywhere from the underside of Bakersfield to the luxury estate of her old nemesis as she searches for the truth buried under old lies and the settling of old scores. In the course of her investigation, she discovers some unanticipated and unwelcome facts about her late father and the uncle she so loved and trusted. This somber tale of family secrets is lightened by Lilly's sense of humor as well as her idiosyncratic coworkers, but the tone becomes increasingly serious as Lilly comes closer and closer to the truth—and finds herself the target of a killer.

McFarland is well versed in the foibles of the television news business and the employees it attracts. She began her career as the lone female TV news photographer in Bakersfield, so she knows first-hand not only the city but also the ins and outs of meeting deadlines and chasing down sources.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 10 October 2012 09:10

Family matters come to the fore in this third outing for Lilly Hawkins, a TV news photographer in Bakersfield, California. To Lilly's horror, a call to cover a shooting finds her beloved "Uncle Bud" not only the victim but left in a coma and unlikely to recover. To discover the identity of his assailant, Lilly prowls everywhere from the underside of Bakersfield to the luxury estate of her old nemesis as she searches for the truth buried under old lies and the settling of old scores. In the course of her investigation, she discovers some unanticipated and unwelcome facts about her late father and the uncle she so loved and trusted. This somber tale of family secrets is lightened by Lilly's sense of humor as well as her idiosyncratic coworkers, but the tone becomes increasingly serious as Lilly comes closer and closer to the truth—and finds herself the target of a killer.

McFarland is well versed in the foibles of the television news business and the employees it attracts. She began her career as the lone female TV news photographer in Bakersfield, so she knows first-hand not only the city but also the ins and outs of meeting deadlines and chasing down sources.

Princess Elizabeth's Spy
Lynn Kaczmaerk

Maggie Hope, the former secretary to Prime Minister Winston Churchill, is in the final days of her training to become a spy for MI-5—and it's painfully apparent that although she meets the intelligence and psychological qualifications, her physical skills are somewhat, well...lacking. A "softer" assignment is sought for this fledgling spy, a sort of test mission. Hope is sent to Windsor Castle to tutor the young Princess Elizabeth in math and to keep an eye on the queen-to-be midst the raging German air attacks of World War II.

Susan Elia MacNeal has imbued her book with the sense of tragedy, loss of innocence, and sacrifice that must have been widespread in England during this period of the war. At Windsor Castle, walls where paintings and tapestries once hung are empty, their precious adornments stored away; windows are taped to minimize breakage; and even the royals are subjected to war-time rationing.

It's tricky business writing historical fiction, especially when at least some of the players are still alive, but MacNeal does a commendable job giving us some, but not too many, hints at life in the royal household and those who inhabit it. There's a Downton Abbey/Upstairs, Downstairs feeling to the book, though it doesn't quite capture the depth of characters and settings that those productions do.

There is, however, a lost love, potential new love(s), at least one good friend, an errant father, and a compassionate mentor. Given the chance, I suspect MacNeal is more than capable of delivering over the course of the series. Maggie Hope is a strong protagonist with an interesting backstory, some of which was introduced in the first book, Mr. Churchill's Secretary. And then there's the spy story, which involves secrets, codes, underground caverns, and plots to kill the king (and perhaps the next queen). It all seems a bit predictable at times, occasionally contrived, but it is still an enjoyable read and I look forward to the next book in the series.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 10 October 2012 10:10

macneal_princesselizabethsspySecrets, codes, and plots to kill the king in a historical tale featuring novice MI-5 spy Maggie Hope.

In the Shadows of Paris
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

If you like amateur detective novels, you're in for a treat. There are four—count them, four—amateur detectives in this unusual murder mystery. And if you're a Francophile, that's even better, since the mystery takes place in Paris in 1893.

When a series of murders impacts the lives of bookseller Victor Legris and his two associates, young Joseph and older Kenji, the trio embark—sometimes separately, sometimes in concert—on investigations into whether the murders (several disguised as accidents) are connected. Cryptic messages accompany each murder, mentioning the month of May and a leopard.

Meanwhile, a noted thief, nicknamed "The Leopard," has joined the hunt, and the plot thickens. And when I say thickens, I mean it becomes quite complex, requiring greater than usual concentration on the part of the reader. There are lots of characters, including the love interests of all of the detectives, and more than a few suspects.

Those who persevere will be rewarded not only by an unexpected conclusion, but also by a very realistic portrayal of the sights, sounds, and history of an interesting period, not surprising since the authors (Claude Izner is the pseudonym of two sisters, Liliane Korb and Laurence Lefevre, who are second-hand booksellers in Paris) are experts on 19th-century Paris.

This is the fifth novel in the Victor Legris series and, as an unusual bonus for those who are interested in the era, it includes more than 70 footnotes at the end of the book.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 10 October 2012 10:10

If you like amateur detective novels, you're in for a treat. There are four—count them, four—amateur detectives in this unusual murder mystery. And if you're a Francophile, that's even better, since the mystery takes place in Paris in 1893.

When a series of murders impacts the lives of bookseller Victor Legris and his two associates, young Joseph and older Kenji, the trio embark—sometimes separately, sometimes in concert—on investigations into whether the murders (several disguised as accidents) are connected. Cryptic messages accompany each murder, mentioning the month of May and a leopard.

Meanwhile, a noted thief, nicknamed "The Leopard," has joined the hunt, and the plot thickens. And when I say thickens, I mean it becomes quite complex, requiring greater than usual concentration on the part of the reader. There are lots of characters, including the love interests of all of the detectives, and more than a few suspects.

Those who persevere will be rewarded not only by an unexpected conclusion, but also by a very realistic portrayal of the sights, sounds, and history of an interesting period, not surprising since the authors (Claude Izner is the pseudonym of two sisters, Liliane Korb and Laurence Lefevre, who are second-hand booksellers in Paris) are experts on 19th-century Paris.

This is the fifth novel in the Victor Legris series and, as an unusual bonus for those who are interested in the era, it includes more than 70 footnotes at the end of the book.

The Light Keeper's Legacy
Lourdes Venard

History and mystery have always made for a good fit. What's better than old secrets, after all? Kathleen Ernst does a nice job of mixing the two in her latest Chloe Ellefson mystery, which sends the Wisconsin collections curator to the uninhabited Rock Island State Park in Wisconsin's Door County. Chloe has been asked to research the island's Pottawatomie Lighthouse and help in its restoration plans. She's looking forward to spending a week mostly alone on the island except for a few campers and daytime staff. But her plans turn dangerous when the bodies of two women, both wrapped in fishing nets, turn up.

Alternate chapters go back in time to the 1800s, telling the stories of two women whom Chloe is researching: Emma Betts, a lighthouse keeper together with her husband, William, and Ragna Anderson, a Danish immigrant married to a fisherman, Anders. Both are strong, independent women who are fiercely protective of their families. As Chloe researches, she finds hints and whispers about an old murder somehow connected to one of these women. Chloe delves deeper into the old mysteries, as well as modern- day impacts on the island's dwindling population of fishermen. When she comes close to uncovering the secrets that killed the other women, Chloe is also in danger—especially on an island where there is no phone service and the ferry runs only a few times a day.

While the mystery elements of this book are very good, what really elevates it are the historical tidbits of the real-life Pottawatomie Lighthouse and the surrounding fishing village. Even some characters, such as the Betts family, are based on real people. And the author, herself a curator, has spent time as a live-in docent at the lighthouse. Such rich historical details shine a light on a fascinating slice of American history.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 10 October 2012 10:10

ernst_lightkeeperslegacyHistory and mystery abound in this Chloe Ellefson story centered on Pottawatomie Lighthouse in Wisconsin's Rock Island State Park.
Bleeding Through
Oline H. Cogdill

The intricate plot of Bleeding Through delivers a satisfying story about how families pull together—or fall apart—during crises. Veterinarian Rachel Goddard and her live-in boyfriend Deputy Sheriff Tom Bridger have brought a group of teenagers to clean up roadside trash in rural northern Virginia. But Megan Beecher isn't as thrilled as her classmates about this high school civics project. Megan's sister, Shelley, has been missing for more than a month, having disappeared while working on a law school project to exonerate Vance Lankford, convicted of killing a local man. The discovery of Shelley's body during the outing pushes Megan even further into depression.

While Tom investigates Shelley's murder, Rachel deals with a case closer to home. Her sister, Michelle, claims she is being stalked, bombarded with threatening phone calls and notes, and is the victim of odd breakins at her office. Michelle, fragile in the best of situations, has no proof, and even her husband doubts her, but Rachel slowly begins to believe her sister.

Parshall delivers a solid look at small-town angst and how grief can permeate a family's every decision. Shelley's family is griefstricken over her death, as are the relatives of the murdered man who believe Lankford was guilty.

Parshall's debut in this series, The Heat of the Moon, won the 2007 Agatha for best first novel. As Bleeding Through proves, Parshall's series keeps getting better.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 10 October 2012 10:10

parshall_bleedingthroughA satisfying murder mystery about how families pull together—or fall apart—during crises
Line of Fire
Betty Webb

When a long-running series nears its end, difficulties in tying up loose ends can arise, but with Line of Fire, author Stephen White sidesteps most of them in his 19th thriller featuring psychologist Alan Gregory. The forest fires marching toward Boulder, Colorado, create a perfect metaphor for White's characters, who find their way of life threatened by forces they no longer can control. As the fires rage and the citizens of Boulder prepare to evacuate, Gregory finds himself covering up a past crime committed by Sam, his closest friend. After all, it was a threat to Gregory's family that made Sam commit that crime. But Sam isn't his only worry. Diane, his partner in his psychotherapy practice, is suffering a meltdown because of a hostage situation that happened in an earlier book. Complicating an already complicated plot is beautiful Amanda, Gregory's new patient, who appears to be using her fanciful, sexfilled stories in an effort to seduce him.

One of Gregory's most engaging characteristics during the run of this excellent series has been his flawed humanity. Although a decent and moral man, he has proven himself willing to commit an immoral act to help a friend. This weakness (or strength, depending on how you view it) leads Gregory into a perilous situation in Line of Fire that makes his past problems seem almost trivial. How many divided loyalties can one man endure without beginning to fail those who love him most? That is the central question in White's near-the-end-of-the-line novel, a question which despite the many plot complications, keeps the book on track.

A bit more back story could have been included to help readers who haven't read the previous 18 books, but Line of Fire still works. The reference to past crimes are haunting, the emotional depth enthralling. Yes, all series must eventually end, and apparently White is determined to end it with a bang, not a whimper. But I'm going to miss Alan Gregory and his many trouble-prone friends.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 10 October 2012 10:10

When a long-running series nears its end, difficulties in tying up loose ends can arise, but with Line of Fire, author Stephen White sidesteps most of them in his 19th thriller featuring psychologist Alan Gregory. The forest fires marching toward Boulder, Colorado, create a perfect metaphor for White's characters, who find their way of life threatened by forces they no longer can control. As the fires rage and the citizens of Boulder prepare to evacuate, Gregory finds himself covering up a past crime committed by Sam, his closest friend. After all, it was a threat to Gregory's family that made Sam commit that crime. But Sam isn't his only worry. Diane, his partner in his psychotherapy practice, is suffering a meltdown because of a hostage situation that happened in an earlier book. Complicating an already complicated plot is beautiful Amanda, Gregory's new patient, who appears to be using her fanciful, sexfilled stories in an effort to seduce him.

One of Gregory's most engaging characteristics during the run of this excellent series has been his flawed humanity. Although a decent and moral man, he has proven himself willing to commit an immoral act to help a friend. This weakness (or strength, depending on how you view it) leads Gregory into a perilous situation in Line of Fire that makes his past problems seem almost trivial. How many divided loyalties can one man endure without beginning to fail those who love him most? That is the central question in White's near-the-end-of-the-line novel, a question which despite the many plot complications, keeps the book on track.

A bit more back story could have been included to help readers who haven't read the previous 18 books, but Line of Fire still works. The reference to past crimes are haunting, the emotional depth enthralling. Yes, all series must eventually end, and apparently White is determined to end it with a bang, not a whimper. But I'm going to miss Alan Gregory and his many trouble-prone friends.

Stealing From the Dead
Derek Hill

New York City detective Greta Strasser plunges down the rabbit hole leading to a major conspiracy after she's called to the scene of an elderly woman's death in her Upper West Side apartment. On the surface, it appears that the woman died of natural causes. Strasser, however, meets a dapper elderly man, Theo Appel, who's compiled a startling amount of evidence linking the "natural" deaths of several elderly Jewish Holocaust survivors to a shadowy organization within Swiss banking. Meanwhile, Strasser tries to keep her crumbling career afloat after she's roasted by her superiors when an altercation with a notorious gang leader named VX goes dangerously awry. She gets a chance for redemption when she's transferred to work with the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) monitoring a local mosque. The rabbit hole deepens and Strasser's cases start to converge.

A.J. Zerries' (a pen name for married couple Al and Jean Zerries) latest crime thriller is as slick as they come. That's certainly not a bad thing. Although the escalation of plot twists feels too pat as it goes along (it sometimes reads like a Hollywood blockbuster in waiting), Strasser makes for a gutsy protagonist and her tenacity in hunting down the assassins responsible for killing the Holocaust survivors is gripping stuff. She's also a chameleon; she took acting classes in order to more effectively get into character for undercover work, and her penchant for disguise serves her well late in the book.

Combining a police procedural with a post-9/11 thriller gives the book a distinctive feel. The streets of New York are still dangerous for a cop dealing with everyday criminal activity. But now, the shadow of terrorism looms heavy over day-to-day police work too, and the intricacy of office politics becomes even more perilous for Strasser due to her involvement with the feds. The book snaps when it should—dialogue is crisp, and side characters like Appel and JTTF agent Tom August are vividly sketched.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 10 October 2012 10:10

New York City detective Greta Strasser plunges down the rabbit hole leading to a major conspiracy after she's called to the scene of an elderly woman's death in her Upper West Side apartment. On the surface, it appears that the woman died of natural causes. Strasser, however, meets a dapper elderly man, Theo Appel, who's compiled a startling amount of evidence linking the "natural" deaths of several elderly Jewish Holocaust survivors to a shadowy organization within Swiss banking. Meanwhile, Strasser tries to keep her crumbling career afloat after she's roasted by her superiors when an altercation with a notorious gang leader named VX goes dangerously awry. She gets a chance for redemption when she's transferred to work with the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) monitoring a local mosque. The rabbit hole deepens and Strasser's cases start to converge.

A.J. Zerries' (a pen name for married couple Al and Jean Zerries) latest crime thriller is as slick as they come. That's certainly not a bad thing. Although the escalation of plot twists feels too pat as it goes along (it sometimes reads like a Hollywood blockbuster in waiting), Strasser makes for a gutsy protagonist and her tenacity in hunting down the assassins responsible for killing the Holocaust survivors is gripping stuff. She's also a chameleon; she took acting classes in order to more effectively get into character for undercover work, and her penchant for disguise serves her well late in the book.

Combining a police procedural with a post-9/11 thriller gives the book a distinctive feel. The streets of New York are still dangerous for a cop dealing with everyday criminal activity. But now, the shadow of terrorism looms heavy over day-to-day police work too, and the intricacy of office politics becomes even more perilous for Strasser due to her involvement with the feds. The book snaps when it should—dialogue is crisp, and side characters like Appel and JTTF agent Tom August are vividly sketched.