The Beggar’s Opera
Oline H. Cogdill

The crumbling culture and decaying architecture of modern Havana make an intriguing background in Peggy Blair’s solid debut about a thoughtful, ethical cop. Inspector Ricardo Ramirez’s instincts for ferreting out criminals are unmatched, but his biggest mystery concerns himself.

Ricardo, the head of the Major Crimes Unit of the Cuban National Revolutionary Police, sees dead people, victims of violence who leave only when he solves their murders. Ricardo’s visions aren’t supernatural, though. He may have inherited them from his long-dead grandmother, whose rare form of dementia brought on sightings of ghosts from her past. The dementia was incurable and the hallucinations were the first sign that she was dying; Ricardo believes he only has a few months to live.

Ricardo tries to forget his illness, which he keeps to himself, and focuses on solving the murder of a young boy, one of the many child beggars who follow tourists through Havana’s streets. Ricardo has arrested Mike Ellis, a Canadian police detective who has come to Havana to try to repair his deteriorating marriage and to recover from the recent death of his partner during a shootout in which he also was injured. The boy was last seen arguing with Mike near the Malecón, the four-mile esplanade along Havana’s coast. Mike maintains his innocence. Although he admits to being in an alcoholic haze at the time, he maintains that his drinks were drugged by a prostitute who stole his wallet. Under Cuban law, Ricardo only has three days to make the case against Mike. Ricardo faces not just the challenges of making his case, but also the politics of dealing with a suspect who is a resident of a country friendly to Cuba.

Peggy Blair, a lawyer and former member of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, delivers an in-depth look at Cuban life in The Beggar’s Opera. It’s a world where hotels are off-limits to Cubans, who often beg the tourists for soap, and where the police juggle which cars they use because of a shortage of gasoline, and sparingly use calculators because they can’t get new batteries. Blair vividly portrays the difference between Canadian and Cuban law in a scene where Mike’s attorney arrives from Ottawa. Attorney-client privilege doesn’t exist and guards listen to his conversations and demand payoffs for basic rights in prison.

While Blair keeps most of the story on a steady course, she piles too much into the belabored ending. The head-spinning twists at the finale dilute this otherwise exciting debut.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 21 February 2013 06:02

The crumbling culture and decaying architecture of modern Havana make an intriguing background in Peggy Blair’s solid debut about a thoughtful, ethical cop. Inspector Ricardo Ramirez’s instincts for ferreting out criminals are unmatched, but his biggest mystery concerns himself.

Ricardo, the head of the Major Crimes Unit of the Cuban National Revolutionary Police, sees dead people, victims of violence who leave only when he solves their murders. Ricardo’s visions aren’t supernatural, though. He may have inherited them from his long-dead grandmother, whose rare form of dementia brought on sightings of ghosts from her past. The dementia was incurable and the hallucinations were the first sign that she was dying; Ricardo believes he only has a few months to live.

Ricardo tries to forget his illness, which he keeps to himself, and focuses on solving the murder of a young boy, one of the many child beggars who follow tourists through Havana’s streets. Ricardo has arrested Mike Ellis, a Canadian police detective who has come to Havana to try to repair his deteriorating marriage and to recover from the recent death of his partner during a shootout in which he also was injured. The boy was last seen arguing with Mike near the Malecón, the four-mile esplanade along Havana’s coast. Mike maintains his innocence. Although he admits to being in an alcoholic haze at the time, he maintains that his drinks were drugged by a prostitute who stole his wallet. Under Cuban law, Ricardo only has three days to make the case against Mike. Ricardo faces not just the challenges of making his case, but also the politics of dealing with a suspect who is a resident of a country friendly to Cuba.

Peggy Blair, a lawyer and former member of the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal, delivers an in-depth look at Cuban life in The Beggar’s Opera. It’s a world where hotels are off-limits to Cubans, who often beg the tourists for soap, and where the police juggle which cars they use because of a shortage of gasoline, and sparingly use calculators because they can’t get new batteries. Blair vividly portrays the difference between Canadian and Cuban law in a scene where Mike’s attorney arrives from Ottawa. Attorney-client privilege doesn’t exist and guards listen to his conversations and demand payoffs for basic rights in prison.

While Blair keeps most of the story on a steady course, she piles too much into the belabored ending. The head-spinning twists at the finale dilute this otherwise exciting debut.

Spookygirl: Paranormal Investigator
Sarah Prindle

Violet Addison is not like most 15-year-olds: her father runs a funeral home, her deceased mother had been a paranormal investigator, and Violet herself can see ghosts (which usually appear as blue, see-through people). To her, ghosts aren’t scary, just a nuisance she has to deal with…until she moves to Palmetto, Florida. When she steps into the girls’ locker room at her new high school, she is shocked to find a strong presence of evil in the showers—a suffocating and terrifying sensation she has never before felt with any ghost. At the same time, she begins to question what happened the night her mother died while investigating paranormal activity in an old house. While the locker room evil and the death of Violet’s mother are unrelated, both issues will teach her a great deal about her ability to see ghosts—and show her how much she still has to learn.

Violet’s story is told with wit and dark humor as she struggles to solve the two mysteries and to learn to use her gifts to help people, aided by Tim, a shy boy who believes he is half-vampire; Isobel, a tough girl goth whose attitude hides a loving soul; Buster, Violet’s invisible pet poltergeist; and various friendly ghosts. So many similar books out there have cardboard characters, but Violet’s wit, independence, and slyness make her a unique and lovable person to root for. Even the mistakes she makes during her investigations make her more appealing. The plot keeps one guessing, too. Readers travel with Violet through her embarrassing first day of school, a (fake) séance in a cemetery, and finally to a frightening conclusion that takes place in the house where her mother died. Violet’s adventure is a clever new addition to the young adult mystery genre, a wonderful first book by new author Jill Baguchinsky.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 21 February 2013 07:02

Violet Addison is not like most 15-year-olds: her father runs a funeral home, her deceased mother had been a paranormal investigator, and Violet herself can see ghosts (which usually appear as blue, see-through people). To her, ghosts aren’t scary, just a nuisance she has to deal with…until she moves to Palmetto, Florida. When she steps into the girls’ locker room at her new high school, she is shocked to find a strong presence of evil in the showers—a suffocating and terrifying sensation she has never before felt with any ghost. At the same time, she begins to question what happened the night her mother died while investigating paranormal activity in an old house. While the locker room evil and the death of Violet’s mother are unrelated, both issues will teach her a great deal about her ability to see ghosts—and show her how much she still has to learn.

Violet’s story is told with wit and dark humor as she struggles to solve the two mysteries and to learn to use her gifts to help people, aided by Tim, a shy boy who believes he is half-vampire; Isobel, a tough girl goth whose attitude hides a loving soul; Buster, Violet’s invisible pet poltergeist; and various friendly ghosts. So many similar books out there have cardboard characters, but Violet’s wit, independence, and slyness make her a unique and lovable person to root for. Even the mistakes she makes during her investigations make her more appealing. The plot keeps one guessing, too. Readers travel with Violet through her embarrassing first day of school, a (fake) séance in a cemetery, and finally to a frightening conclusion that takes place in the house where her mother died. Violet’s adventure is a clever new addition to the young adult mystery genre, a wonderful first book by new author Jill Baguchinsky.

Paging the Dead
Sheila M. Merritt

Genial doesn’t always apply in genealogy. In Paging the Dead, author Brynn Bonner explores the perils of connecting with ancestors and family. Protagonist and first-person narrator Sophreena McClure is a paid researcher of family history. The inherent intrigue of kith and kin is part and parcel to her profession. When a grande dame client of Sophreena’s is murdered, the genealogist becomes embroiled in the investigation.

Along the way, denizens of the small town of Morningside, North Carolina, are introduced and nicely fleshed out. Prominent among the colorful cast is Esme, Sophreena’s coworker and physical opposite: Sophreena is short and petite, Esme is Junoesque. Temperamentally, they also challenge and complement each other, and in doing so, establish a charming dynamic.

Being a genealogical sleuth means trying to interpret random bits of puzzles from years gone by. Letters, diaries, and news clippings are mere fragments. Putting together the underlying meaning of the pieces requires some armchair detection, and Sophreena is intellectually well-suited for the task. Brynn Bonner does a fine job conveying what is involved in professional genealogy. She also creates a splendid circle of characters bonded by the interest of researching their respective familial histories and mysteries.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the tale concerns perception. The narrative examines how behavior and attitude often dictate the way people are perceived (and judged). When taking into account historical data, perceptions are influenced by what someone did, but the true motivations behind their actions are often harder to discern. Engaging and touching, Paging the Dead digs deep into the heart of family and loved ones: their dreams and disappointments, their highs and lows. This first novel in a potential series goes beneath the surface of family trees, and gets to the roots of relationships.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 21 February 2013 07:02

Genial doesn’t always apply in genealogy. In Paging the Dead, author Brynn Bonner explores the perils of connecting with ancestors and family. Protagonist and first-person narrator Sophreena McClure is a paid researcher of family history. The inherent intrigue of kith and kin is part and parcel to her profession. When a grande dame client of Sophreena’s is murdered, the genealogist becomes embroiled in the investigation.

Along the way, denizens of the small town of Morningside, North Carolina, are introduced and nicely fleshed out. Prominent among the colorful cast is Esme, Sophreena’s coworker and physical opposite: Sophreena is short and petite, Esme is Junoesque. Temperamentally, they also challenge and complement each other, and in doing so, establish a charming dynamic.

Being a genealogical sleuth means trying to interpret random bits of puzzles from years gone by. Letters, diaries, and news clippings are mere fragments. Putting together the underlying meaning of the pieces requires some armchair detection, and Sophreena is intellectually well-suited for the task. Brynn Bonner does a fine job conveying what is involved in professional genealogy. She also creates a splendid circle of characters bonded by the interest of researching their respective familial histories and mysteries.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the tale concerns perception. The narrative examines how behavior and attitude often dictate the way people are perceived (and judged). When taking into account historical data, perceptions are influenced by what someone did, but the true motivations behind their actions are often harder to discern. Engaging and touching, Paging the Dead digs deep into the heart of family and loved ones: their dreams and disappointments, their highs and lows. This first novel in a potential series goes beneath the surface of family trees, and gets to the roots of relationships.

The Good Cop
Oline H. Cogdill

As newspapers continue to downsize, the crusading journalist is becoming a rare sight. But the fictional journalist who latches onto a story and won’t let go has found gainful employment in Brad Park’s highly entertaining series. The Good Cop continues the superior storytelling that Parks established in his first novel, Faces of the Gone, which won both the Shamus and the Nero Awards.

In The Good Cop, Newark, New Jersey Eagle-Examiner reporter Carter Ross follows the shooting of policeman Darius Kipps. Before any other media can organize, Carter interviews Noemi Kipps, the cop’s widow, and Mike Fusco, Kipp’s police partner, who both give him a good portrait of the late dedicated cop, devoted husband, and new father. But Carter is immediately pulled off the story when the police department maintains that the 37-year-old cop committed suicide in the shower at the Fourth Precinct station—the newspaper doesn’t cover suicides. Carter’s journalistic hackles are raised when Noemi and celebrity preacher Alvin LeRioux demand an investigation into the death and then, a couple days later, recant. Carter’s investigation has turned up no clear vision of Darius; some call him a dirty cop, others claim he was squeaky clean. Carter expands the scope of his reporting when another cop dies under similar circumstances. Carter follows the story to the streets of Newark and an unusual warehouse run by two brothers and a gang of teenagers who know everything that goes on in the neighborhood. Carter knows he is getting close to the truth when he is the target of a couple of inept drive-by shootings.

Parks infuses an in-depth view of newspapers and the thrill of chasing a good story into his fourth novel. The author shows how an ethical journalist can make a difference by exposing the truth. Parks’ skillful plotting delivers a well-balanced story that is high on tension and features superbly developed characters. Carter knows how to work his sources and manipulate his editors while juggling a sometimes messy personal life. Those of us who have worked in newsrooms will recognize Carter as a kindred spirit.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 21 February 2013 07:02

As newspapers continue to downsize, the crusading journalist is becoming a rare sight. But the fictional journalist who latches onto a story and won’t let go has found gainful employment in Brad Park’s highly entertaining series. The Good Cop continues the superior storytelling that Parks established in his first novel, Faces of the Gone, which won both the Shamus and the Nero Awards.

In The Good Cop, Newark, New Jersey Eagle-Examiner reporter Carter Ross follows the shooting of policeman Darius Kipps. Before any other media can organize, Carter interviews Noemi Kipps, the cop’s widow, and Mike Fusco, Kipp’s police partner, who both give him a good portrait of the late dedicated cop, devoted husband, and new father. But Carter is immediately pulled off the story when the police department maintains that the 37-year-old cop committed suicide in the shower at the Fourth Precinct station—the newspaper doesn’t cover suicides. Carter’s journalistic hackles are raised when Noemi and celebrity preacher Alvin LeRioux demand an investigation into the death and then, a couple days later, recant. Carter’s investigation has turned up no clear vision of Darius; some call him a dirty cop, others claim he was squeaky clean. Carter expands the scope of his reporting when another cop dies under similar circumstances. Carter follows the story to the streets of Newark and an unusual warehouse run by two brothers and a gang of teenagers who know everything that goes on in the neighborhood. Carter knows he is getting close to the truth when he is the target of a couple of inept drive-by shootings.

Parks infuses an in-depth view of newspapers and the thrill of chasing a good story into his fourth novel. The author shows how an ethical journalist can make a difference by exposing the truth. Parks’ skillful plotting delivers a well-balanced story that is high on tension and features superbly developed characters. Carter knows how to work his sources and manipulate his editors while juggling a sometimes messy personal life. Those of us who have worked in newsrooms will recognize Carter as a kindred spirit.

Road to Nowhere
Derek Hill

A drifter witnesses a brutal assault on a woman in a Chicago parking garage. He comes to the woman’s aid and delivers a savage retaliation on the attacker, sending the assailant to the hospital. The woman winds up in the hospital, too, and the drifter is compelled to uncover the roots of the beating. The drifter knows it’s dangerous to get involved, but it’s what he does. In his own way, this lone wolf rights wrongs in the streets that the cops can’t. When he uncovers the reason for the attack, he decides to protect the woman and retrieve the secret file she has in her possession.

Fusilli’s new novel is filled with characters haunted by regrets and the burden of memory. The main character—the nameless drifter—is a man running from his past, we quickly learn in the opening chapters. Once, he was happily married with a daughter, until he witnessed a murder and helped send the killer to prison. For doing the right thing, however, his life was ruined. He’s forced to enter the Witness Protection Program with his daughter after his wife is murdered in retaliation. Fusilli’s writing is terse, tight, and tough. It reads like vintage noir at times, without descending into pastiche, and takes on a strange dreamlike quality at other times. Sometimes the action feels implausible—is there anything our revenge-minded savior can’t do?—and because of the novel’s brevity, there isn’t a lot of time to flesh the characters out. Nevertheless, taken for what it is—a punchy no-fat novel of the dark side—you’ll have a good time.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 21 February 2013 07:02

A drifter witnesses a brutal assault on a woman in a Chicago parking garage. He comes to the woman’s aid and delivers a savage retaliation on the attacker, sending the assailant to the hospital. The woman winds up in the hospital, too, and the drifter is compelled to uncover the roots of the beating. The drifter knows it’s dangerous to get involved, but it’s what he does. In his own way, this lone wolf rights wrongs in the streets that the cops can’t. When he uncovers the reason for the attack, he decides to protect the woman and retrieve the secret file she has in her possession.

Fusilli’s new novel is filled with characters haunted by regrets and the burden of memory. The main character—the nameless drifter—is a man running from his past, we quickly learn in the opening chapters. Once, he was happily married with a daughter, until he witnessed a murder and helped send the killer to prison. For doing the right thing, however, his life was ruined. He’s forced to enter the Witness Protection Program with his daughter after his wife is murdered in retaliation. Fusilli’s writing is terse, tight, and tough. It reads like vintage noir at times, without descending into pastiche, and takes on a strange dreamlike quality at other times. Sometimes the action feels implausible—is there anything our revenge-minded savior can’t do?—and because of the novel’s brevity, there isn’t a lot of time to flesh the characters out. Nevertheless, taken for what it is—a punchy no-fat novel of the dark side—you’ll have a good time.

Desperado
M. Schlecht

Desperado is the self-told tale of Gus Corral, a down-on-his-luck resident of Denver, Colorado. Gus’ wife has left him and he currently works, and lives, in a thrift store called Sylvia’s Superb Shoppe. Adding insult to the injury, Corral’s ex-wife is Sylvia.

First-person point of view can be as invigorating as a dip in a Rocky Mountain stream. Read enough bloated thrillers with unnecessarily intricate narratives alternating between multiple characters and plots, and sitting down with a flawed-but-honest guy like Gus is a welcome change indeed. Here, he describes his neighborhood in gentrifying north Denver; how his old friend from high school, Artie Baca, offers him a thousand dollars to help make a blackmail payment; and the questions that two cops have for him after Baca turns up dead with a check in his pocket made out to—uh oh—Gus Corral.

So Corral embarks on a desperate quest to clear his name, and also find out the truth about his old friend’s murder. It’s a pretty tall order for a guy who’s never had the benefit of much luck in his life. And right on cue, his investigation lands him in hot water with a Mexican gang operating in the Denver area. Not even his protective older sister, Corrine, can bail Gus out of this situation.

But first-person narrators are also notoriously unreliable. In fact, Gus has a secret that, frankly, left this reader feeling cheated. If you are able to guess the truth, then you’re more clever than me. Gus, I hardly knew you at all.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 21 February 2013 07:02

Desperado is the self-told tale of Gus Corral, a down-on-his-luck resident of Denver, Colorado. Gus’ wife has left him and he currently works, and lives, in a thrift store called Sylvia’s Superb Shoppe. Adding insult to the injury, Corral’s ex-wife is Sylvia.

First-person point of view can be as invigorating as a dip in a Rocky Mountain stream. Read enough bloated thrillers with unnecessarily intricate narratives alternating between multiple characters and plots, and sitting down with a flawed-but-honest guy like Gus is a welcome change indeed. Here, he describes his neighborhood in gentrifying north Denver; how his old friend from high school, Artie Baca, offers him a thousand dollars to help make a blackmail payment; and the questions that two cops have for him after Baca turns up dead with a check in his pocket made out to—uh oh—Gus Corral.

So Corral embarks on a desperate quest to clear his name, and also find out the truth about his old friend’s murder. It’s a pretty tall order for a guy who’s never had the benefit of much luck in his life. And right on cue, his investigation lands him in hot water with a Mexican gang operating in the Denver area. Not even his protective older sister, Corrine, can bail Gus out of this situation.

But first-person narrators are also notoriously unreliable. In fact, Gus has a secret that, frankly, left this reader feeling cheated. If you are able to guess the truth, then you’re more clever than me. Gus, I hardly knew you at all.

The Galway Trinity
Betty Webb

Ken Bruen’s short story collection The Galway Trinity is both a literary and visual treat, arriving with burly, brutal illustrations by always on-the-money illustrator Phil Parks. The title may be a slight misnomer, because the collection contains four short stories, not three (a fourth is set in South London). Burnt-out ex-Garda detective Jack Taylor represents the Galway contingent, and he does so with such angst that stones would weep for him. Wry, bitter, and trying hard not to care about the misshapen humanity he mixes with, Taylor bolts back Jameson as if each bottle was the last on Earth. In “The Dead Room,” he investigates the death of an elderly woman and hates what he finds. In “And All the Swans Are Dying,” he equates a swan’s death to his own lost love. In “Galway Hooker” (referring to a boat, not a prostitute), he corners an arsonist. The plots of these stories may be gripping, but it has always been Bruen’s ragged poet’s voice that captures us. About Irish colleens, he writes, “They are a race apart, they get fixed on a man, he’s done, delivered and God betide the ejit who gets in the middle.” About a sleazy Galway pub, he observes, “The King’s Arms had nothing majestic about it, it was a dump that seemed to cater to low lifes of all kinds, it smelled of desperation and dead dreams and worse, stale curry.” Of the old Irish gods, he says, “Those whom the gods would destroy, they first torture the living be-jayus out of.” Like all memorable protagonists, it is Jack Taylor’s curse to pretend stoicism while bleeding from a thousand psychic wounds. “Who the fook cares?” he mutters, trying to convince himself he doesn’t “give a fook” that young men are being murdered all over Galway. Belying his own words, he perpetually rises from his bar stool and staggers off to avenge the dead. If men are judged more by actions than their words, Jack is a candidate for sainthood. But if words make the saint, Ken Bruen already has his halo.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 22 February 2013 05:02

Ken Bruen’s short story collection The Galway Trinity is both a literary and visual treat, arriving with burly, brutal illustrations by always on-the-money illustrator Phil Parks. The title may be a slight misnomer, because the collection contains four short stories, not three (a fourth is set in South London). Burnt-out ex-Garda detective Jack Taylor represents the Galway contingent, and he does so with such angst that stones would weep for him. Wry, bitter, and trying hard not to care about the misshapen humanity he mixes with, Taylor bolts back Jameson as if each bottle was the last on Earth. In “The Dead Room,” he investigates the death of an elderly woman and hates what he finds. In “And All the Swans Are Dying,” he equates a swan’s death to his own lost love. In “Galway Hooker” (referring to a boat, not a prostitute), he corners an arsonist. The plots of these stories may be gripping, but it has always been Bruen’s ragged poet’s voice that captures us. About Irish colleens, he writes, “They are a race apart, they get fixed on a man, he’s done, delivered and God betide the ejit who gets in the middle.” About a sleazy Galway pub, he observes, “The King’s Arms had nothing majestic about it, it was a dump that seemed to cater to low lifes of all kinds, it smelled of desperation and dead dreams and worse, stale curry.” Of the old Irish gods, he says, “Those whom the gods would destroy, they first torture the living be-jayus out of.” Like all memorable protagonists, it is Jack Taylor’s curse to pretend stoicism while bleeding from a thousand psychic wounds. “Who the fook cares?” he mutters, trying to convince himself he doesn’t “give a fook” that young men are being murdered all over Galway. Belying his own words, he perpetually rises from his bar stool and staggers off to avenge the dead. If men are judged more by actions than their words, Jack is a candidate for sainthood. But if words make the saint, Ken Bruen already has his halo.

The Sea Detective
Betty Webb

Mark Douglas-Home's The Sea Detective is a wrenching, brilliant novel which uses the science of oceanic currents to tell what at first appears to be two different stories. The book opens with a harrowing chapter showing Preeti, a 13-year-old Indian girl, being sold into international sexual slavery by her despicable father. By the end of the chapter, Preeti is dead, drowned off the Scottish coast by her pedophile captors when she is no longer of use. The action then moves to Edinburgh, and the computer-filled flat of Cal McGill, a self-absorbed PhD oceanography candidate, who—using the science of oceanic currents—is attempting to track the origin of severed feet washed ashore on various Scottish beaches. When the two stories blend—Preeti’s and Cal’s—we learn that betrayal comes in many forms, frequently delivered by those we trust the most. Although Preeti died at the hands of her captors, her friend Basanti has escaped. Unlike many of the captive children, Basanti can read and write, and while scrabbling through a dumpster for food, she finds a newspaper article that sends her on a dangerous journey across Scotland seeking justice for Preeti. This is an extraordinary book for several reasons. Because of its engrossing characters, The Sea Detective nimbly straddles the difficult border between social protest books and “mere entertainment.” Hermit-like Cal isn’t always likable; he hasn’t behaved well toward the women in his life, so he makes a surprising, if initially unwilling, hero. And child prostitutes Preeti and Basanti display the heart and grit to make a lasting impact on all the lives they touch. So read The Sea Detective for its thrills and chills, but don’t ignore its deeper message: prostitution is not a victimless crime, especially when children are involved.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 22 February 2013 05:02

douglashome_theseadetectiveOceanic science and human trafficking combine in this wrenching, brilliant novel.

An Unattended Death
Betty Webb

Victoria Jenkins’ An Unattended Death gives us Irene Chavez, a small-town cop in Washington State, who once aspired to a law degree, but put her dreams aside to become a wife and mother. Now a widow as her son enters his risky teenage years, she often feels overwhelmed by her duties, both at home and at work. In other words, she’s enough like us that we can all relate. When the body of a young psychiatrist is found floating in a nearby slough, Chavez heads up the investigation only to find that the dead woman’s wealthy family prefers the case quickly be closed, and the death labeled an accident. Their apparent lack of curiosity and grief is so odd that Chavez’s suspicions are aroused. Jenkins’ extraordinarily good writing allows her to weave a large and diverse number of conflicts into her whodunit narrative: home versus work; concern versus apathy; memory versus denial—all portrayed with that subtle, certain hand found only in the very best of crime fiction. The beauty and danger of Puget Sound provide the perfect backdrop for a mystery that has us reexamining our own close relationships, wondering if we know our loved ones as well as we think we do. Yet there is a lack of cynicism in An Unattended Death that has become increasingly rare in contemporary literature, and for that, we can look to Officer Irene Chavez, a woman who may fear the truth, but seeks it anyway.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 22 February 2013 06:02

Victoria Jenkins’ An Unattended Death gives us Irene Chavez, a small-town cop in Washington State, who once aspired to a law degree, but put her dreams aside to become a wife and mother. Now a widow as her son enters his risky teenage years, she often feels overwhelmed by her duties, both at home and at work. In other words, she’s enough like us that we can all relate. When the body of a young psychiatrist is found floating in a nearby slough, Chavez heads up the investigation only to find that the dead woman’s wealthy family prefers the case quickly be closed, and the death labeled an accident. Their apparent lack of curiosity and grief is so odd that Chavez’s suspicions are aroused. Jenkins’ extraordinarily good writing allows her to weave a large and diverse number of conflicts into her whodunit narrative: home versus work; concern versus apathy; memory versus denial—all portrayed with that subtle, certain hand found only in the very best of crime fiction. The beauty and danger of Puget Sound provide the perfect backdrop for a mystery that has us reexamining our own close relationships, wondering if we know our loved ones as well as we think we do. Yet there is a lack of cynicism in An Unattended Death that has become increasingly rare in contemporary literature, and for that, we can look to Officer Irene Chavez, a woman who may fear the truth, but seeks it anyway.

The Cat Did Not Die
Betty Webb

The Cat Did Not Die isn’t really about a cat. Yes, there is a cat in the book, and no, the cat doesn’t die. But it is actually a psychological suspense novel about a woman who commits a violent act and then spends the rest of the book in self-destructive denial. When Beth comes across a mentally challenged man hiding in an old shed, she mistakes his alarmed response for an attack and batters him to death with a nearby axe. When her boyfriend Ulf, a journalist, discovers the body, he is unwillingly drawn into a plot to cover up the death. Soon, their formerly strong relationship begins to deteriorate. Lie piles upon lie as the action moves from coastal Sweden to Tanzania, where Ulf and Beth’s sister Juni, a photographer, are researching the Maasai tribe, with the disturbed Beth in tow. Things do not end well. The Nordic countries have a reputation for chilly noirs, and prize-winning Frimansson upholds that reputation with a vengeance here. Although Beth is a less-than-sympathetic character, the quality of Frimansson’s writing is such that we are drawn into her tortured mind despite ourselves. But all is not doom and gloom in The Cat Did Not Die. As a foil to Beth’s dark imaginings, the author gives us Kaarina, the simple, justice-seeking farm woman who loved the unnamed victim. Kaarina and the titular cat she cares for emerge as beams of light in an otherwise midnight-colored novel.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 22 February 2013 06:02

The Cat Did Not Die isn’t really about a cat. Yes, there is a cat in the book, and no, the cat doesn’t die. But it is actually a psychological suspense novel about a woman who commits a violent act and then spends the rest of the book in self-destructive denial. When Beth comes across a mentally challenged man hiding in an old shed, she mistakes his alarmed response for an attack and batters him to death with a nearby axe. When her boyfriend Ulf, a journalist, discovers the body, he is unwillingly drawn into a plot to cover up the death. Soon, their formerly strong relationship begins to deteriorate. Lie piles upon lie as the action moves from coastal Sweden to Tanzania, where Ulf and Beth’s sister Juni, a photographer, are researching the Maasai tribe, with the disturbed Beth in tow. Things do not end well. The Nordic countries have a reputation for chilly noirs, and prize-winning Frimansson upholds that reputation with a vengeance here. Although Beth is a less-than-sympathetic character, the quality of Frimansson’s writing is such that we are drawn into her tortured mind despite ourselves. But all is not doom and gloom in The Cat Did Not Die. As a foil to Beth’s dark imaginings, the author gives us Kaarina, the simple, justice-seeking farm woman who loved the unnamed victim. Kaarina and the titular cat she cares for emerge as beams of light in an otherwise midnight-colored novel.

Courting Murder
Betty Webb

Bill Hopkins’ Courting Murder is an unusual hybrid of a mystery, serious in the first chapters, then rising to humor as the body count rises. When Rosswell Carew, a small-town judge, discovers a murdered man and a woman in a nearby wilderness park and the bodies promptly disappear, he decides to investigate the unusual goings-on. Realizing he doesn’t know enough, he enlists Ollie, a local snitch and petty criminal, to help. And that’s when things get weird. Too weird for Sheriff Charles “Frizz” Dodson, who—although stumped about the killings—doesn’t trust either Rosswell or Ollie. Rosswell resembles a loose cannon more than a judge, and Ollie is more apt to be found sitting in a cell than helping the police. What ensues is a romp through baked pie contests, motorcycle rallies, and large sums of dirty money. Author Hopkins, a judge himself, has a tendency to play fast and loose with the law in Courting Murder, but that just adds to the fun. One warning: careful readers might want to keep notes on who’s who—just because a character starts off in the book using one name doesn’t mean he/she will be using the same name by the last page. As it turns out, small Missouri towns are rife with people living under aliases.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 22 February 2013 06:02

Bill Hopkins’ Courting Murder is an unusual hybrid of a mystery, serious in the first chapters, then rising to humor as the body count rises. When Rosswell Carew, a small-town judge, discovers a murdered man and a woman in a nearby wilderness park and the bodies promptly disappear, he decides to investigate the unusual goings-on. Realizing he doesn’t know enough, he enlists Ollie, a local snitch and petty criminal, to help. And that’s when things get weird. Too weird for Sheriff Charles “Frizz” Dodson, who—although stumped about the killings—doesn’t trust either Rosswell or Ollie. Rosswell resembles a loose cannon more than a judge, and Ollie is more apt to be found sitting in a cell than helping the police. What ensues is a romp through baked pie contests, motorcycle rallies, and large sums of dirty money. Author Hopkins, a judge himself, has a tendency to play fast and loose with the law in Courting Murder, but that just adds to the fun. One warning: careful readers might want to keep notes on who’s who—just because a character starts off in the book using one name doesn’t mean he/she will be using the same name by the last page. As it turns out, small Missouri towns are rife with people living under aliases.

Missing Daughter, Shattered Family
Betty Webb

Despite a title that reads like a blurb and some instances of clumsy writing (for example, that old mystery cliché “A shot rang out!” is used too often), Liz Strange’s Missing Daughter, Shattered Family still works. The book’s strength is in its protagonist David Lloyd, an out and proud ex-cop whose only weakness is an excess of compassion. The Canadian PI has been hired by a wealthy woman to find daughter Stella, a former dancer turned drug addict, now gone missing in Ontario’s strip-joint underworld. Lloyd’s investigation brings about an unwelcome reunion with the cadre of gay-bashing cops who brought about his resignation from the police force, and are now threatening him again. Adding emotional weight to the riveting plot is Lloyd’s long-time romance with Jamie, a prosecuting attorney who fears being outed, even though his reluctance to come out is damaging their relationship. There’s enough violence here to satisfy readers with a thirst for blood, but at the same time, Lloyd and Jamie’s loving-but-tentative relationship will speak to readers trying to navigate their own tenuous lives.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 22 February 2013 06:02

Despite a title that reads like a blurb and some instances of clumsy writing (for example, that old mystery cliché “A shot rang out!” is used too often), Liz Strange’s Missing Daughter, Shattered Family still works. The book’s strength is in its protagonist David Lloyd, an out and proud ex-cop whose only weakness is an excess of compassion. The Canadian PI has been hired by a wealthy woman to find daughter Stella, a former dancer turned drug addict, now gone missing in Ontario’s strip-joint underworld. Lloyd’s investigation brings about an unwelcome reunion with the cadre of gay-bashing cops who brought about his resignation from the police force, and are now threatening him again. Adding emotional weight to the riveting plot is Lloyd’s long-time romance with Jamie, a prosecuting attorney who fears being outed, even though his reluctance to come out is damaging their relationship. There’s enough violence here to satisfy readers with a thirst for blood, but at the same time, Lloyd and Jamie’s loving-but-tentative relationship will speak to readers trying to navigate their own tenuous lives.

A Novel Way to Die
Betty Webb

The latest Black Cat Bookshop Mystery by Ali Brandon (aka Diane A.S. Stuckart) is A Novel Way to Die. Once again, series protagonist and Texas transplant Darla Pettistone dominates the action, as she continues to acclimate to Brooklyn, New York, and the bookstore she inherited from her aunt. Managing a bookstore is challenging, but Darla’s real nemesis is Hamlet, the huge and fearsome black cat who was an additional and unexpected bequest. Luckily, though, Hamlet possesses magical powers that enable him to pull books from the shelves, thereby revealing cryptic passages that assist Darla in solving mysteries. I won’t divulge the particulars of the plot, but suffice it to say that Darla courts danger for both Hamlet and herself because she has extremely—and I mean extremely—poor taste in men. But the truly significant question: can Darla ever bond with her fractious feline? Stay tuned for the surprising result. I, for one, am very curious about where this quirky series will travel next.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 22 February 2013 06:02

The latest Black Cat Bookshop Mystery by Ali Brandon (aka Diane A.S. Stuckart) is A Novel Way to Die. Once again, series protagonist and Texas transplant Darla Pettistone dominates the action, as she continues to acclimate to Brooklyn, New York, and the bookstore she inherited from her aunt. Managing a bookstore is challenging, but Darla’s real nemesis is Hamlet, the huge and fearsome black cat who was an additional and unexpected bequest. Luckily, though, Hamlet possesses magical powers that enable him to pull books from the shelves, thereby revealing cryptic passages that assist Darla in solving mysteries. I won’t divulge the particulars of the plot, but suffice it to say that Darla courts danger for both Hamlet and herself because she has extremely—and I mean extremely—poor taste in men. But the truly significant question: can Darla ever bond with her fractious feline? Stay tuned for the surprising result. I, for one, am very curious about where this quirky series will travel next.

Read and Buried
Betty Webb

This delightful tale stars reading specialist Lizzie Turner, who is also a prominent member of the Ashton Corners Mystery Readers and Cheese Straws Society, located in small-town Alabama. The eclectic society is composed of a motley crew of characters, including a third-grade teacher, a retired police chief, an attorney, a young pregnant woman, a reading-challenged teen, and the gracious hostess of the club. The mystery begins when Derek Alton, a one-hit-wonder mystery writer, arrives in Ashton Corners to autograph books in a local bookstore. Why, Lizzie wonders, would this author want to visit sleepy Ashton Corners, certainly an unlikely stop for a book tour? Something about him arouses Lizzie’s suspicions, especially when he makes inappropriate advances toward her, even after she has clearly stated that she has a boyfriend, who also happens to be the new chief of police. This doesn’t deter the sleazy author, however. In fact, Alton has already volunteered to speak at the next book club meeting and uses this as a pretext for visiting Lizzie at her home. He doesn’t linger for long, though, because he is shot and killed from outside Lizzie’s window. Why? As expected, the book club members eagerly leap into action, but it remains for Lizzie, sleuth extraordinaire, to arrive at the solution.

In addition to the expert plotting and characterizations, Read and Buried offers a unique feature: reading lists of mysteries favored by each member of the club. You might want to take along these lists the next time you visit your local library.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 22 February 2013 06:02

This delightful tale stars reading specialist Lizzie Turner, who is also a prominent member of the Ashton Corners Mystery Readers and Cheese Straws Society, located in small-town Alabama. The eclectic society is composed of a motley crew of characters, including a third-grade teacher, a retired police chief, an attorney, a young pregnant woman, a reading-challenged teen, and the gracious hostess of the club. The mystery begins when Derek Alton, a one-hit-wonder mystery writer, arrives in Ashton Corners to autograph books in a local bookstore. Why, Lizzie wonders, would this author want to visit sleepy Ashton Corners, certainly an unlikely stop for a book tour? Something about him arouses Lizzie’s suspicions, especially when he makes inappropriate advances toward her, even after she has clearly stated that she has a boyfriend, who also happens to be the new chief of police. This doesn’t deter the sleazy author, however. In fact, Alton has already volunteered to speak at the next book club meeting and uses this as a pretext for visiting Lizzie at her home. He doesn’t linger for long, though, because he is shot and killed from outside Lizzie’s window. Why? As expected, the book club members eagerly leap into action, but it remains for Lizzie, sleuth extraordinaire, to arrive at the solution.

In addition to the expert plotting and characterizations, Read and Buried offers a unique feature: reading lists of mysteries favored by each member of the club. You might want to take along these lists the next time you visit your local library.

A Trip to Paris With Cara Black
Oline Cogdill

blackcara_signingmont

I love Paris in the springtime, just as the song says.

Actually, that’s the only time I’ve been to Paris, not counting the one-day visit that was part of a cruise.

While my friends and I stumbled through Paris by ourselves, the idea of going with someone who truly knows the city is quite appealing.

Author Cara Black is offering just such a trip.

And if anyone knows Paris, it’s Black.

Black is the national bestselling author of 13 novels about private investigator Aimée Leduc.

Set in Paris, these novels take the reader to neighborhoods and streets off the beaten path, giving a blackcara_signingmont2
view of the City of Lights few tourists see.

In Murder Below Montparnasse, her latest novel, Aimee searches for a priceless long-lost Modigliani portrait and a Soviet secret that’s been buried for 80 years.

Black’s novels have earned her several nominations for the Anthony and Macavity awards, a Washington Post Book World Book of the Year citation, the Médaille de la Ville de Paris—the Paris City Medal, which is awarded in recognition of contribution to international culture.

And now she is offering A Killer Trip to Paris for 15 fans to see the city as it appears in her novels.

An entry form to enter the contest is in copies of the first printing of her latest novel Murder Below Montparnasse and at some bookstores.

blackcara_montparnasse
For details, visit www.parisisformurder.com.

The contest will run from March 5, 2013, to April 30, 2013. The winner will be announced on May 15. The trip will place from Oct. 15, 2013, through Oct. 22, 2013.

To gear up for the hundreds and hundreds of copies of Murder Below Montparnasse that will include the entry form, Black recently had a marathon signing at a warehouse.

I’m exhausted just looking at the number of books she signed.

Photos: Top, A mountain of books awaits Cara Black's signature. Bottom, Cara Black, center, signs the last copy at the warehouse. Photos courtesy Soho Press.

Super User
Saturday, 23 February 2013 10:02

blackcara_signingmont

I love Paris in the springtime, just as the song says.

Actually, that’s the only time I’ve been to Paris, not counting the one-day visit that was part of a cruise.

While my friends and I stumbled through Paris by ourselves, the idea of going with someone who truly knows the city is quite appealing.

Author Cara Black is offering just such a trip.

And if anyone knows Paris, it’s Black.

Black is the national bestselling author of 13 novels about private investigator Aimée Leduc.

Set in Paris, these novels take the reader to neighborhoods and streets off the beaten path, giving a blackcara_signingmont2
view of the City of Lights few tourists see.

In Murder Below Montparnasse, her latest novel, Aimee searches for a priceless long-lost Modigliani portrait and a Soviet secret that’s been buried for 80 years.

Black’s novels have earned her several nominations for the Anthony and Macavity awards, a Washington Post Book World Book of the Year citation, the Médaille de la Ville de Paris—the Paris City Medal, which is awarded in recognition of contribution to international culture.

And now she is offering A Killer Trip to Paris for 15 fans to see the city as it appears in her novels.

An entry form to enter the contest is in copies of the first printing of her latest novel Murder Below Montparnasse and at some bookstores.

blackcara_montparnasse
For details, visit www.parisisformurder.com.

The contest will run from March 5, 2013, to April 30, 2013. The winner will be announced on May 15. The trip will place from Oct. 15, 2013, through Oct. 22, 2013.

To gear up for the hundreds and hundreds of copies of Murder Below Montparnasse that will include the entry form, Black recently had a marathon signing at a warehouse.

I’m exhausted just looking at the number of books she signed.

Photos: Top, A mountain of books awaits Cara Black's signature. Bottom, Cara Black, center, signs the last copy at the warehouse. Photos courtesy Soho Press.

Winter Issue #128 Contents
Mystery Scene

128cover_250

Features


Kinsey & Her: The Sue Grafton Interview

A fascinating conversation with one of the icons of contemporary mystery fiction.
by Kevin Burton Smith

Criminal Associations: Allingham, Carr & Doyle

A signed book from Margery Allingham’s library reveals a host of literary connections.
by Douglas G. Greene

Desecrating Poe

The Following, a new TV drama, crosses a line when it invokes Edgar Allan Poe as part of its glamorization of the serial killer.
by Laura Miller

Gormania: 10 Great John D. MacDonald Novels

Widely admired for his Travis McGee mysteries, MacDonald also wrote some fine standalone crime novels.
by Ed Gorman

Fave Raves of 2012

Books that linger in the mind long after year’s end.
by Mystery Scene contributors

Life Upon the Wicked Stage: Amnon Kabatchnik

A monumental work of scholarship chronicles the history of mystery theater.
by Joseph Goodrich

“3.14159” Mystery Crossword

by Verna Suit

Departments


At the Scene

by Kate Stine

Mystery Miscellany

by Louis Phillips

Hints & Allegations

Edgar Award nominations, 2013 Grand Master Awards, Every Picture Tells a Story, Dilys Award nominations, Nero Wolfe Awards

New Books

The Novelist as Grave Robber
by Holly Goddard Jones

The Babysitter’s Legacy
by Jenny Milchman

The Hook

First Lines That Caught Our Attention


Reviews


Small Press Reviews: Covering the Independents

by Betty Webb

Very Original: Paperback Originals Reviewed

by Lynne Maxwell & Hank Wagner

What About Murder? Reference Books Reviewed

by Jon L. Breen

Sounds of Suspense: Audiobooks Reviewed

by Dick Lochte

Short & Sweet: Short Stories Considered

by Bill Crider

Mystery Scene Reviews

Miscellaneous


The Docket

Letters

Our Readers Recommend

Advertising Info

Advertiser Index

Admin
Monday, 05 April 2010 10:04

128cover_250

Features


Kinsey & Her: The Sue Grafton Interview

A fascinating conversation with one of the icons of contemporary mystery fiction.
by Kevin Burton Smith

Criminal Associations: Allingham, Carr & Doyle

A signed book from Margery Allingham’s library reveals a host of literary connections.
by Douglas G. Greene

Desecrating Poe

The Following, a new TV drama, crosses a line when it invokes Edgar Allan Poe as part of its glamorization of the serial killer.
by Laura Miller

Gormania: 10 Great John D. MacDonald Novels

Widely admired for his Travis McGee mysteries, MacDonald also wrote some fine standalone crime novels.
by Ed Gorman

Fave Raves of 2012

Books that linger in the mind long after year’s end.
by Mystery Scene contributors

Life Upon the Wicked Stage: Amnon Kabatchnik

A monumental work of scholarship chronicles the history of mystery theater.
by Joseph Goodrich

“3.14159” Mystery Crossword

by Verna Suit

Departments


At the Scene

by Kate Stine

Mystery Miscellany

by Louis Phillips

Hints & Allegations

Edgar Award nominations, 2013 Grand Master Awards, Every Picture Tells a Story, Dilys Award nominations, Nero Wolfe Awards

New Books

The Novelist as Grave Robber
by Holly Goddard Jones

The Babysitter’s Legacy
by Jenny Milchman

The Hook

First Lines That Caught Our Attention


Reviews


Small Press Reviews: Covering the Independents

by Betty Webb

Very Original: Paperback Originals Reviewed

by Lynne Maxwell & Hank Wagner

What About Murder? Reference Books Reviewed

by Jon L. Breen

Sounds of Suspense: Audiobooks Reviewed

by Dick Lochte

Short & Sweet: Short Stories Considered

by Bill Crider

Mystery Scene Reviews

Miscellaneous


The Docket

Letters

Our Readers Recommend

Advertising Info

Advertiser Index

At the Scene, Winter Issue #128
Kate Stine

128cover_250Hi Everyone,

The more you think you know about any- thing, the more you can be surprised. That was Kevin Burton Smith’s reaction to his revealing conversation with Sue Grafton in this issue. It turns out that the traumatic childhood of Grafton’s detective character Kinsey Millhone has some recognizable echoes in her own.

Even if you don’t have the opportunity to see a lot of theater, let me recommend Amnon Kabatchnik’s brilliant Blood on the Stage, a four-volume history of crime, mystery, and detection plays. These books are great reads—well-written, immensely knowledgeable, and packed with entertaining anecdotes and trivia. We asked Joe Goodrich, himself an Edgar-winning playwright, to give an overview of Blood on the Stage and talk to its author. I think you’ll be intrigued!

Speaking of excellent criticism, our con- gratulations to longtime Mystery Scene contributor Oline Cogdill! She will be receiving a Raven Award from the Mystery Writers of America at this year’s Edgar Awards Banquet. The Raven is given for outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing, and I think we can all agree that Oline certainly deserves it.

Have you already read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals? Seen Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln? Then proceed imme- diately to Daniel Stashower’s nonfiction work The Hour of Peril in which Allan Pinkerton, America’s first private eye, saves Honest Abe from assassination as the President-elect makes his way to Washington in 1861. Judging by the response we get on Facebook and Twitter, John D. MacDonald must be one of our readers all-time favorite writers. He certainly is for Ed Gorman, who lauds his top 10 MacDonald novels in this issue. For a list of more recent top crime novels, check out our “Fave Raves” for 2012, in which several Mystery Scene contributors name their picks for the best of last year.

In “Desecrating Poe,” Laura Miller tackles a topic that has been bothering me, too: the celebration of the serial killer in crime fiction. “Like an anti-porn crusader lingering over the (shocking!) details of the material that offends her, the serial-killer genre, with half-pretended revulsion, offers up lavish interludes of sadistic violence....While the narrative pretends to condemn and recoil from its serial-killer villain, it covertly encourages us to revel in his powers.” She is particularly outraged that The Following, the new Fox TV series about a Edgar Allan Poe-obsessed serial killer, is claiming the writer as a touchstone. Miller asserts, I think correctly, that Poe never showed much interest in evil per se, let alone celebrated it.

I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts on this topic. Write in and let’s talk about it! Brian and I will be at Malice Domestic and the Edgars this spring, and at Bouchercon and Magna Cum Murder later on in the year. We hope to see you!

Kate Stine
Editor-in-chief

Teri Duerr
Friday, 04 March 2011 11:03

Sue Grafton on Kinsey & Me, a critical look at Edgar Allan Poe and the TV's The Following, Saving President-elect Lincoln, 2013 Edgar Allan Poe Awards, and more.

Back in Time With P.J. Parrish
Oline Cogdill

parrishpj_heartofice
Historical mysteries have given the genre wonderful stories. James R. Benn’s Billy Boyle stories and Rebecca Cantrell’s Hannah Vogel novels explore life during WWII while Charles Todd and Jacqueline Winspear have shown us WWI, better than Downton Abbey. Martin Limon brings a view of the Korean Conflict.

But historical mysteries aren’t all about war or settings occurring more than 60 years ago.

Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone novels are set in the 1980s and, as the series inches toward 1990, the vast changes in technology they reflect are astounding.

Did we really live without cell phones, the Internet or computers?

Each of our histories are different. My memories are different than yours, even if we grew up in the same era or share a hometown.

P.J. Parrish’s latest novel Heart of Ice sparked a memory for me. Parrish’s novels about Louis Kincaid began in the mid-1980s and now, with Heart of Ice, have reached 1990.

In Heart of Ice, Louis has brought his daughter, Lilly, to Michigan's picturesque Mackinac Island just before the remote tourist area shuts down for the winter. But the vacation has barely begun when Lily falls on top of a skeleton in the basement of an abandoned hunting lodge. This launches an investigation that has its roots in 1969 when a wealthy industrialist’s daughter disappeared.

My review just ran in the Sun Sentinel.

It’s the 1969 part of Heart of Ice that sparked a memory when the investigators find a photograph in which the boys are wearing shirts with fruit loops on the back.

Fruit loops!

parrish_pjsisterskrisleftkellyright
Boy, did that spark a memory.

I am not talking about the cereal, which is spelled differently, but the little loops that were on the back of boys’ shirts back in the day.

In Heart of Ice, the investigators talk about how girls would collect fruit loops: “Conquests. Guys notched their belts. Girls collected fruit loops.”

Actually, my friends and I were too innocent for “conquests,” and probably didn’t know what that meant back then. But we did collect fruit loops from boys’ shirts. We weren’t sure why, but it was fun and one of those little things that girls share.

This whole fruit loop reference lasts less than two paragraphs in Heart of Ice. But it sparked a lovely memory.

I think that having your words connect with a reader’s experiences has to be one of the best compliments an author can receive.

As for those fruit loops – I doubt they lasted in our homes past the first year of college.

But I remember when four of us asked a guy if we could have his fruit loop, and it was a sweet memory.

Photo: P.J. Parrish are sisters Kris Montee, left, and Kelly Nichols

Super User
Wednesday, 27 February 2013 06:02

parrishpj_heartofice
Historical mysteries have given the genre wonderful stories. James R. Benn’s Billy Boyle stories and Rebecca Cantrell’s Hannah Vogel novels explore life during WWII while Charles Todd and Jacqueline Winspear have shown us WWI, better than Downton Abbey. Martin Limon brings a view of the Korean Conflict.

But historical mysteries aren’t all about war or settings occurring more than 60 years ago.

Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone novels are set in the 1980s and, as the series inches toward 1990, the vast changes in technology they reflect are astounding.

Did we really live without cell phones, the Internet or computers?

Each of our histories are different. My memories are different than yours, even if we grew up in the same era or share a hometown.

P.J. Parrish’s latest novel Heart of Ice sparked a memory for me. Parrish’s novels about Louis Kincaid began in the mid-1980s and now, with Heart of Ice, have reached 1990.

In Heart of Ice, Louis has brought his daughter, Lilly, to Michigan's picturesque Mackinac Island just before the remote tourist area shuts down for the winter. But the vacation has barely begun when Lily falls on top of a skeleton in the basement of an abandoned hunting lodge. This launches an investigation that has its roots in 1969 when a wealthy industrialist’s daughter disappeared.

My review just ran in the Sun Sentinel.

It’s the 1969 part of Heart of Ice that sparked a memory when the investigators find a photograph in which the boys are wearing shirts with fruit loops on the back.

Fruit loops!

parrish_pjsisterskrisleftkellyright
Boy, did that spark a memory.

I am not talking about the cereal, which is spelled differently, but the little loops that were on the back of boys’ shirts back in the day.

In Heart of Ice, the investigators talk about how girls would collect fruit loops: “Conquests. Guys notched their belts. Girls collected fruit loops.”

Actually, my friends and I were too innocent for “conquests,” and probably didn’t know what that meant back then. But we did collect fruit loops from boys’ shirts. We weren’t sure why, but it was fun and one of those little things that girls share.

This whole fruit loop reference lasts less than two paragraphs in Heart of Ice. But it sparked a lovely memory.

I think that having your words connect with a reader’s experiences has to be one of the best compliments an author can receive.

As for those fruit loops – I doubt they lasted in our homes past the first year of college.

But I remember when four of us asked a guy if we could have his fruit loop, and it was a sweet memory.

Photo: P.J. Parrish are sisters Kris Montee, left, and Kelly Nichols

Book, Line, and Sinker
Lynne Maxwell

You’ll definitely want to visit Briar Creek Public Library, located on the rocky Connecticut coast. Join the colorful townsfolk in Jenn McKinlay’s Book, Line, and Sinker for an in-depth tour conducted by library director Lindsey Norris. As is customary in public libraries, Briar Creek offers a book club, but this one is held during the lunch break for Lindsey and friends. Fiction turns to fact, however, when the town, book club members included, is divided into opposing camps by a major controversy. Should Briar Creek maintain the integrity off the pristine island off its coast, or should it capitalize upon the job opportunities promised by a salvage expert, who intends to unearth a legendary treasure rumored to be buried there by Captain Kidd? The dispute turns deadly, naturally, and Lindsey, aided by her seafaring boyfriend, Mike “Sully” Sullivan, takes the helm, figuratively, and pilots Briar Creek to safe harbor. McKinlay also steers this novel to a most satisfying denouement that will encourage you to follow this well-crafted series as it journeys into the future. And I must confess, I fell for the red herrings hook—er—book, line, and sinker.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 26 February 2013 09:02

You’ll definitely want to visit Briar Creek Public Library, located on the rocky Connecticut coast. Join the colorful townsfolk in Jenn McKinlay’s Book, Line, and Sinker for an in-depth tour conducted by library director Lindsey Norris. As is customary in public libraries, Briar Creek offers a book club, but this one is held during the lunch break for Lindsey and friends. Fiction turns to fact, however, when the town, book club members included, is divided into opposing camps by a major controversy. Should Briar Creek maintain the integrity off the pristine island off its coast, or should it capitalize upon the job opportunities promised by a salvage expert, who intends to unearth a legendary treasure rumored to be buried there by Captain Kidd? The dispute turns deadly, naturally, and Lindsey, aided by her seafaring boyfriend, Mike “Sully” Sullivan, takes the helm, figuratively, and pilots Briar Creek to safe harbor. McKinlay also steers this novel to a most satisfying denouement that will encourage you to follow this well-crafted series as it journeys into the future. And I must confess, I fell for the red herrings hook—er—book, line, and sinker.

The Cloud
Hank Wagner

Matt Richtel’s The Cloud begins in classic thriller fashion as journalist Nat Idle is almost pushed into the path of an oncoming train. Although it could easily be interpreted as a bizarre accident, Idle concludes it was an attack after his assailant drops a piece of paper with two names on it, including his own. Trying to track down the person who he assumes is the next potential victim, Idle becomes embroiled in a seeming conspiracy to peddle defective cognitive software to Chinese youths. But is it? You see, “the cloud” of the title has two meanings, one as an ethereal place of data storage, and the other, the confused mental state Idle finds himself in after sustaining a concussion in the initial attack.

Richtel does a tremendous job in pulling readers into the story with his harrowing opening, never letting up for a minute. Idle is a compelling character, but is a classic unreliable narrator, as we don’t know whether we can fully trust his interpretation of events. Reminiscent of the movies Vertigo and Memento, The Cloud makes for memorable reading.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 26 February 2013 09:02

richtel_thecloudAddled by a brain injury incurred after an attack on his life, journalist Nat Idle searches for answers in this unrelenting classic thriller.

Into the Dark
Hank Wagner

Memories loom large in Alison Gaylin’s second Brenna Spector novel, Into the Dark, as her heroine, a New York PI, suffers from a rare condition called hyperthymestic syndrome, causing her to remember everything that’s happened around her since she was 11—sights, sounds, smells, conversations, everything. It’s a blessing, as she’s a veritable treasure trove of knowledge about certain events, and a curse, as she often effectively begins to relive past events unless she’s able to apply a coping technique. Her personal history figures prominently here, as the seductive murmurings of a missing Internet performance artist, “Lula Belle,” conjure memories of her sister Clea, who went missing decades prior. Hoping she may be reunited with her long-lost sibling, Brenna takes the case, doggedly pursuing leads even after she realizes her well-being, and the well-being of those around her, may be threatened by doing so.

Spector is a great character, and Gaylin exploits her unique condition effectively, cannily avoiding making it into the primary focus of her series. Spector’s surroundings and supporting cast are well drawn, allowing readers instant access into her world. The fact that the case is so personal only makes the book more compelling, as Gaylin manages to convey a sense of urgency throughout her carefully crafted narrative.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 26 February 2013 10:02

Memories loom large in Alison Gaylin’s second Brenna Spector novel, Into the Dark, as her heroine, a New York PI, suffers from a rare condition called hyperthymestic syndrome, causing her to remember everything that’s happened around her since she was 11—sights, sounds, smells, conversations, everything. It’s a blessing, as she’s a veritable treasure trove of knowledge about certain events, and a curse, as she often effectively begins to relive past events unless she’s able to apply a coping technique. Her personal history figures prominently here, as the seductive murmurings of a missing Internet performance artist, “Lula Belle,” conjure memories of her sister Clea, who went missing decades prior. Hoping she may be reunited with her long-lost sibling, Brenna takes the case, doggedly pursuing leads even after she realizes her well-being, and the well-being of those around her, may be threatened by doing so.

Spector is a great character, and Gaylin exploits her unique condition effectively, cannily avoiding making it into the primary focus of her series. Spector’s surroundings and supporting cast are well drawn, allowing readers instant access into her world. The fact that the case is so personal only makes the book more compelling, as Gaylin manages to convey a sense of urgency throughout her carefully crafted narrative.

Fear Collector
Hank Wagner

In Gregg Olsen’s Fear Collector, police detective Grace Alexander is assigned to a case in which the perpetrator seems to have adopted infamous serial killer Ted Bundy’s methods to secure his victims. Grace knows those methods intimately because she was educated about all things Bundy from an early age by her obsessive mother, who believed “Ted” was responsible for the disappearance of Grace’s older sister Tricia. Grace’s current case thus becomes extremely personal, as the past collides with the present in visceral, disturbing ways.

As the author of several true-crime accounts, Olsen brings an extensive knowledge of crime, criminals, and police procedure to bear on his storytelling. Indeed, at times, you might feel as if the author is relating things that actually occurred, rather than things he’s cobbled together from his imagination. This brutal verisimilitude makes it easier for the reader to accept the novel’s more outré elements (mothers do not come off well in this book), making for edge-of-the-seat reading. You’ll also learn more about Ted Bundy than you ever expected to garner from a thriller; Olsen’s twisted take on his legacy is guaranteed to leave you spooked for many days after you finish.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 26 February 2013 10:02

In Gregg Olsen’s Fear Collector, police detective Grace Alexander is assigned to a case in which the perpetrator seems to have adopted infamous serial killer Ted Bundy’s methods to secure his victims. Grace knows those methods intimately because she was educated about all things Bundy from an early age by her obsessive mother, who believed “Ted” was responsible for the disappearance of Grace’s older sister Tricia. Grace’s current case thus becomes extremely personal, as the past collides with the present in visceral, disturbing ways.

As the author of several true-crime accounts, Olsen brings an extensive knowledge of crime, criminals, and police procedure to bear on his storytelling. Indeed, at times, you might feel as if the author is relating things that actually occurred, rather than things he’s cobbled together from his imagination. This brutal verisimilitude makes it easier for the reader to accept the novel’s more outré elements (mothers do not come off well in this book), making for edge-of-the-seat reading. You’ll also learn more about Ted Bundy than you ever expected to garner from a thriller; Olsen’s twisted take on his legacy is guaranteed to leave you spooked for many days after you finish.

Dangerous Work: Diary of an Arctic Adventure
Jon L. Breen

Conan Doyle’s previously unpublished log of his 1880 voyage as 20-year-old ship’s surgeon on the Arctic whaler S.S. Hope is presented in 200 pages of facsimile, including some skillful drawings by the multitalented author, and an 80-page transcript extensively annotated by the editors, who also offer an excellent introduction and concluding essay.

Doyle was an engaging writer from the beginning, and this superbly designed book has obvious biographical and historical interest. Appended are four of Doyle’s later writings drawing on his Arctic experience, two nonfiction magazine accounts, the ghost story “The Captain of the Pole-Star,” and the Sherlock Holmes story “The Adventure of Black Peter.”

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 26 February 2013 10:02

Conan Doyle’s previously unpublished log of his 1880 voyage as 20-year-old ship’s surgeon on the Arctic whaler S.S. Hope is presented in 200 pages of facsimile, including some skillful drawings by the multitalented author, and an 80-page transcript extensively annotated by the editors, who also offer an excellent introduction and concluding essay.

Doyle was an engaging writer from the beginning, and this superbly designed book has obvious biographical and historical interest. Appended are four of Doyle’s later writings drawing on his Arctic experience, two nonfiction magazine accounts, the ghost story “The Captain of the Pole-Star,” and the Sherlock Holmes story “The Adventure of Black Peter.”

Mary Elizabeth Braddon: a Companion to the Mystery Fiction
Jon L. Breen

The McFarland Companion series, edited by Elizabeth Foxwell, has been consistently excellent, both in its choice of subjects and its quality of scholarship and writing. This latest addition is well up to the standard set by earlier volumes on John Buchan, E.X. Ferrars, and Evan Hunter/Ed McBain, and contains the usual features: a biography of the subject, a life chronology, and alphabetical and chronological lists of works, followed by a main text in dictionary form including works, major characters, locales, associates and influences, and topical essays (e.g., “Female Detectives and Marriage”).

Though usually associated with a single famous title, Lady Audley’s Secret (1862), Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1835-1915) produced a huge body of work between 1860 and the year of her death. Beller makes a strong case for her historical importance to the development of detective fiction and the changing status of women. Many readers (including this one) will be set on the trail of her less well-known novels, readily available on the print and ebook markets.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 26 February 2013 10:02

The McFarland Companion series, edited by Elizabeth Foxwell, has been consistently excellent, both in its choice of subjects and its quality of scholarship and writing. This latest addition is well up to the standard set by earlier volumes on John Buchan, E.X. Ferrars, and Evan Hunter/Ed McBain, and contains the usual features: a biography of the subject, a life chronology, and alphabetical and chronological lists of works, followed by a main text in dictionary form including works, major characters, locales, associates and influences, and topical essays (e.g., “Female Detectives and Marriage”).

Though usually associated with a single famous title, Lady Audley’s Secret (1862), Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1835-1915) produced a huge body of work between 1860 and the year of her death. Beller makes a strong case for her historical importance to the development of detective fiction and the changing status of women. Many readers (including this one) will be set on the trail of her less well-known novels, readily available on the print and ebook markets.

Andrea Camilleri: a Companion to the Mystery Fiction
Jon L. Breen

The McFarland Companion series, edited by Elizabeth Foxwell, has been consistently excellent, both in its choice of subjects and its quality of scholarship and writing. This latest addition is well up to the standard set by earlier volumes on John Buchan, E.X. Ferrars, and Evan Hunter/Ed McBain, and contains the usual features: a biography of the subject, a life chronology, and alphabetical and chronological lists of works, followed by a main text in dictionary form including works, major characters, locales, associates and influences, and topical essays (e.g., “Mafia and Representation of the Church”).

Born in 1925, the prolific Andrea Camilleri, creator of Sicilian cop Salvo Montalbano, is my personal favorite among recent European mystery writers in translation. He is the first non-English-language writer as well as the first living subject to be covered in the McFarland series. Rinaldi lists the Montalbano books and stories and the author’s other writings by their original Italian titles in separate alphabetical and chronological lists, with US titles or translations of titles not published in English given in parentheses.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 26 February 2013 10:02

The McFarland Companion series, edited by Elizabeth Foxwell, has been consistently excellent, both in its choice of subjects and its quality of scholarship and writing. This latest addition is well up to the standard set by earlier volumes on John Buchan, E.X. Ferrars, and Evan Hunter/Ed McBain, and contains the usual features: a biography of the subject, a life chronology, and alphabetical and chronological lists of works, followed by a main text in dictionary form including works, major characters, locales, associates and influences, and topical essays (e.g., “Mafia and Representation of the Church”).

Born in 1925, the prolific Andrea Camilleri, creator of Sicilian cop Salvo Montalbano, is my personal favorite among recent European mystery writers in translation. He is the first non-English-language writer as well as the first living subject to be covered in the McFarland series. Rinaldi lists the Montalbano books and stories and the author’s other writings by their original Italian titles in separate alphabetical and chronological lists, with US titles or translations of titles not published in English given in parentheses.