The Trojan Colt
Kevin Burton Smith

Award-winning sci-fi author Mike Resnick serves up another amiable mystery featuring Cincinnati gumshoe Eli Paxton, the sad-sack everyman last seen in The Dog in the Manger, reprinted last year but originally published back in 2001. I suspect this “new” one might date from the same era, because Eli hasn’t aged noticeably and the running gag about his aversion to technology seems even more forced—and even more unlikely—than ever. A middle-aged man working as a contemporary private investigator not owning (or even knowing how to use) a cellphone? Or a computer? That would be like Philip Marlowe riding a horse in The Big Sleep.

Still, if you can swallow that big gob of disbelief, that sense of deliberate anachronism might actually be part of the book’s charm. Because The Trojan Colt is all about delivering on expectations; it’s a deliberate love letter to the PI mid-list, an unapologetic comfort read. It’s telling that when Eli watches old movies on the late show in his hotel they’re not stone-cold, heart-wrenching classics of the genre, but pleasantly dependable old B-flicks featuring Mike Shayne and Boston Blackie. As Eli himself says at one point, “I’m just a detective. Being a hero is another union.”

There’s something reassuring in someone so defiantly old school. And while Eli may be your classic journeyman, soft-boiled shamus—a nice guy who asks questions, tries to get along with the cops, and holds a chair out for his date—he’s no sap. Leaving his troublesome dog Marlowe with an unsuspecting neighbor, Eli journeys to nearby Lexington, Kentucky, to guard Trojan, a prize racehorse whose stud services are about to be auctioned off. But when Tony, the yearling’s young groom, disappears, Eli’s quick to act. As he doggedly works the case, we get to see what Eli’s really made of, as well as receive an intriguing glimpse into the racing game and the astronomical amounts of money up for grabs when it comes to the breeding of future (potential) champions. When Eli discovers that Trojan’s previous groom also went missing, and that an out-of-town assassin has been spotted in the area, Eli himself becomes a target.

Along the way Resnick makes sure that many of the genre’s most beloved tropes are trotted out. The author doesn’t break any new ground, perhaps, but in the gallop to the fair-play finish line, it’s clear he doesn’t have to.

Teri Duerr
2013-07-05 16:09:16

Award-winning sci-fi author Mike Resnick serves up another amiable mystery featuring Cincinnati gumshoe Eli Paxton, the sad-sack everyman last seen in The Dog in the Manger, reprinted last year but originally published back in 2001. I suspect this “new” one might date from the same era, because Eli hasn’t aged noticeably and the running gag about his aversion to technology seems even more forced—and even more unlikely—than ever. A middle-aged man working as a contemporary private investigator not owning (or even knowing how to use) a cellphone? Or a computer? That would be like Philip Marlowe riding a horse in The Big Sleep.

Still, if you can swallow that big gob of disbelief, that sense of deliberate anachronism might actually be part of the book’s charm. Because The Trojan Colt is all about delivering on expectations; it’s a deliberate love letter to the PI mid-list, an unapologetic comfort read. It’s telling that when Eli watches old movies on the late show in his hotel they’re not stone-cold, heart-wrenching classics of the genre, but pleasantly dependable old B-flicks featuring Mike Shayne and Boston Blackie. As Eli himself says at one point, “I’m just a detective. Being a hero is another union.”

There’s something reassuring in someone so defiantly old school. And while Eli may be your classic journeyman, soft-boiled shamus—a nice guy who asks questions, tries to get along with the cops, and holds a chair out for his date—he’s no sap. Leaving his troublesome dog Marlowe with an unsuspecting neighbor, Eli journeys to nearby Lexington, Kentucky, to guard Trojan, a prize racehorse whose stud services are about to be auctioned off. But when Tony, the yearling’s young groom, disappears, Eli’s quick to act. As he doggedly works the case, we get to see what Eli’s really made of, as well as receive an intriguing glimpse into the racing game and the astronomical amounts of money up for grabs when it comes to the breeding of future (potential) champions. When Eli discovers that Trojan’s previous groom also went missing, and that an out-of-town assassin has been spotted in the area, Eli himself becomes a target.

Along the way Resnick makes sure that many of the genre’s most beloved tropes are trotted out. The author doesn’t break any new ground, perhaps, but in the gallop to the fair-play finish line, it’s clear he doesn’t have to.

Dream With Little Angels
Robin Agnew

This is a so-called “literary” mystery (i.e., it has some gorgeous prose and some thoughtful characterizations, with attention given to theme and setting). My problem with many efforts of the more literary type is that the mystery part is forgotten about. I like nice writing; but I also like a good plot. I think the mix that makes a great book combines prose, character, setting, and plot.

Michael Hiebert’s debut delivers on all those fronts. When I read his bio and saw that he lived in Canada I was puzzled that he set his novel in the American South in 1987, so puzzled that I emailed him to find out why. It turns out he had spent some time in the South and loved the romance and what he referred to as its “innocence and tenderness.” In addition, he was smitten by a re-reading of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

That’s all pretty heavy stuff to lay on your first mystery novel, but Hiebert delivers. It’s the coming-of-age-story of Abe Teal (though mystery readers may be reminded more strongly of John Hart’s The Last Child or William Kent Krueger’s Ordinary Grace than To Kill a Mockingbird), the son of single mom Leah Teal, also a detective in the tiny town of Alvin, Alabama.

The book opens with a flashback to the now-12-year-old discovery of a young girl’s body under a tree; fast forward to the present (or to 1987), and there’s another little girl gone missing. Abe’s mother has never gotten over the first disappearance; she’s not taking the new one well. In addition, her daughter Carry, Abe’s older sister, is just hitting teenage-hood and all that it implies. Leah is stretched pretty thin all around and Abe is left trying to make sense of it all.

Hiebert does touch on racism a bit in his book, but is not message-y on the topic; it’s part of the fabric of the story. What he turns out to be good at is pacing and character. He’s enough of a natural mystery writer, maybe, to even use a red herring or two as he tells his story, though I think he’s primarily interested in Abe.

Abe is 11 and he’s a good, if overly prescient, narrator. He figures things out in his head and manages to steer his way pretty well, trying to do what’s right as he sees it. His counterpoint is his friend Dewey, whose thinking is less sophisticated than Abe’s but somehow less straightforward. The two make for an interesting combination.

The end of the story is a breathless, will-they-get-there-in-time affair, with a heartbreaking resolution. Hiebert’s skill at character and storytelling should take him a long way; he has at least two more books planned featuring Abe’s family, and I’m looking forward to them.

Teri Duerr
2013-07-05 18:04:25

This is a so-called “literary” mystery (i.e., it has some gorgeous prose and some thoughtful characterizations, with attention given to theme and setting). My problem with many efforts of the more literary type is that the mystery part is forgotten about. I like nice writing; but I also like a good plot. I think the mix that makes a great book combines prose, character, setting, and plot.

Michael Hiebert’s debut delivers on all those fronts. When I read his bio and saw that he lived in Canada I was puzzled that he set his novel in the American South in 1987, so puzzled that I emailed him to find out why. It turns out he had spent some time in the South and loved the romance and what he referred to as its “innocence and tenderness.” In addition, he was smitten by a re-reading of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.

That’s all pretty heavy stuff to lay on your first mystery novel, but Hiebert delivers. It’s the coming-of-age-story of Abe Teal (though mystery readers may be reminded more strongly of John Hart’s The Last Child or William Kent Krueger’s Ordinary Grace than To Kill a Mockingbird), the son of single mom Leah Teal, also a detective in the tiny town of Alvin, Alabama.

The book opens with a flashback to the now-12-year-old discovery of a young girl’s body under a tree; fast forward to the present (or to 1987), and there’s another little girl gone missing. Abe’s mother has never gotten over the first disappearance; she’s not taking the new one well. In addition, her daughter Carry, Abe’s older sister, is just hitting teenage-hood and all that it implies. Leah is stretched pretty thin all around and Abe is left trying to make sense of it all.

Hiebert does touch on racism a bit in his book, but is not message-y on the topic; it’s part of the fabric of the story. What he turns out to be good at is pacing and character. He’s enough of a natural mystery writer, maybe, to even use a red herring or two as he tells his story, though I think he’s primarily interested in Abe.

Abe is 11 and he’s a good, if overly prescient, narrator. He figures things out in his head and manages to steer his way pretty well, trying to do what’s right as he sees it. His counterpoint is his friend Dewey, whose thinking is less sophisticated than Abe’s but somehow less straightforward. The two make for an interesting combination.

The end of the story is a breathless, will-they-get-there-in-time affair, with a heartbreaking resolution. Hiebert’s skill at character and storytelling should take him a long way; he has at least two more books planned featuring Abe’s family, and I’m looking forward to them.

The Square of Revenge
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

When a jewelry store in Bruges, Belgium, is broken into, Detective Inspector Van In is called upon to solve the crime. When he arrives, however, he discovers that none of the expensive jewels and gold have been taken. Instead, they’ve been dissolved in jars of a corrosive acid. The only clue to the bizarre crime is a piece of paper with a strange square of Latin words.

Before he can begin his investigation, Van In is told by his superior to basically shelve the case since the jewelry store owner is politically connected and has requested that it be kept out of the news. The perpetrators, however, leak the story to the press and Van In is asked to solve the puzzle. Complicating matters is the presence of an attractive female DA who is also interested in the investigation. When the jewelry store owner's grandson is kidnapped and an unusual ransom is demanded, solving the mystery becomes even more important.

What is the motive for the crimes, and what does the strange assortment of Latin words mean? As the few leads are followed, both the case and the relationship between Van In and the attractive DA become more complex.

This is a very good police procedural, with the investigation hampered by political infighting and a few false clues. Van In is an interesting detective, prone to drink and sometimes swayed by the political pressure, but possessed of a sharp eye and a unique nose for ferreting out the truth. I enjoyed the verbal byplay between him and his associates, some friendly and others not so much.

This is the first Van In book translated into English in a series that has already sold millions of copies worldwide. The author lives in Bruges.

Teri Duerr
2013-07-05 18:15:15

When a jewelry store in Bruges, Belgium, is broken into, Detective Inspector Van In is called upon to solve the crime. When he arrives, however, he discovers that none of the expensive jewels and gold have been taken. Instead, they’ve been dissolved in jars of a corrosive acid. The only clue to the bizarre crime is a piece of paper with a strange square of Latin words.

Before he can begin his investigation, Van In is told by his superior to basically shelve the case since the jewelry store owner is politically connected and has requested that it be kept out of the news. The perpetrators, however, leak the story to the press and Van In is asked to solve the puzzle. Complicating matters is the presence of an attractive female DA who is also interested in the investigation. When the jewelry store owner's grandson is kidnapped and an unusual ransom is demanded, solving the mystery becomes even more important.

What is the motive for the crimes, and what does the strange assortment of Latin words mean? As the few leads are followed, both the case and the relationship between Van In and the attractive DA become more complex.

This is a very good police procedural, with the investigation hampered by political infighting and a few false clues. Van In is an interesting detective, prone to drink and sometimes swayed by the political pressure, but possessed of a sharp eye and a unique nose for ferreting out the truth. I enjoyed the verbal byplay between him and his associates, some friendly and others not so much.

This is the first Van In book translated into English in a series that has already sold millions of copies worldwide. The author lives in Bruges.

Nemesis (Pronzini)
Kevin Burton Smith

For the last decade or so, Bill Pronzini’s long-running (36 novels and countless novellas and short stories since 1968), name-challenged hero has too often been relegated to a co-starring role in his own books. The spotlight has instead shone increasingly on his fellow associates (who know him as “Bill”) in his small San Francisco detective agency—Tamara Corbin, the feisty young office manager, and Jake Runyon, a brooding former cop who’s become the agency’s primary operative—while the semi-retired Nameless himself has been shunted off to the sidelines, mostly to deal with various domestic issues revolving around his wife Kerry and their adopted daughter Emily.

The books have become three-ring circuses: thematically linked, multiple-viewpoint juggling acts alternating between Tamara, Jake, and Nameless that, while always intriguing and well-written, too often lack the emotional drive and pulpy zest of earlier installments of the series, much to the dismay of longtime fans. Also missing has been the rambunctious glee with which the MWA Grand Master used to pay homage to—while simultaneously subverting—the genre and its expectations. Such early classics as Blowback, Undercurrent, and particularly Shackled (a 1988 tour de force that stepped outside the genre’s comfort zone and ratcheted up the tension to Stephen King levels) were a joy to read; a continuing narrative of a man and his times that kept readers both off-balance and enthralled.

So it’s fitting that the events of Shackled are referred to more than once in Nemesis, a welcome return to form. This time out, Nameless, ostensibly retired, is once more relegated to a supporting role, at least at first, content to stay at home and nurse the emotionally fragile Kerry back to health. But to paraphrase a certain Samuel Spade, when a man’s partner is in a jam, you’re supposed to do something about it. And Jake has landed himself in one helluva jam.

An already suspicious Jake is hired by twitchy young (and newly rich) Verity Daniels to investigate the death threats and demands for money she’s been receiving from an anonymous caller. But Verity turns out to be less than truthful—and more than a little unstable. When things blow up, Jake and the agency are ground zero for a Kafkaesque legal witch hunt that could destroy them both, prompting Nameless back onto the playing field after too long on the bench.

Over the course of this series, he’s faced down heartbreak, health scares, psychopaths, betrayals, and enough assorted slings and arrows to fill a lifetime, and it’s good to see him being put through the wringer once more, gearing up for a battle that truly matters. Welcome back, Bill.

Teri Duerr
2013-07-05 18:18:24

For the last decade or so, Bill Pronzini’s long-running (36 novels and countless novellas and short stories since 1968), name-challenged hero has too often been relegated to a co-starring role in his own books. The spotlight has instead shone increasingly on his fellow associates (who know him as “Bill”) in his small San Francisco detective agency—Tamara Corbin, the feisty young office manager, and Jake Runyon, a brooding former cop who’s become the agency’s primary operative—while the semi-retired Nameless himself has been shunted off to the sidelines, mostly to deal with various domestic issues revolving around his wife Kerry and their adopted daughter Emily.

The books have become three-ring circuses: thematically linked, multiple-viewpoint juggling acts alternating between Tamara, Jake, and Nameless that, while always intriguing and well-written, too often lack the emotional drive and pulpy zest of earlier installments of the series, much to the dismay of longtime fans. Also missing has been the rambunctious glee with which the MWA Grand Master used to pay homage to—while simultaneously subverting—the genre and its expectations. Such early classics as Blowback, Undercurrent, and particularly Shackled (a 1988 tour de force that stepped outside the genre’s comfort zone and ratcheted up the tension to Stephen King levels) were a joy to read; a continuing narrative of a man and his times that kept readers both off-balance and enthralled.

So it’s fitting that the events of Shackled are referred to more than once in Nemesis, a welcome return to form. This time out, Nameless, ostensibly retired, is once more relegated to a supporting role, at least at first, content to stay at home and nurse the emotionally fragile Kerry back to health. But to paraphrase a certain Samuel Spade, when a man’s partner is in a jam, you’re supposed to do something about it. And Jake has landed himself in one helluva jam.

An already suspicious Jake is hired by twitchy young (and newly rich) Verity Daniels to investigate the death threats and demands for money she’s been receiving from an anonymous caller. But Verity turns out to be less than truthful—and more than a little unstable. When things blow up, Jake and the agency are ground zero for a Kafkaesque legal witch hunt that could destroy them both, prompting Nameless back onto the playing field after too long on the bench.

Over the course of this series, he’s faced down heartbreak, health scares, psychopaths, betrayals, and enough assorted slings and arrows to fill a lifetime, and it’s good to see him being put through the wringer once more, gearing up for a battle that truly matters. Welcome back, Bill.

Massacre Pond
Hank Wagner

Paul Doiron’s fourth Mike Bowditch novel series begins as the Maine game warden is called to an unusual crime scene, a grisly killing ground containing the corpses of several moose. The authorities quickly adopt the theory that the crimes are meant as revenge against local land owner Elizabeth Morse, a wealthy animal rights activist whose efforts have cost many locals their jobs.

Although purposely kept on the edges of the case by his superiors, Bowditch finds himself intimately involved, putting him at odds with his commanders, and longtime pal Billy Cronk, who is considered a suspect. It also takes time away from his personal life, at a time when he can ill afford it. Despite this pressure, Bowditch pursues the leads he painstakingly uncovers, even as the ante is raised to include human targets.

Like Nevada Barr writing about Anne Pigeon, or C. J. Box writing about Joe Pickett, Doiron does a wonderful job of detailing the daunting combination of personal, professional, and political challenges faced by those who work to preserve and protect the nation’s natural resources. Bowditch is an extremely relatable protagonist, whose reactions to the trials and tribulations his creator throws at him are entirely believable. Doiron has also created a fascinating personal life for his hero—readers can see him changing as the series progresses, affected both by his human relationships and his experiences on the job. Besides focusing on his human cast, Doiron, the editor in chief of Down East magazine and a registered Maine guide, also takes great pains to bring Bowditch’s home state of Maine to vivid life.

Teri Duerr
2013-07-05 18:42:07

doiron_massacrepondMike Bowditch, the rugged and righteous Maine game warden, is back for a solid fourth outing.

Circle of Shadows
Sue Emmons

Imogen Robertson continues her delightful, historical tales of the widowed Harriet Westerman, an amateur sleuth, and her reclusive cohort, Gabriel Crowther, an anatomist whose forensic skills aid and abet her investigations.

In their fourth outing, the duo is summoned by Westerman’s younger sister, the recently wed Rachel whose husband, Daniel Clode, has been accused of a particularly gruesome killing in the court of the Duchy of Maulberg in rural Germany in 1784. In the middle of their post-wedding European tour, Clode, still clad in the fool’s costume he wore to a Shrove Tuesday Carnival (also known as Mardi Gras), is found in the back room of a haberdashery with the butchered body of the lovely Lady Martesen. He claims no memory of the events that led him there, nor can he explain how his own wrist was slit. The German authorities charge Clode with the crime and his execution looms if the real culprit is not found.

Westerman and Crowther are welcomed to the court and mingle in German society where they discover intrigue raging and secrecy rampant. They unmask undercover spy Jacob Pegel, who was sent to the duchy to probe the motivations of the Minervals, a particularly vicious offshoot of the secretive Freemasons. Pegel’s discoveries, combined with the skills of Westerman and Crowther, unravel a nasty scheme that veers into absurdity in many of its strange elements.

Robertson is a virtuoso at capturing the nuances and customs of the period and culture. This entry in the Georgian mystery series follows Instruments of Darkness (2011), Anatomy of Murder (2012), and the CWA Ellis Peter Historical Award short-listed Island of Bones (2012).

Teri Duerr
2013-07-05 18:45:48

Imogen Robertson continues her delightful, historical tales of the widowed Harriet Westerman, an amateur sleuth, and her reclusive cohort, Gabriel Crowther, an anatomist whose forensic skills aid and abet her investigations.

In their fourth outing, the duo is summoned by Westerman’s younger sister, the recently wed Rachel whose husband, Daniel Clode, has been accused of a particularly gruesome killing in the court of the Duchy of Maulberg in rural Germany in 1784. In the middle of their post-wedding European tour, Clode, still clad in the fool’s costume he wore to a Shrove Tuesday Carnival (also known as Mardi Gras), is found in the back room of a haberdashery with the butchered body of the lovely Lady Martesen. He claims no memory of the events that led him there, nor can he explain how his own wrist was slit. The German authorities charge Clode with the crime and his execution looms if the real culprit is not found.

Westerman and Crowther are welcomed to the court and mingle in German society where they discover intrigue raging and secrecy rampant. They unmask undercover spy Jacob Pegel, who was sent to the duchy to probe the motivations of the Minervals, a particularly vicious offshoot of the secretive Freemasons. Pegel’s discoveries, combined with the skills of Westerman and Crowther, unravel a nasty scheme that veers into absurdity in many of its strange elements.

Robertson is a virtuoso at capturing the nuances and customs of the period and culture. This entry in the Georgian mystery series follows Instruments of Darkness (2011), Anatomy of Murder (2012), and the CWA Ellis Peter Historical Award short-listed Island of Bones (2012).

The Silent Wife
Hilary Daninhirsch

Fans of Gillian Flynn’s best-selling Gone Girl will be thrilled to discover the brilliant novel The Silent Wife about a toxic marriage on a path to disaster. In this case, the path leads to murder.

Jodi and Todd have been together for several decades, living as common-law husband and wife. He is a successful real estate developer; she is a part-time therapist. Jodi has the convenient ability to hide her feelings from herself, or, more accurately, the inability to face her darkest fears. She likes everything wrapped up in neat little packages; her household is perfect and her routine never varies from day to day.

While the two love each other, Todd has a problem with fidelity. While he doesn’t flaunt it, Jodi is well aware of Todd’s cheating. Even when Todd tells Jodi that he is leaving her for his friend’s young daughter, Jodi doesn’t process the information, believing that Todd will come back home to her. When it is apparent he has left her for good, something comes unglued inside Jodi, albeit slowly.

The drama escalates, as Todd continues the “leaving” process, and Jodi starts to comprehend what is really happening. Each partner has a turn to speak in the novel; much is learned from the transcripts of Jodi’s session with a psychotherapist regarding an event in her past that causes her to be the “silent” type.

Neither character is particularly likable, though Jodi’s character is more fully developed than Todd’s. Psychologically, Jodi is very damaged, and that is the part of her character that comes through. Todd doesn’t have as much depth—he is simply a philanderer who thinks he can get away with having his cake and eating it too. Regardless, the atmosphere of dysfunction and the intelligent writing will likely launch this novel into book club circles.

Sadly, the author’s pen has run out of ink: A.S.A. Harrison passed away in April. Harrison had written several works of nonfiction; The Silent Wife was her first novel. The mystery genre has lost an author of great potential.

Teri Duerr
2013-07-05 18:50:36

Fans of Gillian Flynn’s best-selling Gone Girl will be thrilled to discover the brilliant novel The Silent Wife about a toxic marriage on a path to disaster. In this case, the path leads to murder.

Jodi and Todd have been together for several decades, living as common-law husband and wife. He is a successful real estate developer; she is a part-time therapist. Jodi has the convenient ability to hide her feelings from herself, or, more accurately, the inability to face her darkest fears. She likes everything wrapped up in neat little packages; her household is perfect and her routine never varies from day to day.

While the two love each other, Todd has a problem with fidelity. While he doesn’t flaunt it, Jodi is well aware of Todd’s cheating. Even when Todd tells Jodi that he is leaving her for his friend’s young daughter, Jodi doesn’t process the information, believing that Todd will come back home to her. When it is apparent he has left her for good, something comes unglued inside Jodi, albeit slowly.

The drama escalates, as Todd continues the “leaving” process, and Jodi starts to comprehend what is really happening. Each partner has a turn to speak in the novel; much is learned from the transcripts of Jodi’s session with a psychotherapist regarding an event in her past that causes her to be the “silent” type.

Neither character is particularly likable, though Jodi’s character is more fully developed than Todd’s. Psychologically, Jodi is very damaged, and that is the part of her character that comes through. Todd doesn’t have as much depth—he is simply a philanderer who thinks he can get away with having his cake and eating it too. Regardless, the atmosphere of dysfunction and the intelligent writing will likely launch this novel into book club circles.

Sadly, the author’s pen has run out of ink: A.S.A. Harrison passed away in April. Harrison had written several works of nonfiction; The Silent Wife was her first novel. The mystery genre has lost an author of great potential.

The Summer of Dead Toys
M. Schlecht

The ominous title sets the tone in Spanish author Antonio Hill’s debut. Detective inspector Hector Salgado is back in his Barcelona office after a mandatory leave of absence—he got too rough with a suspect in a child-trafficking case. The recipient of his outrage, a practitioner named Dr. Omar who manipulated his young female “patients,” vows revenge on Salgado’s recently separated wife and their son.

But Salgado’s attention is required—cigarettes help with that—on a new case involving 19-year-old Marc Castells, who has fallen to his death from a balcony. The boy’s mother, though estranged from her child, is convinced it was not a suicide, and as Salgado, along with agent Leire Castro, interviews the boy's friends, he is inclined to agree. Gina, a girl with an unrequited crush on Marc, and Aleix, a boy whose maturity has not yet caught up to his smarts and boldness, both seem to be hiding something. Salgado himself seems tucked under a blanket of sleepless resignation throughout the novel, letting his professional duties take the wheel for a while.

Dead Toys unfolds in an atmosphere hot and claustrophobic, like a room with the windows closed on a July afternoon. The Barcelona summer radiates from the pages, to the extent that when Salgado and Castro sip their mojitos after a long shift readers may find themselves refreshed. But such moments of cool escape are few and far between. Although, as the full extent of the title’s meaning is revealed, some may find themselves breaking out in a cold sweat.

Teri Duerr
2013-07-05 19:01:25

The ominous title sets the tone in Spanish author Antonio Hill’s debut. Detective inspector Hector Salgado is back in his Barcelona office after a mandatory leave of absence—he got too rough with a suspect in a child-trafficking case. The recipient of his outrage, a practitioner named Dr. Omar who manipulated his young female “patients,” vows revenge on Salgado’s recently separated wife and their son.

But Salgado’s attention is required—cigarettes help with that—on a new case involving 19-year-old Marc Castells, who has fallen to his death from a balcony. The boy’s mother, though estranged from her child, is convinced it was not a suicide, and as Salgado, along with agent Leire Castro, interviews the boy's friends, he is inclined to agree. Gina, a girl with an unrequited crush on Marc, and Aleix, a boy whose maturity has not yet caught up to his smarts and boldness, both seem to be hiding something. Salgado himself seems tucked under a blanket of sleepless resignation throughout the novel, letting his professional duties take the wheel for a while.

Dead Toys unfolds in an atmosphere hot and claustrophobic, like a room with the windows closed on a July afternoon. The Barcelona summer radiates from the pages, to the extent that when Salgado and Castro sip their mojitos after a long shift readers may find themselves refreshed. But such moments of cool escape are few and far between. Although, as the full extent of the title’s meaning is revealed, some may find themselves breaking out in a cold sweat.

The Ides of April
Kevin Burton Smith

After 20 novels following Falco Didius Marcus down the mean streets of Ancient Rome, best-selling author Lindsey Davis has spun off a new series featuring his adopted daughter Flavia Albia. There’s a distinct whiff of chick-lit trendiness here—Albia, now 28, is a decidedly modern girl, a professional woman with her own business, her own apartment, and her own unique fashion sense, free to live—and love—as she pleases, but don’t expect Sex and the City with togas.

That’s because Albia’s taken over Dad’s old Fountain Court office in the Surbura district, and is now working as a private “informer” herself. She’s a little angrier and more impulsive than her old man, perhaps, but just as outraged by hypocrisy and corruption as dear old Dad ever was, and just as adept at spouting her own era-appropriate Chandlerisms, whether it’s a display of crushed idealism disguised as cynicism (“Even the Vestals weren’t virgins anymore”) or a wiseass simile (“I was in there like a louse up a tramp’s tunic”). Which makes her an ideal traveling companion as we once more revel in the colorful characters and sharply etched period detail Davis is known for.

Particularly ideal since the book’s a little slow when it comes to actual plot. Set 10 years after the events in the last Falco mystery, Nemesis (2010), Albia, already married and widowed, is short on cash and reluctantly working for an unpleasant woman, Salvidia, a general contractor being sued for negligence in the death of a young boy. When Salvidia’s untimely death is revealed to be yet another in a string of unexplained deaths sweeping through Rome, the unpaid Albia starts asking questions, much to the dismay of her parents (gotta keep those mommy/daddy issues simmering) and the local authorities, who aren’t too keen on having a woman poking around on their turf.

But as the deaths pile up, it becomes clear a serial killer is in their midst, and the local vigiles need all the help they can get. A handsome but secretive archivist, an uneasy alliance with the local aedile’s surly investigator (who has some secrets of his own), and a PETA-approved (if slightly anachronistic) subplot revolving around cruelty to foxes used during the upcoming Feast of Ceres add welcome curves and help move the rather straightforward plot along to a predictable but satisfying conclusion. The gods willing, we’ll be seeing more of this girl.

Teri Duerr
2013-07-05 19:04:30

After 20 novels following Falco Didius Marcus down the mean streets of Ancient Rome, best-selling author Lindsey Davis has spun off a new series featuring his adopted daughter Flavia Albia. There’s a distinct whiff of chick-lit trendiness here—Albia, now 28, is a decidedly modern girl, a professional woman with her own business, her own apartment, and her own unique fashion sense, free to live—and love—as she pleases, but don’t expect Sex and the City with togas.

That’s because Albia’s taken over Dad’s old Fountain Court office in the Surbura district, and is now working as a private “informer” herself. She’s a little angrier and more impulsive than her old man, perhaps, but just as outraged by hypocrisy and corruption as dear old Dad ever was, and just as adept at spouting her own era-appropriate Chandlerisms, whether it’s a display of crushed idealism disguised as cynicism (“Even the Vestals weren’t virgins anymore”) or a wiseass simile (“I was in there like a louse up a tramp’s tunic”). Which makes her an ideal traveling companion as we once more revel in the colorful characters and sharply etched period detail Davis is known for.

Particularly ideal since the book’s a little slow when it comes to actual plot. Set 10 years after the events in the last Falco mystery, Nemesis (2010), Albia, already married and widowed, is short on cash and reluctantly working for an unpleasant woman, Salvidia, a general contractor being sued for negligence in the death of a young boy. When Salvidia’s untimely death is revealed to be yet another in a string of unexplained deaths sweeping through Rome, the unpaid Albia starts asking questions, much to the dismay of her parents (gotta keep those mommy/daddy issues simmering) and the local authorities, who aren’t too keen on having a woman poking around on their turf.

But as the deaths pile up, it becomes clear a serial killer is in their midst, and the local vigiles need all the help they can get. A handsome but secretive archivist, an uneasy alliance with the local aedile’s surly investigator (who has some secrets of his own), and a PETA-approved (if slightly anachronistic) subplot revolving around cruelty to foxes used during the upcoming Feast of Ceres add welcome curves and help move the rather straightforward plot along to a predictable but satisfying conclusion. The gods willing, we’ll be seeing more of this girl.

The Three Lives of Tomomi Ishikawa
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

This is one of the most unusual mysteries I’ve ever read. First of all, the main character’s name is Benjamin Constable, the same name as the author (this makes more sense later on in the novel). He is a Brit living in Paris, and involved in an enigmatic, platonic, and mostly intellectual relationship with a beautiful young Japanese girl named Tomomi Ishikawa. His other important friend is an imaginary cat named Cat.

When he receives a suicide note from Tomomi after the fact, he is devastated. In the note, she confesses to a mercy killing, tells him that another friend has removed her body, and sets him off on an unusual scavenger hunt to learn more about her past and the reasons for her suicide. From Paris to New York, and back again, Ben is caught up in a mystery that he is desperate to solve. Did she actually kill someone, or even more than one person as the strange notes he keeps receiving seem to indicate? Is she even dead, or is this all a game...and, if so, to what purpose?

Although I usually prefer whodunnits, I found myself eagerly flipping through the pages to find out what in the world this story was all about and how it would end. Also, having recently adopted a cat myself (a real one), I was amused by Benjamin’s interaction with his imaginary cat. If you’re ready for something different in the mystery genre, you may want to give this well-written novel a try. You may find yourself as caught up in the story as I was, and as intrigued to discover what it was all about.

The author was born in Bristol, England, and now lives in Paris where he teaches English and writes fiction. This is his first novel.

Teri Duerr
2013-07-05 19:08:40

This is one of the most unusual mysteries I’ve ever read. First of all, the main character’s name is Benjamin Constable, the same name as the author (this makes more sense later on in the novel). He is a Brit living in Paris, and involved in an enigmatic, platonic, and mostly intellectual relationship with a beautiful young Japanese girl named Tomomi Ishikawa. His other important friend is an imaginary cat named Cat.

When he receives a suicide note from Tomomi after the fact, he is devastated. In the note, she confesses to a mercy killing, tells him that another friend has removed her body, and sets him off on an unusual scavenger hunt to learn more about her past and the reasons for her suicide. From Paris to New York, and back again, Ben is caught up in a mystery that he is desperate to solve. Did she actually kill someone, or even more than one person as the strange notes he keeps receiving seem to indicate? Is she even dead, or is this all a game...and, if so, to what purpose?

Although I usually prefer whodunnits, I found myself eagerly flipping through the pages to find out what in the world this story was all about and how it would end. Also, having recently adopted a cat myself (a real one), I was amused by Benjamin’s interaction with his imaginary cat. If you’re ready for something different in the mystery genre, you may want to give this well-written novel a try. You may find yourself as caught up in the story as I was, and as intrigued to discover what it was all about.

The author was born in Bristol, England, and now lives in Paris where he teaches English and writes fiction. This is his first novel.

Anonymous Sources
M. Schlecht

Alexandra James is the newspaper journalist at the heart of this novel from former NPR Pentagon correspondent Mary Louise Kelly, and Anonymous Sources begins with a story that might warrant coverage on page B3. A former Harvard student, Thomas Carlyle, returns to Boston after spending time in Cambridge, England, as a visiting scholar, and falls to his death while visiting his old campus. James, on the education beat, is assigned to cover the investigation. She sneaks into a dormitory and meets a cute cop along the way. Pretty pedestrian stuff, and the opening 50 pages or so seem to have the makings of a fine cozy.

Then Kelly decides to make things interesting. With the knowledge that Carlyle’s father is White House counsel, James convinces her editor to greenlight a trip to England to investigate further. After a couple of interviews, she stumbles into a huge get: an international plot with national security implications for the United States.

Kelly pulls off this stretch in ambition—despite a few liberties with plot—by trodding ground she has no doubt covered in her journalism career. James’ interactions with her editor and fellow reporters, along with her movements around Washington, DC, give Anonymous Sources the energy of a newsroom in high gear. Despite the decidedly non-thrilling opening, Kelly shows that she can crank up the action when she needs to, realistically setting up a full-blown bomb scenario at the White House. And this time, the reporter is at the center of the story.

Teri Duerr
2013-07-05 19:11:29

Alexandra James is the newspaper journalist at the heart of this novel from former NPR Pentagon correspondent Mary Louise Kelly, and Anonymous Sources begins with a story that might warrant coverage on page B3. A former Harvard student, Thomas Carlyle, returns to Boston after spending time in Cambridge, England, as a visiting scholar, and falls to his death while visiting his old campus. James, on the education beat, is assigned to cover the investigation. She sneaks into a dormitory and meets a cute cop along the way. Pretty pedestrian stuff, and the opening 50 pages or so seem to have the makings of a fine cozy.

Then Kelly decides to make things interesting. With the knowledge that Carlyle’s father is White House counsel, James convinces her editor to greenlight a trip to England to investigate further. After a couple of interviews, she stumbles into a huge get: an international plot with national security implications for the United States.

Kelly pulls off this stretch in ambition—despite a few liberties with plot—by trodding ground she has no doubt covered in her journalism career. James’ interactions with her editor and fellow reporters, along with her movements around Washington, DC, give Anonymous Sources the energy of a newsroom in high gear. Despite the decidedly non-thrilling opening, Kelly shows that she can crank up the action when she needs to, realistically setting up a full-blown bomb scenario at the White House. And this time, the reporter is at the center of the story.

Mojo
Sarah Prindle

High school can be hard enough, but for 16-year-old Dylan Jones, finding the body of fellow student Hector Maldonado in a dumpster only makes things worse. Already unpopular (he’d dived into the garbage to ditch the two bullies chasing him), now Dylan has a new nickname: Body Bag. Then a rich girl named Ashton Browning—who attends the prestigious school across town—goes missing. Dylan decides to find her in order to become a hero, lose the nickname, and get the “mojo” he’s looking for. The investigation leads him beyond his neighborhood in an Oklahoma City suburb and into the elite world of Ashton’s wealthy classmates, a secret exclusive club called Gangland, and luxury limos. Soon Dylan has reason to believe Ashton’s disappearance may be linked to Hector Maldonado’s death by supposed accidental overdose.

Helped by his longtime best friend, Audrey, and Randy, his coworker at the local grocery store, Dylan dives into the mystery. He encounters Nash, Ashton’s wealthy and smooth-talking ex-boyfriend; Beto, a boy from a poorer side of town who is Hector’s cousin; and Ashton’s secretive brother, Tres. Search parties, car chases, and a creepy man with a switchblade all surround this double mystery, as the bumbling Dylan tries to make sense of the various motives and clues. Readers will happily follow Dylan as he stumbles his way through the investigation. The deeper into the mystery Dylan gets, however, the more he could lose sight of who are his true friends—and who are his enemies. Tim Tharp’s fourth young-adult novel, Mojo, is a fun read, full of suspense, twists, and comical moments. Readers will thoroughly enjoy the time they spend with Dylan Jones.

Teri Duerr
2013-07-05 19:21:04

tharp_mojoSuspense, loser comedy, a dead classmate, and a missing girl. High school is tough.

The Wicked Girls
Eileen Brady

British author Alex Marwood (a pseudonym for UK journalist Serena Mackesy) hits her stride with this uncompromising mystery. What happens to two 11-year-old girls convicted of murdering a young child? They grow up. Shielded by the British system of sending youthful offenders back into society with new names and identities, Jade and Bel are settled far away from each other. But murder in a picturesque coastal village brings them together 25 years later in a terrifying way.

Wicked Girls is set in the seaside village of Whitmouth, England. A resort town that’s showing its age. Whitmouth depends on vacationing tourists for its survival, but it’s an uneasy dynamic between hard-vacationing tourists and the underpaid locals tired of cleaning up after them. The discovery of a body barely slows down the rowdy crowds who hang out down by the pier and the old-fashioned amusement park called Funnland, but things aren’t that funny when another victim is found. Suspecting a serial killer is on the loose, hoards of reporters descend on the village. All of them are eager to interview Amber Gordon, the park’s cleaning crew supervisor, who discovered a victim in the amusement park’s mirror maze, the corpse garishly multiplied ad infinitum.

Among the media is Kirsty Lindsay, a stringer reporter for a London newspaper. Kirsty recognizes Amber as her partner in crime from long ago, and since conditions of their parole include never seeing each other again, they could both go back to jail if found together.

Characterization drives the plot as the two women desperately struggle to keep their identities hidden. An award-winning reporter, wife, and mother, Kirsty has a lot to lose if her murderous past is revealed. Amber lives a different kind of existence, sharing her small home with Vic Cantrell, a handsome womanizer who works the rides in the amusement park. All she wants is to keep the tiny piece of happiness she has carved out for herself.

Through skillful writing, the town takes on a life of its own. Filled with those crazy names meant to attract tourists and their money, visitors drink at the Koh-Z-Nook, dine in The Best Fish and Chips on the South Coast, and visit Dr. Wicked’s House of Giggles. The contrast between the carefree day trippers and the residents of the town is well drawn and simmers with resentment. The tensions reach a fever pitch when the macabre motive for the murders is revealed. Kirsty and Amber can run or face down their past as it threatens the new lives they’ve built for themselves. Each must make difficult choices as the book races to an emotional finish.

Teri Duerr
2013-07-05 19:26:52

marwood_thewickedgirlsMurder in an English town brings two women, convicted of murder as children, back together after 25 years.

Hour of the Rat
Oline H. Cogdill

Tart-tongued, Iraq War veteran Ellie McEnroe proves to be a near-perfect tour guide to Beijing, where her business as an art dealer for Chinese political artists is thriving. Ellie loves the city, the country, the food, and all the quirks that come with living here.

But Ellie doesn’t love the smog, which can reach a level that can only be described as “crazy-bad.” And she especially hates the politics that often put her under surveillance because of her clientele. After the Chinese secret police invite her to “tea” to ask about her elusive ex-husband, Ellie decides a change of scenery would be good.

Fellow veteran Doug “Dog” Turner wants Ellie to find his brother, Jason, who was last in Yangshuo, “a major hub on the banana-pancake backpacker circuit.” Finding someone in a country as vast as China isn’t that difficult if the person is a Westerner, Ellie reasons.

But the search quickly becomes complicated. Jason, an activist, is hiding from shady Chinese and American businessmen and doesn’t know whom to trust. It doesn’t help that Ellie has to bring along her visiting mother, who shows no signs of returning to America, and her mom’s newly acquired Asian boyfriend.

In the second of this series, Hour of the Rat showcases an insider’s view of China and works as a character study of a woman who is equally tough and vulnerable. China is a country of contrasts, with crowded metro areas and lush countryside; economic inequality and the world’s largest IKEA store.

Brakemann mixes acerbic humor with a serious look at a veteran’s recovery. (Ellie, who often punctuates her sentences with curse words, is still contending with a leg injury that occurred during combat, as well as with war flashbacks.) Brackmann delves deep into Ellie’s psyche, showing the myriad changes she undergoes in rebuilding herself physically and mentally. Ellie finds being a stranger in a strange land suits her emotional growth.

Teri Duerr
2013-07-05 19:33:47

Tart-tongued, Iraq War veteran Ellie McEnroe proves to be a near-perfect tour guide to Beijing, where her business as an art dealer for Chinese political artists is thriving. Ellie loves the city, the country, the food, and all the quirks that come with living here.

But Ellie doesn’t love the smog, which can reach a level that can only be described as “crazy-bad.” And she especially hates the politics that often put her under surveillance because of her clientele. After the Chinese secret police invite her to “tea” to ask about her elusive ex-husband, Ellie decides a change of scenery would be good.

Fellow veteran Doug “Dog” Turner wants Ellie to find his brother, Jason, who was last in Yangshuo, “a major hub on the banana-pancake backpacker circuit.” Finding someone in a country as vast as China isn’t that difficult if the person is a Westerner, Ellie reasons.

But the search quickly becomes complicated. Jason, an activist, is hiding from shady Chinese and American businessmen and doesn’t know whom to trust. It doesn’t help that Ellie has to bring along her visiting mother, who shows no signs of returning to America, and her mom’s newly acquired Asian boyfriend.

In the second of this series, Hour of the Rat showcases an insider’s view of China and works as a character study of a woman who is equally tough and vulnerable. China is a country of contrasts, with crowded metro areas and lush countryside; economic inequality and the world’s largest IKEA store.

Brakemann mixes acerbic humor with a serious look at a veteran’s recovery. (Ellie, who often punctuates her sentences with curse words, is still contending with a leg injury that occurred during combat, as well as with war flashbacks.) Brackmann delves deep into Ellie’s psyche, showing the myriad changes she undergoes in rebuilding herself physically and mentally. Ellie finds being a stranger in a strange land suits her emotional growth.

Claire Dewitt and the Bohemian Highway
Hilary Daninhirsch

As soon as you realize that the narrator is a drug-abusing detective who employs unorthodox methods and has questionable morals, you know that this is no standard whodunit—and that the protagonist is no Nancy Drew.

Thirtysomething Claire DeWitt stumbles through life, using one-night stands and cocaine to help her mask the pain she’s felt since her childhood best friend disappeared without a trace. Claire is a depressed loner, and any relationships she has are fractured. Despite her shambles of a personal life, Claire knows that she is a born detective, but she also knows that finding the truth of a mystery can break a person. Her working bible is a book called Detection by the fictional detective Jacques Silette, though Silette was never able to solve his own daughter’s disappearance.

Claire’s former boyfriend, Paul, a musician, is murdered in what police feel is a robbery gone wrong (several of his treasured guitars are missing). Claire, however, knows in her bones that there is more to the story. But before she solves the case, she needs to face her feelings for Paul head-on.

As Claire immerses herself in Paul’s life, the answers unfold slowly, though the story never drags. The narrative also flashes back in time to Claire’s teenage years when she and her now-missing best friend started reading mystery novels and becoming junior sleuths, trying to locate their missing friend, Chloe.

Bohemian Highway is dark and raw, some scenes are disturbing, and Claire is so complex that she often doesn’t make sense even to herself. This, however, is in contrast with the author’s lyrical and often insightful prose. Case in point: “Mysteries never end,” writes Gran, “And we solve them anyway, knowing we are solving both everything and nothing.... But this is the piece of life we have been given authority over, nothing else; and while we may ask why over and over, no one yet has been given an answer.” This book is a thinking person’s mystery novel, rooted in a little bit of philosophy about solving mysteries. This is the second book in a series; the first one, Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, was well-received by readers and critics alike.

Teri Duerr
2013-07-05 19:40:01

As soon as you realize that the narrator is a drug-abusing detective who employs unorthodox methods and has questionable morals, you know that this is no standard whodunit—and that the protagonist is no Nancy Drew.

Thirtysomething Claire DeWitt stumbles through life, using one-night stands and cocaine to help her mask the pain she’s felt since her childhood best friend disappeared without a trace. Claire is a depressed loner, and any relationships she has are fractured. Despite her shambles of a personal life, Claire knows that she is a born detective, but she also knows that finding the truth of a mystery can break a person. Her working bible is a book called Detection by the fictional detective Jacques Silette, though Silette was never able to solve his own daughter’s disappearance.

Claire’s former boyfriend, Paul, a musician, is murdered in what police feel is a robbery gone wrong (several of his treasured guitars are missing). Claire, however, knows in her bones that there is more to the story. But before she solves the case, she needs to face her feelings for Paul head-on.

As Claire immerses herself in Paul’s life, the answers unfold slowly, though the story never drags. The narrative also flashes back in time to Claire’s teenage years when she and her now-missing best friend started reading mystery novels and becoming junior sleuths, trying to locate their missing friend, Chloe.

Bohemian Highway is dark and raw, some scenes are disturbing, and Claire is so complex that she often doesn’t make sense even to herself. This, however, is in contrast with the author’s lyrical and often insightful prose. Case in point: “Mysteries never end,” writes Gran, “And we solve them anyway, knowing we are solving both everything and nothing.... But this is the piece of life we have been given authority over, nothing else; and while we may ask why over and over, no one yet has been given an answer.” This book is a thinking person’s mystery novel, rooted in a little bit of philosophy about solving mysteries. This is the second book in a series; the first one, Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, was well-received by readers and critics alike.

The Never List
Tea Dee

The setup of Koethi Zan’s novel centered on three survivors of kidnapping, torture, and imprisonment at the hands of a sadist takes on an eerie and unnerving parallel to recent events concerning the escape and return of three young women held captive for a decade by a man in Cleveland, Ohio. In a genre where fans gleefully consume shocking and graphic violence, visiting such a topic as entertainment can take on a sobering reality.

It is with this in mind that readers will appreciate Zan’s focus on central heroine Sarah’s arc, from victim to survivor, rather than the novel’s lurid and sensational setup. When we meet her, Sarah’s been holed up in a pristine, white Manhattan apartment for the last decade, telecommuting as an insurance actuary, living on takeout, and avoiding anything and anyone beyond her securely triple-bolted doors. Sarah made it through three years of deprivation and relentless physical and mental torture alongside three other women, Christine, Tracy, and her best friend Jenny—the last of whom did not make it. Thirteen years after her brave escape, Sarah’s yet to cease mourning Jenny or to begin living again. When her kidnapper, the charismatic former psychology professor Jack Derber, is poised to be released on parole, Sarah is compelled to venture into the world despite numerous and deep phobias, believing that if she can find out where Jenny’s never-recovered body rests, she’ll have the evidence needed to lock Jack up permanently. Sarah soon admits that she can’t do this alone, and picks up Tracy and Christine—along with all three women’s mess of interpersonal guilt, loyalty, resentment, and anger.

Zan has a background in film and television as an entertainment lawyer, and the measured, calculated plot and tidy characterizations of Sarah (the prissy, OCD one), Christine (the pretty, together one), and Tracy (the tough, edgy one), and their textbook survivor psychologies, are the sorts of polished, palatable, and, well, entertaining devices one might expect from someone with more than 15 years in the biz. She’s thrown in the currently “it” hooks of BDSM (bondage, discipline, and sadomasochism)—thank you E.L. James—and an idiosyncratic OCD lead. It’s easy enough to imagine the teaser pitch for Zan’s screenplay. But while the characterizations and writing are more slick than deep, they aren’t devoid of thought either. Zan has labored carefully to plot her world, and even while exploiting the tropes of a genre obsessed with violence against women, she attempts to frame her narrative in an empowering way for each of her heroines, Sarah, Tracy, and Christine—though whether readers buy that you can have your cake and eat it, too, in this regard may be up for debate. I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to relay that, by the end of her hunt for her dead friend and for justice, Sarah, no longer hiding away from the world, is inspired to find and help other women who are as lost as she once was. And thus begins a solid new series by a capable new writer.

Teri Duerr
2013-07-05 19:43:36

The setup of Koethi Zan’s novel centered on three survivors of kidnapping, torture, and imprisonment at the hands of a sadist takes on an eerie and unnerving parallel to recent events concerning the escape and return of three young women held captive for a decade by a man in Cleveland, Ohio. In a genre where fans gleefully consume shocking and graphic violence, visiting such a topic as entertainment can take on a sobering reality.

It is with this in mind that readers will appreciate Zan’s focus on central heroine Sarah’s arc, from victim to survivor, rather than the novel’s lurid and sensational setup. When we meet her, Sarah’s been holed up in a pristine, white Manhattan apartment for the last decade, telecommuting as an insurance actuary, living on takeout, and avoiding anything and anyone beyond her securely triple-bolted doors. Sarah made it through three years of deprivation and relentless physical and mental torture alongside three other women, Christine, Tracy, and her best friend Jenny—the last of whom did not make it. Thirteen years after her brave escape, Sarah’s yet to cease mourning Jenny or to begin living again. When her kidnapper, the charismatic former psychology professor Jack Derber, is poised to be released on parole, Sarah is compelled to venture into the world despite numerous and deep phobias, believing that if she can find out where Jenny’s never-recovered body rests, she’ll have the evidence needed to lock Jack up permanently. Sarah soon admits that she can’t do this alone, and picks up Tracy and Christine—along with all three women’s mess of interpersonal guilt, loyalty, resentment, and anger.

Zan has a background in film and television as an entertainment lawyer, and the measured, calculated plot and tidy characterizations of Sarah (the prissy, OCD one), Christine (the pretty, together one), and Tracy (the tough, edgy one), and their textbook survivor psychologies, are the sorts of polished, palatable, and, well, entertaining devices one might expect from someone with more than 15 years in the biz. She’s thrown in the currently “it” hooks of BDSM (bondage, discipline, and sadomasochism)—thank you E.L. James—and an idiosyncratic OCD lead. It’s easy enough to imagine the teaser pitch for Zan’s screenplay. But while the characterizations and writing are more slick than deep, they aren’t devoid of thought either. Zan has labored carefully to plot her world, and even while exploiting the tropes of a genre obsessed with violence against women, she attempts to frame her narrative in an empowering way for each of her heroines, Sarah, Tracy, and Christine—though whether readers buy that you can have your cake and eat it, too, in this regard may be up for debate. I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to relay that, by the end of her hunt for her dead friend and for justice, Sarah, no longer hiding away from the world, is inspired to find and help other women who are as lost as she once was. And thus begins a solid new series by a capable new writer.

The Shining Girls
Vanessa Orr

It’s hard to classify The Shining Girls: part time-traveling adventure, part serial-killer drama, part victim-empowerment story. It follows the trail of Harper Curtis, a murderer who travels through time to kill the “shining girls,” bright, young women who excel in their respective eras. Among them are Jeanette, a dancing girl in the 1930s, Zora, a “colored” female welder working during WWII, and Kirby, a college student in 1989. When Kirby lives through Harper’s vicious attack, she turns the tables and begins tracking him.

Readers get a strong sense of time and place through Lauren Beukes’ commitment to historical detail. Harper first meets Jeanette in the hospital, where she is suffering from radium poisoning—the result of using the toxin to make her skin glow in the dark when she performs. Zora, a war widow, deals with the racism rampant in shipbuilding factories of the ’40s

As his only surviving victim, Kirby is a strong protagonist. She uses the resources of the newspaper where she interns to delve into the attacks on the shining girls. The reader senses her disbelief as she tries to work through what, at first, seems impossible, as well as her underlying fear that she could again become a victim at any time.

While Kirby is a very well-developed character, and easy to identify with, my only wish was that the other shining girls got as much space. I would have preferred fewer victims to more detail about what truly made them unique.

Because each chapter jumps to a different time and place, and from victims to the killer at various points in their lives, this book does require the reader to pay close attention. One may be introduced to a future shining girl when Harper meets her as a child, and again when he stalks her many years later and decides to take her life. As the catalyst behind all of these women’s murders, Harper is a terrifying specter; a stalker who can appear at any time, in any place, to complete his mission.

In the battle between Kirby and the relentless Harper, the final conflict is not a matter of if, but when. And whether, as time goes on, it is ever really over.

Teri Duerr
2013-07-08 21:26:17

beukes_shininggirlsPart time-traveling adventure, part serial-killer drama, all summertime thrills.

Eight Sizzling Summer Reads of 2013
Mystery Scene

Something fun, something thrilling, something silly - something for everyone this season. Mystery Scene picks some of our favorite books for the summer months.

beukes_shininggirls

The Shining Girls
by Lauren Beukes
Mulholland Books, June 2013, $25.99

It’s hard to classify The Shining Girls: part time-traveling adventure, part serial-killer drama, part victim-empowerment story. It follows the trail of Harper Curtis, a murderer who travels through time to kill the “shining girls,” bright, young women who excel in their respective eras. Among them are Jeanette, a dancing girl in the 1930s, Zora, a “colored” female welder working during WWII, and Kirby, a college student in 1989. When Kirby lives through Harper’s vicious attack, she turns the tables and begins tracking him. (Read the full review.)


sakey_brilliance

Brilliance
by Marcus Sakey
Thomas & Mercer, July 2013, $14.95

Federal Agent Nick Cooper lives in an alternate 2013, a world very similar to our own except that it’s just slightly skewed; one percent of all infants exhibit superpowers. In the civilization that Marcus Sakey so vividly creates in the first of a new three-book saga, these superhumans are called "brilliants," "abnorms," "gifted," or derogatory variations. The government tests children, who, if they score in the top one or two tiers of gifted powers, are forced into academies where the humanity is drained from their souls. Cooper's world is shaken when his four-year-old daughter Katie exhibits signs of superpowers. Cooper pleads with his boss to exempt her from testing and inevitable admission to an academy. When he is refused, Cooper makes a deal with the devil that finds him not only questioning his belief system, but running for his life and the lives of those he loves. (Read the full review.)


brackmann_houroftherat

Hour of the Rat
by Lisa Brackmann
Soho Crime, June 2013, $25.00

Tart-tongued, Iraq War veteran Ellie McEnroe proves to be a near-perfect tour guide to Beijing, where her business as an art dealer for Chinese political artists is thriving. Ellie loves the city, the country, the food, and all the quirks that come with living here.

When fellow veteran Doug “Dog” Turner wants Ellie to find his brother, Jason, finding someone in a country as vast as China isn’t that difficult if the person is a Westerner, Ellie reasons. But the search quickly becomes complicated.

In the second of this series, Hour of the Rat showcases an insider’s view of China and works as a character study of a woman who is equally tough and vulnerable. Brackmann mixes acerbic humor with a serious look at a veteran’s recovery. (Read the full review.)


hallinan_famethief

The Fame Thief
by Timothy Hallinan
Soho Crime, July 2013, $25.00

This third installment of Timothy Hallinan's pitch-perfect, hardboiled Junior Bender series finds the former criminal turned PI digging up ghosts from the Golden Age of Hollywood after nonagenarian crime boss Irwin Dressler asks Bender to uncover the truth behind the long-ago downfall of a beautiful young movie starlet, Dolores La Marr. Sixty years after the fact, the story of La Marr still has the power to move men to murder and Bender is dodging danger on the case.

The wisacre demeanor of Junior and his associates and their spitfire dialogue are big winners for fans of the mystery series, as well as the glam-meets-grime setting of Hallinan's Los Angeles. The Fame Thief continues to deliver in spades. (Read reviews of Hallinan's Crashed and Little Elvises.)


lutz_lastword

The Last Word
by Lisa Lutz
Simon & Schuster, July 2013, $25.00

The Spellmans, led (reluctantly) by PI Isabel "Izzy" Spellman, are back just in time to sleuth away those summertime blues. The Last Word launches with Spellman Investigations embroiled in a labor dispute—Izzy has staged an agency coup, and mom and dad have gone on strike in protest. What's more, rebellious kid sister Rae comes back to the fold trailing nothing but trouble behind her, and now Izzy has been accused of embezzling from one of the agency's VIP clients—an accusation that threatens to strip Spellman of her license, her reputation, and Spellman Investigations.

Will the contentious clan be able to set aside their quarrels long enough to kiss and save the family business? Family dysfunction has never been so madcap, hilarious, or ultimately poignant. Perhaps the best Spellman novel yet. (Read a review of Curse of the Spellmans, the 2008 book that began the series.)


gardiner_theshadowtracer

The Shadow Tracer
by Meg Gardiner
Dutton, June 2013, $26.95

Oklahoma skip tracer (and devoted single mom) Sarah Keller has built a respectable, no-drama life for her precocious, precious five-year-old daughter Zoe and herself—except when she’s at work, tracking down deadbeat dads, delinquent witnesses, and the like. But a freak school bus accident (damn those cellphones!) shatters the quiet domesticity when an ER medical test reveals Sarah’s big secret—Zoe is not her daughter.

In fact, Zoe’s her niece, the daughter of Sarah’s sister Bethany who was murdered by the Fiery Branch of the New Covenant, a cult of meth-dealing, Bible-thumping Looney Tunes led by the charismatic Eldrick Worthe, Zoe’s paternal grandfather. And Eldrick wants his granddaughter brought back into the family fold.

Edgar-winner Meg Gardiner knows her stuff. It may just be a chase as Eldrick hunts down Sarah and Zoe, but it’s one helluva chase. Pass the popcorn. (Read the full review.)


pochoda_visitationstreet

Visitation Street
by Ivy Pochoda
Dennis Lehane Books, July 2013, $25.99

Brooklynite author Ivy Pochoda crafts a slow-burning literary mystery set in the changing waterside neighborhood of Red Hook, Brooklyn, where hipster eateries push up against housing projects and working docks on the small strip of south Brooklyn where the East River opens out into the bay.

When two restless 15-year-old girls disappear one summer night on a raft adventure and only one returns, washed up on the banks nearly dead, it sets off a series of events in the community that fan out through a complex and varied cast of neighborhood characters: Fadi, a Lebanese bodega owner; Acretious "Cree," a man accused of murdering his own father; and a mysterious youth named "Rundown," stand out as some of the most memorable. It's a meditative mystery that reads more as an ambitious portrait of Red Hook and the many intersecting lives of its colorful inhabitants.


king_joyland

Joyland
by Stephen King
Hard Case Crime, June 2013, $12.95

Set in 1973, Joyland takes place at a North Carolina seaside carnival of the same name. Having just lost his best girl, heartbroken 21-year-old Devin Jones lands a summer job at the seedy carny. He makes new friends with a whole range of colorful carny veterans, as well as single mother Annie Ross, and her young, preternaturally gifted, but terminally ill son, Mike.

Devin is fascinated by the theme park’s lore, which includes a tale of an unsolved murder in its fun house. It seems that the ghost of the victim still haunts the ride, making her presence felt to only a select few, among them Mike Ross.

Joyland doesn’t deliver the hardboiled type of mystery you would expect from Charles Ardai’s fine line of crime novels. But for the almost essential mystery at its core (an unsolved murder at a theme park), it’s more of a nostalgic coming-of-age novel with touches of the supernatural. Cynical but also wistful, serious but also humorous, it’s both a celebration of and an elegy for a time long past. (Read the full review.)

Teri Duerr
2013-07-08 23:58:58

2013summerreadsSomething fun, something serious, something thrilling, something silly, something spooky—something for everyone this season.

The Thrill of a Thriller
Oline Cogdill

thrillerfest8_logo
Hundreds of writers, readers and industry people will gather in New York City, beginning today for ThrillerFest VIII. ThrillerFest is Wednesday, July 10, 2013, through Saturday, July 13, 2013.

As at most mystery conferences, ThrillerFest will feature an array of panels, workshops, discussions, interviews, and lots of meetings at the bar. ThrillerMaster will be Anne Rice, who will be interviewed on Friday by her son, author Christopher Rice.

Spotlight Guests will be Michael Connelly, Michael Palmer, T. Jefferson Parker. Steve Berry will be the Silver Bullet Award recipient. The Thriller Awards also will be presented Saturday night.

Conferernces geared toward the mystery readerand writerkeep popping up, and I am glad there are so many.

Just to name a few, Bouchercon, which will be in Albany, N.Y., this year, appeals to all mystery fiction readers while Malice Domestic targets the traditional mystery reader. Sleuthfest is a writers' conference attracting published authors and those trying to get published.

And ThrillerFest attracts those who enjoy the thriller.

But what really is a thriller?

There are shelves of books and essays about crime fiction and thrillers. But I haven’t really seen the definitive answer about what constitutes a thriller as opposed to a mystery.

connelly_michael3.jpg
Myself, I prefer crime fiction as an umbrella term for the entire genre. Of course, the genre includes myriad categories from amateur sleuth, legal thriller, and more.

The mystery genre is one that is ever-evolving. Police procedurals can deliver a hard-boiled character study such as those by Michael Connelly, at right. Private detection fiction can mix with social issues such as those of George Pelecanos.

The private eye novel can encompass the efforts of the amateur sleuth such as in Jan Burke’s Irene Kelly novels or Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell novels.

Historicals range from Lindsay Davis’ ancient Roman setting to P.J. Parrish’s Louis Kincaid series and Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone novels, both set during the 1980s.

The traditional mystery can be as hard boiled as S.J. Rozan or Harlan Coben. The screwball comedy can support Janet Evanovich.

Take Dennis Lehane’s Live by Night, which took the Edgar for best novel this year and also was my top pick of the year. By no means is this a traditional mystery, and the reader is richer because Lehane does take chances.

Live by Night looks at Prohibition and the organized crime that flourished because of it. Beginning in Boston during 1926, Live by Night moves to Tampa and Cuba, showing a decade in the life of Joe Coughlin.

The brother of a cop and the son of a Boston police captain, Joe revels in the glory of being “an outlaw,” working for one of Boston’s most feared mobsters and bootleggers. But the job requires one to have “amputated conscience” as Joe’s life is fraught with betrayal, double crossing and brutality. And, as his father knows but Joe refuses to acknowledge, “violence procreates.”

Live by Night melds the historical, the police procedural, the heist, organized crime and, also, a very personal look at one man.

It’s crime fiction, a thriller, a mystery.

Michael Connelly’s The Black Box also stretches those various genre categories—bringing together the historical, the police procedural, a character study and even hints of the private eye novel. In this 19th Harry Bosch novel, Connelly mirrors contemporary issues and Los Angeles’ vagaries in an edgy, labyrinthine plot. The Black Box chronicles Harry’s role as a cop and how it has changed through the years. The novel opens in 1992, when Los Angeles is in chaos as riots pummel the city following the acquittal of the cops who beat Rodney King. (“Flames from a thousand fires reflected like the devil dancing in the dark sky.”)

The Black Box becomes a contemporary novel when a gun used in a recent murder is linked to a shell casing found at a 1992 murder.

But back to trying to define a thriller.

The Oxford Companion to Crime & Mystery Writing by Rosemary Herbert states that “thrillers are stories of heroic adventure set to criminal situations” and that “the requisites for a thriller are both an overt plot of action and a latent representation of common psychology.”

But couldn’t that describe any crime fiction?

Bruce Murphy’s The Encyclopedia of Murder and Mystery contends that the term thriller is “a piece of literary terminology nearly as useless as ‘suspense.’ Publishers often refer to books as thrillers when they do not want to admit they are spy novels or mysteries.”

I don’t agree with that rather useless definition.

The best definition I found was on ThrillerPress.com:

In thrillers “the plots are scary, the characters are at great risk and the reader can’t wait to turn the page. It’s good storytelling in which the protagonist tries to solve a problem that only gets worse. If you can’t put it down, if it has you biting your nails and staying up late at night, double-checking that the windows are locked and worrying and fretting about whether the characters are going to survive, chances are it is a thriller.”

And again, doesn’t that describe most crime fiction?

Oline Cogdill
2013-07-10 03:26:58

thrillerfest8_logo
Hundreds of writers, readers and industry people will gather in New York City, beginning today for ThrillerFest VIII. ThrillerFest is Wednesday, July 10, 2013, through Saturday, July 13, 2013.

As at most mystery conferences, ThrillerFest will feature an array of panels, workshops, discussions, interviews, and lots of meetings at the bar. ThrillerMaster will be Anne Rice, who will be interviewed on Friday by her son, author Christopher Rice.

Spotlight Guests will be Michael Connelly, Michael Palmer, T. Jefferson Parker. Steve Berry will be the Silver Bullet Award recipient. The Thriller Awards also will be presented Saturday night.

Conferernces geared toward the mystery readerand writerkeep popping up, and I am glad there are so many.

Just to name a few, Bouchercon, which will be in Albany, N.Y., this year, appeals to all mystery fiction readers while Malice Domestic targets the traditional mystery reader. Sleuthfest is a writers' conference attracting published authors and those trying to get published.

And ThrillerFest attracts those who enjoy the thriller.

But what really is a thriller?

There are shelves of books and essays about crime fiction and thrillers. But I haven’t really seen the definitive answer about what constitutes a thriller as opposed to a mystery.

connelly_michael3.jpg
Myself, I prefer crime fiction as an umbrella term for the entire genre. Of course, the genre includes myriad categories from amateur sleuth, legal thriller, and more.

The mystery genre is one that is ever-evolving. Police procedurals can deliver a hard-boiled character study such as those by Michael Connelly, at right. Private detection fiction can mix with social issues such as those of George Pelecanos.

The private eye novel can encompass the efforts of the amateur sleuth such as in Jan Burke’s Irene Kelly novels or Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell novels.

Historicals range from Lindsay Davis’ ancient Roman setting to P.J. Parrish’s Louis Kincaid series and Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone novels, both set during the 1980s.

The traditional mystery can be as hard boiled as S.J. Rozan or Harlan Coben. The screwball comedy can support Janet Evanovich.

Take Dennis Lehane’s Live by Night, which took the Edgar for best novel this year and also was my top pick of the year. By no means is this a traditional mystery, and the reader is richer because Lehane does take chances.

Live by Night looks at Prohibition and the organized crime that flourished because of it. Beginning in Boston during 1926, Live by Night moves to Tampa and Cuba, showing a decade in the life of Joe Coughlin.

The brother of a cop and the son of a Boston police captain, Joe revels in the glory of being “an outlaw,” working for one of Boston’s most feared mobsters and bootleggers. But the job requires one to have “amputated conscience” as Joe’s life is fraught with betrayal, double crossing and brutality. And, as his father knows but Joe refuses to acknowledge, “violence procreates.”

Live by Night melds the historical, the police procedural, the heist, organized crime and, also, a very personal look at one man.

It’s crime fiction, a thriller, a mystery.

Michael Connelly’s The Black Box also stretches those various genre categories—bringing together the historical, the police procedural, a character study and even hints of the private eye novel. In this 19th Harry Bosch novel, Connelly mirrors contemporary issues and Los Angeles’ vagaries in an edgy, labyrinthine plot. The Black Box chronicles Harry’s role as a cop and how it has changed through the years. The novel opens in 1992, when Los Angeles is in chaos as riots pummel the city following the acquittal of the cops who beat Rodney King. (“Flames from a thousand fires reflected like the devil dancing in the dark sky.”)

The Black Box becomes a contemporary novel when a gun used in a recent murder is linked to a shell casing found at a 1992 murder.

But back to trying to define a thriller.

The Oxford Companion to Crime & Mystery Writing by Rosemary Herbert states that “thrillers are stories of heroic adventure set to criminal situations” and that “the requisites for a thriller are both an overt plot of action and a latent representation of common psychology.”

But couldn’t that describe any crime fiction?

Bruce Murphy’s The Encyclopedia of Murder and Mystery contends that the term thriller is “a piece of literary terminology nearly as useless as ‘suspense.’ Publishers often refer to books as thrillers when they do not want to admit they are spy novels or mysteries.”

I don’t agree with that rather useless definition.

The best definition I found was on ThrillerPress.com:

In thrillers “the plots are scary, the characters are at great risk and the reader can’t wait to turn the page. It’s good storytelling in which the protagonist tries to solve a problem that only gets worse. If you can’t put it down, if it has you biting your nails and staying up late at night, double-checking that the windows are locked and worrying and fretting about whether the characters are going to survive, chances are it is a thriller.”

And again, doesn’t that describe most crime fiction?

Joseph Finder’s Paranoia on Screen
Oline Cogdill


paranoiamovie_finder
Judging from the previews, the upcoming movie Paranoia, scheduled to open on Aug. 16, looks to be a winner.

Of course, the real proof will be in the film itself; too often interesting previews don’t translate into a good movie.

But I have hope. You can judge for yourself: Here is a link to the preview.

The film is based on Joseph Finder’s fifth novel, which revolved around industrial espionage and high-tech companies.

In a review, I called Finder’s 2004 novel “an exciting, breathless thriller that doesn’t slow down until the author has nailed that last, surprising twist.”

paranoia_finderjoe
The film will star Liam Hemsworth (The Hunger Games) as Adam Cassidy, a 26-year-old underachiever whose greatest talent seems to be “winning over” people.

Finder turned Adam into a bona fide hero for whom you’ll find yourself not only cheering, but willing to spend more time in his world. Adam is forced by his corrupt boss, Nick Wyatt, to spy on Trion, owned by the man’s former mentor, to secure a multi-billion dollar advantage.

In his novel, Finder kept the energy high and the situations plausible.

In my review, I said “James Bond’s adventures almost pale next to the industrial espionage that permeates the halls of Wyatt and Trion and the executive with a ‘black belt in corporate politics.’ The author creates a balance between the ‘high-testosterone shop’ at Wyatt and the seemingly calmer atmosphere at Trion. But Finder doesn’t let the reader relax – just as much deception exists at Trion. And the threat of violence against Adam, his father and his oldest friend is quite real. Just when Paranoia seems to be on a predictable path, Finder pulls a twist that is the perfect capper. . . Finder . . . knows how to [deliver] a superior contemporary thriller that will resonate with anyone who has seen corporate politics at its worse.”

Gary Oldman will star as Nicholas Wyatt and his rival, Jock Goddard, will be played by Harrison Ford. Richard Dreyfuss plays Adam’s father.

paranoiamovie2_finder
As yet, Finder hasn’t seen the movie, only the trailer, “which looks great—but I’m optimistic,” he said.

“The casting is terrific—Harrison Ford is perfect for Jock Goddard, Gary Oldman is one of the greatest actors alive, and Liam Hemsworth is going to be a real star. I've seen Liam shoot several scenes, and he really has the chops to carry the lead,” added Finder in an email to me.

Paranoia isn’t the first novel by Finder to make it to the screen. His novel High Crimes was the basis for the Morgan Freeman/Ashley Judd movie.

And if the film doesn’t live up to its potential? Finder isn’t worried. “James M. Cain was asked how he felt about what Hollywood "did" to one of his books—The Postman Always Rings Twice or Double Indemnity, I forget. And he replied, ‘They haven't done anything to my book. It's right there on the shelf. They paid me and that's the end of it.’ That's pretty much how I feel. If the movie's good, it's like a terrific billboard for the book, and if it's not so good, the book's always there. Either way I'm happy,” Finder added.

But don’t expect to see Finder onscreen along the lines of Lee Child’s cameo in Jack Reacher. “No cameo in this one. The producers didn't invite offer me one this time, unfortunately,” Finder said.

Photos: Top, Gary Oldman, Liam Hemsworth, Harrison Ford in Paranoia. Bottom, Liam Hemsworth
Photos courtesy Relativity Media

Oline Cogdill
2013-08-04 10:56:42


paranoiamovie_finder
Judging from the previews, the upcoming movie Paranoia, scheduled to open on Aug. 16, looks to be a winner.

Of course, the real proof will be in the film itself; too often interesting previews don’t translate into a good movie.

But I have hope. You can judge for yourself: Here is a link to the preview.

The film is based on Joseph Finder’s fifth novel, which revolved around industrial espionage and high-tech companies.

In a review, I called Finder’s 2004 novel “an exciting, breathless thriller that doesn’t slow down until the author has nailed that last, surprising twist.”

paranoia_finderjoe
The film will star Liam Hemsworth (The Hunger Games) as Adam Cassidy, a 26-year-old underachiever whose greatest talent seems to be “winning over” people.

Finder turned Adam into a bona fide hero for whom you’ll find yourself not only cheering, but willing to spend more time in his world. Adam is forced by his corrupt boss, Nick Wyatt, to spy on Trion, owned by the man’s former mentor, to secure a multi-billion dollar advantage.

In his novel, Finder kept the energy high and the situations plausible.

In my review, I said “James Bond’s adventures almost pale next to the industrial espionage that permeates the halls of Wyatt and Trion and the executive with a ‘black belt in corporate politics.’ The author creates a balance between the ‘high-testosterone shop’ at Wyatt and the seemingly calmer atmosphere at Trion. But Finder doesn’t let the reader relax – just as much deception exists at Trion. And the threat of violence against Adam, his father and his oldest friend is quite real. Just when Paranoia seems to be on a predictable path, Finder pulls a twist that is the perfect capper. . . Finder . . . knows how to [deliver] a superior contemporary thriller that will resonate with anyone who has seen corporate politics at its worse.”

Gary Oldman will star as Nicholas Wyatt and his rival, Jock Goddard, will be played by Harrison Ford. Richard Dreyfuss plays Adam’s father.

paranoiamovie2_finder
As yet, Finder hasn’t seen the movie, only the trailer, “which looks great—but I’m optimistic,” he said.

“The casting is terrific—Harrison Ford is perfect for Jock Goddard, Gary Oldman is one of the greatest actors alive, and Liam Hemsworth is going to be a real star. I've seen Liam shoot several scenes, and he really has the chops to carry the lead,” added Finder in an email to me.

Paranoia isn’t the first novel by Finder to make it to the screen. His novel High Crimes was the basis for the Morgan Freeman/Ashley Judd movie.

And if the film doesn’t live up to its potential? Finder isn’t worried. “James M. Cain was asked how he felt about what Hollywood "did" to one of his books—The Postman Always Rings Twice or Double Indemnity, I forget. And he replied, ‘They haven't done anything to my book. It's right there on the shelf. They paid me and that's the end of it.’ That's pretty much how I feel. If the movie's good, it's like a terrific billboard for the book, and if it's not so good, the book's always there. Either way I'm happy,” Finder added.

But don’t expect to see Finder onscreen along the lines of Lee Child’s cameo in Jack Reacher. “No cameo in this one. The producers didn't invite offer me one this time, unfortunately,” Finder said.

Photos: Top, Gary Oldman, Liam Hemsworth, Harrison Ford in Paranoia. Bottom, Liam Hemsworth
Photos courtesy Relativity Media

Maigret With Michael Gambon
Oline Cogdill

Maigret3_michaelgambon
Maigret: Complete Collection. Acorn Media. 12 episodes, 4 discs, 645 minutes. DVD, $59.99


The old-style detective never goes out of style.

Contemporary detectives may have an arsenal of gadgets, electronics and social media at their disposal, but their methods, in the end, are the same.

Cell phones batteries run down; iPads are bulky to carry and everyone lies on social media.

But good old instincts, interrogations and face-to-face investigations still work.

Take Maigret, for example.

Maigret_2michaelgambon
The French detective Jules Maigret appeared in 75 novels and 28 short stories written by Belgium author Georges Simenon. The Maigret oeuvre was published between 1931 and 1972 and the plots and characters are as much in style today as they were when they first came out.

The novels remain popular and Penguin Books has been reprinting these classics since 2006.

And there is the highly entertaining Maigret series starring Michael Gambon (Harry Potter, The Singing Detective) as the commissioner of the Paris “Brigade Criminelle.”

Maigret: Complete Collection with Gambon has now been released on DVD by Acorn Media.

The new boxed set features the 12 episodes that were shown on PBS in 1992 as well as an eight-page booklet with essays about Simenon, the character Maigret and the series.

Gambon gives a subtle yet forceful performance as the pipe-smoking detective whose eye for details never fails him.

In many ways, Gambon gives the same type of performance he did as Hogwarts Headmaster Dumbledore in the Harry Potter novels. Both Maigret and Dumbledore are wise, patient, intelligent and given to wearing a uniform; in Maigret’s case it’s his fedora while Dumbledore has his robes.

Maigret4_sim
A hallmark of the Maigret collection is the variety of the type of cases that the detective investigates.

In “The Patience of Maigret,” the detective investigates the murder of a suspect the detective has tried for seven years to prove was the head of a prolific jewelry theft ring.

Why did the murdered wife of a wealthy American have a gun in her purse in “Maigret and the Hotel Majestic”?

A burglar claims he saw a dead woman when he broke into a doctor’s home in “Maigret and the Burglar’s Wife;” but where is she?

You’ll also spot appearances throughout the collection.

For example, “Maigret and the Night Club Dancer” is quite star-studded with Brenda Blethyn (DCI Vera Stanhope in Vera, also released by Acorn, Pride & Prejudice), Minnie Driver (Good Will Hunting, The Phantom of the Opera), and Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon, 30 Rock, The Queen).

The Maigret episodes are beautifully filmed with a breathtaking view of Paris. The opening credits in black and white are an almost sentimental look at Paris in much the same way that Woody Allen views New York City in Manhattan.

Photos: Michael Gambon as the pipe-smoking Maigret, center, contemplates a case. Minnie Driver has a cameo in one episode. Photos courtsey Acorn Media

Oline Cogdill
2013-07-31 09:43:02

Maigret3_michaelgambon
Maigret: Complete Collection. Acorn Media. 12 episodes, 4 discs, 645 minutes. DVD, $59.99


The old-style detective never goes out of style.

Contemporary detectives may have an arsenal of gadgets, electronics and social media at their disposal, but their methods, in the end, are the same.

Cell phones batteries run down; iPads are bulky to carry and everyone lies on social media.

But good old instincts, interrogations and face-to-face investigations still work.

Take Maigret, for example.

Maigret_2michaelgambon
The French detective Jules Maigret appeared in 75 novels and 28 short stories written by Belgium author Georges Simenon. The Maigret oeuvre was published between 1931 and 1972 and the plots and characters are as much in style today as they were when they first came out.

The novels remain popular and Penguin Books has been reprinting these classics since 2006.

And there is the highly entertaining Maigret series starring Michael Gambon (Harry Potter, The Singing Detective) as the commissioner of the Paris “Brigade Criminelle.”

Maigret: Complete Collection with Gambon has now been released on DVD by Acorn Media.

The new boxed set features the 12 episodes that were shown on PBS in 1992 as well as an eight-page booklet with essays about Simenon, the character Maigret and the series.

Gambon gives a subtle yet forceful performance as the pipe-smoking detective whose eye for details never fails him.

In many ways, Gambon gives the same type of performance he did as Hogwarts Headmaster Dumbledore in the Harry Potter novels. Both Maigret and Dumbledore are wise, patient, intelligent and given to wearing a uniform; in Maigret’s case it’s his fedora while Dumbledore has his robes.

Maigret4_sim
A hallmark of the Maigret collection is the variety of the type of cases that the detective investigates.

In “The Patience of Maigret,” the detective investigates the murder of a suspect the detective has tried for seven years to prove was the head of a prolific jewelry theft ring.

Why did the murdered wife of a wealthy American have a gun in her purse in “Maigret and the Hotel Majestic”?

A burglar claims he saw a dead woman when he broke into a doctor’s home in “Maigret and the Burglar’s Wife;” but where is she?

You’ll also spot appearances throughout the collection.

For example, “Maigret and the Night Club Dancer” is quite star-studded with Brenda Blethyn (DCI Vera Stanhope in Vera, also released by Acorn, Pride & Prejudice), Minnie Driver (Good Will Hunting, The Phantom of the Opera), and Michael Sheen (Frost/Nixon, 30 Rock, The Queen).

The Maigret episodes are beautifully filmed with a breathtaking view of Paris. The opening credits in black and white are an almost sentimental look at Paris in much the same way that Woody Allen views New York City in Manhattan.

Photos: Michael Gambon as the pipe-smoking Maigret, center, contemplates a case. Minnie Driver has a cameo in one episode. Photos courtsey Acorn Media

Sharon Gless on Burn Notice
Oline Cogdill

burnnotice6_cast
For the past seven years, Burn Notice has delivered an atypical spy series, mixing wide swaths of humor with a serious plot and a breathtaking view of South Florida.

The USA Network series, which airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. EST, has followed the attempts of spy Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) to find how why he was fired—or got his “burn notice”—and how to get back into the espionage business after being dumped in his hometown of Miami.

Until he is back in the spy game, Michael works as an off-the-books private investigator, helping those private citizens in need.

He has been aid by on again/off again girlfriend Fiona Glenanne (Gabrielle Anwar) and retired spy Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell). In the fourth season, former counter-intelligence agent Jesse Porter (Coby Bell) joined the group.

Michael, Fiona, Sam, and Jesse have supplied the action, the adventure and the romance of Burn Notice.

burnnotice5_2013
But the heart of Burn Notice has always been driven by Michael’s mother, Madeline Westen, played subtly and forcefully by Sharon Gless (Cagney & Lacey, Queer as Folk).

Gless’ character was originally described as “a Miami mom,” but the actress has done so much more with this character.

While the others have the showy roles with explosions, guns and chases, Madeline has been the one at home. And that home has acted as a refuge for Michael, more than he has wanted to admit. It’s been a safe house for clients, for ex-spies and been invaded by criminals and federal agents.

Madeline knows Michael better than anyone, and especially understands why he became the man he is. In the early seasons, she was not above manipulating him to help a neighbor being blackmailed, an ex-con who wants to start a new life, businesses being terrorized.

burnnotice8_gless
During the series, bits about Michael’s childhood have come out. Madeline’s husband didn’t turn out to be the good man she thought he was. He was a terrible father prone to verbal and physical abuse.

Yet Madeline revealed through snippets that she felt it was better for the family to stay with her husband than to leave him.

Now in its last season, Burn Notice has taken a darker tone as Michael’s deal with the devil to protect his friends and family and get his job back has, in the process, left him sinking in the mire.

Although she is back home in Miami, Madeline again relies on the inner strength that has gotten her through life. Madeline is trying to get full custody of her toddler grandson since his father—her other son—was killed and his mother is in rehab. Madeline also has joined forces with Fiona on some of the cases.

Gless has long been a personal favorite, bringing the nuances to Madeline has she has to all her roles.

Take Cagney & Lacey, which ran on CBS from 1982 to 1988 and garnered many Emmys for the series and the two leads.

cagneylacey_dvd30th
Gless as Sgt. Christine Cagney and Tyne Daly as Detective Mary Beth Lacey were pioneers in crime drama. This was the first drama to feature two strong women with full careers and private lives. Lacey was married with children while Cagney was single. They were police partners as well as friends who really cared about each other.

Both women brought a sense of realism to their roles. They were good at their jobs, but also made mistakes.

As much as I liked Lacey, it was Cagney who caught my attention each week. Cagney wasn’t perfect, and that made her all the more believable. She was an alcoholic who, through the series, finally came to terms with it. She had father issues and trouble with relationships. She was also intelligent, loyal and witty. And Gless quickly became one of my favorite actresses.

A special 30th anniversary Cagney & Lacey: The Complete Series recently was released. There also is Cagney & Lacey ... and Me: An Inside Hollywood Story OR How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Blonde by the Emmy Award-winning producer Barney Rosenzweig, who also is Gless’ husband. Gless has said in many interviews that she has not read it. (I have, though, and I recommend it.)

burnnotice7_gless
A couple of years ago, Gless was in Coral Gables doing the play A Round-Heeled Woman at GableStage. The play is Jane Prowse's stage adaptation of Jane Juska's book A Round-Heeled Woman: My Late-life Adventures in Sex and Romance. Gless then took the play to London for a successful run.

Following a rehearsal, my husband and I interviewed Gless; he as a theater critic for his website Florida Theater on Stage and I for Mystery Scene. (His interview is here and his review is here.)

In person, Gless is as charming, witty and personable as she presents herself on screen.

I wanted to hold the conversation for the last season of Burn Notice, which has come way too soon.

Q: What first drew you to Burn Notice?
A:
They offered it to me. [She laughs] No, actually, I was at a fat farm in California and I did not want to leave. And the script was sent to me by my agent, and I read it, and I was alone, and I was laughing out loud. You know how unusual it is to laugh at something out loud when you’re by yourself? I was especially attracted to the narration. I thought it was so funny because everything he [Michael Westen] was doing was rather dramatic. He was in life-threatening situations but the dialogue was so counter to that, the emotion. I thought that was very clever. I only had two scenes. But I thought what the hell. I’ll go do it; it was in Miami [where she has lived part-time since 1993]. So I showed up and did my two scenes [for the pilot] and I went away. And frankly, I forgot about it. And when it sold, my agent called me and I didn’t remember. He had to remind me that I had done it.

Q: Madeline has changed over time. But she is a force in that show, she’s the grounding.
A:
Well, I thank [creator and producer] Matt Nix for that. Because she’s only described in those two scenes as a chain-smoking hypochondriac. I can do half of that. There really wasn’t a lot of substance to her; it wasn’t needed in the pilot. [When production started] Matt said let me give you one note: He [Michael] gets all his smarts from her. I said OK. That’s all I need to know. And he started writing her, very slowly, a little bit here, a little bit there. But I had that information.

I always do a backstory on anyone I play because we’re all a product of what we’ve gone through. If you give them a backstory, then you can string your beads along and bring that underneath. [Matt Nix] said [Madeline] went to college to find a husband, and found this great guy, who was not being so great. It’s written into the text that he was abusive, but not quite. The only thing that was in the pilot was [that Michael] never came to [his father’s] funeral. That was a little hint that there was trouble between the son and the father. I ran with this information and knew that there was abuse in this house. OK, so that’s one of my beads. [Madeline] carries that all the time now and chooses to put a totally different spin on it. She knows it’s there but she also says “but look at the good things, look at these pictures.”


burnnoticegless_sharon
Q: There was the scene in which two youngsters were staying at Madeline’s and they see a photo of the Westens taken at Christmas. They said they never had a home like that and Madeline says neither did we.
A:
I am so touched that you remember that particular scene because because I was looking at the picture and seeing the bruise. After I finished that scene, the crew told me they saw the change [in my expression] and the crew applauded the scene. And I was stunned because they don’t do that. It’s all that stuff that Matt gave me that I get to play. I tell you we’re nothing without the writers. Nothing. And he gave me enough information and every week they write me a little gem. They do. And I’m, just the lucky woman who gets to play her.

Q: Madeline is the real moral center, of that show.
A:
She’s very practical, very manipulative. She knows exactly how to get to him. But she makes Michael human. Matt wrote in one of Michael's voiceovers, what it takes to be a CIA operative and especially in special ops like Michael. It takes someone with no emotion and that family dynamic of what happened to him as a child made him that way. And she’s totally aware of it. Michael was the oldest one and probably tried to protect his mother. And there were times she couldn’t protect them. Matt gave me a great line – and the staff of writers – the one with FBI. The guy’s grilling me and they bring in these guns and I say they’re mine, from, the garage. And he says, you’re going to pay for your son’s mistakes? And I say, he paid for mine.
Those writers just give me such a gem.
It could be just one line and I know it has impact because it informs about Michael and I think that’s what she does, she grounds him in her own perverse way and she makes him human.
So much of it comes back to that phrase: the smarts he gave to her. Yes, she’s smart. You can’t manipulate and not be smart. She knows exactly how to get to him. She’s smart, so when they do send her undercover, she’s good at it. And I love playing it. Her life is not rich and full in that house, but she manipulates lonely.

Q: Do you get response from viewers, about smoking or the family dynamic?
A:
I don’t get that much written fan mail, but my publicist sends me the comments from Facebook. Usually they are very positive. But every once in a while, someone says I wish she didn’t smoke. . . . But it’s so a part of who she is. It’s so much an extension of her body, so much of who she is, that it doesn’t offend them,

Q: Do you read mystery fiction?
A:
I don’t get to read a lot because I get to work a lot. But my favorite books and the books I am most attracted to are psychological thrillers. The Red Dragon, nothing ever frightened me like that, then came Silence of the Lambs, but nothing ever frightened me like Red Dragon. As a child I read Nancy Drew. I do love being frightened. I like reading and my heart pounding.

Q: On working on Burn Notice
A:
I am so lucky to work with those four actors. Believe me, I am truly blessed. I never take any of this for granted. It is a fun show to be on. I also am so grateful that at my age, they let me do it. You know about the film and television industry is—for women, ageism reigns. It’s one thing to have a job; it’s another thing to have a job with those four actors. I only come two, maybe three days a week, but I really say I get to go to work.

PHOTOS: Top: Sharon Gless, Bruce Campbell, Jeffrey Donovan, Gabrielle Anwar; Next, Gabrielle Anwar and Gless in Burn Notice.
Photos from USA Network

Oline Cogdill
2013-07-20 19:19:17

burnnotice6_cast
For the past seven years, Burn Notice has delivered an atypical spy series, mixing wide swaths of humor with a serious plot and a breathtaking view of South Florida.

The USA Network series, which airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. EST, has followed the attempts of spy Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) to find how why he was fired—or got his “burn notice”—and how to get back into the espionage business after being dumped in his hometown of Miami.

Until he is back in the spy game, Michael works as an off-the-books private investigator, helping those private citizens in need.

He has been aid by on again/off again girlfriend Fiona Glenanne (Gabrielle Anwar) and retired spy Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell). In the fourth season, former counter-intelligence agent Jesse Porter (Coby Bell) joined the group.

Michael, Fiona, Sam, and Jesse have supplied the action, the adventure and the romance of Burn Notice.

burnnotice5_2013
But the heart of Burn Notice has always been driven by Michael’s mother, Madeline Westen, played subtly and forcefully by Sharon Gless (Cagney & Lacey, Queer as Folk).

Gless’ character was originally described as “a Miami mom,” but the actress has done so much more with this character.

While the others have the showy roles with explosions, guns and chases, Madeline has been the one at home. And that home has acted as a refuge for Michael, more than he has wanted to admit. It’s been a safe house for clients, for ex-spies and been invaded by criminals and federal agents.

Madeline knows Michael better than anyone, and especially understands why he became the man he is. In the early seasons, she was not above manipulating him to help a neighbor being blackmailed, an ex-con who wants to start a new life, businesses being terrorized.

burnnotice8_gless
During the series, bits about Michael’s childhood have come out. Madeline’s husband didn’t turn out to be the good man she thought he was. He was a terrible father prone to verbal and physical abuse.

Yet Madeline revealed through snippets that she felt it was better for the family to stay with her husband than to leave him.

Now in its last season, Burn Notice has taken a darker tone as Michael’s deal with the devil to protect his friends and family and get his job back has, in the process, left him sinking in the mire.

Although she is back home in Miami, Madeline again relies on the inner strength that has gotten her through life. Madeline is trying to get full custody of her toddler grandson since his father—her other son—was killed and his mother is in rehab. Madeline also has joined forces with Fiona on some of the cases.

Gless has long been a personal favorite, bringing the nuances to Madeline has she has to all her roles.

Take Cagney & Lacey, which ran on CBS from 1982 to 1988 and garnered many Emmys for the series and the two leads.

cagneylacey_dvd30th
Gless as Sgt. Christine Cagney and Tyne Daly as Detective Mary Beth Lacey were pioneers in crime drama. This was the first drama to feature two strong women with full careers and private lives. Lacey was married with children while Cagney was single. They were police partners as well as friends who really cared about each other.

Both women brought a sense of realism to their roles. They were good at their jobs, but also made mistakes.

As much as I liked Lacey, it was Cagney who caught my attention each week. Cagney wasn’t perfect, and that made her all the more believable. She was an alcoholic who, through the series, finally came to terms with it. She had father issues and trouble with relationships. She was also intelligent, loyal and witty. And Gless quickly became one of my favorite actresses.

A special 30th anniversary Cagney & Lacey: The Complete Series recently was released. There also is Cagney & Lacey ... and Me: An Inside Hollywood Story OR How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Blonde by the Emmy Award-winning producer Barney Rosenzweig, who also is Gless’ husband. Gless has said in many interviews that she has not read it. (I have, though, and I recommend it.)

burnnotice7_gless
A couple of years ago, Gless was in Coral Gables doing the play A Round-Heeled Woman at GableStage. The play is Jane Prowse's stage adaptation of Jane Juska's book A Round-Heeled Woman: My Late-life Adventures in Sex and Romance. Gless then took the play to London for a successful run.

Following a rehearsal, my husband and I interviewed Gless; he as a theater critic for his website Florida Theater on Stage and I for Mystery Scene. (His interview is here and his review is here.)

In person, Gless is as charming, witty and personable as she presents herself on screen.

I wanted to hold the conversation for the last season of Burn Notice, which has come way too soon.

Q: What first drew you to Burn Notice?
A:
They offered it to me. [She laughs] No, actually, I was at a fat farm in California and I did not want to leave. And the script was sent to me by my agent, and I read it, and I was alone, and I was laughing out loud. You know how unusual it is to laugh at something out loud when you’re by yourself? I was especially attracted to the narration. I thought it was so funny because everything he [Michael Westen] was doing was rather dramatic. He was in life-threatening situations but the dialogue was so counter to that, the emotion. I thought that was very clever. I only had two scenes. But I thought what the hell. I’ll go do it; it was in Miami [where she has lived part-time since 1993]. So I showed up and did my two scenes [for the pilot] and I went away. And frankly, I forgot about it. And when it sold, my agent called me and I didn’t remember. He had to remind me that I had done it.

Q: Madeline has changed over time. But she is a force in that show, she’s the grounding.
A:
Well, I thank [creator and producer] Matt Nix for that. Because she’s only described in those two scenes as a chain-smoking hypochondriac. I can do half of that. There really wasn’t a lot of substance to her; it wasn’t needed in the pilot. [When production started] Matt said let me give you one note: He [Michael] gets all his smarts from her. I said OK. That’s all I need to know. And he started writing her, very slowly, a little bit here, a little bit there. But I had that information.

I always do a backstory on anyone I play because we’re all a product of what we’ve gone through. If you give them a backstory, then you can string your beads along and bring that underneath. [Matt Nix] said [Madeline] went to college to find a husband, and found this great guy, who was not being so great. It’s written into the text that he was abusive, but not quite. The only thing that was in the pilot was [that Michael] never came to [his father’s] funeral. That was a little hint that there was trouble between the son and the father. I ran with this information and knew that there was abuse in this house. OK, so that’s one of my beads. [Madeline] carries that all the time now and chooses to put a totally different spin on it. She knows it’s there but she also says “but look at the good things, look at these pictures.”


burnnoticegless_sharon
Q: There was the scene in which two youngsters were staying at Madeline’s and they see a photo of the Westens taken at Christmas. They said they never had a home like that and Madeline says neither did we.
A:
I am so touched that you remember that particular scene because because I was looking at the picture and seeing the bruise. After I finished that scene, the crew told me they saw the change [in my expression] and the crew applauded the scene. And I was stunned because they don’t do that. It’s all that stuff that Matt gave me that I get to play. I tell you we’re nothing without the writers. Nothing. And he gave me enough information and every week they write me a little gem. They do. And I’m, just the lucky woman who gets to play her.

Q: Madeline is the real moral center, of that show.
A:
She’s very practical, very manipulative. She knows exactly how to get to him. But she makes Michael human. Matt wrote in one of Michael's voiceovers, what it takes to be a CIA operative and especially in special ops like Michael. It takes someone with no emotion and that family dynamic of what happened to him as a child made him that way. And she’s totally aware of it. Michael was the oldest one and probably tried to protect his mother. And there were times she couldn’t protect them. Matt gave me a great line – and the staff of writers – the one with FBI. The guy’s grilling me and they bring in these guns and I say they’re mine, from, the garage. And he says, you’re going to pay for your son’s mistakes? And I say, he paid for mine.
Those writers just give me such a gem.
It could be just one line and I know it has impact because it informs about Michael and I think that’s what she does, she grounds him in her own perverse way and she makes him human.
So much of it comes back to that phrase: the smarts he gave to her. Yes, she’s smart. You can’t manipulate and not be smart. She knows exactly how to get to him. She’s smart, so when they do send her undercover, she’s good at it. And I love playing it. Her life is not rich and full in that house, but she manipulates lonely.

Q: Do you get response from viewers, about smoking or the family dynamic?
A:
I don’t get that much written fan mail, but my publicist sends me the comments from Facebook. Usually they are very positive. But every once in a while, someone says I wish she didn’t smoke. . . . But it’s so a part of who she is. It’s so much an extension of her body, so much of who she is, that it doesn’t offend them,

Q: Do you read mystery fiction?
A:
I don’t get to read a lot because I get to work a lot. But my favorite books and the books I am most attracted to are psychological thrillers. The Red Dragon, nothing ever frightened me like that, then came Silence of the Lambs, but nothing ever frightened me like Red Dragon. As a child I read Nancy Drew. I do love being frightened. I like reading and my heart pounding.

Q: On working on Burn Notice
A:
I am so lucky to work with those four actors. Believe me, I am truly blessed. I never take any of this for granted. It is a fun show to be on. I also am so grateful that at my age, they let me do it. You know about the film and television industry is—for women, ageism reigns. It’s one thing to have a job; it’s another thing to have a job with those four actors. I only come two, maybe three days a week, but I really say I get to go to work.

PHOTOS: Top: Sharon Gless, Bruce Campbell, Jeffrey Donovan, Gabrielle Anwar; Next, Gabrielle Anwar and Gless in Burn Notice.
Photos from USA Network

Murder She Taught: the Puzzling Career of Hildegarde Withers
Michael Mallory

PalmerPenguin_Pool_Poster_copy_2Read today, The Penguin Pool Murder is not only a fascinating snapshot of New York City immediately after the 1929 stock market crash, it is a remarkable document of an author’s on-the-job training.

A movie poster from the 1932 film adaptation of The Penguin Pool Murder.

Half a century before Jessica Fletcher snooped her way to celebrity on Murder, She Wrote, there was another fictional schoolteacher-turned-sleuth who had a talent for tripping over bodies: Hildegarde Withers. The tall and bony, fortyish, umbrella-toting spinster was a staid fixture at Manhattan’s Jefferson School before stumbling into her true calling as an amateur sleuth. Along with her good friend (and, briefly, fiancé) Inspector Oscar Piper, who labeled her “God’s gift horse to all dumb cops,” she developed a penchant for cutting through incredibly complex puzzles with a combination of diligent questioning, attention to details, and an unwillingness to let Piper settle for the easiest, most convenient, most politically expedient answer.

Hildegarde Martha Winters was the creation of Stuart Palmer (1905–1968), a reporter turned novelist who would go on to make his name as a screenwriter. Proudly old-fashioned, she is popular with her third-grade students, with whom she tries to be stern, but her affection for them usually shows through. When it comes to adults, however, she suffers no fools, yet through it all remains a closet romantic. Hildegarde often uses her teacherly wiles in investigations, stating: “I’ve taught school long enough to know when anybody is telling the truth or not.” During interrogations she keeps notes in shorthand for her and Piper’s later use, and she often makes detailed sketches of the crime scene (more for the benefit of the reader than anyone else).

In her debut novel, 1931’s The Penguin Pool Murder, she is thrust into the action by way of discovering a body floating in the penguin tank of the New York Aquarium, where she has taken her class. Once she has been drafted into the investigation, she confesses to Piper, who works in the city’s homicide division, “It is the ambition of my life to play detective.” With that declaration was launched the most disarming and delightful relationship between a law enforcement official and a wily, brash amateur this side of John Steed and Emma Peel.

Read today, The Penguin Pool Murder is not only a fascinating snapshot of New York City immediately after the 1929 stock market crash (which is a key plot point, in fact), it is a remarkable document of an author’s on-the-job training. Chapter by chapter, Palmer’s initially purple, dialogue-heavy prose smoothes out and the story solidifies as it goes along, before toughening like cooling steel for the climax. An odd mix of cozy and hardboiled styles, Penguin Pool’s characters also waver a bit in their particulars. When Hildegard is first introduced, for instance, she is said to have been born in Boston; later when it becomes important to the story that she hail from Dubuque, Iowa, she suddenly does, with no explanation for the discrepancy.

palmer_puzzle_of_red_stallionThe Penguin Pool Murder was successful enough for Hollywood to take notice, and the film adaptation, starring Edna May Oliver as Hildegarde and James Gleason as Piper, was released in 1932. Stuart Palmer was so delighted with the casting that he actually began tailoring novels to follow suit! In subsequent books Hildegarde became somewhat older and started being characterized as equine in order to conform to Miss Oliver’s good-natured description of herself as “horse-faced.” Meanwhile, the cigar-chomping Inspector Piper, whom Hildegarde calls “young man” throughout the first book, was recast as an older and flintier career copper to more resemble the middle-aged bantam image established by Gleason. Ironically, while the literary Hildegard remained in the image of Edna May Oliver, in subsequent films the actress was replaced, first by Helen Broderick and then by ZaSu Pitts, neither of whom quite captured the character.

The 1930s were an incredibly productive period for Palmer, who followed up The Penguin Pool Murder with Murder on Wheels (1932), in which it is revealed that Oscar and Hildegarde reconsidered their earlier decision to run off to City Hall and get hitched; Murder on the Blackboard (1932); The Puzzle of the Pepper Tree (1933); The Puzzle of the Silver Persian (1934); The Puzzle of the Red Stallion (1935); and The Puzzle of the Blue Banderilla (1937). At the same time Palmer was turning out Hildegarde Withers short stories, many for the magazine Mystery, which was sold exclusively in Woolworth’s stores. All of the Withers novels and stories feature complicated plots and contain a wealth of Manhattanisms and time-capsule references to such luminaries as Boss Tweed, Herbert Hoover, even Adolf Hitler. The author’s sense of product placement, meanwhile, would go unrivaled until the advent of Stephen King.

Having turned his attention to scripting movies by the late 1930s, Stuart Palmer had far less time for writing novels. That, in addition to Palmer’s growing, chronic case of writer’s block, meant that only seven more Hildegard Withers books appeared over the next two decades. The Puzzle of the Happy Hooligan came out in 1941, followed by Miss Withers Regrets (1947); the short story collection The Riddles of Hildegarde Withers (1947); Four Lost Ladies (1949); The Green Ace (1950); Nipped in the Bud (1951); and Cold Poison (1954).

Beginning in 1950, Palmer embarked on an unprecedented collaboration with prolific author Craig Rice (real name: Georgiana Craig) to combine Hildegarde Withers with Rice’s character, the boozy Chicago mouthpiece John J. Malone, in a series of stories that appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. Never before had two completely different established characters from different living authors teamed up for a new series. These stories were eventually collected in the 1963 volume People vs. Withers and Malone, and one of them, “Once Upon a Train,” became the basis for the 1950 film Mrs. O’Malley and Mr. Malone, only without Hildegarde. Malone’s female foil in the film was Hattie O’Malley, played by Marjorie Main at her most obstreperous.

Hildegarde Withers stories continued to appear in the pages of EQMM well into the 1960s, but by then time was running out for Stuart Palmer. An inveterate cigar smoker, the onetime MWA president contracted cancer of the larynx, which led to his death in 1968. He left an unfinished Hildegarde Withers novel, which was completed by Fletcher Flora, who was one of the regular ghostwriters of the Ellery Queen byline. Published in 1969, Hildegarde Withers Makes the Scene finds a retired, but rather hip, Hildegarde living in California and getting involved in the case of a missing flower child, which eventually leads to a murder. Putting Miss Withers into the hippie culture of Haight-Ashbury sounds like a gimmick, but it works remarkably well, thanks to Palmer’s sensitivity toward and understanding of the 1960s youth culture, and instilling the same in his sleuth. In 1972 the book was adapted for a television movie titled A Very Missing Person, starring Eve Arden as Hildegarde and James Gregory as Piper.

palmer_cold_poison_copyHildegarde Withers has sometimes been referred to as “the American Miss Marple,” but the resemblance is purely superficial. While both are spinsters, Miss Marple seems to have been born elderly, whereas Hildegarde was only 39 in Penguin Pool (though to the 25-year-old author, that may have seemed old). The sharp-tongued Miss Withers is a keen and proactive detective who thrives on the hunt for clues, whereas the gossipy Miss Marple processes information through her own experiences and knowledge of people to come up with solutions. What’s more, Jane Marple never seems to have held a job, whereas generations of New York schoolchildren learnt under the steely gaze of Hildegarde Withers—a few were even drafted to be her Baker Street Irregular-style assistants.

The remarkable thing about the Hildegarde Withers books is that, despite the fact that they are in and of the time in which they were written, they do not date. If anything, they present a wonderful window into the ongoing decades, anchored by a constant lead character, not unlike Michael McDowell’s Jack and Susan series written in the 1980s, but set in successive decades. More pertinently, they are finely tuned, challenging puzzle stories that feature a delightful, witty protagonist whom some of us would have vastly preferred to our real third-grade teachers.

The Hildegarde Withers Mysteries

The Penguin Pool Murder (1931)
Murder on the Blackboard (1932)
Murder on Wheels (1932)
The Puzzle of the Pepper Tree (1933)
The Puzzle of the Silver Persian (1934)
The Puzzle of the Red Stallion (1936)
The Puzzle of the Blue Banderilla (1937)
The Puzzle of the Happy Hooligan (1941)
Miss Withers Regrets (1947)
The Riddles of Hildegarde Withers (1947, ss)
Four Lost Ladies (1949)
The Green Ace (1950)
The Monkey Murder (1950, ss)
Nipped in the Bud (1951)
Cold Poison (1954)
The People vs. Withers and Malone, written with Craig Rice (1963, ss)
Hildegarde Withers Makes the Scene, completed by Fletcher Flora (1969)

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Spring Issue #119.

Teri Duerr
2013-07-09 20:21:19

PalmerPenguin_Pool_Poster_copy_2The Penguin Pool Murder is a remarkable document of an author’s on-the-job training.

The Fire Witness
Eileen Brady

The Swedish invasion of carefully crafted, dark mysteries continues with The Fire Witness, the latest offering from Lars Kepler (a pseudonym for the husband and wife team Alexander and Alexandra Ahndoril). Blood flows freely in Birgittagarden, a state-approved home for desperately troubled girls. Nurse Elisabet Grim and 15-year-old resident Miranda have been murdered, and a new girl, Vicky Bennet, is gone, leaving behind only a bed soaked with blood. In her apparent haste to get away, Vicky steals a car, not realizing that four-year-old Dante is strapped in his car seat in the back. The kidnapping and the murders mobilize the media and the search for Vicky and the child escalates. Inspector Joona Linna of the National Police is sent as an observer to help the local police. Known as a “lone wolf,” he is specifically instructed not to become directly involved in this case.

But hope for a good outcome is dashed when the stolen car, its windows shattered, is found submerged in a treacherous river. Divers suspect the bodies have been carried away by the swift current and police declare the case officially closed. Only Linna remains convinced that Vicky and Dante are alive. Alone, he continues a stubborn search for the truth and butts heads with his superiors, the local police, and anyone else who gets in the way.

After several false starts, Linna finally tracks down Vicky’s last known home, an abandoned subway car called Dennis located in Johanneshov, south of Stockholm. (Who knew the Swedish gave their subway cars names?) What follows is a haunting glimpse into the underbelly of Swedish society. Keplar describes life in the streets with blunt honesty: drugs, abandonment, sexual predators, hunger. While Vicky struggles as a fugitive, Linna finds himself distracted by people from his past. Is Vicky a murderer or a victim herself? Readers will enjoy the intricate plot that continues to surprise right up to it’s unpredictable conclusion.

Teri Duerr
2013-07-09 21:53:13

The Swedish invasion of carefully crafted, dark mysteries continues with The Fire Witness, the latest offering from Lars Kepler (a pseudonym for the husband and wife team Alexander and Alexandra Ahndoril). Blood flows freely in Birgittagarden, a state-approved home for desperately troubled girls. Nurse Elisabet Grim and 15-year-old resident Miranda have been murdered, and a new girl, Vicky Bennet, is gone, leaving behind only a bed soaked with blood. In her apparent haste to get away, Vicky steals a car, not realizing that four-year-old Dante is strapped in his car seat in the back. The kidnapping and the murders mobilize the media and the search for Vicky and the child escalates. Inspector Joona Linna of the National Police is sent as an observer to help the local police. Known as a “lone wolf,” he is specifically instructed not to become directly involved in this case.

But hope for a good outcome is dashed when the stolen car, its windows shattered, is found submerged in a treacherous river. Divers suspect the bodies have been carried away by the swift current and police declare the case officially closed. Only Linna remains convinced that Vicky and Dante are alive. Alone, he continues a stubborn search for the truth and butts heads with his superiors, the local police, and anyone else who gets in the way.

After several false starts, Linna finally tracks down Vicky’s last known home, an abandoned subway car called Dennis located in Johanneshov, south of Stockholm. (Who knew the Swedish gave their subway cars names?) What follows is a haunting glimpse into the underbelly of Swedish society. Keplar describes life in the streets with blunt honesty: drugs, abandonment, sexual predators, hunger. While Vicky struggles as a fugitive, Linna finds himself distracted by people from his past. Is Vicky a murderer or a victim herself? Readers will enjoy the intricate plot that continues to surprise right up to it’s unpredictable conclusion.

Deadly Ink and Hank Phillippi Ryan
Oline Cogdill

harris_rosemary2
The intimate Deadly Ink Mystery Conference is back on track with the 12th convention scheduled for Aug. 2 to 4 at the Hyatt Regency, 2 Albany St., New Brunswick, NJ.

The conference organizers certainly have chosen well for its guest of honor.

Hank Phillippi Ryan, whose novel The Other Woman has garnered a lot of buzz, critical acclaim and five award nominations, is scheduled to be the guest of honor. Well, anyone who has read the novel about adultery, politics and murder, and a few “other women,” knows why Ryan has been getting a lot of attention lately. Ryan was profiled in Mystery Scene's Fall 2012 issue, No. 126.


Ryan will be joined by toastmaster Rosemary Harris, left, author of the Dirty Business series featuring Paula Holliday, a former television exec with a passion for gardening and sleuthing.


At this point, Deadly Ink has about 45 people signed up but the organizers are hoping to top 70 people.

As usual, authors will lead an array of panels and workshops. The conference kicks off with a full day of Deadly Ink Writer’s Academy classes for aspiring writers, on Aug. 2. Ryan will present “Writing Your Mystery—All You Need to Know Before You Start.”

Rosemary Harris will teach “Characters and Setting,” followed by Jane Cleland with “Red Herrings.” Classes wind up with “The Top 10 Reasons Your Novel Is Rejected,” by author and agent Lois Winston.

Authors scheduled to attend include Brad Parks, Jeff Cohen and Donald and Renee Bain, authors of the Murder She Wrote series, and Patricia King who writes as Annamaria Alfieri.

“Deadly Ink is New Jersey's own mystery conference, and like our state, we may be small but don't count us out,” said author Roberta Rogow, vice-chair of Deadly Ink. “New Brunswick is right in the middle of everything, only a few blocks from the train station, with plenty of parking for day trippers.”

parks_brad
Unlike Bouchercon and Malice Domestic, Deadly Ink is a more smaller conference, which several authors said was an asset.

“I enjoy smaller conferences where you get a chance to interact with virtually everyone there – whether it’s because of a panel, a smaller breakout session or just a chat at the bar. Also, Hank Phillippi Ryan is Guest of Honor and Rosemary Harris is Toastmaster this year, and they’re both awesome. I figured I couldn’t go too far wrong,” said Brad Parks, right, the author of the Carter Ross novels including Faces of the Gone, Eyes of the Innocent, and The Good Cop, his latest. Parks is the winner of the 2010 Shamus Award, the 2010 Nero Award and the 2013 Lefty Award. A profile of Parks ran in Mystery Scene's Spring 2013 issue, No. 129.

“The conference is small and I do like that, because I get to talk to actual readers and not feel like I'm trying to be noticed in the third tier of Yankee Stadium,” said Jeff Cohen, author of the Comedy Tonight series. Under the name E.J. Copperman, Cohen writes the Haunted Guesthouse Mystery series, which began with Night of the Living Deed and continues with An Uninvited Ghost, Old Haunts, and Chance of a Ghost. The series will continue in November 2013 with The Thrill of the Haunt.

Registration is still open. For more information, visit the Deadly Ink web site, or like it on Facebook.

Oline Cogdill
2013-07-17 10:48:09

harris_rosemary2
The intimate Deadly Ink Mystery Conference is back on track with the 12th convention scheduled for Aug. 2 to 4 at the Hyatt Regency, 2 Albany St., New Brunswick, NJ.

The conference organizers certainly have chosen well for its guest of honor.

Hank Phillippi Ryan, whose novel The Other Woman has garnered a lot of buzz, critical acclaim and five award nominations, is scheduled to be the guest of honor. Well, anyone who has read the novel about adultery, politics and murder, and a few “other women,” knows why Ryan has been getting a lot of attention lately. Ryan was profiled in Mystery Scene's Fall 2012 issue, No. 126.


Ryan will be joined by toastmaster Rosemary Harris, left, author of the Dirty Business series featuring Paula Holliday, a former television exec with a passion for gardening and sleuthing.


At this point, Deadly Ink has about 45 people signed up but the organizers are hoping to top 70 people.

As usual, authors will lead an array of panels and workshops. The conference kicks off with a full day of Deadly Ink Writer’s Academy classes for aspiring writers, on Aug. 2. Ryan will present “Writing Your Mystery—All You Need to Know Before You Start.”

Rosemary Harris will teach “Characters and Setting,” followed by Jane Cleland with “Red Herrings.” Classes wind up with “The Top 10 Reasons Your Novel Is Rejected,” by author and agent Lois Winston.

Authors scheduled to attend include Brad Parks, Jeff Cohen and Donald and Renee Bain, authors of the Murder She Wrote series, and Patricia King who writes as Annamaria Alfieri.

“Deadly Ink is New Jersey's own mystery conference, and like our state, we may be small but don't count us out,” said author Roberta Rogow, vice-chair of Deadly Ink. “New Brunswick is right in the middle of everything, only a few blocks from the train station, with plenty of parking for day trippers.”

parks_brad
Unlike Bouchercon and Malice Domestic, Deadly Ink is a more smaller conference, which several authors said was an asset.

“I enjoy smaller conferences where you get a chance to interact with virtually everyone there – whether it’s because of a panel, a smaller breakout session or just a chat at the bar. Also, Hank Phillippi Ryan is Guest of Honor and Rosemary Harris is Toastmaster this year, and they’re both awesome. I figured I couldn’t go too far wrong,” said Brad Parks, right, the author of the Carter Ross novels including Faces of the Gone, Eyes of the Innocent, and The Good Cop, his latest. Parks is the winner of the 2010 Shamus Award, the 2010 Nero Award and the 2013 Lefty Award. A profile of Parks ran in Mystery Scene's Spring 2013 issue, No. 129.

“The conference is small and I do like that, because I get to talk to actual readers and not feel like I'm trying to be noticed in the third tier of Yankee Stadium,” said Jeff Cohen, author of the Comedy Tonight series. Under the name E.J. Copperman, Cohen writes the Haunted Guesthouse Mystery series, which began with Night of the Living Deed and continues with An Uninvited Ghost, Old Haunts, and Chance of a Ghost. The series will continue in November 2013 with The Thrill of the Haunt.

Registration is still open. For more information, visit the Deadly Ink web site, or like it on Facebook.