The Last Breath
Sharon Magee

Gia Andrews does not want to return to her Appalachian hometown. Partly because she loves the humanitarian work she does around the world, but mostly because, when she left 16 years before, her father Ray had just been convicted of the brutal murder of her stepmother Ella Mae. But now her father is coming home to die, and Uncle Cal, head of the Andrews family, insists she help care for him during his final days. Uncle Cal swears he’s not guilty. Gia is unsure. Not so her brother Bo and sister Lexi, who both refuse to have anything to do with their father’s homecoming. The town is also against Ray’s return; protestors with signs and blow horns picket their house daily.

When evidence surfaces that Ella Mae was having an affair with their next-door neighbor, the sexually sadistic Dean, who was the only witness against her father, Gia determines to discover the truth. In her search, she acquires an unlikely ally, Jake Foster the handsome owner of the Roadkill Bar and Grill, who also becomes her lover.

Debut novelist Kimberly Belle has written a hybrid of suspense, women’s fiction, and romance, and has done it successfully. (Though it could be argued that sex every night is perhaps a bit too much of a good thing?) By interspersing flashbacks in Ella Mae’s point of view with Gia’s real-time point of view, the reader can see the progression toward the murder alongside Gia’s attempt to arrive at the truth.

Belle was raised in Appalachia and her main characters are spot-on. Even the minor appearances, such as Fannie, the plump hospice home care nurse with frowsy hair, and Jimmie, Gia’s childhood friend who looks like a grown-up Opie and is now a cop, come alive. The Last Breath is a satisfying read with its secrets kept well hidden until the very end.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-28 17:01:51
The White Van
Kevin Burton Smith

At first glance as utilitarian as the white van of its title, Patrick Hoffman’s promising first novel is a deceptive shell game that draws readers into a series of brain-shifting, often-bloody revelations. It’s arguably the best heist-gone-wrong yarn since Reservoir Dogs.

All-night, drug-prowling shewolf Emily Rosario is out on the town slamming down whiskey in a San Francisco dive, trying to figure a way out of her zero-sum life. An apparently harmless middle-aged Russian businessman buys her a few drinks and then invites her to his hotel room. No harm, right? But who’s zooming who?

A week later, Emily’s stoned out of her gourd and holding up a downtown bank, not quite sure what’s she’s doing or how she got there. But then her survival instincts kick in and Emily’s out of there, slipping through the cracks between the cops and her “accomplices,” drugged, dazed, and confused (and packing $800,000 in stolen loot), on the run from both Russian gangsters and the cops. And it soon becomes clear to readers—if not Emily herself—that they’re all equally dangerous. That’s because Leo Elias, a bent and broken SFPD Gang Task Force member, whose marriage, sobriety, and sanity are all circling the drain, is running his own hunt for Emily, visions of all that cash dancing in his head.

There’s a little something for everyone in this multicultural matryoshka of nested scams and conspiracies: dirty cops, black marketeers, strippers, private eyes, junkies and assorted bottom-feeders—but you’d better read fast. Life expectancy in this satisfying whack-a-mole of a novel can be as short as a few paragraphs. The Fickle Finger of Fate comes well greased in this one, and nobody is safe—least of all streetwise-but-people-dumb Emily.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-28 17:08:07
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
Matthew Fowler

In David Shafer’s novel Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, the author posits a darkly comedic scenario involving an international conspiracy to obtain and sell personal information of all the world’s population. The only three people who can stop this evil, albeit uncomfortably plausible-sounding plan are three adults still struggling to maneuver their way through life’s ups and downs: Leila Majnoun, a disillusioned nonprofit employee; Mark Deveraux, an insincere self-help guru; and Leo Crane, a well-meaning, substance-abusing, trust-fund baby. It sounds like the beginnings of a poorly edited joke, but, in Shafer’s novel, they are the characters entangled in an ideological confrontation with an ominous multinational group set on owning our private info.

Only as the momentum builds and the pages continue to turn does the reader ever truly consider whether or not the author will stick the landing. The answer? Mostly. Though the payoff for the globe-trotting trip around the world to save our data from evil feels slightly artificial, the triumph in characterization outweighs any misgivings the reader may have.

Too often in thrillers, the author is forced to overlook the minutia that makes a character interesting to an audience in favor of plot contrivances and ticking clocks. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot delivers great characters. Mark, the self-help guru who divvies out advice to others while his life splinters rapidly out of control, exemplifies this. Instead of using Mark’s occupation and hypocrisy as shorthand for who he is, Shafer neatly generates broad comedic situations that entertain as well as enlighten. In doing so, the author reveals a level of poignancy through his flawed characters. In doing so, the author has created a poignant novel with flawed characters that both entertain and intrigue.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-28 22:22:59
Ghost Month
Eileen Brad

Black smoke and incense perfume the air during Ghost Month in Taipei, as the gates of the underworld spring open, allowing the spirits of the dead to walk among the living. Paper money burns in front of makeshift altars with offerings of oranges, instant noodles, Coca-Cola six-packs, boxes of cookies and crackers, and anything else a relative might need in the afterlife.

Jing-nan, or “Johnny” as he calls himself, is a young shop owner, who hoped to live the American Dream. He’d set his sights on studying at UCLA, but ended up selling meat skewers, like his father and grandfather before him, in Taipei City. Every night he works his food stall Unknown Pleasures (named after Joy Division’s first album) on Jianguo Road, luring customers by putting on a smile and a show for the tourists. This is now his reality—until he reads of the death of his high school sweetheart, the class valedictorian Julia Huang Zheng-lian.

He is shocked to learn Julia was shot in the head while working as a betel nut beauty, far from the city. These girls, usually from impoverished backgrounds, work in enclosed glass booths dressed in swimsuits and lingerie, and are considered one small step above prostitutes. What was his Julia doing there? Determined to discover why she was murdered, Johnny seeks out Julia’s parents, only to find they are frightened of something or someone connected to her death. Unbeknownst to him, he has stumbled into a hornets’ nest of lies involving Taiwan’s powerful criminal underworld, whose gangs have deceptive names such as Black Sea and Everlasting Peace.

I suggest reading Ghost Month by Ed Lin on a full stomach, since much of the action takes place at food stands in the busy Shilin Night Market in Taipei. With places like Big Shot Hot Pot selling noodles and steaming hot soup, vendors pushing warm blocks of peanut candy, and Johnny’s delicious stews and meat skewers, readers might experience an overwhelming desire for dumplings and chili sauce.

This was a fascinating mystery, involving a very different culture, and author Ed Lin provides the reader with just enough details to make the experience feel authentic without slowing down the action. Pair that with a solid, well-thought-out plot filled with unusual characters, and you have an entertaining and informative read on your hands.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-28 22:38:13
The Means
Betty Webb

In political thrillers, politicians are frequently portrayed as the moral equivalents of Satan. They may start out pure and well-intentioned, but somewhere along the way they decide the ends justify the means, however vile those means might be. This popular literary device could have turned Douglas Brunt’s new novel (after Ghosts of Manhattan) into a stereotypical mishmash, because Tom Pauley, the Republican politician at the heart of it, appears to be a truly decent man who is trying to do the right thing for everyone concerned. But Brunt nimbly avoids stereotypes.

Running against Pauley is Democrat Mitchell Mason, the sitting US president who is certain he’ll be elected to a second term. But my, oh, my, talk about skeletons in closets! Mason has a mistress, and his wife is a reputed lesbian. Aided by a mysterious political operative, Samantha Davis, an ex-child actor turned attorney turned TV journalist, stumbles across an old crime involving the president that could change the nation’s political landscape, but first she must quadruple-check her facts. The skeletons hit the fan during a live television debate, and the resulting drama eventually plays out in the voting booth. Pauley doesn’t emerge from The Means unscathed, either.

Considering the fact that the fate of a nation depends on such disheartening political machinations, The Means might have been depressing—and in a way it is—but given the author’s talent for snarky asides, wit abounds. The scene in which conservative Pauley is “glittered” by a burly transvestite is flat-out hilarious. So is some of the psychobabble these politicians spout when caught fibbing. Again, I’ve never been much of a fan of political thrillers, but The Means is so well plotted (Bless those skeletons!), and so well written (Bless those snarky asides!), I’d elect this book in a heartbeat.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-28 22:45:03
The Darling Dahlias and the Silver Dollar Bush
Jackie Houchin

The Dahlias are a group of ladies ranging from the young to the elderly, who are members of a very active garden club in the small town of Darling, Alabama. They vary in plant knowledge, preference in posies, and their station in life, but they do a lot of good in the community and they stick together like glue when one of them is in trouble.

The setting is the early 1930s after the stock market crash and the ensuing run on the banks. Their own Darling Savings and Trust is closed, for who knows how long, and folks are running out of money. The longtime bank president has stepped down and a lot of folk are so riled up, they’d like to see him tarred, feathered, and run out of town. Then a dapper fellow named Alvin Duffy from New Orleans arrives in Darling claiming to be the new bank president and trying to get the newspaper office to print up some “funny money” to keep the town afloat in the crisis. The leery citizens of Darling balk at his “hair brained counterfeiting scheme” and one of the Dahlias takes it upon herself to investigate him.

Meanwhile, back in the woods, another illegal business is trying to keep Darling “afloat” in moonshine, while a determined revenue agent has vowed to shut ’em down, no matter what.

Throw in a couple of heartbreaks, scandals, courtships, murder, revenge, and a troublemaker who thinks he’s just “doin’ the Lord’s work,” and you’ve got a town heading toward disaster. It takes all the sleuthing abilities of the Dahlias, along with their famous party line telephones, to discover just who the villain is, and how to save their town from ruin.

Fans of Susan Wittig Albert’s Darling Dahlia series will love this book. It’s almost as if readers are on the town’s party line, hearing the news—sometimes skewed or untrue, but scandalous and juicy-good. Albert’s sense of era and place in the 1930s South is spot on, and her characters are always enjoyable, be they rascal or hero.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-28 23:04:33
Darkness, Darkness
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

When the remains of a woman who went missing during the British mining strike more than 30 years earlier turns up literally on her doorstep—or under it—to be precise, Charlie Resnick is called upon to aid in the murder investigation. Although he’s retired and working part-time as a dogsbody in the Central Police Station in Nottingham, Resnick’s familiarity with the case and the strike makes him a valuable asset to newly appointed Detective Inspector Catherine Njoroge, who is heading up the probe.

A black Kenyan by birth, Njoroge is saddled with a clueless boss who just wants the case to go away, and with a surly underling who is jealous of her position. Fortunately, Resnick is a stabilizing force who has her back. The investigation itself is extremely difficult, since some of the people who knew Jenny, the victim, have died or moved away over the years, or don’t remember many specifics from that time. It’s even more frustrating for Resnick, who knew the victim, her family, and her friends.

Alternating between the present and the past, the case proceeds in fits and starts as readers become acquainted with the present-day characters and those from 30 years ago—particularly the victim, a staunch and vocal supporter of the strike, and her scab husband—culminating in a surprising conclusion.

Although I enjoyed the mystery, the characters, and the quality storytelling, I do have a quibble: I was a bit turned off by the scenes set in the past with Jenny, which were written in the present tense, presumably for effect. Unfortunately, the effect was that I was bothered by reading about a person who I knew was already dead, but in these passages about to be killed in the “present.”

Darkness, Darkness is billed as Charlie Resnick’s last case. The character’s first mystery, Lonely Hearts, was written almost 35 years ago, and was named one of the 100 Best Crime Novels of the Century by the London Times. Author John Harvey won the CWA Silver Dagger in 2004 and received the prestigious Cartier Diamond Dagger in 2007.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-28 23:17:00
Murder at Midnight
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

What could be better for Agatha Christie whodunit fans than an old-fashioned, Scottish country house murder on New Year’s Eve? Barrister and sometimes sleuth Rex Graves and his bride-to-be Helen d’Arcy are hosting a holiday party for their friends at his lodge in the Scottish Highlands. Due to severe winter weather conditions, only 13 guests are able to make it. Before the party ends, the lights flicker and die, and so do two of the guests...murdered by an unusual poison.

Before the bumbling Chief Inspector Dalgerry of the Scottish police is able to make it through the snow, and before the lights come back on, Rex conducts his own investigation to discover how the murders were committed and who had the best opportunity and motive. His questioning of each guest in the candlelit semi-darkness ends up providing the vital clues to the eventual discovery of the murderer; even though, after the electricity is restored, the police and Rex are still in the dark as to the identity of the culprit. It is not until tragedy strikes again that Rex is finally able to figure out the who and the how and the why, and pass that information on to Inspector Dalgerry.

This is the seventh book in the Rex Graves series that began with Christmas Is Murder (2008) and it’s well worth the time of discerning devotees of traditional British mysteries.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-28 23:22:51
Really the Blues
Eileen Brady

It’s 1944 in Paris and the Germans are making the city their own. Eddie Piron, a trumpet player from New Orleans, has been in France for ten years. He’s as much at home in the Montmartre jazz café La Caverne Negre as he was playing the hot spots in the French Quarter. But Eddie is also hiding a secret he thought he left back in Louisiana, a secret he’s kept from everyone, including his aristocratic French girlfriend Carla de Villiers.

Author Joseph Koenig has taken his time to set the mood in Really the Blues, drawing us into Eddie’s day-to-day life as the ugly realities of Nazi occupation become clear. Will Eddie join those who strike out at the Germans or will he keep his head down and leave others to fight? Circumstances change for him when someone discovers the real reason he left the United States.

Koenig’s characters are well drawn, from the club owner, Roquentin, who’d rather burn his place down than hand it over to enemy to the Nazi officers, Major Weiler and Colonel Maier, who each have a different plan in mind for the City of Light.

In a strange twist, we learn many of the SS troops are fond of “negermusik” as they call American jazz. Music is the glue that binds all these characters together, until it’s ripped apart by resistance fighters trying to take back their city. From the dedication to Ferdinand Joseph Lamothe, better known as Jelly Roll Morton, to the mention of other jazz greats like Louis Armstrong and gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt, who fled for his life during the war, It’s obvious that the author has a love for music and the people who play it. Mystery and history buffs alike will enjoy Koenig’s attention to period detail and strong storytelling in this satisfying read.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-28 23:28:29
Unraveled Visions
Sheila M. Merritt

Unraveled Visions is a mystical mystery in which author Nina Milton has conjured up a whodunit with supernatural undertones. Sabbie Dare is an English shamanic counselor who uses New Age broadening-of-consciousness techniques to help her clients. She resides in the Somerset town of Bridgewater, which is shaken when the drowned body of an unknown woman is discovered and the detective on the case is subsequently shot to death at the town’s local festival.

On the night of the shooting, a Romany woman read Sabbie’s palm, and foretold danger. When the palmist goes missing, her sister enlists Sabbie’s assistance in lieu of going to the authorities. The Romany are immigrants who fear and distrust the police. Sabbie employs rituals to find symbolic clues—but also turns to more down-to-earth sleuthing by taking an undercover job at the shady Bulgarian restaurant where the palm reader and her sister worked. Employee abuse is rampant at the eatery and the owners are engaged in illegal activities that present dangerous ramifications for Sabbie.

Running parallel to this plot is a thread concerning a former client of Sabbie’s who has fallen into the clutches of a shady minister. As with her involvement in the gypsy sisters’s troubles, injustice motivates Sabbie to take action.

It’s impossible to refrain from rooting for such a plucky protagonist. Sabbie is the product of a troubled interracial couple and she grew up in foster care. Courage runs through her veins and an impassioned nature rules her heart—something Detective Sergeant Rey Buckley knows from experience with the attractive young shaman whom he finds as intractable as she is curious.

Nina Milton skillfully integrates the shamanistic elements into her mystery making this sequel to last year’s In the Moors an absorbing tale. The return of Sabbie Dare is awaited with interest.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-29 00:36:28
Confessions
Hank Wagner

The basis for the critically acclaimed 2010 Japanese film of the same name, Confessions recalls another film, the 1950 classic movie Rashomon, in that it recounts certain events from several different perspectives, including those of a teacher, a handful of her students, and the mother of one of those students.

As each narrative unfurls, readers learn more details about the central events of the novel: the tragic death of the teacher’s daughter, the horrible revenge she takes on the students she believes are responsible, and the unsettling collateral damage caused by both. The result is chilling and compelling, tense and intimate, as Kanae Minato thoroughly explores the psyches of each of her narrators, providing numerous moments of uncomfortable frisson as the book hurtles toward its dark, disturbing climax.

A book that demands to be read in a single sitting, Confessions is not for the faint of heart, but definitely for those who appreciate good writing and a surprise or two (or three, or four…).

Teri Duerr
2014-10-29 00:40:52
Dagger Award Winners

mina denise2
The Specsavers Crime Writers' Association Dagger Awards always sound like a lot of fun. I mean, who can argue with an award for the best read of the year?

So, the winners of the Specsavers Crime Writers' Association Dagger Awards this week in London are:

Goldsboro Gold Dagger: This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash

Ian Fleming Steel Dagger: An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris

John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger: The Axeman's Jazz by Ray Celestin

Peter May won the Crime Thriller Book Club Best Read of the Year for Entry Island, which was chosen by a group of independent publishing experts from the Awards Academy.

In addition, Robert Harris and Denise Mina, left, were inducted into the CWA Hall of Fame in recognition of their contributions to the genre.

 

In the movie and TV categories:

Keeley Hawes for Line of DutyDagger for Best Actress

Matthew McConaughey for True Detective  Dagger for Best Actor

James Norton for Happy ValleyDagger for Best Supporting Actor

Amanda Abbington for Sherlock  Dagger for Best Supporting Actress

Happy ValleyDagger for Best TV Series

True DetectiveDagger for Best International TV Series

Cold in JulyDagger for Best Film

For the first time, an entire Midsomer Murders was inducted into the Hall of Fame, and the cast and crew were there to collect the award.


This is a true red-carpet event—and I love that it celebrates all forms of the mystery genre. The event, held at London’s Grosvenor House Hotel, was attended by actors, writers, and producers from the world of crime TV and fiction.

Oline Cogdill
2014-10-29 04:10:52
2014 Anthony, Shamus, Macavity Winners

The Anthony Awards, given during Bouchercon, the Shamus Awards from the Private Eye Writers of America, and the Macavity Awards from Mystery Readers International are among the mystery genre’s highest awards.

Here are the winners who were honored during Bouchercon 2014 in Long Beach, California. The Shamus winners were announced during the PWA banquet held the weekend of Bouchercon.

We congratulate the winners and the nominees. Here is a full list of the novels nominated for an Anthony Award.

ANTHONY AWARD WINNERS

krueger ordinarygrace
Best Novel

William Kent Krueger, Ordinary Grace

Best First Novel
Matt Coyle, Yesterday’s Echo

Best Paperback Original Novel
Catriona McPherson, As She Left It

Best Short Story
John Connolly, “The Caxton Private Lending Library & Book Depository”

Best Critical or Non-Fiction Work
Daniel Stashower, The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War

Best Children’s or Young Adult Novel
Joelle Charbonneau, The Testing

Best Television Episode Teleplay First Aired in 2013
Jon Bokenkamp, The Blacklist, Pilot

Best Audio Book
Robert Glenister, reading The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith


SHAMUS AWARD WINNERS
(Here's a full list of the novels nominated for the Shamus Award)

Best Hardcover PI Novel
Brad Parks, The Good Cop

Best First PI Novel

Lachlan Smith, Bear Is Broken

Best Original Paperback PI Novel

P.J. Parrish, Heart of Ice

Best PI Short Story

Max Allan Collins and Mickey Spillane, “So Long, Chief”

Best Indie PI Novel

M. Ruth Myers, Don’t Dare a Dame


MACAVITY AWARD WINNERS

Best Mystery Novel
William Kent Krueger, Ordinary Grace

Best First Mystery

Terry Shames, A Killing at Cotton Hill

Best Mystery Short Story

Art Taylor, "The Care and Feeding of Houseplants"

Best Nonfiction
Daniel Stashower, The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War

Sue Feder Historical Mystery Award
David Morrell, Murder as a Fine Art

Oline Cogdill
2014-11-15 10:10:00
These Dicks Were Janes
Kevin Burton Smith

adams cleve f violet mcdadeIn crime pulps of the 30s and 40s there were also plenty of dicks who were actually janes, defiantly holding their own.

Cleve F. Adams’ foul-tempered Violet McDade is generally considered the first hardboiled woman detective. This illustration originally accompanied “Flowers for Violet” in Clues Detective Stories, May 1936.

Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman… especially when they’re also private detectives.

Oh, those poor gals. They seem to get it in the neck from both sides these days, misrepresented on the one hand by ivory tower feminists who overpraise characters like Kinsey Millhone, V.I. Warshawski, or Sharon McCone—for all the wrong reasons. They seem to believe these female gumshoes sprang out of nowhere, wholly formed, a mere 20 or so years ago, a revolutionary shot fired across the bow of some male chauvinist conspiracy.

On the other hand the same characters are sneered at and scorned by the knuckle-dragging traditionalists, with their trench-coat-and-fedora fetishes, who claim these detectives are actually about as hardboiled as afternoon tea, and that true hardboiled women never did and never will exist. I mean, come off it guys. What sort of slippery sliding scale of boiledness allows Lew “I just want to understand you” Archer to be classified as hardboiled, while V.I. “Take no prisoners” Warshawski is considered “softboiled”?

I’m not sure which group is more misguided or more in need of deflation, but they should both do a little more actual reading in the genre, and a little less huffing and puffing.

Truth is, the female eye goes back a hell of a lot further than Muller’s Edwin of the Iron Shoes—a fact that Muller herself has eagerly pointed out several times over the years.

The standard rhetoric goes that from the start of the P.I. genre, women were relegated solely to background characters or clumsy stereotypes—long-suffering secretaries (available in either plain and efficient or stacked and stupid), virginal victims, or drop-dead gorgeous femmes fatales (as though even a hint of sexuality, combined with just a drop of intelligence, was a sure sign that murder lurked in their hearts). This tunnel vision serves both camps nicely, for different reasons, but it conveniently sidesteps a few facts. Such as that the female characters created by Chandler, Hammett, and the better male writers of the genre were often just as well-developed, and their motives every bit as varied, as their male characters—they just weren’t always nice.

And, more importantly, it ignores the fact that in crime pulps of the ‘30s and ‘40s, although male detectives did indeed rule the roost, there were also plenty of dicks who were actually janes, defiantly holding their own. Each month, readers eagerly plopped down their dough to read the pulp escapades of these strong, tough, and, yes, even occasionally hardboiled janes.

One of the first, way back in 1933, was T.T. Flynns Trixie Meehan. Make no mistake—big, rugged Mike Harris of the Blaine Agency was supposedly the lead here, but his “pert sidekick,” a fellow op, was what made these occasionally screwball stories, which appeared in Detective Fiction Weekly, so special.

In the meantime, Grace Culver, created by Roswell Brown, was appearing regularly in The Shadow. Grace worked for the Noonan Detective Agency as a secretary and sometime-op, and while she wasn’t exactly hardboiled, she was certainly smart, brave, and independent. Cleve F. Adams’ nasty, foul-tempered Violet McDade is generally considered the first hardboiled lady eye. She and her long-suffering partner, Nevada Alvarado, slugged and bickered their way through a string of stories in the pulps.

Possessed of the charm and build of a NFL linebacker, D.B. McCandless Sarah Watson was another lovely piece of work. She didn’t have much patience for her young male assistant or for men in general—she gruffly admits she’d like to “beat up a man proper, for once,” and then proceeds to describe it in loving detail.

Then there’s Theodore Tinsley’s Carrie Cashin, certainly the most popular of the female pulp eyes. Attractive, smart, and determined as hell, she appeared in over three dozen pulp stories. Although she often posed as her male assistant’s secretary (Remington Steele, anyone?), there’s no doubt who the real boss was here.

And in a time when there were very few regular women writers in Black Mask, Katherine Brocklebank not only managed to sell them seven stories—she also created possibly Black Mask’s only female series character: Tex of the Border Service, who saw that justice was done along the Mexico/U.S. border.

brown roswel grace culverRoswell Brown’s Grace Culver. A woman, a bad hair day, and a gun. Can you spell trouble? This illustration originally accompanied “Hit the Baby” in The Shadow Magazine, February 15, 1936.

Not that all the lady dicks were confined to short stories in the pulps. Rex Stout’s pistol-packin’ Dol Bonner showed up in the 1937 novel The Hand in the Glove, possibly the first book-length female shamus. Although there were no sequels, Dol later showed up in several of the Nero Wolfe tales.

Hot on Dol’s heels came Zelda Popkin’s Death Wears a White Gardenia (1938), which introduced Mary Carner, a smart and tough, crisply efficient detective who works at Blankfort's swanky, upscale Fifth Avenue store in New York, and would go on to appear in four more popular but now almost forgotten novels, making her—as far as I can tell—the first book-length series female private detective.

The next year, A.A. Fair (actually Erle Stanley Gardner) let loose Bertha Cool in The Bigger They Come, the first of what would become the longest series featuring a female gumshoe ever (and will still be, even when Grafton finally cranks out Z Is for Zero). Like Sarah Watson before her, Bertha Cool is one big, unpleasant chunk of detective, and nobody’s doormat. The books are an absolute treat, easily surpassing most of Gardner’s Perry Mason books for sheer entertainment.

And in 1947, skip tracer/P.I. Gale Gallagher appeared in I Found Him Dead, purportedly written by Gale herself (actually Will Oursler and Margaret Scott). It was followed a few years later by Chord in Crimson. Gallagher is arguably the missing link between the good girl amateur sleuths of the past and the tougher modern female P.I.s of the present. In the “tag end” of her twenties, she’s smart, well-dressed, and seems pretty self-assured and independent for that era. She goes to bars and jazz clubs alone, and enjoys the company of several men. She has a license to carry, though she rarely does, but she speaks with a dry wit and a casual toughness that is completely believable.

Some may sneer and declare these characters not “real” women because most were created by men, a sort of rebound-sexism. But that doesn’t subtract from the fact that these characters (and there were plenty of others) were all strong, tough and smart, and every bit as independent and as enjoyable to read about as their male contemporaries. Sometimes even more so.

And don’t get me started on the women who wrote for the hardboiled pulps....

SUGGESTED FURTHER READING

Hard-Boiled Dames: Stories Featuring Women Detectives, Reporters, Adventurers, and Criminals from the Pulp Fiction Magazines of the 1930s. Bernard Drew, ed., preface by Marcia Muller, St. Martin's Press, 1986.

Top of the Heap. Erle Stanley Gardner, Hard Case Crime, 2004. A Bertha Cool and Donald Lam mystery reprint.

Kevin Burton Smith is the founder and editor of The Thrilling Detective Web Site.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Spring Issue #89.

Teri Duerr
2014-10-30 21:50:23

adams cleve f violet mcdadeIn crime pulps of the ‘30s and ‘40s there were also plenty of dicks who were actually janes, defiantly holding their own.

Why Go to Bouchercon?

jance ja
Next week, hundreds of people from across the US, Canada, England, Europe—oh, let’s just say the world will be coming to Long Beach, California, to celebrate mystery fiction.

Bouchercon 2014 will be Nov. 13 to 16 in beautiful Long Beach. The setting alone makes this trip worthwhile as Long Beach is a lovely city.

But Bouchercon, which moves to a different locale each year, is worth the trip alone.

Bouchercon has been taking place since 1970 and is named in honor of famed mystery critic Anthony Boucher. During the convention there are panels, discussions, and interviews with authors and people from the mystery community covering all parts of the genre.

But that description doesn’t really say why Bouchercon matters and why authors and fans should attend.

Bouchercon is more than just panels and discussions. It is a conference that has its finger on the pulse of the genre. It shows through those panels and discussions what and who is on the cutting edge of the genre; what kinds of stories we will be reading in the future and what kinds of plots authors want to tackle.

Bouchercon gives us who love mysteries a chance to really look at the genre we love and see its past and future. For fans, it’s a chance to hear the authors they love talk about their work, get their books signed, and maybe even talk to them between events.

For authors, it’s a chance to meet those readers—and make new ones.

For me, as a critic, it is a chance to see which authors are up and coming, and just learn more about the genre.

I’ve been coming to Bouchercons since 1997, when it was in Monterey. I have only had to miss one since then and that was the Alaska deaver jeffrey2
Bouchercon and that was only because we had taken a family vacation to Alaska the year before.

I have never had a bad time at a Bouchercon. Even the two that stand out as badly organized and chaotic were still fun.

Not every author will make every Bouchercon. Some can’t come because of other commitments, family issues, or they don’t have a book that is new. I can understand skipping Bouchercons because authors need to commit their time to work—creating new and strong stories.

That adage that you get what you give certainly applies to Bouchercon. There are panels and events geared for every kind of mystery writer, and a chance to meet readers. And isn’t meeting readers the best reason to go?

And that is one of the beauties of our genre—it is so wide and embracing. If readers can’t find a mystery they like, then they are just not looking hard enough. Or they are…well…I don’t have to go into details about what I think of people who look down on crime fiction.

The Long Beach Bouchercon looks to be a great conference. The organizers have thoughtfully pulled together a good list of honorees and panels.

The American Guest of Honor will be J.A. Jance, whom I will have the pleasure of interviewing on the first day of Bouchercon.

Edward Marston will be the International Guest of Honor. Simon Wood the witty Toastmaster. Eoin Colfer the Y.A. Guest of Honor.

Jeffery Deaver is being honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award.

There is still time to register for Bouchercon. Come to a beautiful area, and stay for the lively discussions that Bouchercon will offer.

Photos: Top, J.A. Jance; bottom, Jeffery Deaver

Oline Cogdill
2014-11-01 13:10:00
A Tribute to Jerry Healy

healy jeremiah jerry
It’s always hard to know how to best honor someone who has died. Do we send flowers? Set up a fund? Hold a memorial service? What is the best way to honor that person, acknowledge our grief, and also do something that will allow that person’s legacy to continue.

Jeremiah Healy’s death on August 14, 2014, left many people mourning him and also wanting to do something. Jerry took his own life at age 66, following a long battle with depression.

He left behind his fiancée and fellow author, Sandra Balzo, tons of friends, colleagues, and fans.

To honor Jerry Healy, his fellow mystery writers and friends, Brendan DuBois, Andi Shechter, SJ Rozan and her sister Deborah, and Balzo found a way to commemorate Jerry's work and life that they feel he would have loved.

So a memorial fund is being set up at Hero Dogs, a service dog organization that trains dogs to assist wounded veterans.

“Besides his work as an attorney and an author, Jerry was a U.S. Army vet, and was also a lover of dogs. [Hero Dogs] will be thrilled to receive donations in Jerry's name,” said DuBois in a press statement.

The idea for the fund began several weeks ago when the friends began to ask themselves what they should do.

“My first thoughts were things that were on my mind—depression, suicide prevention, or maybe literacy. All worthy causes, but not . . . very Jerry,” said Balzo in the press statement.

“If you knew Jeremiah Healy for any length of time, you might have heard him talk about the military and refer to somebody as ‘the real thing.’ ‘The Real Things’ are men and women who served our country heroically and selflessly, often at the expense of life, limb, or emotional health. In fact, the only time I saw Jerry cry was as he recounted an air mission in which the pilots took off knowing that, once the mission was achieved, they didn't have the fuel to return,” she added.

healy herodogs
And that is where dogs come in.

“As for the canine component, I can't tell you how many strolls were doubled in duration because Jerry had to stop every passing dog walker with the question "Is he (or she) friendly?" and give 'em a good scratch. Even depressed, it was the one thing that seemed to help him, so I can only imagine what it does for wounded vets,” she added.

Hero Dogs is based in Maryland. It is an IRS approved 501(c)(3) organization and operates entirely on donations. You can donate via their website, or by sending a check to Hero Dogs, P.O. 64, Brookeville, MD 20833-0064. But please ensure either by writing on the memo section of your check, or using the form on their website, that you're making this donation in Jeremiah Healy's name.

That way, Hero Dogs can track how many donations come in, so that they can be used in some way to keep Jeremiah Healy's memory alive in years to come.

And if anyone wants to have their donation acknowledged by Balzo, or send her a personal note, she can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

And after honoring Healy through Hero Dogs, remember his novels.

Healy’s first novel about Boston private investigator John Francis Cuddy was Blunt Darts in 1984. His novel The Staked Goat won the Shamus Award, given by the Private Eye Writers of America, in 1986. He wrote 13 novels about Cuddy, the last of which, Spiral, was published in 1999 and took place mostly in Florida.

He also wrote three novels under the pseudonym Terry Devane about lawyer Mairead O’Clare.

Oline Cogdill
2014-11-05 13:25:00
Kathleen Ernst on Laura Ingalls Wilder
Kathleen Ernst

KathleenErnstMysterySceneEssayPhoto72dpiLaura and Me

In my current work-in-progress, the sixth installment of my Chloe Ellefson series, my protagonist has cause to consider her favorite book. What does she reach for? Her childhood copy of Little House in the Big Woods, first in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series:

Only another true Little House-lover could understand what the books had meant to her as a child. … Laura’s adventures had captivated. Laura’s struggles had inspired. Laura had been a faithful friend when no one else understood. Laura’s stories had sparked Chloe’s interest in history, her hobbies, her career and professional passions. This book led me here, Chloe thought.

“Here” is the huge living history museum where Chloe works as curator of collections—the same museum where I once worked as an interpreter and curator. Chloe is not me, but there’s a lot of me in Chloe. Laura’s stories led me “here” as well—happily writing mysteries about a curator who is passionate about historic sites and stories.

For those not in the know, the original eight-book series was autobiographical fiction, written by Laura and edited by her daughter Rose. As Laura grows from a young girl to a married teen, her family moves from Wisconsin to Kansas to Minnesota and, finally, to South Dakota. When I was a little girl in suburban Maryland, the books transported me to pioneer days in the Midwest. I’ve been fascinated by the past, and historic places, ever since.

Periodically I re-read the Little House books. They hold up well for adults. The stories are nuanced, with undercurrents I missed as a kid. And I’ve realized that the time spent with the Little House books over the years has influenced my own writing.

Wilder drew characters so well they become real in readers’ minds. Fictional Laura demonstrates her resiliency and spunk in many ways, but she is not immune to yearning and hurt. And the writing always shows. When Laura is a small child, readers know exactly how she feels one spooky night when Pa has not come home:

Laura listened to the wind in the Big Woods. All around the house the wind went crying as though it were lost in the dark and the cold. The wind sounded frightened. (Little House in the Big Woods)

In the early chapters of By the Banks of Plum Creek, writer-Laura made exquisite use of foreshadowing as Pa promises again and again that high times are on the horizon. When Ma protests moving into a dugout: “It’s only till I harvest the first wheat crop,” said Pa. “Then you’ll have a fine house and I’ll have horses and maybe even a buggy. This is great wheat country, Caroline!” Some readers may recall that plagues of grasshoppers completely decimated crops and dreams, and left the Ingalls family deep in debt.

Time and place emerge vividly on every page. In real life Laura painted word pictures for her blind sister, and that skill served her well as a novelist:

The great round moon hung in the sky and its radiance poured over a silvery world. …Laura’s heart swelled. She felt herself a part of the wide land, of the far deep sky and the brilliant moonlight. She wanted to fly. (By the Shores of Silver Lake)

Laura Ingalls Wilder evoked the past with specific sensory details. She presented compelling characters. She carefully structured the stories to have a satisfying beginning, middle, and end. Her books have endured, selling millions of copies all around the world. One set still sits on my bookshelf. They are a talisman of my childhood, when they inspired my lifelong love of history and stories.

Bestselling author Kathleen Ernst writes mysteries and historical fiction. Her latest titles are Tradition of Deceit: A Chloe Ellefson Mystery (for adults) and Traitor in the Shipyard: A Caroline Mystery (for kids).

This Writers on Reading essay was originally published in At the Scene eNews November 2014 as a first-look exclusive to our enewsletter subscribers. For more special content available first to our enewsletter subscribers, sign up here.

Teri Duerr
2014-11-04 05:49:45

KathleenErnstMysterySceneEssayPhoto72dpi"Periodically I re-read the Little House on the Prairie books. They hold up well for adults."

Best Villains of the Season

koryta thosewhowishmedead
Liam Neeson battles two chilling criminals and their odd relationship in A Walk Among the Tombstones. The movie, based on Lawrence Block’s novel, gives us a good view of who these two horrible people are and it wisely doesn’t have them dominate the screen.

Sometimes villains are the worst criminals one can imagine. Other times, they slide into your lives under the guise of friendship and love.

So here are the novels this year that gave us memorable villains.

Those Who Wish Me Dead by Michael Koryta: Two killers, with their odd speaking patterns and creepy stares, leave a trail of violence in their wake as they pursue a 13-year-old boy who witnessed them murdering a man.

The Killer Next Door by Alex Marwood: A killer lurks in a rundown apartment house in London. But who?

Keep Your Friends Close by Paula Daly: Eve Dalladay, who has a habit of seducing married men, siphoning off their money, and disappearing, may be one of the most fully shaped villains of the year.

This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash: Deadbeat father Wade Chesterfield, who kidnaps the children he abandoned, and who had signed over his parental rights years before, isn’t really the bad guy here. That title goes to the brutal Robert Pruitt, who is fueled by a years-old vendetta against Wade, and a gym bag full of money.

The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon: The fears that creep into one’s subconscious and stay there ramp up the terror in this tale that blends the past and the present, the supernatural and the real.

Black Horizon by James Grippando: Corporate greed—the ultimate villain—and politics play a part as Miami defense attorney Jack Swyteck represents the widow of a Cuban national killed in an oil rig explosion.

Peter Pan Must Die by John Verdon: Retired NYPD homicide detective Dave Gurney investigates a murder that, on the surface, was marwoodalex killernextdoor
impossible to perform and in which the details were fabricated.

Summer of the Dead by Julia Keller: Two brutal murders, seemingly unrelated, rock the small town of Acker's Gap, West Virginia, where people can hide in plain sight their propensity for violence.

After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman: Shady businessman Felix Brewer isn’t your typical villain, but this thoughtless and selfish man who is facing a 15-year prison sentence disappears before he can go to prison, forever leaving in shambles those he supposedly loved.

Oline Cogdill
2014-11-09 10:15:00
J.A. Jance: Bouchercon Guest of Honor

janceja dogs
At each Bouchercon, several authors are picked to be the guests of honor. During Bouchercon 2014, which begins November 13, the American Guest of Honor is J.A. Jance, who has written more than 50 novels during the past 30 years.

I’ll be conducting the interview with J.A. beginning at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, November 13.

J.A. has been a real force in the mystery genre since 1985, when her first J.P. Beaumont novel, Until Proven Guilty, was published.

One reason that her novels are so accessible is that she writes about real people—men and women whom each of us can relate to. There are other female sheriffs in the mystery genre, but J.A. was the first to give her Joanna Brady a full and complicated live. In that, J.A. recognized that none of us are just one thing. Our careers, families, hopes, dramas, and joys all serve to make us who we are.

J.A. also knows that using one’s life experiences can make for richer novels. So her first husband’s alcoholism helped shaped J. P. Beaumont. Her experiences as a single parent have gone into the background for Joanna Brady.

The years that she taught on the Tohono O’Odham reservation west of Tucson, Arizona, are reflected in Hour of the Hunter and Kiss of the Bees.

In Second Watch, she paid tribute to a former classmate who was killed in Vietnam.

We’ll be talking about her characters and her life as a writer during our interview at Bouchercon. And if you can’t make it to Long Beach, bring J.A. Jance to you by reading her novels.

Oline Cogdill
2014-11-12 10:45:00
The Groundbreaking NYPD BLUE

nypd-blue-1993 franz and caruso

A troubled protagonist, gritty language, and a pair of bare buns changed the way America viewed TV cop shows forever.

L-R: David Caruso as Detective John Kelly and Dennis Franz as Detective Andy Sipowicz in the 1993 premiere season of NYPD Blue.

ABC’s NYPD Blue ended its 12-year, 261-episode run with new homicide squad commander Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz) sitting alone at his cluttered desk, facing an uncertain future, wondering perhaps how he ever wound up supervising the conduct of others after so much trouble supervising his own.

It was a fitting final image for the acclaimed police drama, which ultimately had evolved into a show mainly about Sipowicz. He had become a metaphor for the contemporary urban policeman who, after conquering his own demons, still has to face the daunting challenge of a bureaucracy that seems programmed to thwart justice at every turn.

bochco stevenIn the fall of 1993, when NYPD Blue began its run, it seemed most like a natural extension of writer-producer Steven Bochco’s experiments with Hill Street Blues, the most innovative and groundbreaking police show of the 1980s. Like Hill Street, it had a unique visual presentationdarker, busier and real. The handheld camera style gave us the feeling we were visiting a real New York police precinct where each frame seemed crammed with suspects in handcuffs or anonymous uniformed officers in blue.

Steven Bochco

But television had undergone a major sea change since the run of Hill Street from 1981-87. Cable TV networks like HBO and Showtime were now doing weekly series—and doing them without the inhibitions of regulated broadcast networks. Doing a conventional police show built around a star name no longer seemed practical. Pushing the envelope did.

I remember grinning broadly when I first sat down to preview the pilot episode of NYPD Blue in the spring of 1993 and realized Bochco and partner David Milch had punched holes in the envelope in less than five minutes. Detective Sipowicz had just infuriated prosecutor Sylvia Costas (Sharon Lawrence) by ruining her case against a mobster with contaminated evidence. On the way out of the courthouse, she mumbles her displeasure and Sipowicz rather flagrantly expressed his own.

“Ipso this,” said Sipowicz, clutching at his crotch, “you pissy little bitch!”

Well, that was certainly something you didn’t hear on broadcast television in 1993, even after 10 pm.

As the pilot rolled on, things got even more envelope-punchy as Detective John Kelly (David Caruso) and Officer Janice Licalsi (Amy Brenneman) made love for the first time—and we saw parts of their naked bodies never before seen in a commercial network prime time program. Though little publicized at the time, it eventually came out that NYPD Blue had required all its actors to sign “nudity clauses” in their contracts, guaranteeing no disputes over being asked to appear in such scenes.

After the ABC affiliates convention that year, a furor began that quickly equaled and surpassed the one over ABC’s raunchy comedy series Soap in 1977. A large number of ABC stations complained they wouldn’t show that episode unless significant changes were made. Some warned they wouldn’t clear the series at all for their stations.

Eventually, a new pilot was produced, trimming 15 seconds of nudity from the bedroom scene. As producer Bochco explained when I asked him about it, they didn’t cut what we saw, just how long we saw it. In a rather testy press conference that July, Bochco blamed the press for blowing up the controversy.

NYPD BLUES sipowicz badge“We’re not doing anything that’s going to bring down the fall of the Republic,” he said. True enough, but what NYPD Blue did do was revolutionize broadcast television standards. By winning the battle to include nudity, a major step was taken that other dramatic shows cautiously followed. By getting ABC to agree to a list of profane words that were acceptable—if not used to excess—Bochco hastened the rush of commercial TV producers to compete with the booming popularity of HBO and its fellow cable networks. The result was enormous publicity, immediate hit status for NYPD Blue and overnight fame for its lead actor, David Caruso, who quickly began to receive tempting offers for lead roles in movies. His requests for special scheduling, so he could go off to star in movies, were deemed unacceptable by Bochco and Milch, who knew they had a tiger by the tail. When negotiations failed, Caruso decided to break his contract and leave the show early in the second year.

That calamity changed the course of NYPD Blue forever. It forced the writers to re-focus the show onto Sipowicz, who was the partner to Detective Kelly. He was a most unlikely fellow to be the central character in any show. He was a drunk, a racist, an adulterer who frequented prostitutes and was played by a balding, overweight, middleaged actor whose face would never appear on a Wheaties box.

But Bochco and his fellow writers had transformed a Dennis Franz character from heel to hero before. In Hill Street Blues, Franz had played a bad cop so well that Bochco decided to bring him back as a series regular, playing Lt. Norman Buntz (1985-87), a cop very much like Andy Sipowicz. The Buntz character was so popular in fact that he briefly starred in his own quasisitcom, Beverly Hills Buntz (1987-88) after leaving the force and becoming a private eye in L.A.

Franz is a funny, loveable guy in person—so it must have been a special treat for him to tackle a character like Sipowicz, so dark at first meeting. He eventually romanced and married Sylvia, the “pissy little bitch” from the series pilot, and even played his mandatory nude scene with her in a sequence in which the grossly overweight Franz and shapely Sharon Lawrence took a memorable shower together.

nypdblue  sipowicz and simone Dennis Franz and Jimmy Smits

Even after actor Jimmy Smits—from Bochco’s L.A. Law—was hired to play Detective Bobby Simone, Sipowicz’s new partner, the Sipowicz character remained central. When Smits left the series a few years later, the subsequent new partners were clearly subordinate to Franz’s Sipowicz. The series remained a big ratings winner for ABC until the last few years when Bochco and Milch concentrated on other projects and the remaining writers turned the show in a new, lighter direction. The trend in television was toward the even more realistic forensic and police procedural shows like the CSI and Law & Order franchises while NYPD Blue remained a character-driven series. Interest in Sipowicz waned and none of the newer characters really caught fire with the public.

After 12 seasons, however, the legacy of NYPD Blue seems solid. It was the program that turned the police show in a much more reality based direction and made the large ensemble cast almost standard for the genre. The influence of real-life former New York police detective Bill Clark as adviser and, later, an executive producer is undeniable.

In the course of those 12 seasons, Andy Sipowicz was very nearly rehabilitated for good. No longer a self-destructive force, he became a mentor and, in the final episode, the leader of his squad. Naturally, though, his history haunts him and it’s not too big a stretch to imagine him losing it completely one of these days and punching out one of those arrogant chiefs above him.

Maybe, if we’re lucky, we’ll get to see it in a NYPD Blue reunion movie.

Teri Duerr
2014-11-13 22:30:18

nypd-blue-1993 franz and carusoA troubled protagonist, gritty language, and a pair of bare buns changed the way America viewed TV cop shows forever.

Different Villains for Different Series

burke alafairx
Heroes or heroines elevate mystery plots, and, in the case of series, are one of the reasons we look forward to the next novel.

Isn’t that why we want to read about Harry Bosch, Tess Monaghan, Kinsey Millhone, Elvis Cole, Joe Pike, Spenser, Quinn Colson, Thorn, Doc Ford, Helen Hawthorne, Jane Ryland—OK, I am going to stop now because this list could get massive.

But where would these series characters be without villains to bring to justice? Heroes/heroines need villains, and readers need both.

I've been thinking about some outstanding villains lately who have made a plot even stronger. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the year's best villains.

A good villain has to be germane to the story. The kind of criminal who Harry Bosch pursues in Michael Connelly’s police procedurals isn’t the same kind of criminal that Connelly’s attorney Mickey Haller goes after. Alafair Burke’s NYPD detective Ellie Hatcher and her Deputy District Attorney Samantha Kincaid each have different caseloads. A cop would be in a different kind of situation than a lawyer would be.

It’s doubtful that the set of criminals who wander into the small Mississippi town where Ace AtkinsQuinn Colson is sheriff would be the same kind that James W. Hall’s Thorn deals with in South Florida.

connelly michael2013
Laura Lippman’s Tess Monaghan, Kelli Stanley’s Miranda Corbie and Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone would find similarities in their stories since both are private investigators. The differences being, of course, locale—Baltimore for Tess, San Francisco for Miranda, and Santa Barbara for Kinsey—and era. Tess operates in the 21st century while Kinsey is still in the late 1980s and Miranda’s time frame is just before WWII.

Robert Crais’ private investigators Elvis Cole and Joe Pike would also find that the type of villain they are after would overlap with those who bother the clients of PI V.I. Warshawski in Sara Paretsky’s series.

Reporter Jane Ryland in Hank Phillippi Ryan’s series chases stories that revolve around nasty deeds. But Ryan’s villains are not career criminals, rather they are ordinary people who see an opportunity and let greed and power take over their soul—and in some ways that is much worse.

Carrie La Seur’s The Home Place, M.P. Cooley's Ice Shear, and Elizabeth Little’s Dear Daughter are debuts set in small towns, and that brings up a whole new set of people to deal with.

Elaine Viets’ Helen Hawthorne, Alison Gaylin’s Brenna Spector, Julie Hyzy’s Oliva Paras, Tim O’Mara’s Raymond Donne, and Greg Herren’s Chanse MacLeod each have a different sort of lowlife with whom they cross paths.

Tell us your favorite type of villain.

Photos: Top: Alafair Burke; Bottom: Michael Connelly

Oline Cogdill
2014-12-06 04:10:00
Truth Be Told
Oline H. Cogdill

Greed seems to naturally find those who are in a crisis or tragedy, as one person’s misery often becomes another’s way to make money. That’s true of the housing crisis as illustrated in Hank Phillippi Ryan’s excellent Truth Be Told.

Boston newspaper reporter Jane Ryland has been assigned a story to show the heartbreak of home foreclosure. People who have saved all their lives are losing everything, their belongings pitched out on the front lawn. Meanwhile, neighbors deal with plummeting property values and unkempt, abandoned homes. But this human interest feature becomes a crime story when a woman’s body is found in a vacant home. This comes just a few weeks after a teenager fell from a second story, trying to retrieve personal items left behind in her family’s foreclosed home. The crime story evolves into an investigative story when Jane uncovers a banking scam more lucrative than any subprime mortgage.

At the same time, Boston police detective Jake Brogan is looking into the confession of a recently released ex-convict, who has just confessed to the long-ago murder of a teenager. It’s a case that Jake’s grandfather, also a cop, investigated many years before, but instead of closure, it raises more questions than answers about the 20-year-old crime.

Ryan’s storytelling allows these two plotlines to intersect in a natural manner, and gives readers equal time with Jane and Jake. Both are passionate about their work, about maintaining ethics, and about doing the right thing. Both also are compassionate in their dealings with others: in Jane’s case her sources, in Jake’s case his suspects. Jane and Jake are quickly becoming two of the most enjoyable series characters to spend time with, and readers who have rooted for them to give into their mutual attraction should note that their relationship takes a new turn in this third novel of the series.

A sense of reality permeates Truth Be Told, from the insider’s look at police work and newspaper reporting to the adept characterization of villains out to line their pockets—villains who are just ordinary people who seize an opportunity and throw out their soul with their hunger for money. And as Ryan so aptly shows, in many ways, that’s a crime much worse than that of any career criminal’s.

Teri Duerr
2014-11-25 19:53:12
Finishing Their Friend's Manuscript

Gagliano anthony
Anyone who has been to a mystery writers’ conference knows how most crime fiction authors are among the most generous and giving writers.

Most authors are happy to introduce a colleague to a reader, knowing that more books being enjoyed is good for all writers.

I’ve heard many authors go out of their way to recommend a new author. What author wouldn’t get a boost when Michael Connelly recommends your novel? Which he has done several times.

When Elaine Viets had a stroke several years ago, many of her fellow writers went on book tour for her. (She’s fine now; and published two novels this year—Catnapped and A Dog Gone Murder.

The generosity of crime writers again is on display.

Back in 2007, Miami resident Anthony Gagliano, left, finally saw his dream come true—he became a published crime author whose debut Straits of Fortune (HarperCollins) was garnering many positive reviews, including from Art Taylor for Mystery Scene. The novel about a former NYPD cop, Jack Vaughn, who found a second career as a personal trainer in Miami was based on his MFA thesis at Florida International University.

Gagliano was working on his second novel, The Emperor’s Club, when he suffered a stroke and died at age 53. His wife, family, and friends were, obviously, devastated. His death rallied his former FIU professors, who also were his friends, to do the ultimate tribute—finish his novel for him.

Les Standiford, director of the FIU creative writing program, and Dan Wakefield, who was the writer in residence at FIU for 15 years, began to work on Gagliano’s manuscript.

Gagliano emperorclub“Tony was one of my all-time best students, and most loyal friend, so it's great to have had a small part in bringing his second novel to print,” said Wakefield. “Both Les and I have such respect for Tony as a writer, and admiration of his work, that this is a real triumph. It is also a gift to readers, for Tony was unmatched in his tough, ironic, private-eye dialogue, and his ability to render the underside of South Florida with fascination and flair.”

The two authors, both of whom have a number of fiction and nonfiction titles to their credit, spent a couple of years working on the book.

“It took a few years, but we were not going to give up easily,” said Standiford.

After hearing about the project, their FIU colleague, and fellow author, John Dufresne agreed to edit the finished book. Dufresne also found a publisher, the small but growing MidTown Publishing.

“We want to get what I think is a wonderful book into the hands of the reading public. We want folks to know that the book is out there at last,” said Dufresne.

Anyone who is in the Miami area this week can learn more about how these friends rallied for their colleague.

The Emperor’s Club will be unveiled during a reading/celebration with Standiford and Dufresene at 8 p.m., Dec. 5, at Books & Books, 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables, Florida, 305-444-9044.

Lana Callen, Gagliano’s widow, has arranged to donate the author's proceeds to the FIU Creative Writing Program in her late husband's name.

“The event will give us a chance to celebrate Tony’s too-short life and career and talk about how we got the book into shape. And we will also have the pleasure of talking about why we think Tony's work is so darn good,” said Standiford.

A portion of this story appeared in the Sun Sentinel.

Oline Cogdill
2014-11-30 04:32:43
Patterson, Flynn, Lehane, Meltzer Among Hollywood's Powerful Authors

lehane dennis
There’s a joke I’ve heard for years that writers rule in books and the theater, but in Hollywood they have little standing.

Go watch The Player (1992) with Tim Robbins, one of the best movies about moviemaking, if you don’t believe me.

But perhaps all that is changing. Apparently book writers are becoming a bit more powerful in Hollywood.

Finally, it seems that the moviemakers are understanding the power of the book. While some changes and modifications are necessary for film, the more faithful to the book, the better the film.

Go watch Burglar (1987) with Whoopi Goldberg and see how that film has little to do with Lawrence Block’s amusing series. Then watch A Walk Among the Tombstones (2014, yes, this year) with Liam Neeson and see what a difference it makes when the scriptwriters and director understand Block’s Matt Scudder novels.   

So it was interesting to read The Hollywood Reporter’s list of 25 Most Powerful Authors in Hollywood. I won’t bore you with the non-mystery writers. But several mystery writers did make the list.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, “The real superheroes of the industry right now? These writers — ranked in order of influence — whose books are source material for more than 300 movie and TV projects, have helped rake in billions in box office and revenue, and prove every day that originality, above all else, still matters.”

Click on each author on the site and you’ll find out why they made this list.

Coming in at No. 2 is Stephen King.

No. 7 is Gillian Flynn, who adapted the screenplay of her novel Gone Girl, also has in development her other novels Sharp Objects and Dark Places.

No. 8 is James Patterson, who is developing his YA series Maximum Ride for a YouTube series.

No. 11 is Dennis Lehane, above, whose list of accomplishments keeps growing.

No. 18 is Ken Follett.

No. 21 is Brad Meltzer.

No. 24 is John Grisham.

For a complete list, visit the site.

Oline Cogdill
2014-12-02 12:00:00
Ho-Ho-Homicide
Sheila Merritt

Christmas tree farms aren’t usually thought of as murder scenes. In the capable hands of Kaitlyn Dunnett, however, the incongruity is rendered perfectly plausible. In Ho-Ho-Homicide, successful shop owner Liss MacCrimmon Ruskin agrees to inspect the Christmas tree farm recently inherited by her best friend from high school Gina Snowe.

Liss is looking forward to the break from work, and also needs to have an important talk with her husband Dan. The promised quietude of the Maine woods seems just the place to attend to that. Relaxation and discussion get put on the back burner as arson, and corpses propel Liss back into amateur sleuthing.

Liss is by nature a curious lass, and finds the inhabitants of the community near the farm a taciturn bunch. This is particularly frustrating when she questions them about a John Doe whose body was discovered wrapped in a pine tree shipped out of state. Then, there’s the odd copse of trees shaped into maze where a second charred body is found after a fire.

Wyatt Purvey, head of the town’s police department, is annoyed that Liss is asking questions, and behaves like a classic male chauvinist in her presence. Fortunately, her good friend Sherri Campbell, chief of police of Maine’s Moosetookalook Police Department, and her husband, Pete, decide to help out. Sherri’s arrival on the scene further rankles Purvey because of her stature, sex, and smarts. She challenges his claim of ignorance regarding a local prostitution ring, strongly suspecting that he is more than an odious nincompoop: He may be a corrupt cop as well.

Sherri and Liss form a united front as investigators, and, with the aid and support of their spouses, tackle the multiple mysteries. The marital conversations of the respective couples are endowed with shrewd veracity. Dialogue between the women friends is also very savvy. Kaitlyn Dunnett didn’t have to research the setting for this eighth novel starring Liss; the author resides on a Christmas tree farm in Maine. Ho-Ho-Homicide, with its multiple murders and accessible characters, is a read for all seasons.

Teri Duerr
2014-12-03 16:02:59

dunnetthohohomicideMurder and Christmas trees proliferate on a tree farm in the latest Liss MacCrimmon mystery