Blue Avenue
Jordan

It’s been 25 years since William “BB” Byrd has seen Belinda Mabry, the first, and possibly only, girl he ever loved, when she turns up dead at the start of Michael Wiley’s extremely graphic and downright unpleasant opening chapter.

BB lives in Jacksonville, Florida, with his wife, Susan, and 16-year-old son, Thomas, and it’s far from a happy family: Susan has slept in the guest bedroom since Thomas’ birth and Thomas contempt for his father, who routinely sleeps with a prostitute, is almost palpable.

Called to the scene of Belinda’s murder by his old friend Lt. Daniel Turner to identify the body, BB decides to take justice into his own hands and find the killer, who’s also murdered two other women. With the help of the mysterious, and very violent, Charles, who came to BB’s assistance during a long-ago altercation, BB starts piecing together Belinda’s life, leading him to her brother, Bobby, and son, Terrence. As he hones in on the killer—whose identity most readers will figure out long before he does—BB realizes that the murders are tied to an even wider scandal involving some noteworthy Florida men and a party gone horribly wrong in Jamaica.

While it’s far from necessary to have a likable hero, BB barely inspires the smallest spark of empathy in readers, and with the in-your-face depictions of sexual violence, Wiley’s new series is off to a lackluster start.

Teri Duerr
Saturday, 03 January 2015 05:01
Die Again
Jordan Foster

The gruesome death of a big-game hunter and well-known taxidermist propels homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles on a journey that takes them from the streets of Boston to the African bush in Tess Gerritsen’s 11th series installment (after 2012’s Last to Die).

Leon Gott is found skinned and eviscerated much in the same way as the menagerie mounted on his wall. The killer also stole a rare snow leopard pelt, causing Jane and Maura to wonder if the murder is the work of a jealous competitor or a rabid animal rights activist. Digging further into Gott’s history, the pair discover that the dead man’s son, Elliot, perished during a Botswana safari trip gone horribly awry.

Interspersed with the present-day investigation are chapters told from the viewpoint of the safari’s only surviving member, Millie, recounting the deadly trip six years earlier.

Though the connections are tenuous at first, Jane and Maura become convinced that not only is Gott’s death—along with a seemingly random homicide in the area—linked to the doomed safari, but that the killer could be part of an Africa-based cult with ties to murders across the country.

Jane and Maura’s friendship deepens with each series installment and readers—and viewers of TNT’s hit Rizzoli & Isles, based on Gerritsen’s work—will enjoy accompanying the two on what proves to be one of their most dangerous cases.

Teri Duerr
Saturday, 03 January 2015 05:01

gerritsen dieagainJane Rizzoli's latest investigation takes her from the streets of Boston to the African bush in Gerritsen’s 11th series installment.

The Best American Mystery Stories 2014
Jon L. Breen

This annual compilation is too consistent in pure quality for serious complaint, but to get my usual gripe out of the way first, the current volume represents a reversion (after last year’s refreshingly mystery-centric program) to a collection dominated by mainstream short stories with high literary aspirations and some connection to a crime.

Do I regret having read them? Not for a second. Would I like more of the distinctive elements (detection, surprise, reader misdirection) that characterize the mystery genre? Absolutely. There’s nothing wrong with drawing on the literary journals (ten of this year’s 20 entries) or The New Yorker (two more), but were there really only six from genre-specific periodicals, and one from a genre-specific original anthology worthy of selection?

As usual, the stories are arranged alphabetically by author, and this year the practice provides a fine curtain-raiser, for me the strongest tale in the book. Megan Abbott’s “My Heart Is Either Broken,” inspired by a notorious Florida case, concerns the abduction of an infant, its effect on the relationship of the parents, and the tabloid media’s suspicions of the partying mother. The case is solved, but the final scene is more chilling than the crime itself.

Roxane Gay’s deeply disturbing and believable “I Will Follow You,” in its combination of literary quality and appropriateness to a crime/mystery collection ranks second only to the Abbott story, with which it shares the subject of child abduction, though from an entirely different angle. We meet the victims in adulthood, two sisters who have always been inseparable, then learn of their horrible six weeks at ages ten and 11 with the evil Mr. Peter.

Sibling relationships are central to two other stories. Arguably outside the crime fiction genre, though it certainly presents a mystery, is Patricia Engel’s sensitively written “Aida,” in which one of twin teenage daughters disappears. It’s interesting as a study of twinship, but no solution is provided. Jodi Angel’s “Snuff” believably depicts the relationship of a teenage brother and sister in the 1970s, but despite the use of a snuff movie as a framing device, it isn’t really a crime story, and certainly not a mystery.

Some of the better entries in the book present a commendable variety of settings and approaches. Daniel Alarcón’s “Collectors” shows us inmates in a Latin American prison performing the work of a dissident playwright. James Lee Burke, as usual, provides one beautiful sentence after another in “Going Across Jordan,” an engrossing account of labor organizers among migrant workers in the 1930s. Ernest Finney’s “The Wrecker,” about a tow truck driver in Sacramento, California, has a solid fiction noir plot with just enough ambiguity in the ending. In Michelle Butler Hallett’s “Bush-Hammer Finish,” based on an actual Canadian murder case, literati clash in St. Johns, Newfoundland. Charlaine Harris’ “Small Kingdoms,” a sure-fire grabber of the what’s-going-on-here variety, begins with a high school principal killing her attacker and calmly going on to work. David H. Ingram’s “The Covering Storm,” a murder plot against the effective backdrop of the 1900 Galveston disaster, has a good surprise twist. Ed Kurtz’s suburban noir “A Good Marriage” goes from humorous, everyday start to shocking conclusion. Scott Loring Sanders’ “Pleasant Grove,” set in the Virginia mountain country, takes a dysfunctional family saga in unexpected directions.

Only three of the stories have (at least apparently) a detective-story structure. Jim Allyn’s “Princess Anne” is the best of them, and includes some subtly clever reader manipulation. A Michigan family makes a shrine of a dog’s grave on the grounds of their new home, and the previous owner turns up to reclaim the remains. But why the interest of the state police? Some suspicious readers may anticipate a particular twist ending—but are we right? Nancy Pauline Simpson’s “Festered Wounds,” set in the early 20th-century South, introduces a likable Holmes-Watson team, a young county nurse and an admiring deputy sheriff, but the actual mystery plot is disappointingly thin. Laura van den Berg’s “Antarctica,” about a young Massachusetts academic investigating the death of her brother in an explosion at an Antarctic research station, acts like a detective story for most of its length but, in withholding a real solution, turns out an anti-detective story.

Some literary heavyweights make an appearance. The title of Russell Banks’ “Former Marine” refers to an elderly hospitalized bank robber visited by his three sons, all in law enforcement. The shock ending is well handled, though the reason for one action by the sons may strain credibility. It’s hard to imagine why Joseph Heller’s lynch-mob story “Almost Like Christmas” was not published in his lifetime. Annie Proulx’s murder story “Rough Deeds,” set in early 1900s Canada, is a chapter from a novel-in-progress, and probably it will be a fine historical saga.

The two remaining stories struck me as some combination of overwritten, pretentious, and uninspired. But 90 percent is an A grade in most classrooms.

Teri Duerr
Saturday, 03 January 2015 05:01

lippman bestamericanmysterystories2014Though high-quality all around, a reversion (after last year’s refreshingly mystery-centric program) to a collection dominated by short stories with high literary aspirations and some connection to a crime.

Deadline
Oline H. Cogdill
Virgil Flowers may not have the name recognition of Lucas Davenport in John Sandford’s other series. After all, Sandford has only written about Virgil eight times as opposed to his 24 novels about Lucas. But what Virgil lacks in longevity, he makes up for with his laconic charm, energetic investigations, and wry outlook on humanity and the urges that drive people to crime. Deadline is a prime example of why Virgil, an agent who reports to Lucas in the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, resonates with readers. Sandford’s latest outing finds Virgil tracking two cases that intersect in the Minnesota town of Trippton, located on the Mississippi River. Virgil’s old friend Johnson Johnson asks him to look into a string of dognappings that have local pet owners furious.The owners accuse the local “hillbillies,” led by smalltime motorcycle hood Roy Zorn, of augmenting their meth dealing by selling dogs to “bunchers” for resale to medical laboratories. If Virgil doesn’t do something, the dog owners are armed and ready to take matters into their own hands. Meanwhile, Trippton has another problem— the murder of local reporter Clancy Conley. In a closed-door meeting, members of the Buchanan County Consolidated School Board unanimously agreed to kill Clancy, who discovered that the board was embezzling from the school system. Virgil’s comment to Johnson, “You got a colorful town here,” is an understatement. With no help from the local sheriff, Virgil is pretty much on his own in dealing with panicky school board members, paranoid dognappers, and vengeful dog owners, although a 12-year-old boy and a high school janitor come to his aid to surprising effect. Sandford’s brisk pacing and affinity for twists and surprises lead Deadline to a thrilling conclusion. (The scene in which irate dog owners, nefarious dognappers, and several hundred extremely excited dogs all converge is a showstopper.) As for Lucas, he’s back in Minneapolis, no doubt working on a case that will find its way into Sandford’s next novel. That’s just fine with the laid-back Virgil, who finds his boss “a trifle intense.”
Teri Duerr
Saturday, 03 January 2015 05:01
The Hunting Dogs
Betty Webb

Perhaps because of the Nordic countries’ frigid climates, their mysteries have a tendency to be on the bleak side, and Jørn Lier Horst’s The Hunting Dogs,  gracefully translated into English from the original Norwegian by Anne Bruce, is no exception.

Horst’s Detective William Wisting was first introduced to Norwegian readers in 2004’s Key Witness, but his work didn’t become available to the English-speaking world until 2010’s Dregs. Since then, Wisting’s wife, a foreign aid worker, was killed in Africa, he acquired a lover, and his daughter Line became a journalist. In this new outing, Wisting is on the verge of losing both his girlfriend and his title as Chief Inspector in the Criminal Investigation Department of the Larvik (Norway) Police Force. His superiors have accused him of faking evidence that put Rudolph Haglund, an innocent man, in prison. Now suspended from duty, it is up to Wisting to prove he didn’t orchestrate the transfer of Haglund’s DNA to cigarettes found at the crime scene where young Cecilia Linde was kidnapped, then murdered. Wisting’s daughter, certain that her father would never fabricate evidence, uses her own considerable newsroom savvy to uncover the truth.

Although there are no American-style car chases or shoot-outs in this mystery, the lack of flashy action is more than compensated for by the book’s depth. The Chief Inspector may not wear his heart on his sleeve, but because of Horst’s moody, nuanced writing, we know Wisting even better than he knows himself. We sympathize with his grief over his deceased wife, we understand his fears for his daughter’s safety, and we share his sorrow at being separated from the job he loves. Yet Wisting isn’t naive about the limits of police work. In one scene he muses that in the Haglund case, he and his colleagues acted like a pack of hunting dogs. “Rudolf Haglund was the man they had caught, but like any other hunting dogs, they had followed the warmest scene without further thought.”

It takes a brave man to admit to his mistakes, and by the conclusion of The Hunting Dogs, we are given further proof that Wisting is that man.

Teri Duerr
Saturday, 03 January 2015 06:01
State-by-State Authors

korytamichael 3
I try not to get involved with those games or quizzes on Facebook. Thank you very much, but I can waste time on my own.

But the one that is still circulating about how many states you’ve visited drew me in. I wasn’t too surprised that the quiz showed that the only states I haven’t visited are Hawaii, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, and North Dakota.

I immediately had two thoughts: "I need a road trip" and "I thought I had been to many of these states." 

And I have…through mysteries.

When the novels are so detailed in their scenery, it makes me feel as if I am there. As they should.

So here’s a look at why I thought I had been to some of these states.

WYOMING
Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire novels are set in Wyoming, but he also has dipped into other states such as in A Serpent’s Tooth, which deals with polygamy groups in Wyoming, which is right across the border from South Dakota, Utah, and Colorado.

C.J. Box's series about Joe Pickett, a Wyoming game warden, gives us breathtaking scenery, area politics, and a complex hero.


UTAH
Andrew Hunt’s 2012 novel City of Saints took us to Salt Lake City in 1930 when it was a fast-growing town with big-city concerns, dominated by the large, striking divisions between the wealthy and the middle class, and between those who follow the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and those who are not Mormons. The rough-hewn countryside, both beautiful and unforgiving, shrinks as the city limits expand. This Depression-era Utah background proves to be an evocative and mesmerizing setting for City of Saints. (Description comes from my review of City of Saints.)

Nevada Barr can be counted on to take us to just about every state in the union with her series heroine, park ranger Anna Pigeon. In The Rope, Barr takes us back to how Anna became a ranger, spending the summer working at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, which encompasses more than 1.2 million acres from Lees Ferry in Arizona to the Orange Cliffs of southern Utah.

Patricia Cornwell gave us a quick trip to Utah in her 1997 novel Unnatural Exposure in which Kay Scarpetta visits the U.S. government's huge biological defense
facility in Utah.

MONTANA
Nevada Barr comes through again with her 2001 Blood Lure that takes place in the Glacier/Waterton National Peace Park in Montana.

Michael Koryta’s Those Who Wish Me Dead, which I think is one of the best novels of 2013, skillfully melds a thrilling adventure story set against the Montana wilderness with a poignant coming of age story. To keep him safe, a teenage witness to murder is placed in a Montana wilderness training program for troubled teens run by a survival expert. Koryta, photo above, portrays vivid Montana landscapes pulsating with the smells and sounds of the great outdoors.

C.J. Box’s The Highway probably scared me more than any novel has. With three-dimensional characters and a gripping plot, The Highway is even more frightening because of its backstory. Box bases his story on the real hunt for a murderer working as a long-haul trucker—the FBI’s Highway Serial Killer Task Force. While the FBI’s task force statistics are numbing, Box never stoops to the prurient while delivering an edgy, compelling novel.  Set in the remote corners of Montana, the isolated landscape lends a chilling atmosphere where the whine of an 18-wheeler and an unlit back road ratchet up the suspense. (Description comes from my review of The Highway.)


Carrie La Seur’s debut The Home Place, which I also listed as one of the best of 2013, chronicles a woman’s complicated relationship with her hometown of Billings, Montana, her relatives who stayed behind, and her ancestral history. In The Home Place, La Seur poignantly shows how characters are influenced by a sense of place, affecting their choices in life. The Montana land that makes up “the home place” has been owned by a family for generations, representing all that the family was, what it will be, and what it struggles with now. No one lives on the property, yet no one wants to sell the homestead either. This home place, about an hour from Billings, is a refuge, an offer of security, a place of contention, paralleling the family’s lives. (Description comes from my review of The Home Place.)

little elizabeth
SOUTH DAKOTA

Elizabeth Little’s debut, Dear Daughter, which I also listed as one of the best of 2013, revolves around an unlikable protagonist with a biting personality who was sent to prison for her mother’s brutal murder. The case was sketchy at the time, and now, 10 years later, the conviction has been overturned because of mismanaged evidence. Scant clues lead Jane to the tiny, crumbling town of Adeline, South Dakota, and the adjacent community of Ardelle. The barren, soulless South Dakota towns succinctly mirror a struggle with identity in this exciting debut by Little, photo at right.

Lori G. Armstrong has two series set in her home state. Former Black Ops Army sniper Mercy Gunderson has an uneasy return to civilian life on her family’s ranch in South Dakota in three novels. Private investigator Julie Collins looks into crime near Bear Butte in four novels.

Photos: Michael Koryta, top, Elizabeth Little, right.

Oline Cogdill
Saturday, 03 January 2015 03:01
James Patterson and Bookstores

patterson jamesms4
Eighty-one independent bookstores across the country got a lovely holiday present when author James Patterson, left, donated a total of $473,000 to those stores at the end of 2014.

This marks the third and final round of pledges that Patterson made last year. Patterson had pledged to donate $1 million to established bookstores that have dedicated children’s sections.

The third and final round of grants brings his total donation to $1,008,300 for 178 independent bookstores with children’s book sections. His first round of grants amounted to over $267,000, with 55 stores receiving funds, and the second round amounted to over $268,000, with 43 stores receiving funds    

Patterson, best known for his thrillers about Alex Cross and his YA novels, also is a major supporter of literacy programs.

Patterson and two-time Miami Heat champion and New York Times bestselling author Dwyane Wade (A Father First: How My Life Became Bigger Than Basketball) have teamed up for two years in a row to promote children’s literacy. This past year, they also enlisted other NBA players, including LeBron James, Stephen Curry, Terrence Ross, and Dirk Nowitzki.

Patterson has twice been named Author of the Year by Children’s Choice Book Award, and is scheduled to be the guest speaker at this year’s Sleuthfest, Feb. 29 to March 1, in Deerfield Beach, Florida.

Oline Cogdill
Wednesday, 07 January 2015 10:01
WEB Griffin on War and Writing

Griffin WEB 2014

 

 

"So have at it, you dumb son of a [expletive]. Write a [expletive] novel.”

And that's an order...

 

 

I went to Korea as a 22-year-old regular Army sergeant and became the "Go-For” of Lieutenant General ID White, who had been sent there to straighten-out the X United States Army Corps Group.

As his Go-For I performed varied assignments, which General White decided I could do more efficiently than other members of his staff, but I was surprised to learn that I was now also the Public Information Sergeant of X Corps Group. General White had relieved the full colonel who had been PIO (public information officer), and replaced him with a second lieutenant who knew something about public relations.

Understandably, the second lieutenant was having difficulty controlling his 13 combat correspondents. These were well-educated young PFCs (private first class) and corporals who had been journalists before being drafted. I was to do two things in my new assignment: first, control these wild men, and second, make sure that none of their dispatches—which were distributed around the world as Associated Press, United Press, and International News Service stories—mentioned his name.

I knew this was going to be interesting when I went to the mess tent and saw sitting at a table a tall hawk-featured PFC wearing a combat correspondent’s insignia and the combat infantry badge. On the table was a sign that read “4th Grade Thru College.” Across the tent, where the senior sergeants like me dined, was a sign reading, “First Three Grades Only.”

The PFC was John Sack, fresh from Harvard, where he had not only published the first two of his many books, but also had been the first man to be simultaneously editor of The Harvard Crimson and The Harvard Lampoonand the first Jew to be editor of either.

Truth being stranger than fiction, John and I became friends, and remained friends, until his death 60 years later.

One day, some months after we met, while sharing a bottle of Haig & Haig I had purloined from the general’s mess, I confessed that the few stories I had written and seen sent out “on the wire” had made me wonder if I too might hope one day to be a writer.

“[Expletive] Butterballs, you’re a better [expletive] writer now than anybody here but me. So have at it, you dumb son of a [expletive]. Write a [expletive] novel.”

butterworth comfortmewithlove

The first chapters of my first novel, Comfort Me With Love, were written in Kwanda-Ri, North Korea, shortly before John and I came home and got out of the Army, and General White left X Corps, to ultimately become Commander-in-Chief, Pacific.

 

W.E.B. Griffin is the #1 best-selling author of more than 50 epic novels in seven series, all of which have made The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Publishers Weekly, and other bestseller lists. More than 50 million of the books are in print in more than ten languages, including Hebrew, Chinese, Japanese, and Hungarian.

This "Writers on Reading" essay was originally published in "At the Scene" eNews January 2015 as a first-look exclusive to our enewsletter subscribers. For more special content available first to our enewsletter subscribers, sign up here.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 08 January 2015 11:01
TONY HILLERMAN PRIZE’S NEXT AUTHOR


The Tony Hillerman Prize
for a best first mystery novel is one of my favorite competitions to launch new authors.

It is sponsored by Thomas Dunne Books and Minotaur Books, imprints of St. Martin's Press, and Wordharvest, co-founded by Hillerman’s daughter, Anne.

The Hillerman Prize is awarded annually to the best debut crime fiction set in the Southwest, which gives readers a new view of this region. The prize has garnered a reputation for introducing excellent authors, whose novels also respect the memory of the late Hillerman, who died in 2008

Some of the previous authors have made my best of the year debuts.

Andrew Hunt’s City of Saints, which won in 2012, was set in Depression Era Utah. Hunt’s novel showed that Salt Lake City in 1930 was an evocative setting to explore Utah’s history, its people and how a person with a deep faith lives in an increasingly secular world.

Tricia FieldsThe Territory, which won in 2010, delivered an action-packed yet personal story about the infiltration of Mexican drug cartels in a small Texas town. Chief of Police Josie Gray is a fully realized character who fights the good fight against all odds.

I also enjoyed Roy Chaney’s 2009 debut The Ragged End of Nowhere, a story about modern Las Vegas that also worked as a novel about the quest for identity as a man delves into the life of his estranged brother who recently died.

Last year, the competition introduced C.B. McKenzie’s Bad Country, set in Tucson, the Pascua Yaqui and Tohona O’odham Reservations and southernmost Arizona. And McKenzie is now up for an Edgar Award, which was announced recently.

The next author to bear the Tony Hillerman stamp will be John Fortunato, at left, whose Dark Reservations will come out in 2015.


According to his bio, Fortunato was a Captain in the U.S. Army, Military Intelligence, who served at the Pentagon during the early part of the Global War on Terrorism. He is now a Special Agent with the FBI and has earned an MFA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University. A native of Philadelphia, he currently lives in Michigan with his wife and three daughters.

I’ve always thought that a series that keeps alive the spirit of the late Hillerman’s novels is a terrific idea. The Southwest is a fascinating region and this contest has maintained a quality in its selections.

Hillerman's Joe Leaphorn/Jim Chee mysteries, set on the Navajo reservation, were the first “regional” mysteries to become national bestsellers. Hillerman, who died at the age of 83, was able to combine Navajo traditions and beliefs along with the stark beauty of the southwest in involving plots.

Hillerman’s daughter, Anne, launched the first Tony Hillerman Writers Conference in 2004. And Anne Hillerman brought back Leaphorn and Chee in her novel Spider Woman’s Daughter in 2013.

For more information, contact Hector DeJean at 646-307-5560 or hector.dejean@stmartins.com.

The deadline for submissions to next year's competition will be June 1, 2015. For complete guidelines, visit www.hillermanconference.com.

 

Oline Cogdill
Saturday, 31 January 2015 08:01
Michael Connelly's "The Burning Room"

Connelly THEBURNINGROOM
Michael Connelly
’s plots are filled with gems as the author gives us insight into police work and the vagaries of life in Los Angeles.

Connelly’s latest, The Burning Room, looks at politics and how it can become a part of a police investigation, especially when a high-profile case is concerned.

Quoting from my review, “The Burning Room excels as a look at how power, prestige and the media can override the best intentions. Connelly also weaves in a bit of the immigrant experience that helped shape—and continues to mold—Los Angeles.”

And within this gem of a plot, Connelly also adds a couple of other smaller gems to his 19th novel about Harry Bosch.

While waiting for a plane to take off for a trip back to L.A. after interviewing a witness in Tulsa, Bosch passes the time by listening to the soundtrack from a documentary about saxophonist Frank Morgan.

Connelly knows a lot about the film, Sound of Redemption, about the late jazz saxophonist, Frank Morgan, as he was one of the producers. Connelly chronicled the filmmaking on its own Facebook page. Sound of Redemption was recently shown at the Palm Springs Film Festival.
 
“It’s a form of creativity I was not familiar with. It is a tribute to someone who inspired me and is a great story,” Connelly told me for a profile in Mystery Scene.

Connelly pays tribute to his journalism background by having reporter Jack McEvoy (The Poet) work for Fair Warning, an investigative website devoted to reporting and consumer protection investigations that is based in Los Angeles.

We’ll have to wait until the end of 2015 for another Connelly novel.

But the Amazon Original Series Bosch based on the Bosch series will be coming to Amazon Prime Instant Video. It will star Titus Welliver as Bosch, and co-star Annie Wersching and Jamie Hector. Connelly’s website has a couple of clips on this series.

Oline Cogdill
Wednesday, 14 January 2015 08:01
Meeting Major Crimes

majorcirmes writerscast
One of my favorite parts of the most recent Bouchercon, held in Long Beach, California, was the special meet-and-greet some of us had with the writers and two cast members of the TNT series Major Crimes, which is wrapping up its mini season finale with a two-hour program on Monday, January 12, at 9 p.m.

Before Bouchercon’s scheduled Major Crimes panel, about 10 of us were able to sit down in a private session and hear their behind-the-scenes take on working for the series—and also hear some spoilers (which I won’t reveal here).

Those who attended were James Duff, executive producer and co-creator of Major Crimes (and also The Closer), writer and producer Adam Belanoff, executive story editor Damani Johnson, former police detective Mike Berchem, and writer Kendall Sherwood. Also joining were actors Jonathan Del Arco, who plays Dr. Morales, and Kathe Mazur, who plays DDA Hobbs—two personal favorites. More actors were scheduled to come but the season had just wrapped up.

One of the things that appeals to me about Major Crimes is that it is such a well-written series that manages with just a few scenes to show us the crimes, the behind-the-scenes work, and the personalities of the actors.

Major Crimes always has been about the “art of the deal”—which Duff said is how about 93 percent of homicide crimes are dealt with in the real world.

majorcrimes moralesoline2
The writers credit the show’s authenticity to Mike Berchem, who was a LAPD homicide detective for more than 29 years. The majority of the murders depicted on Major Crimes are from Berchem’s experience. He tells the writers how to handle scenarios and how to plant clues that may be explored later in an episode.

Unlike The Closer, which centered on Brenda Leigh Johnson, Major Crimes is an ensemble show. The detectives, support staff, and Hobbs have to work together to make that “art of the deal.” Writing for an ensemble is more difficult. “Brenda’s voice was always strong and clear,” said Duff, who added that the confession at the end of The Closer was the writers’ goal.

Now, no one voice, not even Captain Raydor's (Mary McDonnell), can define Major Crimes.

Berchem’s involvement is another example of how the ensemble works. Before he came on board, Berchem knew nothing about TV writing and, conversely, the writers didn’t know how a police detective handles homicides.  

And not only is that appealing to me as a viewer, but listening to the writers and cast talk, that idea of an ensemble came across. The writing team works together on each episode, although one writer may take the lead. The writers are as much of an ensemble as the characters are.

And although this is an ensemble, some episodes may focus more on one of the cast members. We can thank Belanoff for those episodes that feature Flynn and Provenza.

And we will see future episodes—in the next season—that prominently feature Dr. Morales and DDA Hobbs, and we may finally learn their first names.

I raised the question of when we will see more of Dr. Morales, who is my favorite character in the series. We have been shown snippets of his personal life before, but I want to know more about this character. And we have seen actor Jonathan Del Arco show us how devastated Dr. Morales can be after an autopsy, especially when a child is involved. (You can see his reaction to my comments in the photo.)

TNT is considering a Major Crimes spin-off that would focus on Fritz Howard (Jon Tenney), who is the new deputy chief of the LAPD Special Operations Bureau, which is called SOB. The new series, which sounds like it could be another winner, also would be called SOB.

The two-hour finale on Tuesday will bring back Philip Stroh (Billy Burke), the serial killer from whom Rusty Beck (Graham Patrick Martin) escaped. There will be a “face-off” between the two.

But that is all I am going to say—except that I'm looking forward to more—and longer—seasons of Major Crimes.

 

Photos: Top, from left: James Duff, Mike Berchem, Kathe Mazur, Jonathan Del Arco, Damani Johnson, Kendall Sherwood, and Adam Belanoff; Below: Jonathan Del Arco shares a laugh with Oline Cogdill


Photos courtesy of Deborah Lacy and Kim Hammond

Oline Cogdill
Saturday, 10 January 2015 02:01
Lamentation
Betty Webb

When it comes to bleak and grim, Joe Clifford’s Lamentation is right up there with Nordic crime fiction, because the February weather in northern New Hampshire—where Clifford’s book is set—adds to the novel’s sharp edge. Protagonist Jay Porter scratches out a living “estate clearing,” packing up the remainders of other people’s lives. Meanwhile, his ex-girlfriend Jenny has moved in with former biker Brody, who is now playing father to Jay’s young son. Jay’s personal life is already messier than the estates he clears, but things get even worse when his drug-addicted older brother Chris is accused of murder and disappears. Usually in crime novels the protagonist is the person who solves the crime, but that isn’t quite the case here. Yes, Jay is desperate to find Chris, but mainly to keep him from freezing to death with a needle in his arm. Although technically a mystery (there is a murder and we have to wait until the end of the book to find out whodunit), Lamentation is more about codependency. Drugs kill, but the very act of loving a drug addict can be fatal, too. Rather than focusing on the present, or even the future, Jay remains chained to the past, to a time when his brother helped raise him after their parents were killed in an automobile accident. This lingering loyalty almost proves fatal to them both. Although Jay believes he’s a realist, his loyalties are to a man who doesn’t really exist anymore; Chris spreads heartbreak like a virus. But family is family, author Clifford seems to be saying in this touching, insightful novel, and we take what we can get—whatever the damage to ourselves.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 14 January 2015 06:01
Blackmail, My Love
Betty Webb

In Katie Gilmartin’s gut-wrenching Blackmail, My Love a man has gone missing in the San Francisco of the early 1950s. Those of us who love the present-day broad-minded, sexually liberated city will be shocked to discover it wasn’t always so accommodating to the LBGT community. In fact, it was downright hostile, with crooked cops raiding gay-frequented establishments when they needed more arrests to fill their weekly quota. For added fun, the cops would then throw the more flamboyant arrestees into cells with hardened thugs, where they were brutalized and sometimes killed. This is the San Francisco protagonist Josephine “Jo” O’Connor arrives in from upstate New York, searching for her brother Jimmy, who appears to have dropped off the face of the earth. Growing up in a dysfunctional, alcoholic family, the two had to lean on each other for support, especially since Jimmy is gay, and Jo is lesbian. In her search for the disappeared Jimmy, Jo makes new friends in San Francisco’s underground gay community, but her forthright approach in a tentative time also makes enemies. Blackmail, My Love is at heart a story about a young woman coming to terms with herself in a difficult and dangerous era. During her search for her brother, Jo sheds the frilly dresses she wore back home and begins wearing tailored men’s suits. She wises up, too. Author Gilmartin—who is also the gifted artist who created the book’s gorgeous, noirish illustrations—is the perfect writer for this outstanding historical mystery. Gilmartin earned her PhD in cultural studies from Yale, with an emphasis on queer history, and has taught queer studies at the University of California, Berkeley and Santa Cruz. In her book, Gilmartin reveals the viciousness with which gay members of our society have historically been treated, and she supports Jo’s own trail of tears with masterly scholarship in a well-argued author’s note. Be sure and read it.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 14 January 2015 07:01
Finding Sky
Betty Webb

Susan O’Brien’s Finding Sky presents an unlikely sleuth—divorcée Nicki Valentine, a woman so beset with child-care woes that it’s astounding she can even make it out of the house, let alone solve crimes. But appearances can be deceiving. Nicki, who is working on her master’s degree in forensic psychology, is a great organizer, and she knows how to use her free time (what little there is of it). Kenna, Nicki’s best friend, is about to adopt a child, but when the teenaged birth mother goes missing, Kenna appeals to the wannabe PI for help in locating the young woman. Good friend that she is, Nicki agrees, and begins combing the Virginia suburbs for clues, even though those clues lead her into dangerous gang territory. Nicki is smart enough to know that she doesn’t know enough, so she appeals for help from Dean, the hunky instructor at the PI academy she’s attending, and together they—but mainly Nicki—crack the case. Finding Sky has everything an astute reader could want in a woman-driven cozy: a plausible plot, a smart protagonist, sex appeal, and two adorable, if overactive, children. Thanks to the book’s savvy author, Finding Sky is eminently believable, too. Susan O’Brien is a registered private investigator who is well aware of the legal limitations PIs must adhere to, so she hasn’t written Nicki as a crime-fighting superwoman who solves crime using methods that in the real world, would land her in jail. Instead, O’Brien has written one of the most warm-hearted yet realistic cozies I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. I can’t wait to meet up with Nicki again.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 14 January 2015 07:01
Black Sun Descending
Betty Webb

Stephen Legault’s Black Sun Descending reminds us of something that too many people have either forgotten, or never known in the first place: Decades of uranium mining in the desert Southwest not only poisoned the Navajo Reservation, but also despoiled the Grand Canyon. When university professor Dr. Silas Pearson’s four-years-vanished (and presumed dead) wife Penelope visits him in a dream, he resumes his search for her body. To his shock, he unearths a different murdered woman, this one buried in a heap of radioactive mine tailings near Moab, Utah. Pearson’s find brings the local law enforcers down on him, along with the feds. Given its real-life backdrop, this environmentally conscious mystery is both educational and intriguing, and Pearson’s search for his wife’s body is emotionally affecting. Unfortunately, the mystery is marred by too many references to the work of environmental activist Edward Abbey, which presupposes a familiarity with Abbey’s books that many readers won’t have. Some mentions are understandable given the fact that, when Penelope vanished, she was working on a book about Abbey, but they do take attention away from Black Sun Descending. And that’s a shame, because this fine novel could stand on its own.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 14 January 2015 09:01
No Time to Die
Hank Wagner

As someone who writes on bioethics for The New York Times, Kira Peikoff brings a wealth of knowledge to her second novel, No Time to Die, whose main action centers on the search for an end to human aging. The focus of that search is 20-year-old Zoe Kincaid, who physically stopped aging at 14. Zoe’s DNA is of great interest to scientists, and to various business conglomerates who want to discover the genetic version of the fountain of youth. Zoe’s life is placed in jeopardy when she gets caught up in the ongoing, oft-times lethal battle between so-called bioterrorist Galileo and the Justice Department’s new (and fanatical) Bioethics Committee head Les Mahler. This intelligent thriller will keep you guessing until the very end, as Zoe desperately seeks out assistance in her quest to unlock the secrets harbored in her genome.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 14 January 2015 09:01
Angel Killer
Hank Wagner

Andrew Mayne’s debut novel, Angel Killer, features newly minted FBI agent Jessica Blackwood, who as a child was tutored in the art of illusion by her father and grandfather, both professional magicians. When the Warlock, a killer with a flair for the dramatic, appears on the scene, FBI consultant Jeffrey Ailes enlists Blackwood’s assistance, hoping she will see things other agents don’t. Thus begins a tense battle of wits, as Blackwood pursues the increasingly flamboyant killer. Mayne, who has worked for David Copperfield, Penn & Teller, and David Blaine brings an expert eye to the proceedings, allowing readers a tantalizing glimpse into the otherwise secretive world of executing elaborate illusions.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 14 January 2015 09:01
Predator
Hank Wagner

Janice Gable Bashman’s Predator, a fast-paced novel for young adults, tells the story of Bree Sunderland, a young woman who makes a strange find in the Galamonga Peat Bog in Connemara, Ireland: a huge severed hand covered with long hair. Although she and her scientist father were studying the bog to probe its preservative properties, the hand, which they believe belonged to a lycanthrope (i.e., a werewolf), may be the key to medical breakthroughs in healing, and in creating a new breed of super soldiers. As such, the hand is extremely valuable; the military and certain mercenaries will kill to possess it, while the ancient, secret society known as the Benandanti will kill to preserve its secrets. Tightly written, energetic, and imaginative, Predator is a gripping adventure story teeming with vivid characters and locales, driven by compelling ideas.

Asked what made a good detective story by The New York Times Book Review recently, Sara Paretsky answered, “Believable characters first, a good story, an understanding of how to pace dramatic action.” This is also the formula for a good thriller, and all three books above successfully adhere to it. If there are any flaws in these tales, they lay in the fact that each is the opening salvo in a series—the authors purposely leave numerous plot threads dangling. However, each will leave you eagerly anticipating the next installment in the ongoing saga.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 14 January 2015 09:01
Nightmares Can Be Murder
Lynne Maxwell

Clinical psychologist Mary Kennedy draws upon her knowledge of Freudian dream interpretation in Nightmares Can Be Murder, the first in the Dream Club Mystery Series. Taking a break from her Talk Radio series, Kennedy dreams up a unique hook for this enjoyable tale set in charming Savannah, Georgia. The novel introduces Taylor Blake, a successful Chicago business consultant with a Wharton MBA, who is visiting her sister Alison, the appreciably less business-savvy owner of a floundering candy store. As Taylor turns around the business with suggestions for expanding the shop to include café offerings, she attends meetings of the Dream Club, a group of women who meet to discuss and unpack the content of their dreams. While dreams might be premonitory, no one could have predicted the untimely demise of Chico Hernandez, the handsome and flirtatious owner of the salsa dance studio across the street from Ali’s shop. Matters deteriorate further when it becomes evident that Alison had previously dated Chico and could be fingered for the murder. Fortunately, the resourceful Taylor extricates Ali from the crisis, and, in the process, forges a new bond with her sister. In the end, Taylor discovers the joys of creativity, while Ali finally develops business sense. And, yes, for a number of reasons that I won’t disclose, Taylor commits to her new life in Savannah.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 14 January 2015 09:01
Groomed for Murder
Lynne Maxwell

Merryville, Minnesota, is the setting for Annie Knox’s Groomed for Murder, the second highly entertaining Pet Boutique Mystery. Protagonist Izzy McHale is the proud proprietor of Trendy Tails, an upscale boutique specializing in unique pet garments and sundries. As the novel opens, Izzy and friends are preparing for dual weddings. The marriage between her elderly landlady, Ingrid, and Ingrid’s newly rediscovered beau, Harvey, is a cause for celebration, but the “pupptials” between two beloved dogs owned by several of Izzy’s customers runs a close second. Just as Ingrid’s wedding is imminent catastrophe strikes, when Izzy’s mysterious boarder Daniel plunges to the bottom of the stairs—dead. The murder, as it is soon pronounced, is a showstopper, indeed, and the weddings are commuted to another day. Even worse, though, Lizzy’s Aunt Dolly becomes a suspect and Izzy must exculpate her. When Izzy discovers that Daniel was a big-city reporter, she knows that a major news story must be in the offing. What, though, is the potential scandal, and who is desperate enough to kill in order to silence Daniel? Read this well-plotted cozy to find out.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 14 January 2015 10:01
To Die Fur
Lynne Maxwell

For the readers among us who are (very) willing to suspend disbelief, Dixie Lyle’s genre-bending To Die Fur should claim first place on your TBR lists. Second in the Whiskey, Tango & Foxtrot Mystery series, To Die Fur once again features Deirdre “Foxtrot” Lancaster, Tango, her ghost cat, and Whisky, a shape-shifting dog. Yes, the series has a paranormal element, as Foxtrot plies her trade as assistant to eccentric millionaire Zelda “ZZ” Zoransky and spiritual superintendent of ZZ’s pet cemetery. Much of Foxtrot’s time is devoted to resolving problems in the cemetery, where an array of ghost animals reside, not always peacefully. Still with me? This mystery focuses upon a contest of sorts among various parties interested in acquiring Augustus, an albino tiger, whom Foxtrot’s employer has rescued and housed in her specially equipped private zoo. Each of the parties vying for Augustus has discernible drawbacks; is anyone a clear winner? Before ZZ can render her verdict, Augustus dies, victim of an insidious poisoning. End of contest, right? Not so quick! The battle begins again, this time over the privilege of acquiring Augustus’ body. How was Augustus killed, and who murdered him? You’ll never guess!

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 14 January 2015 10:01
Death of a Christmas Caterer
Lynne Maxwell

In Death of a Christmas Caterer, Lee Hollis (actually a brother-sister writing team) presents another rollicking Hayley Powell mystery. As usual, Hayley experiences romantic conflicts, but she receives a seasonal challenge when, at the last minute, her boss assigns her to organize the office Christmas party. When Hayley visits the caterer, she discovers his body instead. Aside from needing to make remedial party arrangements, Hayley must solve a quintessential locked-room mystery. Very intricately plotted!

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 14 January 2015 10:01
Edgar Allan Poe: The Fever Called Living
Jon L. Breen

The author of this lively, readable, and well-researched short biography values Poe the fiction writer over the poet or the critic, writing, “It is the mastery of narrative voice—and above all, the creation of the detective story—that made Poe an author that Lincoln and the world at large placed beside Shakespeare.” He even declares that “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” is “literally the most influential short story of the nineteenth century.” Included is a brief annotated primary and secondary bibliography.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 14 January 2015 10:01
Goodis: A Life in Black and White
Jon L. Breen

When published in France in 1984, the author notes, this biography was not well received because it diverged from the conventional Gallic wisdom about David Goodis the writer (as a literary genius) and the man (as a pauper unrecognized in his own country), exemplifying a French tendency to build legends and ignore inconvenient details. Now translated and revised for an American audience, Goodis: A Life in Black and White makes the biographer a character, describing how he traced and met with his subject’s friends and associates.

A history of the famous Série Noire imprint and the phenomenon of the French embracing undervalued American literature, including some disquieting notes on the very loose French translations of Raymond Chandler and others, is followed by considerable attention to Goodis’ screenwriting career, including quotations from studio memos and descriptions of Hollywood politics, all interesting but some of scant relevance to the subject. For example, a visit to the Motion Picture Country House is described in detail before getting around to resident Finlay McDermid, a sometime mystery writer who had been Goodis’ story editor at Warner.

Though interested in Goodis for his personal oddness (likable, family oriented, but very strange), and his cultural impact, Garnier doesn’t oversell him as a writer. Enthralling as the book is to anyone interested in the American or French paperback industry or in 1940s Hollywood, it may not attract many readers to the subject’s fiction. The illustrations, book covers, and candid photographs, are a decided plus.

No American crime-fiction expert would agree with the description of Gold Medal as a “lowly paperback-only outfit” or “the Skid Row of the paperback industry.” And Baynard Kendrick’s blind detective Duncan Maclane was not, as Garnier believes, subject to sudden blindness at awkward moments. That was John Kobler’s Peter Quest, the “glaucoma detective,” who first appeared in the pulps late in 1938.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 14 January 2015 10:01
Blood on the Stage, 480 B.C. to 1600 A.D.: Milestone Plays of Murder, Mystery, and Mayhem: An Annotated Repertoire
Jon L. Breen

Having covered the 20th century in four volumes, Kabatchnik now turns to the earliest known theatrical works, beginning with Aeschylus’ Prometheus Bound. Not surprisingly, the ancient Greeks and Romans and the Elizabethans are most extensively discussed, with the centuries between fairly sparse ground. As in previous volumes, each entry has a detailed plot summary, stage history, adaptations to other media, and where appropriate, awards and honors. Sophocles’ Oedipus the King (c. 429 BC), “one of the first known plays to introduce the motif of crime and punishment, and the step-by-step investigation of a murder by interrogating witnesses,” managed only second prize in the City of Dionysia competition, but Sophocles won many more first prizes than either Aeschylus or Euripides.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet has the last and longest entry, 35 pages including eight of plot synopsis. The stage history, dense with names and dates, describes what various actors brought to the title role. There are some priceless descriptions of misguided 20th-century productions, low-lighted by three 1969 disasters on New York stages. One had “Ellis Rabb directing and playing the lead in a Nehru jacket and other actors wearing turtlenecks, at times breaking through the fourth wall and walking through the audience. Walter Kerr of the New York Herald Tribune said that, as director, Rabb was ‘all thumbs and all banged thumbs at that.’” Tony Richardson’s production starred “a balding, bearded, machine-gun-paced Nicol Williamson, stressing Hamlet’s love of both Ophelia and Gertrude. His bitter scene with his mother ends with a long embrace.” Joseph Papp’s Central Park production featured “Cleavon Little, his skin color emphasized throughout the proceedings. When Polonius asks what he is reading, Hamlet replies, ‘Ebony, baby!’ At one point Horatio treats Claudius to a custard pie, full in the face. Instead of Hamlet, it is Horatio who speaks with the gravedigger, rebuking him, ‘Don’t give me any of that Shakespeare crap!’”

A reliable and thorough reference source that is immensely entertaining and browsable, this whole series is a landmark of mystery and theatrical scholarship.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 14 January 2015 10:01