The Never-Open Desert Diner
Betty Webb

James Anderson’s brilliant The Never-Open Desert Diner is a tale set on Route 117, a seldom- used Utah highway. During its heyday, the diner was featured in several Hollywood movies, but now, because of its dysfunctional elderly owner, the building is as barren and windswept as its high desert location.

Driving by the diner every day is trucker Ben Jones, who is behind on his rent and his truck lease. Broke as he is, Ben can’t quite bring himself to quit delivering odds and ends to the other hardscrabble desert rats who are scratching out a precarious living in the middle of nowhere. Ben’s joyless existence changes the day he sees the silhouette of a woman playing a cello in a deserted house near the diner. Driven by curiosity, he befriends the woman and listens to her life story, which involves a broken marriage, a one-time dream of becoming a concert cellist, and a parentage as murky as his own.

Ben is a foundling, dropped off as a infant wrapped in a blanket on the steps of a Indian reservation clinic. Cellist Claire suspects, with good reason, that she is the adopted-out result of a gang rape. These two orphaned outcasts are immediately drawn together, finally daring to see a glimmer of hope in their bleak existence.

But their happiness is short-lived when a high roller claiming to be a TV producer cadges a ride-along with Ben, saying that his production company is thinking about using the area for a new reality series. At that point, everything Ben knows, or thinks he knows, about life is turned on its head. And not for the better. Rape, theft, and murder have always been lurking in the background on that lonely highway, and aided by the inclement weather (“The wind was gusting, full of sand as it crossed 117. It made the sunlight dirty, like a bandage stretched over the sky.”), the truth about Claire and her cello emerges. It isn’t pretty, but then, neither is that part of the desert.

Seldom have I read a novel more affecting than The Never-Open Desert Diner, and seldom have I encountered such memorable characters. There is Ben, a deep thinker who questions the area’s oral and written history: “History has a way of chasing gravity just like water, feeding into other parts of itself to become something else, something larger and grander, until the one pure thing it was no longer exists.” There is Preacher John, who, to atone for some long-forgotten sin, spends his days dragging a heavy wooden cross along 117. There is Ginny, a pregnant 17-year-old Walmart clerk whose family deserted her and who sees Ben as some sort of savior (although the opposite may be true). Then there is Walt, the motorcycle- collecting owner of the diner, who no longer believes in anything but revenge. But of all the book’s characters, Route 117 itself remains the most resonant. This winding piece of disintegrating blacktop provides the heart of The Never-Open Desert Diner, forever linking the desperate souls who live along it.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-15 20:44:37
The Mysteries of Soldiers Grove
Betty Webb

Age is no barrier to dreams, a truth illustrated in Paul Zimmer’s debut novel, The Mysteries of Soldiers Grove, set in a Wisconsin nursing home where the aged and infirm go to die. At least that’s the theory. But the 70-something protagonists’ last attempt at love and adventure do more than challenge that theory; they demolish it. The adventure begins when 79-year-old Cyril is taken hostage by a man known only as Balaclava, a gun-brandishing lunatic in the middle of a crime spree. Deciding that Cyril is more trouble than he’s worth, Balaclava dumps the elderly man on a seldom-traveled road in subzero temperatures.

Through grit and pluck Cyril survives, but frostbite removes several fingers and toes, as well as part of his nose. In this unlovely state, he checks into the local senior care home to await death. At the same time, Louise, also 79, admits herself into the same end-of-the-road facility after suffering yet another fall in her lonely farmhouse. When the two meet, sparks fly.

Although this sounds like a convenient setup for what could have been a cutesy-but-light sunset romance, in author Zimmer’s hands The Mysteries of Soldiers Grove becomes a treatise on what matters most in life: adventure or comfort, truth or well-crafted lies, giving or taking. Because the book is told in the first person by the two protagonists, we get their individual takes on the answers, and they are rich beyond imagining.

Cyril “collects lives.” Since childhood, he has been fascinated by biographies of the great, the near-great, and the just plain weird. He believes that everyone who lives in the small town of Soldiers Grove should hear about the fascinating people he’s just read about. Before his incarceration in the care home, this biography-sharing usually ended with him getting thrown out of a bar. Now his monologues merely result in a rapidly emptying dining hall. But the well-educated and French-born artist Louise loves to hear his “lives.” In one of the book’s most touching scenes, she interrupts Cyril in the middle of a monologue about A. E. Housman by simply reading aloud from “A Shropshire Lad.” Their growing, glowing, and sweetly described love affair is interrupted by the reappearance of the murderous Balaclava, who has grown to regret allowing Cyril to live.

There is terror here, as well as courage and self-sacrifice, and binding them all together is page after page of gorgeous prose. Zimmer, a poet and journalist, has received eight Pushcart prizes, as well as the Award for Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. Although The Mysteries of Soldiers Grove is deeply original, there is one novel whose quality and content I can compare it to, and that book is, by coincidence, another flawless debut: Howard Owen’s magnificent Littlejohn. If you appreciate the very finest of American literature, read them both.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-15 20:58:48
The City of Blood
Betty Webb

In Frédérique Molay’s The City of Blood, a former abattoir on the northeastern edge of Paris has become the site of a major art installation. Samuel Cassian, a leading avant-garde artist, once held a banquet featuring meat from animals slaughtered at the abattoir (elephant ears and python being two menu offerings). Cassian then buried the remains of the feast—leftovers, banquet table, chairs, and all—with the intention of having it disinterred 30 years later.

But when the tableau-piège is dug up, the artist’s long-missing son is found murdered among the artifacts. The grisly crime sets off an investigation that brings in an unusual assortment of players, including the French Ministry of Culture, the Society for the Disinterment of the Tableau-Piège, and other art-world high rollers and hangers-on.

In an often-humorous counterpoint, Chief Inspector Nico Sirsky, whose own cultural tastes tend more toward AC/DC and Ukrainian folk art, is assigned to the case. The investigation becomes so wide-ranging that in one unforgettable scene, Sirsky finds himself dancing with another man in a Parisian gay bar.

Author Molay’s inspector is a true gem. The star of the Paris Homicide mystery series, Sirsky is hard-bitten yet open-minded, cynical but tender. Perhaps Molay’s biggest gift is in letting us see Paris through Sirsky’s eyes, where we discover a city awash in history, culture, and homicidal lunatics.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-15 21:04:12
Reel News for Mystery Readers

steinhauerolen Alloldknives
A couple of crime fiction novels may hit the movie theaters in the next couple of years. Emphasis on may, as one never knows when it comes to filmmaking.

But if these novels do become movies, we should be in for a treat.

Olen Steinhauer’s All the Old Knives

Olen Steinhauer has adopted his latest novel, All the Old Knives, into a screenplay. Neil Burger (Divergent) is attached to direct the movie, which is now fully funded and casting will begin immediately, according to Variety and St. Martin’s Press, the novel’s publisher.

Principal photography is expected to begin by the end of the year.

All the Old Knives is a taut, tightly plotted story by Steinhauer, who is best known for his sweeping spy thrillers. All the Old Knives is akin to My Dinner With Andre, only with spies.

All the Old Knives starts out as a quiet little tale in which two ex-lovers—one a CIA spy and the other an ex-CIA spy—get together for dinner in the lovely town of Carmel-by-the-Sea.

What could go wrong?

After all, they are just going to reminisce about the old days.

But have they come for the memories or to renew their romance? Or is something more sinister afoot?

Both were involved in the disastrous hijacking of a Jordanian plane in which everyone onboard died. Was it a conspiracy all those years ago?

leonardelmore bandits
And will each of the dinner partners survive through dessert? Or in time to pay the check?

All the Old Knives is to be the first project from the newly launched indie studio the Mark Gordon Company and Entertainment One.

Bruce Willis and Elmore Leonard
Bruce Willis “is the driving force behind” the movie adaptation of Elmore Leonard's novel Bandits, reports

Apparently this is the second time Willis has attempted to film the 1987 novel.

If it does happen this time, Willis wants to play the lead of Jack Delaney, an ex-con, a jewel thief turned mortician. The ensemble drama is to be scripted by Mitch Glazer, reports.

Willis first optioned Bandits shortly after it was published in 1987.

After Willis let the rights lapse, Bandits was one of the four Leonard titles that were once acquired by Quentin Tarantino.

Apparently, Tarantino let the other options lapse after he turned Leonard’s novel Rum Punch into the movie Jackie Brown.

Oline Cogdill
2015-03-18 13:49:34
Festival of Crime
Bill Crider

When it comes to short story anthologies, Sisters in Crime has you covered. From the Twin Cities chapter comes Festival of Crime, edited by Christine Husom, Mickie Turk, and Michael Allan Mallory. The book includes 19 stories about almost any kind of festival you can think of: county fairs, music festivals, carnivals, and plenty more, including a carp fest in “Carpe Diem or Murder at the Carp Fest” by M. E. Bakos. The plot also deals with the retail shoe business, which makes for quite a combination. Susan Koefod’s “Iced” has to do with creating ice sculptures for a winter festival. It has a strange apparition (or not) along with murder. The setting of D. M. S. Fick’s “Loco Motive” is Boxcar Days, and it has the full fair experience, with corn dogs, cheese curds, a Ferris wheel, and a crime. If you’re looking for fun at festivals, there are 16 more entertaining stories where those come from.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-18 19:17:48
Family Matters
Bill Crider

If you think your family has problems, check out Family Matters from the New York/Tri State chapter of Sisters in Crime, edited by Anita Page, whose own story in the book, “Their Little Secret,” shows how far a girl might go to try to solve a problem in family relations. And Triss Stein opens with another problem-solver, one who discovers that solutions have unintended consequences. Terrie Farley Moran offers a car full of family violence, not all of it physical, in “Thanksgiving on Throgs Neck Bridge.” The book contains 20 strong stories that range all over New York City and through all levels of society.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-18 19:21:40
Carolina Crimes: Nineteen Tales of Lust, Love, and Longing
Bill Crider

Carolina Crimes: Nineteen Tales of Lust, Love, and Longing, edited by Karen Pullen with an introduction by Margaret Maron, is from the Triangle chapter of Sisters in Crime. The stories, Maron says in her introduction, “illustrate facets of sexuality often kept hidden, and some even cross into taboo territory.” That’s not to say they can’t be lighthearted and amusing, like Meg Leader’s “Bad Hair Day,” which features a narrator who sees dead people and thus becomes “the country’s only spectral detective.”

Teri Duerr
2015-03-18 19:24:35
The Anthology of Cozy Noir: Mystery Stories With an Edge
Bill Crider

The title of The Anthology of Cozy Noir: Mystery Stories With an Edge might make you wonder just what “cozy noir” is. Editor Andrew MacRae offers a hint or two in his introduction, but he doesn’t attempt a full definition. It’s one of those “I know it when I see it” things, and it’s exemplified by the 13 stories in this volume. Rob Lopresti’s “The Roseville Way” opens the book and tells the story of how some locals react to a newcomer to town and to their favorite pizza place. It’s not how you might expect. Bobbie Chukran’s “Dead Dames Don’t Wear Diamonds” has a classic noir setup and includes some nice allusions to classic hardboiled fiction. It’s nothing like Lopresti’s story, and all the stories here are different. You can decide for yourself if a new subgenre has been born.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-19 15:58:04
Shanks on Crime
Bill Crider

Rob Lopresti’s collection of stories Shanks on Crime features crime writer Leopold Longshanks, a fellow who can solve a crime while listening to his wife being interviewed. Nine of the stories here first appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, while four haven’t seen print before. There’s some bonus material, too, including an afterword to each story. All the stories are clever, witty, and well written, and I always enjoy an author’s comments on his own work. If you haven’t met Shanks before, this book provides an excellent chance to get acquainted.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-19 21:42:28
Best New England Crime Stories 2015: Rogue Wave
Bill Crider

With multiple editors, Mark Ammons, Catherine Fast, Barbara Ross, and Leslie Wheeler, Best New England Crime Stories 2015: Rogue Wave contains 29 stories with as much variety in setting and tone as you could hope for. For example Stephen D. Rogers’ “Wehrkraftzersetzung” is a traditional detective story set in WWII on the Russian front. Quite a combination. Mark Ammons’ “Diary of a Serial Killer” is the shortest story you’ll read this year (probably), being one word long. It’s hard to beat that.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-19 21:48:23
The Deepening Shade
Bill Crider

When a collection opens with quotations from Ingmar Bergman’s Winter Light and Theodore Roethke’s “In a Dark Time,” you know you’re in for a stroll on the dark side. That’s just what Jake Hinkson provides in The Deepening Shade. Hinkson’s work is raw and violent and powerful. “The Serpent Box” is all of that, but you won’t be able to look away. Hinkson can also be savagely funny in the midst of the horror of a story like “Microeconomics.” Some of the 15 stories included here have been previously published. All are memorable.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-19 21:56:19
The Art of the English Murder
Jon L. Breen

The print companion to the television series considers the British public’s fascination with murder in fact and fiction from the 19th-century Ratcliffe Highway Murders and Thomas De Quincey’s satirical essay “On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts” to the present day. Nonfiction subjects treated along the way include the Bow Street Runners, Madame Tussaud, Burke and Hare, Jack the Ripper (considered alongside fictional contemporaries Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), and Julia Wallace. Particularly interesting among the Victorian literary highlights are Lucy Worsley’s discussions of Wilkie Collins’ Armadale and Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret.

While the book is consistently enjoyable reading, it falls down in familiar ways when it gets to 20th-century crime fiction. The Golden Age of detective fiction between the World Wars is oversimplified and generalized in a reductive way, with the usual excessive attention to the Crime Queens to the exclusion of equally significant figures. And there are numerous factual errors and dubious statements. Raymond Chandler is wrongly depicted as “one of the vocal enemies of the traditional English detective story,” though one of his favorite writers was R. Austin Freeman (not mentioned in the book). Ngaio Marsh’s birthdate is given as 1885 rather than 1895; the length of The Big Sleep, a full-length novel, is given as 18,000 words; a footnote says P.D. James “never felt secure enough, even in her great success as a novelist, to give up her day job in the Home Office,” though in fact, once she was successful enough, she did just that; and surely Lord Peter Wimsey, unlike Sayers’ husband, did “recover from his experiences in the First World War.”

Teri Duerr
2015-03-19 22:22:35
Small Towns in Recent American Crime Fiction
Jon L. Breen

David Geherin, one of the most prolific academic commentators on mystery fiction, presents a useful guide to ten contemporary Americans who write about a small town or rural region, including biographies and book-by-book summaries: K. C. Constantine, Daniel Woodrell, Dana Stabenow, Nevada Barr, William Kent Krueger, Steve Hamilton, P. L. Gaus, Karin Slaughter, Julia Spencer-Fleming, and Craig Johnson. The prospective reader will get a good idea of what each author’s books are like, their strengths and weaknesses, and which are the best and least of their works.

Geherin takes pains to disassociate his subjects from the cozy school, the source of most earlier small-town mysteries, which he stereotypes as tame and bloodless accounts of amateur sleuths. To recognize past small-town writers who did not fit that pattern, he might have mentioned August Derleth, A. B. Cunnningham, and Ellery Queen of the Wrightsville novels.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-19 22:26:00
The Villainous Stage: Crime Plays on Broadway and in the West End
Jon L. Breen

One of the best writers on mystery and detective fiction is equally knowledgeable about theatre (his preferred spelling and mine), thus this survey of crime drama of the 19th through 21st centuries. Marvin Lachman takes a somewhat narrower definition of crime plays than Amnon Kabatchnik in his Blood on the Stage series, omitting classical writers like Sophocles and Shakespeare and choosing works whose crimes and situations most resemble those in books marketed as mysteries. Where Kabatchnik has a chronological arrangement, Lachman takes a topical approach. He also covers some plays not in Kabatchnik, e.g. Parker Fennelly’s 1941 espionage comedy Cuckoos on the Hearth.

Separate chapters are devoted to Agatha Christie as playwright and Sherlock Holmes as character. Among the general categories accorded chapters are comedy, courtroom dramas, psychology, espionage, musicals, series characters, and spoofs. Two chapters focus on social-problem plays, one on race, ethnicity, and religion, the other on criminal justice. This is a remarkable work of research and organization, covering a huge number of names, dates, and titles, with brief plot descriptions, quotes from contemporary reviews, and firsthand comments by the longtime theatergoing author.

An earlier version of the book was serialized in the excellent small-circulation fanzine (Give Me That) Old-Time Detection, edited by Arthur Vidro (2 Ellery Street, Claremont, New Hampshire 03743).

Teri Duerr
2015-03-19 22:29:43

One of the best writers on mystery and detective fiction shows he's equally knowledgeable about the stage.

Judges & Justice & Lawyers & Laws: Exploring the Legal Dimensions of Fiction and Film
Jon L. Breen

As a law professor at St. Louis University, Francis Nevins developed a seminar on “Law, Lawyers and Justice in Popular Fiction and Film.” These essays on topics covered in the seminar, most of which originally appeared in books or journals directed to fellow lawyers and professors, offer plenty as well for the general reader with an interest in law, crime fiction, or film.

Following an introduction are substantial essays on the fiction of Melville Davisson Post, creator of the turn-of-the-20th-century exploiter of legal technicalities, Randolph Mason; Arthur Train, whose small-town lawyer Ephraim Tutt was a longtime Saturday Evening Post fixture; and Erle Stanley Gardner, famous for Perry Mason, as clever but not as amoral as his earlier namesake. The remaining chapters focus on film, beginning with the use of courtroom scenes in the dialogue-heavy early talkies. (Best of the lawyer films of this period per Nevins was the John Barrymore vehicle Counsellor at Law [1933], directed by William Wyler from an Elmer Rice play, which stays out of the courtroom and thus avoids the procedural absurdities common to other films of the time.)

About 90 pages are devoted to court proceedings and lawyer characters in the B-movie Westerns and TV series that are another area of the author’s expertise. Separate chapters cover at length the two versions of Cape Fear (1962 and 1991), based on John D. MacDonald’s 1958 novel The Executioners; and Man in the Middle (1963), directed by Guy Hamilton and based on Howard Fast’s 1959 novel The Winston Affair. The latter is championed as an overlooked classic of the Warren Court era to stand beside 12 Angry Men, Anatomy of a Murder, Inherit the Wind, and To Kill a Mockingbird. (Nevins states this film had never been released on DVD at the time of writing, but it has since and a viewing bears out his high opinion.)

Teri Duerr
2015-03-20 17:46:02
An English Ghost Story
Hank Wagner

Seeking a new start after an extremely rough patch, Steven and Kirsty Naremore decide to move their family (sullen teenage daughter Jordan and rambunctious younger brother Tim) to the country. Falling in love with a property known as the Hollow, they quickly move in. At first, the Hollow, which is known for being haunted, seems to return their love. The Naremores, however, have a dark side, and their faults, weaknesses, and prejudices soon bring about a radical change in the atmosphere of their once idyllic home, as certain hostile entities within seize the chance to turn their lives into a living hell.

Although structurally similar to many a classic haunted house story (comparisons to Shirley Jackson’s Hill House are apt), An English Ghost Story also works as a thriller because of the Hitchcockian magic author Kim Newman works via his pitch-perfect prose, letting the audience in on the impending disaster early on in the narrative; readers know something bad is coming, but, importantly, don’t know when. So, when horrific things do start to happen, it is both a surprise, and, in a strange way, a relief. A consummate storyteller, Newman holds his readers spellbound from the first page to the last.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-20 17:50:34
Daniel Palmer and Michael Palmer

palmermichaeldaniel trauma
It’s not unusual for authors to collaborate with each other.

P.J. Parrish is actually two sisters; P.J. Tracy is a mother-and-daughter duo; Sparkle Abbey is two friends. Of course, other authors such as James Patterson just add their co-authors to the title page.

Daniel Palmer has collaborated with another author and, in this case, I am sure he would have given anything to avoid the reason behind this collaboration.

Daniel Palmer is the son of the late author Michael Palmer, a bestselling author of medical thrillers. Michael Palmer was working on his novel Trauma when he died suddenly on Oct. 30, 2013. He had suffered a heart attack and stroke the day before.

Throughout his career, Michael Palmer, who also was a physician, wrote 19 novels, many of which landed on the bestseller lists. His novels were known for their strong plots and views of the medical world. Those who knew Michael Palmer often commented on what a nice man he was.

Daniel Palmer, one of Michael Palmer’s three sons, inherited his dad’s writing talents and has written five thrillers. In addition, those who have met Daniel Palmer also have commented on what a nice man he is.

The two authors sometimes appeared on the same panel at writers conferences. When they were both at Sleuthfest a few years ago, it was interesting to see father and son talk about their respective writing careers and the respect and love each had for the other.

At the time of his death, Michael Palmer was working on the manuscript of Trauma, which would have been his 20th novel. Working through his grief, Daniel Palmer did what authors do best—he wrote, taking over Trauma to finish the novel for his dad.

Having grown up surrounded by his father’s novels, Daniel Palmer got into the groove of his father’s style.

As a result, Trauma is a unique novel that shows the strength of both authors’ work. Trauma comes out in May 2015.

Trauma’s plot revolves around Carrie Bryant, a physician who makes life-altering mistakes in two separate surgeries. She returns to her hometown where she becomes involved in an experimental program to treat PTSD.

This is the first time that Daniel Palmer ever collaborated with his father. Michael Palmer’s last novel, Resistant, was released in May 2014, after his death.

This isn’t the first time that a mystery writer has finished the manuscript of someone he or she cares about.

Last year, Les Standiford, director of the Florida International University’s creative writing program, and Dan Wakefield, who was the writer in residence at FIU for 15 years, finished the manuscript of their friend Anthony Gagliano, who had received critical acclaim for his first novel, Straits of Fortune. Gagliano was working on his second novel, The Emperor’s Club, when he suffered a stroke and died at age 53.

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 Emperor’s Club.

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.

Daniel Palmer’s father would be proud of the novel Trauma.

Oline Cogdill
2015-03-22 16:49:57
John Rubinstein, the Voice of Jonathan Kellerman

kellermanjonathan motive
Last week, my home was filled with the voice of actor John Rubinstein.

My husband is a theater critic and he was interviewing Rubinstein, who will be appearing in the South Florida tour of Pippin. Rubinstein had played the title role when the musical was first on Broadway in 1972. Now Rubinstein is playing the king, the father of Pippin.

Meanwhile, I was listening to Rubinstein narrate Motive, the latest novel by Jonathan Kellerman.

Before their interview started, my husband mentioned that I was listening to Motive.

Rubinstein mentioned what a job it is to narrate Kellerman’s Alex Delaware and that he also is a fan of the novels.

For me, Rubinstein is the perfect reader for the Alex Delaware series, as he truly makes different voices for each of the characters.

Rubinstein’s Alex sounds nothing like Milo Sturgis, the LAPD detective with whom Alex works and is his best friend.

Anyone who listens to audiobooks knows that it all hinges on the reader. Even the best plot with the best characters can be a mess if the reader doesn’t deliver.

Scott Brick is another reader who elevates the books he narrates.

Oline Cogdill
2015-03-25 12:50:00
(Not) Saying Goodbye to Carolyn Hart’s Annie and Max

hartcarolyn dontgohome
Favorite characters become part of our circle of family and friends. We become anxious to visit with them, to find out what they’ve been up to and what adventures we might share with them.

And when a series has gone on a long time, it’s also easy to take those characters for granted, as if they will be with us forever.

But as we know, all things end, even beloved characters.

And sometimes not.

When Carolyn Hart’s Don’t Go Home comes out on May 5, it not only will be the 25th novel in the Death on Demand series, but it also was to be the finale.

I was prepared that we would be missing Annie and Max and Broward’s Rock.

I had even written this essay after receiving a note from Carolyn Hart explaining the difficult decision of ending this much-loved series.

Hart has been writing two novels a year for some time and it was becoming too much for the author.

“I decided that I no longer wished to write two books a year and I had to choose between the Death on Demand series and the Bailey Ruth series,” she said.

So she decided to continue the Bailey Ruth novels and let Annie and Max have a rest.

“I have chosen Bailey Ruth because the books are exceedingly challenging to write,” said Hart, whose next Bailey Ruth novel Ghost to the Rescue comes out in October 2015.

“That might seem puzzling because Bailey Ruth, a redheaded ghost who returns to earth to help people in trouble, involves a lot of laughter. At least on my part and I figure if I’m laughing, a reader will laugh,” added Hart, who was one of the MWA Grand Masters for 2014.

“Bailey Ruth might appear to have every advantage as a sleuth since she can be invisible and overhear and see amazing moments. But the challenge is that every time she is at a particular spot, there has to be a logical reason she is there. Nothing can happen by chance. Trust me, that is hard to do.”

In her note, Hart added, “Annie and Max, thank you for the good times, for your kindnesses, courage, humor, and grace.”

But sometimes, we change our minds and Hart certainly did.

And we are glad she did.

A few days after I wrote this blog--and had it scheduled to be posted--I received a most welcomed note from Carolyn Hart.

Annie and Max will return.

"Annie and Max looked me in the eye and said, “Don’t even think about it!” I realized I’d miss them too much. So I changed my mind and hope to write their 26th adventure as soon as Bailey Ruth persuades a lovelorn ghost to climb the shining stairs to Heaven," Carolyn Hart emailed me.

We all are allowed to change our minds.
Thank you Carolyn Hart, for all these wonderful stories about Annie and Max, and in deciding to give us more time with these characters.

Oline Cogdill
2015-03-28 11:00:00
My Sister’s Grave
Hank Wagner

In Robert Dugoni’s My Sister’s Grave, Seattle homicide detective Tracy Crosswhite is haunted by the presumed death of her younger sister Sarah, who abruptly went missing some 20 years prior to the events of this novel. When Sarah’s remains are finally discovered in the mountains abutting their hometown of Cedar Grove, Washington, Tracy is hell-bent on finally getting some real answers to the central mystery of her life. As she searches for those answers, she uncovers shocking truths, which, besides placing her in mortal danger, stun her to her core.

Dugoni does a masterful job of knitting a police procedural together with a suspenseful mystery novel, then combining that with a riveting legal thriller, as Tracy must first take steps to free the man she feels was wrongfully convicted of crimes against her sister. He also creates an atmosphere that simply reeks of conspiracy. Finally, he does an exquisite job of slowly ratcheting up the tension, deepening his audience’s involvement in the harrowing events he depicts.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-23 15:14:40
Easy Death
Hank Wagner

Daniel Boyd shows absolute mastery over his narrative in Easy Death, the latest offering from the much-acclaimed Hard Case Crime line of hardboiled crime novels. Beginning just before midnight on December 19, 1951, it tells the tale of an armed car robbery and all involved, leapfrogging back and forth chronologically from the time of the robbery, covering the next 20 hours or so. We are treated to multiple, ever-shifting points of view, as Boyd craftily details the trials and travails—and sometimes the antics—of an extremely colorful and well-realized cast of characters, including robbers, law enforcement officials, and even those on the edges of story, such as family members of the aforementioned. Throw in extreme weather conditions, a park ranger who picks an inopportune time to lose his marbles, and dialogue that would make even Elmore Leonard envious, and you get one hell of a tale, enthralling, humorous, and diverting. Although this is Boyd’s first crime novel (his only previous novel, a Western called ’Nada, was a Spur Award nominee), I hope for all our sakes that it is not his last.

Teri Duerr
2015-03-23 15:20:46

Boyd shows absolute mastery over his narrative in Easy Death.

Spell Booked
Lynne Maxwell

Joyce and Jim Lavene are surely the hardest-working wife-husband team in the mystery-writing business. Not only are they prolific, but they also juggle multiple mystery series. But there can never be enough cozies, right? Thank goodness the Lavenes are on hand to keep them coming! Spell Booked, first in the new Retired Witch mystery series, introduces a coven of three witches of a certain age whose magic is waning and whose spells spin out of control, often in humorous ways. Olivia, the oldest of the trio, is hoping to recruit a young replacement, so that she can retire to Boca Raton, Florida, the apparent haven of retired witches. (Who knew?) But before Olivia can retire, her throat is slashed in a dark alley. How did this wealthy, fashionable woman end up there? Immediately, the remaining two witches, Molly and Elsie, set forth to investigate. Fortunately, they are able to conjure up Olivia’s last words: she cried out the name of Dorothy, the local librarian. It turns out that Dorothy is not only a fledgling witch, who can complement the magic of the coven, but she is also the daughter whom Olivia had put up for adoption at birth. With the assistance of Dorothy and Olivia, who has returned as a ghost, the witches do battle against a powerful witch who is attempting to drain their power in order to bolster her own. Molly has the additional challenge of working with, and around, her husband, Joe, who is a homicide detective. Surprises abound as the final scenes unfold, but suffice it to say that “the retired witches” will return to work their magic anew. Kudos to Joyce and Jim Lavene for brewing up this enjoyable new series in their creative cauldron!

Teri Duerr
2015-03-23 15:25:34
Tagged for Death
Lynne Maxwell

Newcomer Sherry Harris may lack an extensive publishing history, but her debut book, Tagged for Death, is anything but amateurish. Harris capitalizes on her knowledge of tag sales (otherwise known as “garage sales”) and Air Force bases to produce an engaging first mystery featuring Sarah Winston. Newly separated from her husband, CJ, who was ejected from his career in the Air Force by allegations that he had an affair with a subordinate, Sarah struggles to make sense of her life and its direction. She’s a California girl from Monterey, trying to establish her new life off-base in small-town Ellington, Massachusetts, where CJ has become police chief. Reeling from CJ’s betrayal, Sarah keeps busy by systematically visiting garage sales and sharing her bargaining techniques with friends. In fact, her prowess positions her to begin a new career running garage sales for customers. While Sarah finds her calling, the remainder of her fortunes continues to plummet, as CJ’s young paramour disappears, leaving bloody evidence of a struggle in her room on base. Worse, in one of her bags of clothing from a garage sale, Sarah discovers a bloody shirt that she had previously given to CJ. Despite feeling betrayed by CJ, Sarah knows he is no killer, so when he is arrested for alleged murder, she does her due diligence and sets about proving his innocence. She is especially skilled at breaching security and sneaking onto base, and, in the end, succeeds in her quest. Tagged for Death is skillfully rendered, with expert characterization and depiction of military life. Best of all, Sarah is the type of intelligent, resourceful, and appealing person we would all like to get to know better. Hopefully, we will have that opportunity very soon!

Teri Duerr
2015-03-23 15:39:16

A promising new series from newcomer Sherry Harris

Meow If It’s Murder
Lynne Maxwell

T.C. LoTempio’s Meow If It’s Murder is the first in the series, and it merits a resounding purr. Downsized from her job as a crime reporter at the Chicago Tribune, Nora Charles returns home to Cruz, California, to run the family deli. She hasn’t lost her sleuthing skills, though, and is quickly drawn into a mystery involving murder and missing persons. In particular, she is drawn to solving the mystery of a missing private investigator, who leaves behind a preternaturally savvy cat whom Nora names “Nick.” In tribute to Dashiell Hammett, Nick and Nora take on some truly scary bad guys, forming a persistent partnership promising future noirish adventures. Cat lovers will rejoice at Nick’s uncanny ability to appear at just the right moment and piece together clues. Two paws up!

Teri Duerr
2015-03-23 15:43:35
Robert Parker’s Blind Spot
Dick Lochte

Some previous post-Parker novels featuring his creation Jesse Stone, Police Chief of Paradise, Massachusetts, have read like fan fiction. This one, by Reed Farrel Coleman (award-winning author of the now-completed Moe Prager series), is something quite different. It’s even a little different from Parker’s own novels. They cruised smoothly along with snappy half-sentence dialogue and clean, well-crafted plots. Reading them was like riding a Segway on a stretch of beach, a lot of fun but predictable. Listening to Coleman’s addition is closer to traveling in a fast sports car along a dark back road where you get bounced around a little taking unexpected turns on two wheels. The characters, including Stone, have traded in some of their glibness; they’re not as witty, perhaps, but more human. As Parker had it, Stone was headed toward a career in the bigs when he suffered a shoulder injury that ended that dream. Coleman has chosen to focus on that event, sending Stone from Paradise to Manhattan (no symbolism there?) where his old team is having a reunion, organized by the guy whose throw caused the injury. While there, Stone catches a rumor that the injury may not have been an accident. With that hard ball bouncing around in his head, he’s called back to Paradise by the brutal murder of a young girl and the disappearance of her socially prominent boyfriend. Is the missing college student the murderer or a witness in deep trouble? Before the investigation is wrapped up, not at all neatly, Coleman complicates matters with liars, extortionists, kidnappers, and a possible link between the reunion and the girl’s death. James Naughton has read many of the Jesse Stone novels and, as he has in the past, performs this one in a clear, natural-sounding manner. His pacing follows the author’s lead, from cool, casual conversations to revved up moments of stress. Listeners who may wonder why they’re thinking about “erectile dysfunction being the result of poor blood flow” should know that Naughton is also the voice of Cialis commercials. But we shouldn’t hold that against him when he does such a fine job of bringing Stone to life and adding nice touches to the rest of the cast. Here, an Irish hit man sounds remarkably like Liam Neeson. (One final note: there’s an extremely un-Parker-like plot point in which Stone cuts a deal with crime boss Gino Fish and promises him one “favor,” no matter what it may be. This will clearly pose a serious problem in some future book. It will be interesting to find out what the favor is and how Stone manages to handle it without a loss of honor or winding up forever in Fish’s pocket.)

Teri Duerr
2015-03-23 15:51:22

colemanroberparkersblindspotaudioSome post-Parker Jesse Stone novels have read like fan fiction. This one, by Reed Farrel Coleman, is something quite different.