Longmire Days in Wyoming


johnson craig
longmire roberttaylor3
A series’ setting often makes us feel very connected to that location. And I often seek out mysteries set in areas that I will be visiting.

So celebrating a series that brings attention to the location sounds like a good idea.

The fourth annual Longmire Days, celebrating the novels by Craig Johnson, left, and the TV show Longmire about Absaroka County Sheriff Walt Longmire, is scheduled for July 17-19 in Buffalo, Wyoming.

The town is quite proud of its Longmire Days.

Although Absaroka County is fictional, the Buffalo Chamber of Commerce notes that Absaroka County is “where Sheriff Walt Longmire and his deputies and staff enforce the law and try to keep their own lives in order.”

Last year, Longmire Days attracted more than 8,000 fans.

This year, the organizers say the event will feature “more actors than ever before, along with the big man himself, Craig Johnson.”

Activities include a Longmire parade, a poker school for novices, a book-to-film discussion, trap shooting, and horseback rides.

Actor Robert Taylor, right, who plays Sheriff Longmire, is scheduled to shoot off the starting gun for the Longmire Days 5K and Fun Run. Taylor and Johnson also will have a discussion about the novels and television.

Since Longmire Days’ inception, the organizers have selected a cause to receive the proceeds from the event. The 2015 proceeds go to the American Indian College Fund.

Longmire was the highest rated show on A&E and is now being produced on Netflix.

For more information visit http://www.buffalowyo.com/longmire.html.

Photos: Craig Johnson, top left; Robert Taylor, right.

Oline Cogdill
Wednesday, 01 July 2015 10:07
"True Detective"'s Second Season Debuts


truedetective2 farrell
Despite its flaws, the first season of HBO’s True Detective delivered an intriguing story about detectives, Rust Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Martin Hart (Woody Harrelson), during two periods in their lives. Cohle and Hart were partners in Louisiana’s Criminal Investigation Division whose last case together changed their lives and forced them down a path from which they have never recovered.

I mention this initial season because what made that first venture work is, for the most part, missing from the second season of True Detective, which begins at 9 p.m. on June 21.

True Detective, written and created by Nic Pizzolatto, is billed as an anthology series, so the story of Cohle and Hart is finished. They are left to find whatever redemption they can find. No more Hart’s cynicism nor Cohle’s propensity for nihilistic monologues on religion, life, and families.

Instead, we have a new set of detectives for this second season—Ani Bezzerides (Rachel McAdams), Ray Velcoro (Colin Farrell), and Paul Woodrugh (Taylor Kitsch)—a new location just outside of Los Angeles, and even a criminal/entrepreneur, Frank Semyon (Vince Vaughn).

What’s missing in this second season is a story line and characters worth caring about.

True Detective Season 2 features the most depressing group of cops, working on a depressing crime in a depressing area. It makes the first season seem like a rom-com.

truedetective2 mcadams
This second season is a soulless story, judging by the first three hour-long episodes offered to critics.

In the second season, three law-enforcement officers and a local mobster are tangled in a bizarre murder that will involve billions of dollars, a land scam, and politics.

Velcoro is a compromised detective in the all-industrial city of Vinci in Los Angeles County; Bezzerides, a Ventura County Sheriff’s detective; and Woodrugh, a war veteran and motorcycle cop for the California Highway Patrol.

The disappearance and murder of a city manager, whose body is discovered by Woodrugh, jump-starts the investigation that will put all three on the same task force.

Among the targets of the investigation is Semyon, a mobster trying to become a high-profile entrepreneur but who is in danger of losing everything.

Semyon is torn between his desire for power as a mobster, his desire to be respected by the community’s upper echelons, and the domesticity that he has found with his wife, Jordan (Kelly Reilly), who may be the only person on his side. Sometimes your worst self is your best self,” says Semyon.

Each of these cops is, somehow, connected with Semyon, though none of them know the other’s relationship with him.

The second season’s main problem is that it so quickly succumbs to clichés.

truedetective2 kitsch
To say that each of the cops has issues is putting it mildly; each also has an affinity for violence that can erupt any second.

Velcoro’s “retribution” on the man who beat and raped his now ex-wife Alicia (Abigail Spencer) did not sit well with her, who sees this as a violence he cannot control. And she is right. Velcoro’s relationship with his young son seems, at first, good, but he is as likely to blow up at the boy as he is to beat a father in front of his own child.

Woodrugh struggles with combat memories and battle scars, a controlling mother (Lolita Davidovich) who often is inappropriate with him, and a secret that is cleverly revealed by episode three.

Bezzerides is a coiled cobra of emotions, sexual and violent, many of which echo back to her father, Elliott (David Morse), a former leader in communal living who now lectures at the Panticapaeum Institute, the last place a missing woman worked as a housekeeper. (Morse is an insightful actor and probably a very nice man, but, come on, with few exceptions he plays a villain. His and McAdams’ scene tells the viewer all you need to know about their father-daughter dynamic.)

And, of course, Semyon also is haunted by an event from his past.

truedetective2 vaughn2
These characters all toil in the bleakest areas of Los Angeles County where the interstate resembles a ring of hell. The city of Vinci, which started as a vice haven, is now all-industrial and considered to be the worst polluter in the state. With a setting like that, there can be no joy here.

The swamps and fields of rural Louisiana of the first season were never this dreary.

The barren theme is set from the opening song—a purposely chilling rendition of Leonard Cohen saying his song Nevermind. The singer, who appears in a bar where bribes and deals with the devil are made, continues the bleak theme.

What does work in the second season is the terrific cast.

McAdams tamps down her normal girl-next-door persona to nail the role of an angry loner who trusts no one.

Kitsch, best known as the troubled high school football star Tim Riggins on NBC’s Friday Night Lights, shows his depth.

Farrell delivers his usual tormented character and is, also as usual, good-looking yet scruffy. (I always get the feeling that Farrell never takes a good shower and always smells a bit funky.)

With no trace of the glib characters he usually plays, Vaughn brings a nuanced portrayal of a criminal who wants it all—a happy life and violence.

True Detective’s second season will be eight episodes long. Enter at your own risk.

True Detective’s second season debuts at 9 p.m., June 21, on HBO. There will be frequent encores and it will be available on demand, as is the first season.

Photos: Colin Farrell, top, Rachel McAdams, second photo; Taylor Kitsch; Vince Vaughn. Photos courtsey HBO.

Oline Cogdill
Saturday, 20 June 2015 12:06
Vera and Harry: The True Detectives


vera tvshow
Those of us who are disappointed in HBO’s True Detective—and count me as one of those—will find much to like in two import crime dramas. And even if you are on the side of the True Detective trio, there is still much to like with the fifth series of Vera from England and Harry, from New Zealand.

The characters in these two series are the real true detectives.
The four movie-length Vera segments stream Mondays, starting July 6, on Acorn TV. Harry is available on Acorn TV now.

Welcome back, Vera
It is indeed Changing Tides for Detective Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope, a cantankerous cop with the Northumbria, England, police force. Based on the novels by Ann Cleeves, Vera: Changing Tides stars Brenda Blethyn, who has entertained us in each of the Vera seasons.

Vera could be a distant relative of Columbo—she often is disheveled, with her floppy hat and old coat looking as if she picked them up off the floor after stepping on them. She often looks like one’s eccentric aunt. Her appearance gives her an advantage as this perceptive cop often is dismissed by others, especially criminals.

The biggest changing tide for Vera is her new sergeant, DS Aiden Healey (Kenny Doughty). He replaces DS Joe Ashworth (David Leon) who has now been promoted. It will take a bit but soon Vera is treating Aiden just as she did Joe—as a colleague but also as a surrogate son.

It’s a dynamic that works well for this series and the change in players doesn’t stop this.

In the first episode, Vera and Aiden investigate an explosion at a financially strapped caravan park—trailer park for us Yanks—that killed the sister of the park’s owner. Stag parties, a marijuana crop, love triangles, and bad neighbors play into the plot.

Blethyn continues to nail the part of Vera—even when the script gets a little bogged down in exposition. And Doughty also rises to the occasion.

Wild About Harry
Harry TVseries
, the New Zealand import, has the usual brooding cop with a sad backstory who, despite his personal problems, shows his insight in each case he handles.

OK, so all that is a cliché, but Harry comes across as an original series with characters one wants to spend time with and stories that challenge the viewer.

Harry also has Oscar Kightley and Sam Neill. Enough said.

First aired in 2013, Harry is a six-part crime drama series set in Auckland.

In the first episode, Detective Harry Anglesea (Oscar Kightley) returns to Auckland's Major Crime Unit after a four-week bereavement leave in his native Samoa.

His wife’s suicide will forever haunt him and grief seizes his heart daily.

Harry also is self-destructive and he is in no way ready to return to work. Nor is he the kind of father that his 13-year-old daughter, Mele, needs more than ever.

But work also is what Harry needs and he and his supervisor/mentor Detective Jim Stocks Stockton (Sam Neill) become embroiled in a high-profile drug case.

I would watch Neill read the phone book. But as usual, he brings depth and class to any role he does.

Photos: Top: Brenda Blethyn and Kenny Doughty in Vera. Bottom: Oscar Kightley, at left, and Sam Neill, center, in Harry. Photos courtesy Acorn TV.



Oline Cogdill
Saturday, 04 July 2015 12:07
Carolyn Hart and Don Bain on Creating Characters That Stand the Test of Time

hart carolynRecently, Mary Kennedy spoke with Carolyn Hart (Death on Demand series) and Donald Bain, (Murder, She Wrote series) for Mystery Scene about creating long-running characters, complex and appealing enough to stand the test of time. Both these icons in the mystery world have figured out the secret of  how to keep readers happy for decades. They graciously shared their thoughts on building such icnoc characters with Mystery Scene

Mary Kennedy: How do you keep your characters fresh and interesting? 

Carolyn Hart: DEATH ON DEMAND, the 25th in the Death on Demand series, was just published last month. Are Annie and Max Darling still fresh? I hope so. If readers find them lively, the answer may lie in my relationship with Annie and Max. Some years ago, my daughter drew my husband aside and said quietly, “Daddy, I’m worried about Mother. I’m afraid she thinks these people are real.” He looked at her in surprise and said, “But they are.” 

Donald Bain: Jesssica Fletcher’s insatiable curiosity about the world around her and its people is what keeps her fresh as a character. While she remains the same decent, loving and inquisitive woman, we keep her fresh by placing her in different situations (and places and times) to which she can react. 

MK: Do the main characters evolve and change? 

CH: Definitely. Even though at the end of every book Annie and Max are always young and carefree on their sea island, they know good times and bad. They discover what it means to care terribly and to fight for survival of love and life. They feel and therefore the reader will feel with  them. Life is ever changing. Fictional characters must meet life on its own terms and respond as best they can. 

DB: The Jessica Fletcher character never changes, nor does she age over the course of the forty-five books to date in the series, which spans over twenty-five years. What does change are the surroundings in which she finds herself, and the challenges she faces in each book. That’s why “place” is so important to the series. By sending her off to various locales, she must rise to a different set of hurdles and dangers in each book, as well as navigate different cultures and new characters with whom she’s forced to interact.  

MK: Do readers want the main character to remain the same? 

CH: I’ve not received any feedback on that. Readers read the books for different reasons, but I don’t believe they want Annie and Max to change in any significant way. They seem to enjoy them just as they are. 

bain donald2DB: Our readers don’t want Jessica to change. A running debate between them is whether she should marry the dashing Scotland Yard Inspector, George Sutherland. Most readers like that she’s not married and free to travel the globe. A smaller number would like to see her marry George (and others have long lobbied for Jess to marry Dr. Seth Hazlitt.) This backstory also functions to allow the reader to experience change in her as she debates this issue. 

MK: Do the main character’s core values remain the same? 

CH: That is at the crux of the mystery novel. The protagonists want to live in a good and decent world and always strive to do the right thing. 

DB: One of Jessica’s most appealing characteristics is that while she’s forced to confront prickly situations, including unsavory people, her core values never change and she brings them to bear to whatever situation in which she finds herself. Of course, that she never ages in the series helps us achieve this. 

MK: As an author, what are the advantages of writing a series with long-running characters? 

CH: Recurring characters mean the author knows the terrain and understands the character’s mores. It can be great fun to chop through the forest and blaze a new path, but there is charm and comfort in following a familiar path. 

DB: Having been handed Jessica Fletcher as a character is a two-edged sword. On the one hand we’ve been given a great, full-fleshed character created and nurtured by the wonderful Angela Lansbury, as well as by the writers and directors of the TV series.  On the other hand, we have restrictions as to what we can do with the character. NBC-Universal is extremely protective of the Jessica Fletcher character and brand, and for good reason. But it sometimes puts a crimp in what we’d like to see her do, or say at times. 

MK: Thank you so much for giving us an insight into your fascinating characters and wishing you both continued success with your series.   

Mary Kennedy is a psychologist and the author of The Talk Radio Mysteries and The Dream Club Mysteries for Penguin-Random House. Her latest release is Dream a Little Scream. You can visit her at www.marykennedy.net

Teri Duerr
Sunday, 05 July 2015 12:07

hart carolyn





Recently, Mary Kennedy spoke with Carolyn Hart (Death on Demand series) and Donald Bain, (Murder, She Wrote series) for Mystery Scene about creating long-running characters, complex and appealing enough to stand the test of time.

Brian Panowich on Listening

panowich brian




From Reader to Writer to Listener





I’ve always been avid fiction reader. I’m a sucker for a good story, no matter the author or genre. If the cover or the flap summary grab me, I dig right in right there in the store, and all the way through the checkout line and out to the truck (I don’t recommend reading while walking through parking lots, though. It can get ugly out there). If I go a couple of days without sinking into some type of imaginary world, I start to take in too much of the real one, and that is never a good thing.

When I was writing my first novel, Bull Run, I needed to write at the fire station where I work because writing in a house full of kids was near impossible; I’m the ‘write in total silence type,’ but the problem I ran into was that the fire station normally was where I consumed most of my books. I read there on my down time, and now I was using that time to write. I couldn’t fit in my regular diet of fiction that I’d been depending on to level me out for years. The only real time I had to myself that wasn’t devoured by writing was the time I spent in the truck driving back and forth to work.

Enter the Audiobook.

I’d discovered audiobooks several years ago when the necessity to read Give Us a Kiss by Daniel Woodrell hit me for the 23rd or so time, and I thought I’d give the audio version a whirl. I loved the medium, and was an immediate fan, but nothing takes the place of the heft of a real book, so my interest tapered off somewhat.

Now, audiobooks became my saving grace. I filled the two 30-minute drives back and forth to work that bookended my shift, along with any excuse to run a few errands, with Joe Landsdale’s The Thicket, Smith Henderson’s Fourth of July Creek, and a few others. I didn't have to do anything but keep my hands on the wheel. Sometimes if a chapter had me in its grip, I’d stay in the driveway until it was over as my kids, or fellow firemen, stared out from the windows wondering why I was sitting in my truck for apparently no reason.

Once my own book was finished, I went back to flipping pages proper (nothing beats the smell of a new book), but I still use those 30-minute drives to work and back to enjoy another book I normally wouldn’t have time to read. It’s a ritual now.

My wife once told me, “Your life would be much easier if you just stopped talking, and learned to listen.” She’s a wise woman.

Brian Panowich is the author of Bull Mountain, a southern crime saga from Putnam Books. He has several stories available in print and online collections. Two of his stories, "If I Ever Get Off This Mountain" and "Coming Down The Mountain", were nominated for a Spinetingler award in 2013. He is currently a firefighter in East Georgia, living with his wife and four children. Bull Mountain is his first novel.

This “Writers on Reading” essay was originally published in “At the Scene” eNews May 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, 09 July 2015 06:07
From Reader to Writer to Listener
At the Scene, Summer Issue #140

140cover250Hi Everyone,

Ingrid Thoft has been on our radar ever since the first Fina Ludlow novel, Loyalty, in 2013. Kevin Burton Smith singled her out in "Triple Threat: Exciting New Voices in the Private Eye Novel" in MS #131. (The other two writers were Sara Gran and Lisa Brackmann.)

Thoft’s moody, tenacious Boston PI has also piqued the interest of TV, with a Fina Ludlow series now in development at ABC. In this issue, we asked author and journalist Hank Phillippi Ryan, herself an expert on all things Bostonian, to chat with this interesting new talent.

Continuing his indefatigable quest to champion detective fiction, Kevin Burton Smith would like to draw your attention to Ronald Tierney, creator of Deets Shanahan, a cranky, blue-collar Indianapolis PI of a certain age. Tierney is bringing his rock-solid series to a close with A Killing Frost and we pay tribute to his achievement in this issue.

I owe Joe Goodrich a big favor for his introduction to the delightfully civilized Henry Gamadge, Elizabeth Daly’s New York City documents expert/sleuth. I’ve just read three novels in the series and have several more waiting for vacation. There’s a reason Daly was Agatha Christie’s favorite American crime writer: beneath the sharp characterizations, intricate plots, and genial wit, both writers share the same gimlet-eyed assessment of human nature. Great stuff!

In addition to books and film, Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe has also had a notable career in the comics. It’s fascinating to see the various takes that artists have on this iconic character. As Dick Lochte notes in his interesting article, Marlowe seems to speak to everyone, although in decidedly different ways. And a big thanks to Dick for the use of his personal library for illustrations.

Did you know that Ross Macdonald and Eudora Welty were pen pals? Actually, they were more than that. In his intriguing article, Jon L. Breen states that these two gifted writers conducted a platonic love affair through their intimate, wide-ranging correspondence. Jake Hinkson considers the complex appeal of actress Lizabeth Scott, noir star of the ’40s and ’50s, who died earlier this year. Included is a list of her best films in case you want to check them out.

Also in this issue, Ed Gorman chats with John Lutz, a genre stalwart for many years, who moves from private eye novels to thrillers to short stories with deceptive ease. We wish you a long, lazy summer full of great reading. See you in the fall!

We'd love to hear about books you would recommend, new or old - write and let us know!

Kate Stine

Teri Duerr
Friday, 10 July 2015 02:07
Summer Issue #140 Contents






Ingrid Thoft

Her novels about mercurial Boston PI Fina Ludlow have critics crowning Thoft the next-gen heir to Grafton and Paretsky.
by Hank Phillippi Ryan

Elizabeth Daly: East Side Stories

The urbane and amiable Henry Gamadge was the sleuth to call when hard times came to easy street.
by Joseph Goodrich

Ronald Tierney

An appreciation of the Deets Shanahan novels as the gruff but decent Indianapolis PI faces mortality.
by Kevin Burton Smith

Pen Pals: Eudora Welty and Ross Macdonald

A new collection of letters chronicles the platonic love affair between two gifted writers.
by Jon L. Breen

Lizabeth Scott: Film Noir’s Blonde Janus

She could play it sweet or mean, in film noir no one embodied the good/bad split better than Scott.
by Jake Hinkson


A chat with John Lutz, author of the Frank Quinn series about an ex-NYPD cop turned criminal profiler.
by Ed Gorman

Marlowe Framed!

Comic book adaptations of Raymond Chandler’s iconic private eye.
by Dick Lochte

An Expert Witness Crossword

by Verna Suit




At the Scene

by Kate Stine

Mystery Miscellany

by Louis Phillips

Hints & Allegations

Edgar Awards, Quais du Polar 2015, Agatha Awards, Arthur Ellis Awards

The Hook

First lines that caught our attention

My Book

Between the Covers: What is Left Behind in Library Books
by Elaine Viets

Burnt Sienna
by Sarah Wisseman

by Robert Lopresti




Small Press Reviews: Covering the Independents

by Betty Webb

Very Original: Paperback Originals Reviewed

by Lynne Maxwell & Hank Wagner

What About Murder? Reference Books Reviewed

by Jon L. Breen

Sounds of Suspense: Audiobooks Reviewed

by Dick Lochte

Short & Sweet: Short Stories Considered

by Bill Crider

Mystery Scene Reviews




The Docket


Our Readers Recommend

Advertiser Info


Teri Duerr
Friday, 10 July 2015 02:07
140, Summer 2015
Teri Duerr
Friday, 10 July 2015 12:07
2015 Thriller Award Winners

abbottmeg thefever
The winners of the 2015 Thriller Awards, sponsored by the International Thriller Writers, were announced on July 11, 2015, the highlight of the annual conference in New York City.

The 2015 Thriller Awards honors work published in 2014.

Winners are in bold with an * before the title. Mystery Scene congratulates the winners—and also the nominees. With so many terrific crime fiction published each year being nominated remains an achievement.

 ITW 2015 Thriller Awards Winners

*Megan Abbott – THE FEVER (Little, Brown and Company)
Lauren Beukes – BROKEN MONSTERS (Mulholland Books)
Joseph Finder – SUSPICION (Dutton)
Greg Iles – NATCHEZ BURNING (William Morrow)
Chevy Stevens – THAT NIGHT (St. Martin’s Press)

*Laura McHugh – THE WEIGHT OF BLOOD (Spiegel & Grau)
Ray Celestin – THE AXEMAN’S JAZZ (Mantle)
Julia Dahl – INVISIBLE CITY (Minotaur Books)
Allen Eskens – THE LIFE WE BURY (Seventh Street Books)
Andy Weir – THE MARTIAN (Crown)

*Vincent Zandri – MOONLIGHT WEEPS (Down & Out Books)
Shelley Coriell – THE BURIED (Forever)
Robert Dugoni – MY SISTER’S GRAVE (Thomas & Mercer)
James R. Hannibal – SHADOW MAKER (Berkley)
Rick Mofina – WHIRLWIND (Harlequin MIRA)

*Tim L. Williams – “The Last Wrestling Bear in West Kentucky” (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine)
Richard Helms – “Busting Red Heads” (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine)
Stephen Ross – “Pussycat, Pussycat” (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine)

*Elle Cosimano – NEARLY GONE (Kathy Dawson Books)
Kristen Lippert-Martin – TABULA RASA (EgmontUSA)
Meredith McCardle – THE EIGHTH GUARDIAN (Skyscape)
Victoria Schwab – THE UNBOUND (Disney-Hyperion)
Kara Taylor – WICKED LITTLE SECRETS (St. Martin’s Griffin)

*C.J. Lyons – HARD FALL (Legacy Books)
Sean Black – POST (Sean Black Digital)
Layton Green – THE METAXY PROJECT (Sixth Street Press)
Michael Logan – WANNABES (Michael Logan)
Gil Reavill – 13 HOLLYWOOD APES (Alibi)

Oline Cogdill
Saturday, 11 July 2015 11:07
Method 15/33
Betty Webb

When O. Henry wrote the short story “The Ransom of Red Chief,” he found humor in the idea of a kidnapped boy so obnoxious that his kidnappers actually paid the boy’s parents to take him back. There’s a whiff of that classic plot in Shannon Kirk’s Method 15/33, where a man abducts a pregnant 16-year-old—but without the humor. Nor should there be. The kidnapper works for a particularly nasty baby mill. As soon as his captive gives birth, her baby will be sold, and, like numerous pregnant victims before her, the teen will be killed. What Method 15/33 has in common with O. Henry’s groundbreaking book is that this particular captive is a sociopathic genius who, from the moment she is abducted, draws up a plan to kill her captor as painfully as possible. Ordinarily, such a cold-blooded protagonist would make an iffy heroine, but not here. In Kirk’s flat-out brilliant thriller, the girl’s vengeful voice is leavened in alternate chapters by the warmer voice of Roger Liu, the FBI agent determined to save her. It also helps that we know from the start that the girl escapes (the book is her memoir, written 17 years later). How smart is this girl? She writes, “After my day in the attic, I already had enough assets to kill my captor five times over.” Included in those assets is a red blanket, some string, an elastic band, a plastic bag, and a cup of water. In the book’s eye-popping climax, we learn exactly how lethal those everyday items can be. Believe me, you’ll never look at a cup of water in the same way again. How vengeful is she? After her abductor winks at her, she writes, “If I get the chance, I will cut your eyes out for that gesture. I’ll laminate your pupils in resin and carry them on a keychain.” She’s not kidding. Method 15/33 takes us to some very dark places, and at times, we can’t help but wonder whose soul is the darker—the captor’s or the captive’s. But stick around. In the book’s last chapter, the darkness lifts and a light illuminates everything, both past and present. Then you’ll reread the book to see what else you got wrong.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 14 July 2015 12:07
Charlie Martz and Other Stories
Bill Crider

Charlie Martz and Other Stories is a collection of Elmore Leonard’s early work. Most of the 15 stories appear in print here for the first time, and all were written before Leonard formulated his ten famous rules. So you get to see a story called “Arma Virumque Cano” open with a description of the weather. You also get to see Leonard playing around with an idea in “Charlie Martz” and work the same idea out in better fashion in “Siesta in Paloverde” (also with Martz). And speaking of openings, as I was, “The Only Good Syrian Foot Soldier Is a Dead One” is a Hollywood story with a dandy opening line. “Time of Terror” is a slick tale about luck and terrorism set in Malaysia. “A Happy, Lighthearted People” is a Hemingway-esque story set in Spain. In all the stories we can see Leonard trying out differing voices as he works his way toward the style he would eventually settle on and make his own. Anyone interested in seeing how a writer develops will find this book of interest, as will all fans of Leonard’s work. There’s a short, affectionate introduction by Peter Leonard included, as well.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 14 July 2015 01:07
A 15-story collection of Elmore Leonard’s early work
Fear the Darkness
Dick Lochte

Becky Masterman’s Rage Against the Dying (2013) introduced the surprisingly tough, fiftysomething Tucson housewife and part-time private eye Brigid Quinn, whose success at self-preservation is mainly due to years spent as an undercover agent for the FBI. In her debut thriller, she closed out at least two serial killers, while maintaining a new, more or less happy marriage to a philosophy professor who was once a Catholic priest. Here, she agrees to give her late sister-in-law’s daughter Gemma Kate room and board for the few months it will take the teenager to qualify for the University of Arizona’s in-state tuition. Once the moody 17-year-old arrives, odd things begin to happen. Along with a couple of seemingly accidental deaths, one of Brigid’s dogs gets sick, a bunch of townspeople are poisoned, and Brigid isn’t feeling so hot herself. Could her niece be a sociopath, slipping something in her food, or is she, as her husband and her close friend suggest, showing disturbing signs of paranoia? The answer arrives in a death-defying finale that is as satisfying as it is thrilling. Reader Suzanne Toren effectively presents Brigid’s husband’s quiet thoughtfulness, Gemma Kate’s teen ennui, and the various moods of the featured townsfolk. She’s especially careful to follow Masterman’s lead in mirroring her protagonist-narrator’s swinging moods. She captures Brigid’s cynical, nonsense-intolerant attitude from the first word until the last, and when the character’s “equal measure of dark and light” begins to favor the former, she injects just the right amount of self-doubt and anger, and, as the book’s title suggests, fear.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 14 July 2015 01:07
The Crime of Our Lives
Jon L. Breen

As readers of Mystery Scene well know, Lawrence Block is one of the most entertaining, provocative, and insightful commentators on the writing life and his fellow professionals. This volume is comprised mostly of previously published material, including the 1992 American Heritage article “My Life in Crime,” a 1994 piece on Raymond Chandler from GQ, various book introductions, and columns from this magazine. New items include a piece on Dashiell Hammett written for the Japanese edition of Playboy, previously unpublished in English, and a fine essay on Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent. In the American Heritage article, Block lists 16 favorite American writers, all dead (he does not criticize or pick favorites among living colleagues), and all men (his favorite American women writers were all still alive at the time and an international list would have included Christie and Sayers). While he admits to a hardboiled bias, both Anthony Boucher and Ellery Queen make the cut.

Among the writers covered in longer pieces are Fredric Brown, Mary Higgins Clark (a female subject!), Gar Anthony Haywood, Robert B. Parker, Ross Thomas, Jim Thompson, Donald E. Westlake, and Charles Willeford. Among the interesting judgments: Evan Hunter’s “The Last Spin” is a “positively Chekhovian tour de force,” and Christie was not a mere lightweight entertainer, but “dead serious” in her exploration of “the nature and origin of human evil.” In some of the introductions, including a volume of Ed Gorman’s short stories, a Mystery Writers of America anthology, and a collection of Spider Robinson’s essays, he humorously opines on the general superfluity of introductions. As in Block’s earlier compilation of autobiographical pieces, there is quite a bit of repetition from one article to another. But who cares?

A couple of mild quibbles: while Christie did in fact kill off Poirot in Curtain, she spared Miss Marple in Sleeping Murder, and Chandler didn’t really add the phrase “mean streets” to the English language. One of the non-mystery works of Conan Doyle contemporary Arthur Morrison was Tales of Mean Streets (1894). (Reviewed from the ebook edition.)

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 14 July 2015 01:07
The Silence
Hank Wagner

As Tim Lebbon’s The Silence begins, an expedition in northern Moldova releases a heretofore unknown subterranean species into Eastern Europe. Known as vesps (a bastardization of viespi, or wasps), these creatures are vicious, voracious, lethal, and prolific, laying fast-hatching eggs in the corpses of their human victims. The predators quickly spread west across Europe toward the United Kingdom.

Dreading their arrival there is a family consisting of a father and mother, Huw and Kelly, their daughter Ally, her brother Jude, their grandmother Lynne, and a lovable dog named Otis. Deaf since a car accident that killed one set of grandparents, Ally and her family communicate via sign language. This skill proves valuable in the post-vesp world, as the creatures home in on sound in their constant search for prey.

Lebbon first takes a macro view, chronicling the vesps’ inexorable march towards the UK, then focuses on Ally’s family, as they make the decision to retreat to the countryside. Their journey is fraught with danger, as they learn to live with, and suffer from, the attentions of this unique predator, and the collateral damage it has created. It’s a compelling tale of survival and true grit, as they are forced to adjust to their new, apocalyptic reality.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 14 July 2015 01:07
Death of a Chocolate Cheater
Lynne Maxwell

Penny Pike (aka Penny Warner) has written another scrumptious entry in her Food Festival Mystery series. Death of a Chocolate Cheater, her sophomore effort, continues on the culinary contest bandwagon long popular on reality TV and now taking the cozy mystery market by storm. Starring food truck staffer Darcy Burnett, downsized from her job as food critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, this tasty series takes Darcy and her Aunt Abby, owner of the yellow school bus turned food truck, to the San Francisco Chocolate Festival to compete for the $10,000 prize. In this instance, the chocolate is literally “to die for,” as evidenced by the mysterious death of one contest judge and the murder of another. Things get personal, though, when another contestant, one of Aunt Abby’s old friends, is framed for the murder and abruptly imprisoned. Aunt Abby’s priorities shift from winning the contest to clearing her friend, so she enlists Darcy’s investigative skills. Together with burgeoning love interest and fellow food truck owner/contestant Jake Miller, Darcy uncovers evidence that bribery and blackmail pervade the contest. But who is the perpetrator and why? Of course they succeed in answering those questions, and you will need—and want!—to immerse yourself in this enjoyable novel. The only caveat is that you must be sure to have plenty of chocolate on hand, so that you can read without interruption. Otherwise, you may be in for (true confession here) an unanticipated trip to the store for a chocolate fix!

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 14 July 2015 01:07
Down Among the Dead Men
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

A new British police procedural featuring Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond is always a treat, and this one is no different. In this latest story, a young car thief is arrested and sentenced for murder after the stolen car he was driving is pulled over and a dead body is found in the trunk. A few years later, a high school art teacher goes missing, followed shortly thereafter by one of her students.

Meanwhile, Diamond is teamed with Assistant Chief Constable Georgina Dallymore, his overbearing, by-the-book superior officer whose methods and personality are diametrically opposed to his. Together they are taxed with the internal investigation of a senior officer from another district on a dereliction of duty charge. When the officer they’re investigating turns out to be Diamond’s old friend, DCI Henrietta Mallin, things become even more interesting.

How all of this ties together seamlessly is a tribute to the author’s finely honed storytelling talent.

What I particularly enjoyed here, other than the smooth story flow, was the relationship between Diamond and Georgina which starts out prickly and gradually changes as each begins to know the other better. It was also great fun to see Diamond and Hen Mallin, a woman much closer to him in personality and methods, reunited. Mallin is such a fun and interesting character that Peter Lovesey also features her in her own series.

Lovesey has authored more than 30 mystery novels, including 14 Peter Diamond entries, three Hen Mallin books, and has won just about every award available. This is the best mystery I’ve read in the past few years, and one of Lovesey’s finest.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 14 July 2015 01:07
Kill Again
Oline H. Cogdill

Authors Neal Baer and Jonathan Greene imbue their second novel about New York City forensic psychiatrist Claire Waters with a plot that showcases their backgrounds as TV producers. Kill Again would work well as a spinoff series of Law & Order: SVU, of which Greene was a former executive producer and Baer was a scriptwriter.

Despite its fast-moving story line, Kill Again succumbs to a lackluster narrative with predictable suspense and a few clichés. And yet, it works, just like those episodes of Law & Order: SVU—you know what is coming but that doesn’t mean you want to change the channel.

Claire is a therapist who works through her childhood abuse by helping other survivors. She is especially proud of Rosa Sanchez, who has come a long way through their sessions after years of abuse. Claire is shocked when she sees Rosa being handcuffed and lead away by a man who appears to be a cop, but even more surprised when the police have no record of Rosa’s arrest. Claire believes that her patient has been kidnapped.

For help, Claire turns to her friend Nick Lawler, an NYPD homicide detective whose failing eyesight has relegated him to the office. When it becomes clear that Rose is the victim of a serial killer who has targeted other women in the area, Nick works the case as best he can from his desk, as his investigation begins to eerily echo a similar case of his father’s. Though his supervisors have warned him against working with Claire again, the two prove that they make a formidable team.

The first Claire Waters novel, Kill Switch (2012), was praised for its high-octane twists. While Kill Again moves fast, the novel is also burdened by uninspired dialogue and predictable plot twists. The killer, who frequently observes Claire, seems drawn from the template that many TV cop dramas use. But the growing relationship between Claire and Nick, both intelligent and insightful, is realistically explored and delivers a fresh aspect to Kill Again.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 14 July 2015 01:07
"The Killer Next Door" Bound for Film

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So often, novels are so visual that they seem to be a natural fit for a film.

Not that I think being made into a film is the ultimate compliment for an author. For me, a book that forces readers to lose themselves in the plot is the ultimate compliment.

But that leads me to Alex Marwood. In 2013, the British journalist gave us one of the best debuts of the year with The Wicked Girls. An edgy story about two 11-year-old girls who were charged with murder.

After their release from prison, the girls never see each other until a coincidence brings them together 25 years later. One girl is now the quiet night supervisor of a cleaning crew for Funnland, a rundown amusement park. She has two little dogs she adores and lives with another Funnland employee given to abusive fits. The other "wicked" girl is now a newspaper reporter specializing in crime stories; she loves her husband, who is out of work, and dotes on their two children. No one, not their families, friends, or co-workers, knows about their pasts.

In my review of The Wicked Girls, I called it an “absorbing dark novel of crime and punishment, revenge, and forgiveness. Marwood delivers an insightful psychological study of the two girls and the women they became 25 years later as well as a social commentary on how economics color the way people are judged, the insidious nature of gossip, and mob mentality. The brisk plot never falters through its realistic twists.”

It surprised no one when The Wicked Girls won the Edgar Award for best paperback. And I named Marwood as one of the authors to watch—and read.

Marwood followed up that novel in 2014 with The Killer Next Door, an equally absorbing novel that has been nominated for an Anthony, Barry, and Macavity award. The winners of those awards will be announced during the 2015 Bouchercon.

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But awards aside, Marwood, left, already is making headlines.

The Killer Next Door has been optioned by producer-actor James Franco (27 Hours) and actress Ahna O’Reilly (The Help), who is making her debut as a producer and taking a role in the film.

In my review of The Killer Next Door, I said: “Desperation brings six people to a decaying Victorian apartment house where the tenants’ desolation pales to the despicable acts of one neighbor.  

“Alex Marwood’s second stand-alone novel delivers a multi-layered plot that succeeds as crime fiction, a gothic tale, and a village mystery—all with an edge. With the building substituting for a village, 'The Killer Next Door' balances an insightful look at people on society’s periphery with a deliciously creepy look at a murderer.

“While London’s Northbourne area is 'gentrifying fast,' that renewal hasn’t reached 23 Beulah Grove where vile odors seep from the pipes that are constantly clogged. But these residents crave anonymity, willing to put up with nonexistent upkeep and a disgusting landlord.”

I could so see this being made into a film and Franco and O’Reilly could do it justice.

Will The Killer Next Door eventually be made into a film? Who knows? But let’s hope so.

Meanwhile, read the novel.

Oline Cogdill
Tuesday, 14 July 2015 04:07
Ngaio Award Nominations

Ngaio Marsh is considered to be one of the four “Queens of Crime”—women mystery writers who dominated the genre in the 1920 and 1930s.

Marsh, along with the other “queens,” Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and Margery Allingham, helped usher in that first Golden Age of Detective Fiction and made readers take notice.

The work of each of these women writers still is in print. We honor Sayers with the crime fiction message board DorothyL and Marsh and Christie with awards named after them.

We need something named after Allingham—a Margery, perhaps?

Marsh was born in New Zealand and was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1966. Her most famous character was the intelligent Inspector Roderick Alleyn.

The Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel was established in 2010 with the blessing of her closest living relative, John Dacres-Manning.

The Ngaio Marsh Award is given annually for the best crime, mystery, or thriller novel written by a New Zealand citizen or resident. This year’s winner will receive the Ngaio Marsh Award trophy, a set of Dame Ngaio’s novels courtesy of her publisher HarperCollins, and a cash prize provided by WORD Christchurch, a literary festival.

The award will be presented at a WORD Christchurch event in late September.

The award’s short list is called “The Famous Five.”

Five Minutes Alone by Paul Cleave (Penguin NZ)
The Petticoat Men by Barbara Ewing (Head of Zeus)
Swimming in the Dark by Paddy Richardson (Upstart Press)
The Children’s Pond by Tina Shaw (Pointer Press)
Fallout by Paul Thomas (Upstart Press)

In the press release, the judges praised each novel.

Cleave’s Five Minutes Alone was called “gritty and thoroughly absorbing,” a “one-sitting” novel that “evokes complex feelings regarding retribution and morality.”

Ewing’s The Petticoat Men is “an immaculately researched” take on a real-life 1870s event that is “spirited, full of strong characters” and “a joy to read.”

The panel hailed Swimming in the Dark as “an elegantly delivered, disturbing, and ultimately very human tale” that showcased Richardson’s talent for “damaged characters and tackling grey areas.”

Shaw gave a “mesmerizing” character study in The Children’s Pond, using deft and spare language to craft a tale with a sublime sense of both place and menace that is “a delight to read.” Paul Thomas’ Fallout is “compelling and character-rich,” a “superb continuation” of the Ihaka series; “excellent writing… funny, but also serious.”

For more information on the Ngaio Marsh Award, go to www.facebook.com/NgaioMarshAward  or email ngaiomarshaward@gmail.com, or to contact the Judging Convenor directly: craigsisterson@hotmail.com.

Oline Cogdill
Wednesday, 22 July 2015 04:07
Polis Books Celebrates Two Years of Publishing


(Mystery Scene will be taking an occasional look at new, small publishers. Today, we look at Polis)

Jason Pinter knew he wanted to a part of the publishing industry—even before he knew what that meant.

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His first goal was to be a writer, so as a junior in college he sent queries to a number of literary agents asking them to represent him.

It didn’t matter that he didn’t have a manuscript to show them. But he wanted to be a writer and the head of the English department told him that writers needed representation. So he thought he should find an agent who would be interested in the works he “might” write someday.

“My queries were essentially, ‘I’d love for you to represent me once I write a book.’ I figured this was foolproof. Who wouldn’t want to represent a 21-year-old writer with years of productive work ahead of him? Needless to say, the responses I did get basically said, Come back when you’ve actually written something,” said Pinter in an email to Mystery Scene.

Talk about rejections!

But that was Pinter’s first foray into publishing.

Eventually he did become an author—five novels in his Henry Parker thriller series and one book for middle-school readers—an agent, an editor, and marketing director. Pinter's previous positions include being senior marketing manager at Grove/Atlantic and the Mysterious Press, and working as an editor at Warner Books, Random House, and St. Martin’s Press.

And now, he is a publisher himself.

In 2013, Pinter took a gamble and left his job at a major publishing house to establish Polis Books. Pinter announced Polis in July 2013, and published his first title, Transit Girl by Jamie Shupak, in November 2013.

In November 2015, Polis will celebrate its second full year in business. (At left and right are some of the most recent Polis titles.)

Polis Books allows Pinter to use his experience in marketing and as an editor and an agent.

From the beginning, Pinter had a simple goal for Polis—“to publish the very best in popular fiction.”

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“I want it to be a company that has the scrappiness, progressive thinking, and flexibility of an independent press with the professionalism of a major publisher,” Pinter said.

That goal also entered into the naming of the company. Polis isn’t a word that immediately comes to mind when one thinks of books. But the name suits this new company.

“In ancient Greece, the Polis was an independent city-state that was governed by the populace and not beholden to a larger entity. They were self-governed, as well as being hubs for arts and culture. Since I envisioned Polis as being an independent whose direction was solely governed by its employees and authors, rather than a mega-corporation, and since I’ve always loved stories about ancient Greece, Polis was a perfect fit,” added Pinter.

Rather than flood the already saturated market, Polis’ steady, measured publishing approach is working. In 2014, Polis published 18 titles, 17 of which were digital, about half originals and half reissues. In 2015, Polis ramped up its print component with 19 titles scheduled for simultaneous publication in print and digital, plus another 12-15 that are solely digital (primarily reissues), about 30-35 total. Pinter anticipates publishing 50 books in 2016, two-thirds simultaneously in print and digital and the rest as digital originals or reissues.

From the beginning, Polis never wanted to join the legion of self-publishing houses that have started in the past decade.

“It never crossed my mind for Polis to be a self-publishing or vanity press. A publisher taking money from a writer is against everything I believe in. There are so many scams and ethically dubious companies out there that prey on the hopes and dreams of authors, and swindle authors out of their own money, forcing them to pay for their own books,” said Pinter.

“I believe in paying authors up front for their work, paying them royalties if the books sell, and giving them a quality product that doesn’t come out of their own pocket. Polis was never going to be a self-publishing venture or vanity press, and I would also never publish any of my own books through Polis, as I’d never want the company’s resources going directly to my own benefit. We’re a publishing house. Period,” added Pinter.

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And Pinter knew that publishing would be a tough field, so he is mindful of the lessons he has learned in his own career.

“I’ve been through the heartache of rejection, joy of publication, and dealt with authors whose books didn’t sell up to my company’s expectations and forced to let them know we wouldn’t be offering them a new deal. I think I have a pretty strong stomach, but also realistic expectations for the company. I never wanted this to be a gazillion-dollar start-up beholden to investors and committee approvals,” he said.

“I feel like in a way I was uniquely qualified to start Polis because I have an extensive professional publishing background, but I can also empathize with what my authors are going through. We’re not [a major publisher], but we don’t need to be. I believe there is room in the industry for start-ups, but at the same time it’s important that we grow slowly and organically. As long as we keep our expectations realistic we’ll do just fine, and we don’t need an announced first printing of 20,000 copies for every book to pay for a lease on Broadway.”

Currently, crime fiction comprises about 50 percent of Polis’ list, but that number likely will be more around a third of its list as the publisher continues to diversify. In addition, Polis publishes science fiction (Occupied Earth, edited by Richard J. Brewer and Gary Phillips), romance (The Scarlet Letter Society by Mary T. McCarthy), Young Adult (Ash by Shani Petroff & Darci Manley, and Extra Life by Derek Nikitas), Middle Grade (The Misshapes by Alex Flynn) and New Adult (The Lonely Hearts Club by Brenda Janowitz).

“I love crime fiction with all my heart, it’s what I’ve spent the majority of my career working on, but I also don’t want our books to be competing against each other for attention, and I don’t want any book to be our fifth-most-important mystery in a given month. And there are so many other genres I absolutely love that we can have a robust crime list while also publishing great books across the spectrum,” he said.

Polis has had a few successful breakout authors. Grant McKenzie has had several books published in the U.K., Europe, and Canada, but hadn’t received distribution in the U.S. Polis reissued two of his novels digitally—Switch and K.A.R.M.A.—for the first time here, and published a digital original, The Fear in Her Eyes, all of which have been very successful.

McKenzie has just re-signed with Polis for two new books. The first, Speak the Dead, will be published in hardcover and ebook in September. Polis also is releasing Switch for the first time in paperback in the U.S. in August.

“He’s going to be our Harlan Coben, with a little Dean Koontz DNA mixed in,” said Pinter, who added that the middle-grade comic adventure novel The Misshapes was Polis’ first hardcover publication, which received “absolutely amazing reviews, went into a second printing, and continues to reorder in hardcover.”

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Among the newest authors that Pinter cites are Leah Rhyne, author of a “terrific” young adult horror novel, Heartless, and Vincent Zandri, who’s hit the New York Times bestseller list in ebook and who “we’re looking to reintroduce to the print market in a big way” with Orchard Grove, coming in hardcover and ebook in January. Polis also has picked up Alex Segura. Polis is reissuing his first Pete Fernandez novel, the well-reviewed Silent City, in March 2016, followed by the second Fernandez novel Down the Darkest Street in April.

Segura is thrilled to be a part of the Polis list. "Working with Jason has been an absolute pleasure—I couldn't have hoped for a better home for the Pete Fernandez series. Jason is smart, forward-thinking, and knows all aspects of the industry. Most importantly, he's been very savvy in building an impressive lineup of authors. I'm honored to be part of the Polis Books team—a publisher I was already a fan of before the deal happened," said Segura.

As Polis enters its second year, Pinter is proud of his publishing house’s achievements, especially “that we’ve consistently had a very high quality of writers sign with us, and approach us about working with them. That we’re distributed by one of the largest distribution companies in the country, Publishers Group West. That our books are carried by some of the biggest chains and best independent bookstores in the country, along with many libraries, and we’ve been covered pretty well for a new, small press,” he said.

And adding to the publishers' success, Polis became part of the Mystery Writers of America's approved list of publishers, as of Sept. 1, 2015.  That means that novels Polis publishes are now eligible to be submitted to be considered for the MWA's annual Edgar Awards. This list of MWA-approved publishers also is often used by reviewers in choosing books for review, and sometimes by organizers of conferences when choosing authors to be on writing panels. 

“It was very important to me, when we expanded our print distribution, that we get our books into as many outlets as possible, at it means the world to me that these stores and libraries like our books and authors enough to carry them.

“I’m proud of our authors and their books, and proud that they’ve chosen to go with me on this journey,” he added.

Oline Cogdill
Saturday, 18 July 2015 03:07
The Bones of You
Hank Wagner

There are two narrators in The Bones of You, one living, one dead. Among the living is Kate McKay, a mother, wife, and businesswoman (she boards horses, and maintains gardens), who chronicles the great upset a murder in her small town causes to her family, friends, and neighbors. The deceased narrator is the murder victim, Rosie Anderson, a member of a seemingly perfect family consisting of her, her mother Jo, her father Neal, and her younger sister, Delphine. Both narratives unfurl at a leisurely pace, dropping dribs and drabs of what seems to be pertinent information, before eventually intersecting to reveal some stunning truths about the events culminating in Rosie’s death, her murderer, and most importantly, how appearances can deceive.

A truly seductive mash-up of literary devices borrowed from such disparate works as Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones and Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, Debbie Howells’s second novel allows even the most discerning readers to believe they have solved the puzzles laid out before them at several different junctures in the narrative. Such is Howells’ mastery over her narrative, though, that each answer seems as plausible as another. Whether a particular reader would enjoy the book depends on their reactions to being served up some of these plot points by a dead girl—if you buy into that conceit, then you will likely find The Bones of You rewarding reading.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 20 July 2015 01:07
Hair of the Dog
Sharon Magee

In the third outing for insurance investigator Dan Mahoney, United Life and Casualty has sent him to Florida to investigate a fire that killed five heavily insured racing greyhounds. Seems like an open-and-shut case, so much so that the company tells him to take his newly minted fiancée Elaine, and they’ll look the other way if he spends more time on the beach than working.

Dan soon learns that the kennel owner, Jackson Sanchez, was found lying in a pool of blood with a knife in his back and the word “thief” carved into his forehead. Meanwhile, Fucher Crumm, a track employee, is in jail, accused of setting the fire to cover up the murder. Two catches: the blood doesn’t belong to Sanchez, and Crumm, whom everyone considers sweet, if a little slow, is supposedly incapable of telling a lie. And Crumm says he didn’t do it. Then the track vet, who may have answers, dies under suspicious circumstances.

To add to Dan’s worries, his mother, the indomitable Maggie Mahoney, decides to move with her womanizing boyfriend Stanley to Palm Coast, Florida, a place affectionately called the mob slob dump because it’s where mobsters in WitSec go to grow old. Turns out Maggie has been recruited by the FBI to spy on Stanley, whom they think may be laundering money for the mafia. Relaxing on the beach, Dan realizes, is not going to happen.

Susan Slater, the author of the popular Ben Pecos Indian mystery series and two standalone books, seems drawn to write where she lives. Her previous books have roots in New Mexico, where she lived for most of her life, and now that she’s moved to Florida, so has the locale. Lucky for her, Dan, as an insurance investigator, can travel anywhere. He and the rest of Slater’s cast of engaging characters are all winners: Elaine, his fiancée who’s studying to be an investigator; Maggie, his feisty redheaded mom; and Simon, his lovable Rottweiler. Simply put, a fun read.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 20 July 2015 02:07
The Last Bookaneer
Dick Lochte

Not to be confused with the Sesame Street DVD Elmo and the Bookaneers (in which Tina Fey leads a book-loving pirate band hell-bent on looting Elmo’s library), Matthew Pearl’s new mix of fictionalized literary history and mystery has its own crew of brigands. They are just as bookish and entertaining as the Sesame Street crowd, even without Fey’s always-welcome presence. Better yet, they are considerably more credible. Though documentation of the existence of bookaneers is practically nil, it seems entirely logical that, before international treaties strengthened copyright laws at the start of the 20th century, there would have been wily entrepreneurs who’d steal the manuscripts of famous authors and peddle them to eager publishers on either side of the Atlantic. The bookaneers would get rich and the publishers even richer, while the authors would have to settle for increased fame in lieu of fortune. Pearl’s novel, set in the 1890s, focuses on two rogues at the top of their obsolescence-bound profession, suave Penrose Davenport and his despised rival, Belial, as they worm their conflicting ways into Robert Louis Stevenson’s guarded compound in Vailima, Samoa. As each tries to get his mitts on the dying novelist’s nearly completed last manuscript, their devious duel is witnessed by Davenport’s assistant, a London book cart dealer named Edgar Fergins. The novel’s bookend format has an older Fergins telling the tale in New York to a literature-loving railroad dining car attendant named Clover. Reader J.D. Jackson presents the latter as a bright, upbeat young man with a sincere interest in every detail of the story, while co-narrator Simon Vance, in the larger role of Fergins, does a masterful job of giving voice to the middle-aged, educated British book dealer whose morality and honesty are sorely pressed by his association with the raffish Davenport. Vance also delineates the glib, sometimes brusque Davenport, the snide Belial, and another bookaneer, an asylum-based coughing and wheezing Whiskey Bill, who appeared in better physical shape in the author’s 2009 novel, The Last Dickens. But, other than his enactment of Fergins, Vance’s main contribution to this fascinating and thrilling tale of adventure is the shrewd, paranoid, self-amused Stevenson, whose Scottish burr slows and softens the closer he comes to death.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 21 July 2015 12:07
Six and a Half Deadly Sins
Betty Webb

When the first sentence of a book starts with a 1978 Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia, a public address system mishap, and a severed finger sewn into a skirt, you know you’re not in for a run-of-the-mill mystery. Fans of the Dr. Siri Paiboun series set in Laos have learned to expect solid history combined with near-slapstick lunacy, and Colin Cotterill delivers those aplenty in his latest caper (after The Coroner’s Lunch).

This adventure of the wise and wry ex-coroner follows the aging doctor as he wends his way through a gaggle of corrupt politicians, poverty-stricken villagers, and a ghost who has hitched a ride in his body. When someone mails Siri a severed finger sewn into a traditional “sin,” a hand-loomed Laotian skirt, he deduces—rightly, as it turns out—that it must be connected to a murder case. But it’s left up to Siri to figure out who was murdered, where, how, and why.

The task is all the more daunting, considering the fact that there’s a lot going on in Laos. The Chinese are building a series of roads in the north Laos, crime bosses are running heroin through the Golden Triangle, and graft is as endemic as a mysterious flu. Still, Siri kisses his faithful wife goodbye, and trudges off into the jungle in search of this yet-unknown murder victim.

I’m not giving anything away to say that he eventually identifies the unfortunate as well as the murderer, and sees that justice is served, but in all the Dr. Siri mysteries, discovering whodunit is only part of the fun.

The laughs begin on the first page and never leave. But funny as these books are, they’re too educational to be considered “light” reading. For instance, in Six and a Half Deadly Sins we learn about the uneasy political tightrope Laotians walked between China and Russia at the end of the Vietnam War. We’re also given an insight into the peace-time lives of former guerilla fighters who once went into battle believing communism would make life easier for the common folk, only to discover that Jeeps don’t run without gasoline and refrigerators won’t make ice cubes without electricity. Social and economic failures make great breeding grounds for cynicism, and the snarky cynicism of the books’ put-upon characters make for never-ending hilarity. Siri is the leading cynic, not that his wife Daeng—a retired assassin with a body count even higher than his—is any more idealistic. Daeng assumes people to be thieves, and is seldom wrong. She also expects them to be killers, and she’s seldom disappointed there, either. Especially in this installment, where very, very few of the book’s characters have unbloodied hands.

Still, it’s not all fictional blood and gore in Siri Land. Every now and then, author Cotterill rewards his readers by inserting a real-life character, and this is one of those times. Dr. Tom Dooley, a historical hero of the Vietnam conflict, makes an appearance, but even the saintly doctor gets poked by Cotterill’s rapier wit. There are no sacred cows in this series, not individuals, not principalities. Every country’s foreign policies are skewered, and every man and woman—and dog—is proven a liar. This may be a cynical way of looking at the world, but it’s marvelous fodder for Cotterill’s laugh-out-loud humor.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 21 July 2015 12:07
The Suspicion at Sanditon
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

The Suspicion at Sanditon is the seventh entry in the Mr. and Mrs. Darcy Mysteries series featuring the two main characters from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice as amateur detectives. Although it falls short of the subtlety and wit of the incomparable Austen, the mystery here is engaging, and well worth the read.

While on vacation visiting friends in the coastal town of Sanditon, Elizabeth and Darcy are invited to a large dinner party by Lady Denham, a wealthy dowager living in a sprawling, stately home with an interesting romantic history and several ghosts. Before the dinner is served, however, Lady Denham goes missing, and so begins an intriguing puzzle as the 13 dinner guests split into small groups to search the grounds and the many rooms of the large estate.

During the search, several other women in the dinner party also go missing and a ransom note concerning Lady Denham is discovered. As the mystery deepens, the Darcys come across a number of clues that hark back several generations and may help provide the solution to the strange occurrences. For those who like a little romance with their mystery—and what Jane Austen-inspired novel would be without it?—there are several dalliances that occur among the ever-diminishing group of guests.

Although the denouement is a bit strained, it does explain all of the mysterious goings-on and, in true Austen fashion, ends on a happy note.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 21 July 2015 03:07