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Teri Duerr
Thursday, 01 October 2015 02:10
My Book: How to Haunt a House

kelner toniAuthor Toni L.P. Kelner (Leigh Perry is a pseudonym). Photo: Susan Wilson.

 

I confess that setting a Family Skeleton mystery in a haunted house was an obvious choice. My books feature an ambulatory skeleton named Sid whose favorite holiday is Halloween. Of course, I couldn’t use a real haunted house because Sid doesn’t believe in ghosts. My fictional murder takes place at a haunted house attraction.

Since I worked at a haunt one Halloween and have screamed my way through plenty of others, I thought I already knew how to haunt a house. That was before I found a Reddit discussion for haunted house workers. Oh, my spine and femur! I spent hours reading terrific tales of terrorizing.

Today’s haunted house workers don’t just throw on a monster mask and a black robe to lurk in generic scary houses. Haunts develop themes around vampires, clowns, postapocalyptic landscapes, zombies, aliens, and insane asylums. Characters and costumes have to match the setting and the storylines. Honestly, a haunt is a type of theater, and the workers are known as scare actors.

Those scare actors have a frighteningly tough job with long hours and small paychecks. If they do their job well, they could get punched by people who get angry at being scared. Even worse are the patrons who are aroused by scare scenes and can’t keep their hands to themselves. Then there are customers who refuse to be scared, laughing at your best gags or making comments on how fake the blood looks.

But beware—scare actors know how to get revenge. If you give actors a hard time, they’ll pass the word up the line for the actors in the next scene to give you extra ghoulish attention. If your name is overheard, the scares get a personal touch. If nothing else works, one thing almost always does the job: a chain saw.

pumpkinsJust try being calm when a burly stranger in a hockey mask brandishes a chain saw. Tough guys shove their girlfriends out of the way to escape; parents panic and abandon their children; customers lose control of their bladders or bowels. (And some haunts track those incidents for fun.) Most haunts use a real chain saw, too. They just leave off the chain and let the sound do the job.

All of that makes great fodder for a mystery writer: disguises, revenge, violence, and motives galore. Even better—though admittedly creepier—dead bodies have been found in haunted houses. Actual dead bodies, that is, not pretend. Most of the incidents were accidents where props were misused or broken (never put a noose around your neck for a gag, no matter how many times you’ve tested it) and there have been suicides as well. I didn’t have to take it too far to put a murder victim inside my imaginary haunt.

perry skeletonhauntsahouse

 

I learned a lot more about haunting than I’d expected to, and I’m always happy to make a book more authentic. The thing that scares a mystery writer most is getting the details wrong!

 

Leigh Perry, The Skeleton Haunts a House, Berkley Prime Crime, $7.99

Teri Duerr
Monday, 05 October 2015 05:10

pumpkins

The antics of working a Haunted House makes great fodder for a mystery writer: disguises, revenge, violence, and motives galore.

Girl Waits With Gun
Cheryl Solimini

Don’t mess with the Misses Kopp! Independent and irrepressible, Constance, Norma, and Fleurette Kopp are Jersey girls (circa 1914) who tangle with a local bad boy and more than hold their own. That this crime novel is based on long-forgotten but true events that once attracted national attention makes their story even more tantalizing.

Trouble begins when wealthy factory owner Henry Kaufman crashes his motorcar into the Kopps’ horse carriage as the young countrywomen run errands in the nearby city of Paterson, New Jersey. Bruised but unbowed, Constance is determined that Kaufman will pay the $50 to fix their busted buggy. Instead, he and his thuggish buddies stalk them at their isolated farmhouse and toss bricks, wrapped in menacing messages, through the windows.

Aided by the county sheriff, Constance presses charges against the assailants. But soon, all three Kopps are brandishing revolvers, as Kaufman and company escalate their months-long campaign of intimidation to gunshots in the night, attempted arson, kidnapping threats, and blackmail. Still, he has underestimated them all—especially Constance. The oldest and tallest (at nearly six feet), she takes the biggest risks to protect her family, as well as help one of the factory workers find her mysteriously missing child, while guarding a secret of her own.

Amy Stewart brings her first fiction to full bloom with colorful characters and period background ripped from the headlines (literally—the novel’s title comes from a Philadelphia Sun article on Constance’s meetup with the blackmailer). Through a fictional subplot, Stewart also explores the plight of silk mill laborers, particularly working mothers, during the 1913 Paterson strike, when the walkout of 25,000 workers shut down more than 300 factories. The historical details engage without ever feeling forced, and the hardships faced by three strong-willed, self-sufficient Kopp women are tempered by their good-humored banter. Even better, Constance’s real-life fate, revealed at the very end, brings hope that there will be more adventures to come featuring the courageous Kopps.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 16 October 2015 12:10

stewartgirlwaitswithgunDon’t mess with the Misses Kopp! Independent and irrepressible, Constance, Norma, and Fleurette Kopp are Jersey girls (circa 1914) who tangle with a local bad boy and more than hold their own.

A Song of Shadows
Craig Sisterson

The line between life and death is always more of a semi-permeable membrane in John Connolly’s excellent Charlie Parker series, and in the prior installment, the private eye narrowly avoided riding across the Styx.

Haunted by more than his past, Parker cuts a lonely figure shuffling along the beach outside the tiny Maine town of Boreas. Every day he inches further; his recuperation, like the town, moving at a snail’s pace. The detective’s reputation precedes him, and the local sheriff and other townsfolk are cordial but cautious about welcoming such a trouble-magnet into their midst.

When the body of an obsessive Nazi hunter washes ashore and a fearful neighbor strikes trouble, the PI finds himself summoning his many resources to battle modern foes forged by historic evil. It may be 70 years since WWII, but the Holocaust still echoes strongly in this Maine settlement with German and Jewish roots.

Irishman Connolly proves he’s a poet of the genre, delivering page-turning action on a wave of elegant and evocative prose. He creates an intoxicating blend of noir tinged with the paranormal, while asking profound questions of his readers and his characters without ever tripping over a soapbox or losing narrative drive. A Song of Shadows is an outstanding novel from a writer at the top of his very considerable game.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 16 October 2015 12:10
Those We Left Behind
RJ Cresswell

Seven years ago, 12-year-old Ciaran Devine confessed to murdering his foster father, David Rolston. He claimed he did it because David abused his older brother Thomas. The Devine brothers served time for the crime, but now are out and reunited.

The hitch to the Devine brothers moving on with their lives is Daniel Rolston, their foster brother and David’s biological son. Unable to transcend his father’s murder and the allegations of abuse, Daniel is convinced that Ciaran took the fall for Thomas and embarks on a journey of retribution.

Entwined in this triangle of sorrow is Paula Cunningham, Ciaran’s probation officer, and Belfast DCI Serena Flanagan, the detective at the center of Stuart Neville’s new series and the original detective on the tragic Devine-Rolston case.

In many ways, Those We Left Behind is a psychological thriller that explores the relationships forged by those who perpetrate the crime, those complicit in it, those who are the victims, and those involved in the criminal justice system. It is also an examination of how choices in the past can haunt and bind a person until his or her last day. Neville is a skillful writer, and Those We Left Behind is a testament to his ability to craft an unyielding tale that resounds with heartache, compassion, and terror. As the first in a series, readers can look forward to more DCI Flanagan in the future.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 16 October 2015 12:10
In Bitter Chill
Katrina Niidas Holm

On January 20, 1978, Rachel Jones and Sophie Jenkins went missing on their way to school. Several hours later, Rachel was discovered wandering down Bampton Road. Sophie was never seen or heard from again.

Decades later, on the anniversary of her daughter’s disappearance, Yvonne Jenkins is found dead in a hotel room. It is ruled a suicide, but soon after, a teacher from the girls’ old school is murdered not far from where Rachel reappeared. The authorities are now convinced the cases are linked, but how?

While laced with flashbacks, the bulk of Sarah Ward’s In Bitter Chill takes place in the present and centers on three key figures: detective constable Connie Childs, who is young, hungry, and looking to make her mark; detective inspector Francis Sadler, who thinks digging into the past is a waste of time and resources, but can’t quite resist the challenge of solving a case his predecessors could not; and a grown Rachel Jones, who’s torn between burying her history and laying it bare.

Equal parts police procedural and crime drama, In Bitter Chill is a story about secrets, lies, and their consequences. Ward’s prose in this slow burner is moody and atmospheric, and laden with detailed descriptions of the sights, sounds, and smells that characterize the English countryside in winter. The pace is deliberate—at times a bit too much so—but the plot is complex enough to keep even the most seasoned of mystery fans guessing. And Ward nicely illustrates the sense of claustrophobia that comes with spending one’s entire life in a small town.

Ward falls short in giving her main players distinct voices, however, despite splitting her narrative between Rachel, Connie, and Francis. She ultimately fails to convince the reader that any of them—Rachel included—is emotionally invested in the mystery’s outcome. This has the unfortunate effect of sapping the story of vibrancy. The end result is a book that’s intellectually satisfying, but emotionally unfulfilling.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 16 October 2015 12:10
The Lower Quarter
Betty Webb

Among this fall’s exceptional books is Elise Blackwell’s The Lower Quarter, where ghosts of Hurricane Katrina remain with the residents who are attempting to put their shattered lives back together. Usually when Katrina rears her ugly head in a book, the characters involved are hardscrabble folk fighting not only floods, but poverty, too. Not here. This elegant novel traces the lives of several artists and art lovers who are swept up in the search for a stolen Belgian oil painting. Johanna, an art restorer from Eastern Europe, has an emotional tie to the piece. Eli, an ex-convict whose job is tracking down stolen art works, is in love with Johanna, even though he suspects she might have been involved in the theft. Clay, the scion of a Southern aristocratic family, creates illustrated novels and is deep—possibly too deep—into bondage games. Like Eli, Clay is also in love with Johanna, but because of something that happened between them years earlier in Belgium, Johanna is keeping him at a distance. Marion, an artist, tends bar to keep body and soul together, but for extra bucks she participates in Clay’s bondage “scenarios.” The lives of these four characters intersect when an Eastern European man named Ladislav, who also has a connection to the art world, is discovered murdered in a New Orleans hotel. This book won’t be for everyone; if it were a movie, the detailed whipping scenes alone would earn it an R rating. Still, The Lower Quarter is a beautifully written novel about the power of art to both create and destroy. Those readers lucky enough to have ever fallen deeply in love with a painting (for me it was Vermeer’s The Milkmaid) will personally connect with this book, and with the lovely, stricken city still trying to rise above the waves. I certainly did, and found The Lower Quarter to be one of the most moving novels I’ve read in years.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 16 October 2015 01:10
The Stages
Betty Webb

Of all the real-life people to wind up in a mystery novel, Søren Kierkegaard is probably the last you would expect, but in Thom Satterlee’s The Stages, the Danish theologian/philosopher takes center stage, even though he’s been dead for more than a century and a half. That’s because Daniel Peters, the protagonist, has devoted his life to translating Kierkegaard’s mountainous manuscripts into English. Peters, an American living in Copenhagen on a work visa, has Asperger’s syndrome, which helps his detail-oriented work, but at the same time renders him unaware of even the most common human emotions. His entire life is taken up by Kierkegaard, so when Mette, his former girlfriend—also a Kierkegaard scholar—is found dead, instead of grieving for her, he mourns the loss of a missing manuscript. This emotional “deafness” could have made Peters an unsympathetic protagonist, but in author Satterlee’s gifted hands, Peters is endearing. Realizing his emotional shortcomings, the poor man tries desperately to mimic an appropriate reaction to the discovery that Mette was murdered, but fails miserably. When he learns that he is the chief suspect in her murder, he can’t even feel fear—just a vague anxiety that imprisonment will interfere with his translation work. Yet while Peters can’t experience “normal” human emotions, he does harbor a strong loyalty to Mette and her own work with Kierkegaard, so he sets out to track down her killer. Satterlee’s writing gifts are enormous. The author of the highly acclaimed poetry collection Burning Wyclif, he is adept at rendering Kierkegaard’s dense philosophy not only readable, but exquisite. And there’s a lot of Kierkegaard here. While Peters speaks with other suspects, he wonders how Kierkegaard would view them. When walking the streets of Copenhagen in search of clues, he can’t forget he’s walking in Kierkegaard’s footsteps. In the end, Peters’ obsession with the Danish philosopher almost gets him killed, but at the same time, it not only saves his life, it gives him a deeper appreciation for the fragility of that life.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 16 October 2015 01:10
The Bottom
Betty Webb

I’ve been a fan of Howard Owen since his magnificent first novel, Littlejohn, a literary exploration of an illiterate farmer’s life. More literary novels followed, but somewhere along the line, Owen, a newspaperman, shifted his focus to the noirish adventures of Willie Black, a reporter at a dying Richmond, Virginia newspaper. Oregon Hill, the first of these, won the 2012 Hammett Prize, proof that when a literary author jumps ship, he takes his talent with him. Now comes The Bottom, the fourth in the Willie Black series, in which the hard-drinking, three-times-divorced reporter is covering the serial killings of runaway teens. The crimes are gruesome, but thanks to Owen’s considerable gifts, the book isn’t. Black’s life is a mess. His mother is a stoner (the ’70s were good to her), his college-bound but unmarried daughter has been knocked up by an idiot, and his publisher was recently killed in a hilarious-but-sad Segway accident. Added to these woes is a conscienceless real estate developer who is trying to hide the fact that the ground he’s bulldozing for a strip mall is the historical site of old slave graves. Black, of mixed race, is personally furious about it. All these events could have been played for tragedy, but the author has the ability to find dark humor in the most unlikely of places. Not that we don’t find tragedy in The Bottom. Tragedy is manifest in the fates of the four teenage girls sent to early graves by a man known as the Tweety Bird Killer because of the tattoo he left on his first victim. Also somber is Owen’s portrayal of the fates of older reporters. As Black surveys the dwindling newsroom, he realizes that he and his middle-aged coworkers are “too old to be attractive additions to anybody else’s newsroom staff, and too young to die.” Still, he keeps on keeping on, working long, unpaid hours to track down the Tweety Bird killer before another young girl dies. With all Black’s faults—and they are legion—he has never suffered from a lack of compassion. If anything, he cares too much, and that’s why the Willie Black mysteries remain as unputdownable as was Littlejohn, Owen’s first masterpiece.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 16 October 2015 01:10
The Right Wrong Thing
Betty Webb

In Ellen Kirschman’s The Right Wrong Thing, it’s tempting to believe that some people are doomed at birth. This is the case when Randy Spelling, a rookie California police officer, mistakes a cell phone for a gun and shoots Lakeisha Gibbs, a pregnant black teen, to death. The fact that author Kirschman’s fictional shooting mirrors today’s real-life headlines adds immediacy and piquancy to this thoughtful, compassionate novel—but Kirschman adds a twist we seldom read about. The young cop, little more than a child herself, is so overwhelmed by remorse that she insists on speaking with the girl’s grieving mother to tell her how sorry she is. Police department psychologist Dot Meyerhoff intervenes, advising the guilt-ridden cop to stay far, far away from the girl’s entire family. But psychologists’ patients don’t always listen to good advice, and the consequences of Randy’s actions rock her small California town. Besides being an enthralling book, The Right Wrong Thing stands out in its depiction of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which plagues almost all police officers who have felt it necessary, whether mistakenly or not, to take a life. Told from Meyerhoff's point of view, we learn that PTSD, and the perception of danger that leads up to it, isn’t just mental—it’s also biological. For that sad but wise discussion alone, The Right Wrong Thing is well worth reading, but psychologist Meyerhoff isn’t a mere deliverer of facts. She’s a beautifully developed character with problems of her own, including a troublesome boyfriend and a manipulative boss. In a late-in-the-book shocker, Meyerhoff even begins to question her own identity.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 16 October 2015 01:10
The Collector
Betty Webb

In an art-related mystery, we travel to Paris (never a hard thing to do) for Anne-Laure Thiéblemont’s The Collector, where Marion Spicer, who works for an art certification company, discovers that she has inherited a collection of pre-Columbian art worth millions. The only snag in her windfall is that it is missing three pieces, and before she can collect her inheritance, she must find the missing artifacts. As the corpses pile up, Marion’s hunt takes us ito interesting places: the homes of billionaires, persnickety art galleries, and eat-their-own-kind auction houses. But the truly mind-boggling thing about this slender book (211 pages) is in learning that the très cultured Parisian art scene is every bit as down and dirty as an alleyway mugging.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 16 October 2015 01:10
Murder on Wheels
Bill Crider

Being a Texan, I feel it’s only right for me to recommend Murder on Wheels, presented by the Austin Mystery Writers. Kaye George explains in her introduction that the genesis of the anthology was a discussion of a Megabus trip, and “The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round,” one of her two stories in the book, is an ingenious investigation of that setting. The remaining ten stories all involve transportation, mostly wheeled, although V. P. Chandler’s “Rota Fortunae” is set on a sailing ship in the 18th century. The name of the ship that provides the story’s title means “wheel of fate,” however, so it certainly fits. “Red’s White F-150 Blues” by Scott Montgomery is a wild story of the things that can go wrong when you do a favor for a friend. Reavis Wortham spins a compact yarn about a “Family Business” that spans decades. “Mome Rath, My Sweet” by Gale Albright is a mash-up of Alice in Wonderland and a hardboiled PI novel, which gives Hollywood PI Jake Grimm a tough case, but then he’s just the guy to solve it. Earl Staggs is a man who knows school buses, and “Dead Man on a School Bus” makes use of that knowledge with his story’s unusual setting. The other stories here will all keep you entertained as they roll along.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 16 October 2015 01:10
Scorched Noir
Bill Crider

Garnett Elliott’s collection Scorched Noir features eight stories previously published in online venues such as Plots With Guns, Hardluck Stories, and others. Elliott describes the stories in his introduction as being about “life in the scorching alkaline desert, desperate folks, and Old Mexico dreaming somewhere beyond the desert.” As that comment and the title of the book indicate, the setting here is an important part of these bleak, arresting stories. The title also lets you know that these stories often aren’t going to end well for the characters, whether they’re the E.R. staff in “The Darkest of the Debbies” or the selfie-taking, tweeting Dwayne in “Snowflake.” These stories are all very short, but they have a powerful punch.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 16 October 2015 01:10
Jewish Noir
Bill Crider

Jewish Noir is an anthology edited by Kenneth Wishnia, who also provides an excellent introduction in which he says, “We wanted a multiplicity of voices in this anthology, and while most of the contributing authors are in fact Jewish, we adopted a generous ‘you don’t have to be Jewish to write Jewish noir’ policy. (See if you can figure out who’s who.)” I wouldn’t presume to know who’s who, but I did spot one byline that tipped me off. Those who know me know that the first story I’d read would be one with the title of “Feeding the Crocodile,” which turns out to be by Moe Prager, who is, at least in the books I’ve read, a non-observant Jew. So I know I got one right. Jewish Noir is a huge volume, with more than 30 stories. The final story, by Harlan Ellison, is one of two reprints, and since it’s an Ellison story, it naturally comes with an interesting and entertaining introduction by the author. The other reprint is from the year 1912, but this is its first appearance in English. It’s “A Simkhe,” by Yente Serdatzky. The table of contents of Jewish Noir is star-studded, to say the least, and while not all the stories are truly noir, they’re all truly well worth your time. This is an excellent anthology.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 16 October 2015 01:10

More than 30 excellent tales from the likes of Harlan Ellison, Yente Serdatzky, and Moe Prager.

Detroit Is Our Beat
Bill Crider

I’ve written more than once in this column about my appreciation of Loren Estleman’s stories about four Detroit cops during WWII. The cops are known as the Four Horsemen, and the stories about them have all appeared in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. Now they’re gathered into a volume titled Detroit Is Our Beat, which contains ten stories, one of them new and written especially for this collection. They’re all as appropriately hardboiled as stories set in one of America’s toughest cities in one of its wildest eras should be. Don’t skip Estleman’s fine “Preface: Blackjacks and B-24s” or his “Valedictory Note,” a tribute to Elmore Leonard.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 16 October 2015 01:10
Fiction River #15: Recycled Pulp
Bill Crider

John Helfers, the editor of Fiction River #15: Recycled Pulp, and series editors Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith, have come up with a twist on an old pulp idea. Pulp writers sometimes wrote to order. The editor would show them a cover, and they’d write a story based on the picture. John Helfers gave writers three pulpish titles (not covers) each and had them write stories for one of those titles, such as “Crypt of the Metal Ghouls,” by Angela Penrose, “Swamp of the Prehistoric Clan,” by Christy Fifield, and “Prism of the Crab Gods,” by Kelly Washington. That should give you an idea. But only an idea, since I suspect that the stories these writers came up with will surprise you and touch you in a number of different ways. There are crime stories here, but also superhero stories, mainstream stories, science fiction stories, and some that are hard to pin down. They’re all well worth your time, though, and Helfers provides insightful introductions to each.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 16 October 2015 02:10
The Golden Age of Murder: The Mystery of the Writers Who Invented the Modern Detective Story
Jon L. Breen

The author is archivist of the Detection Club, that exclusive organization of British writers which elected its first members in 1930. Within the framework of the organization’s early history and collective biography, personal as well as professional, of its most influential members, Martin Edwards refutes some of the reductive generalizations that have been applied to Golden Age detection, not only the British version, but more briefly the undervalued American equivalent. The focus is on the three most important figures of the British Golden Age, two written about extensively in other sources, Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers, but the third woefully neglected in recent decades: Anthony Berkeley, who also wrote as Francis Iles. Other subjects include Margery Allingham, E.C. Bentley, John Dickson Carr, G.K. Chesterton, G.D.H. and Margaret Cole, J.J. Connington, Freeman Wills Crofts, Clemence Dane, Anthony Gilbert, Milward Kennedy, Ronald A. Knox, Ngaio Marsh, Gladys Mitchell, E.R. Punshon, John Rhode, Helen Simpson, and Henry Wade. Among the surprising revelations, in 1926, Father Knox livened up the BBC with a satirical newscast that included the toppling of Big Ben’s clock tower and the hanging of a cabinet minister. Some listeners took the broadcast seriously and panic spread, foreshadowing the reaction to Orson Welles’ dramatization of War of the Worlds 12 years later.

Edwards also summarizes some of the true-crime cases that inspired these writers, adding to the value of one of the most important contributions to mystery fiction history in recent memory.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 16 October 2015 02:10

edwardsthegoldenageofmurderAn important contribution to mystery fiction history focused on Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Anthony Berkley (also know as Frances Iles).

The African American Experience in Crime Fiction: A Critical Study
Jon L. Breen

Robert Crafton focuses on several significant African-American writers: pioneers Pauline Hopkins and Rudolph Fisher, transitional figures Chester Himes and Ishmael Reed, and contemporaries Colson Whitehead, Walter Mosley, and Stephen F. Carter. Close readings of selected works are bolstered by historical, scientific, legal, and sociological background that adds richness to the commentary, e.g. marriage laws central to Hopkins’ Hagar’s Daughter (1901-02), and medical issues in physician Fisher’s The Conjure-Man Dies (1932).

There are some errors and questionable assertions. The surnames of Himes’ Harlem cops Coffin Ed Johnson and Grave Digger Jones are reversed, an easy mistake to make. Barbara Hambly is included in a list of African-American authors, I think mistakenly. The attitude to genre is sometimes patronizing, and the generalizations too sweeping. But quality writing and critical acumen outweigh minor quibbles. Another highlight in a great year for books about crime fiction.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 16 October 2015 02:10
Street Poison: The Biography of Iceberg Slim
Jon L. Breen

The author of the Edgar-nominated Pimping Fictions: African American Crime Literature and the Untold Story of Black Pulp Publishing (2013) surpasses that excellent work with a thorough, well-documented, and intensely readable account of the life of Robert Beck (1918-1992), the reformed pimp whose writings as Iceberg Slim jump-started the outpouring of African American street literature beginning in the late 1960s, most from the Los Angeles paperback publisher Holloway House. The events of his life are put in historical context, including an interesting tour of the prisons (good and bad) where he was incarcerated and the various inner-city neighborhoods where he practiced his misogynistic profession. Beck, bad as he was, claimed not to be as evil as other pimps because he didn’t hate his mother quite as much—in fact, by the evidence of this book, he didn’t hate her at all. There’s no question that in his late years he did a great deal of good, sounding a cautionary note for black youth who might be tempted to follow his path. Whether or not you buy Justin Gifford’s claims for his subject’s importance (“more than any other cultural figure of the past fifty years, Beck transformed American culture and black literature”; his Pimp: The Story of My Life was “one of the most important pieces of American literature of the twentieth century”), his life makes a captivating story.

The quotations from Slim’s books, interviews, and other writings demonstrate his immense writing talent and verbal flair. For more evidence, see Shetani’s Sister, a previously unpublished late novel that Beck instructed his wife to keep out of the clutches of Holloway House, which he believed cheated him out of the royalties he earned. (Reviewed from advance uncorrected proof; index not seen.)

Teri Duerr
Friday, 16 October 2015 02:10
The John Dickson Carr Companion
Jon L. Breen

Given the quality of his prolific output, his biographical interest, and his niche specialty of locked rooms and impossible crimes, no mystery writer is more worthy of the companion treatment than John Dickson Carr, and few writers are as qualified to do the job as longtime Carr scholar James E. Keirans. Entries include characters major and minor; book, story, and essay titles; place names and allusions; and broad topics. For example, ten full pages cover alcoholic beverages in the works of Carr, 18 on London locations and institutions. The alphabetical arrangement is easy to navigate except when a long entry (such as Chronology for the Dr. Gideon Fell Mysteries) runs for several pages without running heads to tell you where you are. The 50-page index to names and titles is very useful.

This fine work of scholarship can stand beside Douglas G. Greene’s biography John Dickson Carr: The Man Who Explained Miracles (1995) and S. T. Joshi’s John Dickson Carr: A Critical Study (1990).

Teri Duerr
Friday, 16 October 2015 02:10
So Nude, So Dead
Hank Wagner

In Ed McBain’s So Nude, So Dead, heroin addict Ray Stone comes to in a seedy New York hotel room, craving a fix. He has to postpone that fix, however, as he notices that his bedmate, a fellow user, is lying dead beside him, bleeding from bullet wounds to her stomach. Having no idea of how the woman, a casual pickup, came to harm, nor of what happened to her 16-ounce stash of heroin, Ray’s first instinct is to vanish. After being accused of murder, he realizes his only viable course of action is to discover what really happened while he was unconscious. How he does so while dealing with the insatiable monkey on his back provides the entertaining main action of the novel, as he explores both his sordid past and the underside of a dark, dark city.

Billed as McBain’s very first crime novel, the book is surprisingly accomplished for such an early effort, displaying many of the traits that have drawn readers to the Mystery Writers of America Grand Master over the years, particularly his outsize talent for plotting. While careful not to make Stone too heroic, McBain does make him sympathetic, so that readers find themselves rooting for this poor loser to succeed.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 16 October 2015 02:10
New Yorked
Hank Wagner

Ash McKenna of New Yorked, by Rob Hart, wakes abruptly, and initially only faces regret that he could not work things out with the love of his life, Chell, the night before; he recalls being angry with her, but only vaguely, as he blacked out soon after interacting with her. Unfortunately, the time of his blackout coincides with when Chell was attacked and murdered. Inconsolable, Ash embarks on a rage-fueled search for answers, little caring who gets hurt in the process.

Hart’s debut is a terse, grim, gritty, swiftly moving noir that deftly explores post-9/11 New York, and in particular Brooklyn, in all its seediness and glory. Ash is a wrecking ball of an investigator, a direct descendant of Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, searching for justice in a surreal terrain populated by hipsters, addicts, criminals, and other human oddities. Unlike Hammer, he is at one with the denizens of that world, rather than an outsider capable of ironically commenting on what he sees.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 16 October 2015 02:10
Basket Case
Lynne F. Maxwell

In Basket Case, first in her Silver Six Crafting Mystery series, Nancy Haddock provides a whole new take on the notion of retirement homes. The Silver Six are self-sufficient seniors who share a home in the small town of Lilyvale, Arkansas. Readers are introduced to the group after one of their granddaughters, Leslee Stanton “Nixy” Nix, a rising star in Houston’s art gallery scene, is summoned to Lilyvale by Detective Eric Shoar because her Aunt Sherry Mae and housemates are disturbing the peace with a series of suspicious booms and clouds of smoke at their house. Of course, Nixy rushes to her aunt, despite the fact that they don’t know each other very well. Nixy’s arrival coincides with a folk art festival that Sherry Mae is hosting on her farm. The work of the crafters is admirable, particularly the baskets that Sherry Mae weaves, but of even greater fascination to Nixy are the Silver Six, each a highly skilled (engineer, teacher, handyman) contributor to the household. Trouble arrives in the form of Jill Elsman, an abusive and intrusive woman who is trying to coerce the town’s landowners, including Sherry Mae, to sell their property to her without ever divulging her reasons for doing so. Justice, of sorts, prevails when Jill is murdered and the land remains in the hands of the original property owners. Did Sherry Mae kill Jill, whose body was found on her property? Obviously not, but who is the perpetrator? Nixy and the Silver Six collaborate to flush out the killer, thereby bonding even more. While Nixy plans to return to her advancing career in Houston, readers will anticipate where her loyalties reside in the end. Basket Case is a promising beginning to a series that features bright, resourceful, likable characters. Nancy Haddock can certainly weave a fine plot!

Teri Duerr
Friday, 16 October 2015 02:10
Black Cat Crossing
Lynne F. Maxwell

Kay Finch’s Black Cat Crossing, first in the Bad Luck Cat Mystery series, unfolds in the town of Lavender, Texas, where Sabrina Tate, new sleuth, is a refugee from her job as a paralegal in Houston. Sabrina abandons her old life to pursue her dream, becoming a published mystery author. Fortunately, her Aunt Rowe owns and rents out a number of riverside cottages, and Sabrina thinks she has found a quiet place to live and work. Wrong! Distraction sets in when Bobby Joe Flowers, a ne’er-do-well relative, turns up to threaten Aunt Rowe and acquire a fortune. Moreover, the townsfolk predict impending doom when the “bad luck cat” appears. The feline in question is a sleek black tomcat who has the uncanny ability of appearing in places where trouble is about to occur. And, indeed, Bobby Joe is murdered, and his body is found in the same place as another body was found years ago. Sabrina is convinced that there is a link between the murders, and she is even more certain that her Aunt Rowe, the principal person of interest to the police, is innocent. Together with “the bad luck cat,” whom she has adopted and names Hitchcock, Sabrina solves the murders just in time to get her book to the publisher. Thanks to Hitchcock, who is truly a good luck cat, she survives long enough to do so.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 16 October 2015 02:10
The Cartel
Dick Lochte

Lengthy, ambitious, and uncompromising, Don Winslow’s 16th novel is, as most crime fiction fans must know by now, a continuation of his 2005 novel The Power of the Dog. That earlier work introduced DEA agent Arturo “Art” Keller and his bête noir, Adan Barrera, a silky, villainous Sinaloan drug lord who is, according to Winslow, a fictionalized version of recent Mexican prison escapee Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera. The Power of the Dog was written before Los Zetas, the military arm of the Gulf cartel, rose to the top of the drug-trafficking, kidnapping, oil- and gas-stealing, head-chopping gangs. The Cartel brings us up to date on the Zetas’ horrific crimes, but more important are its characters—primarily an older, even more depressed Keller, who at first sight is in retirement at a New Mexico monastery tending to bees, Sherlock Holmes-style, and a slightly mellowed Barrera, who, like his real-life counterpart, has effortlessly escaped his Mexican prison cell and gone back to business. But, unlike El Chapo, Barrera is more pragmatic than homicidal, with at least a self-deceptive sense of honor. There is a rich assortment of other carefully crafted players, among them a wild child Chicano, Chewy the Kid, traumatized and trained to kill from the age of 11; Magda Beltran, a beauty queen imprisoned for money laundering who winds up being Barrera’s jailhouse inamorata and eventually a top narco; Eddie Ruiz, a charming if shady small-time dealer from Texas who is caught up in the war between the Sinaloa and Gulf cartels and who turns amusingly heroic; and the horrific kill-crazy head Zeta, Heriberto Ochoa, somewhat based on Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, the late torture-loving Zetas leader. Reader Ray Porter’s rendition of this bloodstained panorama is, at first, oddly removed, a professional, broadcast-voiced observer with no dog in the fight. But as the characters are introduced, he begins to mirror their moods and temperaments—matching Keller’s grim, sardonic attitude, for example, or Magda’s soft and effectively feminine voice as she brazenly moves up in the narco trade. He’s especially effective in his audio delineation of Chewy, a sad and confused child who kills and even flays on order but whom Keller and, one assumes, Winslow, does not see as a lost cause.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 16 October 2015 02:10