The Scribe
Eileen Brady

Set in Atlanta, on the eve of the International Cotton Exposition of 1881, this richly detailed novel from Matthew Guinn (The Resurrectionist) packs quite a punch. The Scribe introduces Sheriff Thomas Canby, born in the South but raised culturally Irish, thanks to his schoolteacher father. Fired from the Atlanta police force, his reputation in shambles, Canby now works in the mountain hamlet of Ringgold. An urgent telegram from his old boss and mentor, Chief of Police Vernon Thompson, summons him back to the city to catch a killer. Two black men are dead, both with a letter of the alphabet carved into their foreheads. Vernon assigns him an unlikely partner, Cyrus Underwood, Atlanta’s first black police officer. Cyrus might be free by law, but “The Ring” of wealthy white businessmen who really run the town make sure he knows his place.

Author Guinn skillfully drops us into an Atlanta struggling to embrace the modern machine age, yet unwilling to let go of its plantation past. As the murders progress from black entrepreneurs to anyone in the way, Canby is encouraged to think the killer is some “crazed Negro,” but evidence begins to point in a direction The Ring is uncomfortable with. From tiny details like the chiming of a pewter bell that summons a servant to his master’s bidding, to the “salon” of childhood friend Mamie O’Donnell where the races have no problem mixing, the chapters jump with the life of the times.

Canby is a complex figure, worthy of another book, while Underwood elicits empathy as he balances his life on a daily tightrope of racial tension. Other outstanding characters are Julia, the courageous teacher Canby loves; Leon Greenberg, Jewish owner of a pencil factory who pays a terrible penalty for being a foreign Yankee and arrogant businessman; and Colonel Billingsley, a man determined to bring electricity to Atlanta. This book is angry, philosophical, and vastly entertaining. You can feel Atlanta, the elegant city destroyed by General Sherman and his troops in the Civil War, struggle to represent the New South—one focused on the future but still dragging the past behind her.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 27 October 2015 11:10
City of Echoes
Robin Agnew

I’ve long been a fan of Robert Ellis’ work, books that are close cousins to Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series. Set in LA, they are straightforward police novels—on the surface—just as Connolly’s are. While several of his novels feature the female LAPD detective Lena Gamble, this book focuses on Matt Jones, a new-to-homicide detective who is assigned to investigate the death of his former partner as his first murder case.

Matt and his new partner Denny Cabrera get a call from the dead cop’s partner, who seems strung out and worried. He tells them that there are some closed murder cases of young women that are not really solved. Moreover, he thinks they are the reasons his partner is dead. Cabrera thinks the man is not to be trusted, but Jones is not so sure, and studies the case notes of the crimes in question.

In this way, Jones becomes the quintessential loner, the detective working on his own against the establishment. He’s not a white knight, though—his character has some moral ambiguity and often behaves badly. A true white knight holds firm to what is right and trusts the right people; Matt, not so much. It is to Ellis’ credit that he takes readers deep inside Jones’ mind and behavior, so that when he acts out, readers understand why he’s doing it. In fact, I was so totally with him, I did not even see ahead to the consequences of Jones’ actions. That’s pretty close identification with a character, and only really good writers can make you feel so strongly about one.

Ellis is a wonderful storyteller and draws the reader into the investigations of the dead young women. It becomes clear that the killer is still active when more women are discovered.

As the threads of the cases began to draw together with a sizable chunk of the novel left to go, I wondered where Ellis was going with his story. The denouement is powerful, heartbreaking, and explicates Matt’s decisions and character, all at the same time. City of Echoes is another bravura effort from the talented Robert Ellis.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 27 October 2015 11:10
A Deceptive Homecoming
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

It is shortly after the turn of the century, some 20 years after Jessie James was killed in St. Joseph, Missouri, in 1882, when traveling secretary extraordinaire and amateur sleuth Hattie Davish returns to her hometown to attend the funeral of her friend’s father. But her friend Ginny doesn’t seem pleased to see her, and, although the deceased was disfigured from a horse trampling accident, Hattie is not sure that the person in the casket is actually Ginny’s father.

After the funeral, Hattie is invited to speak at her alma mater, Mrs. Chaplin’s School for Women, where she was once a star pupil. Strange things start to happen at the school where Ginny’s father was bookkeeper. Not only that, but Hattie begins to have the distinct feeling that someone is following her. The hometown mysteries multiply when she is asked to help a woman find her husband, who may or may not have been a patient at the local asylum where Hattie’s own father died some 20 years earlier.

In this fourth Hattie Davish mystery, long before the advent of computers or even electric typewriters, Hattie uses a pencil and paper to write down the questions that keep arising, and then follows up on those questions to try to work her way through a murderous maze. Her investigative technique lies somewhere between the meticulous Hercule Poirot and the conversational Miss Marple. Although several fortuitous coincidences help her get to the bottom of things, this is a well-written historical mystery that brought the period to life and kept me interested and guessing.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 27 October 2015 11:10
The Gates of Evangeline
Oline H. Cogdill

Hester Young’s fiction debut delivers a lush, heartbreakingly realistic story of a woman trying to climb out of a morass of grief after the death of her four-year-old son and finding a kind of salvation in her work as a journalist. Superbly written and deftly plotted, The Gates of Evangeline delves deep into the vagaries of family life and the bonds it creates and destroys.

Keegan, the child of single mother Charlotte “Charlie” Cates, dies suddenly from a brain aneurysm during preschool. Charlie never had a chance to say goodbye and is now haunted by dreams of children. A friend’s child trips during a dance recital in Charlie’s dream, and then it happens in real life. But she can’t explain the image that appears to her of an abused boy on a boat in the middle of a lake.

Redemption comes, in a way, from a former boss who hires her to write a true-crime book about the unsolved disappearance of a wealthy family’s two-year-old son Gabriel, who went missing from his locked bedroom on the family’s Louisiana estate Evangeline in 1982. Until now, the Deveau family has resisted publicity, but the father, Neville, is long dead and Hettie, the matriarch of the family, is near death; the twins Sydney and Brigitte want a book that they feel will be a history of their family, and their long-lost older brother.

Ensconced in one of the estate’s guest houses, Charlie uncovers several clues that were ignored at the time. The Deveau siblings are a bitter lot, concerned more about their money and image than finding out what really happened to Gabriel.

The Gates of Evangeline’s absorbing plot delves into Charlie’s pain and growth, while believably incorporating her dreams as part of her recovery. Readers empathize deeply with Charlie as she struggles to find the truth behind Gabriel’s disappearance while struggling with her own almost unbearable loss. Young shows how the simplest or most mundane of details can bring up grief: a neighbor “sees smudgy sliding glass doors, but I see my son’s fingerprints. She sees an old Cheerio, and I see a breakfast when he sat with me, fidgeting, complaining, dawdling.”

A turn in the plot is not only a surprise, but also one of the cleverest twists I’ve ever read. Young is off to an excellent start with The Gates of Evangeline, the first of a planned trilogy.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 27 October 2015 11:10

Hester Young’s fiction debut delivers a lush, heartbreakingly realistic story of a woman trying to climb out of grief after the death of her four-year-old son and finding salvation in her work as a journalist looking for truth. 

Lake of Fire
Rachel Prindle

In Mark Stevens’ fourth Allison Coil mystery, Lake of Fire, Allison, a Colorado hunting guide, learns in the midst of a devastating wildfire that an environmentalist friend of hers has been found murdered in the Flat Tops Wilderness. As she investigates with her friend Trudy and the reporter Duncan Bloom, the murder is revealed as part of a dangerous plot that the three work to foil.

Lake of Fire takes readers into the heart of Colorado, and the lives of its inhabitants. From farming families to people living in the wilds, everything and everyone in Stevens’ novel feels authentic. The story is told from Allison’s point of view, but Trudy, Bloom, and wilderness man Devo contribute chapters from their own perspectives, giving readers a well-rounded look at the urgency of the wildfire and the murder investigation.

As Allison closes in on the truth there are plenty of surprises and some startling twists and turns. Remembering how characters are related to one another, and how they link to the mystery, is confusing at times. And Allison relates some experiences from previous books that may confuse readers not already familiar with the series, but overall Lake of Fire is an engrossing read.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 27 October 2015 11:10
A Line of Blood
Jordan Foster

When London TV producer Alex Mercer and his 11-year-old son Max discover the body of their next door neighbor Bryce in his bathtub, it sets in motion a series of events that shakes the family to its core. At first, it appears that Bryce’s death is either a tragic accident or an unfortunate suicide—an iron, still plugged in, is found in the bath. But when Alex tells his American-born wife Millicent about his and Max’s grisly discovery, it is soon clear that she and Bryce were closer than Alex realized and the police begin eying the family next door as potential suspects.

In his debut novel, McPherson seems unconcerned with providing the reader with any sympathetic, or even moderately likable characters. Both Alex and Millicent, in their own devious ways, seem intent on inflicting serious psychological harm on one another, despite their protestations of love throughout the novel. Even Max, who at times seems to exist purely as a plot device rather than a real character, seesaws between precociousness (Alex often reminds his son—and the reader—that he’s only 11) and toddler-like brattiness.

Since the novel is narrated by Alex, readers get to see events unfold through his eyes with the actions of other characters filtered through his perspective. This is most obvious in the case of Millicent, whose liaisons with Bryce are telegraphed so early in the novel that it’s hardly fair to call it a reveal when she finally confesses outright to Alex that she and the neighbor shared more than a casual “hello” over the wall that separated their two back gardens.

The question of fidelity looms large throughout, both in terms of Millicent’s dalliances and Alex’s premarital reputation as something of a playboy. When the couple trades barbs in the wake of Millicent’s confession, one can almost hear The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” playing on repeat in the background: there’s the constant threat that one or the other will leave and break up the tightly constructed family unit. Fidelity, therefore, is not only to one’s spouse, but also to the nuclear family. Once it becomes clear how Bryce met his fate, those readers who were paying attention will guess, if not the specifics, then at least the gist of who engineered Bryce’s bathtub demise, making the denouement less than satisfying.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 27 October 2015 11:10
Make Me
Eileen Brady

“Make me.” That old childhood dare could be Jack Reacher’s mantra if he cared about things like that. Instead the iconic hero of Lee Child’s latest book, Make Me, gives readers another head-butting good time. Riding a train on his way to Chicago, Reacher impulsively stops at a town called Mother’s Rest because the name intrigues him. There's not much of note about the dusty Oklahoma farming town except soaring grain silos, seed merchants, and fertilizer dealers—until Michelle Chang steps out of the shadows. Part of a loosely organized chain of retired FBI agents working as private detectives, she’s searching for her associate who has disappeared. She asks for Reacher’s help and together their search takes them across the country. Along the way the pair survives a violent home invasion, various assassination attempts, and a look into the frightening Internet underworld of something called the Deep Web.

With a background in the FBI and the military, PI Chang is older, wiser, and more experienced than your average thriller heroine. A budding romance between Reacher and Chang hints at her return in the next book, which would be fine with me. Written with the style and pacing we’ve come to expect from Lee Child, fans will enjoy number 20 in this bestselling series.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 27 October 2015 11:10
Purgatory Gardens
Sharon Magee

In this, his latest comedic novel, Peter Lefcourt tells the story of Sammy Dee, an aging, mid-level mobster, who is in WITSEC after singing like a canary about his boss. He lives in Palm Springs, Florida, in a meh condo complex called Paradise Gardens but nicknamed Purgatory Gardens by its tenants. His neighbors across the hall are a lesbian couple whose cats smell up the building. Another couple enjoys a swinging lifestyle, and Sammy just isn’t into that. The only positive is Marcy Gray, a rather good-looking “mature” actress whom Sammy would like to get to know better. But he has competition: Didier Onyekachukwu (Sammy calls him Diddly Shit), an African-robes wearing, French-spouting, ex-finance minister of a small country, who lined his own pockets more than he lined his state’s. He’s now an arts dealer selling “authentic” African artifacts. In addition to their affection for Marcy, Sammy and Didier have one other thing in common: they’re close to broke and think it might be nice to live on Marcy’s acting fortune.

Marcy, on the other hand, enjoys the attention of these two aging Lotharios, but adroitly manages to stay out of both men’s beds. Her only income is actually a small SAG pension, and she’d like to live on their dime, believing both suitors to be loaded. Since Marcy can’t seem to make up her mind about which of them to choose, both men decide they need to clear the field and hire hit men to take the other out. Problem is, they hire the same hit men, a father-son operation, who only meet with clients on the golf course. Hilarity ensues as both Sammy and Didier try to stay alive long enough to win Marcy’s heart.

Lefcourt, a playwright, screenwriter, and novelist (he won an Emmy for Cagney and Lacey and co-executive produced Desperate Housewives) is a funny man à la Carl Hiaasen. His characters, right down to the most minor, are quirky but relatable, his plotlines outlandish but plausible. All in all, a fun read.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 27 October 2015 11:10
The Girl Without a Name
Ben Boulden

The Girl Without a Name is Sandra Block’s second novel, and also the second to feature Dr. Zoe Goldman. Zoe is a resident in training on her pediatric psychiatry rotation at the Children’s Hospital of Buffalo in New York. It is a difficult rotation for Zoe because she finds working with mentally ill children depressing. Zoe has her own problems, too. She is still mourning the death of her mother and the breakup of her relationship with the beautiful, very French Jean Luc. Plus, she is on probation for flunking her RITE (residency in-service training examination) and with all the stress, her ADHD is even more difficult to manage.

The hospital routine is enlivened when the police bring in a catatonic African-American girl for admission. The girl is a mystery. She has no history and no name. The nurses call her Jane, as in Jane Doe, and Zoe takes a personal interest. She begins an amateur investigation, posting Jane’s photograph on a missing children’s website, creating a Facebook post, and convincing her brother to search the Internet with facial recognition software. Her only real clue is a small round scar on the girl’s ankle. She does all this and more to the growing annoyance of the detective assigned to the case and the girl’s attending physician.

The mystery is smoothly told and develops steadily. The main questions of who Jane is and the cause of her catatonia are buttressed by Zoe’s enthusiastic if, at times, erratic personality. She is flawed, self-doubting, and relentless.

The hospital descriptions have the ring of truth, and the patients with their myriad mental disorders are fascinating: an anorexic, a meth addict, a budding psychopath. The mystery is well disguised, and the outcome is uncertain until the final pages. A little luck is needed for Zoe to solve it, but the surprising and believable climax more than compensates.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 28 October 2015 12:10
Sarah Prindle

Seventeen-year-old Lorrie Hollander’s life looks flawless on the surface. Her home, Edgewater, is a huge mansion in a wealthy East Coast town frequented by the political elite. She even owns a horse. But in truth, her parents abandoned her to her mentally ill Aunt Gigi who is unable to care for her or Lorrie’s younger sister, Susannah. Edgewater is a disaster full of clutter, dust, mold, and stained carpets. Lorrie is ashamed of the way she lives, and keeps the situation a secret from everyone, including her best friend, Lennox.

Lorrie works hard to keep up her family’s facade, but strange things, starting with the disappearance of Lorrie’s trust fund money, make it increasingly difficult. Then Charlie Copeland, the son of a senator, comes to town and takes a romantic interest in Lorrie. Meanwhile, Charlie’s father is exhibiting strange behavior, and one of Senator Copeland’s employees is following Lorrie around town, watching, and asking questions about her. Lorrie suspects there is a dark secret in her family that is connected with the Copelands and the boy she has come to love.

The story is well told and full of intricate details that immerse the reader in Lorrie’s world, whether it is standing in Edgewater’s musty attic, sitting on the shore with Lorrie watching the waves crashing, or strolling through the marble-floored foyer in the Copeland mansion. Lorrie is a relatable character in her feelings of abandonment toward her parents, her unending worries about supporting her family in the absence of the trust fund, and her longing to be with Charlie.

The slow-but-steady pacing of the story reveals the reasons behind the missing trust money, the actions of Senator Copeland, and the answers to some of Lorrie’s unspoken questions about her family. Edgewater blends themes of family, resourcefulness, romance, and secrets into an absorbing and enriching book.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 28 October 2015 12:10
Robert B. Parker’s Kickback
Dick Lochte

The quality of a Spenser novel, be it by Robert B. Parker or his successor Ace Atkins, depends greatly on the power of the villains whom the sleuth must overcome. Through the years, Parker continued to make his creation increasingly impervious to harm, not only removing suspense from the stories, but lumbering the character with a somewhat off-putting, one might even say godlike self-satisfaction. I assume that’s why, in the novel Small Vices, he introduced Ruger, the Gray Man, an assassin who wounds Spenser seriously enough to remind the sleuth of his mortality. Atkins doesn’t take it quite that far in his new addition to the series, but he does present Spenser with a situation the usually confident sleuth is forced to admit he may not be able to handle. In the township of Blackburn outside of Boston, hard-nosed judge Joe Scali has a habit of handing down major sentences to minors for, well, minor crimes. When 17-year-old Dillon Yates gets sent to a tough juvie facility for Internet goofing on his school’s vice principal, his mother asks Spenser to help. The private eye discovers that something is definitely rotten in Blackburn, but the town’s judge and law enforcement are in on it. Before long Spenser is facing prison himself, calling into play a very efficient lawyer named Megan (perhaps a shout-out to novelist Megan Abbott, whom the character resembles). This is a particularly engrossing helping of Spenser lore, with a bunch of extremely despicable bad guys, a clever crime, a very smart solution, and longtime friend Hawk providing exactly the kind of backup we know and love. Mantegna, who played Spenser in a few TV adaptations, provides a more satisfying narration than usual, mainly, I think, because Atkins has limited the detective’s use of wiseguy sarcasm, the interpretation of which the actor has a tendency to overdo.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 28 October 2015 05:10
Collector of Secrets
Betty Webb

In Richard Goodfellow’s Collector of Secrets, naive American Max Travers is teaching English in Tokyo when he finds himself the target of the Japanese mafia, known as the Yakuza. The criminals are trying to recover a diary kept by a Japanese prince during WWII, which supposedly gives the location of a great treasure hidden on one of the Philippine islands. But the diary reveals something even more important than riches: it gives witness to the war crimes committed by high-ranking Japanese officials. When the diary inadvertently winds up in Max’s hands, he and his girlfriend, Tomoko, have to go on the lam to escape the Yakuza, the police, and even the hirelings of a corrupt US senator. The plot owes a great debt to The Thirty-Nine Steps, John Buchan’s classic on-the-run novel. As in that timeless book, Max and Tomoko flee from one place to another, experiencing one betrayal after another until paranoia becomes the order of the day. Max makes an unlikely hero. Young, tall, and blond, the poor guy can barely speak Japanese, so his inability to blend into Japanese society ups the danger. With its plethora of treachery and violence, Collector of Secrets is an unusually exciting and knowledgeable read. At the same time, I doubt the Japanese tourist board will be recommending it.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 28 October 2015 05:10
Chemical Burn
Betty Webb

There’s a little bit of everything in Quincy J. Allen’s Chemical Burn, a sci-fi thriller that features an alien assassin with a catlike sidekick, designer drugs, Italian and Russian mobsters, straight-shooting sexpots, evil masterminds, and dry-cleaning fluids. PI Justin Case is a killing machine from another planet inserted into a human body, and just about everyone wants him dead. Not only dead, but dismembered. This fast-moving novel begins and ends in violence, piling up a body count seldom achieved in more straightforward thrillers. Preferring life on Earth, Case has permanently bailed from his home on a far-off planet, choosing to walk the mean streets of Los Angeles in search of the dealer who is poisoning those streets with a supply of deadly drugs. Although light on character development—we never really get to know Case or his feline buddy Mag—the nonstop action is entertaining enough that it cries out for an illustrated edition.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 28 October 2015 05:10
The Mammoth Book of Sherlock Holmes Abroad
Bill Crider

It seems that almost every month brings a new Sherlock Holmes collection, and this time it’s The Mammoth Book of Sherlock Holmes Abroad, edited by Simon Clark. The 15 stories in the anthology take Holmes out of London, and out of England, to far-flung locations where editor Clark tells us that Holmes “encounters mysteries that are equally exotic and severely test his powers of deduction.” Clark also assures us that these are traditional Holmes adventures that wouldn’t have been out of place in The Strand, where the original tales appeared, and I agree. Even if the setting is China (Sam Stone’s “The Curse of Guangxu”), East Africa (Paul Finch’s “The Monster of Hell’s Gate”), or Mesopotamia (Clark’s “The Climbing Man)”), the stories have the whiff of authenticity. Holmes fans and others will certainly enjoy them.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 28 October 2015 05:10
The Monstrous
Bill Crider

Ellen Datlow is one of the most prolific and most honored anthology editors around. Her latest is The Monstrous, and it leans mostly to horror, though crime and horror are close cousins, I believe. This isn’t a collection of stories about easy judgments as to who the monsters are and aren’t. As Datlow puts it, “What are the ethics of being a vampire in a concentration camp?” Read Jack Dann and Gardner Dozois’ “Down Among the Dead Men” for a look at that problem. The 19 other stories here will make you ask similar questions, although you might not find all the answers.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 28 October 2015 05:10
Cross Examinations: Crime in Columbus
Bill Crider

John Hegenberger’s Cross Examinations: Crime in Columbus is currently available only as an ebook. It’s a collection of four short stories, all of which have “ache” in the title. They feature a private eye named Eliot Cross in 1980s Columbus, Ohio, and the stories are traditional first-person PI stories. I liked “Neckache” especially, because of the setting, a late-80s comic-book convention, but all the stories are fast-moving fun.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 28 October 2015 05:10
Ken Follett and the Triumph of Suspense: A Popular Writer Transcends Genre
Jon L. Breen

Ken Follett’s career, from the early pseudonymous novels to his 20th-century trilogy culminating in Edge of Eternity (2014), is discussed by the author of the earlier Ken Follett: The Transformation of a Writer (1999). Access to his subject’s papers, plus a decade and a half of new work, provides a wealth of new material.

An opening chapter on Whiteout (2003), a model of expert thriller construction and execution, outlines Follett’s painstaking writing methods, including research, outlining, revising, and consultations with agent and editors. Subsequent chapters recount his journalistic career, his short-lived efforts at writing series characters, and film and television work as it influenced his later writing. The discussion of his breakthrough bestseller Eye of the Needle (1978; British title Storm Island) and the books that followed recounts his stormy relationship with Arbor House editor-publisher Donald Fine, whom Follett would later sue to prevent being promoted as principal author of a nonfiction book on which he had only done a final polish. In another lawsuit, Follett defended against a groundless plagiarism claim directed at The Key to Rebecca (1980).

The nonfictional On Wings of Eagles (1983), about the rescue of two Electronic Data Systems employees from captivity in Iran, was commissioned by H. Ross Perot, with whom Follett clashed (apparently in a mostly friendly way) over the inclusion of facts and inferences that might have put the billionaire and later presidential candidate in a bad light. Follett fought to stick to his journalistic principles. A chapter on political themes, including Follett’s denunciation from the left of Labor Prime Minister Tony Blair, includes some very interesting discussion of historical fiction.

Illustrated with manuscript pages and correspondence, along with photographs and book covers, this is one of the best books I’ve ever read on the career and methods of a popular novelist. If that patronizing cliché about transcending genres discourages you, ignore the subtitle and read the book.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 28 October 2015 05:10
Never Die Alone
Hank Wagner

In Lisa Jackson’s Never Die Alone, Zoe Denning awakens under the most horrific of circumstances. Roused by dripping water, she finds herself in unfamiliar surroundings, naked and bound. Slowly, she comes to realize her twin, Chloe, is also in the dank and dismal chamber, as well as a strange man, clad only in a leather apron. The man, we later discover, has been dubbed the 21 Killer, due to his penchant for kidnapping twins on the eve of their 21st birthdays, then dispatching them at the exact time of their births.

The only ones to realize that something is wrong are the twins’ mother, Selma, and Selma’s counselor, Brianna Hayward, who runs a “twinless twins” help group. Together, they desperately seek to convince New Orleans detectives Rick Bentz and Reuben Montoya and newspaperman Jase Bridges that the girls are in imminent peril.

Immediate and visceral, Jackson’s latest is a superlative beach book, guaranteed to keep you glued to your folding chair until the sunlight fades. Especially gripping are Zoe and Chloe’s struggle to survive their ordeal, which takes the narrative in surprising directions. Although the revelations, which come toward the end of the tale, reek of deus ex machina, the book is compelling. Jackson definitely knows how to keep readers riveted.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 28 October 2015 05:10
Laying Down the Paw
Lynne F. Maxwell

Laying Down the Paw, Diane Kelly’s third installment in her Paw Enforcement series, brings back Fort Worth, Texas police officers Megan and Brigit. The very human Megan partners with Brigit, a lovable—and willful—German shepherd K-9 officer. The Paw Enforcement books are generally clever and lighthearted, and Laying Down the Paw follows that pattern to a certain extent. Surprisingly, though, this superb book deviates from the formula, blazing new territory into more serious concerns. The book explores issues of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), drug addiction, child abuse, poverty, crime, and stereotyping. In the aftermath of a tornado, Megan and Brigit encounter a trio of young looters, one of whom pulls a weapon. One of the young men, though, defuses the situation so that violence does not ensue. He even gives Brigit some of his stolen beef jerky. When this young man is suspected of murder and burglary, Megan doesn’t believe that he is the culprit. In the end, he behaves in heroic fashion and earns a happy ending. Complex and touching, Laying Down the Paw has a heart the size of Texas.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 28 October 2015 05:10
Robin Burcell Continues Others' Series

burcell robinBy OLINE H. COGDILL

Robin Burcell’s more than 30 years in law enforcement have given her 10 novels an authenticity that has won her fans and awards.

Burcell is now embarking on a new chapter in her career—of continuing established series.

She will be co-writing Clive Cussler’s Fargo series about husband and wife treasure hunters Sam and Remi Fargo. Currently, the action/adventure series has seven novels and Burcell is working on the eighth, still untitled installment that is expected to be out in September 2016.

But that’s not all.

Burcell also will be continuing the late Carolyn Weston’s series about homicide detectives Al Krug and Casey Kellog, who worked for the Santa Monica, California, police.

Weston’s novel Poor, Poor Ophelia was adapted into the 1972 pilot film for ABC’s The Streets of San Francisco, which starred Michael Douglas and Karl Malden.

While Weston’s work is no longer in print, Brash Books, an independent publisher, has come to the rescue.

Brash Books has acquired the rights to the Krug/Kellog novels from her heirs and has reissued Weston’s three novels in this series during the past year.

Brash also has signed Burcell to write new novels in the Krug and Kellog series. The first one, The Last Good Place, is due out in November and will find the detectives truly on those streets of San Francisco.

burcellrobin lastgoodplace
The experience of working on the Cussler and the Weston series was “two different processes,” she said.

“Working on the Weston novels, I knew I’d have to meld her original characters with modern-day policing, while trying to keep them true to how she envisioned them,” she told Mystery Scene in an email.

“I thought it would be easy to bring the stories to present day. All I needed to do was read her three books and voila! I’d have the gist.  But not so. I found it to be much harder, because so much has changed in policing since then, and I can’t exactly ask anyone if I have any questions,” she said.

“Working with Clive Cussler is a much different experience,” she added.

“There are seven Fargo books that came before, so there’s a lot more history to draw from while writing the main characters of Sam and Remi Fargo. The trick—if you can call it that—is keeping my writing in line with the Cussler brand.

“I’ve got some big shoes to fill. Not only in the previous Fargo writers who came before me, but in working with Clive himself and making sure that I embrace his particular style of action and adventure. The beauty about working with him is that there’s instant feedback if I don’t get it right or have any questions. He’s just an email or phone call away.”

Burcell’s law enforcement career includes work as a police officer, hostage negotiator, and a detective, investigating sexual assault, child abuse, crimes against persons, crimes against property (burglaries, thefts, embezzlements), and welfare fraud.

She has testified as an expert in the fields of forensic art, fingerprints, and child abuse. An FBI Academy-trained forensic artist, her drawings have been used to solve a number of crimes, including homicides, bank robberies, and hate crimes, and she was called upon by the various Valley law enforcement entities, including the FBI, for this skill.

Burcell says she also plans to continue her own series. Incidentally, Burcell is one of those extremely nice authors who always seems to have time to talk with her readers during mystery conferences.

Oline Cogdill
Wednesday, 28 October 2015 08:10
25 Years of Kay Scarpetta

cornwell patricia

Twenty-five years can go by in the blink of an eye.

So it was a shock to find out that this year is the 25th anniversary of Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta character.

When Post Mortem hit the bookstores in 1990, it was a revelation. Here was a story about a medical examiner that was unflinching in its descriptions about what goes on in the autopsy room.

As the medical examiner of Richmond, Virginia, Scarpetta took readers where they had not gone before, showing how the evidence that a medical examiner can uncover may change an investigation. In many ways, she helped launch a fascination with forensic research.

There is no question that Scarpetta was a groundbreaker.

She was on the scene first—before there were the television series CSI, NCIS, and all the others. 

Cornwell’s early novels were a revelation—well plotted, with unusual characters and a lesson in science and forensics for readers.

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Even those readers who didn’t think they cared about science learned how a lot. And came back for more, novel after novel.

Cornwell also has used her success for science.

She has co-founded the Conservation Scientist Chair at the Harvard University Art Museums,  and serves as a member of Harvard-affiliated McLean Hospital’s National Council, where she advocates for psychiatric research. She’s helped fund the ICU at Cornell’s Animal Hospital, the scientific study of a Confederate submarine, the archaeological excavation of Jamestown, and a variety of law enforcement charities. Cornwell also has helped fund scholarships and literacy programs.

Depraved Heart, Cornwell’s 23rd novel in her Scarpetta series, is now out.

The plot touches on the suspicious death of a Hollywood mogul’s daughter, aircraft wreckage on the bottom of the sea in the Bermuda Triangle, and videos from a relative’s past that threaten Scarpetta’s personal life.

Oline Cogdill
Friday, 30 October 2015 10:10
Charlaine Harris Back on TV

by Oline H. Cogdill

harris charlaine2015
Charlaine Harris
’ Sookie Stackhouse novels made a smooth transition to television in the uber-sexy HBO series True Blood.

This vampire series with its Southern Gothic approach not only benefited from the terrific source material from Harris but also from the leadership of executive producer Alan Ball, an Emmy winner for his HBO series Six Feet Under and an Oscar winner for the screenplay of the 1999 film American Beauty.

And it was a killer cast with Anna Paquin as Sookie Stackhouse, Stephen Moyer as Bill Compton and a slew of other actors who understood the story and brought it every week.  

True Blood also intelligently paralleled real-world problems such as religious and racial intolerance.

But True Blood’s TV run is over—going out on a high note after seven seasons—and Harris also ended her series, again leaving on a high note.

On to new work.

NBC is developing a drama for fall 2016 that will be based on Harris’ best-selling Midnight, Texas series, which focuses on a town in the Lone Star state in which humans and the supernatural co-exist.

And naturally, everyone has a secret.

Harris’ novels in this series are Midnight Crossroad and Day Shift. Night Shift will be published in spring 2016.

harrischarlaine dayshift
Midnight’s residents include a phone psychic, an assassin, and a vampire, among others. As in her Stackhouse novels, Harris’ novels featured plenty of humor, mystery, and, of course, the paranormal.

If NBC greenlights the series, it will be called Midnight, Texas.

According to NBC, the series will be written/executive produced by Monica Owusu-Breen (Lost) and executive produced by David Janollari (Six Feet Under).

"I'm excited by the prospect of being on network television. The journey from my book to the product on the screen is always interesting," said Harris in an email  to Mystery Scene.

Harris’ work translates well to television.

Two of her novels about librarian and mystery maven Aurora Teagarden aired this year on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. Candace Cameron Bure (Full House) starred as Aurora and the two movies were terrific. I hope there will be more.

And if network executives want another fresh, original series, I hope they will take a look at Harris’ Shakespeare series.

Her five Lily Bard novels, beginning with Shakespeare’s Landlord (1996), focused on a character who was the survivor of a horrific crime. As a result, Lily had chosen a solitary life and was confrontational and obsessed with self defense. Despite a first-rate education, Lily preferred to eke out a living as a cleaning woman.

I loved those novels, and they could translate so well to cable or network TV, or Netflix.

Meanwhile, I am rooting for multiple visits to Midnight, Texas.

Oline Cogdill
Friday, 06 November 2015 09:11
Agatha Christie’s "Mousetrap" Endures

by Oline H. Cogdill

mousetrap christiemaltz
There is a reason why Agatha Christie is still revered by readers generations after her death, and why one of the most prestigious mystery awards is called the Agatha.

Dame Christie is one of the toughest plotters in the mystery genre.

In addition to her novels, Christie also has translated well to film.

Certainly the TV films and series based on the Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot novels have been wonderful. The BBC version of Tommy and Tuppence has received terrific reviews.

And films based on her novels are also among my favorites, including Murder on the Orient Express, Evil Under the Sun, Death on the Nile, Appointment With Death, and, of course, Witness for the Prosecution.

These films captured Christie’s clear-eyed look at the differences between the classes, at the often foolishness of the uber wealthy, and even her wry humor.

And then there is the play The Mousetrap, which opened in London’s West End during 1952 and has the longest initial run of any play in history, as well as the longest running show (of any type) of the modern era. Its 25,000th performance was on November 18, 2012. Of course, it has a twist ending that audiences are asked not to reveal to others.

And when I first saw The Mousetrap in London, I was totally bored.

Maybe it was because the cast had been doing the play for so long that their energy was down. Maybe it was the monotone delivery that most of the actors had. Maybe it was because it was the first play during our week of mega-theater-going (at least one, often two plays a day and one day of three plays).

I felt we had to see The Mousetrap since it was an icon—like seeing Buckingham Palace or visiting Harrods.

I remember falling asleep quite soon into The Mousetrap, waking up a couple of times only to observe that just about everyone else in the theater was asleep.

But I have now changed my mind about The Mousetrap, thanks to an excellent production I recently saw at the Maltz Theatre in Jupiter, Florida.

The Maltz production got what Christie was trying to do with this basically locked-room tale.

The production played the melodramatic parts straight, making them work, and also got the humor that Christie often added.

Christie often would weave in social issues into her work, especially in regards to the treatment of children. For once, this came through to me in the production.

The professional actors, most of whom live in South Florida, also elevated Maltz’s production of The Mousetrap, including Barbara Bradshaw, Katherine Amadeo, and Barry Tarallo.

For a full review on The Mousetrap at the Maltz, visit Florida Theater on Stage.

While I have always been a fan of Agatha Christie, I have changed my mind about The Mousetrap and now see the value to this play.

Photo: Katherine Amadeo and Richard Iverson in the Maltz Theatre production of The Mousetrap. Photos courtesy Maltz

Oline Cogdill
Tuesday, 03 November 2015 12:11
Honoring the Novella and Rex Stout

by Oline H. Cogdill

Stout Rex 1975 viking
I adore short stories. While novels have the luxury of space, short stories are intricate snapshots that must pack in character development, an intense plot, and a sense of place in such a small framework.

I feel the same way about the novella and am glad to see authors keeping this art form alive.

One of the ways the novella is honored is with the Black Orchid Novella Award (BONA), which is given out each year in December by the Wolfe Pack, which promotes the 73 Nero Wolfe books and novellas written by Rex Stout, left, in partnership with Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.  

This year’s award will be given out during the 38th Annual Black Orchid Weekend on December 4, 5, and 6, 2015, at two different venues in New York City.

In addition to the awards, the weekend will include Stout’s 1969 interview on The Dick Cavett Show and his 1956 appearance on the TV anthology series Omnibus, as well as an excerpt from the first episode of the most recent TV adaptation of the Nero Wolfe corpus—the 2012 Italian version of Fer-de-Lance (in Italian, with English subtitles).  

For more information, visit

The Black Orchid Novella Award celebrates the literary tradition of Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe mysteries. The Black Orchid Novella Award is awarded to the best previously unpublished novella each year. The winner gets $1,000 and publication in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.

Entries should not contain overt sex or violence, nor include characters from the original series, but should emphasize the deductive skills of the sleuth.
And 2016 will be the 10th anniversary of the Black Orchid Novella Award.

I am starting to see a rise in the number of novellas published, and Stout, who popularized the form, remains on the list of must-reads.

“Many of Stout’s novellas have been issued as “three-fers,” three novellas in one book,” said Jane Cleland, long-term Wolfe Pack member and chair of the award. Cleland is the author of the Josie Prescott Antiques Mysteries.

And don’t think of a novella as just a long short story. A novella has a nuance all its own, honed with skill and care by its author.

As Linda Landrigan, editor-in-chief Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine says on the award’s website, "We need to stress that a novella is not a padded short story. A novella needs to be as tight and fast-paced as a short story or a novel. Authors need to ensure that the story they want to tell is properly sized for whatever format they choose."
So true.

To enter next year’s contest, entries must be 15,000 to 20,000 words in length, and must be postmarked by May 31, 2016. The winner will be announced at The Wolfe Pack’s Annual Black Orchid Banquet in New York City on December 3, 2016. Please visit for information on how to enter. Or, if you have questions, contact Jane K. Cleland at

And get busy, if no “acceptable” candidates are received, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and The Wolfe Pack reserve the right to declare no winner in any given year.
Here’s the list of past winners:

Oline Cogdill
Tuesday, 10 November 2015 01:11
Reality Infuses Julia Keller's "Last Ragged Breath"

by Oline H. Cogdill

keller julia
Many authors weave real events into their novels, making their fiction that much stronger, and even meaningful.

And the best authors use real events to complement their plot, careful not to go so overboard in reporting the facts that they lose sight of the novel.

Julia Keller is one of those authors who knows how to infuse reality into a gripping novel.

Keller’s latest novel Last Ragged Breath is a compelling story and the fact that real events are woven into the plot makes the story that much more intriguing. (Julia Keller is profiled in the latest issue of Mystery Scene magazine; Fall 2015 issue, No. 141.)

On February 26, 1972, the Buffalo Creek flood disaster occurred when the Pittston Coal Company's coal slurry impoundment dam, which was located on a hillside in Logan County, West Virginia, burst. Four days before, the dam had been declared “satisfactory” by a federal mine inspector.

The area was decimated.

The flood unleashed about 132,000,000 gallons of black waste water, which crested more than 30 feet high over 16 coal towns along Buffalo Creek Hollow.

Of the 5,000 people living in the area, 125 were killed, 1,121 were injured, and more than 4,000 were left homeless. The flood destroyed 507 houses, 44 mobile homes, and about 30 businesses.

The settlement to the families was small as Pittston Coal called the accident “an Act of God” in its legal filings.

Those are the facts.

kellerjulia lastraggedbreath
And while Keller doesn’t change the facts, she makes us see the human faces that suffered because of that flood in Last Ragged Breath, the fourth in her series about prosecutor Bell Elkins.

“The financial settlement was meager and most [residents] were left living in trailers,” said Keller in the Mystery Scene interview.

Last Ragged Breath “is my most overtly political novel—not in terms of Republican or Democratic—but in terms of social justice and what we expect of our elected officials and of corporations and their responsibilities to the community,” said Keller.

“The novel also gave me a chance to explore West Virginia history and to tie that history to the present day.”

Last Ragged Breath gives Keller a chance to reflect on social justice.

“Buffalo Creek was such an egregious case of corporation malfeasance. It’s the same kind of thing we still deal with today when we talk about social justice and the responsibilities of corporations to the communities in which they are set. Buffalo Creek was a perfect poster incident of that,” said Keller, who is working on her fifth novel in the series.

Oline Cogdill
Saturday, 28 November 2015 02:11