Hannah Swensen Bakes for the Holidays

by Oline H. Cogdill

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I am so enjoying made-for-TV movies based on mystery writers’ series that have been airing on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channel.

These light mysteries based on several amateur sleuth series are that breath of fresh air many of us need. I love hard-hitting series such as Bosch and Longmire, but sometimes I also crave something light and fun.

And Hallmark is delivering.

The latest is Murder She Baked: A Plum Pudding Mystery, based on the culinary mystery series by Joanne Fluke, which airs at 9 p.m. Nov. 22 on the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channel. And of course, there will be encores.

This is the second made-for-TV movie based on a Fluke novel; the first was Murder, She Baked: A Chocolate Chip Cookie Mystery, which ran earlier this year. A third film is schedule for February 2016.

Murder She Baked: A Plum Pudding Mystery finds Hannah trying to solve the murder of a local entrepreneur known for his wild ideas. His body is found in his office. Suspects are abundant, including ex-wives and angry investors.

Meanwhile, Hannah is trying to make a plum pudding—hence, the title—and get ready for the holidays.

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The movie hardly breaks new ground, but it is entertaining and allowed a good break from the Criminal Minds marathon I was caught up with.

Alison Sweeney makes an appealing Hannah, showing the character’s intelligence, strength, and even vulnerability. Sweeney is best known for her Emmy-nominated role of Sami Brady on Days of Our Lives. She also has hosted The Biggest Loser for 13 seasons. And if that wasn’t enough, Sweeney directs episodes of General Hospital and Days of Our Lives.

Emmy-nominated actor Cameron Mathison is exactly what we want from detective Mike Kingston—a handsome and safely sexy foil for Hannah.

There is only one problem with Murder She Baked: A Plum Pudding Mystery. Fluke has a habit of making chocolate chip cookies to share with her readers at her book events.

Murder She Baked: A Plum Pudding Mystery airs at 9 p.m. Nov. 22 on the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channel, with encores.

Photos: Top, Alison Sweeney and Cameron Mathison; bottom, Alison Sweeney in Murder She Baked: A Plum Pudding Mystery. Photos courtesy Hallmark Movies & Mysteries channel

Oline Cogdill
Saturday, 21 November 2015 04:11
Lynn Hightower on Wendell Berry
Lynn Hightower

img hightowerlynn author photo 11344842530I was a 16-year-old college freshman taking every writing class on campus when I walked into Wendell Berry’s Imaginative Writing class. It was a sun-drenched day in Kentucky that required air conditioning and simple faith that fall was actually on the way and we could stop sweltering and carve pumpkins in just a few weeks. Berry was a god on the University of Kentucky campus, and since I knew everything back then, I went in wondering what all the fuss was about.

Berry is tall. He has presence—handsome, broad-shouldered, slim, and confident with fine brown hair and very blue eyes that held a smile behind the stern look he turned on our writing egos. I think it took all of eight minutes for me to realize this man was the real deal, and the best thing I could do was shut up and listen. I went out that day and bought The Memory of Old Jack, and then I knew how lucky I was to wander into that classroom.

The Memory of Old Jack begins with Jack Beechum on a small-town bench in Port Royal, Kentucky. Aching, tired, getting vague with age, and full of the memories of a life that spanned a marriage that was doomed to fail, a mistress who died in a fire, the birth of a child, the death of friends and family, and the struggle to build a farm and a life while the economy went to hell and the country went to war.

berry thememoryofoldjackBerrys novels take you to a place you want to go. Though they may unfold in a small town in Kentucky, make no mistake, these are the stories of each and every one of us, and how we yearn for safety, love, and the ties of family and community in a life of inevitable loss and occasional pleasure.

We engage with Jacks dreams for his farm—what it is and what it can be. We take satisfaction when he works side by side with a team of horses, and we learn right with him how to be a careful steward of the land. There is as much pleasure when we see Jack come together with his family and neighbors to gather in a crop and settle to a table of fried chicken, fresh baked bread, and ice tea, as there is grief when Jack overreaches and almost loses the land and the home he loves. And when he comes in after a long day, exhausted and hungry, to a wife who is silent and accusing, blaming him for her own disappointments, we understand why he winds up in the arms of a woman who smiles when he walks in the door.

Berry is eloquent, wise, and a formidable talent, but he is most importantly a storyteller. We are the people who live in his books. And when we see Jack Beechum get back up and stay in the fight no matter how life brings him to his knees, then we know that we can do the same. And this I think is why we are compelled to read—because not only are we entertained, we know we are not alone.

Lynn Hightower is the author of 10 novels, including two mystery series—one featuring homicide detective Sonora Blair and the other featuring private investigator Lena Padgett. Flashpoint, the first Sonora Blair mystery, was a New York Times Notable Book.

Recently, Open Road Media has released the first-ever ebook editions of her Sonora Blair mystery series and the Elaki series of futuristic police procedurals, which begins with Alien Blues.

Hightower teaches at the UCLA Extension Writers' Program, where she was named Creative Writing Instructor of the Year in 2012. The author lives with her husband in Kentucky.


This “Writers on Reading” essay was originally published in At the Scene” eNews November 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
Friday, 06 November 2015 03:11

img hightowerlynn author photo 11344842530"I was a 16-year-old college freshman taking every writing class on campus when I walked into Wendell Berry’s Imaginative Writing class..."

Brash Books: Celebrating a Year of Great Books

by Oline H. Cogdill

butlerjack truegrift
Back in the mid-1990s, one of my favorite series was about Blanche White, an African American woman who worked as a maid in the Boston area.

Written by Barbara Neely, the Blanche novels explored class and race with much humor. But these novels were never lightweight. During the four-novel series, Neely also looked at violence against women, racism, class boundaries, and sexism.

Blanche on the Lam (1992) received several best first novel honors including an Agatha, an Anthony, the Go on Girl! Award from the Black Women's Reading Club, and a Macavity. Neely’s other novels in the series were Blanche Among the Talented Tenth (1994), Blanche Cleans Up (1998), and Blanche Passes Go (2000).
As far as I and Blanche's many readers were concerned, the series ended too soon. 

Another series I was quite taken with featured private investigator Frank Pavlicek, an ex-NYPD cop and an avid falconer. The series by Andy Straka won a Shamus Award and was nominated for an Anthony and an Agatha Award. Early on, Publishers Weekly named Straka one of “ten rising stars” in crime fiction.

Readers also owe a debt of gratitude to Maxine O’Callaghan, whose series about female PI Delilah West predated novels from Sue Grafton, Marcia Muller, and Sara Paretsky. Delilah was introduced in a short story in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.

I mention these authors because they are among some of the 28 authors whose backlists have found a new home with publisher Brash Books.

Brash Books was launched in fall 2014 by veteran crime novelists and longtime friends Joel Goldman and Lee Goldberg.

It started with about 30 crime titles that Brash re-released in print and digital through a partnership with Amazon. That connection recently helped Brash Books’ authors Straka and Phoef Sutton (Fifteen Minutes to Live) top the hardboiled bestseller list on Amazon.

Goldberg, who lives in Los Angeles, and Goldman, who is based in Kansas City, began talking about their frustrations with publishing. Both authors had turned to self-publishing, while also continuing to release work with traditional publishers. They also shared a fondness for many series no longer in print.

From their concerns and passions, Brash Books was formed.

“Brash Books' first year has been a fun, exciting experience in which we've learned a tremendous amount about the opportunities and challenges in today's publishing environment,” said Goldman in an email to Mystery Scene.

“We began with a mission to publish ‘the best crime novels in existence’ and we're doing that with the 46 titles we've released since September 2014,” he added.

Goldman published eight novels in his Lou Mason and Jack Davis thriller series with Kensington between 2002-2012. Goldberg has written more than 40 books, including coauthor of the Fox & O’Hare series with Janet Evanovich with the latest novel The Scam; he also is listed as an executive producer on the TV series Diagnosis Murder, among others.

And while much of their list consists of returning favorites, Brash Books is not a reprint house interested only in reviving backlists. It publishes original works, the first of which was Treasure Coast by Tom Kakonis, and also includes Storme Warning by W.L. Ripley, Off & Running by Phil Reed, and Go Down Hard by Craig Faustus Buck. 

This November, Brash is releasing three new novels that Goldman says reflect Brash Books' "focus on new titles.”

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1) The Last Good Place, by Robin Burcell, continues the Krug & Kellog thriller series written by Carolyn Weston that began with Poor Poor Ophelia, on which the hit TV series, The Streets of San Francisco (1972-77), was based. According to Brash Books, Alafair Burke, Alison Gaylin, Jamie Freveletti, Michele Gagnon, J.T. Ellison, Naomi Hirahara, and Paul Bishop are already fans. “Robin has done a fabulous job of bringing Weston's series into the present day and moving it from Santa Monica to San Francisco," said Goldman. "With her background as a cop and living in Northern California and her credentials as an award winning crime writer, there was no one better suited to continue this great series."

2) For the Dignified Dead, by Michael Genelin, is the fifth book in the acclaimed Commander Jana Matinova series. It recently garnered positive reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist.

3) True Grift launches a very funny debut by Jack Bunker, about an insurance scam gone awry, which Publishers Weekly called in a starred review a "fun, fast read, kind of like Elmore Leonard meets Donald Westlake, or the Golf Channel hosting a season of Better Call Saul." 

And more new works are planned, while Brash Books also expands its reach to Japan, China, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, South Korea, Russia, Germany, Hungary, Croatia, Poland, Greece and Israel, to start. “We continue to search for and, happily, find great new titles from established and debut authors as we move toward a list balanced between backlist and front list titles,” said Goldman.

New publishers such as Brash Books and Polis fill a much-needed gap left by large publishers. Needless to say, the diversity offerted by new publishers is welcomed by authors and readers, alike.

“One of the most exciting things for us has been how enthusiastically the mystery and thriller crime fiction community has embraced Brash," said Goldman.

"At every conference, we hear from authors and readers how much they enjoy our books and our videos and how happy they are that Brash is doing what we do."


Oline Cogdill
Saturday, 14 November 2015 08:11
Jack Bunker on the Importance of Being Funny
Jack Bunker

bunker jackLike most writers, I’ve always been a big reader. In college I discovered Joseph Wambaugh—in my mid-20s, Elmore Leonard. With both authors I was less absorbed in the plots themselves than by the flawless dialogue. Unique as Hemingway was, when it comes to dialogue, he couldn’t carry Elmore Leonard’s jock.

I tried to pare to a handful a roster of authors I would hope have influenced my own writing. In addition to the greats cited above, I’d have to include: Dan Jenkins, William Kennedy, Tom Wolfe, Paul Theroux, and John Gregory Dunne.

Just as Wambaugh and Leonard craft(ed) unforgettable dialogue, Paul Theroux and William Kennedy create a sense of place that stays with the reader long after the story ends. Kennedy’s Roscoe is my personal favorite. Like his better known books in the Albany cycle, its setting is every bit as palpable as the lush and exotic Singapores, Indias, and Africas of Theroux’s more peripatetic oeuvre. Beyond the breathless pace of Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe gently layered multiple tissues of arcane references and inside jokes. I couldn’t say how many times I’ve read John Gregory Dunne’s True Confessions, but it never gets old.

bunker truegriftWhich brings me to Dan Jenkins. Whether set in football locker rooms, hardscrabble golf courses or network television studios, Dan Jenkins novels share at least one common denominator with the other authors listed above:


Every single writer I’ve cited has a sense of humor. I doubt anyone has read Dan Jenkins’s Life Its Ownself more than I have. I can still remember lines from Joseph Wambaugh’s The Choirboys more than 30 years later. True Confessions is no comedy, but every time I read it, I laugh.

And maybe that’s the nub. When you know a line or a scene is coming and you still laugh, that’s when you know it’s funny. Over the years, thousands of characters, plots, and themes have run together, but the writers with a special wit are the ones I remember. The books that made me laugh kept me coming back.


This "Writers on Reading" essay was originally published in "At the Scene" eNews December 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
Monday, 16 November 2015 11:11
Walter Mosley Named Grand Master; Raven, Ellery Queen Nominees

by Oline H. Cogdill

mosley walter
Walter Mosley
has been chosen as the 2016 Grand Master by Mystery Writers of America (MWA).

MWA's Grand Master Award represents the pinnacle of achievement in mystery writing and was established to acknowledge important contributions to this genre, as well as for a body of work that is both significant and of consistent high quality. Mr. Mosley will receive his award at the 70th Annual Edgar Awards Banquet, which will be held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City on Thursday, April 28, 2016.
This is a well-deserved honor as Mosley has proved himself to be a groundbreaker in the genre.

He started writing when he was 34 years old and has to date published more than 40 novels.

Mosley is best known for his Easy Rawlins series, beginning with Devil in a Blue Dress, which was made into a film starring Denzel Washington.This series shows what life was life for an African American in post-WWII Los Angeles.

He has also written three other series, featuring Fearless Jones, Leonid McGill, and Socrates Fortlaw. In addition, he has written science fiction, nonfiction, social criticism, young-adult fiction, plays, graphic novels, and numerous short stories.
Previous Grand Masters include Lois Duncan, James Ellroy, Robert Crais, Carolyn Hart, Ken Follett, Margaret Maron, Martha Grimes, Sara Paretsky, James Lee Burke, Sue Grafton, Bill Pronzini, Stephen King, Marcia Muller, Dick Francis, Mary Higgins Clark, Lawrence Block, P.D. James, Ellery Queen, Daphne du Maurier, Alfred Hitchcock, Graham Greene, and Agatha Christie.

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I have to admit that the Raven Award probably is my favorite award. Mainly because—full disclosure—I was honored with this award in 2013. The Raven recognizes outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing.

Two Raven Awards will be awarded in 2016: one to Margaret Kinsman and the other to Sisters in Crime. These are two inspired choices.
As a mentor, teacher, scholar, and editor, Margaret Kinsman has supported and promoted both the mystery genre as a whole and many individual writers.  As senior lecturer in popular culture at Southbank University in London from 1991 to 2012, she played a leading role in making crime fiction an important and legitimate field of study. She has worked hard both to expand readership of our genre in the general public and to expand understanding of the genre as a powerful form of social commentary.
From 2004 to 2011, Kinsman served as executive editor of Clues: A Journal of Detection, the only American scholarly journal dedicated to mysteries. She continues to serve Clues as a consulting editor. She is an international authority on Margery Allingham and has published extensively on other American crime writers. She is a U.S. citizen who divides her time between London and Iowa City, Iowa, where she is conducting research in the Nancy Drew archives at the University of Iowa.

Sisters in Crime has its roots at the 1986 Bouchercon in Baltimore. Sara Paretsky convened an initial meeting of women writers who were concerned about both the rising tide of graphic violence against women in mysteries and the lack of equity in review, award nominations, advances, and other measures of a writer’s success.

The following year during Edgars week, a group of women writers met in Sandra Scoppettone's SoHo loft for breakfast and formed Sisters in Crime. Initial steering committee members were a who’s who of women mystery writers, including Charlotte MacLeod, Kate Mattes, Betty Francis, Dorothy Salisbury Davis, Sara Paretsky, Nancy Pickard, and Susan Dunlap.
The mission of Sisters in Crime is to promote the ongoing advancement, recognition and professional development of women crime writers. Membership is open to all persons worldwide who have a special interest in mystery writing and in furthering the purposes of SinC. The organization has approximately 3,600 members in some 50 regional chapters in the United States and Canada.

Previous Raven winners include Kathryn Kennison, Jon and Ruth Jordan, Aunt Agatha’s Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Oline Cogdill, Molly Weston, The Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego, Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore in Chicago, Once Upon a Crime Bookstore in Minneapolis, Mystery Lovers Bookstore in Oakmont, PA, Kate’s Mystery Books in Cambridge, MA, and The Poe House in Baltimore, MD.
The Ellery Queen Award was established in 1983 to honor “outstanding writing teams and outstanding people in the mystery-publishing industry." This year the Board chose to honor Janet A. Rudolph.
Rudolph is the director of the fan-based Mystery Readers International, editor of the Mystery Readers Journal, a teacher of mystery fiction, and has been a columnist for most of the mystery periodicals. A native of Philadelphia, she now lives in Berkeley, California, where she completed a master's degree in art history, a credential in secondary education, and a PhD in religion and literature specializing in mystery fiction. She has received two Fulbright grants—one to India and another to Brazil.
Mystery Readers Journal, her brainchild, is the official publication of Mystery Readers International. Originally started as a newsletter to update the local mystery community on fun events, it is now one of the most important periodicals in the field. A quarterly, each issue focuses on a specific theme with major articles, author essays, special columns, and a calendar of events. Members of MRI award the coveted Macavity for excellence in mystery writing.
Again, Rudolph is an inspired choice. I met her at my first Bouchercon back in 1997 and consider her a friend.
Previous Ellery Queen Award winners include Charles Ardai, Joe Meyers, Barbara Peters and Robert Rosenwald, Mystery Scene publishers Kate Stine and Brian Skupin, Carolyn Marino, Ed Gorman, Janet Hutchings, Cathleen Jordan, Douglas G. Greene, Susanne Kirk, Sara Ann Freed, Hiroshi Hayakawa, Jacques Barzun, Martin Greenburg, Otto Penzler, Richard Levinson, William Link, Ruth Cavin, and Emma Lathen.      
For more information on Mystery Writers of America, please visit www.mysterywriters.org.

Oline Cogdill
Monday, 23 November 2015 09:11
Quick Gift Ideas

by Oline H. Cogdill

First, to all our readers, Happy Thanksgiving. We at Mystery Scene are thankful for each of our readers and look forward to giving you more insight into the genre as we move into 2016.

May your Thanksgiving—and upcoming holidays—be filled with happiness.

And that brings us to what to give people on your gift list. With Black Friday and Cyber Monday, many of you will be checking that list and trying to figure out what to give people.

If you have readers of the mystery genre on your list, we have some good suggestions.

Check out Mystery Scene’s monthly reviews if you are looking for book to give. I also review for other venues so Google my name for more suggestions.

FOYLE’S WAR: THE COMPLETE SAGA: I don’t think there has ever been a better series about life in England during and immediately after WWII.

Excellent acting from Michael Kitchen as Christopher Foyle, a police detective who solves crimes during WWII and then uses his talents at MI5 during the Cold War.

The series never shied away from showing how people respond with both good and bad intentions during the war, allowing their prejudices to override their common sense.

And death often came into the picture when viewers least expected it.

Adding to the terrific performances are Foyle’s driver, Sam Stewart (Honeysuckle Weeks) and DS Paul Milner (Anthony Howell). They were aided throughout the series by guest stars such as Rosamund Pike, James McAvoy, Charles Dance, David Tennant, and John Mahoney.

Though set in England, the concerns of anyone who has lived through a war are relatable.

Foyle’s War: The Complete Saga is a collector’s edition contains all 28 episodes of the series on 29 discs, plus 6 hours of bonus features. It is $199.99, visit AcornOnline.com. The entire series is also available to stream anytime on Acorn TV at www.Acorn.TV.

The set also includes a retrospective called Foyle’s War Revisited; interviews with series writer and creator Anthony Horowitz and stars Anthony Howell and Honeysuckle Weeks. There are also making-of documentaries, behind-the-scenes features, and a look at the era in which Foyle’s War is set. A 16-page collector’s guide includes episode synopses, character profiles, and reflections about the show.

REBUS: THE KEN STOTT COLLECTION: Ian Rankin’s series about Scotland detective John Rebus has long been a personal favorite.

So I was not surprised to love the film version of this series. I could watch this all day, episode after episode, and have.

Three-time BAFTA Award nominee Ken Stott (The Hobbit trilogy) stars as Detective Inspector John Rebus. The series kept the spirit—and much of the plot—of Rankin’s novels, showing the atmospheric city of Edinburgh, Scotland. The novels that translated to film include The Falls, Fleshmarket Close, The Black Book, A Question of Blood, Strip Jack, Let It Bleed, Resurrection Men, The First Stone, The Naming of the Dead, and Knots and Crosses.

All four seasons of this series is on this Rebus collection that includes 10 episodes, plus bonus features, on 5 discs. Rebus: The Ken Stott Collection is $59.99, AcornOnline.com. The entire series is also available to watch   on Acorn TV, at www.Acorn.TV.

RESTLESS: This is a new British thriller and I have been totally hooked since the first episode. Like Foyle’s War, it is a period piece that seamlessly moves between the 1970s and 1939 as it recounts a young woman’s discovery that her mother was recruited to be a spy during WWII.

Restless is based on the bestselling spy novel by William Boyd. Ruth Gilmartin (Michelle Dockery) is stunned to learn that her mother, Sally (Charlotte Rampling), has been living a double life. Her real name is Eva Delectorskaya (Haley Atwell), she worked as a spy for the British Secret Service in the 1940s, and now someone is stalking her.

The casting could not be more perfect—many A-list British stars who also will be familiar to American audiences. These include Hayley Atwell (Captain America, Marvel’s Agent Carter), Rufus Sewell (The Pillars of the Earth), Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey), Charlotte Rampling (45 Years, Broadchurch), and Michael Gambon (Harry Potter films).

The Restless DVD features two full-length episodes and is $34.99, visit AcornOnline.com. The miniseries is also available to watch on Acorn TV, at www.Acorn.TV.

weinmnasarah womencrimewriters
Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & '50s, edited by Sarah Weinman, Library of America, two volumes, $35/$70, 1,512 pages:
 Who hasn’t been enthralled by the 1944 film Laura, with Gene Tierney, Dana Andrews, and Clifton Webb?

But Laura in author Vera Caspary's story of the same title is a different woman.

Patricia Highsmith is best known for The Talented Mr. Ripley. But her story The Blunderer in this collection echoes her other famous Strangers on a Train as a corporate lawyer trapped in an unhappy marriage considers murdering his wife after reading a newspaper article about another murderer.

The works by Caspary and Highsmith, along with Dolores Hitchens, Dorothy B. Hughes, Charlotte Armstrong, Helen Eustis, Margaret Millar, and Elisabeth Sanxay Holding illustrate the range of these often-forgotten works by women writers, some of whom are neglected by today’s readers. Sarah Weinman has done an excellent job of choosing stories that will make readers want to investigate more works by these women writers. And readers also will want to have Weinman’s other compilation Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives: Stories From the Trailblazers of Domestic Suspense.

Full disclosure: I consider Weinman a friend and have been on several panels with her. Even if I didn’t know her, I would still recommend Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & '50s.
Nancy Drew Mystery Stories Books 1-4, Grosset & Dunlap, $31.96, 768 pages: This beautiful box set is perfect for both the adult and the child on your list, maybe even encouraging a marathon reading between the two. More sets will be coming—for future gift giving! The covers are beautiful and are like the covers when the series was first published. As for the plots, hey, you all know Nancy Drew.

mysterywriterscookbook 2015
Cocktail Noir: From Gangsters and Gin Joints to Gumshoes and Gimlets, Reservoir Square Books, $24.99, 256 pages:
Part nonfiction, part cocktail recipe cookbook, this slim book covers the drinking habits of gangsters and detectives—real and fictional. The gimlet featured in Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye, the scotch and soda from Woman in the Window, and the champagne bellini from While the City Sleeps as well as the drinking habits of Al Capone and Meyer Lansky. Don’t drive while reading!

The Grownup by Gillian Flynn, Crown, $9.99, 62 pages. Looking for a stocking stuffer that will take the edge off all the holiday cheer and put a bit of fear in your gift giving? Gillian Flynn creates a modern-day ghost story that is reminiscent of The Turn of the Screw and far from her uber-selling Gone Girl. This novella can be read in about an hour—sometimes that’s all you need in taking a break from family.

Cookbooks with a mystery theme made a delicious splash this year.

I recommend Goldy's Kitchen Cookbook by Diane Mott Davidson, from HarperCollins; The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook: Wickedly Good Meals and Desserts to Die For, edited by Kate White, from Quirk Books; and The Cozy Cookbook published by Berkley.

A final thought
And of course, a subscription to Mystery Scene is a good gift that lasts year-round.

Oline Cogdill
Tuesday, 24 November 2015 09:11
Red Icon
Betty Webb

Sam Eastland’s Red Icon, set mainly in Russia during World War I and World War II, covers the fall of the Romanovs and the rise of Stalin. Hardly the best of times, but a period so laden with drama that it’s a terrific choice for a top-notch thriller—which Red Icon is. Yet there is also a nostalgic sweetness in this book, provided by The Shepherd, a 900-year-old icon owned by Tsar Nicholas II which is rumored to magically ensure the eternal survival of Russia itself. With the rise of the Bolshevik threat, the Tsar orders young Inspector Pekkala to guard the icon, but the Bolsheviks soon depose the Tsar, and murder him and the entire royal family. Because of Pekkala’s royalist ties, he is imprisoned, and the icon vanishes. By the beginning of WWII, Pekkala has been successfully “reeducated” and now works directly for Joseph Stalin. During the war, The Shepherd resurfaces, and the icon winds up with Stalin, an avowed atheist. Nevertheless, Stalin plans to announce that Russia’s salvation from the invading German army is now assured. Out of an abundance of caution, he orders Pekkala to make certain the icon isn’t a fake and Pekkala follows orders. The gang’s all here in this extraordinarily well-researched book: the Tsar and the Tsarina, Rasputin, Stalin, and Hitler, as well as a mysterious religious cult that has somehow managed to survive hidden away in the vast Siberian countryside. This is the sixth Inspector Pekkala thriller (after last year’s Beast in the Red Forest), and the series continues to educate and astound. Although the reader will learn a lot about 20th century Russian history (every page is a revelation), the fictional Pekkala is definitely the star here. Intelligent and cynical, he deals equally well with peasants and dictators, and he’s not afraid to cross into enemy lines to verify The Shepherd’s provenance. One caution: what appear to be minor characters at the beginning of the book often turn out to be almost as pivotal as Pekkala himself, so careful reading is advised. Not that it will be a chore. Even with all that history, and all those characters, Red Icon remains an unputdownable book, and it’s every bit as exciting as it is smart.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 04 December 2015 01:12
Bill Crider

Some fans of Charles Todd’s novels featuring Inspector Ian Rutledge and WWI battlefield nurse Bess Crawford might not be aware that the two have also appeared in four short stories. These stories have now been collected in Tales. Two stories, “The Kidnapping” and “Cold Comfort,” have Rutledge as the main character, while the other two, “The Girl on the Beach” and “The Maharani’s Pearls,” bring Crawford to the fore. The latter story is a prequel of sorts, as it takes place in India when Crawford was a young girl and shows that early on she had developed qualities that served her well later in her life. “Cold Comfort” is a war-time story that finds Rutledge on the battlefield where he learns that not all the threats come from the enemy.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 04 December 2015 02:12
The Readaholics and the Poirot Puzzle
Lynne F. Maxwell

Not everyone can live up to the detecting standards established by Agatha Christie’s brilliant Hercule Poirot, but one can learn from his example, as Amy-Faye Johnson demonstrates in Laura DiSilverio’s The Readaholics and the Poirot Puzzle. On the heels of last year’s The Readaholics and the Falcon Fiasco, the initial entry in the “Book Club Mystery Series,” this entertaining, well-written, and well-plotted sophomore effort reprises Amy-Faye’s role as amateur sleuth, as well as superb event planner in the town of Heaven, Colorado. As an inveterate lover of mysteries, Amy-Faye initiated The Readaholics Mystery Book Club, enlisting as charter members her closest friends. In this novel, the Readaholics have taken on Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express and puzzle over the conspiratorial nature of the murder featured in the book. How, they wonder, can multiple people come together to plot the demise of an unsavory character? Doesn’t Christie’s plot strain credulity in this regard? While reasonable minds can differ on that question, there is no doubt that Christie’s tightly knit plot informs this new book. Indeed, it is a happy coincidence that Amy-Faye has recently pondered the elements of conspiracy in Christie’s masterpiece because the notion of conspiracy is precisely what she needs to consider when her brother Derek’s obnoxious business partner Gordon is murdered and Derek is the primary person of interest. In addition to Derek, whose business venture was on the verge of failure because of Gordon’s irrational and erratic behavior, the list of potential suspects is considerable. Well-documented as a serial philanderer, whose numerous wives and lovers have reason to assassinate him, Gordon was also feuding with his irresponsible son, Kolby, who stood to inherit Gordon’s substantial wealth. Perhaps the culprit was his sister or brother-in-law, who blamed Gordon for the death of their daughter. They believe Gordon was driving while intoxicated, and thereby killed their beloved daughter in a tragic automobile accident. Or maybe the culprits were members of a group of women dedicated to “outing” serial adulterers? And the list continues. DiSilverio will keep readers guessing as Amy-Faye and the colorful Readaholics work together to bring the killer—or killers (remember Poirot’s conspiracy puzzle)—to justice. What evil will beset Heaven next? Stay tuned for next year’s follow-up, The Readaholics and the Gothic Gala, when Amy-Faye and friends prove once again how rewarding reading can be!

Teri Duerr
Friday, 04 December 2015 03:12
Hank Wagner

Powerless, by Tim Washburn, opens as a massive solar event known as a coronal mass ejection, or CME, triggers blackout conditions for most of the globe, with a special impact on the United States and other countries in the Northern Hemisphere. Given that the effect of the CME’s is felt almost immediately, there is little to do except to deal with the technological chaos which ensues, as hospitals lose power, planes are stripped of the ability to navigate, and nuclear power plants face the prospect of imminent meltdown. Apocalypse has come, and the survivors are left to pick up the pieces.

Washburn’s unsettling narrative follows the lives of several players in the post-disaster landscape, including army veteran Zeke Marshall, Drs. Samuel Blake and Kaylee Connor of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and Paul Harris, the president of the United States. Washburn shows formidable storytelling skills, juggling multiple and varied narratives, all the time maintaining the reader’s intense interest in each. The only problem with Powerless is that, despite its considerable length, you find yourself wishing it were longer.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 04 December 2015 03:12
Dick Lochte

The title may seem a bit incomplete, but in Grafton’s latest dip into SoCal sleuth Kinsey Millhone’s circa-1980s career milestones, the “X” no doubt stands for Teddy Xanakis. She’s a client who hires Kinsey to find her estranged son, a bank robber recently released from prison. This being a private eye novel, Xanakis is, of course, lying. Kinsey quickly discovers that she is, in fact, a recent divorcee, still furious with her wealthy ex for knocking boots with her best friend. Her plan is to enlist the ex-con’s help in stealing a valuable painting that fell on hubby’s side in the settlement. Grafton is always generous with her plots and, along with thwarting the vengeful Teddy, Kinsey agrees to help the widow of a fellow private eye put his affairs in order, a task that turns into a hunt for his murderer. And she also has to deal with neighbors from hell, a truly monstrous couple of elderly and very slippery con artists who are bringing down the quality of life for her loveable, avuncular landlord, Henry Pitt. As always, actress Kaye vocally epitomizes the intelligent, streetwise Kinsey with an attitude that’s flippant and hardboiled without sacrificing femininity or intelligence. And, with the detective approaching the end of the 1980s (just as Grafton is running out of alphabet), Kaye adds a note of wistfulness to the character’s concern for her ability to stay relevant in a computer-ruled future.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 04 December 2015 03:12
The Man With the Golden Typewriter: Ian Fleming’s James Bond Letters
Jon L. Breen

The editor, a nephew of James Bond’s creator, arranges the letters chronologically, providing in his connecting narrative biographical context as well as summaries of the novels. The emphasis is professional correspondence with publishers, editors, agents, readers, and fellow writers, including Somerset Maugham and Noel Coward. Topics often include contracts, royalty rates, ad budgets, cover illustrations, and choice of titles. (Early on, Live and Let Die was to be called The Undertaker’s Wind, which may be a more evocative title.)

Occasionally letters to Fleming are included where needed for clarification. Most of the chapters are named after Bond novels, but four are devoted to individual correspondents: journalist and intelligence operative Ernest Cuneo, gun expert Geoffrey Boothroyd, fellow novelist Raymond Chandler, and Yale librarian Herman W. Liebert. There is a minimum of personal material. With a few exceptions, letters to his long-suffering wife were unavailable.

Ian Fleming was a highly amusing, invariably polite, sometimes facetious letter writer. His correspondence with fans, usually those who caught him (or believed they did) in errors, is notably friendly. Exchanges with personnel at his British publishers Jonathan Cape show how receptive he was to criticism and close editing of his manuscripts. The arc of his writing success is demonstrated by two references to thriller writer Peter Cheyney: early on he aspires to rise to the Cheyney class (commercially), but later is worried about descending to it.

Fleming apparently tired of Bond even more quickly than Conan Doyle of Sherlock Holmes. As early as 1954, he feared self-parody, “which is obviously a great danger when writing of characters like James Bond in whom one doesn’t believe….Readers don’t mind how fantastic one is but they must feel that the author believes in his fantasy.”

In a banner year for secondary sources in the crime/mystery/thriller genre, this is another winner. Reviewed from advance reading copy; index not seen.

Teri Duerr
Friday, 04 December 2015 03:12
Winner of Tony Hillerman Prize

by Oline H. Cogdill

wolf kevin
The Tony Hillerman Prize for best first mystery has become one of my favorite annual contests because of the quality of debut authors it has launched.

The crime fiction that wins the Hillerman Prize is set in the Southwest and honors the spirit of those wonderful mysteries that Hillerman wrote.

The latest winner of the contest is Kevin Wolf, who is a member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and Crested Butte Writers. He lives in Littleton, Colorado, with his wife of 40 years and their two beagles. Wolf’s novel The Homeplace will be published during 2016.

Wolf joins an elite group of writers. Previous winners include John Fortunato’s Dark Reservations; CB McKenzie’s Bad Country, which was nominated for a 2014 Edgar Award; Andrew Hunt’s City of Saints; Tricia Fields’ The Territory; Roy Chaney’s The Ragged End of Nowhere; and Christine Barber’s The Replacement Child.

I have found the authors who take the Hillerman Prize write such affecting plots that capture the scenery so well. Many of their novels have made it to my best-of-the-year list.

Thomas Dunne Books/Minotaur Books and Wordharvest co-sponsor the award that is given annually at the Tony Hillerman Writers Conference in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Hillerman’s Joe Leaphorn/Jim Chee mysteries were set on the Navajo reservation and are considered to be the first "regional" mysteries to become national bestsellers. Hillerman’s novels combined Navajo traditions and beliefs in contemporary plots. His books have been translated into many languages and frequently make the New York Times bestseller list. Hillerman died at age 83 on October 26, 2008.

Hillerman’s daughter, Anne Hillerman, brought back Leaphorn and Chee in her 2013 novel Spider Woman’s Daughter; her novel Rock With Wings was published this year.

Anne Hillerman launched the first Tony Hillerman Writers Conference, Focus on Mystery, in 2004 through Wordharvest, the business which she co-founded with Jean Schaumberg.

For more information about the Hillerman Prize, please visit http://wordharvest.com/contest/.

Oline Cogdill
Sunday, 06 December 2015 10:12
Benjamin Boulden

Ivory is the second thriller to be published in the United States from veteran Australian writer Tony Park. Set in Africa, with action spanning the Indian Ocean, Mozambique, and South Africa, it features Alex Tremain, a former member of the British Special Air Service, struggling hotelier, and highly skilled modern pirate.

Alex operates from his family’s now-dilapidated hotel on the Island of Dreams, a small island off the coast of Mozambique in the Indian Ocean. Alex has decided to refurbish the once-luxurious hotel owned by his parents, and turns to piracy for funds. When an opportunity for a big score arrives—a mysterious package, reportedly worth £1 million to be exchanged between a small decrepit Chinese vessel and a British container ship—he and his team make a play for it. The operation goes sideways and the package goes missing. Alex leaves with an alluring lawyer named Jane Humphries as a hostage, a mission to find the package, and information about another lucrative play. This time it’s a heist of four tons of elephant ivory set to be harvested from a sanctioned cull of South African elephants.

The elephant cull, or hunt, is described in disturbing detail, and acts as a foil for Alex’s darker aspirations. His desire for easy gain is overshadowed by his sympathy for the animals. Park’s cast is filled with the usual larger-than-life villains, including a sociopath mercenary named Piet Van Zyl, and a womanizing, borderline-psychopath businessman. There is also a developing love interest in Jane that is satisfyingly problematic (a love triangle). But what makes this thriller far from ordinary are the scenic descriptions of southern Africa, an impressively intricate plot with two or three sharp twists, heady action from the first to last page, and a likable, if roguish, protagonist. Ivory was so far from ordinary that it reminded this reader how good thrillers can be.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 07 December 2015 12:12
What You See
Oline H. Cogdill

Jane is in the middle of a job interview with Channel 2’s news director when a stabbing occurs in a public square across from Boston’s historic Faneuil Hall in broad daylight. Already on location, Jane is asked to cover the story as a freelancer. Jake and his partner also are on the scene investigating the crime, and trying to round up witnesses who may have photographed the crime on their cell phones. Meanwhile, Tenley Siskel, in Boston’s traffic surveillance office at City Hall, prepares to record the chaos at Faneuil Hall when she is stopped by her boss.

Jane’s assignment is further complicated when she receives a frantic call from her sister, Melissa, who claims that the nine-year-old daughter of her fiancé may have been kidnapped by the child’s stepfather. Will Jane put her family crisis above her career?

Ryan shrewdly builds her intricate plot into a tightly wound story, pulling in each aspect and connecting them with aplomb. Ryan’s perspective on the ethics of journalism and politics adds another compelling layer to What You See.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 07 December 2015 02:12
A Kind of Grief
Robin Agnew

The gentle Highland Gazette Mystery novels set in 1950s Scotland feature Joanne McAllistair, reporter and writer, divorced from an abusive husband and now happily married to her newspaper editor. Some of the fun of the books comes from the small-town setting, some from nostalgia involving telephones with handsets and cords, newspaper presses, and homemade scones for tea, and some from the awakening role of women in society. Joanne’s shaky steps are only a taste of what’s coming as the 1960s are about to dawn.

The complexities of women’s lives are front and center here, and Joanne becomes intrigued, and then obsessed, with a woman named Alice Ramsay, who has been accused (and acquitted) of witchcraft in a small town in the Northern Highlands. Joanne decides to write an article about witchcraft and the women accused of it, and travels north to meet Alice.

When they meet, Joanne is transfixed by the lovely and (to her eyes) exotic items Alice has in her home. Alice is an artist and Joanne is intrigued by her work, but when another reporter misuses Joanne’s notes from the meeting, Alice is furious and refuses to have anything more to do with Joanne.

When Alice is later discovered dead, Joanne’s interest in Alice’s story deepens. As the story develops in A.D. Scott’s leisurely style, it becomes apparent there was more to Alice than met the eye. Joanne continues to delve into the woman’s background to the consternation of her husband, especially when it begins to bring unwanted attention from law enforcement.

There’s another thread involving a young reporter at the paper struggling with an overbearing mother who causes a great deal of trouble between him and his fiancée. His family story darkens and deepens; it’s the secondary plot but it’s just as compelling as the one about Alice.

Throughout the book, the sweetness of Joanne’s new marriage and the communication between husband and wife is a real anchor to the story. This is a pleasant, mild read, perfect for curling up on a sofa on a cold day with a cup of tea, and if possible, a homemade scone.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 07 December 2015 02:12
Shakespeare No More
Betty Webb

The death of one of the most famous historical figures of all time figures in Tony Hays’ Shakespeare No More, in which Stratford Constable Simon Saddler, the Bard’s onetime friend, suspects that Shakespeare might have been poisoned. At first, profit seems the most likely motive, because the writer had been enjoying a rare financial upswing. But after questioning the citizens of Stratford, the constable turns his suspicions toward several cuckolded husbands out for revenge. Shakespeare had bedded so many men’s wives (including Saddler’s own beloved Peg) that he earned the nickname of William the Conqueror. Eventually Saddler extends his investigation to London, where he realizes his former friend had often fallen afoul of England’s nobles and cultural superstars. These include the Earl of Southampton, the Earl of Somerset, Sir Francis Bacon, poet Ben Jonson, architect Inigo Jones—and even King James himself. While Shakespeare No More professes to be a mere mystery novel, it is the kind of mystery novel that will send you running straight to the history books to find out which of author Hays’ plot contrivances is based on fact, and which he invented. The book is so cunningly written that at times it’s hard to tell. Was Shakespeare really a can’t-keep-his-pants-zipped philanderer? Was Anne, Shakespeare’s prim Puritan wife, the harpy she appears to be in the novel? Did Shakespeare anger King James by sneaking his own name into the new version of the Bible? Or was Hays simply having fun tweaking the noses of the Oxfordians (critics who believe the Earl of Oxford wrote all those plays and poems)? Who knows? One thing is for certain: If you love Shakespeare, you’ll have a ball reading this terrific—and often tongue-in-cheek—novel, because it makes the great Bard come alive again.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 07 December 2015 10:12
The Last Good Place
Betty Webb

Talk about a blast from the past. Robin Burcell’s The Last Good Place brings back Sergeants Al Krug and Casey Kellog, the detective duo who starred in the 1970s TV series The Streets of San Francisco. For those who don’t remember, Krug (originally played by Karl Malden) was the feisty copper who believed rough stuff got more results than did Kellog, his dovish, college-educated partner (a young Michael Douglas). In author Burcell’s crisp updating of their adventures, the two use cell phones and computers, but their personas remain unchanged. This time around, they are in pursuit of a serial killer dubbed The Landmark Strangler, who attacks his victims near famous landmarks. The investigation grows more complicated when they are dispatched to see if the strangled jogger found near the Golden Gate Bridge is another of the Landmark Strangler’s victims. They soon realize that Trudy Salvatori’s murder might be merely a copycat killing. As the case unfolds, they begin to suspect that her violent death could be connected to Marcie Valentine, a neighbor who suspected Trudy was having an affair with her husband. The plot thickens when the detectives discover that Trudy, who was in the process of divorcing her own husband, worked for Congressman Parnell, a powerful local politico. Further stirring the plot pot is Jenn Barstow, a Pulitzer-chasing reporter in pursuit of her own agenda. As in the original TV series, author Burcell, a former cop herself, treats us to snappy squad-room dialogue, but also takes time to highlight the complications of each detective’s personal life. Fans of the original series will love The Last Good Place, because despite all the cell phones and computers, there is a distinct ’70s feel to the book. True to the decade, Kellog is appropriately idealistic and Krug is appropriately crusty. Let’s hope that readers unfamiliar with the TV series will take to a book that’s set in the present, yet is so grounded in a past sensibility.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 07 December 2015 10:12
The Spy on the Tennessee Walker
Betty Webb

American Civil War history informs Linda Lee Peterson’s The Spy on the Tennessee Walker. When San Francisco magazine editor Maggie Fiori takes some time off from work to dig into a family mystery, her view of her family—and herself—changes dramatically. Struck by the discovery of a daguerreotype depicting her great-great-great-grandmother riding a large horse, she visits relatives in Oxford, Mississippi, where members of her family still live. As it turns out, Victoria Alma Cardworthy was not only a Confederate nurse during the Civil War, but also served as a spy for the North, knew Walt Whitman (who gave her a signed copy of his poetry collection Drum-Taps), married three times, and was imprisoned for bigamy. Those are enough shocks to ripple the branches of any family tree, but as Maggie discovers, even more are waiting as she delves into a box filled with historical papers and photographs. Much of The Spy on the Tennessee Walker is told through Victoria’s journal and letters as they give us an up close and personal account of the Civil War. To give us even more insight into the times, several chapters begin with quotations from Whitman, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Tubman. Author Peterson’s research reveals many little-known facts: slaves helped tend the Confederate wounded, spies rode in hot air balloons to collect intelligence, and it was not uncommon for wives to dress as men in order to ride into battle alongside their husbands. In one chapter, we even get a primer on the history of condoms. Although sometimes a bit slow-moving because of all that history, the novel will be a fascinating read not only for Civil War buffs but also for anyone who has ever had to choose between love and loyalty.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 07 December 2015 10:12
The Sea Beach Line
Betty Webb

In Ben Nadler’s The Sea Beach Line young Izzy Edel embarks on a quest to find Alojzy “Al” Edel, his possibly murdered, possibly still alive father. Izzy, a drug-addled college dropout, travels from Santa Fe to New York City, where Al was a street bookseller, to find out the truth. With no place to stay and little money in his pocket, Izzy winds up sleeping on a mattress in the storage unit where his father kept his stock. After a while, he finds himself among the other street vendors hawking books in Greenwich Village, rubbing elbows with street hustlers and Russian gangsters. He dislikes his new job, but says, “Of course, becoming a bookseller was not supposed to be an end in itself, but a means to connect with Al.” To a certain extent, it works. During his continued search for his father, a rabbi reminds him of the old story about Abraham’s attempt to slay his own son to please God, but then offers a new version. That re-interpretation turns out to be a warning. The origin of this complicated novel is unusual. The Sea Beach Line began as author Nadler’s MFA thesis, then took on a life of its own, which good books are prone to do. With all its flashbacks and seemingly off-plot dips into Hasidic mysticism, Nadler’s opus is no easy read. It’s a novel to savor slowly, like fine wine, and perhaps be savored again and again.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 07 December 2015 11:12

A quest for a disappeared father leads a lost young man on a journey of used books, Hasidic mysticism, and self-discovery.

The Crackpot and Other Twisted Tales of Greedy Fans and Collectors
Bill Crider

I can pretty well assure you that you’ve never read anything quite like the stories in The Crackpot and Other Twisted Tales of Greedy Fans and Collectors, written and illustrated by John E. Stockman and edited and introduced by David Decker, with a foreword by Richard A. Lupoff. These tales have been rescued from an obscure fanzine published by Stockman from around 1962 until 1979. You’ll find “doomed fans. . . obsessed collectors . . . crooked dealers . . ,” and there are crimes aplenty, if not much mystery, and all the stories are told in Stockman’s eccentric style. The stories are mainly about Edgar Rice Burroughs and sci-fi fandom, but if you’re one of those obsessed collectors, you’ll find some laughs and entertainment here, for sure.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 07 December 2015 11:12

These tales rescued from an obscure fanzine published between 1962 until 1979 feature “doomed fans, obsessed collectors, and crooked dealers ” galore.

Cancans, Croissants, and Caskets
Lynne F. Maxwell

In Cancans, Croissants, and Caskets Mary McHugh shifts the scene to another heavenly location: Paris. This breezy book is third in McHugh’s “Happy Hoofers Mystery Series,” featuring a group of female friends who also happen to perform as tap dancers in interesting public venues, such as a Russian cruise ship and a train tour through Spain. This time the Hoofers have been booked to perform on a sightseeing cruise on the Seine—not too shabby a gig by any standards! As readers might suspect, along with the fireworks complementing Bastille Day, another variety of explosive situation—namely, the untimely murder of their employer, and, later, of his wife—fragments the performance schedule. Cancans, Croissants, and Caskets, narrated from the perspective of Janice Rogers, one of the Hoofers, takes readers on a whirlwind tour through Paris with the Hoofers, in the company of a colorful cast of potential suspects. Along the way, Janice is beguiled—and almost murdered—by a handsome, wealthy man who is, unfortunately, too good to be true. She lands on her feet, however, joyously prepared to tap dance at the Hoofers’ next venue, the Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro, as revealed by the teaser at the end of the book. Armchair travelers and wannabe tap dancers will enjoy the series, especially since author McHugh employs the books to provide vicarious travel experiences, including the culinary delights of the current venue. Très magnifique!

Teri Duerr
Monday, 07 December 2015 11:12
What’s Done in Darkness
Hank Wagner

What’s Done in Darkness by Kayla Perrin focuses chiefly on Buffalo, New York college student Jade Blackwin, who, after a personal meltdown in her senior year, desperately seeks more stability. Deciding a change of scenery is appropriate, she accepts a job offer in Florida from a friend of her sister’s, who runs a restaurant in Key West. Little does Jade know, but the drama she’s experienced to date is nothing compared to what she’s about to face in the Sunshine state, as she finds herself caught up in the nefarious plans of a woman who has no compunction about killing to get ahead. At first totally dumbfounded, Jade is forced to dig deeper into the life of her benefactor in order to preserve the slimmest chance of survival.

Perrin makes an interesting choice to begin the book, placing readers squarely on the scene as the murderess dispatches one of her first victims, then ignoring her point of view completely for the rest of the novel. It turns out to be a perfect way of creating nail biting suspense, as readers can only watch helplessly as the author’s flawed but likable heroine is slowly drawn deeper into the killer’s web. A wild and bumpy ride, this indirect sequel to Perrin’s novel of sorority life, We’ll Never Tell, delivers genuine chills.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 07 December 2015 11:12

This indirect sequel to Perrin’s novel of sorority life, We’ll Never Tell, delivers genuine chills.

I, the Jury
Dick Lochte

Arguably the author’s masterwork and a private eye classic by any standard, I, the Jury is rather late in being treated to an unedited audio edition. In 1991, an abridged version appeared in cassette format, narrated by Stacy Keach, who portrayed the novel’s popular hero, Mike Hammer, on TV and continues to be, in my mind at least, as physically linked to the character as Raymond Burr was to Perry Mason. The actor eventually read adaptations of several early Hammers and more recently has performed unabridged Blackstone Audio productions of the hardest-boiled hero’s recent adventures, like King of the Weeds (2014) and Kill Me, Darling (2015). But while Keach’s present strong voice is fully appropriate for the mellowed and mainly anger-managed Hammer of today, it would be a bit too seasoned for I, the Jury’s two-fisted whirlwind, still fresh from WWII and fired-up over the savage murder of his best pal, a guy crippled when he took a bayonet meant for Mike in “the stinking slime of the jungle.” Hammer doesn’t care whom he knocks down or climbs over in getting to the killer he has no intention of turning over alive to his top cop friend, Pat Chambers. Mike Dennis, whose hoarse delivery recently enhanced Lawrence Block’s Borderline, endows Hammer with the kind of rough-edged intensity one assumes Spillane had in mind, typing away on that roll of butcher paper back in the mid-1940s. While Hammett’s Continental Op got the job done and Chandler’s Marlowe, for all his sensitivity and romanticism, was usually detecting as a hired hand, Hammer was a New York guy working not for pay but for payback and Dennis’ delivery catches that unstoppable yearning for vengeance. His growl seems so natural that it comes as something of a surprise when he does an abrupt performance switch to a very British butler, or a high-pitched hoodlum, or both of the seductive Bellamy twin sisters (identical save for a small strawberry birthmark that Hammer pauses briefly to investigate). And if the “delicious” society psychiatrist Charlotte Manning doesn’t quite have the “voice like liquid” that Spillane describes, it’s fluid enough to keep the action flowing. The one slightly questionable choice Dennis makes is giving Mike’s loyal secretary Velda a Brooklyn accent. Not that it detracts from what is a vigorous and highly entertaining interpretation of a legendary genre work.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 07 December 2015 11:12

Spillane's private eye classic now available in an unbridged audio edition

Unsold Television Pilots: 1955-1989
Jon L. Breen

For any show-biz junkie, here is an irresistible and addictive browsing book. The compilation of pilot episodes that didn’t make it to air as series began as a childhood project of future mystery novelist and TV writer/show runner Lee Goldberg. The massive reference was first published in 1989 and now appears in a corrected and updated edition with some new entries added and some pilots subsequently picked up as series dropped. Arrangement is by television season, beginning with 1956-57, loser pilots for which would have been developed in 1955. The early seasons are subdivided by production company, ones from the late 1960s and after by network only and subdivided by comedy and drama. Each entry includes length of program, air dates if any, principal credits, and plot summary. Available information varies and tends to be fuller in the more recent years. All genres are covered, but crime and mystery titles are frequent. Some sample tidbits: Higher and Higher (1968), a Thin Man-type husband-and-wife whodunit starring Sally Kellerman and John McMartin, had an extraordinary supporting case (Dustin Hoffman, Robert Forster, Alan Alda, Billy Dee Williams); Erle Stanley Gardner never saw his Cool and Lam mysteries (written as A.A. Fair) join Perry Mason in the TV logs, but he was very enthusiastic about jockey and $64,000 Question contestant Billy Pearson as the ideal Donald Lam; in contrast to his successes with Richard Diamond and Peter Gunn, Blake Edwards failed to sell mystery series about a Harvard-educated private eye called the Boston Terrier (played by Robert Vaughn), radio’s insurance investigator Johnny Dollar, San Francisco PI Gus Monk, a “legendary anti-terrorist agent” called The Ferret (Robert Loggia), and Justin Case (George Carlin as a ghost private eye). If this sort of trivia enthralls you, this is your book.

Two related titles by Goldberg from the same publisher will intrigue the same readers: The Best TV Shows That Never Were, first published in 1991 as a shorter version of Unsold Television Pilots, and Television Fast Forward: Sequels & Remakes of Cancelled Series 1955-1992, originally published in 1992.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 08 December 2015 12:12