Fiction River #15: Recycled Pulp
Bill Crider

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

Teri Duerr
2015-10-16 18:01:00
The Golden Age of Murder: The Mystery of the Writers Who Invented the Modern Detective Story
Jon L. Breen

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

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

Teri Duerr
2015-10-16 18:04:05

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

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

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

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

Teri Duerr
2015-10-16 18:11:36
Street Poison: The Biography of Iceberg Slim
Jon L. Breen

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

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

Teri Duerr
2015-10-16 18:20:17
The John Dickson Carr Companion
Jon L. Breen

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

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

Teri Duerr
2015-10-16 18:30:07
So Nude, So Dead
Hank Wagner

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

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

Teri Duerr
2015-10-16 18:34:35
New Yorked
Hank Wagner

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

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

Teri Duerr
2015-10-16 18:39:47
Basket Case
Lynne F. Maxwell

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

Teri Duerr
2015-10-16 18:44:33
Black Cat Crossing
Lynne F. Maxwell

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

Teri Duerr
2015-10-16 18:53:02
The Cartel
Dick Lochte

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

Teri Duerr
2015-10-16 18:58:44
The Diamond of Jeru
Dick Lochte

It’s always a pleasure when someone makes the effort to re-create the magic of radio drama, and does such an entertaining job of it, you begin to realize it isn’t a lost art after all. That’s what the late Louis L’Amour’s son Beau has done, adapting a 2001 USA Network film based on his father’s adventure yarn set in the jungles of Borneo in the 1950s. Its protagonist, Mike Kardec (actor Joel Bryant, sounding sensible and properly heroic), is a former Marine captain, and a Korean War casualty, living in Borneo. He’s hired to guide an expedition into the jungle. His employer, middle-aged scientist John Lacklan (an arch, snide Time Winters), wants to find a large diamond for the wedding ring of his young bride, Helen (Traci Dinwiddie, who sounds precisely like the ethereal beauty L’Amour describes). Naturally, an idiot like Lacklan would erroneously suspect the honorable Kardec of making a play for his beautiful wife and fire him. Of course the guide he then hires would be a con man whose previous employers followed him into the uncharted jungle never to be seen again. What’s a noble hero to do but try to find the Lacklans, with the help of a couple of local tribesmen, and save them before they become the victims of “the last of the Borneo headhunters”? Splendidly paced and enhanced by original music and sound effects that aid rather than overpower the action, The Diamond of Jeru is a fine way to spend a lazy afternoon, stretched out in a hammock in the shade of a tree resting your tired eyes while Kardec and his pals battle the headhunters.

Teri Duerr
2015-10-16 19:01:38
Susan Elia MacNeal on the World According to John Irving
Susan Elia MacNeal

macneal susan elia c Andrea VaszkoThe sign was posted on the wall of Wellesley College’s English Department: John Irving, Novelist, seeks assistant for one year. I’d read everything John Irving had written, starting with The World According to Garp, up to his (then) most recent book, A Prayer for Owen Meany. I’d even read the lesser-known novels, about wrestling and bears and infidelity.

I was a senior and an English major in 1991—and if you remember, it was an awful year for college grads. Well, everyone, really. The stock market was down, unemployment was up, everyone I knew was trying to get into grad school or law school because there were no jobs….

And then that sign, in black Times New Roman on ivory paper, showed up.

I wish I could remember my interview—but I don’t. John Irving’s wife, literary agent Janet Turnbull Irving, did most of the talking. I do remember she was beautiful, enormously pregnant, and had green suede shoes. Irving himself stared out the window, but I did get the feeling he was listening intently. And I do remember when he spoke, he gazed up and out, as if picturing the words on an imaginary page as they were coming out of his mouth.

Through some feat of crazy luck, I got the job, and that fall, I moved to Vermont. I took a studio apartment in the attic of an old house in Manchester and drove every day to Dorset. I’d drive up a mountain, to the very top, where the Irvings lived in a huge house, built by an architect to their every specification. The painting of the apple used on the cover of The Cider House Rules hung in their kitchen.

I wish I could say I was a good assistant—I wasn’t, particularly. But I did learn a lot about writing and writers. Some of Janet’s clients were Robertson Davies, Alison Lurie, and other Canadian luminaries, and I read as much of their work as I could. John had author friends like Ron Hansen and Robert Stone, whose work I also devoured.

John approached (and I’m assuming still approaches) his work like a “regular job.” He would already be in his wood-paneled office when I arrived at 9 am, and worked throughout the day on Son of the Circus and various articles (I remember his piece against censorship for The New York Times, “Pornography and the New Puritans,” shaped much of my thinking about freedom of authors, censorship, and feminism.) At around 4 pm, he’d stop and go to his huge private gym (complete with red wrestling mats) to work out, and then around 5 or 6, begin cooking some gourmet feast for dinner.

macneal mrsrooseveltsconfidanteHe only used a manual typewriter—I think some version from the 1960s?—so I was asked to type draft after draft into the computer, which he wouldn’t even touch, then print out and present the pages to him for revision and editing. Then he’d pass them back to me, and I’d enter the changes into the computer file. Seeing his writing change, what he’d edit out, what he’d expand upon, was an education better than any MFA program. It was a fascinating bird’s eye view and one I learned much from.

It was a hard year—I remember being lonely (my friends were in Boston or New York, and there weren’t a lot of twentysomethings in Manchester). My little attic room had a bat infestation. My winter driving skills and tires were lacking, and I ended up in ditches a few times. But it was still a heady experience.

At the time, I had no conscious ambition of becoming a novelist (and if I’d had, being in the presence of one of the greats would have been unbearably intimidating). I instead aspired to be an editor, and went to the Radcliffe Publishing Course at Harvard, and then worked for the “Little Random” part of Random House as I made my way through the byzantine corridors of publishing.

But something has always stayed with me from my Vermont adventure: a firm belief in freedom of the press, an obsessive love of em-dashes, and the knowledge of how one of the great authors of our time every day sits down to the same blank piece of paper as the rest of us do.

Teri Duerr
2015-10-17 04:18:27

The sign was posted on the wall of Wellesley College’s English Department: John Irving, Novelist, seeks assistant for one year.

Fall Issue #141 Contents

141cover465

Features

Longmire Rides Again

Craig Johnson, the author of the Sheriff Walt Longmire novels about a laconic Wyoming lawman, is attracting the fame and the fans that come with a string of bestselling novels and a hit TV show. There’s even a Longmire Days fan festival.
by Michael Mallory

Death is a Lonely Business: The Mysteries of Ray Bradbury

Surprisingly, the celebrated author of The Martian Chronicles and Dandelion Wine began his career in crime pulps and went on to write several well-received mystery novels.
by Michael Mallory

Not Quite Heaven: Julia Keller’s West Virginia

The horrific 1972 Buffalo Creek Disaster, caused by a mining company, was the inspiration for Keller’s latest Bell Elkins novel.
by Oline H. Cogdill

The Hook

First Lines That Caught Our Attention

The Dark Vision of Ida Lupino

Director, producer, screenwriter, star—Lupino was one of the most versatile and influential talents in film noir.
by Jake Hinkson

Gormania

A chat with Margaret Maron, author of the Deborah Knott mysteries.
by Ed Gorman

Long Upon the Land: A Review

Margaret Maron’s final Deborah Knott mystery.
by Art Taylor

All-Star Detecting with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

The sports icon—and Sherlockian—has written a novel starring Mycroft Holmes.
by Oline H. Cogdill

“L.A. Requiem” Crossword

by Verna Suit

Departments

At the Scene

by Kate Stine

Mystery Miscellany

by Louis Phillips

Hints & Allegations

Thriller and Ned Kelly awards, Harper Lee Prize, CWA Daggers

The Hook

First lines that caught our attention

My Book

But That’s Another Story
by Art Taylor

How to Haunt a House
by Leigh Perry

Reviews

Small Press Reviews: Covering the Independents

by Betty Webb

Very Original: Paperback Originals Reviewed

by Lynne Maxwell & Hank Wagner

What About Murder? Reference Books Reviewed

by Jon L. Breen

Sounds of Suspense: Audiobooks Reviewed

by Dick Lochte

Short & Sweet: Short Stories Considered

by Bill Crider

Mystery Scene Reviews

Miscellaneous

The Docket

Letters

Our Readers Recommend

Advertiser Info

Teri Duerr
2015-10-20 15:13:49
At the Scene, Fall Issue #141

141cover465Hi Everyone,

We may all enjoy the damaged-yet-hip privates eyes, the crazed-yet-erudite serial killers and the dead-yet-hot vampire cops of current crime fiction, but there is something to be said for a good, old-fashioned hero with a code of honor and a commitment to his community. Yes, Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire is a throwback in today’s world, but I’m betting that label wouldn’t bother him a bit. It certainly doesn’t bother his many, many fans. Oline Cogdill caught up with Johnson for a chat in this issue. She also spoke with Robert Taylor, who plays the Wyoming sheriff in the Netflix series Longmire. Boy howdy!

Ray Bradbury is one of my favorite alltime writers, yet I was surprised to learn of the extent of his work in the crime genre. In this issue, Michael Mallory offers an overview of Bradbury’s early pulp short stories and innovative mystery novels.

Here’s an image: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, basketball icon, riding on the Lakers’ bus—and avidly reading Sherlock Holmes stories. It was time well spent, apparently, because now Abdul-Jabbar has written his own Sherlockian tale, or rather, a tale featuring Sherlock’s older brother Mycroft. Don’t miss our interesting conversation with the amiable all-star in this issue.

Julia Keller’s novel Last Ragged Breath is especially timely given the current trial of Don Blankenship, the former CEO of Massey Energy Company, for the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster in West Virginia in which 29 miners lost their lives. Keller’s novel was inspired by another West Virginia mining-related catastrophe from the 1 970s, and it’s a grim reminder that greed can kill.

There’s lots more in this issue, but I want to be sure to welcome our new contributing editor, Matt Schlecht, to the Mystery Scene masthead. Matt’s been handling a lot of our Twitter and Facebook communications, as well as other editorial tasks. He’s worked at a number of magazines over the years and we’re delighted to have his expertise in house.

Enjoy the issue!

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

Kate Stine
Editor-in-chief

Teri Duerr
2015-10-20 15:22:28
Fall Issue #141
Teri Duerr
2015-10-20 16:26:39
The Killing Room
Sharon Magee

In the fifth book in Christobel Kent’s Sandro Cellini series set in Florence, Italy, the disgraced ex-cop finds his waistline growing, while his private investigation client list shrinks. His wife, Luisa, drags Sandro to the grand opening of the Palazzo San Giorgio, luxury apartments converted from an old palace, to introduce him to manager Alessandro Cornell in hopes that Cornell can push some business Sandro’s way. Shortly after the opening, the security manager, Giancarlo Vito, is fired and then found dead under suspicious circumstances. Cornell offers Sandro the security job, which he reluctantly accepts.

Immediately, he senses something dark about the palazzo. Rumors circulate that a room was unearthed during the renovation that was once used for unspeakable horrors. A resident’s dog disappears, as does another’s favorite bracelet. Dog feces are smeared on doors. One resident is locked in the steam room. And someone slips a porn magazine into Sandro’s briefcase for Luisa to find. Sandro also discovers the bad vibes carry over to the newly installed residents, all rich, unlikable, and secretive. As Sandro investigates Vito’s death, he discovers that any one of the residents might have had cause to want the ex-security manager dead. When another body connected to the palazzo is discovered, Sandro knows he must find the perpetrator of this evil.

London-born Kent spent several years living in Florence, a city she thought she’d hate but grew to love. Her knowledge and love for Florence’s culture and geography shine through in this series. Her characters, with the exception of Sandro and his cohorts (especially Luisa, a wonderful no-nonsense character who keeps Sandro on the straight and narrow), feel a little flat, but the story’s tension more than compensates. Sandro Cellini will be around for a long time to come.

Teri Duerr
2015-10-27 15:48:45
The Child Garden
Vanessa Orr

When Gloria Harkness answers her door on a late Monday evening, she finds an old school friend, Stephen Tarrant, standing on her doorstep, having what he claims is the worst night of his life. Despite not having seen him for years, she quickly becomes involved in an old childhood mystery—and a number of vicious murders.

Gloria is not your typical protagonist; the divorced mother of a special-needs child, she leads an isolated life at Rough House, located “10 miles between nowhere and nowhere else.” She spends her days tending to others, including her son, Nicky, and her landlord, Miss Drumm, who are both in a care facility. Despite this, she easily slips into the role of investigator in this psychological thriller, unwittingly putting herself and those she loves in danger. As she unravels the mystery of who killed April Cowan, a woman who used to go to school with Tarrant, she begins to unearth a Pandora’s box of other secrets, putting her in direct conflict with the killer as well as other townspeople who have things to hide.

While I originally found it hard to warm up to Gloria, her no-nonsense attitude, mother-bear protectiveness, and willingness to confront any issue earned my respect; and I, like many of the characters with whom she comes into contact, also underestimated her intelligence. As the story unfolds, it is a pleasure to see her world expand and her confidence grow, and to realize that, far from being a sheltered pitiable person, she is a force with which to be reckoned.

As the narrator of her own story, at one point Gloria says that looking back, if she had a crystal ball and could have seen her future, she wouldn’t change a thing. Having seen the strength that Gloria gained in her quest to find the truth, neither would this reader.

Teri Duerr
2015-10-27 15:53:24
Encore
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

When actress Bella James is hired for a nine-month run at Canada’s famed Shaw Festival Theatre, she leases a small house in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. As soon as she moves in, however, her dog Moustache digs up the long-interred bones of a woman in the yard. Thirty years earlier, a woman was brutally beaten in the house, but survived. When the police come to investigate the bones, Bella is convinced there is a connection, but the lead detective is reluctant to reopen the 30-year-old mystery.

Fortunately, one of the cops, Jeffers, also believes there’s a tie-in. Since he has to investigate in his spare time and without his boss finding out, he recruits Bella to help with the case. Before long, this unusual detecting duo discovers a link to the very show that Bella is performing, and more skeletons start turning up, although these are of the figurative skeletons-in-the closet variety. When her dog is poisoned and nearly dies, Bella realizes that someone believes that she is closer to a solution than she really is.

In addition to enjoying an intriguing and complex mystery, readers also receive an enjoyable tour backstage at a major theater festival. To top it off, there’s even a bit of blossoming romance between Bella and the veterinarian (Dr. Gorgeous, as she refers to him), who treats her dog.

Mystery, theater, romance, and a lovable dog. That’s hard to resist, and it’s all brought to life by an author who has worked as an actor for nearly 20 years.

Teri Duerr
2015-10-27 15:56:46
A Chorus of Innocents
Eileen Brady

In this seventh Sir Robert Carey Mystery, A Chorus of Innocents, we find the resourceful Lady Elizabeth Widdrington drawn into a particularly foul murder. It is 1592 in the north borderlands of Scotland. A minister, James Burn, has been beheaded and his very pregnant wife, Poppy, raped. When Poppy shows up at Lady Elizabeth’s door, Elizabeth becomes part of a conflict as deep and complex as Scottish clan rules. So starts an intriguing mystery, chock-full of historical references and rousing prose.

It’s up to Lady Elizabeth to find out who killed James Burn and why. Oxford University graduate Patricia Finney, writing under the pen name P.F. Chisholm, gives her readers a fascinating and realistic historical mystery. The life that a woman of noble birth, such as Lady Elizabeth, could expect to live is strangulating by modern standards. Despite the restrictions of her abusive husband, she cleverly holds her ground. Helping her find justice is the mysterious Mr. Anricks, a traveling tooth puller, who has to fight off claims of witchcraft because he does his job too well. I particularly enjoyed the elderly Lady Hume, grandmother of the laird of the land, a character who is lost in the past and viciously unpredictable.

Although this is the seventh book in the series, it reads as a standalone. So if this series is new to you, then hoist a cup of ale and catch up on the fun, as I intend to do.

Teri Duerr
2015-10-27 16:00:03
Fool Me Once
Robin Agnew

This book was a pure blast, start to finish. Set in tiny Berdache, Arizona, the stepsister of the nearby (and much hipper) Sedona, Berdache is populated with tarot card readers, holistic healers, and fortune tellers, one of which is our narrator, Alanis McLachlan, who has inherited the White Magic Five and Dime from her deceased mother. Her mother, whose ashes reside in Alanis’ fish tank, was something of a con artist and Alanis is trying to fix all the bad karma for which her mother was responsible. The novice tarot reader Alanis offers free readings for former customers just to right the balance.

Each chapter is introduced with a card image described in terms familiar to a layperson. However, much of Alanis’ time in this novel is consumed with helping (and then saving) the hapless Marsha, who appears to be a domestic abuse victim. When Marsha’s ex turns up dead, she’s accused of the crime. Alanis is on a righteous quest to find the real killer, despite the fact that Marsha could not look more guilty.

While Alanis means well, she has a trust issue (as in she trusts no one), and she isn’t averse to lying or occasionally breaking and entering. She’s in charge of her younger sister who lurks in the background wanting more of a slice of the action. I can see the sister developing into more of a major character in future books. She also has a putative boyfriend, Vincent, whose mother loves her—Vincent isn’t so sure about his feelings. She has a stalkerish former “client” of her mother’s, E.G., who is helpful when it comes to knowing the ins and outs of certain types of criminal behavior. With the help of these three, Alanis tears around Berdache to find the real killer of Marsha’s ex.

Hockensmith’s tone is light, but not dopey; funny, but not nasty. And he has a breezy but smart storytelling style that suits his characters and setting. Being of a certain age I loved his points of reference (at one point Alanis introduces herself and Vincent as Jennifer and Jonathan Hart). I also thoroughly enjoyed the tarot bits sprinkled throughout the book in the form of chapter headings, readings, and illustrations. The only tiny caveat I had was when I first started reading I was certain his narrator was male; once I adjusted to the fact that Alanis was female I felt I was on firmer ground.

A funny book in which the reader also learns something is a rare treasure indeed.

Teri Duerr
2015-10-27 16:31:25
Hollow Man
Katrina Niidas Holm

Mark Pryor, the captivating storyteller behind the profiler Hugo Marston series set in Europe, writes beautifully about terrible things, so it should come as no surprise that there’s a lot to love in his new standalone, Hollow Man. It is the tale of an Austin, Texas–dwelling English expatriate named Dominic. A prosecutor by day and a musician by night, Dominic is also a self-confessed psychopath (though he prefers the term sociopath; “it has fewer connotations of evil and violence”).

When readers first meet Dominic, he’s controlling his unsavory impulses and living the life of a model citizen. But under the stress of a demotion at work and a ban from playing his favorite club for allegedly copying another musician’s song, his facade of normalcy starts to crack. Add to Dominic’s faulty moral compass money, guns, some dimwitted accomplices, and a gorgeous woman with a felonious plan, and you have the recipe for both a heist gone horribly awry, and one heckuva compelling crime novel.

Pryor’s latest is structured to maximize tension. It’s clear from the outset that everything’s going to go to hell, but you’re in the dark as to the details. Readers spend the first half of the book guessing at how Dominic and company’s foolproof plan will fail, and the remainder waiting for the other shoe to drop. Pryor uses Dominic’s first-person narration to marvelous effect. You know you’re not getting the whole story, but it’s impossible to tell who’s lying and to whom. Is Dominic an unreliable narrator, or is he just a pawn in someone else’s game? That question alone is enough to keep the pages turning.

Pryor’s crowning achievement, though, is the way he makes the reader complicit in Dominic’s machinations. He begins by soliciting sympathy for his antihero. Once that’s accomplished, Pryor drops the psychopath bomb. It’s okay, though, because Dominic’s not a monster; as he tells readers, “I want to fit in, not go to prison.” Plus, it’s not his fault he doesn’t feel emotions like the rest of us; that’s a design flaw, not a life choice. And when he does commit a crime, you almost can’t blame him. You don’t condone his actions, of course, but you might do the same if you were in his shoes. At that point, you’re all in, which means when things start to spiral out of control, you’re left with no choice but to root for Dominic’s success—even if it comes at the cost of another man’s ruin.

Teri Duerr
2015-10-27 16:35:28
Move Your Blooming Corpse
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

In a mash-up of My Fair Lady and Sherlock Holmes, Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins find themselves investigating a case that begins at the Royal Ascot horse race in Edwardian England. Because Eliza’s father is part-owner of Donegal Dancer, a horse running in the event, the pair is at the scene when a man is trampled on the track and a female co-owner of Donegal Dancer is found murdered in a stable. When another of Donegal Dancer’s owners is murdered, Eliza and Henry are on the case.

In this second entry in the Eliza and Henry detection series by Meg Mims and Sharon Pisacreta (aka D.E. Ireland), Eliza is a speech instructor herself and the prime mystery solver as well. In fact, Professor Higgins’ last name here should be Doolittle, because, other than identifying where people come from by their speech patterns, Henry does little to solve the case. Eliza, meanwhile, becomes involved with suffragettes, learns jujitsu, and places herself in danger by becoming part-owner of the horse herself.

I was a bit confused by the relationship between the two main characters. Although Eliza has a good-looking young oarsman as a boyfriend, she’s obviously not entirely charmed by his dullness. Meanwhile, her relationship with Henry is more as a colleague and fellow crime solver. Regardless, the banter between the two is one of the more entertaining aspects of the novel.

If you like your mysteries frothy, you’ll find yourself intrigued and entertained.

Teri Duerr
2015-10-27 17:06:50
Quicksand
Betty Webb

Novels featuring human trafficking aren’t all that unusual these days, but in Carolyn Baugh’s grim police procedural, protagonist Nora Khalil, a Philadelphia cop of Egyptian descent, shares a Muslim background with the girl she is attempting to rescue.

When a girl is kidnapped from a local mosque, the authorities suspect local gangbangers from the Junior Black Mafia (JBM) of the crime, and of the subsequent murder of a Muslim woman who saw the girl being dragged away. Nora isn’t so sure the JBM is responsible, though, their main business traditionally being drugs—heroin, meth, etc.—and their recent foray into prostitution usually involving drug-addicted “volunteers,” not kidnap victims.

Given the prostitution and the drugs (not to mention the attendant killings), Quicksand could have been just another crime novel about criminals using women for profit, but Nora’s unusual family situation allows the book to head into fresher territory. Although she’s a cop—and a good one—her father, Ragab, is trying to arrange a marriage for her. Some of the men Ragab considers suitable matches already have wives (polygamy is allowed in Islam). Nora, who grew up thinking that her father, the owner of a popular restaurant, was relatively progressive, is shocked. She is even more surprised when he suddenly announces that he doesn’t like her riding in a squad car with her new male partner, and demands that he or Nora’s brother escort her whenever she has to leave the police station to interview a witness.

Belatedly, Nora—who still lives at home and grew up believing that “family is everything”—realizes she must choose between her job and her family. This anguished choice affords readers an insight into a cultural disconnect most Americans seldom experience, and that in itself makes the book well worth reading. But Quicksand also shows the truly horrific side of human trafficking, and it pulls no punches. Several pages are devoted to gruesome portrayals of rape (one of the victims is a child), and in one instance, author Carolyn Baugh gives us a three-page description of a victim’s mutilated body. Some readers might find this to be too much; others will find it realistic. After all, human traffickers are not a gentle bunch.

Teri Duerr
2015-10-27 18:54:34
Shanghai Redemption
Annie Weissman

At the beginning of Shanghai Redemption, former inspector Chen Cao is promoted to director of the Shanghai Legal Reform Committee—a position that means little, since any legal “reform” comes as a directive from high-up Communist Party officials. Chen figures out that he was promoted to take him off a current case, but has no idea which one.

Disillusioned, Chen takes a week off between jobs to visit his father’s grave in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, during the Qingming Festival, when it is expected that children visit their parents’ graves to perform filial duties. Chen finds his father’s grave in disrepair and contracts to have it restored. He personally oversees the job, happy to delay his return to Shanghai.

But trouble from his case follows Chen. Over the next few days, he is lured to a nightclub and barely escapes being arrested. His mother’s apartment is burglarized, a new friend is murdered, and an attempt is made on Chen’s life. He has always tried to work within the system, but now he has to dodge it to stay alive and solve the case of a dead American.

Ex-inspector Chen is also a poet and translator. He sees parallels between people and scenes and poetry. Several lines of poetry are quoted throughout the book, adding to the reader’s understanding without getting in the way of the story.

This is the ninth of the Inspector Chen series set in modern-day Shanghai. As in other books in this series, Shanghai’s business and political milieu play a big part in the setting and the plot. The rich capitalists, small entrepreneurs, corrupt officials, pricey suburbs, the vast inequality of the society, the subways, and the congested roads immerse outsiders in the modern city of Shanghai.

Teri Duerr
2015-10-27 20:43:39

xiaolongshanghairedemptionThe ninth of the Inspector Chen series set in modern-day Shanghai.

Obsession Falls
Eileen Brady

New York Times bestselling author Christina Dodd’s latest is a suspense novel bordering on a thriller, with a little romance to spice it up. This is the second of the Virtue Falls series, and in it, interior designer Taylor Summers is revisiting her childhood home in Idaho when she comes across the brutal attempted abduction of a young child. Impulsively she distracts the kidnappers, allowing the child to escape but putting herself in jeopardy. Soon after, her car explodes from a booby trap, leaving her stranded in the frigid wilderness with only the lessons her father taught her to survive. Only after Taylor breaks into a vacation cottage for shelter does she learn she has been declared dead, and is a suspect in the kidnapping. Her former life has been wiped away.

On the run from the abductor, Taylor ends up in Virtue Falls, a small coastal town in the state of Washington, where she is eventually rescued from the cold by one of Dodd’s most charismatic characters, former Coast Guard commander Kateri Kwinault. Taylor changes her identity to become Summer Leigh. As she builds a new life for herself she suspects the killer is hunting her down.

The only bump in this fast-paced thriller is the weak characterization of the two men vying for Taylor’s attention: the good guy Kennedy McManus and the bad guy Michael Gracie. Their intense attraction to the heroine and their motivations ring false, but not enough to distract from the action. Instead it’s Kateri, a survivor of a tsunami and her own near-death experience, who steals readers’ hearts.

Teri Duerr
2015-10-27 20:50:28