Vanessa Orr

Tenacity is both the name of a British naval submarine on which this story takes place, and the most notable quality of Lieutenant Danielle “Dan” Lewis, a member of the Special Investigation Branch’s Kill Team looking into a suicide onboard the sub. Despite the fact that the Tenacity’s commanding officer requested her for the assignment, his crew members go out of their way to stall her investigation, and make her time onboard miserable.

The cramped, claustrophobic atmosphere of the sub lends a lot to this story, as Dan fights to make headway among the all-male crew. There are many times during the investigation that Dan, and the reader, want to come up for air—an impossibility when the action is happening 200 meters below the ocean’s surface. Even in her own quarters, Dan isn’t safe from those who want to harm her. Her inability to ask others for help, and the fact that she is hiding her own horrible secret, isolate her even more from her shipmates. When more deaths occur, tension builds as Dan realizes that she is trapped on the sub with a murderer.

J.S. Law, a former senior nuclear engineer in the Royal Navy Submarine Service, does a good job of educating the reader about life on a submarine without getting too technical. He ably conveys the loneliness, and at times, terror, of his female protagonist working in the sub’s testosterone-laden setting, and within the Navy’s old boy’s culture, both offshore and on. Tenacity is an impressive debut novel that will leave the reader rooting for Dan and her next case.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 22 December 2015 08:12
Vanessa Orr

While I wasn’t expecting to love Danny Cleary, a former athlete, amateur fighter, and crack addict, I cannot get enough of this character—luckily for me, Cracked is the first book in a trilogy. When the reader first meets Danny, she is in the middle of a drug binge, which is interrupted by a call telling her that her twin sister, Ginger, is dead. Carrying two grams of powdered cocaine and half an eight ball of crack across the Canadian border, she heads to California to avenge her sister’s death.

There are so many things to like about this story, especially Danny. Not only is she a kick-ass vigilante, she’s funny and extremely loyal to the people whom she loves. When she finds out that her two young nephews have been kidnapped by the people who killed her sister, all bets are off as she and her rock musician brother take to the streets to find the guilty parties and make them pay.

There’s a good bit of violence in this story, as can be expected when you’ve got drug addicts chasing murderers, and despite having some fighting skills, Danny doesn’t emerge unscathed. She deals with her pain, both physical and emotional, by getting high. It is a coping method that led to her addiction in the first place. While the reader wants her to put the crack pipe down, addiction, just like in real life, isn't that simple—and neither is Danny, which is what makes her such a memorable character. She has a lot of flaws, but she also has many good qualities, which makes her quest for redemption all the more worthy of the journey.

If Barbra Leslie’s goal was to create an addictive character, she definitely succeeded. This book was like crack to me, and I want more.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 22 December 2015 08:12
Murder on the Last Frontier
Sharon Magee

It’s 1919, and the women's suffrage movement in the US is in full bloom. One of its most ardent supporters is Charlotte Brody, a young, single woman from Yonkers, New York. She’s outspoken and fearless, and has just arrived in Cordova, Alaska to spend time with her brother Michael, the village doctor, and to recover from a bad breakup with her boyfriend. She plans to write essays on the lives of women on this last frontier for The Modern Woman Review.

Among Michael’s rounds is the biweekly checkup of the working girls at the local house of prostitution. When one of the girls shows up dead, Charlotte jumps at the chance to find her murderer with the less-than-enthusiastic acceptance of Deputy Marshall James Eddington (whom she finds herself unwillingly drawn to). As she digs into the case, she uncovers plenty of dark secrets simmering just below the surface of this small town, but the more resistance her investigation meets, the more determined Charlotte is to expose Cordova’s underbelly.

Cathy Pegau gives readers a look, through Charlotte's eyes, at the controversial topics of abortion, prostitution, and mercy killings during the early 20th century. Pegau, who lives in Alaska, does a credible job of showing readers the landscape and weather, as well as immersing readers in her 1919 frontier setting. All in all, an excellent start to her promising new Charlotte Brody series.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 22 December 2015 08:12
The Man on the Washing Machine
Eileen Brady

The Man on the Washing Machine is a fun romp through a fictional neighborhood in San Francisco called Fabian Gardens. Newcomer Theophania Bogart is a displaced Brit with a bucketful of secrets. She’s settled down, bought a building, established a business, and generally wiped away all aspects of her previous life—except for her unusual first name.

The plot gets off to a fast start when Theo witnesses handyman Tim Callahan tumble out a third-story window. She barely recovers from witnessing the gruesome murder before another strange thing happens: she returns to her apartment after walking her dog to find an odd man in a navy business suit standing on top of her washing machine. Theo manages to throw a pot of oregano at the prowler before he escapes into the night, but what he was looking for, she can only guess.

Quirky San Francisco characters populate Theo’s world: Nicole, her opinionated partner in the bath accessories store (who goes missing); constantly fighting neighbors Derek and Nat; garden designer and computer hacker Haruto Miazaki; and a weird old man who wanders around in the evening killing slugs and snails. A little romance sneaks into the story as well in the handsome form of new neighbor and tenant Ben Turlough, who has a few secrets of his own.

English born Author Susan Cox never lets up on the action. Between the parties and murders, it’s a wonder anyone in Fabian Gardens survives to get anything done. A First Crime Novel Award winner from Minotaur Books and Mystery Writers of America, this quick-paced story will keep you guessing right up to the end.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 22 December 2015 08:12
Trial Run
Hank Wagner

“I need two people who are utterly without fear. Only two. Two people who are willing to explore the impossible.” So says government operative Reese Clawson, while on the very unorthodox recruiting mission that serves as the attention grabbing opening scene of Trial Run. Written by Davis Bunn under his Thomas Locke pseudonym, that scene is only the first of many gripping set pieces in this unique novel about three groups with wildly different objectives exploring the outer limits of human consciousness. It’s a long, very strange trip, one with myriad disorienting and dangerous detours, but one which could very well represent the next giant leap forward for mankind.

While certainly owing a debt to films like Inception and The Matrix, Trial Run exploits some very original and exciting ideas, as Locke appears to be equally comfortable in wrestling with intellectual concepts as he is at writing stunning action sequences. He’s also as adept at portraying his villains as he is his heroes—you might not agree with their mission, but you fully understand their motivations. Finally, he creates a believable, high-stakes scenario, a literal race against time, which he milks for every drop of tension available. Lives hang in the balance throughout, creating nail-biting tension that does not let up until the book’s final scene. Judging by that scene, a sequel is in the offing, which should be welcome news for thriller readers everywhere.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 22 December 2015 08:12
White Leopard
Kevin Burton Smith

It’s been suggested that Chandler’s The Big Sleep was essentially the tale of private eye Phillip Marlowe’s fall from grace, from his early identification with a dragon-slaying knight, to the rueful admission that he was no longer playing a “game for knights” and that he was now “part of the nastiness.” Soulmayne “Solo” Camara, the son of a white Parisian mother and an African father, has no such illusions— he knows he’s part of the nastiness. He’s damned and doomed, and he doesn’t much care. Not anymore. So pour another drink. Do a line of coke. Get a whore.

A former drug squad cop in Lyon, France, he’s pretty much lost everything he ever gave a damn about: his wife, his son, his job, his ideals. Burnt out and disgraced, he retreats to his late father’s hometown in a fiercely rendered city of Bamako in Mali and “its poverty-stricken people of varying colors, the stench of sewers and the incessant clamor,” intent on rebooting his life. But what he settles for is work as a cut-rate private eye, willing to cut corners and utilize, if not fully embrace, the local corruption.

Which is what a French lawyer counts on, when she hires him to help facilitate the release of her kid sister, charged with drug trafficking, from prison. She figures a well-placed bribe, delivered by Camara, ought to do the trick. But things go horribly wrong, and the nastiness rises, in a bruising, sordid tale of violence, vengeance, drugs and desperation.

This is award-winning French crime writer Laurent Guillaume’s English language debut (original title: Black Cocaine), and it’s an eye-popping, nuanced look at modern-day Africa—a far cry from the sharp but mostly genteel domesticity of Alexander McCall Smith, and an even further cry from the dismissive stereotypes we’re usually presented with on the nightly news. These are real people here, living, breathing and dying; they’re Muslim and Christian, white and black, good, bad, and yes, sometimes ugly. Caught up in the middle of it all is Camara, dubbed the “White Leopard” by the local press due to his café au lait skin (he notes with a touch of bitter irony that in France he was considered black). He sports a tagelmust, traditional African headgear, not a fedora, and suffers from occasional bouts of malaria as well as the usual hangovers and hard-bitten world weariness, but once you get your head wrapped around the setting, he’s a compelling and convincing narrator, offering a street-level view of a world that is both foreign and yet somehow disturbingly familiar. There’s a world out there calling, and this solid private-eye thriller, one of the most engaging I’ve read in a while, is on the line. You’d best answer.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 22 December 2015 08:12
Dead Ringers
Katrina Niidas Holm

Two years ago, Tess Devlin, Nick Devlin, Frank Lindbergh, Lilandra Pillai, and Audrey Pang excavated a sinkhole covered in occult symbols located in the basement of Boston’s historic Otis Harrison House. They unearthed several withered corpses and a host of other objects, but very few answers. Now the group has started seeing doubles of themselves all over town—and the encounters haven’t been friendly. How do you defeat an evil doppelgänger who is trying to steal your life and negate your existence? That’s the question at the heart of this new supernatural thriller by Christopher Golden (Tin Men).

Dead Ringers is a slow burn; Golden sets his hook with chapter one and then takes his time reeling you in, ratcheting tension scene by scene until the sense of dread is so acute it nearly suffocates. As a result, when the book does finally tip into full-blown horror, the shift is as sudden and unexpected as it is terrifying. And lest you think Golden’s latest is all style and no substance, this dark and twisty tale does more than merely entertain—it also provides a thoughtful meditation on the concept of self and the importance of living life to the fullest.

The book’s points of view are numerous and it’s initially a tad difficult to keep the characters straight. The artful way in which Golden weaves together their narratives provides a worthy payoff, though, and while the constantly shifting narrative voice can be jarring, the members of Golden’s cast are marvelously well drawn—composed of flesh, bone, fortitude, and regret.

Dead Ringers’ only real weakness is its climax, which is action-packed yet somehow still fails to thrill. Golden finishes strong, though, and not only will the book’s final scene chill to you to the core in the moment, it will continue to haunt you for long after you’ve closed the cover.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 22 December 2015 09:12
The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss
Rachel Prindle

Max Wirestone has written the first in a planned series about a young woman unexpectedly thrust into the detective business. In The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss, Dahlia is unemployed and depressed after breaking up with her boyfriend. Failing a string of job interviews and feeling alienated from her friends, Dahlia feels like a loser. Then one day, a strange man hires her to find a stolen item from a MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game). Dahlia questions his motives, but takes the job anyway. Things take a serious turn when her client is murdered, and the killing is thought to be connected to Kingdoms of Zoth, an MMORPG the man played. Soon, Dahlia finds herself with all kinds of quirky suspects both online and in the real world.

Dahlia Moss is a fun novel for mystery and MMO game lovers, both. The plotline centers primarily on Dahlia’s investigation in the online fantasy world of Zoth, where she has gone undercover in the guise of a friend planning an online funeral for the murder victim. It is an entertaining concept for a mystery, although people unfamiliar with MMO games may at times find the plot hard to follow. Still, Dahlia’s journey through the fascinating fantasy world of Zoth is entertaining, as she meets virtual friends and foes, battles monsters, and grills everyone with her insistent questions.

Dahlia carries the story with her funny attitude, snarky comments, and entertaining newbie PI bumbling. From her eccentric housemate Charice to Detective Shuler, who is also investigating the murder, the supporting characters all have their own possible motives and secrets.

It would have been interesting to learn more about Dahlia’s past. The book offers some bits here and there, some funny, some not, and I look forward to getting to know her more. For people who like fun, humorous mysteries, as well as those of us who are a little bit of a geek at heart, this book promises to be the start of a very entertaining series.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 22 December 2015 09:12
Splinter the Silence
Katrina Niidas Holm

When women’s advocate Jasmine Burton is found dead by an apparent suicide, it’s assumed the Internet trolls who’ve been targeting her finally got their way. Psychologist Tony Hill isn’t convinced Jasmine willingly took her own life, though, particularly since she’s not the first outspoken feminist to have died unexpectedly in recent months. Tony lacks the resources to investigate Jasmine’s death on his own, let alone prevent any future victims from suffering a similar fate, but if he’s to get any assistance from former police detective Carol Jordan, he must first find a way to save her from her own self-destruction.

Splinter the Silence, Val McDermid’s ninth Tony Hill and Carol Jordan novel, is a book so powerful it’s daunting to review. The pace is at once driving and methodical. McDermid’s prose is pure pleasure to read, crisp yet stylish and splashed with cheek. The plot is tight, the story is thrilling, the ending is as satisfying as they come, and because Splinter the Silence marks a fresh start for Tony, Carol, and their team, the tale not only gives longstanding fans of the series plenty to love, but also makes a great on-ramp for the uninitiated.

McDermid’s characters feel more real than some actual people I’ve known. Tony’s one of the least stereotypical thriller heroes I’ve encountered; thoughtful, careful, and compassionate, he provides the book’s beating heart as well as its conscience. Carol Jordan is the sort of heroine readers hunger for—courageous, brilliant, and yes, damaged, but all the stronger for it—and she’s not the only indomitable woman in Splinter the Silence; the cast is replete with them.

The book’s villains are equally remarkable. McDermid takes on cyberbullying and the men’s rights movement with the fury of an avenging angel, and yet somehow manages to give her misogynistic killer an origin story that allows readers to understand his motivations—a feat I didn’t think possible; in her capable hands, even villainy has nuance. To read Splinter the Silence is to experience a master operating at the height of her considerable powers. Prepare to be swept away.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 22 December 2015 09:12
Woman With a Blue Pencil
Kevin Burton Smith

Your first instinct might be to run when you hear all the high-minded praise for this “brilliantly structured labyrinth of a novel—postmodernist in its experimental bravado,” as Joyce Carol Oates calls it.

But relax. Gordon McAlpine doesn’t just write for the tweed jacket crowd—he writes for all of us. He gave us the equally head-spinning Hammett Unwritten a few years ago, and now he’s done it again, proving he’s not just a master of the post-modern, metafictional blues, but also no slouch when it comes to telling a ripping good yarn.

So, sure, your noggin may gyrate a bit, but there’s so much pulpy goodness in this slim, fast-paced volume, even us meat-and-potato readers won’t mind a bit.

Things kick off with an excerpt from “The Revised,” an unpublished novel by one Tukumi Sato. It’s December 6, 1941, and bookish Japanese-American professor Sam Sumida, still reeling from the recent murder of his wife, is sitting in a theater catching the just-released The Maltese Falcon, hoping to pick up a few pointers from Bogie. Seems the LAPD doesn’t give a damn about nailing his wife’s killer, so Sam figures he may have to do it himself.

It’s a promising start, hinting of a great period piece noir to come, full of nuance and melancholy. And then things get weird. The film breaks and the narrative is interrupted by a rejection letter from Maxine Wakefield, an editor at Metropolitan Modern Mysteries, Inc., suggesting that “in light of last Sunday’s tragic events” the publication of the book is “impossible.” She tosses Sato a bone, though, suggesting that maybe—with major revisions—the book might still be salvaged.

That’s followed by another excerpt, this time from another book entirely. It’s from The Orchid and the Secret Agent, by one William Thorne, and it’s all rah-rah red, white, and blue patriotism and testosterone, as Korean-American private eye turned super-duper secret agent Jimmy Park wages war against “those dirty Japs” in post-Pearl Harbor America. It’s so over-boiled and over-blown it’s laughable; a prime piece of race-baiting, wartime cheese.

Which is followed by another excerpt from Sam, sitting in that darkened theater, waiting for the show to start up again, unaware his world is about to slip into an alternate reality worthy of a Philip K. Dick novel.

Which, in turn, is followed by another missive from Maxine, who thanks Sato for all his hard work on the now-retitled book he’s writing under the more American-sounding pen name of Thorne.

But Sam is still alive and well, somewhere out there in literary limbo, thrust into a book and a world he no longer understands. The rest of Woman With a Blue Pencil jumps from narrative to narrative, and from letter to letter, the distinctions starting to blur as one reality bleeds into another and the novels begin to overlap with reality, particularly when the author himself is placed in an internment camp.

Woman With a Blue Pencil could be a pompous, pretentious mess, but McAlpine is a master of style and tone, jumping from piece to piece, building up an evocative, highly readable, and timely literary tour de force that confronts historic events with audacity and true grit. It’s a literary jigsaw puzzle that entertains even as it raises hard questions about racial and cultural identity, paranoia and repression—tough topics that are all too often blue-penciled to make the past taste better. Or the present.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 22 December 2015 09:12
Syren’s Song
Eileen Brady

After only a few pages of this new thriller at sea by Claude Berube, it is obvious that the author knows what he’s talking about. A former teacher at the United States Naval Academy and a Naval Reserve officer, Berube's knowledge of ships and the people who work on them is wide-ranging.

Syren’s Song features Connor Stark, a former Naval officer and Olympic pentathlon athlete now working for a private security company, Highland Maritime Defense.

When a catastrophic attack on the Sri Lanka Navy by rebel Tamil Tigers troops leaves the country’s harbor defenseless, Stark’s company is hired to shore up coastal security. The insurgent Tamil forces have developed a new type of weapon, an electromagnetic pulse bomb that knocks out electronic equipment—computers, engines, radar—leaving planes crashing and boats drifting defenseless in hostile waters. Adding to the chaos is Damien Golzari, a cold-blooded Diplomatic Security Special Agent, who is searching for the murderer of a US agent. He and Stark have a history together, and its not a pleasant one. So where is the bloody trail taking Golzari? You guessed it, right to Sri Lanka.

All of author Berube’s characters are well-drawn: Melanie Arden, the American photojournalist caught up in the Sri Lanka civil war conflict; Gunny, a retired Marine, helping to train Stark’s crew; Vanni, the leader of the rebels, who has overcome terrible challenges on his rise to power, climbing to the top over the corpses of enemy and friend alike. The politics of the region are carefully explained from both sides and points of view, which adds to the complexity of the stakes. The twists of the plot and the authenticity of the conflict make this a recommended read.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 22 December 2015 11:12
Sharing Nancy Drew

by Oline H. Cogdill

There are several mysteries that parents and their children can share.

First of all, any YA novel will work for parents and teens.

For a list to get you started, take a look at the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar finalists in the young adult category. That also goes for the children’s category.

Lighter mysteries, and many cozies, also cut across the generations.

And harder-edge mysteries often have find a common ground between adults and teens.

Fort Lauderdale’s Literary Feast sends authors into the schools. A couple of years ago Karin Slaughter gave a presentation at Fort Lauderdale High School; at least eight teens told her that they and their parents love her books.

But the Nancy Drew novels find a different commonality among parents and kids.

For many parents, these novels about Nancy Drew were their first introduction to mysteries. These stories about this intuitive high school student, her friends, and life with her single father were also novels about a girl’s independence.

The Nancy Drew novels first appeared in 1930 and have been ghostwritten by several authors under the pseudonym Carolyn Keene.

Nancy Drew also has spawned a TV series, movies, board games, video games, dolls, coloring books, and puzzles. But nothing beats reading the books. And now it is even easier to find the novels in one place.

Grosset & Dunlap is publishing the Drew novels in gift boxes, starting with Nancy Drew Mystery Stories Books 1-4 ($31.96). More compilations will be coming.

The box set is beautiful and the covers are like those when the series was first published.

Experts tell parents to read with their children. This is a good place to begin.

Oline Cogdill
Wednesday, 23 December 2015 04:12
New Year's Resolutions for Authors

sleuth logo copy
by Oline H. Cogdill

Now is the time of year when we make resolution after resolution for the New Year.

These promises we make to ourselves sometimes survive, and oftentimes do not. That vow to lose weight often comes up against the most perfect chocolate chip cookie…and sometimes has to give. My money is on the cookie every time.

So I would offer a few New Year’s resolutions for authors. Little bits of business that I would like to never see in a mystery novel again.

I am not saying that novels that include these situations are bad—but so many times these actions have become clichés. Our writers can do better.

And in no particular order:

A cup of joe: Sure, most people drink coffee. I didn’t start drinking coffee until about 10 years ago and now I am up to two cups a day. But too many times I have seen an author use a character’s act of pouring coffee, adding cream and sugar as a bit to give the character something to do during a conversation. I remember one novel in which the lead character must have drunk a cup of coffee per page. I kept wondering, how can he/or she solve the case with a case of caffeine jitters.

I couldn’t eat another bite: Here’s the scenario. Character A and character B are having a meal and they have just ordered a huge—often expensive—breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Words are exchanged, a new development in a case arises and suddenly character A loses his/her appetite and departs, leaving that huge meal untouched. Just think of all the characters who go hungry in books! Eat the meal…just eat the meal. Even when I have been most upset, if I have ordered a dish, I eat it. Having the character finish the meal might end up being more dramatic than having the character storm out. Solution—don’t have your characters sit down at the table unless they are willing to eat, or at least have them get a to-go bag.

Dog day afternoon, cats, too: We all know that killing an animal is a sure way to turn a reader against a book. But, don’t just introduce a dog or a cat and then never show the pet being taken care of. A character who comes home after two days and is greeted by a tag-wagging, happy, unwalked, and unfed dog is certainly living in a fantasy. Who was walking, feeding, and caring for that pet?

Child’s play: The same rules apply for characters with children. (See above note on pets.)

I have to take this call: You have a cell phone. Either you forget it or you neglected to charge it. We all do that. But if it rings, answer it. We all know the consequences of not answering it.

I’m bored, bored: Mr. Rich laments his lavish lifestyle in the song Bored in the underrated Tom Jones-Harvey Schmidt musical Celebration. But that doesn’t work in mysteries. I have read too many mysteries in which the main characters wish someone would be murdered so she could investigate the crime mainly because she is bored. That kind of ennui cheapens the genre and, well, makes me mad. Even in the lightest amateur sleuth mystery—and this is where I usually see this gimmick—the death needs to be treated with respect and the utmost of seriousness. A comic mystery doesn’t need to make fun of the death. Authors such as Elaine Viets, Donna Andrews, Julie Hyzy, Leslie Budewitz, Susan M. Boyer, Rosemary Harris, Nancy Martin, Joelle Charbonneau, Dean James/Miranda James, Terrie Farley Moran, among others, know how to integrate humor in a light mystery without sacrificing the seriousness of the genre. These authors could teach a master class on how to do it right.

Dabbling in the dark arts: I would like to ban so-called “literary” writers who decide to write a mystery because they think it will be easy, and more lucrative. As a resort, many of these “crossover” authors don’t take the genre seriously and end up producing a substandard novel. Sure, they get a lot of press for their so-called “bravery,” but that attention soon dies down when the public realizes these novels are basically junk.

I gotta go: Please, please, please, do not let your character rush out in the middle of the night—often a dark and stormy one—to go down a mean street, descend into a basement, or start digging in a graveyard because they have a hunch. And, of course, this kind of character is most likely not carrying a cell phone, a gun, or even common sense. And adding to this silliness, the character, of course, tells no one where he or she is going. Unless your character carries a badge, these midnight runs can wait until daylight.

Violence: Yes, mysteries, even the light ones, must have some form of violence. But the less is more rule works great. We don’t need every bloody detail to understand what is going on. Authors who are overly graphic are just showing off.

Girl, you'll be a woman soon: Could we call a moratorium on mysteries with the word girl in them? I am so tired of these girls whether they are on a train, gone, interrupted, in a spider’s web, waiting with a gun, in a maze, good, bad, running, walking, skating, in the woods, wrong, or right. Unfortunately, I could go on.

Oline Cogdill
Saturday, 26 December 2015 03:12
A Fond Farewell to the White House Chef

by Oline H. Cogdill

hyzyjulie foreigneclairs
We enter 2016—a year that sounds like science fiction to me—with the loss of two beloved characters.

In late 2015 Margaret Maron announced that after 23 years she was ending her series about North Carolina magistrate Deborah Knott. Long Upon the Land is the last in the series that began in in 1992 with Bootlegger’s Daughter, which went on to win the Edgar, Anthony, Agatha, and Macavity awards. (You can read more about Maron’s decision here.)

And late last year Julie Hyzy announced that she is ending her White House Chef series in 2016.

Foreign Eclairs, which comes out January 5, will be the final installment about the adventures of White House Assistant Chef Olivia Paras—Ollie to her readers.

The series started in 2008 with State of the Onion, which won the 2009 Anthony and Barry awards for best paperback original and the Lovey Award for best amateur sleuth.

The nine-novel series also has been lauded with other awards and nominations.

Eggsecutive Orders was nominated for a 2011 Barry Award for best paperback original. Buffalo West Wing won the 2012 Anthony Award for best paperback original. Hyzy’s fifth novel, Affairs of Steak, hit No. 22 on the New York Times Bestsellers List for mass market fiction.

Hyzy’s Ollie also was featured in the excellent Cozy Cookbook that came out in 2015.

Hyzy’s series hit all the right notes—a light mystery that took the genre seriously, added a soupçon of humor and gave readers a window into a world that few people have seen. Hyzy made us care about Ollie and the behind-the-scenes White House staff.

On her blog, Hyzy states: “Nine books is a good run, isn't it? I think I've ended the series in a way that's satisfactory and yet leaves the door open for possibilities.”

Also on that blog, Hyzy discusses why she is ending the series—and it makes perfect sense to me.

Hyzy still writes the Manor House mysteries and has one private investigator novel to her credit, Playing With Matches.

Ollie may be out of the White House—after all, there also will be a new administration in the next year, so the timing is spot-on.

But the end of the series won’t be the last we will hear from the talented Hyzy—I hope.  

Take care, Ollie Paras and Deborah Knott. And thanks for sharing your entertaining adventures with your readers.



Oline Cogdill
Sunday, 03 January 2016 05:01
His Right Hand
Rachel Prindle

Mette Ivie Harrison, author of The Bishop’s Wife, has crafted another interesting detective story following her Mormon protagonist Linda Wallheim in her second book, His Right Hand. Linda, the wife of a bishop in Draper, Utah, is thrust into another case when she and her husband find their ward’s second counselor, Carl Ashby, murdered. Things take further shocking turn when an autopsy reveals that Carl was born female. To Linda’s disgust, her fellow ward members show more dismay at this news than at Carl's murder. She wonders if Carl Ashby’s death had anything to do with his gender change, and so begins digging.

His Right Hand is a thoughtful and groundbreaking read that explores a Mormon culture where being homosexual or transsexual is generally frowned upon. Linda is a strong believer in her faith, but she wrestles with some views of the church, particularly those concerning sexuality and gender. Her open mind and her genuine determination to solve Carl’s murder, despite others’ attempts to deter her, will have most readers firmly on her side.

Throughout the book, Linda juggles her responsibilities as a bishop’s wife and preventing her community from being pulled apart with distrust and fear, and trying to find the killer. As hidden truths come to light the entire congregation is in an uproar fueled by rumors, spite, and surprising revelations. Tensions threaten to come to a head, and Linda isn’t certain of whom to trust. As the mystery begins to unspool, the story becomes increasingly hard to put down.

His Right Hand is well-written, honest, and an insightful look at the Mormon church through the eyes of a remarkable woman. Author Mette Ivie Harrison, herself a member of the Mormon church, has touched on the subject of sexuality, gender, and faith with sensitivity and compassion. While readers might want to read The Bishop’s Wife first in order to be introduced to Linda’s character and the setting, His Right Hand will interest readers looking for an engaging mystery in an unusual setting.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 04 January 2016 12:01
Sharon Magee

Nikki Boyd is spending the day climbing in the Smoky Mountains with her friend Tyler Grant, also the husband of her best friend Katie. Their outing is in remembrance of Katie, who died a year before in a freak accident, but their trip is interrupted when Nikki, a special agent with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s Missing Persons Task Force, receives a call. Teenager Bridget Ellison has gone missing somewhere in these very same mountains. As Nikki and Tyler rush to the command post, Nikki relives the terror of ten years previous when her own teenage sister Sarah disappeared, never to be found. The past takes on new urgency when Nikki realizes the clues in Bridget’s disappearance follow the same MO of Sarah’s kidnapper, “The Angel Abductor,” a serial murderer responsible for the deaths of several girls. Has he come back? Or is it a copycat? When the kidnapper begins showing an interest in Nikki, the question becomes one of who is hunting whom. As they delve deeper into the disappearances, Nikki finds her feelings for Tyler becoming more than that of just a friend.

In this first of a new romantic suspense series from prolific author Lisa Harris (Southern Crimes series, Love Inspired Suspense series) readers are given a strong female protagonist to cheer for. A Christy Award winner, Harris and her family live as missionaries in Mozambique, but she finds time to return to the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee for research, as evidenced by her beautiful descriptions of the area. Vendetta proves without a doubt that Harris knows how to throw in a twist the reader didn’t see coming, and then twist it again.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 04 January 2016 12:01
American Blood
Craig Sisterson

Wunderkind Ben Sanders, who topped bestseller lists in his home country of New Zealand as a 20-year-old, brings his storytelling talents to US soil for the first time in this gritty, violent, and very fine thriller.

It wasn’t Marshall Grade’s decision to shift from New York to New Mexico, but now that he’s in the Southwest, the former undercover cop is doing his best to steer clear of the authorities. His preference for laying low and off the grid is upturned by his own sense of honor, however—or perhaps his wounded conscience—when the story of a missing local woman catches his eye. Deciding to investigate alone, Marshall stumbles into a viper’s nest of drug dealing, gangs, and much worse. Meanwhile, his past hasn’t forgotten him either, with plenty of people wanting to cash in Marshall’s final chit.

American Blood is a modern thriller with a decidedly expansive feel. Crime meets Western, powered by lean prose and dry humor. Sanders vividly evokes the Southwest, delivers plenty of action and intrigue, but it may be in the creation of a new hero where the young Kiwi shines brightest. Marshall Grade is a contemporary gunslinger with plenty of layers, whose creation just screams for an ongoing series.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 04 January 2016 01:01
Home by Nightfall
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

This novel, set in 1876 England, is, in effect, two mysteries for the price of one— both eminently solvable by aristocratic detective and head of his own detective agency Charles Lenox. The first case, already nearly a week old when Lenox gets involved, concerns the inexplicable disappearance of a world-famous German pianist from his dressing room at London’s Cadogan Theatre. What makes this mystery so remarkable is that there was no conceivable way the pianist could have left the building without being seen by dozens of people.

As interesting as that case may be, Lenox must leave it to his associates while he is drawn away to his boyhood country home to help his older brother, Lord Edmund, cope with the recent death of his wife. While there, he is asked by a local villager to help solve a very strange series of occurrences at his cottage. Someone has apparently broken into his home twice, taking almost nothing and leaving behind an odd drawing of what appears to be a ghostly young girl on his front door. When a local official is attacked and stabbed, the case takes on added significance.

In addition to the puzzling mysteries, I thoroughly enjoyed the interplay between Charles and the other main characters, including his wife and his staff of detectives. But most of all, I enjoyed the close relationship between Charles and his brother, who, once the mysteries deepen, becomes more invested in their solutions and comes further and further away from the crushing depression created by his wife’s death.

This is the ninth novel in the Charles Lenox series and, in my opinion, one of his best.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 04 January 2016 01:01
Joe Gannon on Kurt Vonnegut: They Say That in the Army…
Joe Gannon

gannon joeMy reading life began almost by accident one summer when I was a young corporal in the Army.

I’d avoided going to university right out of high school, and after a year drudging in a factory I’d enlisted out of ennui—maybe the Army would make a man out of me.

But my first foray into reading was decidedly trashy: deadly gunslingers, some true crime, or sexy spies. Still, for the Army it was pretty highbrow, as most of my buddies were crotch-deep in the paperback porn that dominated their reading lists.

Then, while home on leave, an old high school buddy just finishing at Boston College tossed three paperbacks my way and said, “Try these.” I packed them in my duffel, and there they lay until I was in Wisconsin later that summer training with the National Guard—the best gig I ever had as the Weekend Warriors tended to bring as much cold beer as military hardware on maneuvers.

But with plenty of time to kill, I picked up the first of my friend’s books—and right there, lying on my bunk in Wisconsin, the world turned upside down.

The books, in the order I read them, were: Dee Brown’s history Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five.

How many metaphors can I conjure to describe the transformation those books had on me? A switch in my mind—that I never knew existed—was turned on. A window flew open where before there had been a wall. A map unfolded to new lands I’d never known existed, and not only were there no monsters there, space was infinite!

Brown’s history revealed that there was far more to the country I was at that moment serving than had been served up in Mr. Johnston’s history class. Grapes of Wrath, combined with Brown, was the beginning of a political consciousness in a youth who was vaguely liberal but did not know why.

But it was Slaughterhouse-Five that set me on the road to a writer’s life. As I write this, I recall clearly lying back on my bunk as the pages flew by toward thevonnegut slaughterhouse five end of the novel. And when finished, I just lay there—thrilled yet baffled by the idea that something else beyond story was going on in that book. I didn’t know what, but I knew I’d discovered something vital to me, something I had not been searching for. A mystery, really: What was this alchemy that stirred something in my soul beyond plot and character?

It took many years—too many!—to uncover all that. But the next day I was writing to admissions offices back in Massachusetts. And I read all of Vonnegut while waiting to hear back. And all of Steinbeck before I got to UMass Amherst for my first semester.

I’d known right away that the Army was no life I wanted, and it never did make a man out of me.

But Kurt Vonnegut did.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 04 January 2016 04:01

gannon joe"My first foray into reading was decidedly trashy: deadly gunslingers, some true crime, or sexy spies. Still, for the Army it was pretty highbrow..."

"Hap and Leonard" on Sundance

by Oline H. Cogdill

hapandleonard2 lansdale
On the kind-of-long list of my favorite movies, Bubba Ho-Tep lands solidly in the middle.

This 2002 movie imagines Elvis Presley and John F. Kennedy both still alive and in a nursing home, fighting an Egyptian mummy trying to capture the souls of the other residents.

Yes, a lot of suspension of disbelief is needed.

And it is further needed because Bruce Campbell, one of my favorite actors, plays Elvis while Ossie Davis is JFK.

The film is based on a short story by Joe Lansdale, who may be best known among mystery readers for his Hap and Leonard crime fiction series.

Hap and Leonard are an unlikely pairing—Hap Collins has a blue-collar background and Leonard Pine is a gay African American and they live in East Texas. One reviewer called them “investigators with a difference.” In addition to their dark stories about racism and abuse, the novels also have a wide swath of humor.

Hap and Leonard are now teaming up onscreen. The six-episode TV series Hap and Leonard is set to debut on the Sundance Channel on March 2, 10 p.m. EST, 9 p.m. CST. You can see the first trailer of the series here.

lansdalejoe honkytonk
While the trailer seems to indicate the series is a close cousin of The Dukes of Hazard, I think only the rural setting will be the commonality with Hap and Leonard.

Hap and Leonard have a much deeper backstory. Hap spent time in a federal prison and now barely makes a living picking roses on a plantation. Raised by an uncle who disowned him when he came out as a gay man, Leonard is a veteran with anger issues.

Hap and Leonard are lifelong friends who couldn’t be more different, but who offer each other unconditional friendship. The series is set in the 1980s.

I have high hopes for this series.

First, the source material works. Lansdale has been writing his series since 1990. The ninth novel in the series, Honky Tonk Samurai, comes out in February.

Second, the cast has some major players. And the two leads are personal favorites.

Hap is played by James Purefoy, a classically trained actor who joined London’s Royal Shakespeare Company in 1988. American audiences might recognize him as Joe Carroll on Fox’s The Following and Mark Antony on the award-winning HBO series Rome.

Michael K. Williams will probably always be remembered as Omar Little, the drug dealer and killer with a code on HBO’s The Wire. Williams nuanced performance gave Omar a depth that lasted throughout the series. Williams also brought that same care to his role as Chalky White, a 1920s bootlegger and impeccably dressed mayor of Atlantic City's African-American community, in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. In addition to several movies and TV series to his credit, Williams also will be featured in the HBO limited series Crime.

Christina Hendricks, late of AMC’s Mad Men, will play Hap’s ex-wife Trudy.


Photo: Michael K. Williams, left, and James Purefoy. Sundance Channel photo

Oline Cogdill
Saturday, 16 January 2016 12:01
2016 Edgar Nominations

Edgar Statues
The awards season for the mystery genre kicks off with the announcement of the Edgar Allan Poe Award nominations by the Mystery Writers of America (MWA).

And that is today, which happens to be the 207th anniversary of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe.

The 70th Annual Edgar Awards Banquet will be held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City on Thursday, April 28, 2016.

For more information on Mystery Writers of America (MWA), visit the MWA site.

Here are the nominations for  the 2016 Edgar Allan Poe Awards. And congratulations to all the nominees.

The Strangler Vine by M.J. Carter (Penguin Random House – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
The Lady From Zagreb by Philip Kerr (Penguin Random House – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
Life or Death by Michael Robotham (Hachette Book Group – Mulholland Books)
Let Me Die in His Footsteps by Lori Roy (Penguin Random House - Dutton)
Canary by Duane Swierczynski (Hachette Book Group – Mulholland Books)
Night Life by David C. Taylor (Forge Books)

Past Crimes by Glen Erik Hamilton (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
Where All Light Tends to Go by David Joy (Penguin Random House – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll (Simon & Schuster)
The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Grove Atlantic – Grove Press)
Unbecoming by Rebecca Scherm (Penguin Random House - Viking)

The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter by Malcolm Mackay (Hachette Book Group – Mulholland Books
What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
Woman With a Blue Pencil by Gordon McAlpine (Prometheus Books – Seventh Street Books)
Gun Street Girl by Adrian McKinty (Prometheus Books – Seventh Street Books)
The Daughter by Jane Shemilt (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
Operation Nemesis: The Assassination Plot that Avenged the Armenian Genocide by Eric Bogosian (Hachette Book Group – Little, Brown and Company)
Where the Bodies Were Buried: Whitey Bulger and the World That Made Him by T.J. English (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
Whipping Boy: The Forty-Year Search for My Twelve-Year-Old Bully by Allen Kurzweil (HarperCollins Publishers - Harper)
Forensics: What Bugs, Burns, Prints, DNA and More Tell Us About Crime by Val McDermid (Grove Atlantic – Grove Press)
American Pain: How a Young Felon and His Ring of Doctors Unleashed America's Deadliest Drug Epidemic by John Temple (Rowman & Littlefield – Lyons Press)
The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards (HarperCollins Publishers - HarperCollins)
The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue by Frederick Forsyth (Penguin Random House – G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
Meanwhile There Are Letters: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and Ross Macdonald by Suzanne Marrs and Tom Nolan (Arcade Publishing)
Goldeneye: Where Bond Was Born: Ian Fleming's Jamaica by Matthew Parker (Pegasus Books)
The Lost Detective: Becoming Dashiell Hammett by Nathan Ward (Bloomsbury Publishing – Bloomsbury USA)
“The Little Men” by Megan AbbottMysterious Bookshop (Mysterious Bookshop)
“On Borrowed Time” by Mat Coward – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine (Dell Magazines)
“The Saturday Night Before Easter Sunday” by Peter Farrelly – Providence Noir (Akashic Books)
“Family Treasures” by Shirley Jackson – Let Me Tell You (Random House)
“Obits” by Stephen King – Bazaar of Bad Dreams (Simon & Schuster - Scribner)
“Every Seven Years” by Denise Mina – Mysterious Bookshop (Mysterious Bookshop)
Catch You Later, Traitor by Avi (Algonquin Young Readers - Workman)
If You Find This by Matthew Baker (Hachette Book Group – Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)
Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head by Lauren Oliver & H.C. Chester (HarperCollins Publishers – HarperCollins Children’s Books)
Blackthorn Key by Kevin Sands (Simon & Schuster - Aladdin)
Footer Davis Probably Is Crazy by Susan Vaught (Simon & Schuster – Paula Wiseman Books)
Endangered by Lamar Giles (HarperCollins Children’s Books - HarperTeen)
A Madness So Discreet by Mindy McGinnis (HarperCollins Publishers – Katherine Tegen Books)
The Sin Eater's Daughter by Melinda Salisbury (Scholastic – Scholastic Press)
The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma (Algonquin Young Readers - Workman)
Ask the Dark by Henry Turner (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt – Clarion Books)
“Episode 7,” - Broadchurch, Teleplay by Chris Chibnall (BBC America)
“Gently with the Women” - George Gently, Teleplay by Peter Flannery (Acorn TV)
“Elise - The Final Mystery” - Foyle's War, Teleplay by Anthony Horowitz (Acorn TV)
“Terra Incognita” - Person of Interest, Teleplay by Erik Mountain & Melissa Scrivner Love (CBS/Warner Brothers)
“The Beating of her Wings” - Ripper Street, Teleplay by Richard Warlow (BBC America)
“Chung Ling Soo’s Greatest Trick” by Russell W. Johnson – Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine (Dell Magazines)

Walter Mosley

Margaret Kinsman and Sisters in Crime

Janet A. Rudolph

(which is given during Edgar Week but is not an MWA award)
A Woman Unknown by Frances Brody (Minotaur Books – A Thomas Dunne Book)
The Masque of a Murderer by Susanna Calkins (Minotaur Books)
Night Night, Sleep Tight by Hallie Ephron (HarperCollins Publishers – William Morrow)
The Child Garden by Catriona McPherson (Llewellyn Worldwide – Midnight Ink)
Little Pretty Things by Lori Rader-Day (Prometheus Books – Seventh Street Books)


Oline Cogdill
Tuesday, 19 January 2016 09:01
Serge May Storm TV

dorsey tim
by Oline H. Cogdill

In the annals of mystery fiction, Serge A. Storms may be the oddest.

In author Tim Dorsey’s (at left) 19 novels, Serge has emerged as a kind of Florida folk hero.

A serial killer, yes, but one who targets people who disrespect Florida or are just downright jerks.

Now Dorsey’s dark comic novels may be fodder for the TV series Florida Roadkill, named for the first novel in the series and produced by Sonar Entertainment. Evan Endicott and Josh Stoddard are set to write the adaptation and executive produce. The pair created the Amazon comedy series Betas and are currently writers and producers on MTV’s The Shannara Chronicles.

Knowing the nature of Dorsey’s series, I doubt we will see the series on network or cable TV. HBO, Showtime or Netflix seems a better fit, I think.

No date has been set for the series to launch.

Unlike Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter, another serial killer who also is the main character of a series, Serge really has no compunction to kill. Dexter is a monster, who learned to channel his urges toward those much worse than he. The Dexter novels and especially the Showtime series with Michael C. Hall almost became a kind of social commentary on the need for justice.

Serge has no such social issues. And Dorsey plays the series strictly for the humor, exploring every odd bit of Florida behavior that makes it to the news and has people shaking their heads and commenting, “Only in Florida...”

dorseytim coconutcowboyDorsey never has to look far for those stories, either. Like the woman who commandeered a scooter and drove around a big-box store, drinking wine and eating sushi.

Or the senior citizens who are arrested for taking home buckets of food from a buffet.

Not to mention the countless incidents of bad drivers, bad neighbors and just plain rudeness.

And, please, I know what I am talking about. I live in the Sunshine State.

While Carl Hiaasen, another Floridian crime writer, uses a lot of social satire in his novels, much like a modern-day Jonathan Swift, Dorsey goes for the buffoonery, the banana peel on the sidewalk, the pie in the face.

In each of the 19 reviews I have done on Dorsey’s 19 novels, I have likened his series to the literary equivalent of the Three Stooges. And I say that with much affection.

Dorsey’s latest trek across Florida with Serge is Coconut Cowboy.

Dorsey’s Serge is quite popular. His book events bring out the crowds  in Florida—see his photos on his website—so I imagine his fans will follow him to the small screen.

One thing for sure, there is no dearth of ideas about bad behavior in Florida.

Oline Cogdill
Saturday, 30 January 2016 11:01
2015 Agatha Nominations

by Oline H. Cogdill

malice domestic
The second most important mystery award nominations are now out—the 2015 Agatha nominees.

The Agathas will be presented during the 2015 Malice Domestic conference, which will take place April 29 to May 1, 2016, at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Bethesda, Maryland.

This is the 28th year that Malice Domestic has been celebrating the traditional mystery. It is one of my favorite conferences.

Mystery Scene congratulates all of the nominees, who are already winners in the minds of readers.

The 2015 Agatha Nominees:

Best Contemporary Novel
Annette Dashofy, Bridges Burned (Henery Press)
Margaret Maron,  Long Upon the Land (Grand Central Publishing)
Catriona McPherson, The Child Garden (Midnight Ink)
Louise Penny, Nature of the Beast (Minotaur Books)
Hank Phillipi Ryan, What You See (Forge Books)

Best Historical Novel
Rhys Bowen, Malice at the Palace (Berkley)
Susanna Calkins, The Masque of a Murderer (Minotaur Books)
Laurie R. King, Dreaming Spies (Bantam)
Susan Elia Macneal, Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante (Banntam)
Victoria Thompson, Murder on Amsterdam Avenue (Berkley)

Best First Novel
Tessa Arlen, Death of a Dishonorable Gentleman (Minotaur Books)
Cindy Brown, Macdeath (Henery Press)
Ellen Byron, Plantation Shudders (Crooked Lane Books)
Julianne Holmes, Just Killing Time (Berkley)
Art Taylor, On the Road with Del and Louise (Henery Press)

Best Non-Fiction
Zack Dundas, The Great Detective: The Amazing Rise and Immortal Life of Sherlock Holmes (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Martin Edwards,  (HarperCollins) The Golden Age of Murder: The Mystery of the Writers Who Invented the Modern Detective Story
Kathryn Harkup, A is for Arsenic: The Poisons of Agatha Christie (Bloomsbury USA)
Jane Ann Turzillo, Unsolved Murders and Disappearances in Northeast Ohio (Arcadia Publishing)
Kate White (Editor), Mystery Writers of America, The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook: Wickedly Good Meals and Desserts to Die For (Quirk Books)

Best Short Story
Barb Goffman, “A Year Without Santa Claus?” (AHMM)
Edith Maxwell, “A Questionable Death” History& Mystery, Oh My (Mystery & Horror, LLC)
Terri Farley Moran, “A Killing at the Beausoleil” (EQMM)
Harriette Sackler, “Suffer the Poor” History& Mystery, Oh My (Mystery & Horror, LLC)
B.K. Stevens, “A Joy Forever” (AHMM)

Best Children’s/Young Adult
Blue Balliett, Pieces and Players (Scholastic Press)
Joelle Charbonneau, Need (HMH Books for Young Readers)
Amanda Flower, Andi Unstoppable (Zonderkidz)
Spencer Quinn, Woof (Scholastic Press)
B.K. Stevens, Fighting Chance: A Martial Arts Mystery (Poisoned Pen Press)

Oline Cogdill
Wednesday, 03 February 2016 09:02
Guest Blogger: Michael Sears
Michael Sears

sears michaelxxx
Michael Sears’ novels about disgraced Wall Street trader Jason Stafford give us a window into the world of high finance. His novels succeed because he infuses his complex plots with enough background about the stock market and money managing that anyone can understand without dumbing down these stories for those readers savvy about the intricacies of Wall Street.

Jason, who went to prison for two years for financial fraud, is on a mission to redeem himself and gain back his self-respect. But the heart of Sears’ novels is Jason’s work as a single father to an autistic son, who, to say the least, is a handful. But Jason loves his son unconditionally and through this Sears shows the challenges and rewards of this relationship.

Sears’ novels quickly found their readership. His debut Black Fridays tied for the most award nods—five—the year it was published. (The other author with five award nominations that year was Hank Phillippi Ryan.)

Black Fridays was nominated for an Edgar, the Thriller, Anthony, the Barry and the Shamus. The only award Sears’ novel was not nominated for is the Macavity.

Jason makes his fourth appearance in Sears’ Saving Jason, which was just published.

Before he began his book tour, Sears wrote this blog for Mystery Scene.

I Don’t Listen to Amy Winehouse When I Write

 searsmichael savingjason
Because if I did, I wouldn’t ever get anything done.

I enjoy a wide range in music.

Like Jason Stafford, I like the Grateful Dead. I can put on a Dick’s Picks and write with no problem.

I also like jazz. And classical. Blues. World. New Age. Classic R&B. Alt.  

Not that I like everything, far from it.

I admit to being one of the few Long Islanders who would be content to never hear Captain Jack or Piano Man EVER again. Yes to Cyndi Lauper, no to Madonna.

I like Larry Carlton, John Scofield, and Larry Coryell, but George Benson never satisfies. Most of Miles Davis, but very little of Ornette Coleman.

And while I admit that 90 percent of the music I listen to was written and performed by someone who is now 50 or older (or no longer with us), I also like Snoop and Lady Gaga.  

But what do I listen to when I’m writing?

It could be any of the above. The music is more than a backdrop, but I don’t “actively” listen.

If the music demands too much of me, emotionally or intellectually (or physically—it’s hard not to get up and dance to Sly Stone, Stevie Wonder, or George Clinton), then I find myself drifting away from the story.

Sometimes it’s an artist, or a piece of music, or, especially in the classical music genre, a phrase that reaches out and grabs me and won’t let go.

One afternoon, I was struggling to edit an almost-due manuscript. My speakers were on low playing a collection of Puccini operas. Tosca came and went. Turandot followed.

I was fully engaged with my book, cutting, pasting, adding, or altering. Suddenly I found my eyes welling up with tears, my throat tightening and choking every breath. The Prince’s aria had snuck up on me and done it again.

Obviously, you say.

Nessun Dorma demands your attention.

OK, but why can Eric Clapton noodle away while I compose, but Jeff Beck insists that I put everything down and just listen? B.B. King is OK, but Albert King is not. I like them both. I like Dusty Springfield and Amy Winehouse, but only Amy interferes with my train of thought. Ella Fitzgerald is fine. Billie Holiday? Not a chance. Clannad? Fine.The Chieftans? Fine. De Danann? Sorry, no. I love their music, but it gets in the way.

Eclectic, yes.

But why does one artist let me focus on Jason Stafford and his son while another is like the cat on the keyboard.

If I am not giving my full attention, I will be barred from doing anything else anyway.

You can always lock the cat out of the room, or take the dog for a walk so he settles down.  

But what do you do when Amy Winehouse begins Back to Black?

I surrender.

Oline Cogdill
Saturday, 06 February 2016 04:02
A Cup of Tea, A Slice of Murder
Mary Kennedy

mary 26 6x4  



What is it about cozy mystery lovers and tea?


Whether you are a devoted reader or a world-class novelist, you probably enjoy a good “cuppa” from time to time. And if you enjoy British cozies, the odds are spot on that you’ll recognize your favorite brew (everything from Ceylon to Darjeeling) in your reading.  

The passion for tea and mysteries goes back to Agatha Christie. Remember how Hercule Poirot loved his “tisanes”? He would often try to unravel a crime while sipping from a steaming cup of herbal tea and urging Captain Hastings to “use his brain cells.”  

Dame Agatha loved her tea, and since she hailed from Devon, her characters have been known to indulge in a Devonshire Tea, complete with clotted cream. In the opening pages of Nemesis, Agatha sets the scene by picturing Miss Jane Marple drinking tea and reading the paper. In A Pocket Full of Rye, the author uses tea in the narrative. Rex Fortescue meets his end after drinking his morning tea. It’s not surprising that Ms. Christie would refer to tea again and again in her novels. She once admitted that she did her best thinking while “eating apples and drinking tea.”  

agatha with teaTelevision detectives have continued the trend. In the Inspector Morse mysteries, Detective Inspector Robert Lewis says to his sergeant, “I need a drink.” Detective Sergeant James Hathaway reminds him, “You just had a cup of tea.” DI Lewis replies, “It was herbal.” DI Hathaway gets the message and says sympathetically, “Oh, you do need a drink!”  

Mystery writer Alexander McCall Smith (The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency) admits to being addicted to tea, and his protagonist, Precious Ramotswe, enjoys a pot of rooibos tea while struggling with a case. Smith reveals that “there has always been tea” in his life and black tea was served several times a day at home during his years in southern Rhodesia. He believes that tea offers a sense of comfort in times of crisis.  

The next time you open a cozy mystery, be sure to pour yourself a nice cuppa to enjoy with it.

And for those of you who appreciate a sweet treat with your drink, try a Yorkshire scone (recipe, care of Tea Time With the Cozy Chicks, below).


Mary Kennedy is the author of two mystery series, The Dream Club Mysteries and the Talk Radio Mysteries. She has written over 40 novels, including a young-adult fiction series called The Hollywood Nights. She is also a tea cup carrying member of the group of cozy mystery writers the Cozy Chicks, which has published a Tea Time With the Cozy Chicks (2015) cookbook full of favorite recipes, tea-time memories, and suggestions for themed tea parties, along with fun facts and fascinating articles.  


teatimewithcozychicksThe Cozy Chicks Recipe for Yorkshire Scones

(makes one dozen)


  • 3 cups flour (regular, all-purpose flour)
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup, plus 2 tablespoons, sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/3 cup of milk
  • 1/2 cup sultanas (I use a mix of raisins, craisins, and chopped dates, or whatever I happen to have.)



Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Sift together the flour and baking powder. (If you don't have a sifter, use a mesh strainer and tap it.)

In a separate bowl, beat the butter until creamy. Add the sugar, beating until pale and fluffy.

Add the eggs, one at a time, then add the flour mixture and the milk. Sprinkle the raisins/dates, etc., over the dough and gently fold them in. Sprinkle the 2 tablespoons of sugar on the top.

Drop by “mounds” on a baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes. 



Mary Kennedy says, "I actually use a little more than 1/3 cup of milk. I start with 1/3 cup and then add a tablespoon more at a time. No more than 1/2 cup of milk total. I couldn’t get the dough to hold together with the 1/3 cup amount."

The original “drop” recipe is all you need. If you handle the dough too much, they can become tough. 

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 09 February 2016 11:02

mary 26 6x4Whether you are a devoted reader or a world-class novelist, you probably enjoy a good “cuppa” from time to time. And if you enjoy British cozies, the odds are spot on that you’ll recognize your favorite brew (everything from Ceylon to Darjeeling) in your reading.