Carter & Lovecraft
Hank Wagner

When homicide cop-turned-PI Daniel Carter unexpectedly inherits a property in Providence, Rhode Island, it literally transforms his life. Initially, he learns that the property houses a used bookstore, specializing in arcane tomes. Then, he meets the proprietor of that bookstore, the alluring Emily Lovecraft, the last descendant of legendary horror scribe H. P. Lovecraft. Pursuing a case in Providence, he discerns that our reality coexists with another, that the stories of the Great Old Ones which Emily's ancestor told were not just stories. Finally, he discovers that that reality is seeking to exert its evil influence on ours, effectively ending life as we know it.

In Carter & Lovecraft, Howard not only embraces both the tropes of the PI novel and Lovecraft's infamous Cthulhu mythos, he also breathes new life into both. The book evokes Philip Marlowe, but a Marlowe who walks the mean streets of...Providence. It utilizes elements of Lovecraft, but in highly original and surprisingly humorous ways. Romance, banter, horror, noir—it's probably easier to list elements the book doesn't successfully exploit, rather than name the myriad ones it does. Sure to please horror geeks (think of the best of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the original Night Stalker series, and The X-Files), it should also work for those who prefer the PI genre, as knight errant Carter works to solve the case like any good gumshoe would, by doggedly pursuing the truth and shaking whatever trees he must to see what falls (or, in this case, slithers) out.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 09 February 2016 12:02
Karen Rose on "Little Women"
Karen Rose

rose karen

 

“Reading was an adventure then: pirate ships, mad scientists, shipwreck survivors, andmy very favoritea family of four sisters becoming women in the 1860s...”

 

I don’t remember a time when I didn’t love to read. When I was six or seven years old, I preferred the biographies, but I was small and they were on the high shelf in the school library so the librarians would always bring me a step stool. I daydreamed of being Annie Oakley or Dolley Madison (I loved the kick-ass ladies even then).

Something wonderful happened the summer I turned eight years old. An elderly neighbor retired and moved away, gifting me her entire collection of classics. I was in heaven! Reading was an adventure then: pirate ships, mad scientists, shipwreck survivors, andmy very favoritea family of four sisters becoming women in the 1860s, Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. I read it over and over and cried every single time that Beth died. My dad couldn’t really understand my obsession with this bookespecially the repeated crying at Beth’s death because he said that I already knew it would happen since I’d read the book a dozen times already!

I tried to tell him how very real these characters were to me, but I don’t think he ever understood. I thought at the time it was because he was a grown-up and was too busy to live inside a book. That made me sad for him. Now that I’m a grown-up (most of the time), I know that’s not true. I like to live inside books because I’m so busy. My fictional friends are rejuvenating. And still so very real. Poor Dad. I guess his brain just wasn’t wired for fiction.

I had a couple of epiphanies while reading Little Women. First, I realized that the story had come out of somebody’s head. My little eight-year-old brain was blown away. I never really thought about where books came from before that. Library fairies maybe? But no, someone had made that story up with her very own imagination. And, hey, if Louisa May Alcott could do it, so could I!

alcott littlewomenI also realized that I didn’t actually want to be any of the March sisters, not like I’d wanted to be Dolley Madison. I wanted to be the March sisters’ neighbor. I wanted to be invited to their Pickwick Club and write stories with Jo in the garret by candlelight. I wanted to hear Beth play the piano and watch Amy paint. I didn’t know it then, but I’d discovered the secret to creating amazing charactersmake them people with whom I’d want to hang out. (Except for the serial killers. Only crazy prison groupies want to hang with them.)

I spent most of my childhood with my nose in a book, and those were happy, magical hours. I still never leave my house without a book, just in case I get caught in a traffic jam or the doctor’s running late. (Sometimes I even choose the longest line at the grocery store, just so I can read for a few more minutes.)

I still love the characters that seem so very real and I still want to be their neighbor. And one of the bright spots of my day is talking to other readers about a book we’ve both enjoyed and discussing the characters like they were old friends. Because they are.

 

Karen Rose was born and raised in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC. Her debut suspense novel, Don't Tell, was released in July 2003. Since then, she has published more than a dozen more novels and two novellas. To date, her books have been translated into 24 languages. A former high school teacher of chemistry and physics, Karen lives in Florida with her husband of more than 20 years, her two daughters, two dogs, and a cat.

This “Writers on Reading” essay was originally published in At the Scene” enews February 2016 as a first-look exclusive to our enewsletter subscribers. For more special content available first to our enewsletter subscribers, sign up here.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 09 February 2016 10:02

rose karenReading was an adventure then: pirate ships, mad scientists, shipwreck survivors, andmy very favoritea family of four sisters becoming women in the 1860s, Louisa May Alcott's Little Women.

House of the Rising Sun
Betty Webb

From its opening page to its last, James Lee Burke’s new work reads more like poetry than prose, and its richness, wealth of character, and plot combine to create a stunning historical novel. Former Texas Ranger Hackberry “Hack” Holland is a man out of time. A true-grit cowboy straight out of the Old West, he is disturbed by the changes in the world—from the mustard gas attacks in World War I, to the rising popularity of automobiles. He just wants to be left alone to tend his small cattle ranch, but Arnold Beckman, an Austrian arms dealer, has kidnapped Ishmael, his only son. And because of Hack’s unique skill set, he knows he is the only person who can rescue him. The rescue of his son isn’t Hack’s only quest in this book. Once, while spending time in Mexico, he came into the ownership of an ancient, jewel-encrusted cup that could conceivably be the legendary Holy Grail. In between gunfights and beatdowns, he attempts to find its rightful owner.

This convoluted but breathtaking novel is rich in history. Some of its heroes, villains, and events include Pancho Villa, Emiliano Zapata, the Sundance Kid, the Johnson County War, Cattle Kate, the Mexican Revolution, the Battle of the Marne, the Harlem Hellfighters, union organizer Joe Hill, John D. Rockefeller, and a notorious turn-of-the-century brothel. Burke’s fictional characters, especially the females, are as unforgettable as the real ones. There is Beatrice DeMolay, whorehouse madam, who once saved Hack’s life; Ruby Dansen, who moves in with him, then leaves him; and the manipulative Maggie Bassett, a former prostitute who helps Arnold Beckman kidnap Ishmael.

This is the fifth Hackberry Holland novel (after Wayfaring Stranger, Feast Day of Fools, Rain Gods, and Lay Down My Sword and Shield), and through them all, Hack has evolved from young idealist to bitter realist. Along the way, he has also picked up (besides the Holy Grail) a serious drinking problem that fuels his already violent nature. Much of the reading here is tough, especially the sections set during Ishmael’s participation in the Battle of the Marne. But despite the violence carried out by people who are so busy surviving that they no longer know how to live, House of the Rising Sun is also filled with light and hope. Miracles happen in these pages.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 09 February 2016 11:02
The Mystery of the Venus Island Fetish
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

After returning from a five-year stint on the fictitious Venus Island where he lived among the natives there, young anthropologist Archie Meek returns to Australia and the Sydney Museum in 1932 with a marvelous collection of artifacts, hoping for a promotion to curator and a reunion with the young woman he hopes to make his bride. Unfortunately, things don’t seem to be working out.

Worse yet, something mysterious and possibly deadly seems to be going on at the museum. Several of the museum’s older curators have died or gone missing, and some of the 32 human skulls on the famous Venus Island Fetish mask seem to be somewhat discolored, including one with a decayed tooth that closely resembles the tooth of one of the missing curators. Is it Archie’s imagination, or is something sinister going on?

While Archie attempts to solve the mystery and regain the affection of his intended bride, the reader is taken on an extended tour of the museum, its exhibits, and the key people who keep it going and growing. We learn about the politics of museums, how museums around the world trade artifacts to keep things new, and how the Australian government interacts with them. We also learn about the indigenous people of the continent and the bloody history of how the British took control of that continent.

While the mystery itself is resolved at the end, it primarily plays second fiddle to all of the above. Not surprisingly, the author is a former museum curator who served as director of the South Australian Museum.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 11 February 2016 12:02
Dark Reservations
Eileen Brady

This mystery set on the Navajo Nation is a worthy winner of the Tony Hillerman Prize, given for the best debut mystery set in the American Southwest. John Fortunato’s police procedural centers on the disappearance of Congressman Arlen Edgerton, his driver, and a young female aide almost 20 years ago. Theories surrounding the mystery at the time included the congressman taking off with millions in embezzled money, and skipping town with his aide/mistress and living it up in the Caribbean. Now, his bullet-ridden car has shown up on the Navajo reservation, just as his widow makes a run for governor of New Mexico.

The case is turned over to Joe Evers, a special agent at the Bureau of Indian Affairs with only three months left to go before his forced retirement. Why the poor timing? Perhaps someone is hoping the case won’t be solved? Evers has a drinking problem, and plenty of baggage, including an inability to move beyond the death of his wife. Though widely looked down upon by his fellow team members, he has enough smarts to know something stinks about the whole Edgerton disappearance.

Assigned a rookie Navajo tribal officer, Randall Bluehorse, as his partner, Joe proceeds to anger almost everyone he interviews. But as they go back over the decades-old police files on the original case, they uncover a messy investigation that raises more questions than answers. Was Congressman Edgerton’s disappearance tied to his politics? Or perhaps the black-market trade in Native American artifacts?

All the characters are well-drawn, especially Bluehorse, Congresswoman Grace Edgerton, and the ruthless art collector Arthur Othmann. And Furtunato’s protagonist Evers is a solidly written character who will grow on readers as the book progresses. The details of life and death on the rez ring true. All in all, a very impressive debut novel.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 11 February 2016 12:02
Ace Atkins' Graphic Novel Series
Oline H. Cogdill

atkins ace5
Before he started the multi-Edgar-nominated Quinn Colson series and took over the late Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series, Ace Atkins launched his first series about Nick Travers, a music historian at Tulane University and sometime sleuth.

In this series, Atkins delivered insightful plots that explored the history of music, looking at the singers who may have been forgotten but whose legacy endured. For example, in Dark End of the Street, Nick Travers searches for the old-style singers who could sing the blues so deep and mournful they wrenched your heart.  

In my review of Dark End of the Street, I said, “Atkins plots the origins of soul music as well as the presence of organized crime and the infiltration of casinos in the Mississippi Delta in his highly entertaining, solidly plotted novel. After two well-received mysteries featuring blues tracker Nick Travers, Atkins proves his skill at creating realistic characters, evil villains, and an atmosphere so rich you can smell the Delta countryside and hear the bottleneck guitars.”

In the Nick Travers series, Atkins showed that for some, music is a cultural link.

“Motown was black music for white teens. Southern soul, Memphis soul was black music for blacks. This was grit. Funky, marinated, and deep-fried in gospel roots, with the intensity of a church revival.”—Dark End of the Street  

For others, music is a balm for a troubled city in the late 1960s. “The music soaked into red shag carpet walls of the old movie theater that served as their studio and out through the newly barred windows and into the emerging ghetto. He played as if somehow dance music could solve Memphis’ problems. But Memphis kept boiling. Soul kept dying.”—Dark End of the Street  

I liked this series a lot and was sad when it ended, though Im delighted that Atkins has gone on to create even better novels with his series about Quinn Colson, a former Army Ranger who is now the sheriff of his small, corrupt Mississippi hometown.

atkinsace nickgraphic
Nick is about to return with a series of graphic novels based on Atkins’ series.

Nick Travers Vol 1: Last Fair Deal Gone Down is set to come out at the end of April from 12 Gauge Comics LLC. Atkins’ story is accompanied by artist Marco Finnegan’s illustrations and Chris Brunner’s cover.

Since part of its title is Vol. 1, we can look forward to more adaptations via graphic novel.

The synopsis for Last Fair Deal Gone Down is, according the publisher: “It's Christmas in New Orleans. For many, it's the best season of the year. But instead of spending time with the people he cares about, Nick Travers is investigating the death of his friend, Fats. At first it appears that Fats took his own life, but Nick quickly discovers that the saxophone is missing from Fats' apartment. He soon learns that there is more to the story than a simple suicide, and the woman who Fats had been paying to keep him company may hold the answers.”

And judging from the sneak peak of the graphic novel, it looks great. A glimpse of the graphic novel debut is at newsarama.com.

Atkins’ novels have been a longtime personal favorite—from his Nick Travers novels, his historical fiction such as Infamous based on the life of Machine Gun Kelly and Devil’s Garden that looked at the scandal of silent-screen comedy star Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, as well as his Quinn Colson series and his continuation of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series.

Atkins’ next Quinn Colson novel is The Innocents, which comes out July 216; his next Spenser novel is Slow Burn, which comes out in May. Atkins also will have stories in the new collections Mississippi Noir and New Orleans Noir.

Oline Cogdill
Saturday, 13 February 2016 06:02
"Major Crimes," "Better Call Saul"
Oline H. Cogdill


Monday night television just got more fun—and intelligent—with the return of two of my favorite series, Major Crimes and Better Call Saul.

While different in many ways, both these shows make a good pairing.

And here’s why.

 

MAJOR CRIMES
majorcrimes squad
TNT’s Major Crimes is back for a five-episode finale of its fourth season and, for the first time, is concentrating on only one crime.

Major Crimes, for those just getting around to this series, began as a spin-off of The Closer, which starred Kyra Sedgwick as Deputy Police Chief Brenda Johnson.

I loved The Closer and especially Sedgwick’s performance as the prickly, righteous, and compelling Johnson. And I am an avid fan of Major Crimes.

While The Closer concentrated on Johnson and her team, Major Crimes is more of an ensemble piece. Major Crimes emphasized arrests; Major Crimes is more about finding justice and the art of the deal. In Major Crimes, the cases often are settled before a trial as the guilty parties know cutting a deal really can be a better deal in the long run.

Major Crimes stars Mary McDonnell as Captain Sharon Raydor, the head of its Major Crimes Division. But Raydor leads a team and makes the investigations a true team effort.

majorcrimes amy
Hindsight, the title of Major Crimes’ fourth season finale that began last Monday, is showing how one crime is affecting a community, the officers, prosecutor, and medical examiner, as well as how this new crime echoes back to another crime.

It’s a bold move, and, judging from the first two episodes, will play out beautifully.

Without giving away any spoilers, the story arc begins with the murder of a young mother and her three-year-old son, who were killed while driving through gang-infested territory. The detectives believe that the killers mistook the victims’ car for the automobile an enemy would be driving.

But is it just a case of mistaken identity?

Soon the squad learns that the gun used in the murder is linked to another murder committed 12 years before. The gun has been missing all these years. And that former investigation involved the murders of several people, including an off-duty LAPD cop and a deputy district attorney.

Lt. Michael Tao’s former partner, Mark Hickman, perjured himself on the stand in an attempt to close the case, and was fired. Tao (played by Michael Paul Chan) still holds a grudge against Hickman (played by Jason Gedrick), who, in turn, also despises his former partner and the entire police force.

Detective Amy Sykes (played by Kearran Giovanni) becomes even more involved than her fellow officers when she speaks with Hickman, who also tries to insinuate himself in the new investigation.

Major Crimes often focuses on different members of the squad and, apparently, it is Sykes’ turn.

Giovanni is a compelling actress, who made her career on Broadway before appearing as Dr. Vivian Wright on ABC’s One Life to Live from 2009 to series finale in 2012.

Since Giovanni has shown Sykes’ maturation from a cop, who had to prove herself immediately to her fellow officers when she first joined the squad, to the thoughtful, intelligent detective she is now. One of the ironies is that Sykes may have been new but she wasn’t a rookie, and came with a lot of investigative skills. A running joke is how tech savvy she is as opposed to a couple of her colleagues.

Major Crimes’ season finale is proving to be a nuanced miniseries.

Major Crimes airs at 9 p.m. Mondays on TNT, with frequent encores, and is available on demand.

 

BETTER CALL SAUL

bettercallsaul odenkirk
Like Major Crimes, Better Call Saul also is a spin-off, of a sorts, from a previous series, the brilliant Breaking Bad.

In Breaking Bad, attorney Saul Goodman was a bit of a buffoon, handling the legal matters of meth maker Walter White and a few other unsavory clients. He often added a bit of dark humor to Breaking Bad.

It would have been easy to make Better Call Saul a comedy with Saul having a different outlandish client each week.

But thankfully, the creators went the serious route, and this has made all the difference in the nuanced Better Call Saul, which airs at 10 p.m. Mondays on AMC.

Better Call Saul has that perfect marriage between series creator Vince Gilligan and a multi-layered performance by Bob Odenkirk.

At the end of Breaking Bad, Saul was getting on a bus to escape the criminal enterprises that were about to blow up in Albuquerque. As he leaves, Saul comments, “The best-case scenario, I’ll end up managing a Cinnabon in Omaha.”

And that is where we find Saul, with a dark moustache and dark hair, minding his own business, managing that snack place in a mall, taking out the trash, cleaning out the machines.

bettercallsaul odenkirk2Saul’s new life was the opening for the first season and also for the second season.

But Better Call Saul is not about his new life.

The AMC series is about his old life—taking place six years in Albuquerque before Walter White came on the scene—and shows how Saul started his metamorphosis from a sleazy lawyer, born Jimmy McGill, to the flashy Saul.

As Jimmy McGill, he was known as “Slippin Jimmy,” a Chicago hustler making a nice living collecting money for his pain and suffering because of his penchant for falling on ice patches on Michigan Avenue and State Street.

Better Call Saul shows how Jimmy became Saul and along the way became not just a criminal lawyer but a criminal lawyer.

Season One was a kind of Cain-and-Abel look at Jimmy and his reclusive brother, Chuck (the wonderful Michael McKean) who bring sibling rivalry to a different level.

In Season Two, Jimmy joins a high-profile law firm. But the man is still a con man at heart, and while he well knows the law he can’t help but try to bend it a bit.

Odenkirk has always been a terrific character actor and to see him take the reins here is nothing short of inspiring. Odenkirk started as a comedian—check out his series Mr. Show—but his transition to drama is credible. We never get the hint that Odenkirk is treating the show as a sitcom but as a serious look at a very flawed man who has sunk so low. Gallows humor, which plays a big part in the series, must be treated as serious as possible or it won’t work.

In a review, The New York Times posed this question: “Is Jimmy a good guy overcoming bad tendencies, or a bad guy who’s fooling himself?”

And that is the anchor of Better Call Saul. Who is Jimmy who will become Saul who will become a low-level manager?

It will be fun to explore just who Jimmy is.


A BIT OF TRIVIA

For Breaking Bad fans—look for little Easter eggs throughout Better Call Saul as there will be several references. Here are two from the second season’s first episode which I found referenced by other reviewers.

Zafiro Añejo, the ultra-expensive tequila that the foul-mouthed stockbroker buys for Saul and his guest, doesn’t exist. It is a fictional brand that showed up a couple of times in Breaking Bad. Gus Fring used Zafiro Añejo poison Don Eladio and the members of the Mexican cartel in the season four Breaking Bad episode “Salud.”

And Ken, that nasty stockbroker who is obviously conning others, as Saul will do to him, was played by Kyle Bornheimer. Ken appeared in the season three episode “Cancer Man” episode of Breaking Bad. Even more obnoxious, Ken with the license plate “KEN WINS” pulls into a gas station and angers Walter White with his attitude. In turn, Walter sabotages Ken’s car, which soon explodes.

Major Crimes airs at 9 p.m. Mondays on TNT.
Better Call Saul airs at 10 p.m. Mondays on AMC.

 

PHOTOS: TOP: Major Crimes squad, Kearran Giovanni. Photos courtesy TNT. BOTTOM: Better Call Saul with Bob Odenkirk; last photo Odenkirk with Kim Wexler, played by Rhea Seehorn. Photos courtesy AMC

Oline Cogdill
Sunday, 21 February 2016 12:02
Humber Boy B
Betty Webb

Ruth Dugdall’s stunning novel follows Ben, a young man known to the British media only as “Humber Boy B.” Ben has just been released from prison after serving eight years for murdering a child. Considering the crime, the sentence seems inadequate—until we realize that Ben was only ten when he forced ten-year-old Noah off a high bridge to certain death. The years in a reformatory aren’t Ben’s only punishment. He has been placed under heavily monitored lifetime parole. Ben’s every action is watched by the police and a team of social workers, some of whom are sympathetic, some not. To ensure his safety from a wrathful public, the parole board places him in an apartment in a city far distant from the original crime. They give Ben a new name, and forbid him to contact his dysfunctional family. In his government-imposed isolation, Ben’s sense of alienation from society quickly becomes overwhelming. Compassionate social worker Cate Austin is helping him learn to lead a “normal” life, but isn’t always successful. Imprisoned since he was a child, Ben doesn’t even know how to shop for food. In one anguished passage, he experiences a minor meltdown at a grocery store: “I don’t know if I want sunflower or olive oil or butter, or skimmed or full fat milk. I push the trolley, still mostly empty, round to the checkout because I’m worn out.” Still, all appears to be going fairly well for him until Jessica, Noah’s grieving mother, mounts a Facebook campaign asking the public to help her find her son’s killer and demand vengeance. Silent Friend, one of Jessica’s Facebook followers, joins the hunt. Given the seriousness of Ben’s crime, author Dugdall pulls off a minor miracle by making the young killer a sympathetic character in this extraordinarily humane novel. Thus, as Silent Friend helps narrow Jessica’s search, we fear for Ben’s welfare. When he was ten, he did something horrible, but he is a different person now. Or is he? Dugdall never takes the easy way out when writing about the heinous crimes young children can commit. The story line of Humber Boy B is reminiscent of the real-life murder of James Bulger, the British toddler who was tortured and killed by two other children. As in that case, we learn that Ben had an accomplice, Adam, his older half-brother, who has somehow escaped the public’s bloodlust. Expertly told from various points of view by the major players Ben, Cate, Adam, Cheryl (a witness to Noah’s murder), and the ever-grieving Jessica, Humber Boy B can be an excruciating read. It is also an enlightening one. This stirring, heartfelt novel teaches us to beware of quick judgments—even when it comes to killers.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 22 February 2016 02:02
A Stairway to the Sea
Betty Webb

Jeff Newberry’s A Stairway to the Sea is an excellent mystery where bad men may not be as villainous as they first appear. Rough redneck Donnie Ray Miles, a bully who made everyone’s lives miserable during high school, has drowned while partying with friends on a houseboat. Few residents of St. Vincent, a tiny Florida town, shed tears at his passing, especially not deputy sheriff Justin Everson, one of Donnie Ray’s former victims. A fair man, Everson attempts to find out how Donnie Ray drowned without anyone at the party noticing. When Sheriff Mack Weston orders Everson to drop the case, the deputy defies the sheriff’s orders and learns that after the attacks of 9/11, Donnie Ray enlisted in the service: the villain had a heroic side. As Everson digs into Donnie Ray’s messy life, the reader learns more about Everson himself. Emotionally unhinged after the death of his ex-wife, the deputy is experiencing blackouts and hallucinations. Often, Donnie Ray’s ghost appears, seeming to beg for justice. As Everson’s own behavior spins out of control, lifelong friends desert him and he is on the verge of losing his job. One of the beauties of this moody, atmospheric mystery is author Newberry’s depiction of St. Vincent. The author convincingly makes the case that small towns aren’t always safer than big cities, and that their residents aren’t always kinder or nicer than city folk. In fact, the neighbors you have always trusted may be the very people you should approach with the greatest caution—and a loaded gun.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 22 February 2016 02:02
Passenger 19
Betty Webb

Suspense writer Ward Larsen continues to be on a roll with Passenger 19, his latest Jammer Davis aviation thriller. This time around, the action hits close to home when the air crash investigator’s daughter, Jennifer, is a passenger on an airliner that goes down in the Amazon jungle. Heartbroken to learn that there were no survivors, Jammer travels to the scene of the crash. But after searching through the rubble, he cannot find his daughter’s body. He does, however, find the passport of passenger No. 19, a mysterious young woman who resembles Jen, and who was seated next to her when the crash occurred. Who was Kristin Marie Stewart, and why was her body also missing from the wreckage? Why have people at the highest levels of the US government suddenly involved themselves in the search for Kristin Marie? Author Larsen has always delivered first-class thrillers, but he outdoes himself here with an emotional payoff that is every bit as breathtaking as the action. Since part of Passenger 19 is told from Jen’s point of view, we learn that in this case, the apple certainly didn’t fall far from the tree. Jen Davis is every bit as courageous as her father. Readers seeking a thriller with heart won’t do better than Passenger 19. It hits all the right notes and gives us a heroine as well as a hero.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 22 February 2016 02:02
The Big Book of Sherlock Holmes Stories
Bill Crider

Otto Penzler’s The Big Book of Sherlock Holmes Stories more than lives up to its name, with 83 stories contained in 789 pages. The book is divided into sections that present stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself, parodies, pastiches, stories without Holmes in them, and a lot more. The authors range from those you might expect to find in such a book (Daniel Stashower, Leslie Klinger, Loren D. Estleman) to those who might surprise you (Davis Grubb), and from the well known (Neil Gaiman, Kenneth Millar/Ross Macdonald) to the obscure (me). Penzler provides an insightful introduction, along with separate introductions to each story. This is a top-notch anthology.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 22 February 2016 02:02
Them That Lives by Their Guns, Volume 1
Bill Crider

Blasting his way from the pages of Black Mask magazine comes Race Williams, the star of Them That Lives by Their Guns, Volume 1, a collection devoted to the stories of Carroll John Daly’s hardboiled detective. Brooks E. Hefner’s fine introduction refers to the voice that Daly used in these stories as the “easily recognizable, slang-laden bravado of Race Williams,” a guy who “never bumped off a guy what didn’t need it” (or so Race tells us in his first adventure, “The Knights of the Open Palm”). Daly’s style takes a little bit of getting used to, but the stories move fast, and Race has a way with words—and with his pistols. Included along with the 16 Race Williams stories are three other early hardboiled tales by Daly, along with a couple of short nonfiction pieces. This is a huge volume, 654 pages, and an important one for anyone interested in the history of the hardboiled PI or hardboiled fiction in general. I eagerly await the publication of Volume 2.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 22 February 2016 02:02
I’ll Never Let You Go
Hank Wagner

Mary Burton’s third novel to feature the Morgans, a Tennessee family whose members are predominantly employed in law enforcement, I’ll Never Let You Go tells the story of Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (TBI) agent Alex Morgan’s involvement with veterinarian Leah Carson, who, four years prior to the events depicted within, was brutally assaulted and left for dead by her estranged husband, Philip. Although he supposedly died some months later, it seems he may have faked his death, as Leah receives unmistakable signs that she is once again being stalked. As the anniversary of her near-lethal knifing approaches, Leah is convinced that Philip is out to finish the job he began years before.

Burton is a master of suspense, letting us know exactly what is at stake via her brutal first chapter depicting Philip’s first attack, then slowly ratcheting up the tension throughout the remainder of the story as Leah is subjected to an unrelenting campaign of terror. Leah is a strong, credible heroine, whom readers can admire and root for; her extremely inventive, extremely loathsome stalker is, sad to say, positively brilliant at finding ways to torment her. All in all, a fast, slick, entertaining piece of work, sure to please fans of the first two books, and hold her audience for the final installment, Vulnerable, due out in April.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 22 February 2016 03:02
Concrete Angel
Hank Wagner

If you find yourself craving suspense, Patricia Abbott’s Concrete Angel should more than satisfy those desires. Abbott wastes no time in plunging her readers into the sordid story she has to tell, as the two main characters, middle-aged Eve Moran and her young daughter Christine, find themselves dealing with the problem of a corpse in their apartment. The story of how they get out of that situation, and, more importantly, how they found themselves in it, makes for riveting reading.

Reading this well-crafted debut, many will likely find themselves thinking about the best of a variety of fine purveyors of noir, including the likes of James M. Cain, Jim Thompson, Robert Bloch, and Patricia Highsmith. Narrated by Christine, the book has a tell-all/true-confessions vibe to it, tempered with a morality lesson that could easily have come from the pages of Charles Biro’s infamous Crime Does Not Pay comic books. Readers will feel dread as to what Eva might do next, but won’t be able to disengage from voyeuristically experiencing her car wreck of a life.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 24 February 2016 03:02
On Thin Icing
Lynne F. Maxwell

The Pacific Northwest constitutes an invigorating setting for mystery novels, and, as a reader, I look forward to experiencing its pristine beauty in a vicarious fashion whenever possible. Consequently, I am always thrilled when a new title arrives from Ellie Alexander (aka Kate Dyer-Seeley), author of the fantastic Bakeshop Mystery series. On Thin Icing, the third Bakeshop Mystery, is an enticing read, especially if you are snowbound on a chilly winter weekend. It takes series protagonist Juliet “Jules” Capshaw away from her hometown of Ashland, Oregon, and into the mountains to cater the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s board of directors’ retreat. It’s an opportunity for Jules to expand the customer base for Torte, the bakery owned by her mother. Since graduating from culinary school, Jules has specialized as a pastry and dessert chef, but she is eager to market the business more extensively. Unfortunately, her new gig is a real killer, and there’s no escape from danger since she and the retreat group are snowed in during a massive blizzard. To compound the tension, Jules’ estranged husband Carlos is also unexpectedly at the resort, but Jules is ambivalent about forgiving him for the indiscretion that destroyed their relationship. Alexander skillfully creates a tense atmosphere of suspicion, fear, and cabin fever for a thrilling conclusion that leaves open a potential beginning for the next Bakeshop Mystery. On Thin Icing is on firm footing!

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 24 February 2016 03:02
To Brew or Not to Brew
Lynne F. Maxwell

May I propose a toast to the success of To Brew or Not to Brew, Joyce Tremel’s inaugural Brewing Trouble Mystery. Employing a new microbrewing hook, she sets the series in Pittsburgh, her hometown (and mine). More specifically, the setting is the newly gentrified Butler Street in the neighborhood of Lawrenceville, an area that any “yinzers” (Pittsburghese for a native Pittsburgher) will easily recognize. Paying tribute to the Steel City’s longtime love affairs with beer and sports teams, Tremel introduces Maxine “Max” O’Hara, brewmaster extraordinaire and proud owner of The Allegheny Brew House, on the verge of opening. Trouble is brewing, though, when someone resorts to sabotage in order to drive Max away and prevent the pub from opening. Destroying Max’s brewing equipment is bad enough, but the murder of Kurt, Max’s German mentor and restaurant chef, is catastrophic. Unfortunately, the police—including Max’s dad, who is a police detective—initially ascribe Kurt’s death to accidental causes. Max knows otherwise, unequivocally. Careful Kurt would have never put himself in an unsafe position around brewing equipment. Despite the installation of a new state-of-theart security system, the sabotage continues. Who has it in for Max and the Allegheny? And how is the criminal skirting the security system and gaining entrance to the locked pub? When Max’s prime suspect is murdered in the locked, empty brewery, she and her friends become ever more determined to bring the culprit to ground and ensure the brewery’s successful open. While I figured out whodunit and how, this did not diminish my reading pleasure in the least, which is a compliment to the author’s skill. I am looking forward to the next round in the series. Ms. Tremel, please make it a seasonal!

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 24 February 2016 03:02
Pretty Girls
Dick Lochte

Karin Slaughter’s current standalone thriller focuses on two sisters. Aside from trophy wife Claire and single mother Lydia having chosen different roads in life, you probably wouldn’t confuse them with the two party-animal siblings in the new Tina Fey-Amy Poehler comedy Sisters. Nor would you mistake them for the disturbing, horrific sibs portrayed by Margot Kidder in the 1973 Brian De Palma movie of the same name (though that twisted cult fave is a closer match in attitude and atmosphere). Make no mistake, Pretty Girls—in which Claire discovers that her seemingly ideal, thoughtful, and considerate millionaire husband Paul is a homicidal monster—does not shy away from the twisted. Nor is there anything in De Palma’s blood-soaked homage to Hitchcock that isn’t topped by Slaughter’s descriptions of rape and torture and worse. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, if it’s to your taste. Otherwise, Pretty Girls is a carefully crafted, undeniably suspenseful tale that puts Claire and Lydia through enough perils and brutalities to fill a survival handbook for women. And there’s a third sister, Julia, whose disappearance as a teenager 20 years ago sent the family into a decline from which it never quite recovered. Listening to the way the author places the loathsome Paul at the center of all of the family’s woes is equal to sitting in on a master class in plotting. Actress Kathleen Early (CSI:Cyber, Grey’s Anatomy) reads Slaughter’s prose with an effective sense of urgency and does not stint in dramatizing the book’s most highly charged passages, including Paul’s ultra-sadistic tormenting of Lydia. The audio package includes an extra: Blonde Hair, Blue Eyes, a considerably more sedate novella by Slaughter, also narrated by Early. Set in 1991, it concentrates on Julia, an attractive 19-year-old journalism student at the University of Georgia who becomes alarmed at the number of rapes in her community. Author and reader combine to present a multidimensional portrait of Julia who, in pitching a story to the student paper’s faculty advisor about local crimes against women, offers a list of eye-opening statistics on the prevalence of sex crimes. The story’s ending underlines those statistics in an effectively chilling manner.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 24 February 2016 03:02
The Big Book of Sherlock Holmes Stories
Dick Lochte

Billed as “the most complete collection of Sherlock Holmes stories ever assembled,” this includes none of Arthur Conan Doyle’s official fictions about the famous sleuth, though there are a couple of his self-parodies. Instead, the approximately 80 entries edited by Otto Penzler consist of pastiches, parodies, satires, and slapsticks penned by an assortment of famous authors, from Doyle’s contemporaries such as James M. Barrie and O. Henry to today’s Thomas Perry, John Lescroart, Bill Crider, and well-known Sherlockians Laurie R. King and Leslie S. Klinger. One of the more intriguing parodies, “The South Sea Soup Company,” is by Kenneth Millar (Ross Macdonald), his first fiction, written for his Kitchener, Ontario high school journal. Each story in the collection is accompanied by an author biography, heavy on the bibliography. The assortment of narrators and their varied British accents help to keep the pieces from seeming too similar. The audio edition is labeled unabridged, but there are entries listed in the print edition by Stephen King, Anthony Burgess, and Anthony Boucher that are missing from my copy—not that nearly 47 hours of Sherlock Holmes spoofs aren’t enough.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 24 February 2016 04:02
My Life With Ellery Queen: A Love Story
Jon L. Breen

The author, who died in 2014 at age 100, was the widow of Frederic Dannay, the editorial and puzzle-creating partner of the Ellery Queen team. They met on New Year’s Eve, 1974, when he was a lonely, unhappy man, a hypochondriac and borderline agoraphobic who had lost two wives and a third lady friend to cancer. Most who knew Fred at that time would have agreed with Francis M. Nevins’ opinion put forth in his excellent introduction that Rose saved his life. By the time of his death in 1982, the man who avoided travel and public speaking had visited Japan, Israel, Sweden, and Great Britain, had been interviewed on The Dick Cavett Show, and had made a number of public appearances, always with anxiety but always with success.

Rose Dannay’s account of their life together does not gloss over their conflicts or deny that Fred could be a very difficult man to live with. But no one will doubt the appropriateness of the book’s subtitle. New biographical details include Fred’s anecdotes of his and partner Manfred Lee’s humorous and exasperating Hollywood experiences, and an account of his near-fatal 1940 car accident that led to months of hospitalization and an erroneous radio report of his death by Walter Winchell.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 24 February 2016 04:02
Wilkie Collins: A Brief Life
Jon L. Breen

An old hand at short popular biographies (among earlier subjects are Chaucer, J. M. W. Turner, Newton, and Poe) turns to the unconventional, gout-plagued social crusader and plot architect who wrote The Woman in White and The Moonstone, Wilkie Collins, a close friend of Charles Dickens whose theatrical enthusiasms he shared. The narrative is equally devoted to the life and the works.

Discussing the early short story “The Diary of Anne Rodway,” Ackroyd calls the title character “the first female detective in English literature.”

The reader is urged to go beyond Collins’ two tentpoles and explore his other novels, nearly all of which are solidly in the mystery and detection category and worth exploring. Per Ackroyd’s descriptions, Collins never lost his touch, even in his much-maligned later novels.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 24 February 2016 04:02
The Cellar
Katrina Niidas Holm

Don’t let its diminutive size fool you—Minette Walters’ The Cellar may be fewer than 200 pages long, but it packs one heckuva literary punch. At first blush, the Edgar-winner’s latest may appear to be nothing more than a horror-tinged revenge tale; look closer, though, and you’ll find incisive observations about race, gender, class, and culture, and a powerful argument for the Golden Rule.

Before the youngest son of London-dwelling African immigrants Ebuka and Yetunde Songoli went missing, 14-year-old orphan Muna was the family’s slave. She cooked and cleaned for them, was forced to sleep in a locked cellar, and suffered all manner of abuse. Then Scotland Yard was called to investigate the boy’s disappearance and Muna’s life improved dramatically. The rapes and beatings stopped, she was given nice clothes and a real bed, and Ebuka and Yetunde claimed her as their daughter. The Songolis explained away Muna’s inability to read, write, and speak English by claiming she suffered brain damage at birth, but in reality, Muna is far more capable and intelligent than anyone suspects—and now that she has some leverage over the Songolis, she has no intention of being their victim ever again.

The first several chapters of The Cellar paint such a horrific picture of Muna’s life with the Songolis that you assume you’re in for an unrelentingly bleak tale of heartbreak, cruelty, and despair. Consequently, when Muna decides to take advantage of the police’s scrutiny to turn the tables on her captors, the shift in tone is such a relief that you can’t help but root for her success. Manipulation quickly turns to torment, though, and by the time you realize Muna has evolved from helpless prey to sadistic predator, you’re already complicit in her machinations. Walters’ prose is lean, her plot is tight, and while her story’s ending is a bit too abrupt to fully satisfy, The Cellar is a thought-provoking read that chills and thrills in equal measure.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 24 February 2016 04:02
The Considerate Killer
Jordan Foster

Danish Red Cross nurse Nina Borg’s greatest professional strength can also be her most glaring personal flaw: an unwavering ability to put the needs of the downtrodden and the suffering above her own. Nina is nothing if not a dedicated nurse, but it comes at a price. In the fourth and last installment in their powerful series (after 2013’s Death of a Nightingale), Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis continue to thrust their protagonist into dangerous situations, but it’s not the blows Nina suffers that resonate the most (and she gets tossed around a lot this time around); it is her struggle to reconcile her desire to do the kind of work that fulfills her while also being present as a mother to her children, Ida and Anton.

While in Viborg, Denmark, to assist her mother through chemotherapy for breast cancer, Nina is apart from her children back in Copenhagen, and finally divorced from her husband Morten. Danger finds her in the form of a seemingly random assault in a parking lot, when a man hits her with an iron bar but is strangely apologetic, muttering the Lord’s Prayer in a language Nina can’t quite place. The attack fractures her skull (just another in her list of injuries accrued over the course of the series), and sends her on-again, off-again romantic interest, cop Søren Kirkegard, rushing to her side (much to her consternation).

Nina and Søren eventually figure out that her attacker is connected to events from a time Nina spent in Manila, where she once interrupted a beach vacation with Morten to help local victims of a building explosion—rather than help her own marriage.

The action flashes back and forth between Denmark and the Philippines, as Kaaberbøl and Friis slowly unspool the lives of three medical students in Manila—Vincent, Vadim, and Victor—and the events that lead up to the Manila tragedy, its mass casualties, and the link between the “three Vs” and Nina.

As in previous installments, Kaaberbøl and Friis tackle social justice issues head-on, this time looking at the housing slums of Manila and the shifty tactics of the wealthy when it comes to cutting corners to save money, often at the expense of their neediest fellow citizens. The most powerful passages come when Nina confronts her own mortality, and realizes that the question of death, particularly her own, is now something that consumes her teenage daughter, Ida. For all the times that Nina has tried to protect those who have been abused, she ultimately cannot protect her own daughter from the fear of a parent’s death. Her daughter’s struggle brings up painful memories of Nina’s own: her father committed suicide when she was 12, an event that seeps into the novel and colors Nina’s life and relationship with her children. But for all the hardship and the pain she’s endured, Nina is able to walk off the final page as strong as she’s always enabled others to be.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 24 February 2016 04:02
Real Tigers
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

Although I generally prefer traditional mysteries or police procedurals, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself thoroughly enjoying this suspense thriller about former MI5 agents who, for one reason or another, are demoted to Slough House. Referred to as slow horses, most have screwed up as MI5 agents, either because of addiction or a major foul-up, and are relegated to paper shuffling and other menial jobs. But when Catherine Standish, one of their female coworkers, is kidnapped and held for an odd ransom, the labyrinthian plot takes off like a NASA rocket.

Plots and subplots abound, reaching into the highest realms of modern British politics. It’s like Mad magazine’s old “Spy vs. Spy” episodes, only with a great deal more complexity. I found myself cheering for the underdog Slough House team, particularly River Cartwright, Shirley Dander, and Marcus Longridge, as they finally get their chance to do more than office dog-work in an attempt to rescue their coworker and discover what is behind her ransom note. It’s a quest that leads them to the very bowels of the MI5 headquarters in search of odd intel files.

What makes this work is top-notch writing and characterization. Thanks to crisp, clever dialogue, the reader is quickly drawn into the odd camaraderie of the Slough House team and their specific quirks. Likewise, the Machiavellian plotting and counter-plotting by top government and MI5 officials is deliciously played out. What this all leads to is a knock ’em, sock ’em denouement that brings together all of the opposing forces into one slam-bang finish.

Mick Herron is a highly regarded British author who has won an Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine Readers Award and the British Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger for Best Crime Novel. He is the author of nine crime novels, two of which are in the Slough House series and a third is in the works.

Teri Duerr
Wednesday, 24 February 2016 04:02
Savage Lane
Betty Webb

Suburbia is merely hell dressed up in designer duds in Jason Starr’s satiric Savage Lane, where few are perfect, and plenty are rotten. Divorced teacher Karen Daily is a nice enough woman, but when her overly affectionate body language leads to an unwanted love triangle, Karen begins to wish she’d kept her hands to herself. Mark Berman, her neighbor and wannabe lover, has become obsessed with her, even going so far as to plan a divorce from Deb, his wife, in order to move in with Karen. Karen can be pretty clueless, and is shocked when she is physically attacked by Mark’s wife at the country club. In one of the funniest fight scenes ever, Karen and Deb roll on the floor, poke eyes, and tear hair while the ladies who lunch look on, aghast. But Deb has no right to throw the first stone at the suspected adulteress, since she herself has long been involved in a steamy affair with an underaged teen. When someone winds up murdered in this funny, naughty book, it comes as no surprise. There is never any doubt whodunit, since Savage Lane is more of a psychological thriller than a mystery—and a riotous one at that. Mixing comedy with suspense has always been risky, because humor can deflate the sense of danger, but author Starr knows what he’s doing. He can wring laughs out of a noose, and snickers out of a whack on the head. Savage Lane may not be a pretty place, but for readers looking for a good time, it is pure gold.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 25 February 2016 12:02
The Body in the Landscape
Betty Webb

Portraits of freshly dead people turn up in strange places in Larissa Reinhart’s mysteries, and her The Body in the Landscape is no exception. Hapless artist Cherry Tucker travels to a private Georgia game preserve to paint the portrait of a dead pig and the hunter who killed it. The pig was no barnyard innocent. Escaped from captivity, Super Swine ravaged the countryside, tearing up fences, and destroying crops. Because of its wicked tusks and nasty nature, it also scared the bejesus out of local farmers, children, and dogs. Although this humorous mystery may not be embraced by vegetarians, those of us raised in the South and who are used to shot-dead varmints (of both the two- and four-legged variety) will laugh out loud at Super Swine’s adventures. Also worth mentioning are the humorous antics of a group of high-rolling hunters who paid thousands of dollars for the right to kill the porcine plunderer. Because of Cherry’s experiences in previous books (Portrait of a Dead Guy, Death in Perspective) she knows that—Super Swine notwithstanding—man has always been the most dangerous game, making her the perfect protagonist for this giggle-inducing, down-home fun.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 25 February 2016 12:02