A Kind of Grief
Robin Agnew

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

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

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

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

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

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

Teri Duerr
2015-12-07 19:10:43
Shakespeare No More
Betty Webb

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

Teri Duerr
2015-12-08 03:13:40
The Last Good Place
Betty Webb

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

Teri Duerr
2015-12-08 03:30:42
The Spy on the Tennessee Walker
Betty Webb

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

Teri Duerr
2015-12-08 03:38:48
The Sea Beach Line
Betty Webb

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

Teri Duerr
2015-12-08 04:15:47

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

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

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

Teri Duerr
2015-12-08 04:27:10

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

Cancans, Croissants, and Caskets
Lynne F. Maxwell

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

Teri Duerr
2015-12-08 04:33:48
What’s Done in Darkness
Hank Wagner

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

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

Teri Duerr
2015-12-08 04:45:14

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

I, the Jury
Dick Lochte

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

Teri Duerr
2015-12-08 04:56:14

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

Unsold Television Pilots: 1955-1989
Jon L. Breen

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

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

Teri Duerr
2015-12-08 05:01:49
The Blue
Oline H. Cogdill

Although the mystery element in The Blue is small, this third novel by British author Lucy Clarke works well as a novel of the high seas, illustrating the personal dynamics of strangers who live and work together with little means of privacy.

British residents Lana Lowe and Kitty Berry, best friends since childhood, find the change they yearn for when they impulsively join the young, five-member crew of a yacht named The Blue. The Blue sails where the crew wants because it doesn’t take customers; to make money, crew members take on odd jobs in whatever port they dock. And the adventure seems idyllic—the two women can’t imagine ever getting bored with the beautiful, empty horizons or the sun, sex, and drink that come with it.

The yacht is “a sanctuary, a world away from real life, filled with easy laughter and good friends.” But too much closeness can be wearing. The trip takes a turn when one of the crew members goes missing. Soon after, Lana leaves The Blue, disgusted with the crew’s attitude. The book alternates between Lana’s time onboard and eight months later as she waits in New Zealand to learn the fate of the remaining crew after reports that the yacht has sunk off the northern coast.

Clarke excels in her deft portrait of life on a yacht while delving into each of the crew members’ personalities and secrets. As a mystery, The Blue is dry docked, but it trims the sails nicely as an oceanic adventure.

Teri Duerr
2015-12-08 05:06:16
Life for a Life
Hank Wagner

When the severely bruised, half-frozen body of a woman is found, Detective Chief Inspector Andy Gilchrist and colleagues work backward, tracing her origins to the nondescript cottage she escaped from. Based on the grisly evidence, and the presence of three mutilated bodies inside, they conclude that the home was being used as a way station in a sex trafficking operation, likely run by Kumar Krukov, a ruthless killer with a penchant for decapitating his victims. Along with his new partner, Detective Inspector Jessie Janes, Gilchrist launches a desperate manhunt for Krukov, who is leaving a trail of bodies behind as he wraps up his sordid business in their jurisdiction.

The fourth book in the DCI Gilchrist Investigation series, Life for a Life follows Eye for an Eye, Tooth for a Tooth, and Hand for a Hand. An irresistible blend of police procedural and thriller, it’s unafraid to show both the brutality of its bad actors and the humanity of its heroes. Gilchrist is an appealing and intelligent protagonist, an aging baby boomer who still excels at his chosen profession: the challenges he faces both on and off the job are realistic and compelling. But Frank Muir is at his best when writing about Gilchrist’s colleagues, a colorful, expansive cast of Scots (Gilchrist operates out of St. Andrews, Scotland), who keep things lively for him 24/7; readers will enjoy the exploits and antics of each and every one, especially when hidden depths are revealed during some well-orchestrated and harrowing set pieces.

Teri Duerr
2015-12-08 21:21:46
The Secret Life of Anna Blanc
Eileen Brady

Author Jennifer Kincheloe has a strong voice and a winning way with dialogue in her first novel, The Secret Life of Anna Blanc. Set in 1907 in Los Angeles, we are introduced to a young heiress, Anna Blanc, desperate to be out of her father’s rich clutches. Already disgraced in society for a botched elopement with Louis Taylor, a ne’er-do-well eager to ravish both Anna and her money, she continues to strain against her father’s rigid control. A random meeting on the city streets with suffragette Eve McBride turns into an opportunity for Anna to try her hand at a real job. Enamored with police work and solving crimes, she applies in disguise and is hired as a police matron, whose job includes clerical work and escorting female prisoners and their children.

This is where the story breaks down. Although clever and curious, Anna has no power to move investigations along except through subterfuge and manipulating the men around her. Far from being a charming aristocratic amateur sleuth, Anna is often unsympathetic, especially in the way she deals with orphans, animals, and the prostitutes she claims she wants to help. She seems to look down on others in society, and in one scene, she drops a three-year-old boy who’s just lost his mother on the porch of an orphan’s asylum and then runs away. Author Kincheloe may have meant the scene to be funny, but it missed the mark with me.

Kincheloe succeeds in illustrating the societal limitations of women of this era, however, and I applaud that. The writing here is good. Perhaps with a little more kindness, Anna will learn and grow. As other beloved characters Lady Emily, Daisy Dalrymple, and the unforgettable Miss Marple attest to, the best amateur sleuths need not only bravery and brains, but an equal measure of heart.

Teri Duerr
2015-12-08 21:26:15

kincheloesecretlifeofannablancA strong voice and a winning way with dialogue shine in this debut featuring amateur sleuth Anna Blanc.

Bryant & May and the Burning Man
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

When a young vagrant is found burned to death in the doorway of a London bank, it is at first assumed that he was an unfortunate victim of the violent mobs who had been attacking financial institutions in central London just prior to Guy Fawkes day, the November 5 holiday also known as Bonfire Night. It is soon discovered, however, that the man was targeted and intentionally murdered. At this point, the Peculiar Crimes Unit is called in to investigate.

If you haven’t read any of the previous 11 Peculiar Crime Unit mysteries, the organization is peopled by police misfits who are, for the most part, brilliant at crime solving, but socially wanting. The most brilliant and unsociable is Detective Arthur Bryant, a cantankerous septuagenarian who is seemingly on his last legs, but still able to function as a crime-solving genius. His longtime associate, best friend, and sometime caretaker is Detective John May.

When more murder victims whose deaths have been associated with fire begin turning up, Bryant and May must redouble their efforts not only to track down a murderer, but to prevent those murders from creating a veritable and literal firestorm among the already maddened rioters as Guy Fawkes day approaches.

This is a fascinating investigation with lots of false leads and a plethora of historical factoids ranging from prior insurrections to the Jack the Ripper murders. It’s a bumpy ride made more difficult by police higher-ups who are either clueless or out to disrupt the unit for political reasons.

The only quibble I had was that the author’s politics (in this case decidedly far, far left) sometimes get in the way of an otherwise well-written detective story.

Teri Duerr
2015-12-08 21:39:30
Death Comes to Kurland Hall
Sharon Magee

In this, the third in Catherine Lloyd’s Kurland St. Mary Mystery series set in Regency England, Lucy Harrington has returned home to Kurland St. Mary, where her father is the rector. In her late 20s, still single, and considered plain, she’s come home to attend the wedding of her best friend. She is especially dreading seeing Major Sir Robert Kurland, the master of Kurland Hall, whose marriage proposal she recently rejected, sending her ever closer to spinsterhood. It will be impossible to ignore him, however—he is standing as attendant to the groom and she to the bride.

Among the wedding guests who begin to arrive in droves is the sharp-tongued Mrs. Chingford. Lucy is unhappy when it appears her widowed father has taken an interest in the inveterate gossip, but she doesn’t worry for long. During the wedding reception, the woman is found dead at the bottom of a flight of stairs. Lucy and Robert agree to put aside their recent embarrassment and investigate whether Chingford’s death is an unfortunate accident or murder. They discover that many of the wedding guests had motives for murder. Mrs. Chingford was universally hated, and not above a bit of blackmail. And then another guest dies under suspicious circumstances, turning the investigation on its head.

Lloyd is an expert on all things early-19th-century England and it shows, from the author’s descriptions of the clothing to the housing, and her mastery of the language to the pre-Victorian customs. Lucy is a strong female protagonist, making her easy to root for, and this engaging book ends with a twist readers won’t see coming.

Teri Duerr
2015-12-08 21:59:45
The Last, Best Lie
Sharon Magee

Madison McKenna is a young, brash, fast-talking woman only a step away from her PhD in physics. Blessed with a MacGyver-like flair, she can rig just about anything to tackle a problem. In one instance, her weapons of choice include a tube of lip gloss, car keys, and three cinnamon-flavored condoms. She’s got book smarts but not street smarts, as her boss Jake Thibodaux, an ex-New Orleans cop and the owner of a Chicago detective agency, tells her daily.

When she and the rotund Jake are ambushed on a routine stakeout and Jake ends up critically injured and fighting for his life, Madison decides she’ll solve the case on her own. After another attempt on her life and further threats to her partner, she becomes even more determined. In between investigating and dodging danger, Madison finds time for sexual fantasies about any number of guys, including Max Hunter, Jake’s ex-partner and his competition in the PI business; Nestor Lopez, a hunky cop with a prescription drug addiction; and the bull-riding cowboy Zack Banks, with his tight jeans and bull calf named Fido. Despite their antagonistic relationship, she and Max form an uneasy alliance as Madison searches for why someone wants Jake silenced. In the process, she learns some unexpected secrets.

Author Kennedy Quinn has a PhD in physics, a masters in nuclear science, and has worked for the CIA. This is her debut novel and the first in the Madison McKenna Mystery series. Full of action, sexual tension, and a good share of humor, readers will anxiously await the next installment of Madison’s quirky adventures.

Teri Duerr
2015-12-08 22:06:38

quinnthelastbestlieA new PI series full of action, sexual tension, and a good share of humor

Tom & Lucky (and George & Cokey Flo)
Benjamin Boulden

Tom & Lucky (and George & Cokey Flo) is a historical crime novel chronicling the 1936 trial of gangster Charles “Lucky” Luciano, the Italian-American mobster considered to be the father of American organized crime. The narrative begins in 1914 and develops slowly across the intervening 22 years, documenting four characters’ journeys to the landmark trial: Luciano, the politically ambitious New York County special prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey; Luciano’s defense attorney George Morton Levy; and heroin addict, prostitute, and key witness Cokey Flo Brown. Each point of view is unique in voice and style, but Cokey Flo’s is the only one told from the first-person perspective.

The historical detail is rich, and well-researched, but, at times, the information acts as a barrier between story and reader. In an early scene, for example, in which Luciano is attending the 1923 boxing match between Jack Dempsey and Luis Ángel Firpo at the Polo Grounds, Greaves’ description includes a list of 11 names spanning three sentences, with little else relevant to the scene.

The crux of the story is the trial and the relationship between two formidable foes, the mobster Luciano and the prosecutor Dewey. The accounts of courtroom tactics and backroom bargaining is superb, and there are several places where the actual trial transcript is used as a question and answer format. And while Lucky is, without a doubt, a criminal, the ultimate climax of Luciano’s conviction for compulsory prostitution is colored by unease about how it was obtained. Readers will be left with a question of who is dirtier—Thomas Dewey or Lucky Luciano.

Teri Duerr
2015-12-08 22:12:18
At the Scene, Holiday Issue #142

142cover465Hi Everyone,

It’s never to late to be appreciated—if you’re a writer, that is. The Library of America has recently published a collection of eight lost classics of the genre published in the 1940s and ’50s. Famous once but now (mostly) forgotten, these writers, all women, deserve more readers and more critical attention. To the rescue comes our critic, Jon L. Breen, who is delighted to see such vibrant, compelling work back in print. Crime writers Megan Abbott and Lisa Scottoline add their perspectives on their literary sisters in crime, as well.

Ashley Weaver sets her evocative 1930s mysteries featuring the glamorous Amory Ames and her wandering husband, Milo, right in the heart of upper-crust English society. It’s a time and a place familiar to fans of mystery fiction’s Golden Age and Weaver adds a poignant subplot of a troubled marriage. Joseph Goodrich speaks to the author in this issue.

Foyle’s War is a big favorite at our house and if you haven’t seen this homicide on the WWII homefront drama from the UK, well, you’re in for a treat. Joseph Goodrich discusses the best blending of actor (Michael Kitchen), writer (Anthony Horowitz), and character since Inspector Columbo was on the case.

Kevin Burton Smith comes to the rescue of all you procrastinators out there with our annual gift guide for mystery lovers. Personally, I’ve fallen for The End Bookend, but the Poison Ring is also very tempting...

Orson Welles never met a studio head who didn’t mess with his work, but he still managed to make some outstanding contributions to the noir and thriller genres in his tumultuous career. Jake Hinkson gives us an overview of Welles’ work.

In this issue we welcome Oline Cogdill to the Mystery Scene masthead as a contributing editor. Regular readers already know Oline very well—she’s had the most cover articles of any writer in the history of the magazine, and she blogs at our website several times a week. We’ve all come to rely on her good advice and good cheer, thanks, Oline!

Happy holidays and all good wishes for a prosperous and healthy new year!

Kate Stine

Teri Duerr
2015-12-09 04:24:13
Holiday Issue #142 Contents



Women Crime Writers of the 1940s & ’50s

With a new two-volume set, the Library of America focuses long-overdue attention on eight of the best, most popular, and most inexplicably neglected crime writers of the mid-20th century.
by Jon L. Breen

Dorothy B. Hughes’ In a Lonely Place

Megan Abbott

Elisabeth Sanxay Holding’s The Blank Wall

by Lisa Scottoline

Ashley Weaver: A Return to the Golden Age

Featuring a volatile married couple as sleuths, this new series is set right in the sweet spot of the Golden Age of Mystery—England in the 1930s.
by Joseph Goodrich


A chat with Robert Randisi, prolific author and mystery genre advocate.
by Ed Gorman

Foyle’s War: Television’s Finest Hour

Stunningly filmed, incisively written and performed, Foyle’s War set in WWII-era England is a treat.
by Joseph Goodrich

The Hook

First Lines That Caught Our Attention

Shadows & Lights: The Criminal Career of Orson Welles

In spite of his tumultuous career, Orson Welles made a substantial contribution to film noir.
by Jake Hinkson

The 2015 Mystery Lovers Gift Guide

by Kevin Burton Smith

“Sherlock Holmes: A Case of Identity” Crossword

by Verna Suit


At the Scene

by Kate Stine

Mystery Miscellany

by Louis Phillips

Hints & Allegations

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

The Hook

First lines that caught our attention

My Book

Researching Iceland: The Good, The Bad, The Distasteful
by Betty Webb

Back in Bamako
by Laurent Guillaume


Small Press Reviews: Covering the Independents

by Betty Webb

Short & Sweet: Short Stories Considered

by Bill Crider

Very Original: Paperback Originals Reviewed

by Lynne Maxwell & Hank Wagner

Sounds of Suspense: Audiobooks Reviewed

by Dick Lochte

What About Murder? Reference Books Reviewed

by Jon L. Breen

Mystery Scene Reviews


The Docket


Our Readers Recommend

Advertiser Info

Teri Duerr
2015-12-09 04:47:46
Holiday Issue #142
Teri Duerr
2015-12-09 05:13:41
The Only Woman in the Room: Episodes in My Life and Career as a Television Writer
Jon L. Breen

Between receiving $27 from the fondly remembered magazine Manhunt for her first fiction sale in the early 1960s and creating the Gladdy Gold mystery series, beginning with Getting Old Is Murder (2005), Rita Lakin had a long and successful career as a television writer and producer at a time when women writers in TV, unless part of a husband-and-wife team, were rare. Her memoir is both an entertaining story, with ample humor to alleviate the painful elements, and a document of the feminist struggle for equality.

A happy and mostly contented housewife in 1961 when her husband died tragically young, leaving her with three children under ten to support, Lakin landed a secretarial job at Universal Studios that gave her the opportunity to read scripts and study their technique. Breaking through with an episode of Dr. Kildare, she gradually worked her way into the ranks of top TV writers, albeit with many disappointing bumps along the way.

For a work of nonfiction, the book has lots of reconstructed dialogue, as if Lakin is writing a script of her own life, and in her preface she admits to some creative shaping of the story. Though some men in television helped her along the way, others clung to the sexist attitudes of the industry’s old boys club and were unencumbered by ethics. One of them was a Mod Squad producer who wheedled an undeserved co-writer credit on Lakin’s script “In This Corner, Sol Albert,” which was subsequently nominated for an Edgar. The ambiguous wording of the nomination scroll led her to believe they had won, and on learning 40 years later that Edgar winners received a bust of Poe she suspected her “collaborator” of stealing the prize from her. Villain though he was, he was not guilty of that. Another script won.

Reviewed from advance uncorrected proof; index and illustrations not seen.

Teri Duerr
2015-12-09 18:17:25
Robert B. Parker’s The Devil Wins
Dick Lochte

As Robert Parker created him, Paradise, Massachusetts police chief Jesse Stone is a character considerably more complex than the author’s more famous Boston private eye, Spenser, whose backstory is so slim it doesn’t even include the sleuth’s first name. Jesse, on the other hand, is all but over his head in backstory. There’s the injury that ended his promising career in baseball, the alcoholism that cost him his Los Angeles PD badge. And, oh yes, there’s his painfully truncated marriage to the self-centered, beautiful Jenn, who continues to phone him whenever she’s feeling unloved or unappreciated. Bottom line: Jesse is unhappy enough to see a therapist, while Spenser blissfully sleeps with one. I’m guessing the potential of Jesse’s background was influential in Coleman, a writer with a strong suit in character development, being tapped to continue the series after Parker’s demise. In any case, Stone’s new chronicler is successfully turning him into a man in full, while simultaneously adding key touches to the other members of his team. This time, it’s Jesse’s closest associate, officer Molly Crane, who’s given special attention. A nor’easter has revealed, along with the recent corpse of an unidentified murdered man, the remains of two teenage girls who disappeared 25 years ago. One of the girls had been Molly’s best friend, and the stirring of memories carries the sting of imagined guilt and fills in unexplored elements in the policewoman’s past, not the least of which is a tragic romance. Jesse, meanwhile, has to solve the three murders in the week allotted him by the town council, as well as an additional killing only he thinks is homicide, all while dodging the gathering media hoard, showing his concern for Molly’s uncontrollable sadness, slowly coming to grips with his paternal feeling for his young, recently wounded associate, officer Luther “Suitcase” Simpson, and starting a romance with the new medical examiner, Tamara Elkin. That’s a lot of baggage for a series hero to tote, but Coleman is a writer who can make the heavy lifting seem both graceful and compelling. And Naughton has been narrating Jesse’s progress in Paradise long enough to be able to smoothly go with the flow of the author’s penchant for emotional depth. The scenes in which Jesse and Tamara do their awkward dance toward intimacy are both beautifully written and performed. And when one of those dances is interrupted by a phone call from Jesse’s ex, the flat, dry quality of his response is audio acting at its best.

Teri Duerr
2015-12-09 18:23:37
Ashley Weaver: A Return to a Golden Age of Crime

weaver ashley2

Featuring a volatile married couple as sleuths, this new series is set right in the sweet spot of the Golden Age of Mystery—England in the 1930s.

Ashley Weaver’s Murder at the Brightwell was published in 2014 to critical acclaim and received an Edgar nomination for Best First Novel. Set in a seaside resort hotel in 1930s England, Murder at the Brightwell introduced readers to Amory Ames and her husband Milo. Both of them are young, intelligent and well-to-do, and Amory’s life should be as peaceful and untroubled as a sunlit field. But the raffish Milo is the thundercloud that darkens her days; his roving eye and wandering ways push Amory’s trust to the limit. When former beau Gil Trent asks Amory to visit the Brightwell Hotel to help him with a family problem, she encounters mayhem, murder—and Milo. His unexpected appearance at the Brightwell throws Amory for a loop, complicating her investigation.

Amory’s sleuthing digs up the secrets of her fellow guests and brings her face-to-face with a killer. It also shows the fault lines that run through her marriage. Will Amory leave her charming but unreliable husband for the stolid Gil? Weaver mixes a delightful cocktail of menace and manners with a dash of bitter romance.

This fall Amory returns in Death Wears a Mask. Two months after the events at the Brightwell Hotel, she and Milo have achieved a fragile détente. Amory’s sworn off detective work, but she can’t resist a friend’s request for help. The clever Mrs. Ames finds herself embroiled in high-society shenanigans that start with jewel theft and end in homicide. While searching for the murderer, Amory is pursued by the amorous Viscount Dunmore, whose colorful past and less-than-savory reputation precede him.

Death Wears a Mask is a worthy follow-up to Brightwell, offering lavish upper-crust locales for low-down activities. Amory Ames is a charmer, and her on-again/off-again relationship with Milo provides an underpinning of real sorrow to the stylish proceedings. Ashley Weaver lives in Oakdale, Louisiana, where she is the Technical Services Coordinator for the Allen Parish Libraries. Earlier this year, Ashley and I had a chance to talk about books, libraries, her taste for the past, and her plans for the future.

Joseph Goodrich for Mystery Scene: When did you start writing? And why did you choose the mystery genre? Or did it choose you?

Ashley Weaver: For as long as I’ve been a reader, I’ve always loved mysteries, so I naturally gravitated toward them when I started writing. I like the idea of all the little pieces of the puzzle that make up the whole picture. I wrote my first “book” in elementary school, complete with my own illustrations. I believe it was a mystery, though I can’t remember the plot now. I wrote my first full-length novel in high school, a murder mystery with a romantic subplot set in Prohibition-era Chicago. I’ve ventured into other genres, but, no matter what I write, a mystery always manages to work its way into my plots. There’s no escaping it!

Mystery Scene: What prompted you to set your books in 1930s England?

Weaver: I’ve always claimed that I was born in the wrong era. I love the sophistication and elegance of the early decades of the 20th century. England in the 1930s kind of represents the Golden Age of mysteries to me. When I got the idea for Murder at the Brightwell, it seemed like the time and place were already predetermined.

weaver deathwearsamaskMystery Scene: It’s clear that you’re a fan of the classic mystery pioneered by writers such as Agatha Christie.

Weaver: I absolutely love her! The very first of her books that I read was The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, and it still ranks among my favorites. I also loved The Hollow and Five Little Pigs.

Mystery Scene: Other mystery favorites?

Weaver: I'm a big fan of the Sherlock Holmes stories, and I’ve really enjoyed some of the hardboiled noir writers like Dashiell Hammett and James M. Cain.

Mystery Scene: What kind of research did you do for Brightwell and Mask?

Weaver: Having enjoyed the novels and films of this era for many years, I feel I have a base knowledge of at least some elements of the era. At the start of each book, I usually gather enough information to set the scene, then I do additional research as the story develops. Being a librarian is very useful when it comes to research. I have a world of information at my fingertips.

Mystery Scene: Libraries have played a big role in your life.

Weaver: As a child, the library was always one of my favorite places to visit. I absolutely loved browsing the shelves and carefully selecting an armful of books that I could bring home—for free! When I was a freshman in high school, an after-school job became available at my local li- brary, and I decided to apply for it. At the time, I thought it would be a good way to make some spending money doing something I enjoyed. Little did I know that it would blossom into a career.

Mystery Scene: What’s next for Amory and Milo?

Weaver: I just finished the third book in the series, and the plans for book number four are beginning to take shape. I’m really enjoying exploring the way Amory and Milo’s relationship is developing as they solve mysteries in their high-society setting.

Mystery Scene: Ross Macdonald once said that he wasn’t his series character Lew Archer, but Lew Archer was definitely him. Along those lines, do you see any similarities between yourself and Amory Ames?

Weaver: I suppose there must be a little of me in Amory, but I don’t think we’re exceptionally similar in terms of personality. I do feel like I understand her very well, and I seldom feel conflicted about her motivations and behavior because I know instinctively how she responds to situations. We both enjoy mysteries, of course, but I wouldn’t be quite as reckless as she sometimes is when searching for clues. She’s a bit bolder and more decisive than I am. Perhaps she’s who I would be if I knew I could write myself out of dangerous situations.

Mystery Scene: Murder at the Brightwell was nominated for a Best First Novel Edgar. How did you learn about the nomination?

Weaver: I belong to a group of mystery writers called Sleuths in Time, and they were actually the first ones to tell me that I had been nominated. I was at work the morning of the nominations—I had no idea. It was a huge surprise, and I was, of course, ecstatic.

Mystery Scene: You came to New York City for the awards ceremony. Did you have a good time?

Weaver: I had a fabulous time! It was great to have the opportunity to interact with so many members of the mystery community. Everyone I met was absolutely lovely. And, as an avid mystery reader and librarian, it was an incredible experience to be in a room full of authors whose books I’ve read and seen on the library shelves for years.

Mystery Scene: One final question: Will Milo ever settle down?

Weaver: Milo will probably always have a bit of a wild streak, but he’s also starting to understand what’s required of him in order to make his marriage work. I doubt he’ll ever be perfectly well behaved—he wouldn’t be as entertaining if he was—but he’s growing as a person and as a husband, and readers can expect to see a different side of him in the future.

Joseph Goodrich is an Edgar-Award-winning playwright and the editor of Blood Relations: The Selected Letters of Ellery Queen, 1947-1950.

Teri Duerr
2015-12-10 06:38:28

weaver ashley2Featuring a volatile married couple as sleuths, this new series is set right in the sweet spot of the Golden Age of Mystery—England in the 1930s.

James Patterson's Holiday Gift

by Oline H. Cogdill

patterson james
During the past two years, James Patterson has been donating much-needed money to libraries and independent bookstores across the country.

As a mega-bestseller, Patterson knows the value of libraries and independent bookstores in promoting books and literacy, another one of his pet projects.

This holiday season, Patterson has a special thank-you gift of $2 million in grants and bonuses for independent bookstore employees and school libraries.

Earlier this year, Patterson pledged $1.75 million in grants to school libraries in partnership with Scholastic Reading Club. Almost immediately the project was flooded with 27,924 grant requests. Today—December 15—Patterson announced 340 more grant recipients, bringing the total to 467 school libraries that have received from $1,000 to $10,000. The full list is available at scholastic.com/pattersonpartnership.

According to the press release from his publisher, Little, Brown, Patterson launched in October a $250,000 holiday bonus program for independent bookstore employees in partnership with the American Booksellers Association. The ABA received 2,848 nominations, and Patterson personally selected the recipients. The names of the 87 independent bookstore employees who will receive bonuses ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 is available at bookweb.org/bonus.

Encouraging reading habits among children is a project that Patterson promotes year-round. He recently launched a children’s book imprint called Jimmy Patterson, and in 2014 he gave more than $1 million in grants to 178 independent bookstores.

According to the press release, Patterson “believes that independent bookstores and school libraries are saving literature and that their work is critical for building a more literate America. In 2016, he will continue to support the work of school libraries and independent bookstores in new ways.”

During the past decade, Patterson has given away more than a million books to students all over the United States.

His new children’s book imprint, Jimmy Patterson, has a simple mission: “We want every kid who finishes a JImmy book to say, ‘Please give me another book.’ Patterson will devote his proceeds from the sales of Jimmy Patterson Books to funding pro-reading initiatives like the school library grants and independent bookseller bonus program, according to Little, Brown.

Patterson, of course, is the author of the highly successful Alex Cross series as well as a multitude of other thrillers written with co-authors.

Oline Cogdill
2015-12-15 15:50:43
James Lee Burke on Film

by Oline H. Cogdill

berryraymond winterlight
I know the reason that so many wonderful mysteries don’t make it as movies is because so often there is a disconnect between what the printed book is and what the movie studio’s vision is.

And then, of course, there are so many people involved in a movie who demand their voice be heard, it almost is a miracle that any film is made.

Just watch the 1992 movie The Player with Tim Robbins.

Yes, there are exceptions: Michael Connelly’s Bosch on Amazon and Lincoln Lawyer; Laura Lippman’s Every Secret Thing (2015) and several of Dennis Lehane’s novels, including The Drop (2015), Gone Baby Gone (2007) and Mystic River (2003).

I also liked the 1996 film Heaven’s Prisoners based on James Lee Burke’s novel. I know that it got mixed reviews when it came out, but I totally bought Alex Baldwin as New Orleans police detective Dave Robicheaux. (I have yet to see 2009’s In the Electric Mist with Tommy Lee Jones as Robicheaux.)

Burke’s work is now back on the screen—though it's not from one of his novels.

Winter Light, an adaptation of one of Burke’s stories, has made the final 10 list for the 2015 Academy Award for live action short films.

The five nominees will be announced January 14.

The film was directed by Julian Higgins and shot on film in the Missoula, Montana area in winter 2014.

Raymond J. Berry, left, (Justified and Born on the Fourth of July) stars as an isolated and stubborn college professor who is drawn into an escalating conflict with two hunters, played by Vincent Kartheiser (Pete Campbell on Mad Men) and Josh Pence (Revenge), who is one of the film’s producers.

Details about the film and the trials of filming during the Montana winter are on the Winter Light Facebook page.

Oline Cogdill
2015-12-16 12:05:00