Bad Seeds
Kevin Burton Smith

It’s a world of violence, a world of hurt.

In another place and another era, Africa was known to Europeans as the “Dark Continent,” but I don’t think they meant noir. South African crime writer Jassy Mackenzie, though, sure does. Her sharp, pointed series revolving around Johannesburg lone wolf private investigator Jade de Jong has leaped from strength to strength, painting a fascinating and at times disturbing portrait of her country, and the conflicted, defiant hard-ass woman with the messy personal life who has tried, in five novels now, to make some sort of sense of it all. Apartheid may be gone, but its corrosive fallout remains, a lingering isotope of corruption and hatred.

When Jade is hired by Ryan Gillespie, the slick head of Inkomfe, a nuclear power plant, to track down Carlos Botha, the plant’s newly hired security consultant, she gets more than she bargained for. Seems Botha hasn’t been seen since a recent sabotage attempt at Inkomfe, and there are a lot of questions that a lot of people want to ask him. Oh, and a whole crap-load of weapons-grade uranium is missing as well.

It doesn’t take Jade long to track down the hunky but unsuspecting Botha, whom she befriends in hopes of gaining his confidence. But she soon realizes some people aren’t at all interested in asking Botha any questions—they just want him silenced. She begins to wonder how long she can keep up the charade of their friendship, and what she was really hired for.

Those expecting plenty of local color may be initially put off by Jade’s world—the rundown suburbs, cheap motels, endless highways, strip malls, soul-crushing poverty, indifferent and inept bureaucracy, and everything else are well-trodden turf for American noir fans, but hang on. Eventually, South Africa begins to creep in through the cracks, and while the song may remain the same, this timely and explosive novel is definitely set to a whole different beat.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 27 April 2017 01:04
The Day of the Lie
Ben Boulden

The Day of the Lie is William Brodrick’s fourth novel featuring monk and former lawyer Father Anselm. This multilayered whodunit is less thriller than philosophical study of survival and betrayal in Eastern Europe during communist rule, and, after its collapse, a sly and cynical sort of redemption.

Father Anselm is approached by his oldest friend, John Fielding, with a plea for help. While John was a newspaper correspondent in Warsaw in the early 1980s he arranged an interview with a dissident known as The Shoemaker. His contact, a woman named Roza Mojeska, was arrested before the meeting could take place and sent to prison where she was told the identity of the person who betrayed her—a secret she has kept for more than 20 years for reasons never fully disclosed to the reader. But as the times have changed, the new government is looking for reparations from the old and they want Roza to tell everything. But Roza wants the informer to admit the betrayal, rather than pointing her finger.

The Day of the Lie is an appealing and accurate study of life in the totalitarian Communist states of Eastern Europe during the cold war. A tricky plot, confusing at times, and snail-like pacing is offset by the fascination of the behavior required to survive in an environment of paranoia, fear, betrayal, and the raw struggles of survival—protecting one’s own family at the expense of friends. Less thriller than treatise, it is ideal for those fascinated by Communism, Cold War history, and the philosophy of ethics, but may prove burdensome for those looking for lighter, more rip-roaring fare.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 27 April 2017 01:04
My Darling Detective
Hank Wagner

While attending an auction on behalf of his employer, the wealthy art collector Esther Hamilton, Jacob Rigolet is taken aback to see his mother, Nora (supposedly safely ensconced in a nursing home), approach the auction block and hurl an open bottle of black ink at the item currently being offered (a photograph titled Death on a Leipzig Balcony). Although ultimately doing no damage to the photograph, her actions create quite a stir, and quite a mystery, as Rigolet’s fiancée, investigating police detective Martha Crauchet, uncovers heretofore unknown, shocking facts about Nora’s, and Jacob’s, past.

Howard Norman, the 1996 winner of the prestigious Lannan Award, and two-time National Book Award nominee (for 1987’s The Northern Lights and 1994’s The Bird Artist) once again demonstrates that Nova Scotia can be a rough place, choosing to set this affectionate and resonant tribute to classic noir in Halifax. The fact that he does so using characters who make their livings in art galleries and libraries is especially intriguing, proving that even the most ordinary or mild among us can brush up against the dark occasionally. Vivid and memorable, the prose you experience in My Darling Detective may well induce you to check out his poems and his short stories, in addition to his other standalone novels.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 27 April 2017 01:04
A Simple Favor
Vanessa Orr

When Stephanie’s best friend, Emily, goes missing, leaving behind a son and a husband, Stephanie goes out of her way to comfort the family, because that’s what good friends do, right? But in this story by first-time novelist Darcey Bell, nothing is really as it seems.

Everyone has secrets and part of the attraction is watching those secrets be revealed as the book edges toward its dramatic conclusion. The first half of the story is told by Stephanie, a stay-at-home “mommy blogger,” whom we are introduced to through her site. While she at first seems to be beside herself with grief, she still manages to get in a dig or two at Emily, which sets the tone for the whole story. Things may look perfect on the outside, but they are rotten at the core.

The blog postings alternate with Stephanie’s own first-person narrative, which gives the reader a look at what’s really going on in her life: things she admits that she would never share with anyone else, including her blog readers. It isn’t until the second half of the book when Emily surfaces and starts sharing her own secrets that you realize just how terrifying both of these moms are—which makes it really intense when each woman decides that they want the same thing.

Bell’s use of the “mommy blog” as a way to showcase how things look on the surface versus how they are in real life is brilliant, and works especially well when Stephanie wants to bait Emily, who everyone else believes is still missing. This starts a cat-and-mouse game that results in lies, betrayal, obsession, revenge and murder—actions that you’d hardly expect from two suburban mothers—and it makes for “mommy” reading that is so much better than any blog.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 27 April 2017 03:04
Kill Devil Falls
Eileen Brady

If you are ever driving in the Sierra Nevadas and you see a sign for the village of Kill Devil Falls, don’t, I repeat, don’t turn in. Author Brian Klingborg’s debut novel is a truly scary suspense tale that might start off slow but is soon cruising along at warp speed. It isn’t often that a plot surprises me with a twist I didn’t see coming, but this one did.

No-nonsense US Marshal Helen Morrissey is annoyed. She has to collect a suspect wanted for bank robbery and deliver her to the Department of Corrections in Sacramento. Fugitive Rita Crawford is under lock and key in the tiny town of Kill Devil Falls, 45 minutes past Donnersville high up in the Sierra Nevada mountains. It’s a town so small that Google Maps couldn’t even find it, and the thought of driving down steep unfamiliar roads at night with a prisoner in custody isn’t a pleasant one for Helen. All she can hope for is a smooth transfer with local Sheriff Big Ed Scroggins.

Things start going south soon after she arrives. Her car won’t start, her phone has no reception, and she meets Deputy Teddy Scroggins, Big Ed’s son, who seems in no hurry to say goodbye to his attractive prisoner. Before the transfer takes place Rita escapes into the woods only to be found murdered a short time later. Helen suspects the missing $300,000 from the bank robbery might have something to do with it. Things start getting weird as the few remaining residents of the former gold mine town come out to play. From the XXX-rated café owner, Mrs. Patterson, to the weed farmers smoking in the double-wide trailer, well-drawn and colorful characters move in and out of the story. Violence and tension ratchet up as someone starts eliminating the few remaining residents of the town one by one, and Helen becomes just another target. Author Brian Klingborg is sure to hold your attention with the deliciously creepy Kill Devil Falls, and I have a feeling we haven’t seen the last of the very cool US Marshal Helen Morrissey.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 27 April 2017 03:04
I Found You
Robin Agnew

Lisa Jewell’s novel fits neatly into a long list of other breathless had-I-but-known-type thrillers, most notably Paula Hawkins’ Girl on the Train, but it’s also a kissing cousin to suspense stories by Sophie MacKenzie, Collette McBeth, Ruth Ware, and Belinda Bauer. And really, all of these women are following in the original tradition of Mary Roberts Rinehart and the slightly later American women writers of the ’40s and ’50s. This time around, the iteration happens to be British, and scarier.

This kind of thriller, if done well, is always a fast read—and this one is done well. Even better, I actually liked the characters, which is not always the case for this type of tale, where characters are often not appealing or even likable. I liked both the central characters in I Found You, and that took me a long way.

The setup is this: Alice, an artist, lives in a seaside resort town with her several children of wildly disparate ages and several dogs, same deal. One morning, she spots a man sitting on the beach. He’s there all day in the wet and doesn’t move. So, she does the kind thing and gives him a coat someone has left behind, and then she does the kinder (or as her children are sure, stupider) thing, and lets him stay overnight in her art studio in the backyard.

It turns out the man, christened Frank by the youngest of the children, can’t remember a thing, not even what a bagel is, and he becomes Alice’s latest stray. He seems afraid of going to the police, but Alice kind of likes having him around, and once the dogs have accepted him, she’s all in.

Meanwhile, we follow another story of a woman, Lily Monrose, whose husband has disappeared. They are newlyweds; she is from Ukraine and knows nobody. She’s not sure how to go about finding him, but she’s very determined. We also follow a story set in 1993 of a vacationing family at a seaside town whose daughter meets up with a hunky—and her older brother thinks sketchy—slightly older guy.

It is obvious all these threads and Frank are going to tie together somehow. What is not as obvious is whether Frank is a good guy or a bad guy; he has his own suspicions that he isn’t so good.

The end of the book is clever and the threads are satisfyingly tied up; and unlike many recent contemporaries in the genre, the end is actually somewhat optimistic. I liked Alice, her family, and Frank, who was a character who really resonated.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 27 April 2017 03:04
Ben Boulden

Undertow, featuring Royal Canadian Mounted Police constables Cal Dion and Dave Leith, is the second novel in the B.C. Blues police procedural series by R. M. Greenaway. The detectives are recently assigned to Vancouver. For Leith, Vancouver is his first assignment outside the rural British Columbia city of Prince Rupert. For Dion, it is a homecoming after being assigned to quiet Prince Rupert for a year following an auto accident that caused him severe head trauma. The men share a common dislike for each other, and Dion, the more interesting of the two, has a shady past, a whiff of corruption about him, and an uncanny ability to make abstract connections during investigations.

On their first day on the job a murder spree hits North Vancouver. An electrician is found murdered at the side of a rural highway. His wife and daughter are found dead in their sparse apartment. But the killings are a puzzle since the family is new in town with no apparent enemies. When another body surfaces, a prominent North Vancouver businessman who has been tortured and asphyxiated in his own home, it is unimaginable that the murders are linked, except as the investigation unfolds, a link clearly develops.

Undertow is a smooth and entertaining procedural. The mystery is plotted less to hide the identity of the killer, or even the connection between the murders, than to keep the killer’s motive from the reader. A whydunit is more apt a description than a whodunit and it works surprisingly well. Leith’s and Dion’s conflict is disappointingly bland since they share only a few scenes, but Dion’s past—as seen from his murky, amnesiac-fueled memories—adds a gritty sense of unease to the narrative.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 27 April 2017 04:04
The Mystery Community Truly Is a Community
Oline H. Cogdill

deaverjeffrey TheBurialHour
Anyone who has spent time around mystery writers knows that, overall, they are a generous bunch.

Yes, of course, there are a few who are not. But most mystery writers you meet are quite nice, happy to meet other authors and readers.

I have witnessed writers thanking fans for reading their books and immediately introducing those readers to another writer they might like.

And, as many of us witnessed a couple of weeks ago, mystery writers’ concern for each other goes beyond the printed word.

This was proven during the 71st annual Edgars banquet, held April 27 at New York's Grand Hyatt Hotel.

Incoming Mystery Writers of America president Jeffery Deaver was in the middle of introducing the presenter who would announce the Edgar for best young adult novel when he passed out. He managed to brace himself as he went down.

One minute Deaver was reading a poem called “The Death of Reading,” about being a writer: 


“I’ve got what I think is the very best job.
I have no commute; I can dress like a slob.
I get paid to make up things—isn’t that neat?—
Just like at the White House and 10 Downing Street.”

And the next minute he was on the floor.

Immediately, Deaver was surrounded by other authors who held his head and comforted him while others were on the phone calling for help. The rest of us had the good sense to sit still and not get in anyone’s way.

The Edgars were halted for about half an hour until the EMS arrived, and Deaver was able to walk out on his own with the medics. As soon as it was possible, MWA executive vice president Donna Andrews swung into action and flawlessly—and smoothly—led the rest of the evening.

The happy news is that Deaver is doing fine and posted a thank you and update on his Facebook page. Although he has canceled his U.K. tour for his new novel, The Burial Hour, he plans to make his Italian tour in June.

But the rush to help Deaver wasn’t the only moment of kindness at the Edgars.

duboisbrendan stormcellJust after Mary Higgins Clark had given out the aptly named Mary Higgins Clark Award to Charles Todd, she began to make her way down, when it appeared she needed a bit of assistance.

But let me refer to author Brendan DuBois, who had a closer view: “At [the] Edgar Awards banquet, I saw a sweet and charming sight: Mary Higgins Clark was on the stage, having just given out the award named for her to Charles Todd, and then as the very talented and sweet 89-year-old author slowly maneuvered her way down the steps, the awesome Lee Child instantly got up from his table and assisted her down,” DuBois posted on his Facebook page.

DuBois also was on the stage with Deaver, adding “there were a number of folks there, but Lyndsay Faye sticks out in my mind, her glamorous gown spread on the stage, sitting right next to Jeff, cracking jokes and calming everyone down.”

DuBois, whose latest novel is Storm Cell, continued: “Both events sort of struck me as a metaphor for the mystery community. We write, edit, sell, and read stories about some of the most despicable acts of humanity, but we are one close-knit community, and we tend to look out for each other and lend a helping hand—whether the literary one or the real one"

DuBois added, “I'm glad and honored to be a part of it.”

I certainly agree with him.

Organizing the Edgars is no small task and each year it goes well. Even when the unexpected happens, the MWA team was ready.

For a list of all Edgar winners and nominees, visit our blog.

Oline Cogdill
Friday, 05 May 2017 10:05
Eleanor Taylor Bland Award Opens
Oline H. Cogdill

sleuth logo copy
Among the authors who left us too soon is Eleanor Taylor Bland, who passed away in 2010.

She gave us complex characters, starting with African-American police detective Marti MacAlister, who was introduced in Dead Time (published in 1992).

The author’s legacy continues with the fourth annual Eleanor Taylor Bland Crime Fiction Writers of Color Award, which is now open for submissions.

Administered by Sisters in Crime, the award honors the memory of Taylor Bland with a $1,500 grant to an emerging writer of color, male or female, who has not yet published a full-length work.

The deadline for submission is June 15, 2017, and the winner will be announced on or before August 1, 2017. Guidelines for submission can be found at Sisters in Crime's website

The award was created in 2014 with a bequest from Bland’s estate “to support Sisters in Crime’s vision statement that the organization should serve as the voice for excellence and diversity in crime writing.”

The grant is intended to support the recipient in activities such as workshops, seminars, conferences and retreats, online courses, and research activities required for completion of their debut crime fiction novel or story collection.

Recipients include Maria Kelson (2014), Vera H-C Chan (2015), and Stephane Dunn (2016).

Here’s a link to a video with past winners describing the award.

Oline Cogdill
Tuesday, 09 May 2017 11:05
Dana Cameron’s Emma Fielding on TV
Oline H. Cogdill

cameron dana
I am so looking forward to the premiere of Site Unseen: An Emma Fielding Mystery, set to debut at 9 p.m. on June 4 on the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Channel.

First, the Hallmark Movies & Mysteries Channel has a track record of bringing some of our favorite amateur sleuths to TV in well-done movies.

Novels by Charlaine Harris, Joanna Fluke, and Wendy Corsi Staub, among others, have successfully made the transition to movies on the channel.

Second, Emma Fielding is the heroine of the terrific novels by Dana Cameron, who, like her character, is an archaeologist.

Cameron’s six novels about Emma are a highly entertaining series.

Emma is a brilliant and driven archaeologist and I have no doubt that actress Courtney Thorne-Smith will bring this beloved character to life. Emma is used to finding artifacts that have been lost for hundreds of years. 

But in Site Unseen, Emma is working on one of the most significant archaeological finds in years—evidence of a possible 17th century coastal Maine settlement that predates Jamestown.

But the dead man she finds at her site is no historical find. Emma becomes involved in the investigation because her dig site is in jeopardy of being shut down, thanks to local treasure-hunters and a second suspicious murder.

Cameron’s novels about Emma include Site Unseen, Grave Consequences, Past Malice, A Fugitive Truth, More Bitter Than Death, and Ashes and Bones.

The author said she devised Emma’s name when she was writing her first mystery.

“I happened to glance over at my bookcase. There I saw a copy of Tom Jones, by Henry Fielding, and a copy of Emma, by Jane Austen, and I put the two names together. It wasn’t for a long time that I realized how appropriate that name was—it can be read as a play on words for her job, someone who spends time in the field. I had another character point out the joke to Emma in a later book, but I felt pretty silly for not having seen it myself right away,” Cameron stated on her website.

Dana Cameron photo by James Goodwin

Oline Cogdill
Wednesday, 17 May 2017 12:05
Triple Shot of Michael Connelly
Oline H. Cogdill

connelly michael3.jpg
Fans of Michael Connelly will get a triple treat this year from the author.

First, the third season of Bosch just landed on Amazon Prime.

Bosch, of course, is based on Connelly’s series about LAPD detective Harry Bosch and stars Titus Welliver. 

Season three is based on elements of Connelly’s novels The Black Echo and A Darkness More Than Night. (We promise to have a non-spoiler review soon.)

And second, there will be not just one new Connelly novel this year, but two.

In July, Little, Brown will release Connelly’s The Late Show, which introduces a new character around which the author plans a new series.

The Late Show launches detective Renée Ballard, who works the night shift in Hollywood.

She begins investigations but finishes none, as each morning she turns her cases over to day-shift detectives.

Renée is described as “a once up-and-coming detective, she's been given this beat as punishment after filing a sexual harassment complaint against a supervisor.”

Things change when Renée catches two cases she doesn't want to part with: the brutal beating of a prostitute left for dead in a parking lot and the killing of a young woman in a nightclub shooting. Against orders and her own partner's wishes, she works both cases by day while maintaining her shift by night.

In a release, Connelly said, “I have been contemplating a new character like Renée Ballard for a long time and now seemed like the time to write the book. It’s been ten years since I introduced a new protagonist so I am very excited about this.”

And Bosch will be back in a new novel—as yet untitled—that will be published on November 7, 2017.

Oline Cogdill
Sunday, 14 May 2017 12:05
Longmire Days Return
Oline H. Cogdill

johnsoncraig westernstar
During the weekend of July 7–9, the small town of Buffalo, Wyoming, is the place to be.

That’s the weekend when Buffalo—about 4,600 residents or so—more than triples its population as more than 14,000 people come for Longmire Days, which celebrates the bestselling Walt Longmire novels written by Craig Johnson.

The sixth annual Longmire Days festival is chock-full of events such as a parade, a poker school, book and film discussions, trap shooting, baseball games, and horseback rides, among other events.

Johnson will be there, of course.

A majority of the cast usually attends as well. Among the cast expected to attend this year are Robert Taylor (Walt Longmire), A. Martinez (Jacob Nighthorse), Adam Bartley (The Ferg), Bailey Chase (Branch Connally), Louanne Stephens (Ruby), John Bishop (Bob Barnes), and Zahn McClarnon (Officer Mathias), among others.

Longmire Days has become a terrific way to honor Johnson’s novels, which realistically portray the new West and how crime is investigated. The festival continues to grow. Two years ago, about 9,000 were expected; now it is more than 14,000.

If you plan to go, make reservations soon.

Longmire fans have more to look forward to this year. Johnson’s next Walt Longmire novel will be The Western Star, on sale September 5. In addition, Johnson just signed a new three-book contract with Viking. Currently, more than 1.7 million copies of the Longmire series have been sold.

The sixth—and final season—of the TV series Longmire will air this fall on Netflix. The tentative airing date is September 15, though that could change.

Walt Longmire will have only one more season on TV, but the novels will continue.

Oline Cogdill
Saturday, 20 May 2017 04:05
How We Wrote: “Ocean of Storms”
Oline H. Cogdill


MariBrown oceanofstorms2
Mystery Scene continues its ongoing series with authors discussing their works. This time, Christopher Mari and Jeremy K. Brown discuss their novel
Ocean of Storms.

Set in the near future, Ocean of Storms begins when political tensions between the United States and China are at an all-time high. Then a catastrophic explosion on the moon cleaves a vast gash in the lunar surface. As a result, the Earth’s electrical infrastructure is obliterated. This forces the feuding nations to cooperate on a high-risk mission.

Now a diverse, highly skilled ensemble of astronauts—and a pair of maverick archaeologists plucked from the Peruvian jungle—will work together.

An epic adventure, Ocean of Storms spans space and time.


Christopher Mari and Jeremy K. Brown discuss tension and point of view:

When we were writing our sci-fi thriller, Ocean of Storms, one of the biggest issues we faced was how to amp up the tension while at the same time releasing clues through the novel as to the nature of the mystery our protagonists face. The solution we came up with was to use multiple points of view (POVs) in which each character was to have a piece of the puzzle.

It’s a tricky thing to write multiple points of view, made harder still by the fact that two authors were writing one novel. That said, it was also a gift to have a co-author, since each of us served double duty as the other’s editor to make sure we were writing a coherent story with coherent characters in a single narrative voice.

mari christopherIn order to insure that we didn’t trip up—either by giving too much away or by forgetting to give key pieces of information at just the right moments—we had to create a sort of “novel bible,” in which we had outlined all of the characters’ personalities and traits, as well as their backgrounds and their motivations.

This same novel bible also had a fairly detailed outline of the plot, so that we knew when certain things would happen and what aspects of the mystery would be revealed in which chapters.

We also did considerable research and took copious notes on true-life aspects of our story: NASA history, the physics behind putting astronauts on the moon, archeological facts, political background on US-China relations—even references to other sci-fi adventures we loved and wanted to echo.

In the end, the novel that ultimately resulted from these notes was not the book that we had outlined: characters changed, motivations shifted, action was tightened, plot details were switched up or deleted entirely. Nothing surprising there; that’s the nature of writing. But what we never changed was what had been there at the beginning, that this was going to be a story told from many points of view as a way to increase the tension throughout the novel and to heighten the mystery.

And the way we did that was by always knowing exactly who knew what at whatever point, and exactly what their motivations were for either giving a piece of information or withholding it.
brown jerryTo us, the only way to tell this story was in such a manner, in which everyone, working together and by each adding a puzzle piece to the game, would be able to solve the mystery. Not to get too philosophical, but writing a thriller with a mystery at its core seems to us not that very different from living everyday life.

All of us all know something, and maybe then only partially, and only by sharing information and by working together can we solve the truly tough problems.

About the authors:
Christopher Mari was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and was educated at Fordham University. He has edited books on a wide variety of topics, including three on space exploration. His next novel, The Beachhead, will be published by 47North in 2017. He lives with his family in Queens, New York.

Jeremy K. Brown has written several biographies for young readers, including books on Stevie Wonder and Ursula K. Le Guin. He has also contributed articles to numerous magazines and newspapers. Brown published his first novel, Calling Off Christmas, in 2011 and is currently at work on another novel. He lives in New York with his wife and sons.

Photos: Top, Christopher Mari; photo by Ana Maria Estela
Bottom, Jeremy K. Brown; photo courtesy Jeremey K.Brown

Oline Cogdill
Wednesday, 24 May 2017 04:05
Levine Grills Lassiter

levine paul
Paul Levine was among the first wave of Florida authors to show readers the oddness and beauty of the Sunshine State.

Jake Lassiter, the linebacker-turned-lawyer, first appeared in Paul Levine’s To Speak for the Dead in 1990. Nearly three decades later, Lassiter is still navigating the shark-infested waters of the justice system in Bum Luck. The story opens ominously: “Thirty seconds after the jury announced its verdict, I decided to kill my client.”

Here, author and hero trade punches about what it all means: Paul Levine interviews Jake Lassister about Bum Luck.

Paul: I see you’re in trouble again, Jake.
Jake: Don’t blame me. I only follow orders from you, scribbler.

Paul: That’s a cop-out, tough guy. You’ve got a mind—and a mouth—of your own.
Jake: News flash. Fictional characters don’t have free will.

Paul: Really? Did I tell you to try and kill Thunder Thurston, your own client?
Jake: I don’t remember. My brain’s a little fuzzy.

Paul: No wonder. How many concussions have you had?
Jake: Sure, blame the victim. You’re the one who made me run full speed into a goalpost, splitting my helmet in two.

levinepaul bumluckPaul:
But I warned you not to get into the boxing ring with the Sugar Ray Pincher. Another concussion, and next day, you’re standing on a 20th floor balcony, threatening to push Thurston over the railing.
Jake:Thurston killed his wife. He deserved to die.

Paul: The jury said not guilty. After you argued his case.
Jake: I’m ashamed.

Paul: Whatever happened to “Jake Lassiter. Last bastion between freedom and forty years in a steel cage. The guy you call when you’re guilty as hell.”
Jake: Your words, scribbler. Not mine.

Paul: Didn’t you used to say, “They don’t call us sharks for our ability to swim?”
Jake: I’m drowning here. Can’t you see that? Because of me, a murderer went free.

Paul: Snap out of it, Jake! You were just doing your job.
Jake: Your job. You sent me to night law school. You made me take the bar exam four times. You pushed me into criminal law. I could have coached high school football in a pleasant little burg in Vermont, but no, you made me a trial lawyer.

Paul: I’ve never known you to be such a whiner.
Jake: (groans) What have you done to me? Splitting headaches. Memory loss. Confusion. Solomon and Lord think I have brain damage.

Paul: I never told you to use your helmet as a battering ram.
Jake: Once you made me a linebacker, what did you think would happen?

Paul: (apologetically) Truth be told, Jake, I didn’t think about the future. No one knew about chronic traumatic encephalopathy back in the day.
Jake: You gave me another concussion in the game against the Jets where I made the tackle on the kickoff, recovered the fumble, and stumbled to the wrong end zone.

Paul: Sorry about that.
Jake: All these years later, the judges still call me “Wrong Way Lassiter.” Sorry doesn’t cut it, pal.

Paul: (brightens) There’s some good news, Jake. Dr. Melissa Gold, a neuropathologist at UCLA, is making progress with athletes suffering from C.T.E. She’s also very attractive.
Jake: So?

Paul: You’re going to meet her about halfway through Bum Luck.
Jake: I knew that. I must have forgotten. Do she and know?

Paul: No spoilers, sport.
Jake: I’m hoping she’s a keeper. It’s about time you gave me a soul mate instead of a cellmate.

Paul: Not my fault you choose women who break up with you by jumping bail and fleeing town.
Jake: C’mon, old buddy. Can’t you tell me if I kill Thunder Thurston? And if I do, whether I get away with it? And if I live or die?

Paul: The answers, old buddy, can be found in Bum Luck. Just shell out a few bucks and you’ll know.
Jake: I oughta break all your fingers so you can never type another word.

Paul: Don’t even think about it. Hey, what are you doing? Ouch! Let go of me. Stop before I—

Oline Cogdill
Tuesday, 30 May 2017 05:05
Poisoned Pen Celebrates 20 Years
Oline H. Cogdill

kaehlertammy petersrosenwald poisonpen
In a time when publishers are merging or closing, it’s inspiring that an independent publisher is still going strong after two decades.

May 2017 marks the 20th anniversary of Poisoned Pen Press, which was founded—and is still owned—by publisher Robert Rosenwald and his wife, executive editor Barbara Peters.

Poisoned Pen Press’ 20 years of publishing translates to more than 1,000 titles, with authors coming from throughout the United States, as well as a few other countries. The Poisoned Pen Press team consists of 10 people, including Rosenwald and Peters.

In addition to being nominated for many awards, Poisoned Pen Press also has won several awards, including:

The Hercule Poirot Award in 2016, for outstanding contribution to the Malice Domestic genre by individuals other than writers, presented during the Malice Domestic conference;

The Ellery Queen Award in 2010, by the Mystery Writers of America, for outstanding achievement in the mystery publishing industry, presented during the annual Edgar Awards;

The Oklahoma Book Award in 2009, for Sweeping Up Glass by Carolyn D. Wall; and

The Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008, from the Bouchercon Crime and Mystery Conference.

“It has been such a remarkable ride,” said Rosenwald. “When we started Poisoned Pen Press in 1997 we hoped to get a few out-of-print books back into print. Now, 20 years later, we've published nearly a hundred living authors and have a backlist approaching a thousand titles.”

kiesthomas randomroad poisonpenRosenwald added, “We've been a home for many writers who had neither the platform nor the profile to get them into one of the big five publishing houses, but who write great books and deserve to be read.”

As of March 2017, Poisoned Pen Press has been located above the Poisoned Pen Bookstore, in the Old Town Art District of Scottsdale, Arizona. The bookstore was opened by Rosenwald and Peters in 1989 and is known for its large schedule of author and literary events and its global outreach through webcasts and worldwide shipping.

Poisoned Pen Press was begun as a separate corporation dedicated to publishing excellence in mystery.

In 1996, the Poisoned Pen bookstore hosted a crime conference called AZ Murder Goes... Classic. The conference featured current crime writers talking about classic crime writers. After the conference the authors, who had all presented papers at the conference, asked what the bookstore would do with them.

“Thus was born Poisoned Pen Press. The first book we published was the compilation of those papers presented at the conference. It ended up being nominated for an Edgar for best critical/biographical,” said Rosenwald.

“It's glorious to have reached our 20th year as an independent publisher, self-capitalized, debt free, and able to choose books to publish because we are crazy about them,” said Peters, executive editor of Poisoned Pen Press.

“I'm very proud of our authors and of the Poisoned Pen Press staff, which inevitably has evolved over the years. With a great team and list in place we're experimenting with a line of paperback originals as well as working to bring the work of our authors to a wider range of readers, plus publishing the sterling work of the British Library Crime Classics program here in the United States,” Peters added.

Poisoned Pen Press has tended “to focus on traditional mysteries, where the investigation and solution of the crime is the driving force of the story,” said Rosenwald.

But the focus has been changing, according to Rosenwald. “We have been flexing some different muscles recently, with quirkier titles such as Killing Adonis and The Coaster, and this month's Too Lucky to Live, from debut author Annie Hogsett, with encouraging results—but the mainstay of our product line is traditional mystery.

“Within these guidelines, however, we publish an impressive variety of sub-genres, from historical to police procedural to amateur sleuth to cozy—we hit just about every classification, in fact. We truly feel we have something for every mystery reader,” he added.

The Poisoned Pen Press anniversary party was attended by about 50 readers and authors who spoke about their writing lives.

Frederick Ramsay, Donis Casey, James Sallis, and Meg Dobson each spoke about their short stories that are included in the recently published Bound by Mystery original anthology. Other authors present included Annie Hogsett, Tom Kies, Tammy Kaehler, and Dana Stabenow.

Sallis mentioned that he started his career writing short stories, and actually prefers the form to novel writing, but complained that "they pay you with two copies of the magazine. What can you do with that?" So he switched to writing novels.

Poisoned Pen Press should be going strong for years to come. Rosenwald and Peters continue to be excited as publishers and owners of their nationally known bookstore.

“And, most important, we still love it, are challenged by it every day, and can't imagine retiring,” added Rosenwald.

Photos: Top: Tammy Kaehler, author of Kiss the Bricks, being interviewed by Robert Rosenwald and Barbara Peters; bottom photo, Thomas Kies, debut author of Random Road, with Peters.

Photos by Elaine Dudzinski

Oline Cogdill
Saturday, 27 May 2017 03:05
2017 Anthony Award Nominations
Oline H. Cogdill

The 2017 Anthony Award nominations, honoring work published in 2016, have been announced.

The winners will be announced following the Sunday brunch to be held October 15 during Bouchercon, which will be in Toronto from October 12–15, 2017.

Bouchercon (pronounced Bough' cher con), the World Mystery Convention, is an annual convention where readers, writers, fans, publishers, editors, agents, booksellers, and other lovers of crime fiction gather for a four-day weekend of education, entertainment, and fun! It is the world's premier mystery event, bringing together all parts of the mystery and crime fiction community.

For details, visit the Bouchercon website.

Mystery Scene congratulates all the nominees.


Best Novel

You Will Know Me – Megan Abbott (Little, Brown)
Where It Hurts – Reed Farrel Coleman (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
Red Right Hand – Chris Holm (Mulholland)
Wilde Lake – Laura Lippman (William Morrow)
A Great Reckoning – Louise Penny (Minotaur)

Best First Novel
Dodgers – Bill Beverly (Crown)
IQ – Joe Ide (Mulholland)
Decanting a Murder – Nadine Nettmann (Midnight Ink)
Design for Dying – Renee Patrick (Forge)
The Drifter – Nicholas Petrie (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

Best Paperback Original

Shot in Detroit – Patricia Abbott (Polis)

Leadfoot – Eric Beetner (280 Steps)

Salem’s Cipher – Jess Lourey (Midnight Ink)
Rain Dogs – Adrian McKinty (Seventh Street)
How to Kill Friends and Implicate People – Jay Stringer (Thomas & Mercer)
Heart of Stone – James W. Ziskin (Seventh Street)

Best Short Story
“Oxford Girl” – Megan Abbott, Mississippi Noir (Akashic)
“Autumn at the Automat” – Lawrence Block, In Sunlight or in Shadow (Pegasus)
“Gary’s Got A Boner” – Johnny Shaw, Waiting to Be Forgotten (Gutter)
“Parallel Play” – Art Taylor, Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning (Wildside)
“Queen of the Dogs” – Holly West, 44 Caliber Funk: Tales of Crime, Soul and Payback (Moonstone)

Best Critical Nonfiction Work
Alfred Hitchcock: A Brief Life – Peter Ackroyd (Nan A. Talese)
Letters From a Serial Killer – Kristi Belcamino & Stephanie Kahalekulu (CreateSpace)
Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life – Ruth Franklin (Liveright)
Something in the Blood: The Untold Story of Bram Stoker – David J. Skal (Liveright)
The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer – Kate Summerscale (Bloomsbury/Penguin)

Best Children’s/YA Novel
Snowed – Maria Alexander (Raw Dog Screaming)
The Girl I Used to Be – April Henry (Henry Holt)
Tag, You’re Dead – J.C. Lane (Poisoned Pen)
My Sister Rosa – Justine Larbalestier (Soho Teen)
The Fixes – Owen Matthews (HarperTeen)

Best Anthology
Unloaded: Crime Writers Writing Without Guns – Eric Beetner, ed. (Down & Out)
In Sunlight or in Shadow – Lawrence Block, ed. (Pegasus)
Cannibals: Stories From the Edge of the Pine Barrens – Jen Conley (Down & Out)
Blood on the Bayou: Bouchercon Anthology 2016 – Greg Herren, ed. (Down & Out)
Waiting To Be Forgotten: Stories of Crime and Heartbreak, Inspired by the Replacements – Jay Stringer, ed. (Gutter)

Best Novella (8,000-40,000 words)
Cleaning Up Finn – Sarah M. Chen (CreateSpace)
No Happy Endings – Angel Luis Colón (Down & Out)
Crosswise – S.W. Lauden (Down & Out)
Beware the Shill – John Shepphird (Down & Out)
The Last Blue Glass – B.K. Stevens, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, April 2016 (Dell)


Oline Cogdill
Wednesday, 17 May 2017 10:05
James W. Ziskin Maps His Journey
James W. Ziskin

Ziskin JamesI began my journey reading my mother’s childhood books: picture books, poetry, adventure stories, and tales of faraway places. I remember the muddy-brown-and-white lithograph bookplates, picturing a young girl in a wood and bearing the mysterious inscription “Ex libris Elizabeth W***.” (Sorry, her last name is what my middle initial stands for. And that name—like Rumpelstiltskin’s—must remain a secret.) Her books spanned a remarkable breadth of variety and genres. One Christmas, when she was seven, her parents gave her a beautifully illustrated translation of The Decameron. When I was a young boy, the language seemed old and dusty to me, and I never paid any attention to the book until I was studying Italian literature in grad school. That’s when I discovered just how wickedly ribald and downright filthy many of Boccaccio’s stories are. If you don’t believe me, try Googling “Putting the devil back in hell” for one modest example. Clearly, my grandparents hadn’t done their due diligence when selecting an appropriate book for their seven-year-old daughter.

The Decameron notwithstanding, I began my lifelong love of words and storytelling with Mom’s books. Long before I published my first novel, I studied languages (French, Italian, Spanish, German, and Hindi, with some Latin on the side). Over the years, my reading habits have changed, matured, and taken detours. And my journey has played an essential and formative role in my own writing. Here is a partial list of titles that plotted the road map I have followed.

My youngest days:
Highlights magazine. Goofus and Gallant. I was Team Goofus.
Alfred Noyes’s “The Highwayman.” “Then look for me by moonlight, watch for me by moonlight, I’ll come to thee by moonlight, though hell should bar the way.”
The King’s Stilts. My favorite Seuss ever.
The Story of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, by Virginia Lee Burton
Beatrix Potter
James Whitcomb Riley, “The Raggedy Man”
Grimm’s Fairy Tales

At school:
7th grade: Great Expectations. Took two semesters for our class to finish it.
8th grade: Ivanhoe and Ethan Frome. Inspired choices for easily bored teens.
9th grade: As You Like It. They told us it was a comedy. Good thing, because we couldn’t tell.

Early teens:
Murder on the Orient Express, my first Agatha Christie.
Archie comics. I could never choose between Betty and Veronica.

Mid teens:
Playboy. Hey, I said I loved picture books.
The Carpetbaggers. The cover.
Flashman in the Great Game, by George MacDonald Fraser. Again, the cover. Later, when I finally read it, I fell in love with the series.

Late teens:
Kingsley Amis’ Lucky Jim. I was a budding Anglophile.
Hamlet: Borrowed it from school. Never returned it, thus validating Polonius’s advice to Laertes.
Williams: Sweet Bird of Youth, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, A Streetcar Named Desire
Orwell and Huxley. Perhaps now would be a good time to revisit these two….

My twenties:
Longfellow: Evangeline. My favorite epic poem.
Twain: Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer
Hemingway: A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Old Man and the Sea
Remarque: All Quiet on the Western Front, Arch of Triumph
Steinbeck: Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, Cannery Row, Of Mice and Men
García Márquez: One Hundred Years of Solitude, Love in the Time of Cholera
Roald Dahl. Who knew kids’ books could be so wicked and funny?

Grad school:
Zola: The Rougon-Macquart series
Flaubert: Madame Bovary
Stendhal: The Red and the Black
Svevo: The Conscience of Zeno

P. G. Wodehouse: All of Bertie Wooster and Jeeves
Evelyn Waugh: Brideshead Revisited
Graham Greene: All of it. Every last word.

Favorite book about 19-century whaling: Moby-Dick

ziskin castthefirststoneAnd finally, these works showed me my calling and pointed the way: 
Poe: “The Raven,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “Murders in the Rue Morgue”
Doyle: The Hound of the Baskervilles
Wouk: Winds of War, The Cain Mutiny
Forsyth: Day of the Jackal, The Odessa File
Sayers: Have His Carcase, anything else with Harriet Vane
Christie: The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Murder on the Orient Express, etc.
Chandler: The Big Sleep
Eco: The Name of the Rose
Hammett: The Thin Man
Cain: The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity
Francis: Whip Hand
Paretsky: Indemnity Only
Block: Eight Million Ways to Die, When the Sacred Ginmill Closes

And now, back to the journey.

“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.”
—J. R. R. Tolkien

James W. Ziskin is author of the Edgar-, Anthony-, Barry-, and Lefty-Award nominated Ellie Stone Mysteries, from Seventh Street Books. Look for Cast the First Stone, the latest Ellie Stone mystery, available everywhere June 6, 2017.

This “Writers on Reading” essay was originally published in “At the Scene” enews June 2017 as a first-look exclusive to our enewsletter subscribers. For more special content available first to our enewsletter subscribers, sign up here.

Teri Duerr
Thursday, 18 May 2017 12:05
James Grippando on Broadway
Oline H. Cogdill


Grippando jamesxx
This year saw the release of James Grippando’s 25th novel, and his 13th featuring Miami defense lawyer Jack Swyteck.

Most Dangerous Place takes its title from a FBI statement that the most dangerous place for a woman between the ages of 20 and 30 is in a relationship with a man. Grippando, left, skillfully weaves this issue into a well-plotted novel that keeps the suspense high and the characters believable.

In Most Dangerous Place, Jack goes to the Miami airport to pick up his best friend from high school, Keith Ingraham, his wife, Isa Bornelli, and their five-year-old daughter, Melany. Jack hasn’t seen his friend for several years since Keith and his family have been living in Hong Kong. But shortly after the family lands, Isa is arrested and charged with murdering the man who raped her when she was at the University of Miami more than a dozen years before.

Grippando has made his reputation as a solid thriller writer who can be relied on for gripping, brisk plots.

But Grippando has been adding another title to his resume: Broadway producer.  For several years now, Grippando has been investing in Broadway shows through his affiliation with Greenleaf Productions.

If you were among the readers who thought you saw Grippando get up on stage during the Tony Awards a couple of years ago, along with the other producers of Matilda, you were right.

Grippando is among the producers for Matilda. He also took a chance on Audra McDonald in Lady Day and the revival of Fiddler on the Roof.

The productions of which Grippando is one of the producers are now on three continents—Groundhog Day on Broadway, Dreamgirls on London’s West End, and Matilda in Australia.

andykarl gruondhoglaworderThe playbill for the musical Groundhog Day lists Grippando as one of the producers.

Groundhog Day is based on the movie of the same name and stars Andy Karl, rght, as the weatherman caught in a time warp. Here’s a review of Groundhog Day by my favorite theater critic.

Groundhog Day has seven Tony Award nominations, including one for Karl. By the way, Karl recently ended his run as Sgt. Mike Dodds in Season 17 of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

Look for Grippando when the producers come up on stage during the Tony Awards on June 11.

Photos: Top, James Grippando; photo courtesy Harper; Bottom, Andy Karl, photo by Joan Marcus

Oline Cogdill
Wednesday, 07 June 2017 02:06
Sue Grafton: “Y” on Its Way
Oline H. Cogdill


graftonsue yisfor
Until a few weeks ago, the title of Sue Grafton’s second to last novel about Santa Barbara private detective Kinsey Millhone has been known only as Y Is for….

The mystery has been solved, and Y Is for Yesterday, from Marian Wood Books/Putnam, hits stores and reading devices on August 22.

It’s been a long, wonderful ride with Kinsey and company, and after Y Is for Yesterday, only Z Is for... is left.

The publisher describes Y Is for Yesterday’s plot:

“The darkest and most disturbing case report from the files of Kinsey Millhone, Y begins in 1979, when four teenage boys from an elite private school sexually assault a 14-year-old classmate—and film the attack. Not long after, the tape goes missing and the suspected thief, a fellow classmate, is murdered. In the investigation that follows, one boy turns state's evidence and two of his peers are convicted. But the ringleader escapes without a trace.

“Now, it's 1989 and one of the perpetrators, Fritz McCabe, has been released from prison. Moody, unrepentant, and angry, he is a virtual prisoner of his ever-watchful parents—until a copy of the missing tape arrives with a ransom demand. That's when the McCabes call Kinsey Millhone for help.”

Kinsey first came on the scene in 1982 with A Is for Alibi.

Grafton has kept with that naming convention throughout with B Is for Burglar, E Is for Evidence, P Is for Peril, and so on. The only exception has been the singular X, which came out in 2015 and soon landed in the top spot on several bestseller lists.

That brings me back to Y Is for Yesterday.

For me, Y Is for Yesterday has a different meaning, as it seems like just yesterday that Grafton, along with Marcia Muller and Sara Paretsky, brought me back to mysteries and set me on a career course I never expected.

I began reading mysteries when I was about eight or nine. I had pretty much read everything the children’s section of my hometown library had and wanted more—more stories, characters, more plots, just more.

That’s when my mother handed me some of her collection of mysteries she had read—many of them small hardcovers that cost pennies, or rather dimes, back in her day. Authors such as Agatha Christie, Rex Stout, Frances and Richard Lockridge (Mr. and Mrs. North), Mary Roberts Rinehart.

And I found that more I was looking for. (To this day, I have never read a Nancy Drew or a Hardy Boys novel.)

But decades later when I started working I became disenchanted with mysteries. The stories were not speaking to me, not addressing my concerns. I loved the mysteries that were then old-fashioned but I craved more contemporary stories that I could relate to.

I remember sitting in my driveway with one of my closest friends and talking about reading. He mentioned he had heard about this new author who was naming her books after the alphabet. “A Is for Alibi is the first one,” he said. “It’s that cute.”

It wasn’t just cute—it was what I needed.

Although I had pets, owned my own home, and loved clothes, I still found a kindred spirit in Kinsey, despite her petless, vagabond ways and habit of cutting her hair with nail scissors and owning one black dress.

We were single women, making our own way, navigating a new world and reveling in being independent.

At that point Grafton had about six novels out and I began to binge-read. A few months later, I was visiting my friend Toni, who handed me one of Sara Paretsky’s novels. And I was off.  

The rest is, well, mystery-reading history.

Y Is for Yesterday. Y is for you, the reader.


Oline Cogdill
Saturday, 03 June 2017 02:06
Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer

macdonald ross


Ross Macdonald's Lew Archer debuted in the 1949 novel The Moving Target and has appeared in novels, radio programs, and on the screen over the decades since.

Photo: Author Ross Macdonald (Kenneth Millar)

In The Archer Files (Vintage Crime, softcover, $16) a collection of the complete short stories featuring private detective Lew Archer, its editor Tom Nolan provides a detailed biography of the Southern California sleuth culled from clues planted by author Ross Macdonald in the stories and 18 acclaimed novels.

Nolan tells us that, after serving in Army Intelligence during WWII, Archer set up shop in Hollywood. During roughly that same period, Navy Communications Officer Kenneth Millar (Macdonald’s real name) wrote his first private eye fiction, the short story "Find the Woman," featuring a sleuth named Joe Rogers, that merited an encouraging $300 third prize in a contest sponsored by Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.

macdonald movingtargetA while later, the story would be reprinted with Archer replacing Rogers. But the character’s official debut was in 1949’s The Moving Target when, at 35 and in the midst of a divorce, the character is summoned to Santa Teresa (the author’s fictional version of Santa Barbara) and the home of wealthy and unpleasant Elaine Sampson who hires him to find her missing alcoholic husband. The novel was clearly influenced by Raymond Chandler’s work, with several obvious nods to Chandler’s first Philip Marlowe novel The Big Sleep.

But by 1956’s The Barbarous Coast, Macdonald and Archer were leaving many of the hardboiled tropes behind, replaced by, as Nolan puts it in his excellent, meticulously detailed biography, Ross Macdonald (Scribner ebook, $12.99), “more subjective themes: personal identity, the family secret, the childhood trauma . . . how the buried past rises like a skeleton to confront the present.” The Galton Case (1959), with its debt to the Oedipus myth, is usually cited as the upward turning point in Macdonald’s creativity, to be followed by a series of remarkable novels ending with The Blue Hammer (1976).

As best I can tell, the first audio versions of the Archer series were Random House cassettes, narrated by Peter Riegert (Crossing Delancey, The Sopranos) who hurried the prose a little too much. The real problem with the productions is that they were abridgments, making their unavailability no great loss. Fans should be much more satisfied by the recent release of over a dozen Archer audios by Blackstone Audio (unabridged, on CDs or downloadable via Audible, priced variably). Included are the key novels, The Moving Target, The Ivory Grin, The Barbarous Coast, The Galton Case, the disturbingly creepy The Wycherly Woman, The Chill and The Underground Man, as well as a personal favorite, The Zebra Striped Hearse, with its memorable characters, including a ubiquitous gang of surfer kids and an overall sad Sixties vibe. Adding to the pleasures of Macdonald’s prose is actor Grover Gardner’s interpretation of first-person narrator Archer – relentless, empathic but tough when it’s necessary, well-spoken, the kind of guy who, though his occupation demands a certain physical prowess, sounds as if he finds time to read a book every now and then.

lewarcher newmanIn the mid '60s, novelist and screenwriter William Goldman convinced producer Elliot Kastner to bring a Macdonald novel to the screen. Harper (1966), based on The Moving Target, starred Paul Newman as hero Lew Harper. The name change, long rumored to be because of the actor’s fondness for “H” titled-movies (Hud, Hombre), actually was due to Macdonald’s desire to retain the rights to the name “Lew Archer.”

The Drowning Pool (1975), based on Macdonald’s novel of the same name, also starred Newman, with its location changed from Southern California to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Though well acted (especially by Anthony Franciosa as a cop with a spot-on New Orleans accent and Murray Hamilton as a smiling bayou crime lord), it suffers by comparison with Harper, scriptwise and because of its unsubtle and at times unpleasant directorial excesses. Still, it has its moments.

Both films are available on Warner Bros. DVDs, at various prices.

The author has influenced many movies and TV series, but Twilight (1998; Paramount DVD, various prices) is the best Ross Macdonald film not based on anything the author wrote. Director Robert Benton and screenwriter Richard Russo created the ultimate Macdonald homagea tough but wistful study of friendship, loyalty, and murder with Paul Newman as a retired Archer-like thoughtful private eye, living on the estate of his similarly aging actor friends, Gene Hackman and Susan Sarandon, and their troublesome daughter Reese Witherspoon. With an impeccable supporting cast that includes James Garner, Giancarlo Esposito, Liev Schreiber, Margo Martindale and M. Emmet Walsha noir dream team.

In 2011, Deadline Hollywood announced that producer Joel Silver would partner with Random House Films in launching a Lew Archer movie series, beginning with The Galton Case. In 2015, Variety stated that Silver and Warner Bros. were planning an adaptation of Macdonald’s Black Money, which Joel and Ethan Coen would write and “possibly” direct. The Guardian, this past January, noted that the brothers’ next project would be writing and directing a Western anthology for television, The Ballad of Buster Scruggs. No upcoming Macdonald project is listed on Joel Silver’s page on the Internet Movie Data Base (IMDB).

In 1996, Santa Monica FM station KCRW broadcast a 7½ hour adaptation of Macdonald’s Sleeping Beauty, enacted by a cast of 40, including its director Harris Yulin as Archer, Ed Asner, Tyne Daly, Shirley Knight, and Jennifer Tilly. This was followed in 2000 by a similarly timed adaptation of The Zebra Striped Hearse, with Yulin again directing and appearing as Archer, backed by another big cast including Stacy Keach, Marian Mercer, Anthony Zerbe, and Pamela Reed.

Both excellent productions were released in 6-cassette packages from Audio Partners but apparently are only available as bootleg copies.

In 1958, Macdonald’s short story Find the Woman was adapted as a 60-minute addition to the CBS anthology series Pursuit, retitled Epitaph for a Golden Girl. Michael Rennie portrayed the private eye who, at the author’s insistence, was re-christened with his original name of Joe Rogers.

In 1974, NBC-TV televised a two-hour pilot based on The Underground Man, with Peter Graves as a passable Archer, though a bit more nostalgic than his literary counterpart. According to Nolan’s biography, the author found Douglas Heyes’ adaptation “rather obscure and hysterical.” But over 12 million viewers seemed to like it, enough for a series to follow, albeit with a different crew and cast. Not that it helped.

Archer (NBC-TV, 1975) featured a glum, mumbling Brian Keith as Lew Archer. Produced by David Karp, and written by Karp and assorted others, the stories, as I remember them, weren’t just noir but rather sour studies of crime and criminals. It was canceled after six episodes. Variety called it “one of the speediest executions on record.” Still, one can’t help being curious about the episode The Body Beautiful, which was penned by Leigh Brackett, the near legendary screenwriter who co-adapted Chandler’s The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye.

Neither the pilot with Peter Graves nor the six episodes with Brian Keith are available from standard sources, but bootleg copies of The Underground Man are available on iOffer.

For more information about Macdonald and his perceptive private detective, check out Tom Nolan’s biography and short story collection mentioned above and It’s All One Case: The Illustrated Ross Macdonald Archives, by Kevin Avery, Paul Nelson, Jeff Wong, and the author himself (Fantagraphics, hardcover, $44.99).

Dick Lochte is a well-known literary and drama critic and contributes the “Sounds of Suspense” audiobook review column to Mystery Scene. He received the 2003 Ellen Nehr Award for Excellence in Mystery Reviewing. His prize-winning Sleeping Dog and its sequel, Laughing Dog, are available from Brash Books.

Teri Duerr
Monday, 22 May 2017 12:05
You Will Pay
Oline H. Cogdill

The prolific Lisa Jackson’s latest novel with a pedestrian plot and one-dimensional characters never quite catches fire. Still, You Will Pay moves at a brisk pace with a few interesting twists to hold readers' interest.

About 20 years ago, two teenage female counselors and a part-time worker disappeared from Camp Horseshoe, a religious camp in Oregon. A male counselor, Tyler Quade, was found alive, but with a knife in his back. At the time, many believed that an escaped prisoner was to blame for the attacks.

Two decades later, the jawbone belonging to one of the victims, Elle Brady, is found on the beach. With the case reopened, the surviving counselors are called to testify, including Lucas Dalton, now a police detective. Back then, Lucas, who is the son of the camp’s owner, had just broken up with Elle the night before she disappeared. While Lucas should not be handling the case, he continues to investigate, spurred on by guilt and the need to hide a few secrets. To add to the tension, the surviving counselors receive text photos of Elle in her coffin with the message “You will pay.”

You Will Pay brings to mind many horror films set at summer camps, while never quite rising to the thrill level of the best in this genre. Still, the finale is a surprise.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 23 May 2017 12:05

jacksonyouwillpayA twist on horror films set at summer camps, You Will Pay never quite rising to the thrill level of the best in the genre.

Sister, Sister
Rachel Prindle

Clare Tennison is a successful lawyer, who lives in her childhood home in England with her mother, husband, and two young daughters. While she is close to her family and the people she works with, complete happiness has always eluded her. As a child, her father ran out on her family, taking Clare’s beloved little sister, Alice, with him. All attempts to find Alice over the years have come to nothing. Then one day, the family gets a letter from Alice herself, who has been living in the States and only recently found them. When Alice travels to England to see them, Clare hopes they can connect, but shortly after Alice’s arrival, Clare finds herself at odds with her sister and jealous of all the extra attention her family lavishes on her. Her unease grows as Alice shows strange, manipulative behavior, and Clare worries her long-lost sister may have contacted them for sinister reasons. Her mother and husband, Luke, think Clare is paranoid, leaving her feeling alone as she struggles to figure out what is really happening.

Sue Fortin challenges the romance of “happily ever after” by showing the initial awkwardness of Alice’s sudden return and how Clare struggles to find room for this near-stranger. She also shows how long-awaited moments do not always play out the way a person wants. Though there is a mystery at the heart of the novel, it’s really an examination of familial relationships. Sister, Sister is highly emotional with well-wrought characterization; Alice’s presence and Clare’s suspicion create deep feelings of anger, bitterness, envy, betrayal, and fear that impacts everyone in the family.

As Clare slowly learns the truth about Alice, she is faced with another more dangerous threat. The story picks up intensity with scenes that are both terrifying and revelatory at the same time. As a new addition to the mystery genre, Sister, Sister more than earns its place. Although some people may find the tone heavy, fans of suspense thrillers won’t want to miss this superb storytelling.

Teri Duerr
Tuesday, 23 May 2017 12:05

fortinsistersisterA highly emotional, well-wrought thriller about the return of a long-lost sister and the secrets she brings with her.

Nonfiction: “The Brain Defense”
Oline H. Cogdill


daviskevin braindefense
Normally, I don’t read true crime books, but recently two crossed my desk that I could not pass up. Both books pulled me in with their strong narrative and meticulous research.

Today, I am focusing on one of those books.

Chicago journalist Kevin DavisThe Brain Defense: Murder in Manhattan and the Dawn of Neuroscience in America's Courtrooms (Penguin Press) combines true crime, brain science, and courtroom drama in a well-researched book.

What makes Davis’ book so absorbing is it takes the reader on journey that shows us how neuroscience intersected with criminal justice, setting a new standard in courtrooms and the law.

Davis’ story starts with the 1991 death of Barbara Weinstein, whose body fell from a 12th-story apartment on Manhattan’s East 72nd Street. The 56-year-old woman’s husband, Herbert, soon confessed to the police that he had hit his wife and then strangled her after an argument. He threw her body out of the apartment window to make her death appear to be a suicide.

Nothing in the case added up. The 65-year-old Herbert Weinstein was a quiet retired advertising executive. He didn’t have a criminal record, no history of violent behavior. He apparently didn’t even have a temper.

What made him snap?

After he was arrested, an MRI revealed a cyst the size of an orange on his brain’s frontal lobe. That’s the part of the brain that governs judgment and impulse control.

daviskevin photo by Anne Ryan
Could Weinstein’s brain have been broken, causing him to do something totally out of character?

Weinstein’s lawyer argued that the cyst had impaired Weinstein’s judgment and that he should not be held criminally responsible for the murder.

This became the first case in the United States in which a judge allowed a scan showing a defendant’s brain activity to be admitted as evidence to support a claim of innocence.

The Weinstein case ushered in a sea change in American courtrooms, as Davis shows. It wasn’t just a matter of one man’s medical issues. The ruling raised complicated questions about responsibility, free will, and how science affects moral questions.

Full disclosure—I worked with Kevin Davis, right, years ago at the Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale. He quickly became known as one of the best reporters the newspaper had. Since he left the Sun Sentinel, his reporting has appeared in a number of high-profile newspapers and magazines. He also is the author of Defending the Damned and The Wrong Man.

Davis meets the high standards I expect from him in The Brain Defense.

He doesn’t focus on the lurid details of Weinstein’s case but puts this crime and its ruling in context. Davis looks at a broader history of brain problems, from the bizarre stories of Phineas Gage, history’s most famous brain-injury survivor, and Charles Whitman, perpetrator of the 1966 Texas Tower massacre, to the role that brain damage may play in violent actions by football players and war veterans.

Davis also looks at how criminal lawyers continue to turn to neuroscience and the effects of brain injuries in determining guilt or innocence.

The Brain Defense: Murder in Manhattan and the Dawn of Neuroscience in America's Courtrooms is a fascinating read. Like any good book, the characters—who happen to be real people—are well explored. And the plot—which is all reality—is the stuff of an absorbing legal thriller.

Photo: Kevin Davis photo by Anne Ryan

Oline Cogdill
Saturday, 10 June 2017 05:06
Back to Egypt With Elizabeth Peters


petershess painted queen
When she passed away in 2013, Barbara Mertz—the real name of Elizabeth Peters—was working on an Amelia Peabody novel.

It’s been a long seven years since readers had a new story about Amelia, the daring, witty, parasol-toting Englishwoman whose adventures have taken her across Egypt through 19 novels and one nonfiction companion volume, Amelia Peabody's Egypt: A Compendium.

Amelia Peabody novels were launched in 1975 and featured a large array of family, friends, allies, and characters both fictional and based on historical figures.

Egyptologist Barbara Mertz knew her history and lore and included much about Egypt in her novels. The series started in 1884 and moved up through 1923. In addition to solid mystery plots, her novels also featured a good share of humor, romance and even a parody of Victorian-era adventure novels.

At the time of Mertz’s death, the 20th installment, The Painted Queen, was in the editing stages.

Now, The Painted Queen is set to be published on July 25. Mertz’s longtime friend and award-winning mystery writer, Joan Hess, finished the manuscript.

Hess used extensive notes and conversations with Mertz to complete The Painted Queen in Mertz’s style.

The Painted Queen will be the last novel in the Amelia series.

Although The Painted Queen is the 20th entry in the series, it actually was supposed to be the 14th, chronologically, as it takes place in 1912.

In The Painted Queen, Amelia and her archeologist husband Radcliffe Emerson are back in Egypt for another excavation season. Before they head to the field, they want one more night of comfort, so the couple retires to their favorite hotel for an elegant dinner and crisp sheets. The next morning, Emerson is at the Service des Antiquities to sort out their plan, while Amelia is taking a bubble bath. But just as she has eased into the tub, a man staggers into the bath chamber clutching his throat, gasping, “Murder” before collapsing to the floor.

The Painted Queen of the title refers to the iconic bust of Queen Nefertiti, chief consort of Pharaoh Akhenaten and stepmother to King Tutankhamun.

During her 50-year career, Mertz received numerous writing awards, starting with her first Anthony Award for Best Novel in 1989. Other honors include grandmaster and lifetime achievement awards from the Mystery Writers of America, Malice Domestic, and Bouchercon. In 2012, she was given the first Amelia Peabody Award, created in her honor, at the Malice Domestic convention.
Joan Hess is the author of the Claire Malloy Mysteries and the Arly Hanks Mysteries. She is a winner of the American Mystery Award, the Agatha Award, for which she has been nominated five times.  

Finishing another’s manuscript or continuing a series after an author’s death has become an industry standard. Ace Atkins does a terrific job carrying on Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series. Also, Reed Coleman has picked up the mantle for Parker’s Jesse Stone novels.

Robert Ludlum novels have been continued by Gayle Lynds, Philip Shelby, Patrick Larkin, Eric Van Lustbader, James H. Cobb, Kyle Mills, Jamie Freveletti, Douglas Corleone, and excuse me if I have overlooked a couple.

Oline Cogdill
Wednesday, 14 June 2017 05:06
Father's Day With “Better Call Saul,” “Bosch”
Oline H. Cogdill

boschandmaddie bosch2x
Since Father’s Day is June 18, let’s celebrate two TV fathers whose concern and love for their children bring a deeper understanding of their characters to the plots.

Those fathers are Harry Bosch in Bosch, available on Amazon Prime and based on the novels by Michael Connelly, and Mike Ehrmantraut on Better Call Saul, wrapping up its third season on the AMC channel.


In Connelly’s novels, Bosch’s daughter Maddie didn’t show up until his ninth novel, Lost Light, published in 2003. But each season of Bosch on Amazon Prime is a combination of several novels. It makes sense to have Maddie appear as a teenager, given the age and experience of Harry at this point in time.

Titus Welliver is outstanding as Los Angeles Police Department Detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch, who is a homicide detective in the Hollywood Division (for those few readers who do not know this). Harry’s skills as a detective, and his tendency to be a bit of a lone wolf, are paramount to the series. The TV series keeps the spirit of Connelly’s novels as well as the intense characters that the author has honed throughout his novels.

But Harry’s relationship with his teenage daughter, Maddie, winningly played by Madison Lintz, adds a deeper aspect to Harry. For most of the three seasons of Bosch, Maddie has called her father Harry. It makes sense because for most of her life he has been a bit of a stranger, living in a different city, and sometimes a different country.

Relationships are hard for Harry, but Maddie is the one person for whom he has unconditional love.

The moment when Maddie finally calls him “Dad” is a turning point for both. And the look of extreme love and pride and even thankfulness that flitters across Welliver’s face is naked emotion, something Harry usually doesn’t show.

We see his hurt when Maddie tells Harry that he is like a turtle who does not let anyone else under his shell, even her at times. Deep in Season Three, Harry sits on the edge of Maddie’s bed while she is asleep, worried that something he has done could bring harm to his child. Again, Welliver shows the unconditional love that Harry has for his child and how he would do anything to protect her.

The chemistry between father and daughter is perfect. Lintz is a poised young actress who also appeared during the first two seasons of AMC's postapocalyptic series The Walking Dead.

The third season of Bosch is now on Amazon Prime, and it’s been renewed for a fourth season.

Better Call Saul

banksjonathan bettercallsaulFor Better Call Saul’s Mike Ehrmantraut, his granddaughter Kaylee is the only person he cares about.

Mike’s love for Kaylee is the sole pure thing in his life, and also his only connection to humanity. She is the reason why he pushes himself into doing things not quite legal, as he wants to be able to leave her as much money as he can. There is nothing he would not do to make life better for Kaylee and his daughter-in-law.

Jonathan Banks never falters in his portrayal of Mike Ehrmantraut, showing his compassion and love for Kaylee as well as his hardened soul when dealing with others. Banks has long been a go-to character actor but now that he is older he is even better. His hangdog look shows a complex character beneath.

Part of his love for his granddaughter stems from the guilt he carries about his deceased son. As a cop in Philadelphia, Mike was involved in corruption. He knows his son was murdered because of the sins he committed.

Mike also knows that his actions could bring harm to his remaining family, even as he tries to shield them. The scene in which he notices the twin assassins watching his granddaughter, and he literally tries to shield her with his body, tells us everything we need to know about Mike.

Top: Titus Welliver and Madison Lintz on the set of Bosch; photo courtesy Amazon Prime

Bottom: Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) with his granddaughter Kaylee in Better Call Saul; photo courtesy AMC

Oline Cogdill
Saturday, 17 June 2017 04:06