Ben Boulden

Hydra, Matt Wesolowski’s second novel in his Six Stories series, is a complex and original suspense tale. Scott King operates a true crime podcast discussing crimes that have been solved, but have nuances and perspectives yet to be explored. Each story is developed into a series of six podcasts, each podcast features an interview with a person that has in-depth information about the crime, perpetrator, or victim. Scott’s latest subject is the so-called Macleod Massacre, where a 21-year-old woman, Arla Macleod, bludgeoned her father, mother, and younger sister to death with a hammer.

Convicted of the murders, Arla is serving her sentence in a medium security mental health facility. The sentence is seen as overly light by the Stanwel’s residents, the small northern England town where Arla was raised and the murders took place. As Scott delves into the case, unexpected things occur: ominous and personal threats on Six Stories’ social media pages and threatening text messages regularly ping his unlisted mobile phone. And disturbing new facts are uncovered about Arla’s restrictive childhood—her parents were staunchly religious and overbearing—and about the case.

Hydra is that rare novel straddling two genres, in this case horror and crime, that will satisfy readers of both. There are moments of spine-tingling creepiness as Arla’s frightening and bleak psychology is examined, but it’s the underlying crime that drives the narrative. Presented as a true crime investigation in podcast form, the novel is entirely carved from dialogue: Scott King’s monologues and his guests’ interviews. The execution perfectly allows the reader to see and believe every event as the mystery develops. Hydra is as surprising as it is good, and should appeal to readers who enjoy crime with an eerie, dark vibe.

Teri Duerr
2018-07-12 03:40:44
The Killing Habit
Matt Fowler

Dead cats. That’s what sets the mystery in motion for the main characters in Mark Billingham’s The Killing Habit. The latest in the Tom Thorne series sees Thorne and an equally (if not more) badass Nicola Tanner working two separate cases. One involves the use of a dangerously addictive drug and the other involves, well, dead cats. It’s not long before Thorne understands that these feline fatalities might be symptomatic of something more dangerous than he thought.

While the two mysteries can make the novel feel bloated at times, Billingham ultimately does a good job intersecting the stories. When Tanner and Thorne are working together, the story is at its best. The banter and classic detective speak that crime novels have taught the reader to appreciate are very much present in the pages of the book. The stakes are high and it is a treat to meet the characters that surround the mystery that has been built. The Duchess, one of the criminals we meet along the way, is particularly enthralling.

Billingham is an international bestselling author and shows a strong command of his story. The Killing Habit is well-done piece of crime fiction—if you can get beyond the cats.

Teri Duerr
2018-07-12 03:44:12
The Pot Thief Who Studied Edward Abbey
Ben Boulden

The Pot Thief Who Studied Edward Abbey is the eighth novel in J. Michael Orenduff’s consistently good Hubie Schuze mystery series. Hubie is a potter, the proprietor of a pottery shop in Albuquerque, New Mexico’s fashionable and touristy Old Town, and a self-described pot thief. Hubie illegally digs ancient pots from public lands to sell in his Old Town shop, rationalizing that the original potters would want their work admired for their beauty rather than analyzed by archeologists.

Hubie’s surprised when he’s asked to teach a pottery class at the University of New Mexico, ART 2330, Anasazi Pottery Methods, since his amateur sleuthing sent the art department’s chair to prison a few years earlier and, as a graduate student, he was expelled for removing pots from an archeology site. The class is a non-credit studio course, but that doesn’t stop the students from complaining about Hubie to school officials for offenses large and small. And when a student is murdered while modeling for a full-body plaster cast, everyone in the art department, including Hubie, is a suspect.

The Pot Thief Who Studied Edward Abbey is a humorous and satisfying traditional mystery with strong characters and a rich setting. Hubie is an eccentric—no cell phone, internet, or email—with a clear eye for cultural peculiarities that never views differences unkindly. The students are stereotypical millennials with their mobile phones and short attention spans.The art department faculty are hilariously odd (two professors inform Hubie they aren’t speaking to him, but keep talking anyway), and Albuquerque is presented as the thriving and diverse and water-deprived city it is. It’s a place, as long as Hubie is there, most readers will want to return to again and again.

Teri Duerr
2018-07-12 03:49:36
Gentlemen Formerly Dressed
Jean Gazis

Gentlemen Formerly Dressed is the fifth installment in the award-winning Rowland Sinclair mystery series. It’s 1933, and Sinclair, a handsome, wealthy Australian artist, and his eccentric, bohemian friends Clyde (also a painter), Milton (a poet prone to quoting others without attribution), and Edna (a beautiful, pragmatic, and independent sculptress) have just escaped Germany, where Rowly was beaten and tortured for creating “degenerate” art.

Determined to warn those in power about the threatening developments and the dangers of appeasing the Nazis, the friends travel to England, hoping to influence the international diplomats gathered for the London Economic Conference. Just before it begins, Rowly stumbles upon the murdered Viscount Pierrepont impaled with a ceremonial sword and dressed in a woman’s nightie and makeup in his quarters at an exclusive men’s club. Pierrepont’s naive niece—and private secretary—Allie, is soon arrested for the crime, but Rowly and the others are certain she must be innocent.

Ranging from posh hotels, private clubs, and country estates, to back alleys and seedy taverns, to the Geological Museum and Madame Tussaud’s, and peopled with a wide array of colorful characters, Gentlemen Formerly Dressed is a lighthearted romp through 1930s high and low British society.

Rowly and his friends find themselves in one sticky situation after another, attending a wild, cross-dressing party, visiting eccentric acquaintances from Rowly’s university days at their country house, battling the fascist followers of Oswald Mosley, and getting unexpected help from Rowland’s conservative older brother Wil, as they attempt to find out who had the motive and opportunity to murder old Pierrepont. Real-life figures, including H.G. Wells and Winston Churchill, make cameo appearances in this entertaining tale.

Teri Duerr
2018-07-12 03:54:30
In the Hush of the Night
Hank Wagner

Operating out of the Chicago office, FBI Special Agent Annie Marino is on the trail of the local branch of an international human trafficking operation known for its brutality, and for its special brand, a tattoo of a pair of bloody bear claws, denoting ownership of its victims by a mobster known only as “The Bear.” The chance discovery of a body displaying the body art brings new urgency to her investigation, prompting her to pursue whatever leads the new clue unearths and sending her down a treacherous path to personal and professional peril.

Raymond Benson, known to many for his fiction and nonfiction featuring James Bond, and, more recently, for his engaging Black Stiletto thrillers, delivers a finely crafted standalone novel this time out. It provides a kick-ass heroine, a great supporting cast, and a vivid glimpse into a sordid business: the buying and selling of women to an unfortunately all-too-willing customer base. Showing admirable restraint, he emphasizes character development over gritty displays of violence, wisely leaving the more graphic elements to his readers’ respective imaginations. It’s not a cheat, however, because one of his chief strengths are his action set pieces, a prime example of which he leverages to great advantage towards the conclusion of this fast-paced, immensely pleasing offering.

Teri Duerr
2018-07-12 03:59:02
Hide and Sneak
Robin Agnew

This enduring series by G.A. McKevett follows the trail of former cop Savannah Reid, who now owns her own private eye business. Married to a hunky cop, Dirk, she’s a transplanted Southerner (there are lots of darlin’s and sugars) living in the ritzy California town of San Carmelito. Her life in enriched by her granny, her friend/assistant/sister-in-law Tammy, her brother Waycross, and a darling baby nephew. Oh, and lots of cookies and pies, which Savannah often uses to grease the skids and gain access to information she really shouldn’t be privy to.

In Hide and Sneak, Savannah is referred to a client who happens to also be the hunkiest movie star on the planet, whose wife, baby, and nanny have all disappeared. When the nanny turns up dead, he briefly becomes a major suspect. It quickly develops that the movie star is truly down to earth and worried about his family. He gives his staff free rein to talk to Savannah.

This sturdily built story grew on me. Despite the fact that McKevett has written 23 books in this series, I didn’t feel I was playing catch-up, though it took me a minute to acclimate to the Southern dialect she uses. Once I got past that, I appreciated the story, which is loaded with red herrings, some real detective work that’s often frustrating (for the detectives, not the reader), and Tammy’s own family drama.

The solution is witty and the clues are well laid. The baby is cute, the cookies sound delicious, and the empathy, honesty, and good intentions of the main characters are everything a reader could ask for. I thoroughly enjoyed the company provided by Savannah and her crew. Hide and Sneak is a pleasant and well-done read.

Teri Duerr
2018-07-12 16:37:53
A Noise Downstairs
Ben Boulden

A Noise Downstairs, Linwood Barclay’s 19th thriller, is a twisty psychological tale centering on college professor Paul Davis. Eight months after Paul interrupted his mentor and West Haven College co-faculty member Kenneth Hoffman disposing of two murdered women on Connecticut’s shoreline, he is in a fragile state, recovering from the incident both physically (Hoffman hit him in the head with a shovel) and emotionally.

Paul has terrible nightmares about Hoffman, who is in prison for the murders, and his short-term memory is faltering. Paul forgets conversations with his wife, Charlotte, and also little things like dropping off or picking up the dry cleaning. At the suggestion of Charlotte and with the support of his psychologist, Anna White, Paul decides to write about his experience. He hopes the project will alleviate his own fear and anxiety by gaining an understanding of why Kenneth Hoffman murdered the women. But when Charlotte gives Paul an old typewriter, strange and inexplicable things happen. Paul hears typing in the night’s dark hours, and even stranger, the machine seems to be sending Paul messages from the two murdered women.

A Noise Downstairs is a satisfying and clever novel. The large cast and the story’s many moving parts—an unsettling sociopath prankster, Paul’s deteriorating mental health, a potential child custody fight with Paul’s ex-wife—perfectly set the reader up for the final climactic twist. The novel’s only downside, and it’s not much, is the sluggish beginning to the final act where everything is explained—what happened and why—which the reader has already guessed, but it’s this same exposition that ultimately sets up Barclay’s gratifying final surprise.

Teri Duerr
2018-07-12 16:41:16
Dangerous Boys
Jay Roberts

Set against the backdrop of a series of oppressive summer heat waves in 1984 New Bedford, Massachusetts, Dangerous Boys is billed as a cross between a less-than-bucolic coming-of-age story and a dark crime thriller.

Richie Lionetti serves as the story’s narrator as he and his group of friends make their way through life defending their turf. The axiom of “sex, drugs, and rock and roll” fuel their everyday lives, though the rock and roll is usually replaced by varying degrees of explosive violence and/or criminal activity. Richie is part of a gang of tough guys who keep themselves flush by pulling off petty crimes.

While the others in the group seem content with how their lives are going, Richie is restless and knows that he wants something more—even if he doesn’t know what that might be or how to get it. An opportunity for a major score presents itself as a way out for Richie, but things go explosively wrong and it becomes a race against time and the law to get themselves out of trouble before what’s left of their lives goes down the tubes.

Dangerous Boys lacks any clear character to root for. Richie, for all his desire for a better life, is just as bad as his friends and they all take a path that gets worse for them as the story unfolds. However, Greg Gifune’s examination of his characters’ lives is a finely wrought piece of writing. What’s more, the New Bedford setting is absolutely real—at times, I could tell you exactly where Richie and his friends were, because I’d been there myself. Gifune’s ability to make the reader want to see what’s coming next (even if one doesn’t particularly like Richie or his friends) is a fine example of how some bad guys, despite themselves, make for a good story.

Teri Duerr
2018-07-12 16:46:38
The Otter of Death
Robin Agnew

The fifth novel in Betty Webb’s Gunn Zoo series is set in California and perhaps loosely based on the Phoenix Zoo, where Webb has volunteered. I’m sure fictionalizing the location allows her series character, Teddy Bentley, some leeway, and allows the author to add things like an on-site castle where the owner of the zoo lives.

Teddy lives on a boat on the “ghetto” side of a marina. Her boat is no yacht, but it gives her freedom as well as access to sea otters, which she is counting for a conservation project. As she’s doing her count one morning, one of the otters shows up clutching a cell phone. She rescues it from the otter, turns it on, and finds a video of someone being murdered. It is, unfortunately, someone she knows.

After calling the police, who quickly find the cell phone’s owner, Teddy is ordered by her fiancé—who happens to be the sheriff— to stay out of it. Like any amateur sleuth worth her salt, however, she certainly doesn’t. She begins piecing together the life of the dead man, a disgraced professor accused of sexual harassment by several women. When one of Teddy’s friends is arrested for the murder, she really goes into warrior woman mode, sure her friend is innocent.

This is a pretty classic amateur sleuth setup, but what makes it special is the setting and the snap of Webb’s writing. The zoo is endlessly interesting, and the reader gets a bird’s eye view of Teddy’s interaction with the animals and what it takes to take care of them. She loves her job and it shows.

Webb is also pretty funny, and she often nails a description of a person who might be less than pleasant or intelligent in a sentence or two. Her descriptions stay with you, and it also helps keep the various characters clear in your mind as Teddy goes about solving the crime.

I especially liked the denouement and the way the killer is subdued. To say any more would be to give it away, but it’s well worth the read. The sting is in the tail, and this book has a great tail. The setup and characters are pretty great too.

Teri Duerr
2018-07-12 16:51:03
Murder at the Flamingo
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

Although there is a murder committed at the fictional Flamingo Club in Boston’s Scollay Square in 1937, this highly readable mystery is really more about two young people who have recently escaped their unsatisfying lives elsewhere and have come to this historic city to seek a better future.

Hamish DeLuca is a brilliant young lawyer who suffers from a nervous condition that makes trying cases in a courtroom next to impossible, so he joins his cousin, Luca Valari, who is about to open a nightclub in Boston and who may or may not be on the up and up. Regina “Reggie” Van Buren meanwhile is trying to put her privileged but boring life and a pushy boyfriend behind her. This unlikely pair meets when Reggie gets a job as Luca’s secretary, becoming the only employee at the rundown North End office.

While helping Luca prepare for the club’s grand opening, Hamish comes in contact with a number of gangster-type acquaintances and associates of his cousin. Meanwhile, Reggie is busy on the phone fending off Luca’s disgruntled creditors from his previous life in Chicago.

Midway through a gala opening night, Reggie finds the body of a young girl at the bottom of the club’s wine cellar stairs. Although she and Hamish are convinced that the victim was deliberately struck before falling backwards down the stairs, the police officer in charge (obviously on the payroll) declares it an accidental death. As she and Hamish, both fans of the Thin Man movies, try to uncover the murderer and motive, they soon find themselves in imminent danger.

As a Boston native, although not quite as far back as this novel goes, I really enjoyed the very accurate descriptions of downtown Boston of the era. As Reggie and Hamish begin to develop strong feelings for one another, they find themselves falling in love with the city as well. It’s obvious that the author shares the affection.

Teri Duerr
2018-07-12 16:53:44
Broken Places
Erica Ruth Neubauer

Cass Raines was a Chicago cop until a standoff with a young hoodlum left Cass with a bullet in her chest and the young man dead. The situation was under control until Farraday, a bloodthirsty and power-hungry fellow officer, rushed in and escalated things—leaving Cass with no choice but to shoot. She was one of the few female African-American cops on the force, but racked with guilt over the young man’s death and burning anger over how Farraday interfered, she quit. Now she’s gone private, running her own investigation firm and caring for the apartment building in Hyde Park that her grandparents left her.

When Father Ray Heaton—Pop to Cass, since the priest helped raise her—asks her to look into some trouble at the parish, Cass is surprised Pop hadn’t mentioned the trouble before now. But before Cass can do anything but give her word to help him, she finds Pop and a young gangbanger dead on the floor of the church.

The police think it looks like a murder-suicide—Pop accidentally killed the boy then shot himself out of guilt. But Cass refuses to believe the kind priest she knew would do any such thing. With a fierceness springing from loyalty and love, Cass throws herself into the investigation, despite warnings to stay out of it from the lead investigator—none other than Farraday, the cop who got her shot. Cass continues to run down leads, bringing her face to face with posturing thugs and homeless witnesses.

Cass Raines is an angry young woman, with no tolerance for any kind of BS. She is forever pushing and refusing to give in, which can make her seem a little unforgiving and difficult to relate to. Yet Cass has a cast of people who care about her, and the depth of her sorrow over the loss of Pop is palpable. This is an interesting case, doggedly pursued, leading Cass into confrontations with a variety of colorful characters. The well-drawn backdrop of Chicago provides a perfect canvas for this welcome addition to the PI scene.

Teri Duerr
2018-07-12 16:56:36
Beyond the Pale
Vanessa Orr

Part mystery, part spy thriller, part marriage self-help manual—this book offers an intriguing and entertaining story.

Married college professors Hollis and Finn Larsson are asked to travel to Ireland and procure a rare book manuscript by Hollis’ former colleague, an Interpol agent. Agreeing to assume the mission and enjoy the free holiday, the two don’t realize that they’ve been set up until the drop goes bad and they find themselves being chased across the country by a number of mysterious people who may be trying to help them—or hurt them. While trying to preserve their professional reputations and protect each other, they also try to unravel the mystery of the manuscript and its author, who has since disappeared.

While the world of spies and international intrigue certainly adds drama to this story, its real strength lies in the relationship between its two main characters. Married for 15 years, Hollis and Finn have both settled into a comfortable, if dull, life. But as Hollis passes her 40th birthday, she wants more—something her staid husband doesn’t understand. It isn’t until they are forced to rely on one another that they realize just what a good match they are, and how their combined strengths—his all-encompassing knowledge of history and talent at weaving a story, and her former CIA training and ability to think on her feet—will rescue their lives and their marriage.

While I had a little trouble suspending disbelief that these two novices could outsmart their dangerous and highly trained adversaries, I did enjoy going on the journey with them. It will be interesting to see if O’Donohue has more trips planned for the duo in the future.

Teri Duerr
2018-07-12 16:59:28
A Sin Such as This
Sharon Magee

Rich and ravishing Tara Lattimore returns after her introduction in author Ellen Hopkins’ Love Lies Beneath (2016). Now married—after her fourth trip to the altar—to the dashing green-eyed surgeon Cavin Lattimore, Tara feels she’s as close to being in love as she’s ever been. She’s even sold her San Francisco mansion and moved into Cavin’s Lake Tahoe home. She’s happy, if a little bored, away from her frenetic San Francisco life, and drags Cavin to their bedroom for playtime among the silken sheets as often as she can. So what if she gets an uncomfortable niggle about his gambling obsession? She has her own secrets she wants to hide. And so what if Cavin’s ex-fiancée, the gorgeous Sophia, reappears, the same Sophia that Cavin’s teenage son, the hunky Eli, is having an occasional fling with, the same Eli that Tara’s teenage niece has hooked up with? Oh, and Eli has also been putting the moves on Tara. She finds this oh-so-flattering and pays little attention to the less-than-kind asides he makes about his father.

Then a subtle change. Tara feels someone is watching her, doors rattle as if someone is trying to break in, and one night she sees a figure dash into the woods near their home. Less subtle, there’s the mysterious fire, and then people begin dying. When Sophia is murdered, Tara’s arrested.

Bestselling author Ellen Hopkins has given readers a sexy romp through the bedrooms of Northern California’s rich and privileged. Mix in Sophia’s murder and you have a formula for an entertaining read that will keep readers turning the pages until the very end.

Teri Duerr
2018-07-12 17:08:38
What You Want to See
Erica Ruth Neubauer

In the follow-up to her stellar debut, The Last Place You Look, private investigator Roxane Weary is hired by Arthur Ungless to follow his fiancée. It’s a simple enough case—a homely man with money thinks his gorgeous fiancée, Marin, is cheating on him, and he wants to know the truth before they tie the knot. But Roxane finds nothing on Marin and leaves the case when Arthur’s check bounces.

Except now Marin is dead, shot with Arthur’s missing revolver. Roxane genuinely believes that Arthur is innocent, even though they have since learned that Marin drained Arthur’s bank account of $75,000 before she died. Roxane starts poking around and learns that Marin had more than a few secrets: several previous marriages, a son fresh out of prison, a false identity, and a criminal record of her own. It seems the woman was a professional con artist and involved in some complicated scams, including defrauding elderly people of their property.

Roxane can’t follow the police directive to stay out of case, even when it looks like there are some quasi-mobsters involved in whatever cons Marin had her fingers in. And before the case is closed, many of the people closest to Roxane will find themselves in the crossfire.

Kristen Lepionka avoids the notorious sophomore slump—this installment is just as rich and engaging as the first in the series. Roxane Weary is a complicated and empathetic character—her personal life is a mess and she’s struggling to get her emotional feet under her after her father’s death. And like many of us, she has trouble navigating the difficulties of her personal relationships. But she’s also determined, persistent, and headstrong—qualities that may irritate the police, but make her an excellent investigator. Roxane’s observations also strike the perfect sometimes-snarky tone. Lepionka has a gift for bringing characters to life, even the bit players seem to step right from the page. This is a series to keep an eye on.

Teri Duerr
2018-07-12 17:11:56
Jar of Hearts
Vanessa Orr

Ah, young love. It can be blissful, or in the case of Calvin James and Georgina “Geo” Shaw, shockingly homicidal. When 16-year-old Geo’s best friend Angela goes missing and later ends up dead, a secret that Geo’s been keeping for more than 14 years comes to light—and that’s just the beginning.

The story starts with Geo’s trial and her relationship with the young man who would later become known as the Sweetbay Strangler. Any woman who has ever been head over heels in love as a teen can attest to just how accurate author Jennifer Hillier’s take is on how it feels to date a bad boy—and how willing a girl might be to look the other way. Unfortunately for Geo, the mistakes she made follow her into later life—as does her former love after he escapes from jail.

This story moves along at a roller-coaster pace, and as more information comes to light and the body count rises, you’ll find yourself flipping the pages at record speed. Willing to give Geo the benefit of the doubt at the beginning of the story, you may find yourself wondering just how innocent she really is—and how many people will be hurt by the choices she makes.

Jar of Hearts is full of twists, revelations, and dark humor, which is surprising considering the subject. And the fact that you don’t know whether to root for the damsel in distress—or revile her—makes it all the more intriguing.

Teri Duerr
2018-07-12 17:14:50
A requiem for Anthony Bourdain
Owen Band

I wished we’d had more time to talk. I remember Tony once saying, while we were at Mars Bar, a now-defunct East Village dive, “I guess I was a lucky cook who had an opportunity to tell stories.”

“Bobby Gold at twenty one, in a red-and-white Dead Boys T-shirt, blue jeans, high-top Nikes and handcuffs, bent over the hood of the State Police cruiser, arms behind his back, wished he was anywhere but here.”

The Bobby Gold Stories, by Anthony Bourdain

When I close my eyes and listen to the lyrical voice and metric rhythms of this sentence, the spondees and trochees, I think of another crime writer, the wizard of American vernacular and underworld parlance, George V. Higgins. Both Anthony Bourdain and I worshipped at the altar of Higgins and considered The Friends of Eddie Coyle to be the best crime novel ever written. When I pointed out the similitude of the first line of Higgins work, The Digger’s Game to Bobby Gold to Tony one night at a dive bar in Alphabet City after we’d had seven cocktails and an eighth of an ounce of pure Bolivian cocaine, Tony laughed and said that, “The Bobby Gold Stories was a homage to the canon of brilliant writing of one George V. Higgins.” We toasted with a round of Tequila Herradura.

I knew Anthony Bourdain for 23 years. We met in 1995 through a mutual friend just after the publication of his first book Bone in the Throat. It was an unusual first encounter in a men’s room stall in the bathroom of One Fifth Avenue restaurant in New York City.

“Owen,” my friend Stevie said, “I want you to meet the chef Anthony Bourdain.”

I looked up at this bean pole of a man. “Good to meet you, man,” I said.

At the time, I had an online antiquarian book business that specialized in crime and mystery fiction called Swag Books, named after an Elmore Leonard novel.

“Stevie said you’re in the book business,” Bourdain said.

“That and other things,” I said.

We spent the rest of the night talking about books and authors and writing. And to paraphrase that famous line in Casablanca, I thought, Anthony, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

When I woke up to the news last month that Anthony had taken his own life at the age of 61, a part of me also died. I can’t say we were very close over the years we knew each other, but Tony had always been a presence and proved himself a friend on a number of occasions. I remember after a surgery for Crohn’s disease at Mount Sinai, waking up to hear his familiar voice through a morphine induced haze.

“I think he’s faking it,” Bourdain said.

“Well he certainly has better drugs then we do,” someone else said.

“I wonder if we pull out his oxygen tube if something will happen.”

On another occasion, Tony read six chapters of a memoir with which I was struggling. He told other people at Brasserie Les Halles, the Park Avenue restaurant where he launched his career, that we had bonded over cocktail waitresses, fine French wine, and Peruvian flake (which was true) and that I was his coke supplier (which was NOT true). But, what was always on the forefront of our connection, was a love of good mystery and crime writing.

No matter which Anthony Bourdain you talk about, author of the superlative behind-the-scenes narrative of the restaurant industry blockbuster Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly (2000), or the host of one of his many travel shows (Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, The Layover, Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown), Tony was a storyteller. Fortunately for us who enjoy a good read, especially one in the crime genre, Bourdain cut his teeth writing gritty crime novels.

His first book, Bone in the Throat: A Novel of Death and Digestion (1995), feels autobiographical. It tells the story of an up-and-coming chef Tony Pagana, who settles for a less-than-glamorous stint at his uncle’s restaurant in Manhattan’s Little Italy. When the local crime family decides to use Pagana's kitchen for a murder, Tony is squeezed between the mafia and the FBI to come up with a plan to do the right thing while avoiding getting killed in the meantime. Bone in the Throat was a New York Times notable book of the year. I remember Tony and I celebrating, Bone in the Throat at Siberia Bar in New York's Hell's Kitchen.

Bourdain had a fascination with criminals. When he found out about my earlier “career” as a cocaine smuggler for the Colombian Medellín Cartel, Bourdain kept me at the bar at One Fifth Avenue. He extracted stories out of me until five in the morning.

“I always wanted to be a criminal,” Bourdain told me. It was a sentiment he echoed in his essay, “A Life of Crime.”

"I want you to meet fellow writer 'Joe Dogs' Iannuzzi,” said Tony ,introducing me to a portly fellow with skin the color of veal.

“You write, Joe?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Joe Dogs said, “a cookbook.”

“What’s it called?”

The Mafia Cookbook,” Joe Dogs smiled.

I later learned Joe Dogs, also known as “Joe Diner” and “Joe Drywall,” was a Gambino Crime family associate and FBI informant who also happened to make one hell of a steak pizzaiola.

Bourdain’s 1997 novel, Gone Bamboo, features a hit man, Henry Denard, and his wife Frances, they live an idyllic life on Saint Martin until a former target of his, Donny Wicks, is relocated to the island by the US Federal Witness Protection Program. The novel, a fun read with some fine character development, had the flavor of an Elmore Leonard novel mixed with Carl Hiaasen. At “around six foot tall, thin and deeply tanned,” Denard, is modeled on Bourdain down to the gold hoop earring he used to wear. And like Denard, Bourdain also spent time living on Saint Martin.

In 2001, Bourdain wrote what I consider to be his pièce de résistance, The Bobby Gold Stories. Whether the caliber of his writing improved after attending writing classes at Columbia University or matured following the publication of his memoir, Kitchen Confidential, Bourdain’s third novel soars. The characterizations and dialogue deepen, and so does the romance. Like the crime writers Tony admired, Dashiell Hammett, Elmore Leonard and Higgins, Bourdain gets into scenes late and exits early, leaving the reader wanting more.

When crime writer Ian Rankin asked Anthony Bourdain in a Guardian interview what issues he was working through in Bobby Gold, Bourdain replied, “Shame and guilt. It’s a book about a guy who, when we meet him, is breaking an old man’s arm, yet he’s the hero. He’s a big, hulking dangerous guy, who likes to think he performs his tasks of breaking arms and legs with a minimum of force. In some pathetic way, he yearning to be normal. I can relate to that. There’s the urge to stand in the backyard and barbeque. I try to create characters that are caught in the grey universe.”

Anthony Bourdain lived in that grey world. He became a celebrity television host and bestselling author, but he had a darker side that I witnessed. I’m a former addict like Bourdain, so I wanted Tony, the underdog, to succeed. I thought if he could find a way to be happy, maybe, there was a chance for me, too.

The last time we met was a book event at Powerhouse Books in Dumbo, Brooklyn. He was there representing his book imprint. We only got to talk for a few minutes before he retreated into the office to avoid the throngs of admiring fans. He asked me about my Crohn’s disease, if I was staying out of trouble and then out of the blue, he thanked me for an inscribed copy of The Friends of Eddie Coyle I gave him 20 years before. He liked the story of how I had ambushed Higgins before his writing at class at Boston University to get his signature.

I wished we’d had more time to talk. I remember Tony once saying, while we were at Mars Bar, a now-defunct East Village dive, “I guess I was a lucky cook who had an opportunity to tell stories.”

And what stories.

I was honored to hear some of them straight from his mouth. Like Anthony, for most of my life I have struggled with my own personal demons. I’ve had over 70 hospitalizations for Crohn’s Disease, countless surgeries, drug addiction. What Anthony taught me was how to survive day by day. I wish he had taken his own advice.

If you or anyone you know is considering suicide or self-harm or is anxious, depressed, upset, or needs to talk, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741.

After graduating Summa Cum Laude from Boston University and working for the governor of Florida, Owen Band returned to Miami where he successfully smuggled cocaine for the Medellín Cartel and attended the MFA program at Florida International University. His writing has appeared in the Miami New Times, The Forward, Perspective and Mystery Scene Magazine. Owen currently resides on the UWS of Manhattan where he daily struggles with middle age, baldness, a slightly enlarged prostate. He is currently writing a memoir.

Teri Duerr
2018-07-17 06:51:54
Laura Lippman, reading outlaw

As a parent, I sometimes wonder if I should put a pile of books on the dining room table and say sternly, "Whatever you do, don't read these books."

One of my first reading memories, a library memory, is also a memory that, in hindsight, is one of my first experiences with a politically incorrect text.

I must have been six or seven, visiting one of the small branch libraries near our house. It was an exceedingly cozy place, a small but charming building that made one want to read. I see myself standing on tiptoe, reaching for a book in the children's section. It was Rocket in my Pocket, a collection of almost subversive verses. And the first poem I readwell, I wouldn't want to repeat it now because I can see how problematic it was. (It was about a "little Hindoo.") But it was a poemwell, a chantand I could read it. I was hooked.

This 1948 book has not aged well, although some of the verses are innocuous enough. But it was my gateway drug. From Rocket in My Pocket, I moved on to Ogden Nash and Beastly Boys and Ghastly Girls, which set me up for Roald Dahl. And near Dahl on the shelves of another public library, I found the oddest books by William Pene Du Boisfull disclosure, Twitter sleuths helped me with his nameabout vice, of all things. The one that stands out in my mind, Porko Von Popbutton, centered on gluttony. I have to wonder how that book has aged as well.

The thing is, I always wanted my reading to feel a little outlaw. Not nutritious, not good for me, unwholesome. My mother became a children's librarian when I was in grade school and she could be a horrible snob. As a result, I doubled down on books of which she did not approve (the Trixie Belden series, teen novels from the 1950s) and began to seek out smutty books wherever I could find them.

As a parent, I sometimes wonder if I should put a pile of books on the dining room table and say sternly: "Whatever you do, don't read these books." There's a whole song in The Fantasticks that espouses this philosophy of parenting, but then, there's also another song in The Fantasticks in which "a little rape" is seen as just the ticket to get a boy and girl to fall in love. (He would thwart the rape, you see, and they would be forever together.)

Sometimes, I wonder what I'm reading today that I'll have to disavow in 10, 20 years or so.

Laura Lippman was a reporter for 20 years, including 12 years at The (Baltimore) Sun. She began writing novels while working full-time and published seven books about “accidental PI” Tess Monaghan before leaving daily journalism in 2001. Her work has been awarded the Edgar ®, the Anthony, the Agatha, the Shamus, the Nero Wolfe, Gumshoe and Barry awards.

This “Writers on Reading” essay was originally published in “At the Scene” enews September 2018 as a first-look exclusive to our enewsletter subscribers. For more special content available first to our enewsletter subscribers, sign up here.

Teri Duerr
2018-07-17 19:07:04
Our House
Robert Allen Papinchak

Our House is the stunning US debut for popular British novelist Louise Candlish. This is a mind-boggling, head-spinning, jaw-dropping domestic thriller as good as Liane Moriarty. It outdoes anything by Gillian Flynn, Ruth Ware, or Aimee Molloy.

The novel begins in an unsettling fashion when Fiona Lawson arrives at her redbrick double-fronted Edwardian home in an upscale London neighborhood one sunny January afternoon to encounter strangers moving in. All of her own furnishings having been removed and her husband Abraham has disappeared. Fiona suspects a phishing scam—if only she were so lucky.

Candlish’s high-tech narrative takes a unique approach to the standard marital drama with perspectives that alternate between 42-year-old Fiona and her podcast, The Victim, and notes from a computer document, a series of astonishing revelations, from her husband Abraham. Both sources are riddled with lies and misdirections.

Fiona and Bram do not have a happy marriage. After Fiona discovered Bram having sex with another woman in their backyard playhouse, she asked him to leave, but eventually established a “bird’s nest” co-parenting arrangement to raise their two young sons. The boys stay in the home while the parents alternate residency based on a somewhat complicated and carefully planned schedule. When not in the house, Fiona and Bram each rent an apartment nearby.

Their complicated marriage is further complicated by a car accident involving Bram, which leads to the death of a child. Bram drives away from the scene and tells no one about it, but someone claims to have seen what happened and an intricate blackmail scheme ensues.

Candlish makes the improbable perfectly believable, and few readers will be able to sort out all the twists and turns or anticipate the conclusion. In fact, there are so many secrets in Our House that it is difficult to avoid spoilers, but suffice it to say, if Candlish’s other 11 books are as solid as the all-engaging Our House, the author is about to have a very large American following.

Teri Duerr
2018-07-17 20:28:46
Vanessa Orr

When Jack and his sisters, Joy and Merry, are left behind in a broken-down car while their pregnant mother walks away to get help, they expect her to soon return. But she never does. Their father, left to care for them, abandons the children as well, leaving 14-year-old Jack in charge.

Three years after their mother goes missing, another pregnant woman, Catherine While, awakes to find a knife and an ominous note beside her bed—apparently the victim of a burglar nicknamed "Goldilocks" for his habit of breaking in and sleeping in his victims' beds. Instead of telling her husband or the police, Catherine pretends that nothing’s happened, putting her and young Jack (who is searching for his mother's killer) on an unexpected collision course through a series of events that had me flipping the pages well into the night.

The strength of this story lies in its main character, Jack, who is a child forced to grow up way too fast. Not only does he have to find a way to support his younger sisters, but he still feels responsible for not saving his mother. He is impressively sly and street smart, and despite the fact that he robs houses for a living, the reader can’t help but sympathize with the fact that he’s trying to do the right thing, even if he’s doing it in the wrong way.

My only issue with the story is that readers are asked to suspend disbelief to an almost unreasonable level when the threats to Catherine escalate and she still doesn’t tell anyone about it, even as it places her and her baby in danger. It's simply not believable, but it does successfully bring home Belinda Bauer's central theme that one bad snap judgment has the power to change the trajectory of many people’s lives.

Teri Duerr
2018-07-17 20:49:15

One bad snap judgment has the power to change the trajectory of many people’s lives in this summer suspense read.

2018 Thriller Award Winners Announced
Mystery Scene

The International Thriller Writers (ITW) has announced the most thrilling authors of 2018. The winners of this year’s ITW Thriller Awards were recognized at ThrillerFest XIII on July 14, 2018, at the Grand Hyatt in New York City.

Final Girls, by Riley Sager (Dutton)

The Freedom Broker, by K.J. Howe (Quercus)

Grievance, by Christine Bell (Lake Union)

"Charcoal and Cherry," by Zoe Z. Dean (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine)

The Rains, by Gregg Hurwitz (TOR Teen)

Second Chance, by Sean Black (Sean Black)

George R.R. Martin

James Rollins

Robert and Patricia Gussin (Oceanview Publishing)

Congratulations to all of this year's winners!

Teri Duerr
2018-07-17 21:05:32
The Last Time I Lied
Hank Wagner

Famous for her “Forest Series,” painter Emma Davis is gaining quite a name for herself on the New York art scene; her paintings are quite popular, fetching high sums of money from eager patrons. What no one knows besides her is that each of the 33 paintings in the series was inspired by a trauma she suffered in her teens, when three bunkmates at Camp Nightingale disappeared one night without a trace, never to be heard from again. Emma is obsessed with the incident, including the girls in every canvas, a fact known only to herself.

So, it’s not surprising that she jumps at the chance to return to the camp upon its reopening some two decades later, hoping to put the matter to rest once and for all by finding the lost girls. She immediately re-engages with the past, turning up several clues to their whereabouts. As she comes closer to the truth about their disappearance, and about Camp Nightingale itself, she finds herself in danger of joining her lost, lamented comrades.

Living up to the promise shown in his first novel, the highly praised Final Girls, Riley Sager delivers an inventive and satisfying hybrid of mystery and bildungsroman, all the while delving into the equally mysterious vagaries and tensions of feminine friendships. Exploiting the darker elements familiar to viewers of films like Mean Girls and to readers fond of books like Megan Abbott’s equally engaging You Will Know Me, the book also demonstrates a bit of sly, self-deprecating humor, as Sager references Nancy Drew, Veronica Mars, and Camp Crystal Lake, all within quick succession.

Teri Duerr
2018-07-17 21:30:04
The Banker’s Wife
Hank Wagner

Cristina Alger’s third novel follows the lives of two women, whose lives intersect in very interesting and dangerous ways. One is Marina Tourneau, a journalist working for Press magazine, who is about to receive a phone call which will deliver her information relating to one of the most important financial stories in recent history. The other is Annabel Lerner, who is about to receive some tragic news about her husband, a banker at Swiss United, a banking concern that caters to an elite, decidedly shady, clientele. These events throw their lives into utter chaos; their only way to safety is to out the secret movers and shakers of the dangerous underworld they now find themselves an unwilling part of. Their lethal dilemma is knowing who to trust, as one misstep could cost them their lives.

Literally “ripped from today’s headlines,” The Banker’s Wife is a thoroughly engaging read, a winning mix of several types of thrillers, including legal, financial, and journalistic. Far from an old fashioned “woman in jeopardy” novel, however, it features two capable heroines who learn on the run, and who certainly don’t need rescuing. How they go about solving their seemingly insurmountable dilemmas makes for intriguing, and gripping, reading.

Teri Duerr
2018-07-17 21:33:38
Tim Dorsey Visits the Everglades
Oline H. Cogdill

Many people who don’t live in Florida tend to think of the Sunshine State as a wild frontier, a place where the weirdest, oddest, and downright stupidest events happen.

Hey, I live here and I know that is part of Florida’s reality.

Florida Man gets a lot of press. You know “Florida Man” did something so bizarre no one can believe it. Just google “Florida Man.”

Tim Dorsey’s goofy novels also enhance Florida’s reputation. Dorsey’s antihero Serge A. Storms is a serial killer who only preys on jerks, criminals, and those who disrespect Florida and its history. The Pope of Palm Beach is Serge’s 21st appearance.

These comic mysteries, which I have compared to the Three Stooges, have a huge fan base that goes well beyond the state.

Dorsey will no doubt talk about why his novels have a far reach as the local guest of honor during Bouchercon 2018, to be held September 6 to 9 in St. Petersburg, Florida.

He also hints at all things Florida in his introductory essay to the Bouchercon short story collection Florida Happens, an anthology with proceeds going to a literacy charity.

For a close-up view of Florida, Dorsey’s annual “Stomp in the Swamp” is scheduled from noon until dark on October 27.

This is Dorsey’s eighth year of taking readers into the Everglades and, as far as I know, Serge would approve as it is a tribute to Florida.

The October stomp is the rescheduled event that was rained out earlier this year.

The rescheduled jamboree also will be at a new location that is another tribute to Florida—the historic old railroad station at the end of the “tracks” in Everglades City at 102 Collier Avenue.

The building has been preserved and is now the Taste of the Everglades (formerly the Seafood Depot).

The site features plenty of indoor and outdoor seating. A giant outdoor deck and tiki bar overlooks the water and mangroves in the Ten Thousand Islands region.

The Stomp in the Swamp is scheduled to take place rain or shine.

Just don’t do anything that will bring the wrath of Serge.

Oline Cogdill
2018-08-11 11:59:30
Lori Rader-Day Is Under a Dark Sky Park
Oline H Cogdill

I sometimes joke that everything I’ve learned since college is because I read mysteries. I will use that sentence time and again as mysteries teach me something I didn’t know.

The latest addition to my education is a dark sky park, which Lori Rader-Day utilizes so well in her latest Under a Dark Sky.

I had never heard of a dark sky park before.

For those, such as myself, unfamiliar with this, a dark sky park is where light is kept to an absolute minimum so that stargazers can enjoy the delights of the night sky without light pollution.

What a cool way to be one with nature.

It also makes for a terrific setting for a mystery about a woman who suffers from an extreme fear of the dark that has heightened since her husband’s death. In sorting through his papers, she finds that he had booked a week at a dark sky park for their 10th anniversary. It’s an odd gift indeed, but also the push the grieving widow needs.

Rader-Day has invented the Straits Point International Dark Sky Park in Michigan as the setting for her novel. The beauty of the dark sky that she shows is what can be enjoyed at dozens of similar nocturnal environments at recreation areas throughout the world.

Under a Dark Sky delivers a shrewd plot that moves briskly to a logical conclusion. The darkness of the park also is a sharp metaphor for the emotions and secrets of the realistic characters.

By the way, Rader-Day has proven herself a strong author with plots that draw you in and believable characters. No wonder she has won several awards. Her debut mystery, The Black Hour, won the 2015 Anthony Award for Best First Novel and was a finalist for the 2015 Mary Higgins Clark Award. Her second novel, Little Pretty Things, won the 2016 Mary Higgins Clark Award and was a nominee for the Anthony Award for Best Paperback Original.

Her novel The Day I Died is nominated for an Anthony Award in the paperback original category for Bouchercon 2018, which will be September 6 through 9 in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Straits Point International Dark Sky Park is a fictional place. The Headlands International Dark Sky Park in Mackinaw, Michigan, provided the model for Rader-Day.

Information about other dark sky parks around the world can be accessed at www.darksky.org, which also gives a list of other such parks.

And I have one suggestion for those wanting to visit a dark sky park—take a copy of Lori Rader-Day’s Under a Dark Sky. The novel will enhance your visit.

Oline Cogdill
2018-08-19 11:26:15
Beyond the Book: Donald Hamilton’s Matt Helm
Dick Lochte

“Donald Hamilton has brought to the spy novel the authentic hard realism of Dashiell Hammett, and his stories are as compelling and probably as close to the sordid truth of espionage, as any now being told.” —Anthony Boucher

According to a recent Deadline Hollywood post, Donald Hamilton’s revered, once-popular series hero Matt Helm is on the verge of a new film revival. Helm, in a series of 27 bestselling paperback novels that began with Death of a Citizen in 1960 and ended with 1993’s The Damagers, was a six-foot-four, ultra-professional, US government-sanctioned assassin, code-named "Eric," who was hardboiled enough to make Bond and his blood brothers look like members of Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks.

Hamilton, who passed away in 2006, was a fine writer whose prose, as noted by Anthony Boucher, was closer in style to Dashiell Hammett’s than to Ian Fleming’s.

The film, now in preparation at Paramount, will star Bradley Cooper (think American Sniper, not The Hangover) as Helm. George Clooney is among the gallery of producers and Stephen Spielberg is associated in some as-yet-undefined manner. With luck, it will be more reflective of the novels than previous efforts.


In February of 1966, with the James Bond books and films piling up more cash than most of the series’ supervillains were sitting on, Columbia Pictures attempted to grab their piece of spydom’s spoils by releasing The Silencers, an all-American spoof of 007, starring Dean Martin. Instead of creating an original character, producer Irving Allen, whose partnership with Bond’s co-producer Albert Broccoli supposedly ended with his stubborn disregard for a Bond movie series (“not good enough for television”), made another terribly wrong call. He elected to use Hamilton’s tough, terse novels as the basis for his tongue-in-cheek spy series. For four not-too-popular, critically savaged films, Deano's Helm was tough enough in action sequences, but was otherwise pretty much his public image—a lecherous hound in search of booze, babes, and other Rat Packers. Plans for a fifth film were discarded.

The Silencers is the undeniable best of the bunch, thanks mainly to a genuinely funny performance by Stella Stevens as a woefully inefficient Helm helpmate and a gimmicky backward-shooting handgun that allows Stevens a magic moment. It should also be noted that Helm’s spy agency, unnamed in the novels, gets the film title of Intelligence and Counter-Espionage, employing the currently in-vogue acronym ICE. Not much can be said of Murderers Row (1966), The Ambushers (1967), and The Wrecking Crew (1968), except that several accomplished actors like Karl Malden, Janice Rule, and Ann-Margret appear; soundtracks are by Elmer Bernstein, Lalo Schifrin, and Hugo Montenegro; and acclaimed novelist Susanna Moore (In the Cut, Light Years) is one of the bikinied Slaygirls in Ambushers. The movie quartet is available in a Sony Pictures DVD boxed set titled Matt Helm Lounge, an attempt, one assumes, to give them a coating of ’60s cool. They are also available for streaming from a variety of sources, including Amazon.com.


The ’70s ABC-TV series Matt Helm starred Anthony Franciosa as a former spy turned private eye. There’s little spoofing, but Matt is lumbered with formulaic scripts (drug and diamond smuggling, friend of the sleuth in trouble, etc.) and an assistant live-in girlfriend with the too-cute name of Kronski. I’d place it on the TV PI list as just under Jake and the Fatman and on a par with Matt Houston. The pilot, with Ann Turkel as a woman in jeopardy and Patrick Macnee as a smooth, sinister captain of industry, is the best of the series, and can be seen infrequently on cable. Episodes are available on YouTube.


While most, if not all, of the series titles are available in softcover, and some in Kindle, from Titan Books, Blackstone Audio has thus far released unabridged audiobooks of the first 13 novels, with two more scheduled in the near future, The Intriguers (September 2018) and The Intimidators (November 2018). The reader, Stefan Rudnicki, has a rich, deep voice that in book No. 1, Death of a Citizen, initially seems a bit lacking in emotion. As the novel progresses and he takes on characters other than self-contained narrator Helm, his performance rises to the occasion, so much so, that by book No. 9, The Devastators, a fast-paced, brutal yarn involving millions of plague rats, he easily shifts from our hero to a large assortment of female agents, several Russians, a British spy, and a truly evil Asian woman, the novel’s main Big Bad. I’d suggest a newcomer start at Death of a Citizen, because it fills in some of Helm’s past history and explains how he is lured back into service, leaving behind retirement and family (wife and child). And yes, it makes sense to listen to the books in order, because, unlike the Bonds and other spy series, plot points and characters carry over as Helm ages. The first 13 van be downloaded from Audible or Downpour, with some also available on discs. Prices and times vary, the earlier books being shorter and less expensive.

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. His New Orleans books, Blue Bayou and The Neon Smile, are available from Perfect Crime Books.

Teri Duerr
2018-08-22 15:27:00