The Lost Man
Craig Sisterson

Australian author Jane Harper snatched global attention and huge accolades (including the prestigious CWA Gold Dagger) for her outstanding debut The Dry. She then showed she was no one-hit wonder when switching from drought-stricken farmland to rainswept forest for her second Aaron Falk thriller. Her new tale The Lost Man returns to the arid landscapes of the Outback, but Falk is nowhere in sight.

The oldest and youngest Bright brothers, Nathan and Bub, meet at a barren border of their vast cattle ranches in the heat-struck expanses of inner Queensland. Their middle sibling, the family’s golden child Cam, is dead at their feet. Everyone who lives in the Outback knows the parched desert can quickly kill, so why would Cam abandon his car and wander to his death at the old stockman’s grave? Had financial worries tipped him over the edge, concerns from his past, or something more sinister? Nathan, who has lived largely in exile in recent years, is thrust into a family situation full of grief, anguish, and questions.

As events unfold, relationships fray and long-hidden truths come to light. Nathan is forced to confront several incidents from his own past, missteps and misperceptions, and the different ways various people view the same events. There’s a taut elegance and quiet intensity to Harper’s prose as she surveys the pressures of Outback farming and the darkness that can hide within families and isolated communities. The Lost Man is a superb tale, brimming with subtext and subtlety.

The Dry was a special book, but this one may be even better; Harper is a special writer.

Teri Duerr
2019-07-15 20:22:39
BOOKSELLERS TO BE HONORED AT BOUCHERCON
By Oline Cogdill

Each year, Bouchercon—the worldwide mystery convention—honors authors with its highly respected Anthony Award.

But the convention also honors those who toil behind the scenes.

This year Jenn and Don Longmuir are the recipients of the 2019 David Thompson Memorial Special Service Award. All the awards will be presented during the 2019 Bouchercon to be held Oct. 31 through Nov. 3 in Dallas. This marks the 50th anniversary of Bouchercon.

The Longmuirs have been fixtures in the crime fiction community for more than a quarter-century. The couple owns and runs Scene of the Crime Books in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada, and they have been book room organizers, book sellers and attendees at mystery conventions across North America. Don Longmuir also served on the Bouchercon Board for five years.

The David Thompson Memorial Special Service Award is given by the Bouchercon Board to honor the memory and contributions to the crime fiction community of David Thompson, a Houston bookseller who passed away in 2010. Recipients are recognized for their "extraordinary efforts to develop and promote the crime fiction field."

For additional information, please visit Bouchercon2019.com or Bouchercon.com.

Oline Cogdill
2019-07-27 20:51:41
LUCY LAWLESS: HER LIFE IS MURDER
By Oline H Cogdill

Viewers will see a different kind of Lucy Lawless when the actress’ latest series My Life Is Murder makes its U.S. and Canada premiere beginning Aug. 5 on Acorn TV.

Lawless says that Alexa Crowe, a former homicide detective, is the closest to her own persona than any role she has had.

“There is more of me in Alexa than any character,” said the Australian actress in a phone interview.

“For one thing, she’s a modern woman and she is my age,” said Lawless, who is 51. “She has a sexuality and has life experiences with losses and loves. I have never played a character like that.”

There’s also the wardrobe that excites Lawless. “It’s modern clothes,” she adds, enthusiastically.

That means no corsets, no armor, no Victorian dress, no outer space garb for Lawless whose roles have included the title character in the television series Xena: Warrior Princess (1995–2001); cylon model Number Three D'Anna Biers on the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica series (2005–2009); and Lucretia in the television series Spartacus: Blood and Sand (2010), its prequel Spartacus: Gods of the Arena (2011), its sequel Spartacus: Vengeance (2012); Countess Palatine Ingrid Von Marburg on the WGN America supernatural series Salem (2015); and Ruby on the Starz horror-comedy series Ash vs Evil Dead (2015–2018).

“I give women who had to endure those [old-fashioned] clothes a lot of credit just getting through the day,” said Lawless, who also had a recurring role as Diane Lewis-Swanson on the NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation (2012–2015).

The 10-episode My Life Is Murder has the makings of another successful series for Lawless.

Her Alexa left the Melbourne, Australia, police force after her husband, also a detective, was killed in the line of duty. His death left Alexa adrift, as the series illustrates. She’s cut herself off from others, spending her time baking bread and spending time with her cat that she refuses to acknowledge is really hers. (Don’t worry, he is well taken care of.)

Alexa’s pulled back into investigating tricky cases by her former boss, Detective-Inspector Kieran Hussey (Bernard Curry). Cases will include a male escort, the mortuary business, and identity theft. Set in Melbourne, My Life Is Murder also showcases the Victorian city that has become a cosmopolitan arts-centered city.

The comedy-drama also features a fine swath of sly humor. Alexa can figure out the most complicated cases but she’s having trouble fixing her bread machine. In another episode, she deals with her husband’s ashes, blending pathos and humor.

“Humor is a good part of the series and I get to ad lib quite a bit,” said Lawless, who also is an executive producer.

“The series allows me to bring so much of me to it, including the humor. Sometimes I’m not sure where Alexa ends and Lucy begins.”

Lawless is quick to give credit to the series creators, producers, writers, crew members and co-stars. She especially is enthusiastic about Ebony Vagulans who plays computer expert Madison Feliciano, who assists Alexa. Their relationship is a combination of mother and daughter; boss and sidekick, and just friends.

“Ebony will have a long, brilliant career and I take such pride that we found her first,” said Lawless.

“We knew instantly when she auditioned that she had the intelligence and sparkles that we needed. Ebony shows that her character has the ability to handle her end of the bargain, that Alexa could handle a task to her and she would figure out how to get it done without having her hand held.”

The crime element is very much in Lawless’ wheelhouse. Shes ays she is a crime buff, watching and reading both nonfiction and fiction books, TV series and movies. She also often attends murder trials wherever she is filming “to see how it works in different countries.”

“I am very much interested in crime fiction and nonfiction. The [genre] underpins the basics of human behavior in a most intense time of life.”

Lawless may always be remembered for her role in Xena: Warrior Princess series, which celebrates its 25th anniversary next year. Lawless says the character will always have a place in her heart and loves it when people ask about it.

Personally, she said, Xena “gave me everything, and not only a solid fan base who have kept with me through all the turns in my career. Xena is where I met my husband (Xena's executive producer, Pacific Renaissance Pictures CEO Robert G. “Rob” Tapert) and my two sons and allowed us to buy our home,” said Lawless who also has a daughter, Daisy.

“Xena set me up for life. I am endlessly grateful. I owe Xena everything.”

Xena also left a legacy of acceptances for many viewers. The relationship of Xena and Gabrielle (Renee O'Connor) became touchstones for lesbian and gay fans. As the series went on, it became an open secret that the two women were in love.

“I think Xena gave people a message that you can do it. You can have a better life, get out of a bad situation. That’s appealing to everyone but especially to those who are marginalized whether by sexuality, race, sex or just feeling like an outsider. We all fear being less than. That’s a universal message. And if any change is attributed to me than I am delighted to have help change,” said Lawless

Aside from acting, Lawless is a fearless activist for programs involving children, the LGBT community and the environment. “I’ve been given a platform; how could I not do my part to give back and make things better. I want to be part of the solution.”

Lawless’ appealing personality shines in My Life Is Murder. But she says one thing she will not do in the series is sing.

“That would be weird, it just would break that wall,” said Lawless, who has appeared in several musicals including Grease on Broadway, and Chicago in Los Angeles and New Zealand.

“Kelsey Grammar can get away with singing at the end of Frasier but it would be jarring if I did it. But I do get to use my foreign language skills—I studied language. And that has been fun.”

My Life Is Murder launches with its first two episodes to air on Aug. 5, 2019, on the streaming service Acorn TV, and will continue through Sept. 30. Check local listings. Visit https://acorn.tv.

PHOTOS: Top Lucy Lawless; center Lawless with Ebony Vagulans; bottom, Lawless with Bernard Curry. Photos courtesy Acorn TV

Oline Cogdill
2019-08-03 00:02:34
Death by the Bay
Robin Agnew

Sometimes university presses have a gem of a series they cultivate. Patricia Skalka’s Sheriff Dave Cubiak series, set in beautiful Door County, Wisconsin, is just such a series. It's strongly reminiscent of Mary Logue’s fine Claire Watkins series, also set in a small Wisconsin town.

Like Claire, Dave has a tragic backstory that brings him to town, but by book five, Dave is settled, remarried, and has a young son. When a nearby scream interrupts Cubiak's regular lunch date at a hotel restaurant with his good friend the retired county coroner, Cubiak sprints into action only to find that a highly regarded and well-known doctor who was planning to deliver a speech at the hotel's medical conference has just died.

As the doctor is taken away, Cubiak hears another piercing scream and finds a hotel maid pointing at a photo of a man and a boy on an open laptop. The woman insists the boy is her brother Miguel, who was taken from her family by a doctor who promised to “cure” his Down syndrome. Miguel never returned home.

In a seemingly unrelated call to an isolated farm, Cubiak meets an elderly woman who turns out to have a similar story about a missing sister who suffered from polio. A friendly doctor offered to take her away and “cure” her when she was a child.

As Cubiak investigates, he realizes the case of the sister, taken years ago from an immigrant family who spoke little English, and the case of Miguel, taken from his Mexican family, are related. Skalka brings a heartbreaking and moving story to life while tying it to a clever mystery, as her hero untangles the threads of the case using common sense and solid police work. (He’s a step ahead of the reader, but not too far ahead.)

Set in one of the more glorious resort areas of the upper Midwest, Skalka brings to life a wonderful setting while highlighting the lives of the ordinary workers and struggling farmers who live there. The result in Death by the Bay is a highly intelligent and worthwhile read.

Teri Duerr
2019-08-06 15:34:49
Mysteries and Food: A Winning Combination

As a writer of culinary mysteries, I spend a fair amount of time in the kitchen. The recipes in my books are primarily from friends, although I do sneak my own creations in from time to time. Others have come from dear relatives who have passed on. In Italian families, it’s always about the food.

My father was born in Italy and came to America when he was a baby, after his father had died. Grandma may have understood little English, but her cooking skills needed no assistance. She could make everything from tomato sauce to wine. My father would bring her bags of grapes from the vines in our backyard. As a teenager, I considered it a tedious chore to stand outside, picking the lush red and purple grapes that stained my fingers in the hot, unforgiving sun, especially when I wasn’t even allowed to drink the wine! There were other things that I would much rather be doing.

My father had a vegetable garden that he faithfully tended every summer. I didn’t enjoy gardening and never understood why I had to help when I would rather escape somewhere to read the latest Nancy Drew or Agatha Christie novel I’d bought from the local bookstore. From a very young age, reading was my favorite pastime and Nancy, Miss Marple, and Hercule Poirot were some of my favorite people to spend time with.

Although my father and grandmother are both gone now, memories of those hot summer days live on. Years later, I wish I could turn the clock back and do things differently. How I wish I’d been more interested in learning about my heritage when I was a child. I’d inquire about the food and the language, which I never learned to speak, or ask about the country where my father had been born. What an opportunity I wasted!

My main character in Penne Dreadful is a chef who specializes in Italian food. Tessa Esposito finds cooking therapeutic, especially after a recent painful loss. I already had a bakery series and wanted to write another focused on main dishes that paid tribute to my Italian heritage. Although my cooking is passable, Tessa is far better in the kitchen than I could ever hope to be.

In order to research the series further, I took a sauce-making class. I already knew how to make tomato sauce fairly well, but also learned to prepare Bolognese, pesto, and carbonara—a few of my favorites since savoring my grandmother’s creations at a young age.

As with the grapes, my father gave most of what he grew in his garden to Grandma. I adored the zucchini bread she made, a cake-like substance. She added chocolate chips to her version and that sealed the deal for me.

Years later, a friend loaned me her personal recipe and after experimenting with it a bit, I found that it came close to Grandma’s. Add a beverage and a good read and you have the perfect recipe for a summer day.

Zucchini Bread
3 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups grated zucchini
2 tbsp. cinnamon
2 tbsp. vanilla
2 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. baking soda
1 cup of chocolate chips or M&Ms (optional)

Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Mix eggs, sugar, and oil together. Add in zucchini. The consistency will be a bit soupy. Stir in cinnamon, flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Mix in vanilla. If using chocolate chips or M&Ms, dust with flour and add to mixture.

Grease and flour two 9 by 5-inch sized loaf pans. Pour batter into pans and bake for one hour or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. Bread may also be frozen after cooled completely by wrapping in aluminum foil and then placing inside freezer bags. Use a straw to remove any excess air.

Makes about eight (2” or 1” etc.,) slices per loaf.

Of course, you will need to devour a great mystery along with your bread. I highly recommend Kimberly Belle’s The Marriage Lie.

Wow. What an incredible journey this book took me on. It was impossible to put down and full of twists and turns that kept me guessing along the way. The suspense-filled ride had me quickly turning pages until I reached the surprise ending.

I love suspense novels but find that I’m often disappointed if the ending is rushed or unsatisfying. Neither of these things occurred with The Marriage Lie. Kudos to Miss Belle for creating such an enthralling tale. I’m looking forward to reading her next book and know just the snack to go along with it!

USA Today bestselling author Catherine Bruns has written 15 mystery novels and several novellas in the past five years. She has a BA in English and performing arts and is a former newspaper reporter and press-release writer. Catherine lives in upstate New York with an all-male household that consists of her very patient husband, three sons, and several spoiled pets. Readers are invited to visit her website at catherinebruns.net.

Teri Duerr
2019-08-06 16:15:34
Helen Phillips on Oscar Wilde’s “The Nightingale and the Rose”

photo: David BarryI distinctly remember the first book that ever made me cry. It was The Nightingale and the Rose by Oscar Wilde, illustrated by Freire Wright and Michael Foreman. I was six years old when I discovered it on the bookshelf. Enthralled by the sunset colors of the cover, I begged my mother to read it to me before we left for a party.

A nightingale overhears a lovelorn student crying because the young woman he adores says she will only dance with him if he brings her red roses, but there are none left in the garden. Taking pity on this “true lover,” the nightingale consults with the barren rose bushes, and learns that there is only one way a rose can blossom after the frost: “If you want a red rose … you must build it out of music by moonlight, and stain it with your own heart’s-blood.” The nightingale, concluding that “Love is better than Life,” thrusts her heart onto the rose’s thorn. But when the student takes the perfect rose to the young woman, she rejects it, for another man has already sent her jewels, and the student throws the rose into the street, where it is crushed by a wheel.

I was beside myself when my mother finished reading the book, and I told her that I could not go to the party; I had to be by myself to cry.

Reading it now, I try to reinsert myself into my six-year-old self. Why were these words the first to unlock for me the exquisite pain that the written word can deliver? Why did this particular story—originally published in 1888—stir me so deeply?

Could it really be because I already intuited that sometimes great gestures of love and generosity are made in vain? Or was it simply the experience of encountering an antidote to Disney, a contrast to all the hopeful stories I had heard up to that point?

What strikes me now is the way the student misunderstands the nightingale: “she is like most artists; she is all style without any sincerity. She would not sacrifice herself for others. She thinks merely of music, and everybody knows that the arts are selfish.”

In any case, The Nightingale and the Rose was the gateway to my ongoing quest for books that get under my skin, inside my body. Since then, I have sought out the catharsis and the comfort of books that acknowledge and articulate the darker aspects of life.

Helen Phillips is the author of, most recently, the novel The Need. Her collection Some Possible Solutions received the 2017 John Gardner Fiction Book Award. Her novel The Beautiful Bureaucrat, a New York Times Notable Book of 2015, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the NYPL Young Lions Award. Her collection And Yet They Were Happy was named a notable collection by The Story Prize. She is also the author of the middle-grade novel Here Where the Sunbeams Are Green. Helen has received a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award and the Italo Calvino Prize in Fabulist Fiction, and her work has appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, and Tin House, and on Selected Shorts. She is an associate professor at Brooklyn College and lives in Brooklyn with her husband, artist Adam Douglas Thompson, and their children.

Teri Duerr
2019-08-07 16:14:38
WINNER OF ELEANOR TAYLOR BLAND AWARD ANNOUNCED
Oline H Cogdill

Eleanor Taylor Bland’s influence on the mystery genre is respected.

Her first published novel, Dead Time (1992), introduced African-American police detective Marti MacAlister and set a tone for her subsequent novels as well as influenced other writers at the time.

Marti, recently transferred from Chicago to the small town of Lincoln Prairie, Illinois, was committed to her family, community and religious convictions. A hallmark of the series was how Bland weaved in social issues into the investigations of Marti and her partner, Polish American Vik Jessenovik.

By the way, Bland’s second book, Slow Burn, was the first one she had written, but she could not find a publisher interested. Still, she persisted.

Bland was known to be a personable, compassionate writer and generous to other authors. Her death in 2010 left a void.

But her influence on the genre continues through the Eleanor Taylor Bland Crime Fiction Writers of Color Award, which is given annually to an emerging writer of color who has not yet published a full-length work. Sponsored by Sisters in Crime the award was established in 2014 and carries a $2,000 grant.

Jessica Martinez, left, is the recipient of the 2019 Eleanor Taylor Bland Crime Fiction Writers of Color Award.

Judges Cheryl Head, Mia P. Manansala and Tonya Spratt-Williams said in a joint statement: "Ms. Martinez has great potential as a fresh new voice within the crime fiction community and capably displays a proficiency with humor. Her submission introduced the committee to a fun and witty protagonist and left the committee looking forward to her completed novel."

Martinez is a government worker by day and blogger/aspiring novelist by night, or by naptime for her boys, according to the press release. Martinez has worked in customer service for more than 15 years and has been writing on the side for years but recently started to hone her craft through classes at Santa Barbara City College, Arizona State University, attending SDSU’s Writer’s Conference, and writing blog posts. Jessica has a non-fiction blog where she writes about her real life encounters with difficult situations.

For more information about the award and how to apply, visit https://www.sistersincrime.org/page/EleanorTaylorBland

Oline Cogdill
2019-08-16 12:06:08