Arya Winters and the Tiramisu of Death
Katrina Niidas Holm

Arya Winters—the heroine of Amita Murray’s series launch, Arya Winters and the Tiramisu of Death—is an acerbic, antisocial 27-year-old with Tourette syndrome who creates macabre desserts for a living. She resides in the English village of Trucklewood, where she inherited a cottage after her Auntie Meera’s murder—a crime that remains unsolved.

When police inform Arya that neighbor Tobias Yards has also been killed, she’s aghast; not only was surly Tobias one of the few locals she liked, but he was poisoned by a tiramisu she left on his doorstep.

DS Shona Klues is convinced that Tobias’s nephew—Arya’s ex-boyfriend, Craig—did the deed to hasten his own inheritance, but Arya is pretty sure he’s innocent. Not only is Craig too unimaginative to have hatched such a plan, but Arya was spying on him from under a bush during the hours for which he can’t account. What’s more, Arya has a sneaking suspicion that Meera’s death and Tobias’s are related, even if the authorities disagree.

Uncovering the truth will mean questioning her fellow villagers, which makes Arya deeply uncomfortable, but if it also means getting to know Trucklewood’s newest inhabitant, muscly middle-grade author Branwell Beam…well, sex always calms Arya’s anxiety.

Exceptional character work, slyly absurdist humor, and an endearingly abrasive narrative distinguish this affecting whodunit. Via Arya’s brutally honest inner monologue, Murray entertains while illustrating the importance of interpersonal connection and the lasting damage wrought by intolerance and insecurity. A clever central puzzle is just icing on the cake.

Teri Duerr
2021-11-30 20:03:23
How to Murder a Marriage
Katrina Niidas Holm

First in a series, Gabrielle St. George’s How to Murder a Marriage introduces Gina Malone—a 49-year-old Toronto author and advice columnist dubbed the Ex-Whisperer. Gina is also a divorced mother of four who will be an empty nester after she delivers her youngest to college in London.

While awaiting their flight, Gina answers a message from a reader, Lillian, urging the woman to exit her abusive marriage. Lillian soon responds, stating her husband found their correspondence; threatened to hurt Lillian’s dog, Snowflake, if she persists in contacting Gina; and vowed to make Lillian disappear “for real” if she tries to leave.

The next day, Lillian’s husband emails Gina directly, demanding to know where Lillian is, and promising a visit. Gina endeavors not to worry; it sounds as though Lillian escaped, and even if her husband learns Gina’s current address, she’s about to move back to her hometown of Sunset Beach, where she’ll be surrounded by friends and family.

The remainder of Gina’s trip passes without incident, and though an attempted break-in mars her last night in Toronto, she assumes it’s just her own obsessive ex up to his old tricks. After arriving in Sunset Beach, however, Snowflake appears in her yard, and Gina receives a string of creepy texts. Things only decline from there.

St. George deftly balances laugh-out-loud comedy with bone-chilling fright. Gina’s interactions with her zany great-aunts, irrepressible cousin, and sexy building contractor inject ample warmth to offset the story’s weightier aspects, which spotlight the myriad ways in which the system fails survivors of domestic violence.

Teri Duerr
2021-11-30 20:07:02
Mickey’s Mayhem
Katrina Niidas Holm

Running a bar isn’t a strategy most well-intentioned alcoholics would adopt in their quest to stay sober, but it works for the fortysomething protagonist of Richard Cass’s Elder Darrow mysteries.

Cass’s sixth-in-series, Mickey’s Mayhem, sees Elder vacationing with his girlfriend, Susan Voisine, when the phone rings. To Elder’s surprise, the caller isn’t Isaac Belon, whom Elder left in charge of his jazz club, the Esposito, but gangster Mickey Barksdale. Per Mickey, their “mutual friend” homicide detective Dan Burton is in trouble. “He doesn’t know I’m sticking my nose in here,” Mickey warns, “and I don’t want him to. Understood?”

Elder immediately returns to Boston, where he finds Burton distraught over the death of his ex-fiancée, former Esposito cook Marina Antonelli. Though Marina overdosed on heroin, Burton suspects the drug wasn’t self-administered. Mickey confirms as much to Elder, but advises that he keep Burton from investigating: “other people are taking care of it,” Mickey swears, and Burton will just muddy the waters. The waters, of course, become downright turbid, despite Elder’s best efforts.

Cass writes Boston with an affection born of familiarity, adding texture and atmosphere to the gritty plot. The cast is stocked with intriguing characters embroiled in increasingly thorny relationships, many with roots in earlier books. Readers previously unacquainted with Elder will find this sequel to 2020’s Sweetie Bogan’s Sorrow an easy series on-ramp, but those in the know will be richly rewarded by the advancement of several long-gestating arcs.

Teri Duerr
2021-11-30 20:11:01
Just Thieves
Katrina Niidas Holm

Gregory Galloway’s Just Thieves follows Rick and Frank—two career burglars who met in rehab five years ago and have been partners ever since. Frank does recon and circumvents bothersome technology, while Rick handles the breaking and entering. They never steal anything big, nor do they steal for themselves; rather, an intermediary named Froehmer identifies a coveted object, and they retrieve it for him in exchange for a modest fee.

Their current job is unusual in that it requires a trip to the city, but Rick still manages to enter the target house and extract the seemingly worthless item—a cheap silver trophy—sans mishap. As they’re fleeing the scene, someone T-bones their rental car.

Both men are fine, so Frank sends Rick back to their hotel with the loot while he deals with the cops. When he’s finished, Frank suggests they hop a bus and head home, but Rick protests, as they’ve already paid for the room. Rick wins, but when he wakes the next morning, Frank and his stuff are gone—as is the trophy.

At once a breathtakingly nuanced character study and an intricately crafted crime novel, Galloway’s latest rivets while meditating on matters of fate and free will. The tale unfolds somewhat circuitously via Rick’s rueful first-person narration, his frequent pauses to reflect upon what brought them here both heightening tension and infusing profundity. This is pitch-black noir with a shining heart of battered gold, and it’s certain to win Galloway legions of new fans.

Teri Duerr
2021-11-30 20:16:41
Stitched in Crime
Robin Agnew

The second in Emmie Caldwell’s Craft Fair Knitter series, Stitched in Crime, finds series heroine Lia Geiger at her weekly craft fair. She’s selling goods next to a new crafter superstar, Cori Littlefield. Cori has just been featured in the local paper and her crocheted works are drawing lots of attention. Lia enjoys the shy young woman and respects her work. When Cori is discovered dead a few days later, apparently by her own hand, Lia’s Spidey senses go into overdrive. She’s sure it’s not a suicide and feels compelled to investigate.

Lia is a retired, sixtyish nurse and shares a tiny house with her daughter, who has just moved back home. Her daughter is busy planning a huge fundraiser at the alpaca farm where she works. The two intersect both as mother and daughter and as knitter and alpaca wool provider. For those who love knitting, this book is nicely stocked with fun knitting details.

While this is a gentle, pleasant read, the opening scene is thriller-worthy, as the reader discovers what caused Cori to become the anxious person withdrawn from the world that she now is. It establishes Cori’s character and sparks the reader’s curiosity as to just what it was that Cori witnessed as a child.

Lia’s questioning gets the police chief and a rookie cop (who happens to be her daughter’s boyfriend) to urge her to lay off and accept that Cori’s death was just as it appeared. But Lia, like any good mystery heroine, won’t stop digging for clues, sharing details, and gaining insight from her knitting group. The denouement is almost as dark as the kickoff scene, but it’s a satisfying wrap-up to a well-told story. It’s also character based, which is a strength of cozy mysteries in general.

Teri Duerr
2021-11-30 20:23:12
As Marriage Can Be Mischief
Robin Agnew

The busy Amanda Flower (author of 10 series, six active) gifts us a visit with Amish matchmaker Millie Fisher, who makes a living as a quilter. As Marriage Can Be Mischief kicks off, Millie is wondering just how long her childhood friend Uriah Schrock will stay in town. He’s absent at the opening concert scene and it’s only later that Millie discovers where he’s been. Millie is widowed and lives on her own with a couple of goats (that she takes for walks) and a cat (that she doesn’t).

Forty years ago, Uriah’s sister disappeared after her husband was discovered murdered. It’s widely thought the sister escaped an abusive marriage and ran away to be “English” (i.e., non Amish). However, two filmmakers using a drone discover a human skull which does, in fact, turn out to belong to Uriah’s long-missing sister. While Uriah now knows that she’s dead, he still doesn’t know what happened, and Millie, known as the “Amish Marple,” and her English sidekick, Lois, are determined to find out. The police are content to call it an accident, but Millie is positive that’s not the case.

Her relentless sleuthing gives readers a trip to a busy Amish restaurant, a buggy shop, and a quilting bee, all of which illuminate the Amish culture and advance the plot. There’s a matchmaking plot thread on the side as Millie settles differences between a prospective young couple with doubts on the part of the future groom. The detective work is intelligent and the clues are fairly laid. Though the suspect pool is small, I was unable to guess the killer. I loved the character of Millie, who in her sixties is happy to live on her own with her goats and her quilts.

Flower has that special sparkle that some writers possess—that magical quality that makes the plot, characters, and setting fly through your reading fingers as fast as you can turn the pages. She makes her situations and characters truly come to life with a depth of emotion behind her characters that make them memorable. This is a wonderful read.

Teri Duerr
2021-11-30 20:26:05
2021 Mystery Scene Gift Guide Stocking Stuffers Edition
Kevin Burton Smith

Looking for a few gifts so good they're practically criminal? Well, look no further. We've compiled a few Mystery Scene favorites perfect for stuffing those stockings.

An Elderly Lady Must Not Be CrossedJust perfect for slipping easily into someone’s stocking, and an ideal time killer for that interminable wait between the gift orgy and the arrival of the blessed bird, is Scandinavian Grand Master Helene Tursten’s An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed ($14.99, Soho Crime), the follow-up to her equally adorable An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good from a few years ago. Once again, it follows the charming homicidal problem-solving of cranky elderly Maud, a retired Swedish schoolteacher with absolutely no qualms about bumping off people who get in her way, this time journeying to Africa on a long-anticipated holiday. A pretty little hardcover decorated with seasonal and floral graphic embellishments that reek of innocence, it’s in reality a nifty how-to guide to homicide, with a tantalizing list of ways to set the world right (i.e., the way you want it), concluded with a couple of recipes for ginger snaps (in both “naughty” and “nice” versions). See? Perfect for the holidays!

Sherlcok Holmes SocksThe game is afoot when your Holmie toes the line with these always fashionable Sherlock Socks ($12; Discreetly stylish, tastefully rendered as a series of tiny brown silhouettes of the Great Detective himself on a field of tan with reinforced toes and heels, they’re a sturdy blend of cotton, polyester, and spandex available in small or large sizes. As an added bonus, a portion of all proceeds go to funding literacy programs and book donations to communities in need.

Murder on the Orange Express Lip BalmKillers come and go and bad puns can mortally wound, but chapped lips are pure murder, especially for those in wintry climes. So pucker up and try some Murder on the Orange Express Lip Balm ($9; Billed as a seductive mélange of “alluring florals and sweet citrus,” this handmade, gently moisturizing balm made with organic shea butter, botanical extract, and pure essential oils hints at sophisticated intrigue with its ooh-la-la combination of sweet orange, mandarin, clary sage, rose geranium, and ylang ylang. And if it doesn’t conjure up sweet memories of the mysterious Orient Express that has influenced so many thriller writers, most famously Agatha Christie and Ian Fleming, then you’re just not trying hard enough. It comes in a classy recyclable tin containing a generous 10 ml of balm—about twice as much as those tiny ocean-clogging plastic tubes.

Another day, another murder. But with gun sales soaring and everybody mad at each other, it’s sometimes hard to keep track, which is why the 2022 edition of A Year of True Crime Page-a-Day Desk Calendar ($15.99; Workman Publishing) is thumbs-up for the murderino in your midst. Why worry about tomorrow’s headlines when you can kick off your shoes, double check the alarm system, and relax at home, poring over the bloody past? This handy-dandy desk calendar offers a full year of lovingly detailed homicidal highlights perfect for the Dateline-addicted, featuring darkly humorous takes on everything from murders dark and gory to bizarro headlines (“Headless Body Found in Topless Bar”!). Loaded with trivia, suggested crime documentaries, words of wisdom from serial killers and mystery authors, and career advice for would-be criminals, this is the ideal gift for those who think a Lester Holt tattoo is perfectly normal.

Jinkies! There’s always this cute but-to-the-point I Heart Mysteries Button ($2.99; RainbowPunchPress), featuring the brains of Mystery Incorporated herself, the one and only Velma Dinkley, originator of geek chic, a book and a message that says it all.



Gamache Coffee MugDespite my usual grinchiness and the sad admission that the world we all live in definitely needs some work done, I continue to believe, and finish off with something from the infinitely better world of my homie Louise Penny’s beloved Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. The tiny Livres Lac-Brome/Brome Lake Bookstore ( in Knowlton, Quebec (the real-life Trois Pins/Three Pines), offers the usual beaucoup of author merchandise, including “What the Duck” Greeting Cards ($15), Three Pines T-shirts ($30), a “Mélange Gamache” Coffee Blend ($7), and more. But to me, the most perfect gift is a simple white ceramic 12-ounce “Goodness Exists” Coffee Mug ($20), perfect for café-au-lait, tea, or Scotch, adorned on one side with the Three Pines logo and on the other with the author’s (and Armand’s) personal credo, cribbed from a poem by W.H. Auden: “Goodness exists.”


Excerpted from the "Mystery Scene 2021 Gift Guide" in the Winter 2021 Issue #170 print edition.

Teri Duerr
2021-12-07 15:52:52
Oline H Cogdill

Agatha Christie never goes out of style.

I have said that several times and may have even used that same sentence.

“The Queen of Mysteries,” as she was often called, continues to entertain readers with her stories about Miss Jane Marple, Hercule Poirot and her other characters. These are still in print, fodder for numerous TV series, films and short story collections; every few years a new biography comes along.

And she’s also given authors ideas for other novels based on Christie, who died in 1976 at age 85.

For example, Lori Rader-Day gave readers a new view of Dame Christie with her intriguing novel Death at Greenway, an original plot that centered on a little-known fact of the author’s life. During WWII, Christie’s Devon estate Greenway housed 10 children whose parents sent them to the countryside to, hopefully, be safe as London was being bombed by the Germans.

The latest in the Christie reboot is The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont (St. Martin’s Press), which comes out in February 2022.

The Christie Affair recounts the 11-day disappearance of Agatha Christie through the perspective of her husband's mistress, Nan O’Dea, a fictionalized version of his real-life lover Nancy Neele.

Set in London during 1925, The Christie Affair revolves around the betrayal that hit the author hard, prompting her disappearance.

The Christie Affair also will be the inspiration for a TV series, as announced by Miramax TV. British writer Juliette Towhidi (Calendar Girls, Death Comes to Pemberley) is set to write the adaptation.

The television series doesn't have a premiere date yet.

In a story about the TV series, posted “Agatha and Nan transform from competitors to unlikely allies while the world around them remains cloaked in the dark, unable to grasp the complexities of each woman’s relationship to her past and her female identity. Set mostly in the beautiful and historic British spa town of Harrogate, The Christie Affair is part sweeping love story– but not the one you expect — part exploration of the bonds of womanhood and part murder mystery to rival one of Christie’s own, now very famous stories.”

Whenever it airs, the TV series has to be better than the abysmal 1979 movie Agatha directed by Michael Apted. The movie starred Vanessa Redgrave as Christie with Timothy Dalton as her husband Archie.

I still remember how this film made Dame Christie seem boring.

The film Christie began with Agatha Christie giving an engraved silver cup for her husband Archie, who was unappreciative. According to several reviews that recap the plot, the couple walk to a publicity event for her new novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. On the scene is an American reporter Wally Stanton (Dustin Hoffman). The next morning, Archie demands a divorce, saying he loves his secretary.

That night, Christie gets into an automobile accident.

The police discover her wrecked car, prompting press coverage. It’s learned that Christie left a letter for her secretary, prompting speculation of suicide.

Stanton follows a lead that takes him to a hotel in Harrogate where the author is checking in.

From there, the film just goes down hill.

But I have high hopes for the TV series based on The Christie Affair, as well as the novel that sounds terrific.

Oline Cogdill
2021-12-10 16:55:19
Oline H Cogdill

The Grand Master, Raven and Ellery Queen are the highest honors offered by Mystery Writers of America (MWA), aside from the Edgar Allan Poe awards for authors.
What makes these three awards so special—and highly respected—is they honor contributions to the genre—authors, behind the scenes people, publishers whose devotion to mysteries continue to elevate mystery fiction.

And without fail, the MWA board chooses the most deserving people.

So, time to stop burying the lead!

Author Laurie R. King has been named the 2022 Grand Master.

Librarian, blogger, and book reviewer Lesa Holstine will receive the Raven Award.

Juliet Grames, senior vice president and Associate Publisher at Soho Press, will take home the Ellery Queen Award.
Most deserving honorees, every one.

The awards will be presented during the 76th Annual Edgar Awards Ceremony, which will be held April 28, 2022, at the Marriott Marquis Times Square in New York City.

MWA’s Grand Master Award represents “the pinnacle of achievement in mystery writing and was established to acknowledge important contributions to this genre, as well as for a body of work that is both significant and of consistent high quality,” a press release stated.

Laurie R. King is the bestselling author of 30 novels and other works, including the Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes stories, beginning with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, which was named “One of the 20th Century’s Best Crime Novels” by the IMBA.

King has received the Agatha, Anthony, Edgar, Lambda, Wolfe, Macavity, Creasey dagger, and Romantic Times Career Achievement awards, among other honors. She holds an honorary doctorate in theology, and is a Baker Street Irregular.  Her recent books include Castle Shade and How to Write a Mystery (co-edited with Lee Child.) She has been a member of Mystery Writers of America since 1993 and served on the NorCal and National boards.
King shows her droll wit when she was notified of the honor: “I am sure I’m not the only person who greeted the announcement that they had been given this extreme honor of the mystery world first with silence, then with, ‘Really?  Me??’  I mean, any list that begins with Agatha Christie and touches on such gods as Ross MacDonald and Daphne du Maurier, Ngaio Marsh and John Le Carré, Tony Hillerman and—well, you get the idea. ‘I am honored’ is an inadequate response (You are sure you counted the votes, right?) when what I mean is, ‘I am stunned, dumbfounded, gobsmacked.’ And honored too, of course—intensely, humbly, and gratefully,” according to MWA’s press release.
Previous Grand Masters include Charlaine Harris, Jeffery Deaver, Barbara Neely, Martin Cruz Smith, William Link, Peter Lovesey, Walter Mosley, Lois Duncan, James Ellroy, Robert Crais, Ken Follett, Martha Grimes, Sara Paretsky, James Lee Burke, Sue Grafton, Stephen King, Mary Higgins Clark, Lawrence Block, P.D. James, Ellery Queen, Daphne du Maurier, Alfred Hitchcock, Graham Greene, and Agatha Christie, to name a few.

I have a special affinity for the Raven Award—I received it in 2012 and that remains a career high. So. I am especially thrilled to share the legacy of the Raven with librarian, blogger, and book reviewer Lesa Holstine.

The Raven Award recognizes outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing.

Holstine has worked in public libraries since she was 16. For almost 50 years, she’s shared her love of books, especially mysteries, with library patrons, and is presently the Collections Manager at the Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library in Evansville, Indiana. She is in the 18th year of writing her award-winning blog, Lesa’s Book Critiques, has been the blogger for Poisoned Pen Bookstore for over four years, and reviews mysteries for Mystery Readers’ Journal and Library Journal, where she was named Reviewer of the Year in 2018. She has received the 2011 Arizona Library Association Outstanding Library Service Award and the David S. Thompson Special Service Memorial Award. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and serves on the Left Coast Crime Standing Committee.

Holstine also is an incredibly nice person and have loved speaking with her at mystery writers conferences through the years.

According to MWA press release, she also was equally stunned. “You’re kidding!” Holstine is quoted as saying, “I’m grateful to the MWA Board, and to mystery writers everywhere who have provided so much enjoyment over the years.”
Previous Raven Award recipients include Malice Domestic, Left Coast Crime, Marilyn Stasio, The Raven Bookstore, Sisters in Crime, and Oline Cogdill.
The Ellery Queen Award was established in 1983 to honor “outstanding writing teams and outstanding people in the mystery-publishing industry.”

This year’s honoree is Juliet Grames. As senior vice president and associate publisher at Soho Press, she has curated the award-winning Soho Crime imprint since 2011. Her debut novel, The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna, was published by Ecco/HarperCollins and has been translated into 10 languages.
On learning she would receive the Ellery Queen Award, Grames said in the press release, "I am astonished and moved by this great honor. There is no community I could be prouder to work in: the creators in our genre are not only artists but activists and thoroughly good people. It is a great privilege to nurture and amplify their voices, and I humbly thank every author who has ever trusted me with that privilege. It is also a great privilege to work for a publisher, Bronwen Hruska, whose values—both literary and philosophical—align so perfectly with mine. This recognition belongs to them, although I am honored to be their representative."  
Previous Ellery Queen Award winners include Reagan Arthur, Kelley Ragland, Linda Landrigan, Neil Nyren, Charles Ardai, and Janet Hutchings.

Mystery Scene congratulations each honoree.

Photos: Laurie R. King, top, photo by Josh Edelson; Lesa Holstine, middle, photo courtesy Holstine; Juliet Grames, bottom,  photo by Ninsa Subin


Oline Cogdill
2022-01-12 19:01:40