Oline Cogdill
This July is turning out to be one very hot month. Admittedly, South Florida has been a bit cooler than the western states, but it is still hot.

Meanwhile, I have been chilly and it has nothing to do with the low temperature we set the air conditioner.

Instead, it has everything to do with the novels I have been reading.

Mysteries often are set in an opposite season. That makes sense because when the temperature is rising, it is almost comforting to remember cold weather, and visa versa.

Tami Hoag’s The 9th Girl is set in Minnesota, an area known for its cold weather. But Hoag goes a further step. Minneapolis homicide cops Sam Kovac and Nikki Liska investigate a murder discovered on New Year’s Eve in The 9th Girl. Sam and Nikki have been investigating a serial killer whose crimes are committed on or near a holiday in the tri-state area. His latest victim is a teenage girl who attended school with Nikki’s son.

As I read Hoag’s novel, I could feel the chilling wind, the snow that blankets the ground and the temperature falling.

C.J. Box’s The Highway, which comes out later this month, also makes July almost the coldest month of the year. The Highway’s plot, which concerns a serial killer who is a long-haul trucker, is chilling enough. But the novel begins a few days before Thanksgiving as two sisters who live in Denver head out to spend the holiday with their father in Omaha, Neb. But first they want to take a detour to Montana. Brrr….

Minnesota also is the backdrop for the winter tale of William Kent Krueger’s Tamarack County. Set in northern Minnesota, Krueger’s novel has his ongoing series hero Cork O’Connor investigating the disappearance of a judge’s wife, whose abandoned car was found by a snowmobiler on a remote road in a blizzard.

With a title like A Cold and Lonely Place, the freeze factor is practically guaranteed. And Sara J. Henry makes the most of the season. In A Cold and Lonely Place opens with freelance writer Troy Chance photographing ice cutters on New York’s Saranac Lake as they prepare the ice palace that will grace the annual Winter Carnival near Lake Placid. But the work stops when the body of a man is found just below the ice’s surface.

Steve Hamilton’s Let It Burn is set near the end of summer, but summer in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is more like winter in some states. (My review of Let It Burn is here.)

Here is the opening of Hamilton’s excellent novel:

“Summers die hard in Paradise.

“The first time you live through it, and because this place still has the “MI” as part of the address, you might actually expect the summer to fade away slowly like it does below the bridge. Down there, on a crystal blue day in September, the sun shining hot and bright until it starts to go down, you might feel a slight note of coolness in the air, a note that makes you think of football and back-to-school and leaves turning and all those other bittersweet signs that the season is changing. Something so subtle you might even be forgiven for missing it the first time it happened. Especially if you didn’t want the summer to end.

"Up here, on the shores of Lake Superior, there’s a cold wind that gathers from the north and picks up weight as it builds its way across two hundred miles of open water, and then, on a late afternoon in August—hell, sometimes in July—that wind hits you square in the face and make its intention quite clear, no matter how much you might not like the message. Summer may not be one hundred percent done, not just yet, but it’s been mortally gutshot, and it’s only a matter of days until it’s gone.” (used with permission from Minotaur)

Of course, come winter many mystery novels will have readers sweating.

Oline Cogdill

My favorite name for an award has got to be the one called Theakstons Old Peculier.

Most Americans don’t know what that means. I know I didn’t for a long time.

Theakstons is a British ale that is quite popular. And I might add quite tasty.

According to the Theakstons web site, “The name pays tribute to the unique ecclesiastical status of Masham as a ‘Court of the Peculier’ and is also reference to the strong characteristic of the beer! For many years it was affectionately referred to as Yorkshire’s ‘Lunatic’s Broth’.”


Now we know.

For the second year in a row, Denise Mina won the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award for Gods and Beasts. She is the first author with back-to-back wins.

Mina received £3,000, which translates to about $4,566 in U.S. dollars, and a handmade, engraved beer barrel provided by Theakstons Old Peculier.

The award, run in partnership with bookseller WHSmith, was created to celebrate the very best in crime writing and is open to British and Irish authors whose novels were published in paperback over the previous 12 months. The award was given during the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate, England.

Let’s raise a toast to this excellent Scottish author.

PHOTO: Denise Mina with her award.

Oline Cogdill

The intimate Deadly Ink Mystery Conference is back on track with the 12th convention scheduled for Aug. 2 to 4 at the Hyatt Regency, 2 Albany St., New Brunswick, NJ.

The conference organizers certainly have chosen well for its guest of honor.

Hank Phillippi Ryan, whose novel The Other Woman has garnered a lot of buzz, critical acclaim and five award nominations, is scheduled to be the guest of honor. Well, anyone who has read the novel about adultery, politics and murder, and a few “other women,” knows why Ryan has been getting a lot of attention lately. Ryan was profiled in Mystery Scene's Fall 2012 issue, No. 126.

Ryan will be joined by toastmaster Rosemary Harris, left, author of the Dirty Business series featuring Paula Holliday, a former television exec with a passion for gardening and sleuthing.

At this point, Deadly Ink has about 45 people signed up but the organizers are hoping to top 70 people.

As usual, authors will lead an array of panels and workshops. The conference kicks off with a full day of Deadly Ink Writer’s Academy classes for aspiring writers, on Aug. 2. Ryan will present “Writing Your Mystery—All You Need to Know Before You Start.”

Rosemary Harris will teach “Characters and Setting,” followed by Jane Cleland with “Red Herrings.” Classes wind up with “The Top 10 Reasons Your Novel Is Rejected,” by author and agent Lois Winston.

Authors scheduled to attend include Brad Parks, Jeff Cohen and Donald and Renee Bain, authors of the Murder She Wrote series, and Patricia King who writes as Annamaria Alfieri.

“Deadly Ink is New Jersey's own mystery conference, and like our state, we may be small but don't count us out,” said author Roberta Rogow, vice-chair of Deadly Ink. “New Brunswick is right in the middle of everything, only a few blocks from the train station, with plenty of parking for day trippers.”

Unlike Bouchercon and Malice Domestic, Deadly Ink is a more smaller conference, which several authors said was an asset.

“I enjoy smaller conferences where you get a chance to interact with virtually everyone there – whether it’s because of a panel, a smaller breakout session or just a chat at the bar. Also, Hank Phillippi Ryan is Guest of Honor and Rosemary Harris is Toastmaster this year, and they’re both awesome. I figured I couldn’t go too far wrong,” said Brad Parks, right, the author of the Carter Ross novels including Faces of the Gone, Eyes of the Innocent, and The Good Cop, his latest. Parks is the winner of the 2010 Shamus Award, the 2010 Nero Award and the 2013 Lefty Award. A profile of Parks ran in Mystery Scene's Spring 2013 issue, No. 129.

“The conference is small and I do like that, because I get to talk to actual readers and not feel like I'm trying to be noticed in the third tier of Yankee Stadium,” said Jeff Cohen, author of the Comedy Tonight series. Under the name E.J. Copperman, Cohen writes the Haunted Guesthouse Mystery series, which began with Night of the Living Deed and continues with An Uninvited Ghost, Old Haunts, and Chance of a Ghost. The series will continue in November 2013 with The Thrill of the Haunt.

Registration is still open. For more information, visit the Deadly Ink web site, or like it on Facebook.

Oline Cogdill

For the past seven years, Burn Notice has delivered an atypical spy series, mixing wide swaths of humor with a serious plot and a breathtaking view of South Florida.

The USA Network series, which airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. EST, has followed the attempts of spy Michael Westen (Jeffrey Donovan) to find how why he was fired—or got his “burn notice”—and how to get back into the espionage business after being dumped in his hometown of Miami.

Until he is back in the spy game, Michael works as an off-the-books private investigator, helping those private citizens in need.

He has been aid by on again/off again girlfriend Fiona Glenanne (Gabrielle Anwar) and retired spy Sam Axe (Bruce Campbell). In the fourth season, former counter-intelligence agent Jesse Porter (Coby Bell) joined the group.

Michael, Fiona, Sam, and Jesse have supplied the action, the adventure and the romance of Burn Notice.

But the heart of Burn Notice has always been driven by Michael’s mother, Madeline Westen, played subtly and forcefully by Sharon Gless (Cagney & Lacey, Queer as Folk).

Gless’ character was originally described as “a Miami mom,” but the actress has done so much more with this character.

While the others have the showy roles with explosions, guns and chases, Madeline has been the one at home. And that home has acted as a refuge for Michael, more than he has wanted to admit. It’s been a safe house for clients, for ex-spies and been invaded by criminals and federal agents.

Madeline knows Michael better than anyone, and especially understands why he became the man he is. In the early seasons, she was not above manipulating him to help a neighbor being blackmailed, an ex-con who wants to start a new life, businesses being terrorized.

During the series, bits about Michael’s childhood have come out. Madeline’s husband didn’t turn out to be the good man she thought he was. He was a terrible father prone to verbal and physical abuse.

Yet Madeline revealed through snippets that she felt it was better for the family to stay with her husband than to leave him.

Now in its last season, Burn Notice has taken a darker tone as Michael’s deal with the devil to protect his friends and family and get his job back has, in the process, left him sinking in the mire.

Although she is back home in Miami, Madeline again relies on the inner strength that has gotten her through life. Madeline is trying to get full custody of her toddler grandson since his father—her other son—was killed and his mother is in rehab. Madeline also has joined forces with Fiona on some of the cases.

Gless has long been a personal favorite, bringing the nuances to Madeline has she has to all her roles.

Take Cagney & Lacey, which ran on CBS from 1982 to 1988 and garnered many Emmys for the series and the two leads.

Gless as Sgt. Christine Cagney and Tyne Daly as Detective Mary Beth Lacey were pioneers in crime drama. This was the first drama to feature two strong women with full careers and private lives. Lacey was married with children while Cagney was single. They were police partners as well as friends who really cared about each other.

Both women brought a sense of realism to their roles. They were good at their jobs, but also made mistakes.

As much as I liked Lacey, it was Cagney who caught my attention each week. Cagney wasn’t perfect, and that made her all the more believable. She was an alcoholic who, through the series, finally came to terms with it. She had father issues and trouble with relationships. She was also intelligent, loyal and witty. And Gless quickly became one of my favorite actresses.

A special 30th anniversary Cagney & Lacey: The Complete Series recently was released. There also is Cagney & Lacey ... and Me: An Inside Hollywood Story OR How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Blonde by the Emmy Award-winning producer Barney Rosenzweig, who also is Gless’ husband. Gless has said in many interviews that she has not read it. (I have, though, and I recommend it.)

A couple of years ago, Gless was in Coral Gables doing the play A Round-Heeled Woman at GableStage. The play is Jane Prowse's stage adaptation of Jane Juska's book A Round-Heeled Woman: My Late-life Adventures in Sex and Romance. Gless then took the play to London for a successful run.

Following a rehearsal, my husband and I interviewed Gless; he as a theater critic for his website Florida Theater on Stage and I for Mystery Scene. (His interview is here and his review is here.)

In person, Gless is as charming, witty and personable as she presents herself on screen.

I wanted to hold the conversation for the last season of Burn Notice, which has come way too soon.

Q: What first drew you to Burn Notice?
They offered it to me. [She laughs] No, actually, I was at a fat farm in California and I did not want to leave. And the script was sent to me by my agent, and I read it, and I was alone, and I was laughing out loud. You know how unusual it is to laugh at something out loud when you’re by yourself? I was especially attracted to the narration. I thought it was so funny because everything he [Michael Westen] was doing was rather dramatic. He was in life-threatening situations but the dialogue was so counter to that, the emotion. I thought that was very clever. I only had two scenes. But I thought what the hell. I’ll go do it; it was in Miami [where she has lived part-time since 1993]. So I showed up and did my two scenes [for the pilot] and I went away. And frankly, I forgot about it. And when it sold, my agent called me and I didn’t remember. He had to remind me that I had done it.

Q: Madeline has changed over time. But she is a force in that show, she’s the grounding.
Well, I thank [creator and producer] Matt Nix for that. Because she’s only described in those two scenes as a chain-smoking hypochondriac. I can do half of that. There really wasn’t a lot of substance to her; it wasn’t needed in the pilot. [When production started] Matt said let me give you one note: He [Michael] gets all his smarts from her. I said OK. That’s all I need to know. And he started writing her, very slowly, a little bit here, a little bit there. But I had that information.

I always do a backstory on anyone I play because we’re all a product of what we’ve gone through. If you give them a backstory, then you can string your beads along and bring that underneath. [Matt Nix] said [Madeline] went to college to find a husband, and found this great guy, who was not being so great. It’s written into the text that he was abusive, but not quite. The only thing that was in the pilot was [that Michael] never came to [his father’s] funeral. That was a little hint that there was trouble between the son and the father. I ran with this information and knew that there was abuse in this house. OK, so that’s one of my beads. [Madeline] carries that all the time now and chooses to put a totally different spin on it. She knows it’s there but she also says “but look at the good things, look at these pictures.”

Q: There was the scene in which two youngsters were staying at Madeline’s and they see a photo of the Westens taken at Christmas. They said they never had a home like that and Madeline says neither did we.
I am so touched that you remember that particular scene because because I was looking at the picture and seeing the bruise. After I finished that scene, the crew told me they saw the change [in my expression] and the crew applauded the scene. And I was stunned because they don’t do that. It’s all that stuff that Matt gave me that I get to play. I tell you we’re nothing without the writers. Nothing. And he gave me enough information and every week they write me a little gem. They do. And I’m, just the lucky woman who gets to play her.

Q: Madeline is the real moral center, of that show.
She’s very practical, very manipulative. She knows exactly how to get to him. But she makes Michael human. Matt wrote in one of Michael's voiceovers, what it takes to be a CIA operative and especially in special ops like Michael. It takes someone with no emotion and that family dynamic of what happened to him as a child made him that way. And she’s totally aware of it. Michael was the oldest one and probably tried to protect his mother. And there were times she couldn’t protect them. Matt gave me a great line – and the staff of writers – the one with FBI. The guy’s grilling me and they bring in these guns and I say they’re mine, from, the garage. And he says, you’re going to pay for your son’s mistakes? And I say, he paid for mine.
Those writers just give me such a gem.
It could be just one line and I know it has impact because it informs about Michael and I think that’s what she does, she grounds him in her own perverse way and she makes him human.
So much of it comes back to that phrase: the smarts he gave to her. Yes, she’s smart. You can’t manipulate and not be smart. She knows exactly how to get to him. She’s smart, so when they do send her undercover, she’s good at it. And I love playing it. Her life is not rich and full in that house, but she manipulates lonely.

Q: Do you get response from viewers, about smoking or the family dynamic?
I don’t get that much written fan mail, but my publicist sends me the comments from Facebook. Usually they are very positive. But every once in a while, someone says I wish she didn’t smoke. . . . But it’s so a part of who she is. It’s so much an extension of her body, so much of who she is, that it doesn’t offend them,

Q: Do you read mystery fiction?
I don’t get to read a lot because I get to work a lot. But my favorite books and the books I am most attracted to are psychological thrillers. The Red Dragon, nothing ever frightened me like that, then came Silence of the Lambs, but nothing ever frightened me like Red Dragon. As a child I read Nancy Drew. I do love being frightened. I like reading and my heart pounding.

Q: On working on Burn Notice
I am so lucky to work with those four actors. Believe me, I am truly blessed. I never take any of this for granted. It is a fun show to be on. I also am so grateful that at my age, they let me do it. You know about the film and television industry is—for women, ageism reigns. It’s one thing to have a job; it’s another thing to have a job with those four actors. I only come two, maybe three days a week, but I really say I get to go to work.

PHOTOS: Top: Sharon Gless, Bruce Campbell, Jeffrey Donovan, Gabrielle Anwar; Next, Gabrielle Anwar and Gless in Burn Notice.
Photos from USA Network

Oline Cogdill


The winners of the 2013 Thriller Awards were announced July 13 during ThrillerFest sponsored by the International Thriller Writers.

(For my essay on what is a thriller, visit this previous blog.)

Here are the winners:


Brian Freeman – SPILLED BLOOD (SilverOak)


Sean Doolittle – LAKE COUNTRY (Bantam)


Matthew Quirk – THE 500 (Reagan Arthur Books)


CJ Lyons – BLIND FAITH (Minotaur Books)


Dan Krokos – FALSE MEMORY (Hyperion Books CH)


John Rector – “Lost Things” (Thomas & Mercer)