Thursday, April 30, 2009

The 2009 Edgar Award Winners

Tonight, the Mystery Writers of America announced the winners of the 2009 Edgar Allan Poe Awards, honoring the best in mystery fiction, nonfiction, television and film published or produced in 2008. The Edgar Awards were presented to the winners at the 63rd Gala Banquet at the Grand Hyatt Hotel, New York City.

Congratulations to all of the winners!


Blue Heaven by C.J. Box (St. Martin's Minotaur)


The Foreigner by Francie Lin (Picador)


China Lake by Meg Gardiner (New American Library - Obsidian Mysteries)


American Lightning: Terror, Mystery, the Birth of Hollywood, and the Crime of
the Century
by Howard Blum (Crown Publishers)


Edgar Allan Poe: An Illustrated Companion to His Tell-Tale Stories
by Dr. Harry Lee Poe (Sterling Publishing - Metro Books)


"Skinhead Central" - The Blue Religion by T. Jefferson Parker (Hachette Book
Group - Little, Brown and Company)


The Postcard by Tony Abbott (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers)


Paper Towns by John Green (Penguin Young Readers Group - Dutton Children's Books)


The Ballad of Emmett Till by Ifa Bayeza (Goodman Theatre, Chicago, IL)


"Prayer of the Bone" - Wire in the Blood, Teleplay by Patrick Harbinson (BBC


In Bruges, Screenplay by Martin McDonagh (Focus Features)


"Buckner's Error" - Queens Noir by Joseph Guglielmelli (Akashic Books)


James Lee Burke
Sue Grafton

RAVEN AWARDS (Appropriately enough, Laura Lippman presented these awards.)

Edgar Allan Poe Society, Baltimore, Maryland
Poe House, Baltimore, Maryland


The Killer's Wife by Bill Floyd (St. Martin's Minotaur)

Winners and a Mom Zone Giveaway from Sara Rosett

Congratulations to the winners of the autographed copies of Jane K. Cleland's Killer Keepsakes. The books will go to Sheila H. from Kansas City, MO and Mary G. of Marine City, MI. They'll be mailed tomorrow.

Sara Rosett is the author of the Mom Zone Mysteries featuring Air Force wife Ellie Avery. She was kind enough to send two autographed copies of the new book in the series, Magnolias, Moonlight, and Murder. Ellie and her family have settled into their new home in Georgia. But, when Ellie finds a skull while walking the dog, it isn't the easiest way to get to know the neighbors.

Ellie and her family have moved to a new setting for this book, so it's a book readers can pick up without having read earlier books in the series. If you'd like to win an autographed copy of Magnolias, Moonlight, and Murder, email me at Email me!. If that link doesn't work for you, the email address is: Your subject line should read Win "Magnolias". Your message should include your mailing address. Entrants only in the U.S., please.

I'll be at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore next Thursday night, so the contest will end Friday, May 8 at 6 a.m. PT. Jim will draw the winners at that time. The winners will be notified, and the books will go out in the mail on Friday. Good luck!

Wild Sorrow by Sandi Ault

Sandi Ault was a new discovery for me. I'm glad I was sent a copy of Wild Sorrow to review for Mystery News. Here's my review, reprinted with permission.

Wild Sorrow

by Sandi Ault

Berkley Prime Crime


ISNB 978-0-425-22583-7



Amateur Sleuth

Jamaica Wild and her wolf, Mountain, are tracking a wounded mountain lion when they’re forced to take shelter during a blizzard. The abandoned building turns out to be an old Indian boarding school. That’s where Jamaica stumbles over the defaced body of an elderly Anglo woman.

Wild is the resource protection agent for the Bureau of Land Management, and acting liaison to the Tanoah Pueblo in New Mexico. In that capacity, she knows she accidentally ruined a crime scene. Knowing that, she calls the FBI, her own boss, and her boyfriend, a forest ranger. But, it’s Jamaica’s own contacts with the Tanoah tribe that could reveal the clues to the murder.

No one in the tribe is sorry for the death of the woman, a former teacher at the school. Instead, some celebrate, while others open up to Jamaica, telling her the horrors experienced by Indian children forced to attend the school.

Is it the truth about the murder, or something else in Jamaica’s job that makes her a target? As she tracks the wounded lion, and ATVs illegally using BLM land, she herself is stalked by violent men. She and Mountain are threatened by a neighbor, and find themselves tracked as if they were both prey.

Wild Sorrow is a tragic mystery, with multiple plot lines that intersect. Jamaica Wild is a complex character, torn by her love of Mountain, and wild nature, and her knowledge of the modern world. In its description of nature, and portrayal of Indian history, this is a powerful mystery, evocative of the best of Tony Hillerman, Margaret Coel, and Nevada Barr.

Rating: 4.5

Reprinted, with permission, from Mystery News, Volume 27, Issue 2, April/May 2009.

Sandi Ault's website is

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Murder Takes the Cake by Evelyn David

Evelyn David's Murder Takes the Cake brings back the entire wonderful cast from Murder Off the Books, and, as before, keeps the reader guessing in an enjoyable mystery.

Murder Takes the Cake picks up the cast just six weeks after the previous book. Mac Sullivan, owner of Sullivan Investigations in Washington, D.C., and Rachel Brenner are still finding their way into a relationship. But, Thanksgiving week isn't the best time of year to start dating, particularly when there is too much murder, theft, and threats involving their friends and Rachel's employer.

Mac, the best friend of Rachel's employer at O'Herlihy Funeral Home, is also the godfather to Jeff O'Herlihy's daughter, Bridget. She's a reporter who broke a story about crooked cops in Boston, and, now, when she's receiving threats, she turns to Mac. Mac and Rachel believe her, but her fiance and his family think she's hysterical. Before Mac gets too far into the investigation, his assistant, JJ, finds a body out on a turkey farm, a body that was supposed to have tried to hire Sullivan Investigations.

Death threats, turkey farms, missing caskets, and wedding plans all add up for trouble for Mac and Rachel. It's a good thing Mac's Irish Wolfhound, Whiskey, is around to take care of both of them.

Evelyn David's mysteries are fun and fast-paced, with characters you'd like to add to your own family. And, Whiskey could go home with any dog-lover. My only complaint about this series is minor. The books should have a list of characters. By the time the author introduced victims, cops, funeral home rivals, and Bridget's boyfriend's family, along with the regular cast, it was difficult to keep everyone safe. Granted, caper mysteries often have enormous casts. It just would have been nice to have a list in order to remember which crime linked the various characters. Despite, this slight difficulty, I'd recommend Murder Takes the Cake, and the earlier book, Murder Off the Books, to anyone who enjoys characters who walk off the page, and into your heart.

Evelyn David's website is

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Murder Takes the Cake by Evelyn David. Echelon Press, ©2009. ISBN 9781590806180 (paperback), 284p.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Killer Keepsakes by Jane K. Cleland

This week, I'm giving away two autographed copies of Jane K. Cleland's Killer Keepsakes. Now that my review has appeared in Mystery News, I have permission to reprint it here. It's Cleland's best Josie Prescott Antiques Mystery yet.

Killer Keepsakes

by Jane K. Cleland

Minotaur Books


ISBN 978-0-312-36944-6



Amateur Sleuth

Over a few years as owner of Prescott’s Antiques and Auctions in Rocky Point, New Hampshire, Josie Prescott has grown to view her staff as family. So, when her assistant, Gretchen Brock, doesn’t return after a two week vacation, Josie grows concerned. And, she’s worried enough to contact the property manger at Gretchen’s condo. When the two women enter the place, they find a dead man sprawled on the sofa, shot.

It’s only when the police start to look for Gretchen that Josie realizes how little she knows about her employee. Gretchen seems to have a number of friends, but a couple of them seem to have secrets they’re unwilling to share, even with the police. And, who are the strange men who show up at work, asking for Gretchen?

Unlike the police, Josie is convinced Gretchen is innocent. She uses her research skills, developed in the antiques business, to dig into the stories behind Gretchen’s life, hoping those stories, and a missing vase might lead to her missing friend. Unfortunately, the story she uncovers about Gretchen’s past in Denver implicates her even more in the murder. The more she digs, the more Josie turns to her boyfriend, Ty Alvarez, for emotional support. It’s not an easy job, keeping an antiques business working smoothly, while searching for a missing person.

In the course of four books in this series, Josie Prescott has grown more confident as a character. She no longer has the odd habit of quoting and consulting her deceased father. She has grown confident in her business dealings, and in her personal relationships. It’s a pleasure to enter Josie’s world in these mysteries.

Cleland’s latest mystery is much more polished than previous ones. Readers could pick this one up, without having read previous ones, and easily catch up with the characters. This is a fascinating missing person case. Cleland skillfully intertwines the day-to-day workings of the antiques business into the mystery story to bring Josie to life as a working woman. Killer Keepsakes is a keeper.

Rating: 4.5

Reprinted, with permission, from Mystery News, Volume 27, Issue 2, April/May 2009.

Jane K. Cleland's website is

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Monday, April 27, 2009

The Diary by Eileen Goudge

Eileen Goudge's novel, The Diary, is deceptive. It seems to be a very simple story, and suddenly the lead character, and the story, slaps the reader alongside the head.

The Diary opens with two grown daughters, Sarah and Emily, going through their mother's possessions, since she's in a nursing home following a stroke. They are surprised to find a diary, written before their mother, Elizabeth, married their father, Bob Marshall. But, they're shocked to find their mother wasn't so sure about her love for Bob, even though they had been dating for years. Just at the time their mother should have been announcing her engagement, she ran into an old schoolmate, AJ, at the fair. And, suddenly, the proper daughter of a respected mother, was torn between respectable Bob and AJ, the bad boy who had spent time in reform school.

Although the story reads like an old-fashioned book, set in 1951, the two sisters and readers might be a little surprised at Elizabeth's actions. And, Emily realizes that children never really know their parents. "All these years, I never thought of them as being anything other than our parents. But they had lives of their own apart from us."

Once again, Eileen Goudge has taken a traditional woman's novel, a love story, and turned it on its ear. Anytime I call my mother and say, you would like this book, it comes recommended. The Diary, a deceptive little book, was a pleasant surprise.

Eileen Goudge has two websites to go with this book. One is her website at The other directly relates to this book. It's

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The Diary by Eileen Goudge. Vanguard Press, ©2009. ISBN 9781593155438 (hardcover), 224p.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sunday Salon - Turn Coat by Jim Butcher

Last Sunday, Jim Butcher's Turn Coat was #1 on the NYTimes Bestseller List. After reading the book, it's number one on my list for the year as well. No one does action, humor, suspense and sensuality as well as Jim Butcher in the Dresden Files. And, Turn Coat, the eleventh book in the series, is the best in the series. I hate the fact that I'll have to wait another year for the next book.

Butcher immediately drags the reader into his books, with an opening such as this. "The summer sun was busy broiling the asphalt from Chicago's streets, the agony in my head had kept me horizontal for half a day, and some idiot was pounding on my apartment door." When Harry Dresden opens the door, he finds one of the Wardens of the White Council bloodied, and begging for asylum. Unfortunately, Morgan has also been of Harry's enemies. As a wizard, Harry has often been on the outside of the White Council, fighting them just as hard as he fights for the innocent and defenseless. Morgan was the sword hanging over his head. Now, Morgan himself brings the fight to Harry's doorstep. If the White Council is hunting Morgan, accusing him of murder, Harry can be convicted of sheltering a killer.

I'm not going to give away much of the plot of Turn Coat. Morgan is suspected of turning on the White Council, killing a wizard. Harry is convinced the Warden would never do that, and he turns all of his resources toward finding the person behind the death. Along the way, he finds more enemies, including a powerful skinwalker. He also finds some unusual allies. Readers of earlier books will be pleased to see the return of Harry's apprentice, Molly; his friend on the police force, Karrin Murphy; his brother, Thomas; the dog, Mouse; and the werewolves. And, for humor, there is Toot-toot and the Wee Folk; the cat, Mister; and Bob, the skull. Harry does use, and abuse, the loyalty of his friends, and finds ways to get his enemies to help him as well.

The Dresden Files are filled with wonderful, brilliantly created characters. But, Harry himself, a lone wizard in Chicago, is the main attraction of this book. His friends reluctantly admire him. "People in hopeless situations come to you for help on a regular basis. And you help them. It's what you do." His enemies see him differently, as one of the vampires snarls at him. "You are a bad case of herpes, wizard. You're inconvenient, embarrassing, no real threat, and you simply will not go away."

So many other books could bring together werewolves, vampires, and wizards. But Butcher is a master at creating stories that compel readers to plunge with all belief suspended into Harry Dresden's world, where all these creatures walk the streets of Chicago, and find places to fight each other in dramatic fashion.

Turn Coat is a book for mystery readers who will appreciate the wizard detective. It's a book for fans of urban fantasy. In fact, if you like fast-paced, action novels with unique characters, try the Dresden Files. Turn Coat is just one of the best books I've read this year.

Jim Butcher's website is

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Turn Coat by Jim Butcher. ROC, ©2009. ISBN 9780451462565 (hardcover), 432p.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Rap Sheet

Since I'm racing through the new Jim Butcher book, Turn Coat, I don't have a book review today. Instead, I'll talk about a terrific site for all of us who love crime fiction. Many readers may have already found The Rap Sheet, but, if you haven't seen this blog, you're missing one of the best crime fiction sites available.

J. Kingston Pierce is the editor of this well-respected blog, but the contributors are all well-known names in the crime fiction field. Megan Abbott, Dick Adler, Ali Karim, Gary Phillips, and Linda L. Richards are just some of the writers who provide input. And, they need input, because The Rap Sheet successfully covers so many aspects of the genre.

Just within the last week, you could have read book reviews, an article about Friday's "Forgotten" books, started by Patti Abbott a year ago, information about a competition to win passes to Britain's Crimefest '09, and the list of nominees for Canada's Arthur Ellis Awards. The blog also highlights other blog entries, and links to news about crime fiction, publishing, interviews, convention and award news.

If you want to keep up with news in the crime fiction genre, you should be reading The Rap Sheet. No one does a better job of keeping readers informed.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Night Kill by Ann Littlewood

Poisoned Pen Press brought out two mysteries set at small zoos within a few months last year, but they couldn't be more different. Despite a murder, Betty Webb's The Anteater of Death is a light-hearted mystery with an eccentric cast of characters. Ann Littlewood's debut mystery, Night Kill, shows the daily details of zookeeping in much greater detail, as the lead character investigates her husband's death.

Iris Oakley and her husband, Rick, fought over his drinking, and separated for a week. They hadn't been married long, and the two zookeepers were still learning to live together. On the night of a zoo party, they reconciled when Rick promised he would stop drinking. So, Iris was stunned and disbelieving when Rick's body was found dead, with a high alcohol level, in the lion exhibit. She blamed Rick, thought he lied to her, and tried to get back to work with her beloved felines to get past his death.

But, some of the zoo staff think Iris' isn't mentally at work, when she reports an "accident" in the cat area. She's forced to move to birds, where another accident occurs. No one believes her about the accidents, and she's beginning to doubt herself. It takes an "accident" outside of work to force her to the conclusion that Rick's death might not have been an accident.

Iris Oakley's life is a disaster. "Evicted from Felines, faltering in my new role at Birds, urged by the boss to take a job elsewhere. An accident-prone incompetent. No place felt safe - not my disaster of my house, not my job."

Night Kill is a very serious mystery, featuring a young woman, not secure in her own knowledge yet. And, her husband's death doesn't help her confidence. But, Iris Oakley is stronger than she seems, and she grows as she determines to find the truth about Rick's death, and prove that she isn't an accident-prone grieving widow.

When the reader first meets Iris, she seems to be self-centered, young, and immature. To be honest, I think I'm getting too old to care about young, immature protagonists who think it's fun to party the night away, drinking and thinking about sex with other people's spouses. However, the adversity that Iris encounters, in just a short time, forces her to face the truth, find strength, and grow up. And, the details of the daily job of zookeeping will be fascinating to many. Night Kill is a strong debut mystery. Readers will grow to care about Iris, and root for her.

Ann Littlewood's website is

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Night Kill by Ann Littlewood. Poisoned Pen Press, ©2008. ISBN 9781590585047 (hardcover), 238p.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Winners and Killer Keepsakes Contest

Congratulations to the winners of the autographed books by Radine Trees Nehring. A River to Die For will go to Rich L. from Washington, PA. A Treasure to Die For goes to Elaine C. from Orlando, FL. The books will go out in the mail tomorrow.

This week, I have two gorgeous autographed books to give away. Jane K. Cleland has donated two copies of the new Josie Prescott Antiques
Mystery, Killer Keepsakes. You haven't seen my review of this book on my blog yet, because I reviewed it for Mystery News first. Let me just say, Josie continues to grow as a character, and this is Cleland's best book yet. When Josie's assistant, Gretchen, disappears, Josie and her employees realize how little they know about their co-worker. And, Josie's determined to find Gretchen after a body is found in the missing woman's apartment.

If you haven't read Killer Keepsakes yet, take a chance on winning one of the two copies. If you'd like to win one, email me at Email me!. If that link doesn't work for you, the email address is: Your subject line should read Win "Killer Keepsakes". Your message should include your mailing address. Entrants only in the U.S., please.

The contest will end Thursday, April 30 at 6 p.m. PT. Jim will draw the winners at that time. The winners will be notified, and the books will go out in the mail on Friday. Good luck!

Donis Casey at the Velma Teague Library

Donis Casey, author of the Alafair Tucker mysteries, spoke at the Velma Teague Library as part of the Authors @ The Teague series. She was at the library to promote her latest book, The Sky Took Him, the fourth in the series.

Donis started her program by mentioning that it was Earth Day, a very appropriate day to talk about this series. She said she bases these stories on her grandmother and other family members, and for them, it was always Earth Day. Those people never wasted anything. She said Alafair, who has ten children, raises her own vegetables and the animals for meat. She and her family are self-sufficient. At the beginning of the next book, she's growing a Victory Garden because it's set during World War I. Casey said she still remembers her grandmother laying sliced apples on burlap on the the tin roof of a shed to dry the apples. She said she loves to research the lifestyle of her characters, although she remembers a lot of it because she saw it when she was growing up in Oklahoma. The self-sufficient lifestyle was a way of life in the first half of the twentieth century. Now it's almost gone. Few people sustain themselves on a farm in the way Alafair Tucker's family does.

Casey mentioned that she was born just after World War II. Her next book is set in World War I, but as she did the research she realized a lot of the things going on were the same as what she heard from her parents about the Second World War. For instance, during WWI, Americans lost a lot of civil liberties. They passed a law that made it illegal to criticize government policies out loud, even it it was the truth. People went to prison for criticizing the government. Some were labor union organizers. People found socialism frightening. Donis Casey's next Alafair Tucker title will probably be All Men Fear Me. It's based on a WWI poster of a woman pointing, with a cap on that says "Public Opinion", and the poster says "All Men Fear Me."

The Sky Took Him, Casey's latest book, is set in 1915, when the war is coming. It's already going on in Europe. A lot of people are opposed to the U.S. getting into the war, and there is a lot of sympathy for the Germans. In fact, Wilson was elected on a platform about keeping the country out of the war. This is relevant because Alafair has a new son-in-law who is German, and they are starting to get flak. Alafair doesn't want to hear about the war. She is involved with her family, and with war talk, she considers her sons, and it frightens her.

Donis Casey's first three books were set in Boynton, Oklahoma in the eastern part of the state. But, in The Sky Took Him, she takes a trip Enid, to the northwestern part, the Cherokee Strip. The land had belonged to the Cherokee, but they never lived there. They grazed their cattle. By the end of the 1800s, they leased it to cattle ranchers. That led to the Cherokee Land Run, in which a gun was fired, and the people who had lined up took off in cars, wagons, bicycles and their feet, running to the plot of land where they had staked a claim. Then, they had to go to the Land Office, and stand in line. It was so busy, they were doing a "land office" business. They had to live on the land for two years.

Casey's sister-in-law's grandfather had made that run and owned land in Enid. Casey said she set this book in Enid because her publisher wanted her to avoid the St. Mary Mead syndrome. In the Miss Marple books, St. Mary Mead is a small town in which a number of people are murdered. So, her publisher told her to take Alafair somewhere.

Donis' sister-in-law lives in Enid, and when they go there, she likes to take Donis and her husband to a historic restaurant in a converted building that was a laundromat. There are historic pictures on the wall, including one of Randolph Street, the main street in Enid, with a millinery shop and Klein's Department Store. And there is picture of this street that shows two women walking down the street. If you've seen movies that start with a still photograph that segues into live action, that's how Donis saw that picture. She saw Alafair and her oldest daughter, Martha, walking into Klein's. That's the first scene Casey wrote for The Sky Took Him.

Alafair Tucker is a farm wife with a large family, so she needed a compelling reason why she would get on a train and go somewhere. So, Casey decided Alafair would go to visit her sister in Enid. And, she would only go for a family emergency, such as someone dying. So, Donis gave Alafair a dying brother-in-law, so she would take the train to support her sister as a family duty. She's the mother of ten kids, with Martha the oldest at twenty-four, and Grace, the youngest, at three. Martha volunteered to go with her mother to help, and that surprised Alafair. Martha has a job in a bank that she loves. But Martha had reasons to get out of town, and it involved a man.

Casey had to decide what time of year to set the book. She said Cherokee Strip Days, when Enid celebrates the run in September, were the most interesting days of the year. She went through old newspapers at the Enid Library, and went to the ones for Sept. 16, 1915 to find how the town celebrated. She hadn't realized it was only twenty-two years after the run, so most people were still alive who had made the run. There was a huge celebration in Enid, on the large double town square. For three days, that huge square was blocked off for a carnival, street dances and an two hour parade. The parade was led by the Cheyenne Indians. Donis' husband, Don, tells stories of seeing the Cheyennes come to town, and setting up their tepees. The population of Enid in 1915 was 25,000. Casey copied the description of the town celebration for her book. Eugene V. Debs, the head of the Socialist party, was the speaker. At that time, Oklahoma was a "lefty" state.

Casey also did research at the Museum of the Cherokee Strip. Like many towns, they had moved a schoolhouse, a Victorian house, and an old land office to the museum. There was also information about the oil boom going on right about that time. There was a big oil strike in 1916 right outside Enid. Donis said there were a million ways a person could kill themselves in the oil fields. When drilling oil wells, they often became plugged up. In order to open the well, they sent a torpedo down the well, made of nitroglycerin. Then they'd drop a weight down to explode it and open the well. There were special groups of people who did that work. And, they blew themselves up a lot. They were called shooters, and received huge bonus pay. They could be recognized by their missing body parts. Donis named one Pee Wee, and he had one eye, and missing fingers.

Census reports from 1910 and 1920 where a big help. In 1910, the population of Enid was divided by race, White, Black, Indian, and Asian. There was one Asian person in 1910. In 1920, there were five Asians. Donis said she wondered about that one Asian person, and what they were doing there, so she created an Asian woman for her book.

So, she has one Asian person, a shooter, oil wells, a fair, and Alafair comes to Enid during the fair. Her niece's husband has disappeared on a business trip at this time, and Alafair thinks he just took off, since she doesn't have a good opinion of him. There is also an evil businessman character, who owns an enormous bank building. He's an enemy of Alafair's dying brother-in-law. They both made the run twenty-two years earlier, and something happened. Also, Martha was running away from someone, who turns up in Enid. There are a number of side stories in the book. Casey said she loved the way The Sky Took Him turned out.

In describing Enid, Donis said it's flat, part of the Great Plains. The Chisholm Trail runs through it. It's flat, with oil and wheat fields, and red dirt. People who grew up there, like Donis' husband, are often claustrophobic because they're used to wide, open spaces. She said he grows nervous in sections of the country where the trees grow over the road and form a tunnel. In Enid, the wind blows continually.

Casey said she grew up in Oklahoma, and was thirty-six when she moved to Arizona. She realized it was the first time in her life she wasn't watching the weather all the time. She felt her shoulders relax. In Oklahoma, there's wind, and cold, tornadoes and ice storms. It's windy all the time. They have one nice month, October. In Arizona, the weather is calm, and she feels calm. In Oklahoma, people must be tough, and have a mental toughness to put up with the weather.

Donis was asked about Grace, and she said Grace is one of the most popular characters. Gee Dub is the other one, and he's based on a real person. He's the other one people like. She even received a letter from a man who knew the time period of the books, who told her not to kill Gee Dub in WWI.

She said she's trying to write one book for each kid in the family, and hopes she can pull it off. Each kid is different, so she might succeed. Grace was born in 1912. By the time she is 18, it will be 1930, and the Depression. Casey said she doesn't want to write about that period because that's the only thing so many people think of for Oklahoma. They don't realize that Oklahoma was rich. She wants to write about the booming, rich period.

In saying that, she said her publisher said not that many people would be killed in a year in a small town, and Donis laughed and commented that the publisher didn't know Oklahoma. That wouldn't be a stretch there, even today.

Donis pointed out the covers of her books, and that there are family pictures on the front of most of them. She bought the picture on the cover of The Drop Edge of Yonder because the woman looked just like her Aunt Mary, and Alafair's daughter, Mary, is the focus of this book. She told us the picture in the background is the family home, Alafair's home, in Boynton. And, the little girl on the cover of The Sky Took Him is Donis. That's supposed to be a picture of Grace.

The Sky Took Him is a statement Grace makes during the story. All of the titles are something a character says. When Grace goes to sleep, she says she goes to the sky. Grace is somewhat like her mother, extra-intuitive.

When she was asked about her characters, Casey said the characters become real people, and talk for themselves. According to Donis, Graham Greene said the first time a character does something you didn't expect is when they come alive, and then you let them to it. For her, writing is almost a spiritual experience. It's torture to write, and it takes her a year to write a book. But, once in a while, something happens, and it just comes out. There is a revelation at the end of The Sky Took Him, and Donis never saw it coming. She was just as shocked as Alafair when Alafair realized what had happened.

Donis Casey said, don't overthink the story. Just get out of the way.

For personal reasons, Donis has not been able to tour for The Sky Took Him. We're very grateful she was able to appear at the Velma Teague Library for the Authors @ The Teague series.

Donis Casey's website is

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The Sky Took Him by Donis Casey. Poisoned Pen Press, ©2009. ISBN 978-1-59058-571-9 (hardcover), 252p.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Liars Anonymous by Louise Ure

No one writes about wounded female characters in the way Louise Ure does, and she tops herself in her latest crime novel, Liars Anonymous.

Jessie Dancing was just doing her job as a Roadside Assistance Operator in Phoenix when she answered a distress call from a vehicle equipped with Hands On Emergency. The driver told her he was fine, and he'd check on the other driver. But, she thinks she hears Darren Markson in a fight, and then killed. Unfortunately for Jessie, the man's wife insists he's in New Mexico, so the Tucson police want to speak to her.

She doesn't want to return to Tucson, but Jessie is forced to go there to deal with the crime she knows she heard. Tucson was once her home, but after a violent incident in her past, her mother disowned her, and she left her large family behind. Now, one overheard incident draws her closer to the criminal world of the border city, with its connections to gangs and illegal aliens trying to cross from Mexico.

Liars Anonymous gives readers a character that is sympathetic in the beginning but, grows more difficult to like as the story develops. Jessie Dancing may not always be likable, but we're compelled to follow her. Jessie's role in life has brought her to this point. She's thirty-two, a woman who grew up the oldest of seven children, but the outsider in the family. Rejected by her mother, she's spent her life trying to be a hero, the one who could make things right for her brothers, her friends, for unprotected children. It's obvious when she remembers, "I'd always stocked my vehicles with the kind of stuff that would get my brothers out of whatever minor scrape they'd gotten into growing up. Need a tow? Call Jessie. Run out of gas? Call Jessie. Lost the key to the toolshed? Call Jessie. It was an old habit that was hard to break."

Jessie Dancing's old habits might help other people, but this time, her attempts to be the hero might be her fatal flaw. She's an avenging angel, on her own private crusade. Heroes can't always save themselves, though, and, Jessie spirals out-of-control in her rage, while she attempts to set wrongs right. Once again, Louise Ure creates a needy character that grows on the reader. Jessie Dancing makes Ure's Liars Anonymous her most powerful novel yet.

Louise Ure's website is

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Liars Anonymous by Louise Ure. St. Martin's Minotaur, ©2009. ISBN 9780312375867 (hardcover), 288p.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Interview with Justin Peacock, Edgar Nominee

Within the last week, I've had the chance to interview some of the authors whose books have been nominated for an Edgar Award for Best First Novel by an American Author. David Fuller and Tom Epperson both took time for interviews. Justin Peacock, author of A Cure for Night, is answering questions here today.

Justin, thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions, and introduce yourself to my readers, many of them mystery fans. Would you tell us a little about yourself?

I was born in Detroit. After graduating from the University of Michigan, I eventually found my way to New York City, where I have lived for most of my adult life. I did sneak out of the city for law school, but returned after graduation. I had a fairly wide-ranging legal practice prior to my book’s being published, but am currently working full time on my second novel. I live in Park Slope, Brooklyn, with my wife, a civil rights lawyer. You can learn more about me at

Your novel, A Cure for Night, has been nominated for the Edgar. Can you summarize the book for us?

A Cure for Night is narrated by a young lawyer, Joel Deveraux, whose white shoe legal career collapses after a drug-related scandal at his law firm. He becomes a public defender in Brooklyn, where he tries to rebuild his life while adjusting to a legal world that operates by very different rules. Joel ends up second chairing the high-profile case of a black pot dealer accused of killing a white college student, working alongside a prickly but vulnerable female attorney.

Justin, I read an article about your love of Brooklyn. How important is the setting in your novel?

The novel is very much intended as a valentine to Brooklyn (to the extent that a book about a murder trial can be such a thing…). Part of the early inspiration for Cure was the idea of writing a New York City novel that took place entirely outside of Manhattan. Brooklyn is a place of incredible diversity, which makes it a perfect setting for a book about the urban criminal justice system. That system brings together disparate elements of the city that would otherwise never meet.

How did you learn about your Edgar nomination? What was your reaction?

My wife told me as soon as I woke up that morning (a friend who works in publishing had alerted her). It was a tremendously exciting way to start the day, especially to be nominated for an award that has so much history and tradition behind it.

Did you always want to be a writer? What pushed you to write your first novel?

I’ve been writing seriously since I was in high school, and wrote countless pages of apprentice work, including an unpublished novel. I wrote Cure while working full time as a lawyer, which made it a very drawn out process. The original kernel of the idea was to write as realistic a courtroom novel as I could, while still having enough drama and intrigue to keep readers turning the pages.

Who would you say influenced you in your writing? Who do you like to read?

I’m an extremely eclectic reader, and I enjoy all sorts of fiction. I’m particularly interested in novels that explore how social forces impact on characters, and in turn how protagonists battle against the imposition of social roles. To me, there’s a direct line between the novels that Dickens and Balzac wrote in 19th century Europe and those that people like Richard Price and Dennis Lehane write today. I’m far more interested in novels that are actively engaged with society (without preaching) than I am in navel-gazing tales of upper-middle-class anomie.

As to influences, there are really too many to count.

I hope you're going to be attending the Edgar Awards ceremony at the end of the month. Who would you like to meet there, and why?

I’m definitely going to be there and am really looking forward to it. It’ll no doubt be a great chance to meet a lot of talented people in the mystery community. While I’m certainly hoping that some of my favorite writers will be there and that I’ll have the chance to meet them, I’m also really looking forward to meeting my fellow nominees in the best first novel category. While it’s certainly exciting to meet those who have inspired you and who have reached the pinnacle of success, I think it’s even better to get acquainted with your peers. Hopefully my fellow nominees and I will be encountering one another at future events for many years to come.

We're almost finished, Justin, but I have one question I always ask. I'm a public librarian. Do you have any special memories or comments about libraries?

I really fell in love with books during my early teenage years. My local library definitely played a very important role in my literary education – I couldn’t afford to buy many books, and the public library was my primary supplier throughout high school. I have very fond memories of the time I spent in that library, and the many, many books I read from there.
Also, as a first time writer, I’ve been very gratified by the support my book has received from the librarian community.

Thank you, Justin, for taking time to introduce yourself, and A Cure for Night. Good luck with the book, and the Edgar award.

Justin Peacock already said his website is

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A Cure for Night by Justin Peacock. Bamtam Books, ©2008. ISBN 9780385525800 (hardcover), 336p.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Buffalo Mountain by Frederick Ramsay

Frederick Ramsay's Ike Schwartz mysteries are so meaty that I discover something else in each new book in this series. Buffalo Mountain, the third book, is no exception.

It's not even winter yet in the Shenandoah Valley, but the weather is threatening, and the residents aren't well-prepared for snow. Sheriff Ike Schwartz' small department isn't well-prepared for their latest crime. When Deputy Sheriff Whaite Billingsly calls in that he found a body with identification as Randall Harris, it's one thing, possibly an ongoing feud between two mountain families. But, when Sheriff Ike recognizes the body as a former Russian spy, suddenly it's not only a murder case. It's an investigation that involves the CIA, and other unnamed national agencies. Even so, Whaite heads to his childhood home in Floyd County, looking for a local killer from the mountains.

Ramsay continues to develop the story of Picketsville, Sheriff Ike Schwartz, and his department. As Ike's relationship with Ruth Harris, president of Callend College, continues to develop, it's just one indication of the bad blood between "town and gown" in Picketsville. The faculty doesn't trust Ike, and the townspeople are suspicious of anyone associated with the university. Neither Ike nor Ruth are sure where their relationship is going, but Ike's dying mother has some ideas.

Although these are Ike Schwartz mysteries, after the first book that introduced him, each book highlights different members of the department. In this one, Whaite Billingsly, a deputy who left behind his mountain upbringing, finds himself trying to fit in to solve a crime. Yet Ramsay is well-aware the department doesn't investigate in a vacuum, and he includes characters readers will recognize from previous books. Although anyone could read these books without reading the previous ones, there is added pleasure in catching up with the sheriff's staff and the townspeople we've met before.

I'm beginning to look forward to Ramsay's return to the Shenandoah Valley, and Sheriff Ike Schwartz. These are solid traditional mysteries, with an intelligent investigator. The fifth book, Choker, is due out in June. I can't wait!

Frederick Ramsay's website is

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Buffalo Mountain by Frederic Ramsay. Poisoned Pen Press, ©2007. ISBN 9781590583692 (hardcover), 257p.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sunday Salon- Interview with Tom Epperson, Edgar Nominee

At the end of the month, the Mystery Writers of America will present the Edgar Awards. On Thursday, I interviewed David Fuller, one of the nominees for Best First Novel by an American Author. Today, we're lucky enough to be joined by Tom Epperson, nominated for that same award for his novel, The Kind One.

Tom, thank you for answering some questions for my readers. Would you tell us a little bit about yourself, and, we might as well get the Billy Bob Thornton question out of the way early. Tell us about your friendship and work with him as well, please.

I grew up in Arkansas in the little town of Malvern. I decided when I was 18 that I wanted to be a writer and have pretty much dedicated my life to writing since then. I got a B.A. in English from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and an M.A. in English from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. In my late teens and into my twenties I wrote hundreds of poems, dozens of short stores, and a couple of novels; with the exception of one short story and a handful of poems, it all went unpublished. When I was 30, I decided--what the heck?--I'd move to Los Angeles and try to become a Hollywood writer. My boyhood pal Billy Bob Thornton went with me. We wrote scripts together and Billy tried to break into acting. It was a long struggle for us. It took us four years to get an agent, six years to sell a script, and 10 years to get a movie made. But that movie, ONE FALSE MOVE, got a lot of critical acclaim and opened doors for us as writers and for Billy as an actor. Two other scripts that we wrote that became movies are A FAMILY THING and THE GIFT ( a couple of our other scripts were turned into lousy movies that will go unnamed here). In recent years, I've returned to my first love, writing novels. I live in the Los Angeles area with my wife Stefani, our three cats, Sunny, Trubble, and Sheera, and Bodhi, our rambunctious young dog.

Your novel, The Kind One, has been nominated for an Edgar. Would you summarize it for us, Tom?

THE KIND ONE takes place in 1934 in the criminal underworld of Los Angeles. Danny Landon is a young man working for mobster Bud Seitz. Seitz is so vicious and sadistic he's been given the ironic nickname of "the Kind One." Danny has a nickname too. "Two Gun Danny" because of his exploits when he and the boys pulled a heist job on a gambling ship. At least, that's what Danny's told, because he doesn't remember a darn thing about it. He was conked on the head a year ago with a lead pipe and has lost his memory of all that happened before that. The funny thing is, Danny doesn't FEEL like a gangster. He's basically a nice guy, and violence frightens and sickens him. Danny's life is complicated and becomes even more so when he finds himself falling for Darla, Seitz's beautiful young girlfriend. Darla has grown to hate Seitz, and wants to escape the dark brutal world of the Kind One. And she wants Two Gun Danny to help her...

How is writing screenplays different from writing novels? And, what was your favorite movie that was made from one of your screenplays, and why?

I think writing a novel is more akin to making a movie than it is to writing a screenplay because a book and a movie are finished creations while a screenplay is only one step (albeit a very important one) in a long and complicated process. For that reason I find writing a novel about a thousand times more fun and satisfying (and difficult) than writing a script. ONE FALSE MOVE, which I wrote with Billy, is the movie I like most among the ones that I've written. Well directed, powerfully acted, beautifully shot--I think it packs a punch. Bill Paxton is terrific as an ordinary man forced to confront both violent criminals and his own dark past.

Who would you say influenced you in your writing? Who do you like to read now?

Vladimir Nabokov was an early influence. I read LOLITA when I was 19 and was stunned by its brilliance. I still think it's the best novel ever written. Another influence was Hemingway. Obviously these writers are very different in sensibilities and styles, but I learned lessons from both.

Tom, I hope you're going to be attending the Edgar Awards ceremony at the end of April. What author would you like to meet there? Why?

Hoping to bump into the pipe-smoking, whiskey-sipping ghost of Raymond Chandler. I think no one else has ever written so well in the detective/mystery realm as he.

Are you working on another book? Can you tell us anything about it?

I am indeed working on another book. I'm about three quarters of the way through it. I'm willing to say that it's a contemporary crime novel, but beyond that I'm keeping the cat in the bag.

And, the last question is one I always ask, Tom. I'm a public librarian. Do you have any special memories or comments about libraries?

I remember as a kid riding my bike on hot summer days to the Hot Spring County Library in Malvern, Arkansas. I liked the narrow aisles and crowded shelves, the dusty musty smell of old books. My favorite book was SPACECAT MEETS MARS. I read it repeatedly, and never tired of the description of the spacecat from earth snagging fish out of the Martian canals.

Ah ha! Maybe a clue as to why Tom Epperson has three cats? Tom, thank you for taking the time to answer questions. And, good luck with The Kind One, and the Edgar Awards.

Tom Epperson's website is

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The Kind One by Tom Epperson. Cengage Gale, ©2008. ISBN 9781594146176 (hardcover), 377p.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Odd Man Out by Matt McCarthy

Matt McCarthy wouldn't be what anyone would expect of a professional baseball player. He graduated from Yale, where he studied molecular biophysics and biochemistry. He's now graduated from Harvard Medical School, and is an intern. But, for one year, he lived the dream of so many men, to play professional baseball, even if it was in the minor leagues. He tells that story in Odd Man Out: A Year on the Mound with a Minor League Misfit.

Like so many young athletes, McCarthy's dream was to pitch in the major leagues. Even though he was always on a losing team at Yale, he was hopeful that he might be drafted since he was that in-demand player, a left-handed pitcher. And, like so many young athletes, he had no thought in his head as to what he would do if he wasn't drafted. Fortunately, McCarthy was drafted by the Anaheim Angels, and spent the summer of 2002 playing for the Provo Angels, an affiliate team.

Matt McCarthy pulls no punches. He's honest about the popularity of drugs and steroids, drinking and sex, in the minors. He tells the truth about the racial divide between the Americans, and all of the Hispanic players, referred to as the "Dominicans", no matter where they were from. And, he tells about the rigorous life, playing 76 games in 80 days in the Pioneer League, where players just drafted play. He's also honest about himself, growing from a hopeful young athlete who occasionally gets his pitch up to 90 m.p.h., to a realistic player knowing he isn't as good as some of the pitchers he watches.

Baseball books are always gritty, with language and horseplay that is typical of men showing off for each other. But, baseball books, like Odd Man Out, often have a great deal of heart. It's a sport that's hard to leave behind for those who had a brief glimpse of the good life. McCarthy said, "A year later I'd be on the other side of country in Boston, preparing to enter medical school and begin a new life - a life after baseball, if that's ever possible."

At one point, McCarthy's manager says, "Be thankful that you're out here. Be thankful that you get to put on the uniform every goddamn day, and give it all you got while you still can." McCarthy agrees. "It sounded like a cliché, but his words rang true. We couldn't make a living playing minor league baseball, we could barely subsist. But playing professional baseball was better than not playing professional baseball, and for many of us this was about seeing how long we could play the game and not do anything else."

I found Odd Man Out to be fascinating, and tragic. But, that's my view, as a woman. Most of us will never understand the yearning that men have for just that one opportunity to play baseball. My husband, Jim, read the book with a feeling of melancholy. He had a successful career as a high school catcher, scholarship offers, and a baseball contract. And, then he rolled his car over, broke his shoulder, and lost all chances for that baseball dream. He was so envious of McCarthy, a man who had even one short season in the minor leagues. In reading the book, I don't think it's ever, "Look how far I went. I achieved something other men would give their eyeteeth for. I played professional baseball." Instead, for every man who never achieved that dream, I think this book says, "It was a great year, but, no matter what I do as a doctor, I could have been a baseball player." For all of those men, I don't know that a life after baseball is ever possible. Matt McCarthy's Odd Man Out gives all of those men, and baseball fans, the chance to understand a little of what that life is like, in all of the realistic details.

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Odd Man Out: A Year on the Mound with a Minor League Misfit by Matt McCarthy. Viking, ©2009. ISBN 9780670020706 (hardcover), 304p.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Chalice by Robin McKinley

I met Robin McKinley thirty years ago, soon after her first book, Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast, came out. I was so impressed by that book, but, for some reason, I've never read another. Then a co-worker told me I would like McKinley's latest book, Chalice. She was right.

Chalice is labeled Young Adult, but it's an intense, thoughtful book that will appeal to many adults. Mirasol was a beekeeper, content with her life in Willowlands, but when the land's Master and Chalice died tragically in a fire, Mirasol was called to a higher role. Suddenly, the ruling Circle had to unify the land with a new Master and Chalice. Six months before the Master could return, Mirasol was picked as the Chalice, a difficult position needed to unite the Master with his Circle, and the land itself. Then, the late Master's brother was called home from his study of the priesthood of Fire. It would be tough enough for the new Master to return home, but the land, the demesne, had suffered so much under the previous Master that Chalice and the Master faced an almost insurmountable task.

In Beauty, McKinley beautifully retold the story of Beauty and the Beast. In Chalice, she creates her own heroine, a young woman who cares deeply for the land, and is willing to fight the Overlord who wants to control Willowlands, even though she knows she has limited ability. Chalice is dependant on her bees, honey, and her love of the land for her power. Will she be able to unite her own power, her Master's strange affinity for fire, and the land's needs? Chalice is a story of love, land, sacrifice, and honey. Don't think of this as a young adult novel. Think of Chalice as a powerful green novel.

Robin McKinley's website is

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Chalice by Robin McKinley. G.P. Putnam's Sons, ©2008. ISBN 9780399246760 (hardcover), 272p.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Winners and Something to Die For Giveaways

Congratulations to the winners of the Laura Lippman contest. In a Strange City will go to Heather S. from Georgetown, IL. Charm City goes to Jeffrey B. of San Clemente, CA. The books will go out in the mail tomorrow.

This week, Radine Trees Nehring was kind enough to provide autographed copies of two of her mysteries in her "Something to Die For" series. An elderhostel in Hot Springs, Arkansas is turned upside down when widow Carrie McCrite disappears, and retired detective Henry King is on the case. Throw in stolen cash that was hidden, sealed in tins for forty years, and all of the people who know about the hidden money. That's the third book in the series, A Treasure to Die For.

Or, you could win the fifth book in the series, A River to Die For. Nehring

tells of a camping trip that goes dangerously wrong when Carrie and Henry's relatives disappear at the Buffalo National River.

Do you want to win A Treasure to Die For, or A River to Die For? You can enter to win both, but I need two separate entries. If you'd like to win one, email me at Email me!. If that link doesn't work for you, the email address is: Your subject line should read either Win "Treasure" or Win "River". Your message should include your mailing address. Entrants only in the U.S., please.

The contest will end Thursday, April 23 at 6 p.m. PT. Jim will draw the winners at that time. The winners will be notified, and the books will go out in the mail on Friday. Good luck!

Interview with David Fuller, Edgar Nominee

On April 30, the Mystery Writers of America will present the Edgar Award for Best First Novel by an American Author to one of five authors, Tom Epperson, David Fuller, Francie Lin, Charlie Newton or Justin Peacock. I'm lucky enough to be able to interview three of these authors, and share those interviews here.

Today, I'm fortunate to have the chance to ask questions of David Fuller, author of Sweetsmoke (Hyperion). Thank you, David, for answering questions for my readers. As an Edgar nominee for Best First Novel by an American Author, your name is probably unfamiliar to many readers. Would you tell us a little about yourself?

Hello, Lesa. It's a pleasure to get a chance to answer your questions. I was born in Chicago, and lived for a number of my pre-teen years in Europe. I had planned to be a painter – and went to an art school for a year -- but got the bug to make movies. I knew that to have any kind of chance to work in film I would need to learn to write. I spent many years writing screenplays professionally, and a number of films have been made from my work. Some of those films even have my real name on them. And one of the movies with my name on it does not include any of my work! Welcome to Hollywood.

I have been married for many years to the wonderful Liz Sayre, and we have a couple of 11 year old boys.

Your novel, Sweetsmoke, has been nominated for an Edgar. Would you summarize it for us, without spoilers?

SWEETSMOKE is the story of Cassius Howard, a slave on a tobacco plantation during the Civil War. Cassius goes after the murderer of a freed black woman, a woman who once saved his life and taught him how to read. Cassius’s journey is dangerous; if caught, he faces extreme punishment in the form of whippings, hobbling or even death. But it is a journey he is compelled to make once he gets a taste of knowledge.

How did you learn about your Edgar nomination, David? What was your reaction?

My wife and I walk our sons to school every morning, then take a long walk ourselves. We returned home to find a phone message from my agent, Deborah Schneider. She was anxious to speak to me, as she was about to board an airplane. As excited as I was, I think she was even more pleased. I then heard from my UK editor, Jenny Parrott, via email. My publisher didn’t know, so I got to be the bearer of good news.

Like another nominee, Tom Epperson, you have written screenplays. How is writing a screenplay different than writing a novel? Do you have a favorite screenplay?

A screenplay is the skeleton for a motion picture. It must be lean, and had better be simple and straightforward. Screenplays run around 120 pages, as they roughly translate to a minute a page. Characters need to be introduced quickly, and the plot should kick in fast. There is no room for long descriptive passages or introspection. Novels allow the writer to get inside a character’s head. You also have breathing room to explore ideas, to ‘visualize’ through language the world around you. In SWEETSMOKE, I included a chapter wherein Cassius reads the opening to THE ILIAD for the first time. He has a small, pleasant epiphany when he reads that the god Apollo sends a plague down upon the Greeks in order to force them to free the slave girl Chryseis. To read of a god helping to free a slave – what a revelation. A moment like that would never be found in a movie, but in a novel there is room to explore the workings of Cassius’s mind.

You ask if I have a favorite screenplay. If you mean of all the screenplays I have read, there are many wonderful screenplays, including Robert Towne’s CHINATOWN, which is so good it has ruined many screenwriters. If you mean of my own work, I am sorry to say that you would not have heard of it, as the best screenplays rarely get made, although sometimes they get sold. I wrote for a number of years with an excellent partner, Rick Natkin, and our most commercial screenplay was made into the worst movie of the 1990s. It was an original screenplay that was rewritten completely. Not one word we wrote is in that movie, but we were unable to get our names off the film. That film was THE TAKING OF BEVERLY HILLS, and the original screenplay remains a real kick in the pants.

Did you always want to be a writer, David?

As mentioned earlier, I did not always want to be a writer. But I loved to tell stories. SWEETSMOKE was a story I felt could not be told properly in screenplay form – and I was concerned at what it might become once I sold it (see above, The Taking of Beverly Hills). I could only imagine some movie executive saying, “You know, this is very good… but does Cassius have to be black?” I wanted readers to read my actual words and feel the story they way I felt it.

What pushed you to write your first novel?

Without meaning to sound coy, what pushed me to write my first novel had something to do with arrogance and a feeling that I actually had something to say. That novel, by the way, was not SWEETSMOKE, but a tortured and arty creation I wrote coming out of college. It was quite terrible, but I learned an enormous amount about writing, particularly what not to do when you’re writing a novel.

Who would you say influenced you in your writing? Who do you like to read now?

Everyone influenced me. There are great writers whose work I’m sure accidentally slips through onto my pages. There are also terrible writers whose work may do the same thing. In the case of SWEETSMOKE, I was influenced by Patrick O’Brian, author of the Aubrey/Maturin series, as he wrote brilliantly about the early 1800s, and I needed to be in that century. It was a lucky connection, as he was writing about England and warships early in the century, while I was writing about a tobacco plantation in Virginia in the middle of the century. Over the years, I have had the great good fortune to be surrounded by a number of excellent writers who have been gracious enough to read my work in its various incarnations and give honest, brutal notes. The first such author was Carter Scholz, author of RADIANCE, and I am forever grateful to him for his patience and cranky specificity.

I wish I had more time to read for pleasure. Right now I am only able to read non-fiction books for research for my next novel.

If you attend the Edgar Awards ceremony at the end of the month, what author would you like to meet there? Why?

I plan to attend the Edgar ceremony, and there are so many authors I would like to meet. I look forward to meeting them all.

Are you working on another book? Can you tell us anything about it?

I am working on another book. I presented four ideas to my agent, and she pointed to one, pulling me off the book that I assumed she would approve. I am doing research for it now, but unlike SWEETSMOKE, I will not spend eight years researching. I hope to begin writing in earnest some time this summer. I can tell you that it will be set in the years after the Civil War.

And, the last question is one I always ask. I'm a public librarian, David. Do you have any special memories or comments about libraries?

Our local library is a block and a half away, and there are tiles in their courtyard with my sons’ names on them. My boys and I never go there without visiting their tiles. When they were little, I particularly enjoyed taking them to the library, as we would sit on cushions in the children’s section and I would read to them. Sometimes other children would be drawn in to listen.

Our local library, although small, has a beautiful copy of Alexander Pope’s translation of THE ILIAD, which I borrowed and worked from in the section of SWEETSMOKE where Cassius first encounters Apollo. I also found a number of books I did not know existed about slave life on the plantation. I honor my local library, and the joy was discovering how incredibly important it was to my research.

Thanks so much, Lesa, for giving me the opportunity to speak with you.

Thank you, David. I really appreciate the time you took for the interview. And, what beautiful library comments! Thank you. And, good luck at the Edgar Awards!

David Fuller's website is

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Sweetsmoke by David Fuller. Hyperion, ©2008. ISBN 9781401323318 (hardcover), 320p.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Magnolias, Moonlight and Murder by Sara Rosett

Despite the fact that Sara Rosett's last Mom Zone Mystery, Getting Away is Deadly was set in a city I love, Washington, D.C., I felt it was the weakest entry in this series. Rosett, and her character, Ellie Avery, are back on top of their game in Magnolias, Moonlight, and Murder.

Ellie is an air force wife, mother of two, and a professional organizer. When it gets a little trying spending the day with a three year old and a toddler, Ellie heads out for a walk with the dog, a chance to get out after a week of rain. But, as she and Rex follow the well-used path by a small cemetery, they find an uncovered grave. The rain could have washed away the dirt, but it really shouldn't have uncovered two skulls.

In their previous posting in Washington, Ellie had been known to poke around in a few murder cases. She promises her husband, Mitch, she's not interested in this one. But, then Nita Locksworth shows up at her door, wanting to know about the skulls. It's only then that Ellie finds out they're renting the house where a young woman lived who disappeared over ten months ago. Jodi Locksworth was Nita's daughter, and it's not hard for Ellie to be sucked into the investigation by a needy mother. And, of course, appearing at community gatherings will give her the chance to promote her organizing business, one that has stalled in the new location. It isn't long before Ellie realizes there were two people who went missing from the small Georgia town, Jodi, and a man who disappeared over fifty years earlier.

This time, Rosett has matched her skill with characters with a well-developed mystery. Some of the charm of this series lies in Ellie's life, as a dedicated military wife and loving mother. The fine details of Ellie's life are important to the storylines, from the birthday parties to finding chairs for a adult party to celebrate her husband's promotion. I've always been happy to read about a mother whose children are not left alone while she's off investigating a murder. Despite Ellie's interest in solving murders, her first concern is always her family. And, unlike so many other cozy mysteries, in this series, it makes sense for Ellie to become involved. Wouldn't you want to know what happened to the woman who disappeared when she was living in your house? Ellie does. These elements all combine to make Magnolias, Moonlight, and Murder the best entry in Sara Rosett's series.

Sara Rosett's website is

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Magnolias, Moonlight, and Murder by Sara Rosett. Kensington Publishing Corporation, ©2009. ISBN 9780758226815 (hardcover), 288p.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Love Mercy by Earlene Fowler

Earlene Fowler has been best known for her Benni Harper mysteries. The Saddlemaker's Wife was a successful novel, but, with Love Mercy she has written a story that should be snatched up by those of us who love Barbara Samuel's strong female characters. It's a true pleasure to meet Love Mercy Johnson, her family and friends.

If you're a fan of Benni Harper, don't hesitate to pick up this book, the first of what may be a number of Love Mercy novels. Benni, her husband, Gabe, and her grandma, Dove, are minor characters in this book, set in Morro Bay in the fictional county of San Celina on California's central coast. This book is set in 2008, instead of the 1990s like the Benni Harper series. But, don't expect a mystery. In her Author's Note, Fowler says, "But they will deal with another kind of mystery: that of the human heart, especially with how it pertains to family."

Love Mercy is the story of three grieving women who discover how much they need each other. At fifty-eight, Love Mercy Johnson has friends, but her family is gone. She's still mourning the death of her husband, Cy, a year earlier. Her son was killed by a drunk driver years earlier, and her former daughter-in-law is estranged, so Love hasn't had contact with her three granddaughters in years. She's holding her life together as co-owner of Buttercream Café, a photographer, and watching over her aging in-laws on their ranch. Her friend, Melina LeBlanc, is assisting at the ranch, but keeps her own secrets about her former life as a police officer in Las Vegas. When one of Love Mercy's granddaughters, Rett, shows up at the café, she brings her own problems with her. At eighteen, she's old enough to have left home, but the young songwriter carries a broken heart, and a stolen banjo.

Earlene Fowler creates characters the reader wants as friends, from Love Mercy to her friend and café co-owner, Magnolia Sanchez, to Love's boss, and, of course, Benni and Gabe. Her story probes the inner workings of the heart, loss and love. Love Mercy is filled with warm, hard-working, ordinary people. This book is a homecoming to a community of caring people. Let's hope Earlene Fowler gets her wish, for more books about Love Mercy Johnson, her friends and family.

Earlene Fowler's website is

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Love Mercy by Earlene Fowler. Berkley Books, ©2009. ISBN 9780425225974 (hardcover), 336p.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Book Geek Note

Meg Waite Clayton, author of The Wednesday Sisters, tagged me on this on Facebook "because she thinks you might be a book geek, just like her." Well, she's definitely right, but I don't know how to put all of those questions on Facebook as a note, so I'm doing it here on my blog. If you'd like to add your own book geek comments, I'm interested!

Copy the questions into your own note, answer the questions, and tag any friends who would appreciate the quiz.

1) What author do you own the most books by?

I own all four of Louise Penny's books. I have three of Barbara Samuel's, all three of Louise Ure's, and three of Mary Anne Evans'. I own four of J.R.R. Tolkien's. But, I own six of Chris Grabenstein's!

2) What book do you own the most copies of?

I'm not really into owning multiple copies. Jim owns multiple copies of Mitch Albom's The Five People You Meet in Heaven, and he and I own two copies of Barack Obama's The Audacity of Hope, but I think that's it.

3) Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions?

They did? ;-)

4) What fictional character are you secretly in love with?

I wouldn't mind being married to Penny's Armand Gamache. I guess I'm getting old. My favorite character is one who loves and respects his wife, even after years of marriage.

5) What book have you read the most times in your life (excluding picture books read to children)?

A book called A Thread of Blue Denim by Patricia Leimbach. It's a book that speaks to my heart, and my sense of home.

6) What was your favorite book when you were ten years old?

Probably Snow Treasure by Marie McSwigan.

7) What is the worst book you've read in the past year?

If it was so bad, I never finished it. So, I don't have an answer to this question.

8) What is the best book you've read in the past year?

I'm taking this literally, April to April. I pick Sandra Dallas' Prayers for Sale, although The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins would be a close second.

9) If you could force everyone you tagged to read one book, what would it be?

The Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas, with her book, Tallgrass, a close second.

10) Who deserves to win the next Nobel Prize for Literature?

I wouldn't know because I don't read literary fiction. They'll never give the award to my favorite writers, mystery authors.

11) What book would you most like to see made into a movie?

Baby Shark by Robert Fate

12) What book would you least like to see made into a movie?

I don't think they'd ever do justice to Chris Grabenstein's Ceepak mysteries.

13) Describe your weirdest dream involving a writer, book, or literary character.

I can't remember ever dreaming about a writer, book or literary character.

14) What is the most lowbrow book you've read as an adult?

Maybe Erik Torkells' A Stingray Bit My Nipple!, but I can at least say I read it for a review.

15) What is the most difficult book you've ever read?

George Eliot's Silas Marner. Hated it, hated it, hated it. After that, even in college, I refused to finish books I hated.

16) What is the most obscure Shakespeare play you've seen?

Oh, Meg's answer is too good not to copy here. So, from Meg Waite Clayton,

'Are any Shakespeare plays obscure? Obscure, from my dictionary: “relatively unknown”. Where do I sign up for Shakespeare-level obscurity?'

17) Do you prefer the French or the Russians?

Neither. Give me Americans, British or Canadians.

18) Roth or Updike?

Neither. See answer #10.

19) David Sedaris or Dave Eggers?


20) Shakespeare, Milton, or Chaucer?


21) Austen or Eliot?


22) What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading?

At the end of the year, I've seldom read any books that make the literary "Best of" lists. I've usually read most of the popular mysteries, though!

23) What is your favorite novel?

The Hobbit

24) Play?

Les Miserables

25) Poem?

You may have tangible wealth untold.
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be,
I had a mother who read to me.

— Strickland Gillilan

Although my mother made a pillow for me, with the last two lines of this poem on it, changing the words to "a father who read to me," and placed a picture of my father reading to me on it.

26) Essay?

It's an essay that tells the story of my life. It's called "Literary Landscapes", and it's from Patricia Leimbach's A Thread of Blue Denim. It begins, "There is a very special sort of young girl who will pass the summer oblivious to heat and household routine, picnics and pool parties, vacation and vexation. She is the asocial creature suspended in the stage between baseball and boys, whose all-consuming passion is books." I used to use this essay for Readers' Theatre. And, I could so identify with this sentence, 'Hauled off on vacation, she will look up from her book long enough to remark, "Oh, are those the Grand Tetons?"' I love that essay, and I can put my hands on the book at anytime from my chair in the living room.

27) And... what are you reading right now?

I'm reading Liars Anonymous by Louise Ure, Love Mercy by Earlene Fowler, and Night Kill by Ann Littlewood.

28) What's the best title for a book ever (you don't have to like the book).

Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes. Although I have some runners-up - Sharon Kay Penman's Here Be Dragons, and Nancy Patz' picture book, Pumpernickel Tickle and Mean Green Cheese.

This takes a little time, but I'd love to see other bloggers put it up!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Sunday Salon - Prayers for Sale by Sandra Dallas

It's a story of hardship, suffering, tragedy and loss, love and forgiveness. And, despite the tragedy, Sandra Dallas' Prayers for Sale is a story told with joy.

As in earlier books, such as The Persian Pickle Club, Dallas takes readers back to the Depression, this time to 1936 in Middle Swan, Colorado. Middle Swan is a mining community high in the mountains. It's been home to Hennie Comfort for seventy of her eighty-six years, although her daughter, Mae, is now insisting she spend winters with her in Iowa. So, Hennie is not looking forward to her future when she meets Nit Spindle.

When Hennie first sees Nit, she's standing in the snow at Hennie's gate, eyeing the sign that says "Prayers for Sale". Nit begs the older woman for a prayer for a baby. Nit quickly left, but her southern accent and her request tugged on Hennie's heart. Nit, a seventeen year old from Kentucky, married just two years, reminded Hennie of her own stories, since she married young in Tennessee, and watched her young husband disappear as a Confederate soldier. Hennie told of her youth, and, then, as she learned Nit's background, she slowly revealed the stories of her life, as the two women quilted together. It wasn't an easy life, but Hennie was a strong woman who overcame tragedy, and she hopes her life stories will help Nit overcome the bad times in her own life.

Sandra Dallas' books are not appreciated as they should be. Perhaps it's because they are books about the lives of women. But, they are not as simple as they appear. Prayers for Sale looks to be a book about an old woman's story, but it's so much more. The book spans the time period from the Civil War in Tennessee through Prohibition and the Depression in Colorado. Hennie's memories include life in a mining community, a brutal life of miners' deaths, whorehouses, and women or infants that die in childbirth. Throughout the book, Hennie's eyes view her life and community with love, and she sees the beauty in the land she has grown to cherish. Maybe Dallas' books aren't appreciated because she knows how important women were to life and death of communities, and how important it was for those women to be there for each other. Quilting is a device she uses in so many of her books, to show the need women have to get together and share their lives.

Hennie Comfort may be the storyteller, but Sandra Dallas puts magic in the words and phrases. When Nit and Hennie first meet, Nit asks about the sign, Prayers for Sale, and Hennie says, "That sign's older than God's old dog." The music in Hennie's words catches the reader up, just as much as it does Nit. Prayers for Sale is a book that will stay with me, just as Dallas' The Persian Pickle Club and Tallgrass still linger in my memory.

Sandra Dallas' website is

Prayers for Sale by Sandra Dallas. St. Martin's Press, ©2009. ISBN 9780312385187 (hardcover), 320p.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

I Love You, Miss Huddleston by Philip Gulley

If you don't read Philip Gulley's books because you think of him as the Quaker minister who writes those "nice" stories about Harmony, think again. Gulley's stories of his childhood, compiled in I Love You, Miss Huddleston: and Other Inappropriate Longings of My Indiana Childhood, is on a par with Bill Bryson's The Life and Times of The Thunderbolt Kid. If you want amusing stories of a boy growing up in the Midwest, pick Gulley's book. It's funnier than Bryson's.

Philip Gulley must have inherited his storytelling skills from his father, a man who told him he won their house in a poker game. Philip was the fourth of five children, with his only sister the oldest one. He may have been a sickly child, but he took full advantage of his Indiana boyhood, riding bikes with his best friends, Peanut and Bill, taking hilarious family vacations, and getting into numerous scrapes with his friends. I challenge readers to get through the chapter, "My Sporadic Uprisings" without laughing. Miss Huddleston refers to his sixth grade teacher, a woman Philip had a crush on. His grades improved in school that year, until he realized if he passed, he'd have to leave Miss Huddleston. This is a terrific story of remembered boyhood.

"Remembered boyhood" brings up an interesting point, particularly for those of us who listened to or read Laura Lippman's comments about memoirs. Gulley quotes Gordon Livingston as saying in his book, Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart, "Memory is not, as many of us think, an accurate transcription of past experience. Rather it is a story we tell ourselves about the past, full of distortions, wishful thinking, and unfulfilled dreams." Gulley says this book is "the story I have told myself about my adolescence."

Those of us who were lucky enough to grow up when we still played outside, and ran free during the summers with our friends, will appreciate the carefree days shared by Philip Gulley and his friends. We're lucky he shared them with us in I Love You, Miss Huddleston.

Philip Gulley's website is

I Love You, Miss Huddleston by Philip Gulley. HarperOne, ©2009. ISBN 9780060736590 (hardcover), 208p.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Secrets by Frederick Ramsay

Can anyone tell that I've become a big fan of Frederick Ramsay's Sheriff Ike Schwartz series? Secrets is only the third one I've read, but I'm totally hooked on this series. And, since Ramsay only lives about a half an hour from the library, I'm planning to invite him to appear there this fall after his next book, Choker, is out.

In Secrets, Ramsay utilizes his background as an Episcopal priest. The story starts with a startling scene. Waldo Templeton creeps into the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Episcopal Church at night, only to be cut down by gunfire. What was the church organist doing there? The death in the church stirs up trouble, from gossip to murder, for Sheriff Ike Schwartz and the new priest, Randolph Blake Foster, Jr.

Blake fled from trouble in Philadelphia to what he considers a backwoods parish. Now, he's a murder suspect with a missing gun, and a dead man behind his altar. He's fortunate that Schwartz is smarter than he's given credit for. And, they're both lucky that Schwartz recently hired a computer whiz, Sam (Samantha) Ryder. Who would ever suspect that Picketsville, Virginia and the local Episcopal church were such hotbeds of crime? Gossip and sin lead to the theft and murder in Ramsay's latest crime novel.

Ramsay's books are fascinating police procedurals, but, like Vicki Delany's books, they delve into small town life. There are depths to these books, with well-developed characters with interesting backgrounds. And, I found the "Butterfly Effect" intriguing - "Small decisions - critical outcomes." I want to ask Ramsay if he read Ray Bradbury's "A Sound of Thunder", or, if there is something else about butterflies I don't understand.

Secrets left me satisfied, and eager to read the next book in the series, Buffalo Mountain.

Frederick Ramsay's website is

Secrets by Frederick Ramsay. Poisoned Pen Press, ©2005. ISBN 9781590581889 (hardcover), 290p.