Tuesday, June 30, 2009

In the Shadow of Gotham by Stefanie Pintoff

I recently reviewed Stefanie Pintoff's In the Shadow of Gotham for Mystery News. The review is reprinted here, with permission.

In the Shadow of Gotham
by Stefanie Pintoff
Minotaur Books
ISBN 978-0-312-54490-4
Historical, New York, 1905/Police Detective

In the Shadow of Gotham was the winner of the first Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America Best First Crime Novel competition, and deservedly so. Pintoff portrays New York City in 1905 vividly, in all of the gritty details of everyday life.

After his fiancée died in the General Slocum ferry disaster, Detective Simon Ziele left the New York City police force, hoping for a quiet career in law enforcement in the small Hudson River town of Dolson. But, when Sarah Wingate, the niece of a wealthy local family, is found brutally murdered in her own bedroom, Ziele is thrust into the toughest investigation of his career.

To Ziele’s surprise, the day after the murder, he’s contacted by Alistair Sinclair, a professor at Columbia University. Sinclair, who specializes in criminal law, claims to have a suspect in the murder. One of Sinclair’s research subjects, Michael Fromley, has had conversations that indicated an uncanny resemblance to the murder. Since Sinclair is researching how past behavior and thoughts can indicate future crimes, he’s positive Fromley is the killer.

Despite Ziele’s suspicion that Sinclair is hiding something, he’s interested enough in the criminologist’s new field of study to follow the professor’s suggestions. Ziele is an unusual policeman for his times, interested in new scientific methods. At the same time, his job is to find a murderer, not be led astray by educational theories.

Before Ziele can find a killer, he’s caught up, not only in scientific exploration, but back in the crime world of New York City, where the worst criminals can do a favor, and appearances can be deceiving.

Pintoff’s debut mystery is a complex story, combining history, a memorable police detective, a new criminology science, and action. It’s an outstanding historical mystery in which the story doesn’t bog down in details. Pintoff’s debut is a success.

Rating: 4.5

Stefanie Pintoff's website is www.stefaniepintoff.com

I was impressed enough with this book to ask Stefanie if she'd allow me to interivew her. The interview was May 15, here.

Reprinted, with permission, from Mystery News, Volume 27, Issue 3, June/July 2009.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Lost Recipe for Happiness by Barbara O'Neal

Barbara O'Neal's debut novel, The Lost Recipe for Happiness has one of the worst covers I've seen this year, for one of the best books I've read. The cover is so inappropriate, indicating it's fluffy chick lit. This book needs a warm, suitable cover such as that on Erica Bauermeister's The School of Essential Ingredients. The cover should draw people in to this serious romance for those of us who love sensuous literature. Instead, serious readers will think this is light material, and not pick it up. I'm afraid this book might not find its audience.

O'Neal gives readers the story of mature characters, lost in their past, and struggling to find a love that will allow them to move on. There are ghosts, sensual moments of taste and smell and touch, the richness of wonderful food, and tragedy. Sarah Addison Allen's review for the New York Times summarized it beautifully, "As dark and deep and sweet as chocolate."

Elena Alvarez has been searching for a home her entire life. There were short periods of home, and family, but her youthful home with cousins and her grandmother was destroyed by a tragic car accident when she was just seventeen. Elena suffered a broken back, broken ribs and hip. But her favorite cousin, her boyfriend, and two other cousins were killed. Since then, Elena sought homes in restaurants, studying in Paris, working in London, San Francisco and Vancouver. When her romance with the chef in Vancouver blew up in her face, she found herself fired, without a job. "This was not how she had imagined her life would turn out, that she would be nearly forty and still husbandless, childless, rootless."

But, the owner of that restaurant, film producer Julian Liswood, offered her the chance of a lifetime, and the chance to change her life. Liswood offered her the job as executive chef in his new restaurant in Aspen, with the opportunity to hire her own staff and set her own menu. She was given one year to get the restaurant off the ground. Elena poured herself into the job, and, despite the rivalries in the kitchen, the aches of her body, and her troubled dreams, she thought she found a refuge.

Elena has ghosts in her life, the people she loved who died in the accident. She can live with the ghosts because she finally has her opportunity. But, Julian Liswood has ghosts of his own, including his mother's murder. After four divorces, two to the same woman, he is a lonely man, who wants to be a good father to his fourteen-year-old daughter. So, he moved her to Aspen. In Elena, he found a chef for his restaurant, but he also found another soul haunted by tragedy. He also found a woman afraid to love.

Through most of the book, Elena's true passion is food, and O'Neal brings the kitchen and restaurant to life in the flavors and scents, the richness of this book. It's a sensual book, filled with color and emotion. It's a book to be savored.

There's a dog on the cover of The Lost Recipe for Happiness, and there is a wonderful dog named Alvin in the book. But, this book isn't about Alvin. The cover is all wrong. This book is about passion. This is a book for fans of Sarah Addison Allen and Barbara Samuel. This book is food, and color, and passion, and ghosts of the past. Don't look for chick lit when you read The Lost Recipe for Happiness. Look for characters who suffered tragedy, and survived.

Barbara O'Neal's website is www.barbaraoneal.com

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The Lost Recipe for Happiness by Barbara O'Neal. Bantam Books, ©2008. ISBN 9780553385519 (paperback), 447p.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sunday Salon - Dial Emmy for Murder by Eileen Davidson

Eileen Davidson's second "Soap Opera Mystery", Dial Emmy for Murder starts more dramatically than many cozies, but, of course a mystery set in the world of soap operas should start dramatically. And Davidson's mystery uses many of the soap opera formulas.

Alexis Peterson recently moved from one soap opera to another. As the star of The Bare and the Brazen, she's popular on the red carpet before the Daytime Emmys. She's just as popular with the paparrazi after her co-presenter's body falls from the rafters at the Kodak Theater, dripping blood on her before he tumbles to the stage. She's already familiar with the police detective who shows up, Detective Frank Jakes, so its easy for him to ask her to work with him, probing into the world of soaps. Alex takes the murder seriously, but quickly gets caught up in the detective business, thinking, "I was in amateur detective mode and he was spoiling my buzz." And, Jakes, who has fallen for Alex, allows her to accompany him on his investigations, as they discover that the dead man looks quite a bit like a few other recently dead actors.

I started by reading this book as a cozy mystery, thinking it was not well done, using every overused, cliché in the book. Then, I realized if I read it as it says in the series title, as "A Soap Opera Mystery", it's a funny send-off of those shows. Take an actress who can't make up her mind between two men, one a police detective. He's a hunk, sexually harassed by his boss. Throw in the best friend, a gay hair dresser. There's an embezzler ex-husband, out to take away the soap star's darling daughter, when he reappears from nowhere after a three year absence.

And, Davidson throws in all of the plot formulas that readers dislike in mysteries. Alex goes off on her own to talk to a suspect without telling the cops. When she gets to his place, and finds the door ajar, she has three choices, get out, call 911 or open the door. Naturally, she'd pick number three, and we all know what happens when a heroine opens the door! Body in the bathtub! Of course, there's the scene when someone tries to run Alex off the road. And, a combined satire of the cozy genre and soap opera has to have a terrible stage mother with a wimpy son.

Eileen Davidson's Dial Emmy for Murder is either a poorly written cozy, or a terrific take-off, combining soap formulas with the cozy genre. I prefer to read it as a clever take-off, or I would have been very unhappy with the comment, "You look...severe. Like a librarian." But, it's my guess that Davidson is clever, poking fun at the soap opera world she knows so well, since she starred in The Young and the Restless, The Bold and the Beautiful, and Days of Our Lives.

Eileen Davidson's website is www.EileenDavidsonBooks.com

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Dial Emmy for Murder by Eileen Davidson. Obsidian, ©2009. ISBN 9780451228253 (paperback), 294p.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Finger Lickin' Fifteen by Janet Evanovich

There are Ranger Babes and Morelli Cupcakes. I'm a Ranger Babe, which is one reason I enjoyed Janet Evanovich's latest Stephanie Plum novel, Finger Lickin' Fifteen. And, I thought it was the funniest book of the series since one of the early ones when Grandma Mazur blew up a funeral home.

When Lulu witnesses a murder, she becomes a larger than life target. Although the two killers easily decapitated a celebrity chef, they can't catch Lulu. They can make her life, and, therefore, Stephanie's, miserable with shootings and firebombs, but that's no worse than Stephanie's usual life as a bail bond enforcement agent. It's Lulu's attempt at barbeque, coupled with her partnership with Grandma Mazur, that could drive Stephanie crazy.

Since Stephanie and Morelli are in their off again stage of their relationship, it's easy for her to agree to take a job for Ranger for a while. He asks her to go undercover to help him find the person who is using his business to break into houses and businesses. And, of course, it's Ranger. She just might want to go undercover for another reason, particularly with Morelli temporarily out of the picture.

Once again, cars are exploding, and criminals running from Stephanie. But, put Lulu and Grandma together with propane and matches, and Finger Lickin' Fifteen is explosively funny.

Janet Evanovich's website is www.evanovich.com

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Finger Lickin' Fifteen by Janet Evanovich. St. Martin's Press, ©2009. ISBN 9780312383282 (hardcover), 320p.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Neighbor by Lisa Gardner

I'll admit I'm a wimp. I don't usually read suspense novels, particularly women and children in jeopardy books. Give me a good mystery with a detective or cop investigating a case. It usually puts the mystery at a distance, where I want it. But, Jim insisted I read Lisa Gardner's The Neighbor. And, he was right. I couldn't put it down.

None of the neighbors really knew Jason and Sandy Jones. She worked days as a teacher; he worked nights as a reporter. And, they doted on their four-year-old precocious daughter. So, why were their doors made of steel, and the windows blocked in the relatively safe Southie neighborhood of Boston? That only came to light, when Sandy disappeared from their house, leaving behind their daughter. And, Jason insisted she never would have left Ree.

But, there's something suspicious about Jason Jones' reaction to his wife's disappearance, and Sergeant Detective D.D. Warren is determined to discover if he killed her. He has almost no reaction to her disappearance, only caring about Ree, who might be the only witness. And, isn't it always the husband?

But, there's also no blood, and no proof Sandy was killed. And, Aiden Brewster, the neighbor down the road is a registered sex offender. What about the brilliant thirteen-year-old boy who is totally in love with his teacher? Everyone knows teachers get caught with their students nowadays. And, why did Sandy run off with Jason in the first place, a few years after her mother's death?

Who are the Joneses, those secretive people who lived behind steel doors? Jason Jones knows he'll be the primary suspect. The husband always is. Aiden Brewster knows he'll be suspected, and his life is over. The sex offender down the road is always the suspect. D.D. Warren isn't at all happy with her choices.

So where is Sandy Jones? The Neighbor will keep readers in suspense right until the final chapter. I'll admit, I was hooked. That doesn't mean I'll read more suspense now. It means Lisa Gardner's latest book is intriguing, with constant red herrings. Good luck in guessing the ending.

Lisa Gardner's website is www.lisagardner.com

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The Neighbor by Lisa Gardner. Bantam Books, ©2009. ISBN 9780553807233 (hardcover), 373p.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Winners and Other Countries' Cops Contest

Congratulations to the winners of the S.J. contest. The Shanghai Moon by S.J. Rozan will go to Tarah P. in Clarkston, MI. Sacrifice by S.J. Bolton goes to Rebecca M. from Summerville, SC. The books will go out in the mail tomorrow morning.

This week, I'm offering ARCs of two books by foreign authors, featuring cops. Baantjer might not be well-known in this country, but he's a bestselling author in the Netherlands, with over sixty novels featuring Inspector DeKok. Anyone who loves police procedurals will want to enter to win DeKok and the Dead Harlequin. DeKok has a complicated case in which murder victims are found looking like macabre wooden harlequins. I warn you, though. You might become hooked on DeKok.

Ken Bruen is a bestselling author in this country, so his books are more familiar to readers. Once Were Cops brings Irish police officer Michael O'Shea to New York city. However, O'Shea is also a sociopath. Team him with with an unstable NY cop, and it could become a nightmare for the city.

Would you like to win DeKok and the Dead Harlequin or Once Were Cops ? 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: lholstine@yahoo.com. Your subject line should read either Win "Harlequin" or Win "Cops". Your message should include your mailing address. Entrants only in the U.S., please.

The contest will end Thursday, July 2 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!

Driftwood Summer by Patti Callahan Henry

Once in a while, I'm reading along in a book, and I stop, call my mother, and say, "I have a book you have to read." This week, it was Patti Callahan Henry's Driftwood Summer, although I warned her I had only read twenty-seven pages before I called. Fortunately, Henry's book didn't let me down. It's a perfect book for summer reading, or for book groups. It had complicated relationships, a bookstore, a beach setting, and sighs at the end. What more do you want?

How about an opening that captures a reader's imagination? "Bookstore owner Riley Sheffield believed that even the most ordinary life was like a good novel, a tale to be told. Her own life was full of twists and turns, secrets and surprises, with narrative threads that intertwined with the fabric of other people's lives. Her story revolved around a two-hundred-year-old cottage on the beach - Driftwood Cottage Bookstore."

Henry takes readers to Palmetto Beach, Georgia, a seaside, summer resort town. We're all invited to Driftwood Cottage Bookstore for the 200th anniversary of the cottage itself, twelve years as a bookstore. It's also the 70th birthday of Kitsy Sheffield, co-owner of the store with her daughter, Riley. Riley, is thirty, the oldest of three sisters, and the single mother of a twelve-year-old son, Braydon. She and her mother have planned a week long celebration, hoping to make enough money to save the bookstore, and keep it from closing.

So, Riley's sisters are called home, although neither want to return. Maisy and her sister had a fight thirteen years ago, when both loved Mack Logan. That fight led to actions that each kept secret, but whose repercussions still echo in the family. Maisy fled to California, and hasn't returned. Now, she's a successful interior designer, but her mother and older sister still make her feel young, wild, and irresponsible. Adalee Sheffield comes back from Auburn, angry that she can't spend the summer with her boyfriend, Chad. Both sisters are angry they had to return to save Riley's bookstore.

At Kitsy Sheffield's invitation, her daughters return home, and the entire community is welcomed. That includes Mack Logan, whose appearance could stir up old emotions. Driftwood Summer brings together a group of people, only now discovering the consequences of their youthful actions. As Maisy thinks, "Legend says that Driftwood Cottage is a place where people connect and all stories have happy endings. But maybe Driftwood Cottage is a place where all of our stories are played out over and over, again and again, none of them ever really ending, just continuing...."

Sisters, lost love, secrets, a bookstore and book groups. Driftwood Summer is the perfect summer read, an interesting book group book, just a satisfying novel. It's a magical story. It was special enough to call my mother and say, "You'll want to read this." Now, I can tell you, "You'll want to read this."

Patti Callahan Henry's website is www.patticallahanhenry.com

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Driftwood Summer by Patti Callahan Henry. Penguin, ©2009. ISBN 9780451226884 (paperback), 384p.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Save Ohio Libraries Follow-Up

A friend in Florida sent me this today, and it's very appropriate.

The late Carl Sagan said it best: "I think the health of our civilization, the depth of our awareness about the underpinnings of our culture and our concern for the future can all be tested by how well we support our libraries."

The rally at the Cleveland Public Library was well-attended today, with a few hundred people from all over northern Ohio there to support public library funding. Tomorrow, there is a rally at the Statehouse in Columbus, and everyone is to wear red. Now, certainly all of you Ohio State Buckeye fans have red in your closet! It shouldn't be hard to show up wearing red.

And, from what I'm reading on Twitter, you need to continue to show up, and you need to continue to call Governor Ted Strickland at (614) 466-3555, and, most of all, contact your legislators.

The following information is hearsay from people in Ohio who are following Save Our Libraries. I believe Gov. Strickland did an interview with WLW in which he called librarians disingenuous and manipulative when he discussed their tactics in the Save Our Libraries movement. Considering that Governor Strickland is traveling the state today, discussing the importance of education in attracting business to the state, and building the economy, I would consider the governor to be disingenuous and manipulative. Why doesn't he consider libraries important in the role of education in Ohio? Doesn't he understand that businesses move into communities with good libraries?

As I said, this is hearsay information. I understand Governor Strickland isn't at all pleased with the rallies and actions in the state. I believe our President just said people have the right to protest. Does Governor Strickland think that only pertains to Iran?

If you live in Ohio, you don't have long to take action. The budget must be passed by the end of the month. Call Governor Strickland now. More important, contact your legislators.

My favorite sign at today's rally in Cleveland? I READ. I VOTE.

Save Ohio Libraries (And, Maybe Your Own)

I have a terrific book to review, but I'm going to postpone that until tomorrow, and spend a little time on my soapbox. It's more important to talk about the need to Save Ohio Libraries.

I understand the need to balance state budgets. I do not understand, or accept, the need to cut the funding to Ohio's libraries by 50%, the current proposal by Governor Ted Strickland. Let me quote the Ohio Library Council. "Many of the Ohio's 251 public libraries could close or face significant reductions in operations as a result of the Governor's latest proposal to balance the state's 2010-2011 biennium budget.

"Public libraries in Ohio are funded primarily through the Public Library Fund (PLF), which receives 2.2% of the state's tax revenue. Since 2001, public library funding has been on the decline. As a result of the current downturn in the economy and decreasing state tax revenues, public libraries are currently experiencing a drop in funding from the Public Library Fund (PLF) estimated at 20% or more as compared to 2008. At a news conference on Friday, June 19, the Governor proposed an additional cut in the PLF of $112.5 million in fiscal year 2010 and $114.8 million in 2011 as part of his "framework" to fill the $3.2 billion gap in the budget that must be balanced by Ohio General Assembly's Conference Committee by June 30. This will mean a more than 50% cut in funding for many of Ohio 's public libraries.

"With some 70% of the state's 251 public libraries relying solely on the PLF to fund their operations, the reduction in funding will mean that many will close completely, close branches, or drastically cut hours and services.

"The Governor's proposed funding cuts come at a time when Ohio's public libraries are experiencing unprecedented increases in demands for services. In every community throughout the state, Ohioans are turning to their public library for free high speed Internet to access information on employment opportunities, children and teens are beginning summer reading programs, and people of all ages are turning to the library for information and entertainment."

I'm no longer a resident of Ohio. But, the Huron Public Library was my hometown
library, the library where I researched school projects, read for pleasure, worked as a page during high school. The Huron Public Library has served Huron since 1933. This library, and its staff, is the reason I am a librarian. My sisters both worked as pages here. I went back home as Director of this library for almost five years. I even met and married my husband at that library. Today, this wonderful small town public library faces a cut of almost 50% to their budget. My mother said 48% of their budget comes from the state.

The Sandusky Public Library serves the community just west of Huron. This library "consists of a Main Library, two branches-Kelleys Island Branch Library and Castalia Branch Library- and a local history museum, the Follett House Museum. Our extensive local history archives and genealogy collections, described in greater detail on our website, are located within the Main Library. The library building, constructed in 1901 from funds from Andrew Carnegie, underwent a $10 million renovation and expansion project in 2004." That library could see a loss of nearly $1 million a year from a $3 million annual budget, forcing the library to cut library hours, quit buying new books and end storytime for children.

I could go on about the wonderful libraries in Ohio. Even though I haven't lived there since 1986, I've always been proud of those libraries, considering them some of the best libraries in the country. Now, all of that is in jeopardy.

I understand that states need to balance their budget, but they're doing it on the backs of one of their most important resources. Libraries serve children, the elderly, the unemployed people searching for new jobs. Libraries are the place for families to go for free entertainment at a time when they can't afford other entertainment. Here's my own personal, off-the-wall, theory. If we put money into our schools and public libraries, we wouldn't need to put money into prisons and law enforcement to the extent we do. I think society has their priorities backwards.

I've written to friends and family members in Ohio. My mother has already contacted the governor and her state representative and senator. If you live in Ohio, or have relatives in Ohio, I urge you to contact the governor at (614) 466-3555. If you'd rather email, try Google for Governor Ted Strickland. One of the items is "Governor Strickland email", with a form. Tell him how important libraries are to you, your family, your community. Contact your elected officials, and do it now, before the end of the month. Facebook has an active group called Save Ohio Libraries. Speak up, please.

And, one more point. Even if you don't live in Ohio, what have you done for your public library recently? I was unhappy to read a recent blog in which readers admitted they haven't been to a library lately. These are readers who said they buy their own books, or have piles of books to review. But, how did these readers develop their love of reading? Is there a public library in their past? If there's a public library that made you what you are today, do you still speak up for libraries?

If you live in Ohio, I urge you to call Governor Ted Strickland at (614) 466-3555. Contact your legislators, and tell them libraries are important in Ohio. And, if you don't live in Ohio, it wouldn't hurt to contact your local government, and remind them that libraries are important.

Thank you for your support of public libraries, no matter where you live.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Greedy Bones by Carolyn Haines

When I read Carolyn Haines' first Sarah Booth Delaney mystery, Them Bones, it just wasn't my type of book. I didn't care for Sarah, and I definitely thought her family ghost, Jitty, was over the top. So, I hadn't picked up another one in the series until Greedy Bones, the ninth book. This one, opening with a tragedy, struck me as a more serious mystery. Greedy Bones caught my attention.

Sarah Booth Delaney has returned home to Mississippi, temporarily shelving her Hollywood career, to help her business partner. Tinkie's husband has been struck down by some mysterious disease, and he, and three other people with the same symptoms of fever, chills, rash, and eventually coma, seem to be dying. They had all been on the Carlisle plantation recently, and, within hours, they came down with the symptoms. And, the land itself seems odd, with its genetically engineered cotton crop, followed by boll weevils. It's up to Sarah Booth to work with the local sheriff, a man she once loved, to find the answers to this strange disease. Maybe the CDC has been called in, but Sarah loves the people and land in her hometown, and she's determined to save them.

As Sarah and Sheriff Coleman Peters dig deeper, they find themselves digging into the local history for answers. Sarah says, "I'd come to understand that the past was the soil that sprouted the seed of the present." But, this isn't a typical crime in a cozy. Jitty warns Sarah, "The person behind all this woe is smart - and wicked...Not your normal run-of-the-mill criminal."

For those who have been following the series, I'm sure they'll be pleased to see the return of Sarah and Tinkie. They'll want to catch up with Sarah's love life. But, new readers can pick up this book as well. It's an intense mystery, with repercussions that will echo in the community for years to come.

And, for me, since I didn't care for Sarah and Jitty? Sarah has matured from what I remember. Jitty doesn't strike me in the same way. Perhaps I wasn't in the mood for Them Bones when I tried to read it. This time around, Sarah seemed to be a loving woman, determined to be there for her friends, no matter the cost to herself. This time, Sarah's voice was right for me, and right for Greedy Bones.

Carolyn Haines' website is www.carolynhaines.com

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Greedy Bones by Carolyn Haines. St. Martin's Minotaur, ©2009. ISBN 9780312377106 (hardcover), 336p.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Baker Street Letters by Michael Robertson

The Baker Street Letters is Michael Robertson's debut novel. It's a fun caper, a mystery that spans two continents. And, most of all, it's the story of the Heath brothers.

Reggie Heath is a responsible lawyer in London, well-off, and dating Laura Rankin, a gorgeous actress. He does feel slightly guilty because he stole Laura from his younger brother, Nigel. Ah, Nigel. He's currently suspended from practicing law, about to appear in front of a hearing board. He himself says, "I've been a poster child for attention deficit disorder since the day I was born." And, he's not enjoying the lowly job Reggie gave him while waiting for his hearing. At least, he isn't enjoying it until he stumbles across the Baker Street letters.

Since Reggie's office takes up the entire Two Hundred block off Baker Street, his lease requires him to answer all letters addressed to Sherlock Holmes at 221b Baker Street. When Nigel finds a twenty-year-old letter, written in crayon, by a little girl, asking for help finding her missing daddy, it's just a sad letter. But, he's intrigued by the recent letters asking for the return of "Daddy's maps," the items enclosed with the original letter. Nigel can't convince Reggie that it's important to go to Los Angeles and find the letter writer.

All of Nigel's persuasive arguments don't work, but the discovery of the body of Reggie's office manager in Nigel's office, and a note from Nigel, is enough to persuade Reggie that he needs to follow his brother to LA. This trip might have been Nigel's idea, but it becomes Reggie's nightmare. As he trails just hours behind his brother, in the search for a girl who wrote to 221b Baker Street, the murders start to pile up. When police on two continents are looking for Nigel, Reggie knows he must find his brother first. But, why is someone else interested enough to stay one step ahead in the investigation?

Robertson's debut, The Baker Street Letters, is a fast-paced chase through the backstreets of LA, as the two brothers look for a young woman. It's a successful caper, with an ending reminiscent of Jeffrey Archer's Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less. Can it get any worse for poor Reggie Heath? The book has been optioned by Warner Brothers for television. If it makes it to TV, it will be interesting to see how they handle the brothers' relationship, and The Baker Street Letters.

The Baker Street Letters by Michael Robertson. St. Martin's Minotaur, ©2009. ISBN 9780312538125 (hardcover), 288p.

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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sunday Salon - Mind Scrambler by Chris Grabenstein

Before I review Mind Scrambler, the latest John Ceepak mystery by Chris Grabenstein, I have to let readers know that I was predisposed to like this book. I read Mind Scrambler in manuscript form, and I'm thanked in the Acknowledgements, as "I want to thank...Lesa Holstine and librarians everywhere." Now that I've said that, Chris asked me to read the manuscript because he knew I'd be honest about my opinion. So, here it is. If you're not reading Chris Grabenstein's mysteries, why aren't you? He's writing some of the best mysteries out there right now, both adult and juvenile. And, Grabenstein certainly creates interesting characters.

If you haven't yet read one of the Ceepak mysteries, they feature two cops from a resort town in New Jersey, Sea Haven. In the course of the series, we've watched Danny Boyle grow up, from a part-time summer cop to a twenty-five-year-old cop, a little more mature, but still learning. And, he's studying under John Ceepak, an MP during the Iraq War, a man who lives by the West Point honor code, "I will not lie, cheat or steal, nor tolerate those who do." It's not easy for a kid who grew up on the Sea Haven beaches to live up to that standard, but Danny's trying.

Mind Scrambler, the fifth book in the series, takes Danny and Ceepak to Atlantic City, where they're taking a deposition for a murder trial. They're still checking in when Danny runs into an old girlfriend, Katie Landry, who is working as a nanny for the children of Richard Rock, an illusionist. Six hours later, while Danny and Ceepak enjoy the magic show, Katie dies. And Danny is the first one on the scene, where he finds Katie tied up, dead, in a pose appropriate to a porn film.

If the hotel can't shut down the story, it will be made for the tabloids, with "kinky sex, celebrities, backstage romance, murder, death." So, Danny and Ceepak are deputized by an Atlantic City detective to help with the investigation. Is Katie guilty of kinky sex? Why did she call Danny, saying she wanted to talk about her new boyfriend, Jake? Where is Jake? Why is Danny the only one seen on a camera in the hall, despite the fact that Rock uses that hallway for his illusions? What is the connection to Lady Jasmine, another illusionist? Ceepak reminds Danny that "Magic is the art of misdirection", and there seems to be a great deal of that in the course of the investigation.

Ceepak sees their confusing case as part of the misdirection, "The more we listen to this cavalcade of lies, which can only be countered by those who have been silenced or remain unavailable for questioning, the more we are trapped inside their illusion." But, Danny, the kid from Sea Haven, compares it to the Mind Scrambler, an amusement park ride. "It's like everybody we meet in Atlantic City is determined to keep us spinning around in circles underneath a dark dome."

No one involved in this case will emerge unscathed, a case with murder, sex, illusion, and disillusion. Grabenstein successfully scrambles the minds of his two main characters, along with the reader's mind. Ceepak and Danny will both be changed by their experiences. In the last book, Hell Hole, Grabenstein revealed more of Ceepak's past, the ugliness and brutality he witnessed in life. As each book peels back more of Ceepak's life, he becomes even more interesting. And, as Danny works with his mentor, he continues to grow. Grabenstein's characters have depth. Each book in this series builds on the previous one. Grabenstein himself is a Mind Scrambler, keeping his readers and his characters on their toes.

Mind Scrambler is only the fifth book in the Ceepak series. If you've missed the earlier books, now is the time to start the series and catch up. Chris Grabenstein is writing about two of the most interesting, complex characters in crime fiction right now. Mind Scrambler is the perfect summer mystery. So, I'll end this as I started. If you're not reading Chris Grabenstein's mysteries, why aren't you?

Chris Grabenstein's website is www.chrisgrabenstein.com

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Mind Scrambler by Chris Grabenstein. St. Martin's Minotaur, ©2009. ISBN 9780312382315 (hardcover), 352p.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Killer Cuts by Elaine Viets

What's more romantic in June than a wedding? Elaine Viets, with her typical humor and skill in writing mysteries, manages to make weddings sound horrible in her latest Dead-End Job mystery, Killer Cuts.

Helen Hawthorne's latest low-paying job is at Miguel Angel's hair salon on Las Olas in Fort Lauderdale. She works as a gofer, running errands, sweeping floors, and bringing the customers ice water when they wait their turn for three hundred dollar hair treatments. But Miguel's work is worth it. He's even been asked to take care of makeup and hair for the bride of King Oden, a powerful gossip blogger and TV show host. Although Honey, the bride, is pregnant, she's determined to look her best as she marries the man who will take her from a nurse to a wealthy wife, with no pre-nuptial agreement. It's just too bad she has to put up with all of King's guests at the wedding. As Miguel's gofer, Helen knows the guests include King's ex-girlfriend who was a stripper, his ex-wife, and a number of sex-industry workers. So, in Helen's mind, when King ends up dead in the pool soon after the wedding, there should be a number of suspects. It's just too bad her boss snuck away from the grounds, dressed as a woman in a blue dress and blond wig. Other guests were frantically escaping from the crime scene and a fire on the grounds. But, Miguel was seen having a fight with King, and he was terrified of losing his business, and facing arrest because he was Cuban.

Now, Helen is worried about two problem weddings. She's determined to prove that Miguel is innocent so his business will get back on track. At the same time, she's facing her own wedding in her landlady's backyard. And, after the disastrous wedding she just attended, and the troubled marriage she had before, she can't help but worry about her own forthcoming wedding.

I'll be the first to admit I haven't read all eight books in Elaine Viets' Dead-End Job mystery series. While I admired Helen Hawthorne's work ethic, and willingness to work low-paying dead-end jobs, I tired of her fear of her ex-husband. But, of those books I've read in the series, Killer Cuts is my favorite. It's a reunion with favorite characters, such as Helen, her private eye fiancé, Phil, and, of course, her landlady, Margery. This time, I loved her boss, Miguel Angel. He's a wonderful addition to the series, and I hope he shows up again.

The biggest problem I have with long-running series is the unresolved nature of some of the situations. Diane Mott Davidson took too long before killing off Goldy's ex-husband. Joanne Fluke needs to bring some resolution to Hannah Swensen's love life. And, Elaine Viets needs to finish off the storyline with Helen's ex-husband, one way or another. Cozy mysteries are often read because fans like the familiar characters, and want to see what's happening in their lives. But, sometimes storylines drag on too long. Elaine Viets' Dead-End Job mysteries are too good to become dead ends themselves. And, she's at the top of her form with Killer Cuts. Here's hoping she can cut a deadbeat ex-husband from the series.

Elaine Viets' website is www.elaineviets.com

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Killer Cuts by Elaine Viets. Penguin Group, ©2009. ISBN 9780451226860 (hardcover), 272p.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Interview with Robert Fate

It's a good thing interviews don't have to be unbiased because I'm a big fan of Robert Fate. I've been a cheerleader for his Baby Shark series since the debut of Baby Shark. If you haven't heard of the author or his books, you will. Baby Shark has been optioned for a film (more on that in the interview). And, Bob himself is the ultimate Renaissance man. Now, I have the chance to introduce you to one of my favorite authors. I haven't met him, yet, but someday I'm going to get the chance.

Lesa - Thank you, Bob, for taking time to answer questions for my readers. You know I've been a big fan ever since I read Baby Shark. It's a pleasure to introduce you to those readers who don't know your work. Would you tell us about yourself?

RF: Well, let’s see––Robert Fate is my pen name. The name my mom and dad gave me is Robert Fate Bealmear. I was born at home. Doctor Holiday had delivered my three brothers and two sisters, so he and mom had the act down pretty solid by the time I showed up. I’m six-one and weigh over two hundred pounds, but I weighed less than five pounds at birth. No one ever expected me to be the size of my dad and brothers, but I finally made it. I was five-ten when I graduated high school and joined the Marines and six-one three years later when I returned home from Korea. The reason I’m telling you all this is to make it clear that I’ve been a late bloomer all my life. I wrote my first novel when I was seventy years old.

I’m a Marine Corps veteran who lived in Paris, studied at the Sorbonne, and make my daughter laugh when I speak French. She is truly fluent in French and has never had an Okie accent. I’ve worked as an oilfield rough neck on a Texaco rig in Northeastern Oklahoma and a TV cameraman in Oklahoma City for a CBS affiliate. I was a fashion model in New York City for a few years to earn a living while I co-authored a stage play with a good buddy of mine. We never sold it. I was an entertainment project manager and later sold show scenery in Las Vegas after working as a chef in a Los Angeles restaurant, where Gourmet Magazineasked for my Gingerbread recipe—actually, it was my grandmother’s recipe. Along the way, I owned a company that airbrushed flowers on silk for the garment industry, and then I wrote scripts for the soap opera Search for Tomorrow. With the support and encouragement of Bruce Cook, a good friend, I produced an independent feature film, which shows up on late night TV now and again. Let’s see––as a Hollywood sp/fx technician, I won an Academy Award for Technical Achievement. I’m proud of that. You know, there’s more, but I’d be pushing my luck with the list above.

I live in Los Angeles with my wife Fern, a yoga enthusiast and ceramic artist. Our fabulous daughter Jenny is a senior at USC. We have a dog, four cats, and a turtle named Pharrell.

Lesa - I love the Baby Shark books. Would you introduce readers to Kristin Van Dijk and her stories?

RF: Anything for you, Lesa. Kristin Van Dijk is seventeen on the first page of Baby Shark, book one in the series, a book that begins in October 1952. She is the principal character in a revenge-driven story of lost love set in a time in our history when women were flying below the radar. No one was predicting what women would be doing in the second half of the twentieth century.

Kristin’s father was off at war and then off shooting pool most of her life. Then, after a year or so of finally having him to herself, he is brutally snatched from her. Things go terribly wrong one night in a roadside pool hall out near Abilene, Texas. He is murdered before her eyes and she falls prey to unspeakable violence at the hands of a gang of vicious thugs. She survives but is scarred for life.

Some girls would have rolled over and died, but Kristin wasn’t that kind of girl.

Kristin is a protagonist with the strength and resolve to come back from the worst that can be thrown at her, and then rise from the ashes, seek revenge, and exact it without remorse. Kristin Van Dijk takes no prisoners, but she is not a cartoon character. She lives in a world of reality where cuts bleed and guns kill.

Only a female could be a Baby Shark kind of protagonist, a protagonist loose in a man’s world, in a hostile western environment with her back against the wall, where no matter her age she would be considered a “girl.” When I was writing Baby Shark, I wanted a girl with a gun in her hand and the will to follow through, a girl who wasn’t going to stand for it anymore.

That was how Baby Shark was born.

Lesa - How did you come up with Kristin's character, a female pool hustler? And why are the books set in Texas and Oklahoma in the 1950s?

RF - That guy who does all my writing for me while I’m daydreaming in alpha-state came up with Kristin Van Dijk. All kidding aside, I “came back” from staring out the window and there she was. Not totally, but a little at a time––young, platinum blonde, all in black, tight jeans, boots, well-read, taciturn, and dedicated to instant mayhem if you cross her.

I liked the idea of a woman shooting pool and had been thinking about a character doing that for––well, I clipped some pictures from a magazine of women shooting pool maybe ten years ago, because I thought it was a cool thing. Women poker players are cool, too. Women are good at reading faces, certainly better than most men, so they’re good at poker and pool. I always think a man trying to fool or lie to a woman has to be asking for trouble. Their senses are superior all the way around. “No, I didn’t smoke a cigarette,” the husband says after the wife smelled smoke on his clothes the instant he walked in the front door.

Then it was a matter of giving her an environment that justified her knowledge of pool and circumstances that led her to a cold understanding of how, when, and why to use guns and knives, and Kristin was on the page to stay. I think the characters around her help define who she is, as well.

Contradictions are necessary in a full-blown character. Don’t you agree? First of all, nobody is perfect. And then also, I find gray much more interesting than black and white. Baby Shark is basically a good girl who learns to be dangerous and even bad if she has to be. I think she sometimes acts out in ways we all would like to do if we were a little braver. Kristin has been a victim, and it wasn’t pretty. She never plans to be a victim again. Treat her with respect and you have nothing to worry about. Mess with her and look out. She understands that violence is a solution.

The 1950s seem to me to be a period in our history that falls too easily into parodies of mom and apple pie. Angst-ridden movies such as The Wild Oneand Rebel Without a Cause were closer to the feelings I remember. I graduated high school in 1953. The 50s are real to me. I wanted the series set in a time before cell phones, computers, and drug related shootouts.

The 1950s work for these stories because I wanted my young female protagonist challenged by a world formed by late nineteenth and early twentieth century attitudes toward women that Rosie the Riveter knocked silly. Women of the Eisenhower era were much more restless than Ozzie & Harriet would have had people believe, and I wanted to tap into that with a strong, young female protagonist who could represent that unconventional spirit. Seeing a woman cut a new path has always seemed an interesting storyline to me.

Why Texas? Limitless space. Unlimited characters. Anything can happen there. And everyone owns a gun. How often have you, yourself, said after hearing about some bizarre event that happened in Texas, “Well, after all, that’s Texas.” I rest my case.

Lesa - Congratulations, Bob. Your first two books, Baby Shark, and Baby Shark's Beaumont Blues, were Anthony Award nominees. Then Baby Shark was optioned for a film. Can you tell us about the film option?

RF - Thanks for the congrats. I’ve been lucky that Kristin, Otis, and Henry have let me tag along. Oh, and Jim––can’t forget him or I’ll get letters.

Ah, the movie. Here’s the background. The senior editor at Capital Crime Press gave me a call in December 2007. He said he had given Baby Shark to a Hollywood producer and that the feedback was he might be interested in making it as a motion picture. That, in itself, never means much, but this producer wanted a meeting with me to discuss the idea of Baby Shark as a film––that could mean something. The editor asked me to take the meeting. I live in Los Angeles; the producer has offices in Beverly Hills. I drove over.

The producer is Brad Wyman, a smart, talented guy with an impressive list of productions, including Monster, the film that starred Charlize Theron in an Oscar-winning role. He was friendly, respectful, and sincerely interested in the story. We had a good meeting and after I left, and before I got back to where my car was parked, my cell phone rang. It was the editor at CCP. Brad Wyman had called and wanted to option Baby Shark.

That was good news. Baby Shark was my first novel. Hell, I felt extraordinarily fortunate to have gotten it written––much less to have found a publisher and established a small, but loyal readership. And now it was to be a motion picture? Of course, that was December 2007. The agreement was finalized in the spring of 2008 after a friendly and relatively fast negotiation. Brad Wyman had purchased the film and TV rights to Baby Shark and assigned the book to a screenwriter. The plan was to shoot the movie in 2009.

In June 2008, the Screen Actors Guild and Hollywood Producers began to squabble over the signing of a new agreement and work in the industry slowed down to a crawl. The squabble continued for a year, costing Los Angeles and workers and suppliers to the motion picture industry billions in lost revenue, and way down on the list of casualties was Baby Shark, the movie.

I’m happy to say the squabble ended in June 2009, and the word from Brad Wyman is hopeful. Baby Shark is back on schedule and may actually get produced this year, after all. Brad casts his movies with a savvy eye and has launched some fabulous careers. I trust him to come up with a great script, make the proper changes necessary to turn a novel into a film, cast Baby, Otis, Henry, et al with sensitivity, and choose a director that will get the job done.

So, 2009 looks hopeful for the production of the film with a release date maybe as early as spring 2010. My fingers are crossed. Cross yours, too.

Lesa - It's been a few years since you and I kicked around ideas for film casting. I know the author doesn't have any say in that. But, who do you picture in the roles of Kristin and Otis? Are there any other roles you would enjoy casting for Baby Shark?

RF - Lesa, you have watched me from the beginning keep the Baby Shark book covers purposely vague about Kristin’s looks. We know she is five seven, weighs in at 125 to 130, depending on her exercise schedule, and is a platinum blonde with Dutch heritage. She is far from being a girlie-girl. Tomboyish is more her style, but men find her attractive and plenty say so. My guess is the actress who captures the role of Kristin in the movie will be in her mid-to-late twenties, but be able to play younger. She must be able to take on the physical challenge and be convincingly tough in male-dominated environments, i.e., poolrooms and such, and yet be able to show a tender heart. But, who exactly from Hollywood is right for that––I really can’t say. In fact, I have assiduously kept myself from going there. Sorry. I will be as surprised as you when the actress is signed.

And Otis? A bigger-than-life kind of guy who commands attention and engenders fear in bad men who know he will not hesitate to kill them. A sincerely scary guy you are relieved to learn is on your side. That’s Otis. Again, who will that be? Can’t say. But I am as interested as you to find out. Maybe we won’t have to wait much longer.

Lesa - Bob, you've had a number of occupations in your life. What has surprised you about the writing profession, and, particularly, the crime-writing field?

RF - The surprise was the community of mystery readers and writers, the fans, the librarians, this was the big surprise for me. I came into this from way outside. I had no idea this world existed when I decided to write a crime novel. I was suffering from unbelievable naivety. When I attended Bouchercon in Madison, I was totally green. Everything was new to me; the number of fans stunned me––the curiosity, the friendliness, the knowledge, the organization behind such a big undertaking, the courtesy shown a new guy, the willingness to lend a helping hand from all sides. Holy smokes! Who wudda thunk it?

The truth was I found myself in the deep end. I’m not young and I’ve been up the street, but it was like stepping onto a moving train. This was not just something else I thought I’d try for a while. I was suddenly faced with a decision I did not know was going to be demanded of me. It was fish or cut bait. The writers I met were serious, dedicated to their craft, beholden to an audience of intelligent, critical readers, and way more experienced than nobody Bobby Fate. No one was scary. No one was trying to kick me from the train, but if I wanted to go where everyone else was going, build a readership, pay my dues, I had to put my shoulder to the stone and push. No one was giving anything away for free. I had to give it my attention and learn the game. It was like what Gully Jimson said in The Horses Mouth, “Love doesn’t grow on trees like apples in Eden. It’s something you have to make, and you must use your imagination to make it, too. It’s just like everything else, it’s all work, work, work.”

The hard-working, world-wise librarians I met (and still meet) had seen guys like me show up and go away more often than I wanted to hear about. I saw the reality of it––a writer has to prove it. You’re only as good as your last novel or you will simply be known for the one that caught some attention for a minute or two, a one trick pony.

It’s like a singer buddy of mine told me once, “Sometimes it’s just a tough room.” Well, the choice was mine. Baby Shark was getting some nice attention. More liked it than hated it. I could’ve quit while I was ahead. “But nooooo,” as they used to say on SNL, I had to write another. I got busy and put Beaumont Blues in the stores the next spring, six months between books, and tooted my horn as hard as I could to let everyone know I wasn’t going away. High Plains Redemption followed a year later,

Jugglers at the Border is out this fall, and next spring,

that’s spring 2010, Kill The Gigolo, my first stand-alone, will be released. It’s simple enough. I decided to fish.

The really big surprise––I love this community, this no nonsense bunch of mystery readers who keep a writer honest. Talk about calling a spade a spade––they either buy your book or they don’t. But along with the criticism has come a willingness to read the next one to see if the lessons are being learned. I always thought writing was a lonely business, but it’s not, and I like it this way. I’m trying to get better at what I do. I truly don’t want to get off the train.

Lesa - Would you tell us what you're working on now?

RF - I’d love to. I decided to slip in a stand-alone between books four and five of the Baby Shark series. I see this as an opportunity to tell a different story, give us all a change of pace.

KILL THE GIGOLO is a contemporary crime novel, told in third person with a male protagonist. The story takes place in New York City and the west coast of Mexico. The back cover copy, as it is written now, reads:

Al Foley, the Boston Godfather, didn’t have his boys simply kill Freddy Bledsoe. He had him mutilated by an IRA fugitive he harbored. So Freddy spent the final few terror-filled minutes of his life staggering about disrupting traffic at Broadway and Amsterdam until he collapsed and died from loss of blood.
The New York Post bought up every nasty cell phone picture taken of Freddy’s departure. Which meant most of the city had its nose in some mob business, and the feeling was the business was unfinished. The city held its breath; who would be next?
That would be Erik Lamar if Al Foley had his way.
Because what got his friend Freddy murdered, Erik was a part of. It was an incident really, a small matter in the overall scheme of things, but the old Irish mobster didn’t see it that way. So Erik got it––what happened to Freddy was a Girl Scout demerit compared to what was planned for him.
But first Al Foley had to catch him, and Erik was headed for Mexico––unfortunately, it was out of the frying pan and into the fire.

Kill The Gigolo will be released in spring 2010, and book five in the Baby Shark series (no title yet) will hit the stores in September 2010.

Lesa - Before I ask my final question, is there anything you would like to discuss that I might have missed?

RF - You mean something other than how wonderful you are, and how much I appreciate you chancing the ire of your readership by interviewing me? My mother told me once after my father had passed, that when I was a pre-teen and running around like a crazy person, he told her, “If Bobby drowns, look for him upstream.” I’ve always thought there was some prescience in his comment. Thank you for watching for me upstream.

Lesa - Thank you, Bob. You know I'm a public librarian. I always end my interviews with the same question. Do you have any special memories or comments about libraries?

RF - Libraries rock. I am asked to speak and sign books at libraries and am never disappointed at those events. I look forward to them and encourage librarians to invite me. I clean up pretty good and keep a civil tongue, for the most part. I have a car, a license to drive, and I bring my own pen. You’d be surprised how unafraid of distance I am. In fact, I should mention that my friend and fellow author, Bruce Cook and I make a dynamic duo and are often asked to speak together. A twofer, you might say. We’ve actually been known to draw a crowd.

Also, while I have the chance to speak to librarians (or to others if interested), as I did last year, I am going to offer a free PDF of one of my novels during the months of July and August. So, if you are a librarian, don’t have the budget to try as many new writers as you might like, here is an opportunity to snag one of mine for free to see what you think about a serious purchase up the line when budgets ease up. A PDF of Baby Shark’s Beaumont Blues will be offered for free at robertfate.com during July and August 2009.

Thank you, Bob. I really appreciate it. Now my readers know more about one of my favorite authors. And, I bet most of them won't be disappointed in Baby Shark's Beaumont Blues.

So I hope you take a chance and try the PDF. You'll need to know about Bob's books before Baby Shark, the movie, comes out! All of Robert Fate's books are published by Capital Crime Press.

As he said, Robert Fate's website is www.robertfate.com

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Barry Award Nominations

Mystery News and Deadly Pleasures just announced the 2009 Barry
Award nominations. According to the news release, "The Barry Awards are named in honor of one of the most ardent and beloved ambassadors of mystery fiction, Barry Gardner, and are voted on by the readers of Deadly Pleasures and Mystery News."

The 13th Annual Barry Awards presentation will take place at Bouchercon in
Indianapolis, Indiana in October.

Best Novel (Published in the U.S. in 2008)

Trigger City by Sean Chercover
The Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indridason
Envy the Night by Michael Koryta
Red Knife by William Kent Krueger
The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny
Dawn Patrol by Don Winslow

Best First Novel (Published in the U.S. in 2008)

The Kind One by Tom Epperson
Stalking Susan by Julie Kramer
City of the Sun by David Levien
Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith
A Carrion Death by Michael Stanley
Sweeping Up Glass by Carolyn D. Wall

Best British Crime Novel (Published in the U.K. in 2008, not necessarily
written by a British writer nor set in the U.K.)

A Simple Act of Violence by R.J. Ellory
Ritual by Mo Hayder
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
Shatter by Michael Robotham
Bleeding Heart Square by Andrew Taylor
Bruno, Chief of Police by Martin Walker

Best Thriller

Collision by Jeff Abbott
The Deceived by Brett Battles
The Survivor by Tom Cain
The Finder by Colin Harrison
Night of Thunderby Stephen Hunter
Good People by Marcus Sakey

Best Paperback Original

The First Quarry by Max Allan Collins
Money Shot by Christa Faust
State of the Onion by Julie Hyzy
The Black Path by Asa Larsson
Severance Package by Duane Swierczynski
Echoes from the Dead by Johan Theorin

Best Short Story

"The Drought" by James O. Born (The Blue Religion)
"The Fallen" by Jan Burke (EQMM August 2008)
"A Trace of a Trace" by Brendan DuBois (At the Scene of the Crime)
"A Killing in Midtown" by G. Miki Hayden (AHMM January/February 2008)
"Proof of Love" by Mick Herron (EQMM September/October 2008)
"The Problem of the Secret Patient" by Edward D. Hoch (EQMM May 2008)

Congratulations to the nominees!

Winners and S.J. is the Author Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the autographed books giveaway. Death Books a Return by Marion Moore Hill will go to Marlyn B. of Los Alamitos, CA. And, Killer Keepsakes by Jane K. Cleland goes to Judy L. from Litchfield, IL. The books will go out in the mail tomorrow.

This week, I feature two authors whose initials are S.J. I have an ARC of S.J.
Rozan's Shanghai Moon. Lydia Chin is estranged from fellow private investigator Bill Smith when she takes on a case of stolen jewels dating back to World War II. However, disaster follows as a coworker is murdered, and Lydia is fired. Lydia and Bill reunite to find the truth about the Shanghai Moon, one of the world's most sought after gems, and the events around its disappearance.

S.J. Bolton's second mystery, Awakening, has just been released. I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but I thought her debut, Sacrifice, was powerful. I reviewed it a year ago. I have a trade paperback of that to offer, just released as well. It's the story of an outsider in the Shetland Islands, who digs up a body. Obsessed with the woman, Tara Hamilton investigates until the police, her colleagues, and even her husband warn her against getting involved.

Would you like The Shanghai Moon or Sacrifice? 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: lholstine@yahoo.com. Your subject line should read either Win "Shanghai Moon" or Win "Sacrifice". Your message should include your mailing address. Entrants only in the U.S., please.

The contest will end Thursday, June 25 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!

The Nonesuch by Georgette Heyer

Georgette Heyer gave her readers another appealing hero
in The Nonesuch. Now, Sourcebooks Casablanca brings Heyer's characters back to life in the new releases of the popular Regency romances.

At 35, Sir Waldo Hawkridge was already wealthy when he inherited his cousin's estate. But, the bachelor didn't rest on his reputation as a sportsman, the reputation that led to his nickname of the Nonesuch. Like his father and grandfather before him, he was a philanthropist. In that role, he traveled to his new estate to remodel it into a home for orphans, bringing his cousin, Sir Julian Lindeth with him. It was enough to stir up the village of Oversett, where the young men wanted to emulate Sir Waldo, and the young women were interested in their stirring hearts.

Ancilla Trent wasn't at all interested in falling in love. At 26, she considered herself over-the-hill, and had a job as governess/companion to Tiffany Wield. Tiffany was a beautiful, rich, spoiled heiress, living in her aunt's household because her parents were dead. Tiffany only cared for herself, and the world revolved around her, until the Nonesuch showed up. It's a treat for the reader to see Tiffany put in her place while someone else finds a storybook romance.

No one does witty conversation and romance in the way Georgette Heyer did. It's a pleasure to watch romances develop in her books. This story includes a romance for the Nonesuch, and a secondary one for his cousin, Lindeth. The details of life and social events, the delicious repartee, and the romances bring Heyer's books to life. The Nonesuch is another enjoyable story, with two likable "older" characters, brought to readers by the Queen of Regency Romances, and, thankfully, brought back by Sourcebooks Casablanca.

The Nonesuch by Georgette Heyer. Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2009. ISBN 9781402217708 (paperback), 348p.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Beyond the Grave: Book 4: The 39 Clues by Jude Watson

When I review The 39 Clues series, I do it with the knowledge that I'm not the target audience. Even so, I was disappointed in Book Three in the series, The Sword Thief. However, the fourth release, Beyond the Grave by Jude Watson, is back on target. This one is a pageturner, a fast-paced story filled with facts and fascinating descriptions of Egypt.

Amy and Dan Cahill continue their hunt for the 39 Clues that could make them the most powerful people in the world. Along with their au pair, Nellie, they left Japan and arrived to Egypt, where they're looking for the next clue. Upon arrival, they find connections to Napoleon, another historic member of their family. And, at the hotel, they find inventors who were members of the Ekaterina family, Thomas Edison, Marie Curie, and others.

But, most important, in this book, they find a closer connection to their beloved grandmother Grace, and surprising clues that she left just for them. There are paintings, hieroglyphs, and, most of all, their memories, that will lead them on in their hunt.

And, it's definitely a dangerous hunt. They are reminded, "This is just the beginning of the chase for the thirty-nine clues. There will be betrayals and seeming betrayals. There will be reversals. There will be victories that will turn out to be dust. What you must do is simple. No matter how things look, you must keep going. How do you do that? By following your heart."

Crocodiles, spies, dangerous poisons, traps. Dan and Amy Cahill face all of these in Watson's Beyond the Grave. Watson does an excellent job summarizing the past history, showing how the chase started. And, this recent book is another exciting story. Book Four, Beyond the Grave, with its historic figures, and stories of Egypt's history and myths, is recommended for readers ages 9 to 12 or so, whether they're playing the game and collecting cards, or not. It's a fun, fast-paced story.

The website for the game is www.the39clues.com

Beyond the Grave (The 39 Clues Series #4) by Jude Watson. Scholastic, Inc., ©2009. ISBN 9780545060448 (hardcover), 192p.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Killer Summer by Ridley Pearson

Returning to Blaine County, Idaho, is returning
to familiar territory. Over the course of Ridley Pearson's Killer series, it's proven to be violent territory, but Sheriff Walt Fleming has learned to handle it in a county that is as large as Rhode Island. He's learned to handle the problems that wealthy newcomers bring with them. But, he'll have his biggest personal threat on his hands in Killer Summer.

It's time for Sun Valley's annual wine auction, an event that brings the world's most elite wine connoisseurs to town. This year, despite the economic downturn, people are interested in a special auction of three bottles of wine supposedly given to John Adams by Thomas Jefferson. And, it appears that a small group of criminals might be interested in them as well. A strange incident with a wrecker, a murder, and an explosion seem to indicate someone wants that wine.

Walt suspected someone would try to take the wine. He expected distractions and cover-ups. He also suspected there was more involved than the wine, no matter what its estimated cost. He just didn't realize his nephew, Kevin, would manage to get himself caught up in trouble, all because of a girl named Summer.

How can anyone resist Sheriff Walt Fleming? He's suffering through a divorce, hating the thought of losing his two daughters. He's not very astute when it comes to personal relationships, never seeing his cheating wife, nor noticing when a woman is interested in him. He can't communicate with his father, and works to try to be a father figure for Kevin. He's found of softball, gliding, and his dog. No, he doesn't do a very good job with personal relationships. He knows that his wife's "abrupt departure from the marriage had driven him deeply into his work...he realized he'd used his work as a place to hide." But, he's the right person to turn to in a crisis. "Emergencies instilled a certain calmness in Walt. His hearing heightened. He saw things clearly. He loved this shit."

And, it's hard not to love Ridley Pearson's latest story. Killer Summer is a gut-wrenching thriller, as the reader worries about the safety of people we've learned to care for. So, forget about housework or chores. Once you get caught up by the people and events in Killer Summer, you'll want a day just to yourself, a day to spend chasing criminals across rugged terrain with Sheriff Walt Fleming.

Ridley Pearson's website is www.ridleypearson.com

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Killer Summer by Ridley Pearson. Penguin Group, ©2009. ISBN 9780399155727 (hardcover), 384p.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Interview with Elizabeth J. Duncan

Last week, I reviewed Elizabeth J. Duncan's debut mystery, The Cold Light of Mourning. I was very impressed, so I asked if I could interview her in order to introduce her. It's my pleasure to share that interview.

Lesa - Thank you, Elizabeth, for taking time to answer some questions. I was very impressed with your debut novel, The Cold Light of Mourning. It won the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition. Congratulations! how did you come to enter the competition, and how did you hear you won?

Elizabeth - Malice Domestic has been very good to me. In 2005 a friend discovered the Malice Domestic convention online and suggested I enter my manuscript in the William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic competition for unpublished writers, which I did -- and won. So I attended my first Malice in 2006 as a prize winner. I returned in 2008 as the winner of the St. Martin's/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery competition, so Malice proved to be my path to publication. And in 2009 I attended as a published author. I now know that if you want to be successful at something, you need to get yourself in with the people who are doing what you aspire to.
I heard I had won on a blustery March day when legendary editor Ruth Cavin called from St. Martin's Press in New York with the wonderful news. I couldn't believe it!

Lesa - You had another career before you starting writing. Would you tell us about yourself?

Elizabeth - I have always been a writer of one kind or another -- I was a journalist for many years, but more writer than reporter and then I made a career change into public relations where a large component of the job can be writing. Different styles and objectives, but always a writer, I guess.

Lesa - Why did you decide you wanted to write, particularly crime fiction?

Elizabeth - I had never thought about writing fiction but one day the bug bit me and I started work on what became The Cold Light of Mourning. I am very fortunate that it was published -- it is my first piece of fiction. I believe that writers write the kind of book they like to read and for me, that is crime fiction. I like fictional crime and true crime. I also like biography, so I would like to have a go at that one day.

Lesa - Elizabeth, The Cold Light of Mourning is a wonderful debut mystery. Would you tell us about the book?

Elizabeth - The book features Penny Brannigan, a Canadian who has lived in Wales for many years. She is a water colour artist and the local manicurist in Llanelen, a village in North Wales. When a posh bride goes missing on her wedding day and Penny is thought to have been the last person to see her, the mystery is on!

Lesa - I have two questions. (And, tell me if you can't answer these without giving something away. I don't want you to give away spoilers.) In your book, you mentioned it was a newspaper article that gave you the idea for the book. What was the article about?

Elizabeth - I can't reveal too much, but it was a pivotal plot point that involved a dead body. I read what two teenagers in Manitoba had done and that sparked the idea for the whole book. Everything -- the setting, characters and story -- was created around this event. Many writers are inspired by things they read in newspapers. Human nature is a bottomless well of unimaginable behaviour, passion and motivation that you could not dream up.

Lesa - You told me in your email that I brought things out in my review that you had never thought about in the book. What could that have been?

Elizabeth - I was amused that you seemed to like the fact that Penny and Victoria weren't the type of dotty amateur sleuths who trample all over the evidence and generally get in the way of the official investigation. I hadn't thought about that before ... that they worked cooperatively with the police. They were warned off, however, and went ahead anyway with their sleuthing. And managed, of course, to mess things up.

Lesa - Elizabeth, what has been the most exciting thing about being a published author? What have you enjoyed the most? Is there anything that surprised you?

Elizabeth - I am still not used to the author role ... I think it is something you grow into. Holding the book for the first time was amazing and participating on panels with established mystery authors seems very strange. I think what surprises me the most is being asked to sign copies of the book. That someone would want me to sign something for her. I love hearing from readers who enjoyed the book -- that's the best part. I am grateful that they read it and really appreciate that they take time to write to me. And thank you for inviting me to take part in this interview!

Lesa - I liked Penny, her friends, and the police officers in The Cold Light of Mourning. Are you working on a sequel? Can you tell us anything about it?

Elizabeth - I am working on a sequel called Left for Dead which we hope will be out next spring. It starts the day after The Cold Light of Mourning ends. Penny discovers things in Emma's cottage that reveal a secret in her life, and a cold case of murder. The underlying theme is that objects hold memories.

Lesa - Elizabeth, I really want to wish you good luck with your book. And, I always end with the same question. I'm a public librarian. Do you have any special memories or comments about libraries?

Elizabeth - I love libraries and the most rewarding part of being published is knowing that my book is available through the wonderful public library systems of Canada and the United States. That a woman I will never meet in say, Kansas, can go to her local library and borrow a copy of the book. I have loved libraries all my life and in fact, my mother thought I should have been a librarian. The first place I ever went on my own was to the public library in Peterborough, Ontario to change my library books. I was six and really liked the Dr. Doolittle stories. I could hardly wait to get home and get stuck into my most recent library book. I still feel like that!

Lesa - Thank you, Elizabeth. And, I hope readers try The Cold Light of Mourning.

Elizabeth J. Duncan's website is www.elizabethjduncan.com

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The Cold Light of Mourning by Elizabeth J. Duncan. St. Martin's Press, ©2009. ISBN 9780312558536 (hardcover), 288p.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sunday Salon - Bloodhound by Tamora Pierce

Along with other fans, I'd waited way past the scheduled publication date for Bloodhound, the second book in Tamora Pierce's Beka Cooper trilogy. According to the acknowledgements, Pierce went through a move, then a car accident followed by physical therapy and surgery. No matter how long we had to wait, Beka's continuing story was worth it.

In Bloodhound, Beka is no longer a Pup, a rookie cop, member of the Provost's Guard in Corus, a city in Tortall. She's a Dog, but can't seem to keep a partner. Either the partner is too lazy, or Cooper is too eager. However, when counterfeit silver coins turn up in the city, leading to a bread riot, she finds herself with two partners, and an undercover assignment. Cooper is to work with her old mentor, Clary Goodwin, tracking the counterfeiters to Port Caynn. And, her other partner is Achoo, a renowned scent hound that she rescued from an abusive handler.

It's a case that takes Cooper out of her comfort zone, a place where she knows the good and bad Dogs, and the Rogue is a friend. At Port Caynn, they run into a small group that aided them in the bread riot, including Dale Rowan, a charming courier and gambler. Despite the attraction, Beka can't get past a suspicion that gambling is involved in the passing of the fake coins, and she worries she might be losing her heart to a con man. But, Dale and his friends allow the two Dogs to find an easier entry into the gambling world of Port Caynn, including the areas controlled by the town's top criminal, Pearl Skinner, the Rogue. Cooper, Goodwin, and Achoo must find enough information to send back to the Lord Provost before the people realize their money is worth nothing, the crops are poor, and they may not be able to feed their families over the winter. Someone is deliberately destroying the economy of Port Caynn, and the problems will extend to the rest of Tortall.

No one creates strong female characters as well as Tamora Pierce does. Beka Cooper continues to grow before our eyes. She started as a young girl of the streets, and, under the guidance of the Lord Provost, she became a member of the Guards, training as a Pup, and now, finding her legs as a Dog. She's still insecure at times, but, with the backing of her god-cat Pounce, Achoo, the new scent hound, the other Dogs, and, of course, her mentor, the Lord Provost, Beka is learning to operate as a Dog. She's capable of investigating a case, fighting criminals, and working with a scent hound, and her own variety of spies, pigeons and dust spinners. And, she's learning to be a woman, flirting, wearing makeup, and taking responsibility for her own birth control. Beka Cooper is another one of Tamora Pierce's "sheroes", female heroes capable of being strong and a woman at the same time.

Pierce's Beka Cooper series might be considered fantasy, with the mages, magic, and cats, pigeons, and dust spinners that can communicate with Beka. However, they are also excellent police procedurals, with the emphasis on training, then undercover work, and the authority of the Dogs in the cities. It's also interesting to find torture, such as waterboarding, used as methods of interrogation. Pierce doesn't miss any tricks in her excellent stories.

Sometime in 2010, Mastiff, the third book in the trilogy is scheduled for publication. Those of us who are fans will want to see Beka Cooper return as a full-fledged Dog, but it will also be interesting to see what happens in her personal life. No one combines work and personal life as successfully in a fantasy as Tamora Pierce does. Bloodhound will undoubtedly be on my list of the best books of 2009.

Tamora Pierce's website is www.tamorapierce.com

Bloodhound by Tamora Pierce. Random House, ©2009. ISBN 9780375814693 (hardcover), 560p.


Personal note - I wasn't the only one in the family who enjoyed Bloodhound. I think Josh, our youngest cat, was interested in the sections of the book that dealt with Pounce, the cat-god from the constellations. Josh thinks Pounce didn't have a big enough role in this book.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

A Thread of Truth by Marie Bostwick

I noticed that Library Journal has slightly changed the format of the book reviews, including a new VERDICT in the closing sentences. I recently reviewed Marie Bostwick's A Thread of Truth for the June 1 issue. Here's the review, reprinted with permission.

Bostwick, Marie. A Thread of Truth. Kensington. Jun. 2009. c.352p. ISBN 978-0-7582-3215-1. pap. $15. F

Bostwick brings back familiar characters in the second Cobbled Court novel (after A Single Thread), with the focus switching to Ivy Peterman. In fleeing an abusive husband, Ivy ends up in New Bern, CT, where she and her children find refuge at an apartment complex for victims of domestic abuse. When the town benefactor takes an interest in them, Ivy finds a job—and friends—at Cobbled Court Quilts. The companionship of these women proves vital when Ivy's husband shows up, demanding that she return and, when that fails, accusing her of kidnapping their children. VERDICT A Single Thread focused on breast cancer; here, Bostwick highlights domestic abuse in a story that emphasizes the importance of friendship. Given those themes, as well as the details about quilting, this novel should appeal to fans of women's fiction, especially those who enjoy needlecrafts. A similar title is Kate Jacobs's The Friday Night Knitting Club. Highly recommended.—Lesa Holstine, Glendale P.L., AZ

Copyright © 2009 Cahners Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. Reprinted with permission.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan

With some juvenile fantasy series, I'm as eager to read the next book as younger readers. There were large numbers of us that felt that way about the Harry Potter books. I couldn't put Emily Rodda's Deltora Quest books down. Bloodhound (The Legend of Beka Cooper, Book 2) by Tamora Pierce is next in my TBR pile, and I've read almost all of her books. And, then there's Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson & The Olympians series. I just finished The Last Olympian, the fifth and last book in "the first Camp Half-Blood series". It was worth waiting for, and I was happy to see that comment about the first series. I'm already for the second series.

If you haven't caught up with the series yet, Percy Jackson is a demigod. His mother is human, but his father is Poseidon. And, Camp Half-Blood is a camp where other demigods can spend summers, learning to support their parents, and fight against monsters, led by the Titans. By book five, The Last Olympian, Percy and his friends, including Annabeth, another demigod, and Rachel, a human who can see through the Mist that usually hides gods from humans, are getting ready for a "final" battle. However, the young people and their parents are in trouble. The gods are trying to fight Titans who are marching across the United States, destroying buildings and landmarks. Poseidon is tied up trying to protect his underwater kingdom, while some gods are refusing to participate in the war. It's up to Percy and his friends to defend New York City, the modern day site of Olympus. How can a group of young people oppose the oncoming army of monsters?

Percy sums up their problems. "I tried to imagine how things could get much worse. The gods were in the Midwest fighting a huge monster that had almost defeated them once before. Poseidon was under siege and losing a war against the sea Titan Oceanus. Kronos was still out there somewhere. Olympus was virtually undefended. The demigods of Camp Half-Blood were on our own with a spy in our midst. Oh, and according to the ancient prophecy, I was going to die when I turned sixteen."

Throughout the entire series, Riordan has masterfully created characters and a world in which gods and humans co-exist in modern times. The stories of the Greek gods are vividly brought to life. And, the human characters have flaws, just like their parents. But all of them are striking characters from Annabeth to Rachel to Luke, the renegade, to Percy's mother and stepfather. And, then there's Percy. When we first met him, he was a troubled middle-schooler, with ADHD, dyslexia, and a father he never knew. He's just the type of boy to attract readers. From the first book to this one, readers have watched him grow into a hero, and a teen attracted to girls. Riordan couldn't have done a better job with the characters, the action, and the series. With the additional humorous touches, and Percy's own wry look at life, these books are perfect.

Now, please, Rick Riordan. Bring on the second series of books in the Camp Half-Blood series. The Last Olympian ended this one perfectly. We're ready for the next prophecy.

Rick Riordan's website is www.rickriordan.com

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The Last Olympian by Rick Riordan. Hyperion Books for Children, ©2009. ISBN 9781423101475 (hardcover), 400p.