Friday, September 30, 2011

Mind Over Murder by Allison Kingsley

Allison Kingsley appears to be capitalizing on popular subjects with Mind Over Murder, the first in the Raven’s Nest Bookstore mystery series. It has a paranormal element, a bookstore as the setting, and a protagonist who returns home to a small town while keeping secrets about her life in New York City.

Stephanie Quinn Dowd owns the Raven’s Nest Bookstore in Finn’s Harbor, Maine. When her cousin, Clara, returns home, she convinces her to manage the bookstore for her. Stephanie hopes to rekindle the excitement and spirit of adventure the two shared when they were kids. She didn’t expect it to be rekindled by a murder in her storeroom.

Anyone could have murdered Ana Jordan. She wasn’t the most popular store owner in town. But, she had accused Stephanie and her staff of poisoning young minds with the occult books that were part of the selection in the store. And, Stephanie’s employee, Molly, had a fight with her on the sidewalk the day Ana was killed. With Ana dead and Molly the primary suspect, Stephanie turns to Clara, asking her to use the “Quinn Sense,” the ability to sense danger, tell if people are lying, and interpret dreams, to find the killer. Clara is reluctant, but Stephanie drags her into her plans.

Clara knew “They were amateurs, messing in business best left for the police.” But Stephanie is an unstoppable force.  And, the two women are caught up in something that could turn deadly.

Unfortunately, there are times this mystery is a little deadly. As much as I wanted to like it, it was slow going at times, with too much conversation, and little action. Clara, supposedly the heroine, is easily manipulated, by Stephanie, by her mother, by almost everyone she runs into. And, as a wife and mother, Stephanie should know better than to push Clara into a dangerous investigation.

I was so hopeful that Mind Over Murder would be the first in an intriguing new series involving a bookstore. It didn’t win me over, but, if you’ve read and enjoyed it, I hope you take the time to comment. I’m sure other readers might enjoy this small town mystery with two cousins that care about each other.

Mind Over Murder by Allison Kingsley. Berkley Prime Crime. ©2011. ISBN 9780425243770 (paperback), 262p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Winners and a Foodie Contest

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Krista Davis’ The Diva Haunts the House will go to Sherry M. from Carrollton, TX. Penny T. of Klamath Falls, OR won E.J. Copperman's An Uninvited Ghost. The books will go out in the mail tomorrow.

You don’t have to enjoy food mysteries to win this week’s books, but it won’t hurt. I’m giving away a copy of Avery Aames’ Lost and Fondue, a mystery set in a cheese shop in Providence, Ohio, Amish country. The plans to convert an old winery into a liberal arts college go awry when a body is found in the wine celler. It's up to Charlotte Bessette, proprietor of the Cheese Shop, to uncover the truth. Recipes included in this one.

Since I'm giving away an ARC of Laura Childs' Bedeviled Eggs, there are no recipes. But, you'll drool over the breakfasts served at the Cackleberry Club café. And, it's another seasonal mystery, as the three women who own the restaurant are getting ready for Halloween until a mayoral camdidate is killed outside the café by a crossbow arrow. Once again, Suzanne is pushed into a murder investigation.

Did you want to win Lost and Fondue orBedeviled Eggs? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at  The subject lines should read, either "Win Lost and Fondue" or "Win Bedeviled Eggs."  Include your name and mailing address in the body of the email.  Entries only from the U.S., please.

The contest will close Thursday, October 6 at 6 PM PT when I'll draw the winners using a random number generator. I'll notify the winners, and I'll mail the books the next day.

2011 Arizona Library Association Outstanding Library Service Award

Some of you may already know this, since I put it on Facebook and Twitter. But, I owe some thank you notes.

Yesterday, I was notified I won the 2011 Arizona Library Association Outstanding Service Award. “Emphasis is placed on activities that go beyond the standard requirements of good library service.” I will receive a plaque, and a folder with the letter of nomination and the letters of support. The award will be given on November 30 during AZLA’s annual conference. I’ll be on a plane to Ohio at the time, so someone from the library system will accept it for me.

I get to write an acceptance speech, and they’ll read it. I will write a short note, thanking all the wonderful people I work with, and have worked with over the years, as well as all the members of the communities I have served in Ohio, Florida and Arizona. And, I’ll thank all the authors who have brought so much joy to so many people. And, Anna knows how much the nomination letter meant to me. She wrote it on behalf of the library, and I cried over the beautiful two page letter she wrote.

But, here on my blog, I get to thank some other people, beginning with my mother who was just ecstatic when I called her with the news. My mother is my role model for a life well-lived. She spent most of her career working in the high school library at a vocational school.  Thank you, Mom. And, thank you to my two sisters, Linda and Christie, who followed me as library pages at the Huron Public Library. And, Linda? Thank you for that note when I was down.  She told me to “Dare to be passionate. It’s so much better than just doing a job.”

But, my mother was so excited, she called one of the women I owe a debt of gratitude. When I was a page at the Huron Public Library in Huron, Ohio, I worked with some of the best library staff I ever knew. Erma Dunn, the Library Director, took a shy bookworm of sixteen, and exposed me to the world of the library, allowing me to do every task in the library except cataloging. (I was a failure at covering books, and they told me never to do that.) But, she gave me journals, sent me to the basement, and told me to recommend books.  After working for Erma Dunn, I knew I wanted to be a librarian.  Mrs. Dunn is ninety years old, lives in Florida, and, from everything I heard, is still just as energetic as ever.

Aileen Hartley is gone, the wonderful person everyone always referred to as a “true lady.” She was the role model of poise and grace under pressure. I wish I half the class she did.

But, Millie Schilman. Millie worked the circulation desk when I was a page, and she was my children's librarian when I went home to Huron as Library Director. I've worked with some fantastic children's librarians over the years, and I've told every one of them that Millie was just as good as any of them. There's nothing like starting out working with someone who loves their job, loves the children and books. Millie's enthusiasm meant so much to that community. I always said I might have been Director, but Millie Schilman was the heart of that library.

So, thank you to all of you, readers and authors. Everything you do led to this award. The blog, the honors, Authors @ The Teague, Desert Sleuths. All of it was mentioned in the award nomination. And, all of the library staff in Glendale, the Lee County Library System, the Charlotte-Glades Library System, the Huron Public Library, and the Upper Arlington Public Library. I'm where I am today because of all of you. And, I'm getting this award because you helped me serve my community, both in my library and the online community.

But, I owe an enormous thank you to Erma Dunn, Aileen Hartley and Millie Schilman. They taught a page to be a librarian.

The Huron Public Library

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Rogue by Frederick Ramsay

If you haven't yet entered Ike Schwartz' world in Virginia, the seventh book in Frederick Ramsay's series, Rogue, is a perfect place to start. Meet Ike, the investigator, a little off his stride, but it’s the perfect way to learn what makes Ramsay’s character tick.

Ruth Harris, Sheriff Ike Schwartz’ fiancée, is in a D.C. hospital, in a coma with a shattered left leg, a neck brace, and a head injury. Although the local police call it an accident, Ike is convinced it was no accident.  And, as a former CIA agent and the sheriff of Picketsville, Virginia, Ike has resources to draw on to find someone who tried to kill the woman he loves. But Ike might be blinded to the fact that he could have been the intended victim.

Ike might be blind to a few things because of his rage and determination. Back in Picketsville, his staff is pulling for him in the local election for sheriff. And, they’ll do anything to support him, working behind the scenes. They have a few cases there to handle, including a death at the university, a supposed suicide. But, they’ll find time to dig around for the sheriff who can’t step in his own office since the mayor is supporting the other candidate.

Ramsay always presents Ike with complex cases that are more involved than they appear on the surface. The Picketsville Sheriff’s Office staff is a terrific group of characters. And, there’s always quiet humor, particularly when the staff attempts to undermine the mayor. And, for readers who have already discovered the series, Charlie Garland, Ike’s colleague from the CIA, is an integral part of this story. The more we see of Charlie, the enigma, the better.

If you haven’t discovered the Ike Schwartz books, one of my must-read series, I hope you give them a chance. Start with the intriguing Rogue. Then, I hope you go back and start the series from the beginning.

Frederick Ramsay's website is 

Rogue by Frederick Ramsay. Poisoned Pen Press.  ©2011. ISBN
9781590589045 (paperback), 261p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Sue Grafton Blog Tour - Q is for Quarry

Welcome to the kickoff of Sue Grafton's Blog Tour leading up to the release of V is for Vengeance on Nov. 14. Ten bloggers were asked to review Sue’s five most recent paperback titles to remind you of Kinsey Millhone’s recent adventures. I’m kicking off the blog tour with Q is for Quarry.

You don't have to have read earlier mysteries in the Kinsey Millhone series to appreciate Q is for Quarry. As always, Grafton provides Kinsey's background and skillfully introduces characters. Two aging police officers are haunted by a cold case, the murder of a Jane Doe, an unidentified young woman between the ages of twelve and eighteen. Eighteen years earlier, while hunting, the two men found the body. It was 1969, a year when many young people were on the road. But, Lieutenant Con Dolan, head of homicide for the Santa Teresa, CA police department, and Stacey Oliphant, now retired from the sheriff's department have never forgotten the woman they were unable to identify.
The young woman had been found, stabbed to death, in Grayson Quarry. Even her distinctive appearance did not lead to family or friends. No one stepped forward to claim the body, and her murder went unsolved. Now that both men are closing their careers, they hire Kinsey to help them identify the girl, and, hopefully, find a killer.

When Kinsey accompanies the two men to the property where the body was found, she's in for a rude shock. It was her own grandmother who owned the property, the grandmother who rejected her parents when they married, and then rejected her granddaughter. While researching the history of a Jane Doe, Kinsey learns more about her own mysterious past. Kinsey, a woman who did very well without family, might be dealing with another woman who was rejected, or rejected her own family.

Q is for Quarry is intriguing for all of us who love cold cases. And, this time, along with Kinsey Millhone's wrap-up of the case, Grafton gives us her own Author's Note, providing the background for this story, the actual investigation of a Jane Doe murder that formed the basis for Q is for Quarry.

This book, the cold case, with its connections to Kinsey's own life, remains one of my favorites. I'm looking forward to V is for Vengeance, hoping it's as strong an entry in the series.

Want to know what Jen Forbus thought of Q is for Quarry? Jen's blog,, is the next stop on the blog tour. Check it out on Thursday. And to encourage people to follow the blog tour, Penguin will give three sets of Q, R, S, T, U (paperback) and the brand new V to three different people who comment on every single blog throughout the tour (US/Canada only please).

Each blogger will have a portion of V is for Vengeance on their website to wet your appetite. Here's the opening of the book. Enjoy!



Las Vegas August 1986

Phillip Lanahan drove to Vegas in his 1985 Porsche 911 Carrera Cab­riolet, a snappy little red car his parents had given him two months before, when he graduated from Princeton. His stepfather bought the car secondhand because he abhorred the notion of depreciation. Bet­ter that the original owner take that hit. The car was in pristine condi­tion, with 15,000 miles on the odometer, a black leather interior, fully accessorized, with four brand-new tires. The car could jump from 0 to 60 in 5.4 seconds.

With the top down, he hugged the coastline and then continued trav­eling east through Los Angeles on the 10. From the 10 he picked up the 15, which took him straight into Vegas. The sun was harsh and the wind whipped his hair to a wild tangle of black. At the age of twenty-three, he knew he was good-looking and he carried the knowledge like a rabbit’s foot for luck. His face was lean, clean-shaven; his dark eye­brows straight; ears tucked close to his head. He wore jeans and a short-sleeve black polo shirt. His white linen sport coat lay folded beside him on the passenger’s seat. In his duffel he had ten grand in hundred-dollar bills, compliments of a loan shark he’d recently met.

This was his third trip to Vegas in as many weeks. The first time, he’d played poker at Caesars Palace, which, though vulgar and over­blown, had everything you’d ever want in one sprawling complex. That trip had been magical. He could do no wrong. The cards fell into place, one hand after another. He read his opponents, picking up tells so subtle he felt psychic. He’d driven to Vegas with three thousand dollars he’d pulled from a savings account and he’d run it up to eight with no sweat.

The second trip had started out well but then he lost his nerve. He’d returned to Caesars, thinking the same gut-level instincts would come into play, but his reads were off, the cards wouldn’t come, and he couldn’t regain ground. He left the casino a miserable five grand down. Thus the meeting with the loan shark, Lorenzo Dante, who (ac­cording to Phillip’s friend Eric) referred to himself as a “financier.” Phillip assumed the term was meant tongue-in-cheek.

He’d been uneasy about the appointment. In addition to Eric’s fill­ing him in on Dante’s sordid past, he’d assured Phillip the exorbitant fees for the loan were what he called “industry” standard. Phillip’s stepfather had drilled into him the need to negotiate all monetary mat­ters, and Phillip knew he’d have to tackle the issue before he and Dante came to an agreement. He couldn’t tell his parents what he was up to, but he did appreciate his stepfather’s counsel in absentia. He didn’t like the man much, though he had to admit he admired him.

He’d met Dante in his office in downtown Santa Teresa. The space was impressive, all glass and high-gloss teak, leather-upholstered fur­niture, and soft gray wall-to-wall carpeting. The receptionist had greeted him warmly and buzzed him through. A sexy brunette in tight jeans and spike heels had met him at the door and escorted him past ten interior offices to a large corner suite at the end of the corridor. Everyone he caught sight of was young and casually dressed. He imagined a cadre of tax attorneys, as well as accountants, financial hotshots, paralegals, and administrative assistants. Dante was under indictment on rack­eteering charges, and Phillip had expected an atmosphere both tense and sinister. He’d worn an expensive sport coat, thinking to show re­spect, but now he realized the image was all wrong. Everyone he saw wore casual attire, stylish but understated. He felt like a kid dressing up in his daddy’s clothes, hoping to be taken for an adult.

The brunette showed him into the office, and Dante leaned forward across the desk to shake hands, then motioned Phillip into a seat. Phil­lip was startled by the man’s good looks. He was in his midfifties, a big guy, probably six foot two, and handsome: soulful brown eyes, curly gray hair, dimples, and a cleft in his chin. He appeared to be in great shape. The warm-up conversation had covered Phillip’s recent gradu­ation from Princeton, his dual major (business and economics), and his job prospects. Dante listened with apparent interest, prompting him now and then. Actually, nothing in the way of employment had materialized as yet, but the less said about that the better. Phillip spoke about his options, not mentioning he’d been forced to move back in with his parents. That was too lame to bear thinking about. Phillip began to relax, though his palms were still damp.

Dante said, “You’re Tripp Lanahan’s boy.”

“You knew my dad?”

“Not well, but he did me a good turn once upon a time . . .”

“Excellent. I’m glad to hear that.”

“. . . Otherwise, you wouldn’t be sitting here.”

“I appreciate your time.”

“Your friend Eric says you’re quite the poker player.”

Phillip shifted in his seat, steering a course between modest and boastful. “I played all through college, starting my freshman year at Princeton.”

Dante smiled and his dimples flashed briefly. “No need to mention Princeton again. I know where you went to school. Was this high stakes or you taking change off a bunch of donkeys at some frat house?”

“Actually, I played in Atlantic City and picked up enough change most weekends to cover my expenses.”

“You didn’t work your way through school?”

“I didn’t need to.”

“Lucky you,” Dante said, “though, just off the top of my head, poker parlors couldn’t be the lifestyle your dad had in mind for you.”

“Well, no, sir. I expect to work. That’s why I got my degree. At this point, I’m just not sure what I want to do.”

“But you’ll decide soon.”

“I hope. I mean, that’s certainly my intention.” Under his sport coat, Phillip felt his shirt dampen, sticking to his back. There was something fearsome about the man, almost as though there were two of him, the one benevolent, the other pitiless. On the surface he seemed affable, but underneath, a shadow personality was in play, prickly and sharp. Phillip was anxious, uncertain from moment to moment which of the two he was dealing with. Now Dante’s smile faded and the alter­nate took over. Maybe it was in business matters that Dante became dangerous.

“And you’ve come to me for what?”

“Eric says you sometimes advance him cash if he’s experiencing a shortfall situation. I was hoping you’d do the same for me.”

Dante’s tone was pleasant, but the benevolence didn’t reach his eyes. “A sideline of mine. I lend money to people the banks won’t touch. For this I charge fees and administrative costs. How much are you looking for?”


Dante stared at him. “Lot of money for a kid.”

Phillip cleared his throat. “Well, ten . . . you know, ten gives me breathing room. That’s how I look at it, at any rate.”

“I take it Eric explained my terms.”

Phillip shook his head. “Not entirely. I thought I should hear it from you.”

“The charge is twenty-five dollars per hundred per week, payable along with the principal when the note comes due.”

Phillip’s mouth was dry. “That seems steep.”

Dante opened his bottom drawer and pulled out a sheath of papers. “If you like, you can take your chances at the Bank of America two blocks down State. I’ve got the application forms right here.” He tossed a BofA loan application on the desk.

“Hey, no. I understand and I appreciate the position you’re in. You have expenses like everybody else.”

Dante made no response.

Phillip leaned forward, trying for solid eye contact, two men of the world getting down to business. “I’m wondering if twenty-five per hun­dred is the best you can do?”

“ ‘The best I can do’? You want to haggle with me?”

“Oh, no, sir. Not at all. That’s not what I meant. I just thought there might be some wiggle room.” He could feel the heat as a belated flush crept into his cheeks.

“Based on what? Our long and productive association? Your prow­ess at the table? Word has it, you got stuck for five grand at Caesars last week. You want my ten so you can recoup your losses and run up the rest. You think you’ll pay me off, including the juice, and keep the balance for yourself. Is that about it?”

“Actually, that’s how I’ve done it in the past.”

“ ‘Actually’ you can kiss my ass. All I care about is getting my money back.”

“Absolutely. No problem. You have my word.”

Dante stared at him until he looked away. “How much time are we talking here?”

“A week?”

Dante reached over and flipped a page on his desk calendar. “Mon­day, August 11.”

“That’d be great.”

Dante made a note.

Phillip hesitated, unsure what came next. “Is there paperwork?”


“An IOU or contract you want me to sign?”

Dante waved off the idea. “Don’t worry about it. Gentlemen’s agree­ment. We shake hands and it’s done. Check with Nico on your way out and he’ll give you the cash.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

“I mean that.”

“You can thank your old man. I’m returning a kindness from way back,” Dante said. “Speaking of which, I have a friend in management at Binion’s. You play there, he’ll comp you a room. You can tell him I said so.”

“I’ll do that, and thank you so much.”

Dante stood up and Phillip followed suit. As they shook hands, Phillip felt himself breathing a sigh of relief. In his fantasy, he’d played hardball with the vig, and Dante had come down two percent­age points, impressed by his bargaining skills. Now he felt sheepish having broached the subject with a man of Dante’s reputation. He was lucky he hadn’t been thrown out on his ass. Or worse.

As though on cue, the door opened and the brunette appeared.

“One word of advice . . .” Dante added.

“Yes, sir?”

“Don’t mess up. You dick with me, you’ll be sorry.”

“Got it. I’m good for it. I guarantee.”

“That’s what I like to hear.”

(To be continued, on Jen's blog.)

Sue Grafton's Facebook fan page is, and her website is

Q is for Quarry by Sue Grafton. Berkley Books. ©2002. ISBN 9780425239001 (paperback), 432p.

V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton. Penguin Group (USA). ©2011. ISBN 9780399157868 (hardcover), 448p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received my copy in order to participate in the blog tour.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Big Goodbye by Michael Lister

It's always a dame. So many hard-boiled detective novels start out with a woman entering the office of a private detective, and his life immediately goes downhill. That’s certainly true in Michael Lister’s latest mystery, The Big Goodbye.

Lister takes readers to Panama City, Florida, in 1943. Most people assume Jimmy Riley lost his arm during the war, and his nickname “Soldier” is a sign of respect and acknowledgement. But, twenty-seven-year-old Jimmy lost his arm and his career as a cop when he ended up on the wrong end of a shotgun soon after he became entangled with a married woman, Lauren Lewis. He was lucky that Ray Parker, a former Pinkerton agent and former cop was willing to take him in as a private investigator in his agency.

It’s an unusual twist of fate when Lauren shows up at the office, thinking someone is following her, and suspecting Jimmy. Jimmy decides to look into it, while his partner is working for Lauren’s husband, Harry. Harry is running for mayor of Panama City at a time when there’s a great deal of money and power to be gained there.

Is Lauren Lewis trouble, or is it Jimmy? It isn’t long before bodies start piling up, following Jimmy’s trail. And, it isn’t long before he sucks his partner into the problems. Jimmy can’t let go of Lauren, and her troubles can’t let go of him.

Lister’s The Big Goodbye is in the vein of Chandler and Hammett. Jimmy “Soldier” Riley doesn’t walk the mean streets of LA. He’s an ex-cop turned PI who knows Panama City, and takes the reader with him. It’s a page-turning story, gritty, with complicated twists and turns. It’s hard for the reader to let go of the story, just as it’s hard for Jimmy to let go of Lauren. In hardboiled detective stories, it’s always the dame.

Michael Lister's website is

The Big Goodbye by Michael Lister. Pulpwood Press. ©2011. ISBN 9781888146790 (paperback), 245p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The author sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Loose Diamonds by Amy Ephron

How to describe Amy Ephron’s Loose Diamonds…and other things I’ve lost (and found) along the way? It’s a quirky little collection of essays. It’s a compilation of thoughts about Ephron’s life that, somehow, bring together tragedy and weirdness and humor into a magical little book.

It's actually a difficult book to summarize. She manages to intertwine loose diamonds, the burglary of their house, and the loss of treasured jewelry, with Squeaky Fromme, and the ex-husband who just wouldn't leave, although he cheated with half the mothers in their son's school. There are odd stories, such as those. And, then there is the unusual story of her childhood visits to a man who had the most beautiful home she ever saw, a house that had the music of tropical birds in its soul. She misunderstood his name from the day she was introduced, only discovering his name after he was long gone. 

What I can say is Amy Ephron's latest book is aptly named. Her essays combine whimsy and provocative thoughts. At times, I felt as if I truly had discovered a hidden gem or two. Ephron's book offers the reader moments of Loose Diamonds.

Loose Diamonds...and other things I've lost (and found) along the way by Amy Ephron. HarperCollins. ©2011. ISBN 9780061958748 (hardcover), 167p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me this book, hoping I would review it.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

A Thread of Blue Denim by Patricia Penton Leimbach

The pages are yellow, the cover brittle. The book came out in 1974, the year I was a junior in high school Thirty-seven years later, Patricia Penton Leimbach’s A Thread of Blue Denim still moves me and touches my soul. It’s a book that takes me home to northern Ohio every time I read the essays.

I normally don't review a book that's out-of-print. If you want to read it, you'll have to track it down through a public library or a used book site. But, I didn't have the best week, and I needed a comfort read. A Thread of Blue Denim is the book that does that for me. 

Patricia Leimbach was a school teacher, a farm wife and mother, a woman who lived at End O'Way Farm on the banks of the Vermilion River in Ohio. She wrote a weekly column in Elyria's Chronicle-Telegram, articles for Farm Journal, and attended world-wide conferences for farm women. And, the title of the book, A Thread of Blue Denim, comes from the thread of blue denim that runs through the lives of farm women. Leimbach was a woman who shared that life with so many in the course of three books, but this one, the first, remains my favorite.

The book contains essays about farm life, about her family; her husband, Paul, and her three sons, Dane, Teddy, and Orrin. Leimbach incorporates poetic visions of rural beauty, and laugh aloud stories of dealing with boys and mud, tractors and pig-headed men. And, time after time, she's made me cry with essays about family, and what we miss in life. 

And, Patricia Leimbach makes you think. The essay, "Rumble at Rugby Corners," is about the planned war between groups of twelve and thirteen-year-old boys, a fight that split families as brothers and sisters sided with different people, a fight that involved slingshots, and chemical warfare (a microscope). And, it ends this way, "Yes, Rugby Corners is about the most unlikely place in the world for a war - unless you think about the bridge at Concord, the courthouse at Appomattox, San Juan Hill, the island of Iwo Jima, or the quiet jungles of Phnom Penh...."

I've cried over Leimbach's essay, "Letter to a Son on Mother's Day," every time I used it for readers' theater in Florida. Her article about the family trip to Cedar Point, northern Ohio's amusement park, always makes me remember our family trips. I was one of those kids running all over the park with my sister and a friend.

My book has a note from the author, "For Lesa Growel, who, I understand, also has a love affair with books (as I), with the hope that some of this will speak to your heart." And, it has a note from the librarian who gave it to me. "Dear Lesa, As I listened to Mrs. Leimbach talk about her love of the farm life, her family and her love of books and the wonderful experience of working with editors and publishing her own book - my thoughts turned to you and your love of books which will lead you into the library field."

Pat Leimbach was the first author I ever invited to speak at a library. She spoke at my hometown library for me when I was a young library director. Her books have meant so much to me over the years. They mean home, memories of my grandfather's farm, of Cedar Point, of the roads and places of northern Ohio. I've used her essays for readers' theater, and I read her books for comfort.

And, I read, and have used, one particular essay because it spoke to my soul, my childhood, and my life. It's called "Literary Landscapes." Because this essay defines my youth, I'm going to quote the opening. 

"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.

"She eats her cornflakes with a book, washes dishes in the shadow of a book, and spends the balance of the day sprawled sideways in an armchair with a book. At night she kicks her jeans across the base of her bedroom door to conceal the fact that she's reading in bed. Hauled off on vacation, she will look up from her book long enough to remark, 'Oh, are those the Grand Tetons?' It's an insufferable stage; I'd love to live it over again."

Patricia Leimbach's A Thread of Blue Denim is always there for me, taking me home, when I have a bad week, or just can't read. She truly touched my soul.

And, you? What is your comfort read, the book that takes you out of yourself, and makes everything just a little better?

A Thread of Blue Denim by Patricia Penton Leimbach. Prentice-Hall. ©1974. ISBN 0-13-920280-3 (hardcover), 241p.

FTC Full Disclosure - This book was a gift from a librarian.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Simon Wood for Authors @ The Teague

Simon Wood is a favorite author of the Desert Sleuths Chapter Sisters in Crime. This time, when he came to town on his book tour for Did Not Finish, he appeared for Authors @ The Teague.

Simon told us his writing is a product of the immigration service. He is British. He met his wife in Costa Rica, and, romantically, they decided to meet in different countries. They did that every few months for eighteen months, and then decided it was easier to live together in England or the U.S. So, he came to the U.S. on an extended visa, but he wasn’t allowed to work for eighteen months. He had to decide what to do with his time.

Wood wanted to tell stories, but he was dyslexic. He was a good liar as a kid. He took those months and worked on his first book, Accidents Waiting to Happen. It took him three years, and it was a product of the INS machine.

Wood tackled writing in a mechanical way. He was a mechanical engineer who designed things like oil rigs. He applied the same method to writing. He listened to audios, and broke them down to study how the stories worked.  Since the INS wouldn’t let him have a job, he owes everything to them.

Simon has always followed his dreams. He loved race cars, and twenty years ago, he went from racing a car to running his own cars and owning a race team. At twenty-one, he was shipping cars around the country. He loved it.

But, he decided he needed to do something that was more respectable. So, he became a pilot. Simon’s mother is convinced he does things just to upset her. The government underwrote one third of the cost of his training because they pay for vocational training. He did have to crash land his own plane as a student pilot. But, it was one more example of his brush with luck.

Then he told us about his job as a private investigator. Since Simon couldn't work, he and his wife had to come up with other ways to bring in money. For a long time, his wife was a mystery shopper. First, she had a contract to go to movie theaters. They saw a movie a week for eighteen months. Then, they shopped at Albertson's. They would go up and down aisles, examining displays, checking to see how long it took someone to clean up spills. Mystery shopping was a method of quality control.

Then, they did restaurants. They ate at every four or five star restaurant around San Francisco. They would eat there, and make sure everything was OK, the service, the food. This was around the time of the tech bubble, when people were paying $1000 for dinner. Wood and his wife did this for three or four years. Then, they did hotels. Then, they did casinos.

When they investigated casinos, they worked for a little man, a blond Joe Pesci. They went undercover into casinos for three or four days. Before they did it, though, they had to know all the table games. They learned on the Internet, and they had to be proficient at all of them. Wood found himself the only non-Asian guy at some of the games. There was a list of things they were looking for at the casinos. And, all there work was all in cash. They would stay at one place, and go to different casinos. For different jobs, they would have to come up with cover stories. Often, they were doing more than one job. One bartender might be doing something, or a dealer. Most theft from casinos is not like Ocean's Eleven. It's theft from the inside. They'd watch dealers. But, they had to commit everything to memory because they couldn't record it or film it. So, they'd have to remember the time something happened, and a description of the person involved. His wife would handle the time, and Wood would do name and description. And, every fifteen minutes or so, he'd go to the restroom so he could write it down. They learned to never forget anything. That's a problem. His wife doesn't forget. Simon and his wife would have a script for their cover story. Depending on the contract, they would keep any money they won. 

Wood told us he kept falling into jobs. He took odd career paths. He admitted he attracts a certain amount of trouble. That turns into stories. He has a thing about chaos. If anyone thinks their life is on a nice even keel, it's not true. Decision A can lead to two outcomes. Wood examines the subsequent outcomes.

When Wood was racing, he ran a Cinderella team. Everything was begged, borrowed, or stolen. The night before the race, he went around picking up stuff. Once, he had a close encounter with a woman on a roundabout. She gave him a wave with one finger, and he waved back with the same finger. They brought London traffic to a standstill. Then, he thought it was over, but she followed him for miles before giving up.

Wood's sponsor was later approached by the police who said his van had been involved in a crash. Wood said there hadn't been an accident. They showed them pictures of that woman's damaged car, and accused Simon of running her off the road. He said just look at the van. It wasn't in an accident. The police officer said here's the statement I wrote saying you ran her off the road. Wood said he wasn't signing it, and he changed it in about thirty places after the officer said, if you don't sign it, I can't help you. How did that incident on the roundabout turn into this? How did this happen that the police show up with a statement for him to sign, saying he did it? Any action, big or small, can impact anyone.

Wood's book, The Fall Guy, is the best example. It's about a down on his luck guy who is late for work one morning. He hits a Porsche, cracking its tail light, and there are witnesses. So, he writes a note to put on the windshield, saying, everybody thinks I'm leaving the address, but I'm not. 

There a repercussions. The Porsche belonged to a drug dealer, who was puled over because of the broken tail light. The police found the drugs, and confiscated them, arresting the driver. But, the big boss tracks the man down, and tells him, you cost me drugs, a car, and a driver, you owe me. And, he's inducted into the drug world. Things tend to come back and bite you.

Wood's novel, Terminated, deals with workplace violence. Twenty people a week are murdered at work. Retail is the most dangerous work environment for women. The safest work environment? Coal mines. There's only one murder a year. The working conditions might not be good, but no one murders you. In Terminated, a man's annual review doesn't go as expected. Someone on edge can take it personally. Simon's favorite story of workplace violence is about a man who tried to kill a female coworker by putting mercury in her heating system to try to poison her. He's been trying other ways for a while, but they caught this one. The reason he went over the edge? She didn't like his deviled eggs once at a company picnic.

Wood likes the Hitchcock big story. He likes stories of the human condition, when people are tempted, teased. 

All of Simon Wood's books have been standalones until now. Did Not Finish is the first in a series. It's set in the racing world. Racing is expensive, and people are willing to compromise. It's a competitive world with rule-bending. Dick Francis took readers into the world of horse racing. This series is an inside point of view of motor sports.

Did Not Finish is based on an actual incident. In 1972, there was a tight championship. Two drivers were just two points apart, and whoever was in front at the end of this race would win. 

The night before the race, there were drivers, teams and officials in the club house. There was a rumor going around that the driver in second place had said if the leader doesn't pull over and let him win, I'll kill him. The public didn't know about it.

Qualifying went okay. But, in the second lap, the two touched wheels; the guy leading the championship hit the wall and was killed, in the same way Dale Earnhardt died. 

Wood told us there are ways to make cars go off the track if you know how. The driver can slip wheels. Anyone who has seen Ben Hur has seen one driver slip his wheel inside the other driver's. 

The race was televised, but it wasn't a live feed. Everyone was quiet after the race, thinking the threat had played out. So they expected TV on Tuesday would expose it. But, the TV coverage was edited. They changed the grid, didn't show the first two laps since the driver was killed in the second lap. The third lap appeared to be the first one. And, the driver's name didn't appear on the roster. Police wrapped up the case, and the car disappeared. Everyone pretended nothing happened, and some people were told to stop asking questions. The story just went away.

Here's where it got personal. Wood had seen something wrong with the dead driver's car in qualifying, and told him so it could be fixed. Then, when they call the drivers to the cars, Simon always had to go to the restroom. Other drivers were there, and then it was just Wood and the guy who later died. Simon wished him good luck, and the guy responded, that's OK, after this one, I'm telling my girlfriend I'm going to stop driving, and we'll get married. It's my wedding gift to her. Wood never told the guy's girlfriend that after the accident. But, he wanted to tell that story.

The story is somewhat changed in Did Not Finish. Some of the people from that time are still around. Aidy Westlake, the protagonist, is the third generation in motor sports. His grandmother was a mechanic. His father was a driver who had just moved up to Formula One, but he and Aidy's mother were killed in an accident on the way home from a race. Aidy was raised by his grandfather, much like Heid, except for lots of oil and grease. He's twenty-one years old at the grass roots championship when a driver dies, and he wants to find out who the killer is, and expose him.

Wood intends to follow Aidy through his rise in racing. He'll take him to different races around the world. One will be set in Europe, then Le Mans. There's a lot of gambling corruption in sports, so he'll take him to Vegas. One team had made ends meet by being drug mules. They crossed numerous European borders before they were caught. If you can imagine it in sports, it will happen. The people have to have money.

When the audience asked questions, the first question was about humor in his books, because Simon is funny. He said he might be lighthearted, but he's way too into justice or digging out the truth. There's not much humor in his fiction, although he writes humorous nonfiction.

Asked where he gets his ideas, he answered that he cuts lots of things from newspapers. He likes the odd cases, not the big ones. Wood lives in the east bay area, across from San Francisco. There's a big case right now. A Deputy Chief of a county task force on narcotics has been convicted of selling drugs as part of a prostitution scheme. It was a private eye who brought him down.  It's like the Sopranos are working out of small towns with populations of 30-50,000.

Once confiscated drugs are no longer needed for a case, they're burned. But, in that recent California case, the stuff was not destroyed. It was moved into storage, and then the whole case was wrapped up in prostitution. Wood likes this case. He likes stories from the back of newspapers, not the front page.

He was asked if he goes to trials, and he said he has gone to some. He went to night court in New York because he wanted to see what kind of cases go to court at 2 in the morning. He's been inside prisons. The California Parole Board was interesting.

Simon likes the unusual. "Body found in public storage." Why? People can bid on public storage units when the rent is delinquent. A woman paid $38 dollars for the contents of one, and when she unwrapped the contents, she found a body. 

Wood likes the unusual, unexplained crimes. He's most inspired by news stories. And, it's those kind of stories we'll continue to see in Simon Wood's books.

Simon Wood's website is

Did Not Finish by Simon Wood. Severn House. ©2011. ISBN 9781780290072 (hardcover), 215p.