Sunday, September 30, 2018

Dangerous Undertaking by Mark de Castrique

When I read the seventh Buryin' Barry mystery, Secret Undertaking, I liked the cast of characters enough to go back and pick up the first in the series, Dangerous Undertaking. Mark de Castrique is skilled in introducing a new series. This reader, at least, felt as if I had dropped into the middle of Barry Clayton's life, and was just re-meeting people I had met before.

Barry Clayton moved back home to Gainesboro, North Carolina from Charlotte where he'd been a police officer, a grad student in criminal justice, and married. That's all in the past now. His father has Alzheimer's, and Clayton's mother and uncle, and the community, need him as an undertaker. He's at the cemetery where Martha Willard is to be buried when Martha's grandson Dallas Willard shows up, shoots his brother and sister, and then aims at Barry, shouting, "Take a message to my grandmother. Tell her they tried to take her land. Tell her I love her." Barry survives, wounded in the shoulder.

Sheriff Tommy Lee Wadkins doesn't mind recruiting help from the hospital bed. He knows Barry isn't cut out to be only an undertaker and funeral director. Clayton assists with the hunt for Dallas, even while he handles a child's death and spends time with his family and his girlfriend, Dr. Susan Miller. Wadkins introduces Barry to a moonshiner and a biker, all part of the mountain community.

Dangerous Undertaking is an interesting mystery, but it's the characters who will draw readers back. Barry Clayton is trying to find his place back in his childhood community, and there are memories and people who will bring back those connections. It takes him time to realize what the crazed Dallas Willard seemed to already know, "Family is family." No one hurts you like family, and there's no love like family.

Are you a fan of Terry Shames' mysteries or Bill Crider's Sheriff Dan Rhodes ones? Try Mark de Castrique's mysteries of a small North Carolina mountain town.

Mark de Castrique's website is

Dangerous Undertaking by Mark de Castrique. Poisoned Pen Press, 2003. ISBN 1590580559 (hardcover), 223p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Saturday, September 29, 2018

The Guilty Dead by P.J. Tracy

A new Monkeewrench novel by P.J. Tracy is always a treat. While the mother half, P.J., of P.J. Tracy died in 2016, Traci successfully keeps the series interesting. Some will want more of the Monkeewrench team in the current novel, The Guilty Dead. As a fan of the police procedural aspect, I was perfectly satisfied with the latest book.

A year after a junkie is murdered in Hollywood, that death kicks off a crime spree in Minneapolis. Homicide detectives Leo Magozzi and Gino Rolseth catch the case when the junkie's father dies. Gregory Norwood's death appears, at first glance, to be a suicide, but because the Minnesota businessman and philanthropist died of a single gunshot to the head a year after the death of  his son Trey, Magozzi is suspicious, and pushes the crime scene investigators to look further.

While he and Gino focus on Norwood, Magozzi's partner, Grace MacBride, and her Monkeewrench team of computer geniuses are working on a prototype for a new software program that can track terrorist threats. Monkeewrench warns of a local plot, but it's Magozzi who connects the dots to a bomb at the local FBI offices, a building also occupied by Norwood's attorney. Leo also realizes Grace, pregnant with their child, is on site at that same building.

Tracy combines the best qualities of a fast-paced thriller with an intricately plotted police procedural in this intense book. At the same time, fans of the series will welcome the continuing story of the relationship between Leo and Grace. As always, there's a large cast of characters, but those of us who continue to follow the compelling Monkeewrench novels will have no problem following the story.

P.J. Tracy's website is

The Guilty Dead by P.J. Tracy. Crooked Lane Books, 2018. ISBN 9781683318583 (hardcover), 336p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book to review for a journal.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Winners & A Ripped From the Headlines Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Natalie S. from Hyde Park, MA will receive Julia Keller's Bone on Bone. A Borrowing of Bones by Paula Munier goes to Willetta H. from Dearborn, MI. The books are going out in the mail today.

I have two mysteries to give away this week with connections to headlines. Hank Phillippi Ryan's Trust Me is her first standalone, the story of a grieving woman who is given the chance to write the "instant bestseller" follow-up to a televised case in which a mother is on trial for killing her young daughter. The cover of the ARC says "There are three sides to every story. Yours. Mine. And the truth."

Linda Castillo is back in Ohio's Amish country with A Gathering of Secrets. When a fire destroys a barn on an Amish farm, Chief of Police Kate Burkholder is called because the oldest son of the family is missing. The body of eighteen-year-old Daniel Gingerich is found, and, by all accounts, he was a golden boy, beloved by everyone. As Kate investigates, she discovers the golden boy might have had a secret life.

Which suspense novel would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject line should read either "Win Trust Me" or "Win A Gathering of Secrets." Please include your name and mailing address. The giveaway will end Thursday, Oct. 4 at 5 PM CT. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

What Are You Reading?

It's Thursday! Welcome, fellow readers! I love to hear from all of you!  

I can't tell you a thing about my current book because I haven't yet started Craig Johnson's Depth of Winter at the time I'm writing this on Wednesday night. I'm going to start it. But, all I can really tell you is Walt Longmire is heading to northern Mexico to rescue his daughter who was kidnapped by the head of a drug cartel. I loved Johnson's last book, but I'm not fond of books featuring drug cartels, so we'll see. I'll give it a chance.

What are you reading or listening to this week? A favorite author? Are you giving a chance to something different? I'm looking forward to hearing from you.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Last Call by Paula Matter

Last month, I interviewed Paula Matter, author of the debut mystery, Last Call, Just this week, I had the chance to read the book, and there's so much I like about this book. I could have used a list of characters, but bartender Maggie Lewis and her story were fresh and original.

Maggie Lewis has been the bartender at the VFW in North DeSoto, Florida for five years. She's a short, middle-aged, grumpy widow, but, most of the time, she enjoys the hours she spends with the regulars at the bar. Jack Hoffman has always been a pain, though. He complains about women in the bar, Maggie as a bartender, and every other issue that comes up. After writing his complaints in his notebook, he takes those problems to the board. Despite Jack's behavior, Maggie certainly wouldn't want the man dead. Why is she the main suspect when Jack's found murdered in his truck?

Maggie had her first Saturday night off in five years when a younger woman is hired for the bar. Of course, she has no proof she was home in the middle of the night. And, one of Maggie's hair scrunchies was found in the victim's truck. Maggie has no confidence that the police chief, Bobby Lee, can find the real killer. After all, he didn't find the killer when Maggie's husband was murdered two years earlier. Now, she's suspended from her job while Bobby Lee investigates. As her debts pile up, Maggie knows she's going to have to do some investigating herself.

Maggie lacks the social skills to be a successful interviewer, but her tenant, an ex-cop, provides some guidance. It's all a learning experience as Maggie struggles to avoid antagonizing possible witnesses, and, even worse, a possible killer.

As grouchy as she can be at times, Maggie is an appealing character. Perhaps it's because she lacks social skills and grace that the reader feels for her. Here's a woman struggling to make ends meet after her husband's brutal killing. She works every night, on her feet in a bar, and takes on house cleaning jobs, knowing the women look down on her. She's desperate to clear her name, and friends have to restrain her from jumping in at the wrong moment. It's not appropriate to ask questions just before the funeral service starts. Several times, she drinks too much, a situation that causes problems for her.

A VFW in northern Florida is an interesting setting for a mystery. As I said, I could have used a character list, though. There were a few too many men who had secrets, and it wasn't always easy to remember who was who. But, Maggie herself is a memorable character, and I'm looking forward to her next story.

Paula Matter's website is

Last Call by Paula Matter. Midnight Ink, 2018. ISBN 9780738757827 (paperback), 312p.

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

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Have You Heard? - NoirCon Journal

While I'm finishing a book for tomorrow, I thought I'd pass on the information Sandie Herron shared. If you're a writer, or a reader of noir fiction, you might be interested.

My name is Lou Boxer, director of NoirCon, a biennial literary conference based out of Philadelphia, PA. In addition to authors discussing their work, our programming features a variety of artists, publishers, scholars, fans, and other professionals whose lives and careers have been touched by noir. 

I’m writing to let you know about our new online journal, Retreats from Oblivion. In the spirit of NoirCon, Retreats from Oblivion aspires to publish all varieties of noir-related arts, from fiction and non-fiction to poetry, photography, visual art, music, and beyond.

If you have any new stories, or out-of-print ones, looking for a new home, I hope you will keep Retreats from Oblivion in mind. It would be a pleasure to feature your writing in our journal!

I hope you take a moment to browse through our site and enjoy what you read.

Thank you very much for the consideration, and I hope we can work together in the future.

Lou Boxer

Monday, September 24, 2018

The Lost Carousel of Provence by Juliet Blackwell

Juliet Blackwell's third novel set in France takes readers to Provence in a story that spans more than a century, and a story that spans so much heartbreak. Can an American who never had a family find the way to reunite a bitter, broken man with the family that never accepted him? Blackwell's  The Lost Carousel of Provence is a moving story of loss and, in the end, hope.

In 1901, Josephine Clement has everything she could want. Her husband even hires the a famous carousel designer, Gustave Bayol, who sends his team to Provence to assemble his latest carousel on the grounds of Chateau Clement. But, Josephine and Yves did not have a child to ride that carousel. And, their story ends in tragedy, but it's a story shared by a mysterious woman who appears only in a couple photos. Readers know her as Moelle, a young woman desperate to become a carver.

In the 1940s in Paris, Fabrice Clement has run away from home to be part of the Resistance. He falls in love with a woman named Paulette, but when he finally returns home, he discovers his family has been betrayed to the Nazis. For years, Fabrice pours his heart and betrayal into his writing, but he's finally a bitter old man rejecting and fighting with family while living in the ruins of Chateau Clement.

It's all just a fluke that Cady Anne Drake ends up at Chateau Clement. She's from Oakland, California, where she was orphaned, grew up in foster homes and institutions, and was rescued from a life of crime by the owner of a an antiques and collectibles store. When Maxine dies, Cady hopes her carved rabbit, Gus, will provide some income. Gus was supposed to have been carved by Gustave Bayol, but even Gus lets Cady down. In her search for answers, she ends up in Paris, and then at Chateau Clement.

Blackwell skillfully combines three storylines into a fascinating story of one family struggling with its history, and the women who impact that history, one in 1900 and one today. It's a bittersweet story of loneliness and betrayal. But, one lonely American and her passion for a carved figure from the early twentieth century could change the direction of the Clement family's lives.

If you admire carousels, novels set in France, or family sagas and secrets, take a chance on Blackwell's moving novel, The Lost Carousel of Provence.

Juliet Blackwell's website is

The Lost Carousel of Provence by Juliet Blackwell. Berkley. 2018. ISBN 9780451490636 (paperback), 384p.

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

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Fade to Black by Heather Graham

This time, I have in my possession all three books in Heather Graham's latest Krewe of Hunters trilogy. This series features three brothers, Bryan, Bruce, and Brodie McFadden, and the women they grow to love in the course of a paranormal crime investigation.Fade to Black, the first in the series, features the oldest brother, Bryan McFadden.

Fade to Black opens in dramatic style. The cast of a popular older show, now in syndication, Dark Harbor, is participating in a Comic Con in West Hollywood. Four of the five stars desperately need the convention appearances. Marnie Davante, who had been the show's star, has moved on. Her true love is theater, but she appears at the conventions to help her former co-workers. But, Marnie's appearance doesn't exactly help this time when someone dressed as a popular comic villain confronts Marnie and slices her former TV mother, Cara Barton, to death.

How does Bryan McFadden become involved in an LA case, when he's based in Virginia? His mother, once a theater diva herself, pesters him into it. After a tragic accident that killed Maeve and her husband, Hamish, they're both ghosts who appear to their adult sons. The men, all former military, are talking about forming their own PI firm. At the same time, Bryan has worked on a kidnapping case with the FBI's Krewe of Hunters. He's been invited to join, but hasn't discussed it yet with Bruce and Brodie. Bryan's mother knows he's at loose ends, and she asks him to go to LA and protect Marnie. Cara has met with her old friend, and convinced her that Marnie was the original target at Comic Con.

Marnie wants nothing to do with Bryan McFadden when he shows up at Cara's funeral. She's had a horrifying week, watching her friend sliced to death. Then, Cara died in her arms. Marnie's answered questions from the police, arranged a funeral and reception. And, at the cemetery, she's seen the ghost of the dead woman, who now talks to her. No, she's not ready to believe in ghosts. She's not ready to trust McFadden. And, she's certainly not ready to believe she's the target of a killer.

A shattered window, a shooting, and another murder prove to Marnie that she might be in trouble. The fast-paced romantic thriller brings together two strong-willed people who are attracted to each other. As always, Graham gives readers plenty of action, suspense and romance. She creates intriguing characters, and often surprises readers with the villain.

Pale as Death might not be the next book I read. But, I'm looking forward to returning to LA with the second brother, Bruce McFadden.

Heather Graham's website is

Fade to Black by Heather Graham. MIRA Books, 2018. ISBN 9780778312802 (hardcover), 319p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book

Saturday, September 22, 2018

The Negotiator by Brendan DuBois

Loved this book. Loved the main character, the unnamed narrator. There. That's out of the way. Brendan Dubois' character, The Negotiator, reminded me a little of Lee Child's Jack Reacher. The book also reminded me a little of one of my favorite books about a con man, Stephen Cannell's King Con. This isn't one of those novels with an unreliable narrator. Just because the Negotiator is on the shady side doesn't mean he's lying to the reader. However, there are plenty of other unreliable characters in the book.

The Negotiator admits he chose the dark path in life. He has an uncanny gift. He can look at a priceless book, jewels, a painting, and tell what they're worth. So he acts as a go-between in negotiations between parties who don't trust each other, for a price. He does have three rules. No drugs. No human beings (no human or sex trafficking) deals. He won't do anything that he feels is against the best interests of the United States.

With one job, though, the Negotiator gets a little careless. He usually doesn't agree to meet at private homes. But he and his employee accept one job, meeting at a house to examine a painting. There's trouble; shots fired; and everything goes wrong. The negotiator is forced to exit through a window. Now, he has to examine what happened while he plans his revenge.

Women, the FBI, guns, violence. They all come into play as the Negotiator is blocked every step of his way. But, there's a wonderful ending with multiple twists in this fast-paced novel.

Fan of a lovable antihero? If you appreciate stories with non-stop action and twists, stories of carefully plotted revenge, try Brendan Dubois' The Negotiator.


This is not really part of the review, but the following short excerpt is one more reason I love the Negotiator character. He regularly uses small town public libraries. In the following, he and Carla, an FBI agent, have stopped at a library to do some research. (Please excuse the incorrect use of quotations marks. I'm just going to quote the text as written.)

"A helpful male librarian...directed Carla and I (sic) to the banks of the computers, and as we sat down, Carla said, "What a waste of space."

"Say again?"
"All these old books, all these crowded shelves."..."Everything out there can be scanned and stored."
"Then what? An EMP pulse, a screw-up in some computer file, or a zombie apocalypse later, these books will still be patiently waiting on shelves, waiting to be read. What do you think of when I say the word archipelago?"
The keyboard tapping went on. "You haven't said that word."
"I just did."
"All right, I suppose Indonesia. Or the Philippines. Or maybe the old Soviet prison system."
"Extra points for the Gulag reference, Carla. When I think of archipelago, I think of all these hundreds of libraries, spread across the country, all of them a little island of knowledge. Each existing by themselves, each connected to each other."

I love The Negotiator. Thank you, Brendan DuBois.

Brendan DuBois' website is

The Negotiator by Brendan DuBois. Midnight Ink, 2018. ISBN 9780738754017 (paperback), 295p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received this book to review for a journal.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Winners and A Giveaway of Bones

Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Kristina A. from Dunedin, FL won A Tale of Two Kitties. Purrder She Wrote goes to Pat P. from Sesser, IL. The books are going out in the mail today.

Bones. What would a mystery be without bones? This week, I have two mysteries that have bones in the titles. Bone on Bone is Julia Keller's latest book. And, I'll be honest. I hadn't read earlier books in this series, and it really didn't matter. Of course, the series is better if you start at the beginning, but you can still enter and read this one. The book opens three years after the last book Fast Falls the Night. Bell Elkins returns to Acker's Gap, West Virginia. The town may have changed some, but crime and desperation still affects the town. Brent and Linda Topping know that because their world has been upended by the drug addiction of their son, Tyler. Then, Brent is murdered by his son's suppliers. Then, when Linda rushes to help her son, she's shot. Bell and three others try to find the truth about the deaths.

A Borrowing of Bones is the first in a new series by Paula Munier. A retired US Army veteran and her K9 companion Elvis team up with a Game Warden and his search and rescue dog when Mercy and Elvis find a baby and buried bones in the Vermont wilderness. The four work together to track down a missing mother, solve a cold-case murder, and keep citizens of Vermont safe on an incendiary Independence Day weekend.

Which bones book would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject line should read either "Win Bone on Bone" or "Win A Borrowing of Bones." Please include your name and mailing address. The giveaway will end Thursday, Sept. 27 at 5 PM CT. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

What Are You Reading?

It's Thursday! Time to talk books, both here and on #AskaLibrarian on Twitter. My favorite day of
the week!

I just finished a book I'll review here on Saturday, but I loved it, and I think you might enjoy it, Glen, if you can find a copy (I'm taking my copy to my brother-in-law in a few weeks). It's called The Negotiator by Brendan DuBois. The Negotiator is an unnamed narrator who admits he chose the dark path. He can look at items, though, and know what they're worth, so he acts as the in-between person for shady deals, for a price. Want to buy stolen jewels? A priceless book? A stolen painting? That's his job, until one of those jobs goes wrong. Now, he's out for revenge. Fans of Lee Child's Jack Reacher or one of my favorites, King Con by Stephen Cannell, may like this one.

So, what are you reading or listening to this week? I hope you enjoyed at least one of those books as much as I enjoyed mine.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

The Ghost and the Bogus Bestseller by Cleo Coyle

In 2009, the fifth Haunted Bookshop mystery, The Ghost and the Haunted Mansion, came out. It was written under the name Alice Kimberly, a pseudonym also used by the authors who write as Cleo Coyle. On September 25, nine years later, the latest one in the series, The Ghost and the Bogus Bestseller by Cleo Coyle, will be released. Welcome back to Penelope Thornton-McClure and Jack Shepard.

After her husband's death, Pen and her son moved to Quindicott, Rhode Island, where she took over her aunt Sadie's bookshop. She also found a ghost in the bookshop, the ghost of a private detective who had been killed there in 1949. As an avid fan of crime fiction, Pen is fascinated by the stories Jack tells, accounts of his cases in the 1940s. Some of those cases resemble current cases that Pen encounters.

The hottest selling book in Buy the Book is Jessica Swindell's Shades of Leather. When a woman runs out of the store, after claiming it was her picture on the back of the book, taking the book with her, it arouses Pen's curiosity. Who was the woman? And, who is the author behind Jessica Swindell's name? As customers and people involved with that book die, Pen and Jack join forces to investigate the true story behind the novel. How does this relate to Jack's case from 1947 involving a missing dog and a missing author?

For those who read the earlier books in the series, that's enough information. If you haven't read these mysteries, you're missing fast-paced mysteries that successfully combine a cold case, a contemporary one, a ghost, a private investigator, and a bookseller. There's also sexual tension in the books. These mysteries are forerunners of so many books that came after, such as J.J. Cook's Sweet Pepper Brigade mysteries.

In 2014, when I reviewed one of J.J. Cook's books, Playing with Fire, I mentioned the Haunted Bookshop mysteries. It's worth repeating part of that review.

"I have a theory about women and ghosts. It's safe to have a female amateur sleuth fall for the ghost of a good-looking man. Readers can fall for him, too, but the author doesn't have to worry about the reader getting frustrated when the couple doesn't get together. I can think of some long-running mystery series that I've given up on reading because the woman can't make up her mind who she really loves. That isn't a problem in a series with a ghost. The heroine knows who she really loves. She just can't have him. It's an important element in a number of cozy mysteries featuring ghosts. In fact, that issue is central to some of my favorite series. Alice Kimberly's Haunted Bookshop series features a bookstore owner and the ghost of a private detective that haunted the bookshop where he died. Sharon Pape's Portrait of Crime series brings together a police sketch artist turned private investigator and the ghost of a Federal Marshal. In Paige Shelton's Country Cooking School mysteries, Betts Winston is haunted by the memory of Jerome Cowbender. J.J. Cook's outstanding Sweet Pepper Fire Brigade mysteries are in the same vein. Perhaps the latest one, Playing with Fire, reminds me the most of Alice Kimberly's books because we can see the story from both Fire Chief Stella Griffin's point of view, and, once in a while when he's thinking of her, the late fire chief's point of view. Former Fire Chief Eric Gamlyn is a ghost, and the man who built the cabin where Stella now lives. Everyone in town knows his ghost haunts the cabin, but only Stella can see and talk to him.

In this series, only Pen can see and talk with Jack. They've even discovered a way for him to leave the bookstore, with a token from Jack's past. It's another element that was also used in J.J. Cook's series.

I credit Cleo Coyle. The author credits "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir" as you can see in yesterday's blog interview. No matter who came up with the ghost and a widow, it's a successful device for a mystery series. And, thank heavens this one is back.

A note from the authors - FYI - Our main website is and for those interested in going straight to our Haunted Bookshop Mystery page, we have a dedicated web address at 

The Ghost and the Bogus Bestseller by Cleo Coyle. Berkley Prime Crime, 2018. ISBN 9780425237458 (paperback), 320p.

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

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Cleo Coyle - Author Interview

I've been waiting years for a new Haunted Bookshop mystery by Cleo Coyle. I was so excited to read it, that I asked the authors if they'd answer a few questions. It's out next week, and I'll be reviewing The Ghost and the Bogus Bestseller tomorrow. I'm glad the authors found time for the interview.

Cleo (because it’s easier to call you that for the interview), would you introduce yourselves to the readers?

Greetings, everyone, I am Alice Alfonsi, and I collaborate with my husband, Marc Cerasini, to write The Coffeehouse Mysteries and Haunted Bookshop Mysteries under the pen name Cleo Coyle.

Marc and I also work independently under our own names. We’ve written popular fiction for
adults and children; and, as media tie-in writers, we’ve penned bestselling properties for NBC, Fox, Disney, Lucasfilm, Imagine, and MGM.

As for our Coffeehouse Mysteries, we’re celebrating 15 years in print, three starred reviews, and the publication of the seventeenth entry with Shot in the Dark. We’re now working on our eighteenth Coffeehouse title, due for publication in 2019 by our longtime publisher (PRH’s Berkley).

I was so excited to see the return of Jack Shepard and Penelope Thornton-McClure. It’s been a number of years, so would you introduce Jack and Pen? And, please share their good news.

Happy to! After a decade-long hiatus, Marc and I have resumed writing our Haunted Bookshop Mysteries for Berkley. The Ghost and the Bogus Bestseller is out this month with more titles to come. We dedicated the new book to our readers, who never gave up on seeing Jack come back. And who is Jack?

Jack Shepard (deceased circa 1949) is a wisecracking PI whose spirit haunts a little Rhode Island bookshop run by an earnest, young widow named Penelope Thornton-McClure.

Penelope’s late father, a small town cop, gave her an early love of crime fiction, including the hardboiled detectives of the Black Mask school, which begs an ongoing question. Why does she alone hear Jack’s voice? Is he an actual apparition? Or is he some kind of alter-ego? There to counsel and bolster Pen, and express the things she can’t. Whatever the truth, when crime happens, Jack encourages Pen to investigate— and appears to enjoy educating her in the tricks of his trade.

After creating the series in 2003, we wrote five entries and (for a variety of reasons) let Jack rest in peace. The fans, however, weren’t ready for his untimely end, which is why we finally decided to make our ghost reappear.

Tell us about The Ghost and the Bogus Bestseller without spoilers.
The brand new book in our series is an entertaining murder mystery that has plenty to say about life and death; readers and writers; and our wacky book business. The story includes some intriguing insights into the book trade’s history of hoaxes (our “Bogus Bestseller” was inspired by many that came before it).
Readers should have plenty of fun guessing whodunit with our hardboiled ghost Jack teaching his earnest PI student, bookseller Penelope, a thing or two about how to crack a hard case. We’ll even take you back to Jack’s 1940s New York, where a missing pooch leads to a missing author, two lively subplots that help our amateur sleuth better understand her case at hand.

I know what inspired the stories of Jack and Pen, but readers may not. Would you share the backstory, please?

Years ago, I read the novel The Ghost and Mrs. Muir by R.A. Dick, the pen name for author Josephine Leslie. The book was a bestseller in 1945. Two years later, Hollywood turned it into a classic film, which inspired a 1968 television series.

What influenced me most, however, was a realization about the era in which the novel was produced. World War II had just ended, and many young women were grieving the loss of their husbands. Ms. Leslie’s novel gave these women the story of Mrs. Muir, a young widow like themselves, who is befriended by the spirit of a colorful sea captain, one who even “dictates” a bestselling book to her.

I appreciated the comfort that novel must have brought to war widows of the time. The Ghost and Mrs. Muir made vivid the idea that spirits are looking after us. Whether the spirits are real or residing within ourselves—as imagination, passion, or creative potential—the notion is an uplifting one.
Of course, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is not a mystery, and though Ms. Leslie’s novel provided a baseline inspiration for our series, Marc and I worked hard to create a fully realized world of original characters, settings, and stories, as well as a functioning structure that could support multiple works of crime fiction. The amazing Carolyn Hart, of course, pioneered the idea of a series centered around a mystery bookstore—that wasn’t new ground, but…

As longtime fans of film noir and the Black Mask writers, my husband and I knew mixing that ingredient into the series stew would spice things up. We also developed flashback subplots for our ghost character, Jack Shepard, along with a fictional device that allowed our earnest bookseller to join him in a kind of unconventional PI school.

Pairing Jack’s hardboiled darkness with the lighter character of Penelope proved an entertaining match for many readers, and we hope they’ll be pleased to see them team up again in The Ghost and the Bogus Bestseller (2018).

As a fan of this series, I could ask so much more, but I want to pay a little bit of homage to the Coffeehouse Mysteries. Would you give us the elevator pitch about that series?
Our Coffeehouse Mysteries follow the misadventures of a single mom named Clare Cosi, who runs a landmark Greenwich Village coffeehouse for an eccentric older woman, while doing her best to mother and protect her daughter and the young staff she manages. Clare is a mature woman who has a complicated love life and routinely finds herself mixed up in murder. One fan called it Murder, She Wrote meets Starbucks. Marc and I are fine with that description since we both happen to love Murder, She Wrote!

What inspired the Coffeehouse Mysteries?
The inspiration for the series came from my time living in New York’s East Village, shortly after I moved to the city from Western Pennsylvania. You can see the actual building where the Coffeehouse Mysteries were born by clicking here.
Back in 1985, this part of Manhattan was far from the trendy, hipster neighborhood that it is now. The area was rough and gritty with plenty of street crime. I was working at my first job out of college, a cub reporter’s position at the New York Times. That may sound impressive, but the work was far from glamorous. The hours were long, the pay pitiful.
Since my working-class parents couldn’t afford to supplement my living, which is how many well-off young people survive high urban rents, I did what most of the planet’s population does to make ends meet—I improvised. A female friend in an NYU grad program agreed to share the rent with me. She slept in the tiny bedroom, and I used a pullout couch in the Lilliputian living room.
While this cramped, shotgun apartment was located across from a rundown park notorious for drug dealing, it also sat above a small coffee shop and bakery called Bread and Roses. That friendly women-run shop on the ground floor of my old address offered a warm and cozy oasis, smack in the middle of the big-city land of not-so-nice noir.
Years ago, in a published essay for Mystery Readers International, I used the phrase “Urban Cozy” (as far as I know, I coined the term) in an attempt to describe the particular blended sub-genre in which we write—amateur sleuth mysteries with cozy mystery elements, like close relationships and humor, but set in an urban environment with edgier crime stories.
Certainly plenty of authors blend genres, and we’ve been influenced by many writers who came before us (more on that below), but the particular voice and vision for our Coffeehouse Mysteries came from my early experience living and feeling that odd juxtaposition of cozy and noir.
Keeping our cozy readers in mind, Marc and I ultimately set our fictional Village Blend not in the East but a short distance away in the more beautiful, landmark preserved West Village. Yes, with a bit of cheeky irony, we made sure our amateur sleuth lived in a picturesque “village”—and, in all honesty, our NYC neighborhoods share many of the same attributes as the villages of more traditional mysteries. People work hard to run their businesses. They care for their families and friends. They try to do the right thing in their community. They gossip and make mistakes; withstand heartache and loss; and, most of all, do their best to (as our character Madame would say) “Survive everything, and do it with style.”

Now, just a couple personal questions. How did the two of you meet?
Though we were both born and raised in different small towns outside of Pittsburgh, PA, Marc and I didn’t meet until we each moved to New York City. We got to know each other while working in the same office, over twenty-five years ago, and we’ve been together ever since. We’ve been New Yorkers ever since, too, and reside in Queens.

How did you decide to write together?
For years, we wrote independently, publishing popular fiction for adults and children and tie-in projects for a number of studios, including Disney, Imagine, Universal, Marvel, and Lucasfilm.
Marc also wrote nonfiction, including The Future of War: The Face of 21st Century Warfare; Heroes: U.S. Marine Corps Medal of Honor; (a major essay in) The Tom Clancy Companion; and O.J. Simpson: American Hero, American Tragedy, which spent 4 weeks on the New York Times list (1 million copies printed, 700,000 sold).
Around the same time, I authored four paranormal romance novels for Berkley (Eternal Vows, Eternal Love, Eternal Sea, and Some Enchanted Evening). That experience led to my ghostwriting Hidden Passions, an original novel based on an offbeat, paranormal NBC daytime drama. The book spent 8 week on the New York Times bestseller list and was named media tie-in book of the year by Entertainment Weekly.
My Harper editor on the novel, who also knew Marc’s work, asked if we’d like to work together on a new project, and we said yes. It was our first official collaborative project and also the first work of tie-in fiction attached to the Emmy-award winning Fox TV series 24.
We learned some interesting thriller techniques from Virgil Williams, 24’s story editor at the time, who guided and advised us along the way. We both enjoyed working together and agreed that a great next step would be to develop our own mystery series.

How do you work together? Who does what in the writing?
Our collaborative process is a little like two chefs in one kitchen. We brainstorm the menu (rough outline) together. Then we go off and cook up different parts. Throughout the months of writing, we’ll continue to suggest ideas to each other—over morning coffee, evening meals, and long walks through our neighborhood. But we always write our sections alone, dreaming up things in separate rooms. Then we come together and share. I go over Marc’s pages and he goes over mine, each of us working to improve, smooth out, or punch-up the other’s prose.
We never outline a book from start to finish. After we agree on a concept and general direction, we’ll throw our characters into the thick of things and let them tell us the story from there. By the midpoint, we’re brainstorming again, researching new twists, turns, and locations, and we rarely know the ending until we’re about three-quarters through. We like it that way. If we can surprise ourselves, we’re more likely to surprise and entertain our readers.
One last note, readers should not assume that Marc writes all the men and I the women (an unfortunate assumption that we sometimes encounter). Each of us writes scenes and sequences using every character. Marc writes Clare Cosi, Madame, and Penelope Thornton-McClure as often as I write NYPD Detective Mike Quinn, coffee-hunter Matt Allegro, and the ghost of Jack Shepard.

I love to know answers to this question. When friends come to visit, where do you like to take them?
To Junior’s for the best cheesecake on this or any other planet, the TKTS booth in Times Square, and between the lions of the New York Public Library. Runner-up jaunts include the High Line; Bryant Park; the Staten Island Ferry, and our “Coffeehouse Mystery” tour of Greenwich Village. For adventurous souls, we’ll throw in a ride on our local Queens #7 Train (aka “The International Express”) with noshing stops in Little India, Little Manilla, Flushing’s Chinatown, and the Irish pubs of Woodside.

You probably have different answers to this question, so I’ll take answers from each of you. What authors influenced you?
ALICE: A host of authors, playwrights, and poets, have influenced me over the years. They include (in no particular order): Nora Ephron, Raymond Chandler, Neil Simon, Thornton Wilder, R. A. Dick (Josephine Leslie), Susan Isaacs, Fay Weldon, Janet Evanovich, Agatha Christie, O. Henry, Mark Twain, Richard Price, Dennis Lehane, Thomas Harris, Carolyn Hart, Diane Mott Davidson, Rex Stout, Nan and Ivan Lyons, Dashiell Hammett, Woody Allen, Paddy Chayefsky, Tom Stoppard, Tom Wolfe, David Mamet, Edward Albee, Clare Booth Luce, Fitzgerald, Poe, Shakespeare, Sondheim, Sylvia Plath, (working-class poet and my former teacher) Jim Daniels, and…(okay, I’ll stop already, but I consider the list open-ended).
MARC: Robert E. Howard was a major inspiration, but until I was fourteen I mostly read the books lying around our family home so the list is pretty eclectic. Edgar Allen Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Jack London, Clark Ashton Smith, C. L. Moore, Shirley Jackson, Jane Gaskell, Frank Herbert, Philip Jose Farmer, Harlan Ellison, Larry Niven, Michael Moorcock, Ursula K. Le Guin, Philip K. Dick, Richard Matheson, Jacqueline Susanne, Harold Robbins, Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain, Rex Stout, James Ellroy, and James Clavell. I began taking note of screenwriters before I was twelve and so include Jimmy Sangster, Paddy Chayefsky, Joseph Stefano, Charles Beaumont, and Nigel Kneale.

Again, there may be different answers to this one. Name an author or book that you wish had received more attention.
ALICE: My husband doesn’t know I’m going to say this, but I’m naming his groundbreaking literary study. Marc Cerasini co-wrote the book Robert E. Howard: A Critical Study with award-winning writer Charles Hoffman, and the year it was published, the book was short-listed for the World Fantasy Award. Novalyne Price Ellis, who knew Howard well—and was portrayed by actress Renée Zellweger in The Whole Wide World, a moving film about Howard’s life and death—was delighted with the work that Marc and Charles did, and personally conveyed her gratitude to them. Robert E. Howard was originally published by Starmont House/Borgo Press, a company that went out of business and took the book out of print with its demise. The study really should be back in print (and in libraries!) for Howard enthusiasts to enjoy.
MARC: Though she received plenty of attention when she published her first novel at sixteen, British fantasy author Jane Gaskell is pretty much forgotten today, and her books are long out of print. This is sad because her Atlan series (The Serpent, Atlan, The City, and Some Summer Lands) greatly influenced me. Told in first person by a perfectly ordinary princess taken hostage and dragged across prehistoric South America to Atlantis, Gaskell’s saga was free of the stilted, high-sounding language often found in the genre at that time. Along with a vivid imagination, she possessed a journalist’s flair for detail and description, so it’s no surprise she gave up fiction to become a reporter for Britain’s Daily Mail.

And, my final question. I’m a librarian. Tell me a story about a library or a librarian in your life.

MARC: I lived in a fading steel town outside of Pittsburgh that had a very imposing library built by the town’s namesake, Andrew Carnegie. One summer my dad was appointed to the City Council, so on Tuesday nights, seven until nine, he had to attend weekly meetings. I often went with him because the library seemed like a really cool place to a twelve-year-old, with its huge bronze statues of classical warriors, swords and shields on the walls, and even a suit of armor. On those trips, I walked around the library alone and unsupervised, after hours. More than once, I got lost in some book in a hidden stack, and my dad had to come find me. I remember reading Call of the Wild in two visits, relieved no one had borrowed it in the intervening week!
ALICE: In my little hometown, we had no bookstores, not even a proper library, but that didn’t discourage my steelworker dad from making sure his daughters received a good education. That was his mantra, and one of the reasons my older sister Grace is a respected M.D. in Denver and I’m (forgive me, must say this for Dad) a New York Times bestselling author. Without fail, Antonio Alfonsi would drive his daughters to the Carnegie Library system’s bookmobile, which rolled into our local Acme parking lot once a week. We were always there to greet it, excitedly picking up or returning books. God bless this country’s libraries, librarians, and bookmobiles, especially those that serve lower income communities, where bookstores are as scarce as polo ponies.

Thank you, Cleo, Alice, and Marc. Come back tomorrow for my review of The Ghost and the Bogus Bestseller.

And, a note from the authors - FYI - Our main website is and for those interested in going straight to our Haunted Bookshop Mystery page, we have a dedicated web address at