The Making of Kilmoon: Ireland, Grief, and Family Secrets – and a Signed Copy Giveaway!

image descriptionLisa Alber received an Elizabeth George Foundation writing grant based on Kilmoon. In addition, Ms. George asked Lisa to write a short story for Two of the Deadliest: New Tales of Lust, Greed, and Murder from Outstanding Women of Mystery (HarperCollins). She featured Lisa’s story in an “Introducing…” section for up-and-coming novelists.

Lisa is currently working on the second novel in the County Clare mystery series, Grey Man. Ever distractible, you may find her staring out windows, fooling around online, or drinking red wine with her friends. Ireland, books, animals, photography, and blogging round out her distractions. Lisa lives in Portland, Oregon. Kilmoon is her first novel.

You can find Lisa at: website | Facebook | Twitter | blog

 

 

When I talk about my debut novel, Kilmoon, A County Clare Mystery, I tend to talk about Ireland and an annual matchmaking festival and a medieval church relic called Kilmoon Church. These are great hooks into my story about a Californian named Merrit Chase who travels to Ireland to meet her long-lost father, the famous Matchmaker of Lisfenora, only to get drawn into a murder investigation and her father’s dark past.

Ireland definitely inspired the novel—and what could be better than Ireland?—but that’s not the only thing that bubbled out of the melting pot that is my subconscious. Years after I’d written the novel (publication took awhile) I realized just how personal this novel was to me. Personal in a way I don’t talk about at readings.

My dad died of cancer just as the first ittiest bittiest glimmers of a story idea started floating around in my brain. I was in Ireland at the time. In fact, I was researching my Drawer Novel. (Kilmoon is my second written novel.) I happened to land in Lisdoonvarna village, which just happened to host a matchmaking festival each year. And, my B&B just happened to be located down the lane from Kilmoon Church. I had the backdrop for a novel that didn’t exist yet.

 

Kilmoon Church Celtic Crosses

Kilmoon Church Celtic Crosses

 

I remember my B&B hostess, Theresa, telling me I had received a call from home. I remember the emptiness whispering over the telephone line as I talked to my dad, hoping he could hear me through his coma. We had all thought he’d live for months longer, so I thought it was safe to journey away for a few weeks. He died before I made it home on the next flight I could get. My guilt and regret knew no bounds.

That trip and its fun discoveries became irrevocably linked to my dad’s death. It’s no wonder I wrote a novel that features a father-daughter theme. It’s pretty dark, but that was a dark time in my life as I wrestled with my guilt and regret, and also with trying to understand my sometimes difficult relationship with my dad.

But that’s not all, two months to the day my dad died, my mother received a phone call from Catholic Services. Her long-lost son was looking for her, wanting to know what his genes carried because he now had a child of his own. My mother had given this son up for adoption when she was around 30 years old. This wasn’t a teenage pregnancy. My mom had loved her lover, a dentist who still lived with his overbearing Irish mama, and she thought they would marry. Nope. My mom quit her job and banished herself to a Catholic Home for Unwed Mothers. She didn’t tell a soul.

And she never told my dad either. When she revealed the news that I had an older brother, she said that her time in the Catholic home was the hardest thing she’d ever had to live through, even harder than mourning my dad’s death. She’d wiped her memory clean of that time. Repressed it. She couldn’t remember my brother’s birthday when Catholic Services called. (And this repression explained so much about the way she mothered us three daughters—a kind of distance.)

My mother said that if my dad were still alive, she wouldn’t have allowed Catholic Services to pass her phone number to her son. She still would have kept the truth from my dad. It was eerie, the timing of that phone call.

I’d barely begun the grieving process when the fact of a brother came at me out of the blue. All of a sudden, I had a different family, and I knew both my mom and dad for different people. I had to wonder about my dad if my mom never felt comfortable enough with him to tell him the truth.

In Kilmoon, Merrit also discovers that her family is not the family she’s known, and she must readjust her ideas about both of her parents. Family secrets play a large role in the story.

Now, the connections between Kilmoon and my tumultuous year—an Ireland trip cut short, a new brother—seem obvious. As if I’d consciously set out to process the changes in my life through fiction. But I didn’t.

A year later I’d set Drawer Novel aside and started in on Kilmoon. The Ireland trip that linked to my dad’s death that linked to my mom’s secret came together in a fictional way I never could have imagined.

Have you faced secrets or truths about loved ones that you never
would have expected? How did you process your new reality?

 

 

KilmoonAbout Kilmoon: Merrit Chase travels to Ireland to meet her father, a celebrated matchmaker, in hopes that she can mend her troubled past. Instead, her arrival triggers a rising tide of violence, and Merrit finds herself both suspect and victim, accomplice and pawn, in a manipulative game that began thirty years previously. When she discovers that the matchmaker’s treacherous past is at the heart of the chaos, she must decide how far she will go to save him from himself—and to get what she wants, a family.

“Brooding, gothic overtones haunt Lisa Alber’s polished, atmospheric debut. Romance, mysticism, and the verdant Irish countryside all contribute to making KILMOON a marvelous, suspenseful read.”
—Julia Spencer-Fleming, New York Times & USA Today bestselling author of Through the Evil Days

“This first in Alber’s new County Clare Mystery series is utterly poetic … The author’s prose and lush descriptions of the Irish countryside nicely complement this dark, broody and very intricate mystery.”
—RT Book Reviews (four stars)

 

Barnes & Noble Buy Button        Amazon Buy Button        Indiebound Button.jpg

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

One lucky reader will win a signed print copy
of Kilmoon
by Lisa Alber and you have two
chances
to enter the drawing. For the first entry,
go back
and leave a comment on the review
posted
on April 17th. For the second entry, leave
a comment
here on Lisa’s guest post. The
winning name
will be chosen at random on the
evening of Tuesday,
April 22nd. This drawing is
open to residents of the US and Canada.

 

Book Reviews: Propinquity by John Macgregor, The Fame Thief by Timothy Hallinan, and Cold Spell by Jackson Pearce

PropinquityPropinquity
John Macgregor
John Macgregor, June 2013
ISBN 9781301702114
Ebook
A 2013 release of a 1986 original

One of the definitions of the title is a nearness in time. This highly imaginative novel deals with both the twentieth century and the thirteenth. It would appear at first blush there isn’t much. Propinquity. The novel begins in Australia and it ends there. In between, the uncertain narrator touches down in England and Haiti. Moreover, the principal character in the novel is Berengaria of Navarre, wife of Richard I, King of England. She appears to have been a student and perhaps a dispenser of gnosis. Gnosis comes from the Greek for internal secret knowledge which, if properly recognized, leads to an exalted and serene existence.

When the novel begins, Clive Lean is a young student in school in Australia. With friends he muses over the meanings of life and the roles of religions. Once his life develops and he becomes wealthy he journeys to England and through a chance encounter with a randy student of the medieval, is able to explore the crypts of Westminster abbey and to make a surprising discovery. Here, in an unmarked coffin, lies the body of a queen of England. Perhaps.

Why here? Why now? And what messages lie in the ancient documents discovered with the remarkably well-preserved queen, a queen whom, so far as is stated by the chroniclers, never set foot on fair England’s shores. Those questions will only be answered by readers of the novel. I hasten to point out this is not a history text, nor is it a mystery in the conventional sense. Yes, crimes are committed, crimes that result in an international outcry and a multi-continent chase. All of this activity is related with considerable wit and erudition and a propinquity that will satisfy most readers.

The dialogue is often crisp and sometimes meandering, occasionally thrilling. The many characters in this morality play are clearly and humanely drawn. Unlike many novels in the genre, a good many questions raised during the narrative are never answered and that, ultimately, is, I suppose, the point. At least, one of the points. Because, finally, frustrating though it may be, I suspect that each thoughtful, careful reader will finish the novel with a sigh, a smile and a nod of recognition.

The novel was originally released in 1986 by a publisher who promptly went out of business. Thus, this is, in one sense at least, its original release, since the book had almost no circulation at that time.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, November 2013.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

The Fame ThiefThe Fame Thief
A Junior Bender Mystery #3
Timothy Hallinan
Soho Crime, July 2013
ISBN: 978-1-6169-5280-8
Hardcover

Junior Bender, the protagonist in this, the third in this series, has a franchise, according to the eminence grise of Hollywood, the powerful Irwin Dressler, the 93-year-old mob boss. Junior prides himself as a burglar’s burglar, and has found himself much in demand by criminals as their own private investigator. And that’s why Dressler has two of his goons snatch Junior off the street and bring him to his home. He asks Junior to find out who was responsible for ruining a minor actress’ career over 60 years earlier.

This gives the author an opportunity to describe the Hollywood scene of the 1950’s, together with the glamour of Las Vegas and the prevalence of mafia bigwigs and run-of-the mill hoodlums. It is a mystery why a minor starlet became so important to the mob that she had a single starring role: testifying at the Estes Kefauver crime hearings.

I did not find Junior quite as amusing this time around as he was in the first two novels in the series, Crashed and Little Elvises, but Mr. Hallinan makes up for it in the dialogue delivered by Dressler, a Jew who was sent west by the Chicago mob to develop Hollywood and Los Angeles, as well as Las Vegas, for it. This book has quite a plot, and Junior has a tough road to hoe to solve the mystery.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2014.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Cold SpellCold Spell
Jackson Pearce
Little, Brown and Company, November 2013
ISBN 978-0-316-24359-9
Hardcover

There is something about Ms. Pearce’s writing that calls to me like a siren from the sea. Her words leap from the pages to wrap me in comfort. Picking up one of her books feels like wrapping chilly hands around a steaming mug of cocoa. The anticipation must be savored for a moment, before diving into the bliss. Cold Spell, her most recent novel, is no exception.

This enchanting interpretation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” captivated this reader immediately. Brimming with exceptional characters exhibiting quirks, wit, sweetness, determination, talent and compassion; this seemingly simple tale of one girl persistently pursuing her soul-mate becomes a book that cannot be put down.

At the tender age of 17, Ginny has known and loved Kia for a decade. With just a twist, a typical romance is transformed. You see, Kia loves her right back. Where does a story go when it starts with an uncomplicated, true and shared love? Well, in this case, on an epic adventure including Fenris, gypsies (Travellers), a compassionate and ultra-cool couple and the sinister, selfish Snow Queen, Mora.

When the Snow Queen chooses Kia for own court, she has no clue how far Ginny is willing to go to prevent this. Even during her time as a human, Mora has never known real love; therefore, she simply can’t fathom what one person may do to save a cherished soul from a life-time of suffering, servitude and pain. Until faced with it; The Snow Queen never anticipated that a girl would be willing to kill her own soul-mate as the last resort to free him.

This alone would make a fabulous book, but true to form, Ms. Pearce gives us so much more. Ginny’s chase after Kia and his captor is enriched with colorful characters, unique life-styles with funky traditions, and surprising common bonds. As Ginny meets new people, this reader enjoyed subtle reminders that translate to real-life such as; things are not always as they seem, trust your gut-feelings; sometimes, good people appear to be doing “bad” things and, on occasion, the proverbial “bad-guy” is a hurt, frustrated and confused being with no one to turn to.

Although the story and characters are fictional; emotions, concerns and certain dilemmas aren’t really that far from reality. It is to that end, I think, that Ms. Pearce’s books bring me happiness and satisfaction. Not only are they tremendously entertaining, but they help me remember that the story-book wrap-up I tend to carry in my head is not always the best ending.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2014.

 

Paws, Claws, and Character—and a Giveaway!

 

Lauren and Gnarly

Lauren and Gnarly

Lauren Carr is the best-selling author of the Mac Faraday Mysteries, which takes place in Deep Creek Lake, Maryland. Each installment of Lauren’s hit mystery series, starting with It’s Murder, My Son which was released in June 2010, has made the best-seller’s list on Amazon. Twelve to Murder is the seventh Mac Faraday mystery.

Also receiving rave reviews, Dead on Ice, released September 2012, introduced a new series entitled Lovers in Crime, which features prosecutor Joshua Thornton with homicide detective Cameron Gates. The second book in this series, Real Murder, will be released in June 2014.

 

Last week, a friend told me that the animals in my books have “big character.” By this, she explained, that they have distinct personalities and sometimes serve an actual role in the plotline.

I took it as a compliment that the fur-bearing characters in my mysteries could be considered “big characters.” I think some pet owners would say their furry family members have big personalities—which is where this all originated in the Mac Faraday mysteries.

Now, animals in books is nothing new. They have played roles going way back in literature. Jack London’s White Fang was written from the title character’s viewpoint, that of a wild wolfdog and his journey to domestication.

In mysteries, there is a whole sub-genre devoted to pet mysteries, in which animals play a role in solving the mystery. Sometimes, admittedly the pet may only think he is solving the mystery. Some of these cozies are even told from the pet’s point of view.

The growing popularity of animals who play roles in books is an indication of how much pets have come to mean to people. According to US News, Americans Spend $61 Billion on Pets Annually! That’s a lot of kibble and bits!

Just take a look at my cell phone. In the photo gallery, I have dozens of pictures of Gnarly (the real Gnarly) from puppy-hood to adult hood. But none of my son. (Yes, I love Tristan, but Gnarly is … well, Gnarly!)

Last week, I spent ten dollars on a chew toy for Gnarly. The label read that it was indestructible, guaranteed. “Toughest chew toy on the market.” Its life-span in Gnarly’s paws was thirty minutes. I’d return it for my money back but it was a million pieces and Gnarly was very unhappy when I gathered them all up to throw out before he choked on the pieces. So not only was I out ten dollars, but my hundred pound German shepherd was mad at me for giving him a new toy that he was only allowed to have for thirty minutes.

I did not set out to write pet mysteries.

It just happened.

Animals have always been included in my books, just like in my life. A former farm girl, I have always had dogs or cats. When I was living in apartments in the city, I would have fish or birds. They were always there and played a vital role in my life, not unlike my family.

So, when I began writing mysteries, my characters would have pets as well. In the first Joshua Thornton mysteries, he had Admiral, a Great Dane-Irish Wolfhound mix. While Admiral had (and still has in the Lovers in Crime Mysteries) personality, he played no role in investigating or detecting the bad guys.

Then came Gnarly in the Mac Faraday Mysteries.

Believe it or not, as important as Gnarly has become to Mac and his friends, he was not in the first drafts of It’s Murder, My Son. Mac Faraday did have a dog, which was a German shepherd. However, this dog, which was his pet, was “simply there.”

 

The real-life Gnarly on his throne.

The real-life Gnarly on his throne.

 

Then, I took my son to a football game, and during half-time, a woman came up to my then seven-year old and asked, “Would you like to hold my puppy?” Tristan looked at me and I thought, “What harm can come from holding a puppy?” I said yes. The puppy landed in Tristan’s arms. The woman said, “You can keep him. He’s free.” Then, she was gone!

You might say this was the turning point of my mysteries.

Ziggy had (and still has) a huge personality. An Australian shepherd, he was a notorious thief, who would hide his stolen goods under our bed.

No matter what method of training I would try on him, he would see his way around it. When he became bigger than Tristan, he would steal food right out of his hand at the dinner table. One night, on the suggestion of a friend, I set a spray bottle filled with water in the middle of the table.

“When Ziggy tries to steal Tristan’s food, shoot this at him and he’ll leave him alone,” I instructed Jack and my father-in-law, who was living with us then.

Suddenly, in the middle of our chicken dinner, like an alligator spotting prey at the shore, Ziggy jumped out from under the table to grab the end of a chicken leg as Tristan was bringing it to his mouth. Tristan held on. The tug-of-war broke out.

Jack and Grandpa sat with their mouths hanging open.

At the other end of the table, I yelled, “Shoot him!”

Neither of them moved.

Meanwhile, determined to not let his dinner get away, Tristan was holding on.

I dove across the table to grab the spray bottle and shot it at the furry attacker.

Refusing to let go, Ziggy blinked. Realizing that it was only water, he resumed his fight for the chicken leg.

Their mouths still hanging open, Jack and Grandpa were still sitting motionless at the table.

Suddenly, I made a realization. “Tristan, are you really going to want to eat that leg even if you can get it off him?”

Tristan released and Ziggy carried off his ill-gotten chicken leg to his den under our bed.

That was when I called the dog expert who announced that Ziggy’s exceptional intelligence leads to boredom which results in his looking for trouble to get into. The solution, more walks and intense training to alleviate his boredom.

I thought, What if Mac Faraday had such a dog? So highly intelligent that he looks for trouble, but loveable, like Ziggy. In other words, the anti-Lassie.

Gnarly was born.

Most of the canine incidents that I have included in my mysteries have truly happened, if not with my own dogs, but with other home-owners—like the troll under the bridge in the opening of Shades of Murder. A husky named Sarge who lives in our neighborhood is guilty of holding up the UPS and Fed-Ex trucks for dog treats.

Cats, too, I believe can be big characters, as well.

In the Lovers in Crime Mysteries, Irving is based on a real Maine Coon I had when I met my husband twenty-five years ago. Duchess was twenty-five pounds and a one-woman cat. Like a dog, she would run to me when I came home. When I would write on my old desktop, she would stretch out across the top of the monitor (yep, all twenty-five pounds of her). Often her legs would hang over either side of the monitor. She would flick her tail down next to the computer screen.

My, how she resented Jack!

One night, shortly after Jack and I were married, I spent a whole afternoon preparing chateaubriand for two. Candle-light, expensive wine. It was the perfect romantic dinner for two newlyweds.

In our first home, the dining table was set against the back of the sofa in a great room. We had only started to eat when Duchess jumped up onto the back of the sofa and strolled casually along the length of the sofa in Jack’s direction.

“Look at this,” Jack told me with a chuckle.

I looked, just in time to see Duchess walk up to where Jack was sitting, turn to him, and propel a giant fur ball directly into the middle of his plate!

Dinner is never boring at my house.

Such a relationship between new husband and his wife’s cat was irresistible when I created the Lovers in Crime Mysteries. Joshua Thornton tolerates Irving, a twenty-five pound Maine Coon, who has the markings of a skunk, who resents the man who has taken his mistress away from him.

Like many blended families, at this point in the Lovers in Crime, Irving’s role is that of low key adversary to the new addition to his family–Joshua Thornton. Rather than investigate murders, Irving is more concerned with training Joshua in how to play hide and seek with a cat late in the evening—and find a dead body—which can be murder: Real Murder (coming June 1)

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Real MurderComing June 1!

Real Murder
A Lovers in Crime Mystery
“It’s not a real murder.”

When Homicide Detective Cameron Gates befriends Dolly, the little old lady who lives across the street, she is warned not to get lured into helping the elderly woman by investigating the unsolved murder of one of her girls. “She’s senile,” Cameron is warned. “It’s not a real murder.”

Such is not the case. After Dolly is brutally murdered, Cameron discovers that the sweet blue-haired lady’s “girl” was a call girl, who had been killed in a mysterious double homicide.

Meanwhile, Prosecuting Attorney Joshua Thornton is looking for answers to the murder of a childhood friend, a sheriff deputy whose cruiser is found at the bottom of a lake. The sheriff deputy had disappeared almost twenty years ago while privately investigating the murder of a local prostitute.

It doesn’t take long for the Lovers in Crime to put their cases together to reveal a long-kept secret that some believe is worth killing for.

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Twelve to MurderGiveaway: Three ebook copies of Twelve to Murder
by Lauren Carr!
Now, it’s time for your input. To enter the drawing for the giveaway, name your favorite fur-bearing literary character! The three winning names will be drawn on Monday evening, April 21st.

 

Book Review: Kilmoon by Lisa Alber—and a Giveaway!

KilmoonKilmoon
A County Clare Mystery
Lisa Alber
Muskrat Press, March 2014
ISBN 9780989544603
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Kilmoon is a gripping mystery set in an Irish village famous for its matchmaking festival. Californian Merrit Chase travels to Ireland to meet her father, a celebrated matchmaker, in hopes that she can mend her troubled past. Instead, her arrival triggers a rising tide of violence, and Merrit finds herself both suspect and victim, accomplice and pawn, in a manipulative game that began thirty years previously. When she discovers that the matchmaker’s treacherous past is at the heart of the chaos, she must decide how far she will go to save him from himself-and to get what she wants, a family.

 

Two things first attracted me to Kilmoon—(1) I love Ireland and hope very much to go back some day but books will have to do until then and (2) I’m fond of the Janeane Garofalo movie, “The Matchmaker” which just happens to be about a matchmaking festival in Ireland. Kilmoon was going to give me both so how could I go wrong?

LOL, we don’t always get what we wish for, do we? I knew, of course, that this wasn’t going to be a lighthearted romance but, really, the only points of comparison are the setting in Ireland and the matchmaking festival. Ah, well, I’m still glad I took a chance on this book. It wasn’t easy in the beginning but I pushed on and was soon engaged in the story.

To be honest, I came close to putting this down in the early chapters because the characters just weren’t appealing to me. They were mostly self-absorbed unpleasant people, all with their own agendas that cared little for the effect their actions would have on others. I pushed on, though, and I’m glad I did. At the end, I still didn’t care much for the main players, including Merrit, but the look into how secrets and choices can have such profound consequences even many years later was well worth the read and, in fact, some of the residents of Lisfenora grew on me after all.

Kirkus refers to this book as a “moody debut” and that’s a perfect description. Ms. Alber has crafted a story that is neither plot-driven nor character-driven but, rather, builds on atmosphere and makes good use of the melancholy that can be found in Ireland beneath the happy-go-lucky charm we also expect. Along the way, the reader is also served a good bit of murder and mayhem and now I wonder, what lies in store for us next in County Clare? I can only hope Ms. Alber won’t make us wait too long to find out.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2014.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

One lucky reader will win a signed print copy of
Kilmoon by Lisa Alber and you have two chances

to enter the drawing. For the first entry, leave a
comment here on today’s review. For the second
entry, come back Sunday, April 20th, and
leave a comment on Lisa’s guest post. The
winning name will be chosen at random on the
evening of Tuesday, April 22nd. This drawing
is open to residents of the US and Canada.

Book Reviews: Hanging By A Hair by Nancy J. Cohen and A Murder in Passing by Mark deCastrique

Hanging By A HairHanging by a Hair
A Bad Hair Day Mystery
Nancy J. Cohen
Five Star, April 2014
ISBN 978-1-4328-2814-1
Hardcover

Marla Vail, just can’t find enough to do in her spare time, even though she owns a hair salon, is the new bride of a homicide detective, and stepmother to a teenage girl and two dogs. Following the murder of the man next door, despite her husband’s repeated warnings to stay clear of his homicide case, Marla proceeds to investigate the murder.

Customs of the Jewish faith are sprinkled throughout the story as the family approaches the Passover holiday, planning meals and rituals.

It seems that Mr. Krabber, (the murder victim’s name is most fitting as he was a curmudgeon, a womanizer and an all-around stinker) was killed in a most gruesome manner. The suspects are all connected, one way or another, to Marla’s community and Home Owner’s Association. Secrets from Mr. Krabber’s past are discovered, creating more intrigue and unanswered questions.

A tribe of Florida Native Americans play a role in the mystery and quirky characters abound, including Marla’s mother, and her on-again, off-again boyfriend. The newlyweds offer a touch of romance to the story from time to time, that is, when hubby Dalton can catch Marla between her jaunts thither and yon questioning suspects.

As for a mystery plot, it was pretty good. I didn’t figure out who-dun-it until Marla was unexpectedly waylaid and hauled off by the killer, potentially to become another victim in a rather formulaic scene, (yawn). I’d like to see a different ending in a cozy mystery, but this seems to be pretty much the norm these days.

Overall, it was a pretty good little cozy mystery.

Reviewed by Elaine Faber, March 2014.

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A Murder in PassingA Murder in Passing
A Sam Blackman Mystery #4
Mark de Castrique
Poisoned Pen Press, July 2013
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0149-3
Hardcover
Also available in trade paperback

The Blackman-Robertson mysteries are rooted in South Carolina history. In previous novels, such landmarks as Carl Sandburg’s farm played a role. Other links included Thomas Wolfe and F. Scott Fitzgerald. In this book, it is a photo taken 80 years before by a famous woman photographer, Doris Ulmann, the subjects of which were three blacks, mother, daughter and five-year-old Marsha Montgomery, and some boys. Marsha retains Sam Blackman and Nakayla Robertson to find the photo which she claims was stolen from her mother’s home, along with a rifle, in 1932. That is the first plot twist of many that lie ahead, before the truth is revealed.

The mystery involves the identity of a skeleton which Sam inadvertently uncovers when he trips, crashing into a rotted log while hunting for mushrooms. Racial attitudes in the South play a prominent role in the novel. Sam is white, Nakayla is black. Not only are they partners in the detective agency bearing their names, but lovers as well. Marsha’s 85-year-old mother is black, but had a white lover, Jimmy Lang, who fathered Marsha. He also was in the supposedly valuable photo which disappeared in 1932. As did he, after his proposal of marriage was rejected for sound reasons based on local prejudices.

This is a well-told tale that moves along swiftly, keeping the reader intrigued as it introduces nuances and new facts wending its way toward a conclusion. Written with economy and a keen eye on the socio-economic society of the post-Civil War South, the author has an excellent grasp of his subject, and the novel is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2014.

Wine, Diplomacy and Murder

William S. ShepardNow residents of Maryland’s Eastern Shore, the Shepards enjoy visits from their daughters and granddaughters, fine and moderate weather, ocean swims at Assateague, Chesapeake Bay crabs, and the company of Rajah and Rani, their two rescued cats.

Prize winning mystery writer William S. Shepard is the creator of a new genre, the diplomatic mystery, whose plots are set in American Embassies overseas. That mirrors Shepard’s own career in the Foreign Service of the United States, during which he served in Singapore, Saigon, Budapest, Athens and Bordeaux, in addition to five Washington tours of duty.

His diplomatic mystery books explore this rich, insider background into the world of high stakes diplomacy and government. His main character is a young career diplomat, Robbie Cutler. The first four books in the series are available as Ebooks.

 

I was a career diplomat for many years, serving at American Embassies in Singapore, Saigon, Budapest, Athens, and Bordeaux. Upon retirement, it struck me as curious that nobody had thought to have a diplomat as a sleuth. And why not? Serving in another country, having learned something of the language and customs, an Embassy officer is in a fine position to work within both cultures – the one that sent him, and the one in the receiving nation. As a matter of fact, that is the real meaning of the word diplomat – diplo-matia, “having two eyes,” one fixed on the sending state, and the other interpreting the nation of assignment, where the Embassy is located. Being at the crosshairs of two cultures would give an ideal perspective to an amateur detective, particularly when murder is concerned!

And so began the career of my diplomatic sleuth, Robbie Cutler. But first, I wanted a real understanding of the detective story, from its beginnings with the legendary Vidocq and Edgar Allan Poe, through the British tradition of Collins, Dickens and Conan Doyle, the “cozy” mysteries of Sayers and Christie, and the American “hardboiled” school of Hammett and Raymond Chandler. The result was The Great Detectives (From Vidocq to Sam Spade), and I found many nuggets of information which enrich the experience of reading classic detective stories.

For example, where did the name Sherlock come from? Or Baskerville, for that matter? And in more modern times, just who killed the chauffeur in The Big Sleep? It turns out that Nobel Prize author William Faulkner, who wrote the screenplay for the movie, could not figure it out. He asked the author, and Raymond Chandler said that he had no idea who had committed the murder! The ebook is found at http://tinyurl.com/6kgd28t.

My diplomatic detective, Robbie Cutler, has served in Bordeaux, Budapest, and the Department of State, and his career now spans five ebooks, beginning with Vintage Murder, where as a Consul in Bordeaux, he must solve a murder and terrorist blackmail scheme involving the famous Bordeaux vineyards. It is a start to an interesting diplomatic career, and a fascinating sideline as a diplomatic detective! Vintage Murder is at http://tinyurl.com/3unnas5.

In the latest adventure, The Great Game Murders, Robbie accompanies the Secretary of State on a trip to Southeast Asia, China, India and Afghanistan. He stays in Kabul for a tour of duty in the war zone, and attempts to better the life of remote The Great Game Murdersvillagers in Kandahar Province by providing a village well. But also, several assassination attempts against the Secretary of State must be thwarted, in the Goa coastline region of India, and at Australia, at the famous Sydney Opera House! A side plot involved the terrorist use of cyberwarfare – could it be that danger comes from Robbie Cutler’s own personal computer? This timely novel is at http://tinyurl.com/oqv2emy.

Bordeaux was one of my favorite assignments. It wasn’t all terrorism! I did have the opportunity to see the world famous vineyards, and my ebook on French wines has been a best seller in both Britain and the United States. Treat yourself at http://tinyurl.com/6eldhbn. Here I have done some detective work as well. You’ll find that not all sparkling wine made in France qualifies as “champagne,” for example – and some of the best, including the very first French sparkling wine, sells for a small fraction of the price of champagne! Saving money adds something to the pleasure of wine, readers tell me!

So, pour yourself a glass of wine, open your ebooks, and enjoy a mystery or detective story. And let other readers know how you enjoyed the experience!

 

Shepard evokes his last Foreign Service post, Consul General in Bordeaux, in Vintage Murder, the first of the series of five “diplomatic mysteries.” The second, Murder On The Danube, mines his knowledge of Hungary and the 1956 Revolution. In Murder In Dordogne Robbie Cutler and his bride Sylvie are just married, but their honeymoon in the scenic southwest of France is interrupted by murders.

The Saladin Affair, next in the series, has Robbie Cutler transferred to work for the Secretary of State. Like the author once did, Cutler arranges trips on Air Force Two – now enlivened by serial Al Qaeda attempts to assassinate the Secretary of State, as they travel to Dublin, London, Paris, Vienna, Riga and Moscow! And who killed the American Ambassador in Dublin?

The Great Game Murders is the most recent of the series. There is another trip by the Secretary of State, this time to Southeast Asia, India, China and Afghanistan. The duel between Al Qaeda and the United States continues, this time with Al Qaeda seeking to expand its reach with the help of a regional great power nation. And Robbie Cutler’s temporary duty (TDY) assignment to Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, carries its own perils. Fortunately, Uncle Seth helps unravel his perilous Taliban captivity in time!

 

Shepard's Guide to Mastering...        Vintage Murder         The Great Detectives

 

 

Book Reviews: The Crypt Thief by Mark Pryor and Already Dead by Stephen Booth

The Crypt ThiefThe Crypt Thief
A Hugo Marston Novel, #2
Mark Pryor
Seventh Street Books, May 2013
ISBN 978-1-61614-785-3
Trade Paperback

Two tourists were discovered dead in Paris’ famous Pere Lachaise cemetery near American rock star Jim Morrison’s grave. Is there any connection between the victims and the dead cult hero? When the murdered young man is identified as Maxwell Holmes, the son of American senator Harris Holmes, and his companion as a Pakistani woman traveling under an assumed name, officials investigating the deaths suspect a link to a terrorist.

But Hugo Marston, head of security at the American embassy in Paris, wants to investigate other possibilities, but the French police and the senator are focused on terrorism. The senator is sure that the woman was a terrorist trying to gain access to the embassy through a relationship with the senator’s son. The American ambassador J. Bradford Taylor, agrees with Hugo but even though he is pressured by the senator, he buys some time for Hugo to investigate. With the discovery of the theft of body parts from a grave at the cemetery—the leg bones of famous Moulin Rouge dancer Jane Avril—Hugo is convinced that the murder was not the work of a terrorist. Complicating matters is Hugo’s friend Tom Green, supposedly retired from the CIA, who is drinking to excess and spinning out of control. He is tapped to head the terrorism investigation, and his reckless behavior alarms Hugo.

It’s a fast faced mystery, one that draws you in, with lots of conflict between characters. There is that great Paris backdrop and a creepy murderer. This book is the second in the series, after The Bookseller. If you like Michael Connelly and Ian Hamilton, this might be right up your alley.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, April 2014.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Already DeadAlready Dead
Stephen Booth
Sphere, June 2013
ISBN: 978-0-7515-5171-6
Hardcover

[This book is presently available in hardcover/paperback in/through the UK; hc in Canada now, and in August, 2014 in pb; and in the US as an e-book from Witness Impulse in August, 2014.]

The newest novel in the Ben Cooper and Diane Fry series opens on an ominous note, with the death of an adult male, found lying naked in a shallow stream in “the rural wastelands of the Peak District,” where the roads have been flooded and travel difficult if not impossible, for pedestrians and vehicles alike, in this monsoon-like summer.

The Derbyshire E Division CID, to whom the investigation initially falls, quite literally has no clues, as it appears that the torrential rains have washed away any potential forensic evidence, and no apparent witnesses. DS Dianne Fry is here on short-term assignment, after DS Ben Cooper has been placed on extended leave since the tragic death in an arson fire of his fiancée, scene of crime officer Liz Petty, which ended the last book in the series. Ben is still suffering from panic attacks, nightmares, and the occasional flashbacks to that horrible event, just weeks before their meticulously planned wedding. He is still, not unnaturally, obsessed with the one person still walking free who was a participant in the events of that night.

A secondary plot line deals with another area death which falls to the local police to investigate. Ben’s relationship with Diane is a famously ambivalent one. She finds herself thinking that “his absence was more powerful than his presence.” But despite his official just-another-member-of-the-public position, he manages to provide pivotal clues and insight. Finally, “when it came down to it, there was the question of loyalty.”

The events that fill the book take place over a one-week period. The writing is less action-filled than it is wonderfully descriptive, both of local atmosphere and geography, and including as it does occasional bits of fascinating historical lore. All the better to savor the terrific writing and character development of which the author is a past master. The wholly unexpected shocker of an ending is a perfect cap for this thoroughly enjoyable novel, which is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2013.