The Book That Almost Wasn’t

Marilyn Meredith has had so many books published, she’s lost track of the count, but it’s getting near 40. She lives in a community similar to the fictional mountain town of Bear Creek, the big difference being that Bear Creek is a thousand feet higher in the mountains.

She is a member of Mystery Writers of American, three chapters of Sisters in Crime, and is a board member of Public Safety Writers of America.

https://fictionforyou.com/

When it was time to begin a new Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery, I knew the setting should be somewhere different. Time to send Tempe and her husband, Hutch, on vacation, but where?

One of the places I’ve always enjoyed visiting is Tehachapi, a small mountain town in California, not to far from where I live. It’s the home of the largest wind farm in California, plus the famous railway Loop, where long, long freight trains pass themselves while going around a mountain. But why would they go there?

Maybe it wouldn’t be their first choice, but it had to be something that would draw Tempe. Ah, yes, why not a ghost? Going on a ghost hunt is not something Hutch would want to do, but surely it wouldn’t take long. This would add some interesting conflict.

To come up with the plot, I did some research into Tehachapi’s history, learned about a devastating earthquake, and the Indian tribe that first inhabited the area.  Ideas developed. When I was nearly through writing, my daughter and I made a long visit to Tehachapi to check what I’d written to make sure it was plausible. We did a self-guided tour of the wind farm, checking out the huge turbines and the areas around them. And of course, we stood at the observation point watching a couple of freight trains going around the Loop.

Once the manuscript was done, I sent it off to the small press that had published all the earlier Deputy Tempe Crabtree mysteries. A wonderful cover was sent for my approval, and the book sent off to an editor. I went over the edits and returned them.

I heard nothing for weeks. I sent email inquiries but received no answer. Was I worried? You bet. I had a sinking feeling the company was in trouble.

Finally, I received an email that was sent to all the authors that the press was closing its doors and that all the manuscript rights would revert to the authors. I sent another inquiry asking if I could use my covers, and was given an affirmative answer.

Getting my rights back was good, but what should I do next?

I doubted any publisher would want to deal with a series like mine with 18 books. The alternative would be to self-publish. I honestly didn’t think I was up to the task.

While discussing the problem with a good friend who’d helped me self-publish some of my older books, she offered to take on this monumental task. Her husband agreed to do the covers, using those that I had the rights too.

Of course, I agreed. She started right away and got Spirit Wind ready for publication. I am so happy with the results—and the fact that Deputy Tempe Crabtree is still around to solve crimes, work with Indians legends, and help wandering spirits find their way.

Marilyn

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Book Review: Baby Blue by Pol Koutsakis

Baby Blue
Stratos Gazis Series, Book 1
Pol Koutsakis
Translated by Anne-Marie Stanton-Ife
Bitter Lemon Press, July 2018
ISBN 978-1-908524-91-1

Modern day Athens is rife with corruption. Stratos Gazis makes his living by dealing with that corruption. He doesn’t consider himself a hit-man, although plenty of other people do. He sees himself as more of a problem solver; often the problem requires removing a person from a given situation on a permanent basis. Stratos is OK with that; some people deserve their fate. Stratos does have a code: if a client lies to him, he keeps the deposit and doesn’t do the job. Many people don’t believe this. Stratos believes that when you’re the best, you can afford to make the rules for your job.

One evening a friend, Angelino, calls in a favor. Angelino has a protégé, Emma. Emma wants Stratos to find out who killed her adoptive father several years ago. Definitely a cold case. Emma is blind, and has an amazing talent for card tricks. Angelino, who normally deals in information in and around Athens, plans on making a bundle of money by promoting Emma. Concurrently, there is a group (or maybe just one person) who killed pedophiles; there is a definite signature to the killings and this resembles the way in which Emma’s father was killed. Was Themis Raptas, once a well-known and respected reporter, a pedophile?  Why is there virtually no trace of him on the Internet?  Why was his adoption of Emma expedited?  The more Stratos looks into this old case, the worse everything looks for practically anyone and everyone involved.

There is a sub-plot related to Stratos and his past. The woman he is living with, Maria,  is pregnant. Stratos is not sure he is the father; there is at least one other potential candidate, who happens to be Maria’s previous boyfriend and a man Stratos considers to be his best friend, Kostas Dragos. Drag is also a policeman, a detective. He is investigating the pedophile murders; there may be some overlap with Emma’s situation. Maria isn’t sure where her relationship with Stratos is going, considering his occupation. Life is complicated.

Koutsakis paints a very dark portrait of Athens. Corruption is the rule and there seem to be almost no exceptions to that rule. Good people are difficult to find in this city, and their lot is not generally a pleasant one. Stratos comes by his world view via American film noir; references to classic films are scattered throughout the novel. Like back alleys in some Greek neighborhoods, the plot twists and turns many, many times before the truth (if that what it actually is) is revealed. There are lots of dead bodies, most of them justifiably so. This is the second book in the Stratos Gazis crime series; if one is prone to dark reads, tracking down ATHENIAN BLUES (the first) would probably be time well spent. BABY BLUE can stand quite well on it’s own two feet.

Reviewed by P.J. Coldren, May 2019.

Book Review: Crimes Past by Lauren Carr

Crimes Past
A Mac Faraday Mystery #13
Lauren Carr
Narrated by Mike Alger
Acorn Book Services, December 2018
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the author—

It’s a bittersweet reunion for Mac Faraday when members of his former homicide squad arrive at the Spencer Inn. While it is sweet to attend the wedding of the daughter of a former colleague, it is a bitter reminder that the mother of the bride had been the victim of a double homicide on her own wedding night.

The brutal slaying weighing heavy on his mind, Mac is anxious to explore every possibility for a break in the cold case – even a suggestion from disgraced former detective Louis Gannon that one of their former colleagues was the killer. 

When the investigator is brutally slain, Mac Faraday rips open the cold case with a ruthless determination to reveal which of his friends was a cold-blooded murderer.

When Mac Faraday hosts a former colleague’s daughter’s wedding at the Spencer Inn, it’s not just because he’s being nice to Gina. For sixteen years, he’s been frustrated with his inability to solve the murder of Gina’s mother and her new husband on their wedding day, back when Mac was a homicide detective. Now, many of the same cops are gathered again and Mac hopes to ferret out the killer, most certainly one of his former colleagues.

Meanwhile, Mac’s German shepherd, Gnarly (who happens to be the mayor of Spencer) has apparently murdered one of the feral cats who lives next door and Mac has asked his brother, police chief David O’Callaghan, to get rid of the body before the crazy cat lady carries out her threats against Gnarly. It seems the woman hates Gnarly with a passion but David’s desk sergeant, Tonya, is on the case and soon sees what she believes is a murder…and the cat’s body is missing.

David’s long lost love, Hope, who happens to be in the military, has shown up with her fifteen-year-old son, the irrepressible Gabriel, in tow. Gabriel is quite sure not having a license shouldn’t stand in the way of driving a flashy Porsche and he’s surprisingly comfortable around all these former and current detectives, not so comfortable getting dressed up for a wedding.

So, there’s a lot going on in this story and, with her usual panache, Lauren Carr blends the grittiness of murder(s) with a good deal of humor, the latter revolving largely around Gnarly and David’s Belgian shepherd, Storm, who would much rather be couch potato-ing than anything involving exertion. Tonya also brings a certain levity to her determination to out a murdering fiend and Gabriel is a hoot. Still, the murders from the past are serious business and there may very well be more during this special occasion; every time I thought I had pegged the killer, Ms. Carr threw me off track and I would head off in another direction.

I’ve skipped around quite a bit in this series but that’s never kept me from loving each book I’ve read. I think it’s time I catch up on a few of the previous books and I’ll be doing audiobooks again because Mike Alger is absolutely perfect in his narration with a plethora of voices and great pacing.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2019.

Here’s the real life Gnarly!

The real-life Gnarly on his throne.

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Purchase Links:
Audible // iTunes // Amazon

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About the Author

Lauren Carr is the international best-selling author of the Mac Faraday, Lovers in Crime, and Thorny Rose Mysteries—over twenty titles across three fast-paced mystery series filled with twists and turns!

Now, Lauren has added one more hit series to her list with the Chris Matheson Cold Case Mysteries. Set in the quaint West Virginia town of Harpers Ferry, Ice introduces Chris Matheson, a retired FBI agent, who joins forces with other law enforcement retirees to heat up those cold cases that keep them up at night.

Book reviewers and readers alike rave about how Lauren Carr seamlessly crosses genres to include mystery, suspense, crime fiction, police procedurals, romance, and humor.

​Lauren is a popular speaker who has made appearances at schools, youth groups, and on author panels at conventions. She lives with her husband, and three dogs on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV.

Connect with the author: Website // Twitter // Facebook // Instagram

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About the Narrator

Channel 2 Meteorologist Mike Alger joined KTVN-TV in May, 1989. Prior to that Mike had worked at KNDU-TV in Washington. Mike has provided northern Nevada “Weather Coverage You Can Count On” during the 1990 President’s Day Blizzard, the drought in the mid- 1990s, the New Year’s Flood of 1997 and the historic Snowstorms of 2005.

Mike has been married for more than 30 years and has two grown children. His hobbies include golf, music, biking, tennis, scuba diving, writing. He has written and published one novel and is working on a second. He is also a narrator of several audio books, and his work can be found on Audible.com.

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Giveaway

Prizes: Win a $50 Amazon.com gift card
(open to wherever Amazon.com delivers)
(ends July 6, 2019)

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Leave the Past in the Past

Returning guest blogger Sunny Frazier, whose first novel in the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries, Fools Rush In, received the Best Novel Award from Public Safety Writers Association, is here today to share her thoughts about how we view the past.

The third Christy Bristol Astrology Mystery, A Snitch in Time, is in bookstores now.

sunny69@comcast.net   //  http://www.sunnyfrazier.com

My 50th class reunion is coming up in 4 months. I’ve already bought an age-appropriate dress (I consider a low V-neck age appropriate) with sleeves to cover lumps from 5 years of dialysis. I’m nervously looking forward to the event.

While I’m looking forward, the trend now is to look back. There’s a show on TV titled “1969,” my graduating year. I realize the ‘60’s are being lauded as a time of hippies, flower power, peace symbols, free love, LSD, communes and rejecting our parent’s ideals. But was it really a time of innocence and idealism? Hippies became the homeless, peace was never achieved, free love produced welfare children, drugs produced addicts. However, many were brought back into the fold to become computer geniuses, stockbrokers, religious leaders and Republicans.

My recollections of the 1960’s is vastly different. I came from a military family in a military community. We were dubbed “Hawks.” The draft was on and sailors on base painted peace symbols on the bombs being sent to Vietnam. I joined the Navy instead of going to college where my peers were protesting the war. Was it a popular decision? Absolutely not. Even my recruiter tried to un-recruit me.

When people wax eloquent about the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, I think Vietnam, Nixon, J. Edgar, assassinations, Angela Davis, The Black Panthers and Tommy Smith from my hometown of Lemoore, standing on the highest platform at the Mexico Olympics with his fist in the air. In that second a hero turned into a threat.

The era I believed in was the ‘50’s. As a child I fantasized about pretty dresses and poodle skirts, proms and the perfect husband. I only knew one woman who worked for a living and only because she was divorced (another foreign idea). I expected the perfect marriage, a fully equipped house and well-behaved children.

I blame the ‘70’s for dashing my dreams. Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem demanded that we achieve. All of a sudden women were encouraged to get a job and not settle until you broke the glass ceiling. I refused to burn my pretty bras but scuttled off to the Armed Forces until this new era blew over.

My best friend, who is 94, bemoans bygone days. I asked what decade she’d turn back time. She decided she liked the ‘40’s. I reminded her that the Depression was barely over and WWII was going on. She doesn’t like technology, especially when she wants a person on the other end of the phone and all she gets is a robotic voice telling her which button to push.

I’m on the fence about technology. I hate cell phones but love my computer. I need cable TV in my life. I don’t listen to Rock and Roll stations, I want to hear what’s popular today. I applaud the decriminalization of marijuana but can’t indulge because of medical reasons.

I suppose it’s human nature to want to remember the good parts of past years. But it’s like trying to cover a black and white photo with a water painting. The reality is stark, but it’s there. And change, good or bad, will come.

 

Spotlight on Easy Innocence by Libby Fischer Hellmann

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Title: Easy Innocence
Series: The Georgia Davis PI Series, Book 1
Author: Libby Fischer Hellmann
Narrator: Beth Richmond
Publication Date: May 25, 2016

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Synopsis

When pretty, smart Sara Long is found bludgeoned to death, it’s easy to blame the man with the bat. But Georgia Davis – former cop and newly-minted PI – is hired to look into the incident at the behest of the accused’s sister, and what she finds hints at a much different, much darker answer. It seems the privileged, preppy schoolgirls on Chicago’s North Shore have learned just how much their innocence is worth to hot-under-the-collar businessmen. But while these girls can pay for Prada price tags, they don’t realize that their new business venture may end up costing them more than they can afford.

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Purchase Links:
Audible // iTunes // Amazon

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About the Author

Libby Fischer Hellmann left a career in broadcast news in Washington, DC and moved to Chicago over 35 years ago, where she, naturally, began to write gritty crime fiction. Fifteen novels and twenty-five short stories later, she claims they’ll take her out of the Windy City feet first.

She has been nominated for many awards in the mystery and crime writing community and has even won a few. She has been a finalist twice for the Anthony and four times for Foreword Magazine’s Book of the Year. She has also been nominated for the Agatha, the Shamus, the Daphne, and has won the IPPY and the Readers Choice Award multiple times.

Her novels include the now five-volume Ellie Foreman series, which she describes as a cross between “Desperate Housewives” and “24;” the hard-boiled 5-volume Georgia Davis PI series, and four stand-alone historical thrillers set during Revolutionary Iran, Cuba, the Sixties, and WW2. Her short stories have been published in a dozen anthologies, the Saturday Evening Post, and Ed Gorman’s “25 Criminally Good Short Stories” collection. Her books have been translated into Spanish, German, Italian, and Chinese. All her books are available in print, ebook, and audiobook.

Libby also hosts Second Sunday Crime, a monthly podcast where she interviews bestselling and emerging crime authors. In 2006 she was the National President of Sisters in Crime, a 3500 member organization committed to the advancement of female crime fiction authors.

Website // Twitter // Facebook // Goodreads

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About the Narrator

Narrator Beth Richmond has recorded more than 100 audiobooks in the last decade from her studio on the Mendocino coast. Among her favorites are those from Georgia Davis series. “It is a privilege and pleasure to return repeatedly to such a vividly drawn character and world. Ms. Hellman’s books live inside me now, as if they were memories from my own life. What fun!”

She can be reached at brich@mcn.org

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Play an excerpt here.

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Giveaway

$100 Amazon Giftcard
Runs June 2nd-23rd⎮Open internationally

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Book Review: A Risky Undertaking for Loretta Singletary by Terry Shames

A Risky Undertaking for Loretta Singletary
A Samuel Craddock Mystery #8
Terry Shames
Seventh Street Books, April 2019
ISBN 978-1-63388-490-8
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

After using an online dating site for senior citizens, town favorite Loretta Singletary–maker of cinnamon rolls and arbiter of town gossip–goes missing. Chief Samuel Craddock’s old friend Loretta Singletary–a mainstay of the Jarrett Creek community–has undergone a transformation, with a new hairstyle and modern clothes. He thinks nothing of it until she disappears. Only then does he find out she has been meeting men through an online dating site for small-town participants. When a woman in the neighboring town of Bobtail turns up dead after meeting someone through the same dating site, Craddock becomes alarmed. Will Craddock be able to find Loretta before she suffers the same fate? Finding out what happened to Loretta forces him to investigate an online world he is unfamiliar with, and one which brings more than a few surprises.

It’s just another day in Jarrett Creek for Samuel Craddock when his good friend, Loretta Singletary, asks him to get involved in a church ladies’ issue, something he decidedly doesn’t want to do and he’s almost relieved when she has to leave to meet a friend. He does momentarily wonder why she seemed so skittish but police chief duties soon distract him. It isn’t until various people start realizing that they haven’t seen Loretta that he becomes not exactly alarmed but very curious.

Loretta is the essence of a settled, unremarkable woman so, when Samuel hears that she might be involved in online dating, he’s truly surprised. This is really out of character for her but what really disturbs him is that she has literally disappeared and, when he hears that a woman in a neighboring town is also missing, Samuel and his chief deputy, the energetic and opinionated Maria Trevino, begin to investigate in earnest. Following the few leads they develop soon brings them to the realization that Loretta could be in serious trouble and they don’t have much time to find her.

One thing I can always count on with a Samuel Craddock book is that, while typical police procedural action might be limited, Samuel has the mind and life experience that make him a thoughtful, intuitive investigator and he’s nearly always a step ahead of me. He notices things and he really hears what people say but, most of all, he recognizes that the unexpected is often the truth. He’s not perfect—modern social behavior sometimes baffles him and he can be reluctant to open up about himself—but he’s the kind of man I’d trust to have my back.

Samuel’s stories always focus on a particular issue and, this time, it’s the potential dangers of online dating, especially for older women…and men…who may be particularly vulnerable. Ms. Shames handles the topic quite nicely without  belaboring the point. To lighten the mood a bit, we’re also treated to the comings and goings of the townsfolk and the almost-feud over the annual goat rodeo.

This has been one of my favorite series since the very first book and I’m still just as entranced with Samuel Craddock and the denizens of Jarrett Creek. Once again, I stayed up all night and it was time well spent—who needs sleep when Terry Shames has a new book out?

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2019.

Lifting the Lid

Jeanne Matthews is the author of the Dinah Pelerin international mysteries published by Poisoned Pen Press. Like her amateur sleuth, Jeanne was born with a serious wanderlust. Originally from Georgia, she enjoys traveling the world and learning about other cultures and customs, which she incorporates into her novels. She currently lives in Renton, Washington with her husband who is a law professor. Where the Bones Are Buried, the fifth book in the series, is in bookstores now . You can learn more about Jeanne’s books at http://www.jeannematthews.com

A Traveler’s Tale

Travel writing has been popular since a geographer named Pausinias published his Description of Greece in the second century, A.D.  Although many of the sites he described no longer exist, he is quoted in almost every current tour book of Greece.  Marco Polo wrote a travelogue, Captain James Cook kept a diary, and everybody knows about Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.  Any writing in which journey is the central theme can be described as travel writing.

The earliest travel books emphasized classical learning and a non-personal point of view.  Lawrence Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy broke the mold.  Witty, insightful and crammed with the idiosyncratic opinions and tastes of his protagonist (the author’s barely disguised alter ego), the book established travel writing as the dominant genre of the second half of the 18th Century.  Not only did it inspire people to read about travel, it inspired them to set out to foreign climes in search of adventure.  This new bevy of intrepid explorers included many respectable women.

Hester Stanhope

Jeanne Baret circumnavigated the globe between 1766 and 1769, albeit disguised as a man.  Defying convention, she bound her breasts with bandages and sailed with the French Navy as Jean Baret. Her Ladyship Hester Stanhope did whatever it took to go where she pleased.  She was the first European woman to cross the Syrian desert and conduct archaeological research in the Holy Land.  Isabella Bird is probably the most famous female globetrotter.  Armed with her trusty revolver, she toured the world and penned her experiences climbing mountains, riding elephants, and hanging out with outlaws.

All of these travelers recorded their exploits and their accounts were supposedly factual and true.  But the tendency to “coloration,” i.e., exaggeration and invention, has been around since the ancient mariners reported sightings of sirens and sea monsters.  Lying is, to some degree, inherent in all travel books just as reality is an element of all novels.

The devices of fiction have the ability to enhance and intensify travel narratives.  A novelist doesn’t write a description of everything she sees.  Instead, she selects the telling details, decides when and how they are revealed, and shapes the emotional topography.  She casts light on one thing, throws shadows on another.  “What raises travel writing to literature,” says William Zinsser, “is not what the writer brings to the place, but what the place draws out of the writer.”

I’ll be leaving next week on a trek through southwestern France where the Albigensian Crusades were waged against the “heretical” Cathars.  The Cathari bastides are haunting reminders of a very successful genocide.  I plan to write about this trip, whether as the setting for another Dinah Pelerin mystery or in a series of non-fiction essays, and I’ve been looking back over some of my favorite travel books for inspiration.

Huck Finn’s journey down the Mississippi captured the magic of that magnificent river “rolling its mile-wide tide along, shining in the sun.”  For Huck, it was both a physical and a mental journey.  Sharing a raft with a runaway slave changed his mind about race and what it means to own another human being.  Using the perspective of an “unsivilized” boy, Twain skewered the moral hypocrisy of the nation.

Raymond Chandler’s portrayal of Los Angeles created an indelible sense of place.  He peppered his novels with geographic detail and filtered his perceptions of the city through the wry observations and reflections of his detective, Philip Marlowe – the menacing architecture, the tough-looking palms, those dry Santa Ana winds that “make your nerves jump and your skin itch.”  The city assumed the importance of a character, seductive and glittering on the outside but rotten underneath.

Michael Dibdin

Venice was the dominant character in Michael Dibdin’s Dead Lagoon.  His police detective, Aurelio Zen, conducted the reader into the seamier enclaves of his hometown, leaving behind the touristic city-as-museum and pointing out the decaying palaces, the rats scuttering about the canals at low tide, and the venality and moral cowardice of the politicians.  By exposing the city’s underbelly, Dibdin imparted an authenticity to the place that feels more real than a journalist’s report.

Real places have a way of drawing out fresh perspectives and insightful reflections from fictional travelers.  My books aren’t what you’d call gritty, but I haven’t shied away from the darker aspects of the places Dinah has visited.  She confronted the Australian government’s persecution of the Aborigines; the devastation of Native Hawaiian culture and appropriation of their lands; the historic oppression of the Sami people in the Norwegian Arctic; and the plight of the migrants washing up destitute and desperate on the beaches of the Greek island of Samos.  Wherever she finds herself, Dinah lifts the lid on unsavory secrets and bubbling resentments.  Is murder also in the offing?  Thereby hangs a traveler’s tale.