Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Guest Post: Vermont Thriller Author J.P. Choquette

We're pleased today to welcome J.P. Choquette, whose second book, DARK CIRCLE, was released on Valentine's Day -- a creepy confluence of calendar, and yet ... there's something in this suspense mystery that also touches on being surprised by how love and friendship hold on, even when the neighborhood is weird to the point of dangerous, and the woods behind the house are haunted. When you get to know J.P. a bit, indulge yourself in expanding your Vermont book collection by picking up a copy of her latest thriller, as well as Epidemic, her first one. You'll never look at the Green Mountains communities in the same way afterward (smile; shiver!).

1. Hurrah for your second mystery, published this month: DARK CIRCLE. This is a suspense novel featuring Sarah Solomon, and set "today" in St. Albans and Swanton, Vermont -- so it has some things in common with your earlier book, Epidemic. But that was a medical thriller, and this one has threads of the "paranormal." What made you switch directions like this?
Thank you very much for reading my books, first of all, and for the interview today. I appreciate it and enjoyed your book, COLD MIDNIGHT immensely.
I’d love to answer your question regarding the change in direction between the two books but honestly? I’m not sure what the answer is! Most of the time I don’t look too hard behind the “why” of an idea—if I’m excited about it, I run with it. So, this wasn’t an intentional switch but it was fun delving into both areas.
2. Sarah Solomon moves to Vermont, early in your book, in part because she's been the victim of a terrible crime. So she can see her neighborhood through fresh eyes. Has that happened to you? The moving part, I mean -- I hope you haven't been a crime victim!
I grew up in Vermont and when I hit my teen years I was DONE with living here. I hated the long winters, the quietness, the lack of excitement and drama. At eighteen, I moved to Tennessee. And you know what? It looked just like Vermont! I was so disappointed. But it was a great experience for me, living in Knoxville and Chattanooga and experiencing more of what “city life” had to offer for three years. It didn’t take me long to realize that the things I used to hate about Vermont, I now missed. I still love to travel and see things through “fresh eyes,” but now I love coming home, too.
3. I can see that you did plenty of research on northwestern Vermont's people of Abenaki (Native American) heritage for this book; did your research discoveries shape the plot, or did the plot push you to the research?
Learning more about the Abenaki people through my research was helpful in fine-tuning the manuscript. There are certain descriptions about the type of traditional dress an Abenaki woman would have worn, for example, and the wampum beads, etc., that I learned about during the research. While I love learning new things, I have to be careful not to get carried away in my research. It’s easy to spend more time reading than writing.
4. Sarah Solomon's interaction with her husband Cole and her part of Vermont are strongly colored by her sense of being an artist. How did you choose that path for her? Are you also an artist? If not, how did you figure this out?
I’m a dabbling artist. I have no formal training, save a few college art classes, but I love making  mixed media and doodling in my art journal and making art from “treasures” I find while out walking. And as writers I think we’re all artists, too.
5. I don't want to give away too much of the plot, but I have to ask ... Have you ever seen a ghost or spirit? Do you expect to see one in the future?
That’s a good question. A few years ago I went to an author discussion by Joe Citro. He is my husband’s favorite fiction author and I really enjoyed his books, too. Joe said during the talk when someone asked him a similar question that he believes in spirits, but not ghosts. I share that philosophy. And no, I’ve never seen a spirit. At least, none that I know of.
6. The frightening things that happen to Sarah -- after that first terrible crime that brings her in recovery to Vermont -- are sometimes a little less awful than what Sarah herself may be expecting! What are your personal rules for violence and depiction of violence in your writing?
Hmm, another good question. For me as a reader there is little worse than getting completely caught up in a great book and having the plot take a depraved turn, something so disturbing that the entire book is ruined because I can’t stop thinking about how HORRIBLE that scene was! I screen the fiction that I read—I don’t want to read about anything horrendous happening to children or animals and stay away from really explicit torture/rape/etc. scenes involving adults.
That being said, there are some books in which these awful scenes are foundational to the book. Think about John Grisham’s “A Time to Kill.” The scene at the beginning involving the little girl was brutal to read, but everything in the story hinged on this horrific event. Other times though, it feels that authors add a lot of really disturbing stuff just to sensationalize the story. In my opinion this often ends up detracting from it instead.
7. Have you had any strange or even creepy experiences of material from either of your books seeming to appear afterward in real life?
Not afterward, but yes, in real life. Some of what inspired me to write this book was moving into a new-to-us house in 2011. While I don’t think our house was haunted, it had a feeling, an aura of sadness and anger which I believe was leftover from the previous owners. We also really did find what looked like a sack of hair hanging in the attic—I didn’t get a very good look because I was running to the trash can outside screeching! And I also found a creepy phrase etched into the wall of my office/art room which gave me goose bumps. Then, when my husband mentioned one day that we rarely saw any of our neighbors outside, my little mental wheels started spinning with that “what if” question.
8. When you craft your suspense novels, what comes first for you -- the character or the plot? And are you a "pantser" or a "plotter"?
So far it’s always been the plot. Maybe that will change in the future. And while I tend to be a pantser, I’m seeing more and more the benefit of plotting out at least a rough outline with a few major events early on. This helps in the re-writing process, in that there is less to re-write. Always a good thing!
9. You completed this book with a "critique partner," as you mention at the start. What does that mean, and how did it add to the experience of writing DARK CIRCLE?
Yes, Cori Lynn Arnold is a fellow Sisters in Crime member and we critiqued each other’s manuscripts last fall. It was wonderful. She had some interesting insights and a few questions about why this person was feeling this way or why this happened HERE when it was obvious that it already happened THERE. You know, the old, “She left the gun on the shelf,” but then later the character is holding the gun and the reader is like, “How the heck did it get off the shelf and into her hand?” Right now I’m part of a critique group (again with Sisters in Crime members) for the third novel I’m working on. It’s great and helps keep me on my toes. Plus, I love reading other writer’s work for free! (Smile!)

10. What did you discover in writing DARK CIRCLE that you wish you'd already known when you were writing Epidemic?

Definitely as I mentioned earlier, the importance of an outline, even a rough one. That helped the process flow more smoothly for DARK CIRCLE and also made the editing process a lot easier. Another thing that is an absolute live saver for me is my 15-Minute Rule. It’s been transformational in my writing career and keeping me passionate about writing. It’s simply this: Write fiction for 15-minutes, most days of the week. Some days I’ll keep going, surfacing an hour later and wondering where the time went, other days I’m literally sitting there and thinking, “I have nothing! I have nothing!” but I have to sit there in front of my screen for 15-minutes so I might as well write something. Just like exercise, there are plenty of days we don’t feel like going for the walk or run or getting out the yoga mat or weights. But usually if we get ourselves past that first 15-minutes, it’s great and we feel so much better afterward. And if it’s not? Well, you only have to do it for that very short amount of time—you can do anything for 15-minutes.

One thing I wished I had known early on about the publishing and then releasing process was what a good reception EPIDEMIC would have. It’s not a masterpiece by any means but so many people have told me that they’ve enjoyed reading it. And really, as a writer, there’s nothing nicer to hear. I literally almost had a panic attack just before EPIDEMIC was published and during my meltdown reached out to a writing friend. She thankfully talked me down from the I-just-want-to-throw-this-manuscript-in-the-trash ledge and reminded me that my fear in putting this novel out there was totally normal. And it was. This time the releasing part was easier. Not cake walk-easy, but easier.

11. For the second time, you've chosen to self-publish, and your books are easily ordered (would-be readers could start at your website, http://www.scaredEcat.com). You're a skilled writer of suspense. What are the advantages for you of taking your books to print this way?
Thank God for whoever dreamed up Print on Demand (POD)! I chose CreateSpace, a publisher which is an affiliate of Amazon and love the freedom that self-publishing gives me. There are different packages you can buy via most of these POD platforms, but so far I’ve chosen to do everything myself, from cover art to formatting the manuscript, to marketing the finished product. The only piece I don’t tackle is formatting the manuscript for e-book distribution. I hired someone to do that for me and it saved me lots of hair pulling and angst. At some point I may hire other pieces out (copyediting for example and perhaps a professional to take care of the cover art) but for now I’m happy to wear all the hats. Who else is going to love my book as much as me? And in that regard, who else wants to see it succeed as much?
12. Can you tell us something about what's ahead in your third book, the one we know you're already writing?

Sure, I’d love to. The book I’m working on now (just passed the 1/3 mark!) is again set in northwestern Vermont, this time in a fictional town outside of St. Albans. It follows a twenty-something year-old bounty hunter named Tatum “Tayt” Waters. While Tayt is trying hard to get her bounty hunting business off the ground, her estranged father is accused of the rape and murder of a young local woman. Tatum begins working with her previous mentor who is also a PI, to try to clear her father’s name.
Another idea I’m toying with is a series of novellas, likely set in post e-fallout New England. This series would be different in that while still suspense, it would include some futuristic/sci-fi aspects. If I go ahead with the series, I will likely release each as an e-book and then compile them into one long print book at the end. I’ve got a few other ideas I’m toying with as well, but there are only so many writing hours in the day!
Beth, thank you so much for your great questions and for the opportunity to talk about my writing here. I really appreciate it and all the hard work you do help writers and inform readers.  -- My pleasure! - BK

BIO: J.P. Choquette is a Vermont-based suspense author who maintains a website, Scared E Cat: For Readers and Writers of Great Suspense. Find sample chapters, book descriptions, more information about current projects and sign up for a FREE newsletter (with chances to win a copy of J.P.’s books) at the website (www.scaredEcat.com).

Monday, February 24, 2014

THE WAYS OF EVIL MEN: Brazilian Crime Fiction from Leighton Gage

Author Leighton Gage used to grin mischievously about what might happen when his Brazilian crime fiction, published in the U.S. by Soho Crime, would be translated to Portuguese and released in the wonderful nation he'd made his home, with his wife Eide. Portraying crime, violence, poverty, racism, and often the seedier side of both the Catholic Church and Brazilian law enforcement, the novels would probably not be considered flattering to Brazil!

And yet the vividness of both the terrain and the social landscape in Gage's series of seven police investigations featuring Chief Inspector Mario Silva also reveals the love Gage had for this wild and varied place. I know that visiting Brazil moved onto my "someday" list because of these books.

What a tale Gage unfolds in THE WAYS OF EVIL MEN! It is both his last book and, I presume, the last for the series, as Gage died of cancer last August. As I read the book, I had to stop now and then, choking up ... Leighton was such an accessible author, and so eager to talk about his experiences that made up the background for his fiction. Every few chapters, I'd want to ask him something or hear him comment or enthuse about some twist. And then I had to wait for the sorrow to pass.

The book begins, in typical Gage fashion, with a scene of enormous loss: Jade Calmon, the official tribal relations person assigned to visit the Awana on their reservation in the very rural Brazilian state of Pará, finds only two tribal members greeting her when she'd expected to meet dozens. And the two of them -- Amati and his son Raoni -- convey to Jade, with little shared language, that the other 39 members of the Awana all died at once, and have just been buried. Jade is no detective, but even she quickly realizes: Genocide has taken place.

Using every connection available, she succeeds in having Chief Inspector Mario Silva assigned to investigate. And based on what he hears before boarding a plane out of Brasilia, Silva assembles a formidable team that includes his nephew Hector Costa and the delightful "Babyface" Haraldo Gonçalves, familiar to readers of the earlier books.

Here is a classic Gage description of one of the most important men in Azevedo, the nearest "white" town to the reservation:
Omar Torres once remarked that he preferred the Grand [Hotel] to the rainforest because there were "no snakes to bit you in the a** when you drop your pants at the Grand." That was true, as far as it went, but he had another reason as well -- a far more important one. Omar Torres slept with other men's wives, and that, in the State of Pará, was a dangerous thing to do.
It's not a reason to commit genocide, though; nor is it a reason for the town to lynch the last remaining adult Awana -- or so you'd think.

Silva and his team share the last leg of their approach to the town with a journalist, Maura Mandel, also summoned by Jade Calmon. And both of these women are school friends of the niece of Silva's boss -- hence their clout in this case. Maura intends to get both a top story and a chance for some investigating of her own, which of course positions her against police procedure.

Add an alcoholic priest and a handful of land-grabbing plantation owners to the mess, and soon Silva has almost too many people with motives for secrecy and sometimes murder around him.

Settle in for a tough and enjoyable traditional detective plot from here, set in a rugged and distinctive location. Followers of the series will also savor Silva's solution to protecting eight-year-old orphan Raoni, the last of the Awana. If I could add just one chapter to the book, it would be of this youngster's arrival in ... oops. No spoilers.

I wish wholeheartedly that Leighton were still among us, whether writing or not. In his absence, I'll salute this final book of his: You were right, Leighton -- it is, indeed, your best book yet.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Diversion: Poetry and Middle Grades Fiction -- Robin Herrera, HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL

Middle-grade readers and the people who choose books for them -- librarians, parents, teachers -- have a new treat with Robin Herrera's first book, HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL. For 10-year-old Star Mackie, struggling in school in a new town where she's the only kid who comes to class from a trailer park, life is jammed with confusing mysteries. Why does her teacher hate her? How can she find a friend in this group of kids who range from weird to mean? And when is her father going to start sending her things, like the birthday card her older sister Winter received, or the old truck Winter now has?

This isn't a mystery, but it's a darned good novel, and Star is heart-warming and courageous. She won my applause over and over for how she handles ordinary but painful crises. And I'm particularly mentioning it today because we're just five weeks away from National Poetry Month -- and what eventually turns Star's life around is poetry, from reading Emily Dickinson to grappling with a Shel Silverstein poem to grasping what metaphor brings to her situation. I'd recommend this for middle grades as an encouraging and enjoyable novel, but also to high school classrooms where the story and the clear, smart writing can carry skeptical teens into realizing how poetry works and why it's worth their time.


Frances Washburn's new mystery, released this week, will shelve in many a collection with the mysteries of Margaret Coel and Tony Hillerman, for its setting in Indian Country and its characters who speak for reservation life. But THE RED BIRD ALL-INDIAN TRAVELING BAND belongs in two other groups more closely, I think: It's a gritty, dark, often violent, yet sometimes very funny work of noir, featuring especially Sissy, the singer of the band, who has the unfortunate family curse of being the one everybody tells their secrets and losses to. And it's also a literary work built as a cascade of stories, one episode after another, thick with the details of shared meals, work pressure, people examining the edges of new experiences.

Washburn has the chops for the work -- this is her third novel; she was born on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and grew up there; and she's an associate professor and director of graduate studies in the Department of American Indian Studies at the University of Arizona. As she takes singer-guitarist Sissy Roberts through unraveling the death (presumed murder) of Buffalo Ames, she also fingers the pulse of both Sissy's individual life shifts and the changes in Indian Country. It's far from a quick read -- the literary side of the pacing means more detours and meanders than usual -- but it's worth the lingering. And it's published by the University of Arizona Press, one more indication of growing acceptance for the mystery genre as territory where life's complexity can be probed and tested.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

New from Mark Pryor: THE BLOOD PROMISE, French Crime Fiction

Follow closely: Mark Pryor was British but he now lives in Texas, where he works as an assistant district attorney. His protagonist Hugo Marston is American and works in Paris. With me so far?

Good. Because I have terrific news: There is a new (third!) Hugo Marston mystery available -- it was released last month -- and it's every bit as good as the other two (see our review from last year: http://kingdombks.blogspot.com/2013/05/mark-pryor-two-hugo-marston-novels.html). And it has a wonderful new twist: DNA evidence used not to clear or convict of a crime, but to provide enormous motivation for murder. Hence one aspect of the title: THE BLOOD PROMISE.

Hugo Marston's return to the scene -- he works as the security chief for the American ambassador in Paris -- also brings back Marston's dare-anything friend Tom Green, a former CIA agent with current connections, living in his newly sober stage of life with Marston. And then there's Capitaine Raul Garcia, a powerful Paris investigator who used to counter Marston but now teams up with him (and, if it can be done discretely, with Tom Green as well).

When Marston's chasing a lead, it's in order to protect the vulnerable American reputation in France. This time it's a case of smoothing the way for a right-wing U.S. Senator on hand to conduct secret negotiations with French political leaders about the future of Guadeloupe. Since Senator Lake has a reputation of being stridently anti-Europe, Marston expects to function as a multilingual diplomat at the country mansion of Henri Tourville.

But instead, the Senator insists someone has entered his room at night at the mansion; Tourville refuses flatly to allow any of his family or servants to be fingerprinted; and the lone print that Marston and the Capitaine capture that's unusual turns out to be linked -- without a name -- to a recent murder in another rural location.

Pryor neatly twists the notion of French crime investigation so that it makes perfect sense for Americans to be detectives-in-place. His Paris scenes are rich with detail. And best of all, throughout the quickly action and cleverly tangles, he makes room for matters of the heart -- what else is Paris for? But what Marston wants and what this case delivers are far apart, and grievous losses occur before the means, motive, and opportunity, and finally identity of the criminal(s), can be determined.

It's not critical to read the two earlier Marston books (The Crypt Thief and The Bookseller), but after enjoying this one, you may want to go back and pick them up. All are paperback originals from Seventh Street Books, an imprint of Prometheus Books.

And when you'd like to check out the author, here's his website: http://www.daconfidential.com. My suggestion: Read the books first; then go investigate Pryor's wry British take on life and writing.

Friday, February 21, 2014

British Thriller: Sabine Durrant, UNDER YOUR SKIN

UNDER YOUR SKIN was published in Britain last summer, but just released here this month. It's the first time I've run across the author, Sabine Durrant, and in a way, that's not surprising -- a quick check of the British reviews reveals that she's known better there for two books of "mum-lit," a term that's maybe a degree more awful than the American "chick lit" label. A further two books are novels for teenage girls, on the young side.

But here she is with a tightly plotted thriller and an irresistible protagonist: Gaby Mortimer, a TV co-anchor so significant that the station routinely has a car service collect her in the morning. Even though she's the mom of a little girl, and has a prosperous husband, her social life is mostly empty -- paparazzi snatch photos of her, and the other moms at the playground don't come too close.

Things are about to get worse -- a lot worse. Because Gaby, out for her morning run before the car service arrives, finds a dead body on the common near her home. And the young dead woman looks hauntingly similar to Gaby herself.

From here on, the mantra of her life might as well be, "Things can always get worse." The nanny taking care of her child clearly dislikes Gaby. Gaby's husband is getting less connected to her by the day -- he even misses their daughter's birthday supper. And the co-anchor at work, jealous and nasty, would love to put his own candidate into her seat in front of the camera.

When suspicion finally settles on Gaby herself, in the eyes of a suspicious police officer who's making a blind guess, even work stops being a haven. Gaby reaches the show producer, who says, "I think you should have a few days at home."
"Honestly, I'm totally fine. I haven't read the papers yet, but I'm going to get on to them in the car. I am going to be hot with ideas, I promise." ...

She doesn't answer. I hear clattering in the background, cameras moving, doors shutting. A long, uncomfortable silence in which my hand clutches the bannister so tightly I hear it creak, feel the post beneath it shift. ... Something inside me cracks open. Finally, Terri says, "I'm sorry, Gaby. The big cheeses don't think it's right for you to come in, not just at the moment, while the enquiry into this murder is still ongoing."
Obviously, it's not enough to be innocent. And tabloid headlines grow vicious, along with nasty photos. Gaby soon feels the enquiry is stripping her to nothing -- a woman without friends, a woman who isn't liked.

Durrant's compelling narrative is all too believable, and Gaby could be any of us, suddenly caught in the terrible pressure of public opinion and mistaken assumptions.

But nothing in Durrant's story is what it seems. When the plot twists hit, they're swift and sharp, carried at a fast-moving pace that supports exactly what makes this thriller so creepy ... its closeness to our own experience, its constant threat level, and its unexpected dangers.

It's clear Durrant has found her way to top-notch suspense, and likes writing it -- because her next title, Remember Me This Way, is a psychological thriller that Hodder and Stoughton is already announcing in Britain.  No translators are needed, so I hope the U.S. edition of this next book will follow soon!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

J. T. Ellison, WHEN SHADOWS FALL: Forensic Detection and Suspense

[Note: Publication date Feb. 25 -- a good time to preorder, or to ask a local independent bookstore to be sure to stock this title!]

It's time for forensic pathologist and investigator Dr. Samantha Owens to take a break from the losses and stress of front-line detection (see Edge of Black and A Deeper Darkness), so she's accepted a teaching slot at Georgetown University, while her lover, Xander (Alexander Whitfield), nurtures her recovery with weekends at a forest retreat with their affectionate dog. Or at least, that's how she thought things were heading. But the arrival of a letter from a man she's never heard of, Timothy Savage, throws everything off kilter. Savage is begging her to investigate his own death -- a death that's only just taken place, and that's already been deemed "self-inflicted."

But it's not. And to go with that discovery, Sam finds that the deceased has a will with a bunch of legatees who turn out to be connected to the years of crimes and disappearances -- as well as a kidnapping demanding the immediate attention of the team she's suddenly working with. There may even be a chance to save other lives along the way:
She looked down at her hands and realized she was covered in blood. Davidson looked down at her, and silently handed her his handkerchief.

She wiped her hands on it, watching the white stain red.

His voice was shaky and she realized he was fighting back tears. Her estimation of him went up a few notches. He swiped at his eyes.
At stake for the investigation: the life of a child, and maybe the lives of five other children taken previously. At stake for Sam: her emotional stability, as she wrestles with the loss of her own husband and child from the past, the effects of previous investigations on her soul, and how to handle a love relationship she can't quite commit to, while also juggling two jobs and confronting a violent and twisted religious group that sure looks like a cult. Not to mention emotional complications with other investigators on her team, too:
She thought about his words. Having this conversation with Fletcher was utterly bizarre, but she sensed he wanted to have it. They'd been dancing around it for months. She knew Fletcher had feelings for her. She simply never acknowledged them. It was too much to deal with -- she'd had two years of grief and numbness, and suddenly, three months ago, in the course of a single week, she'd lost another man she used to love and, while investigating his death, found Fletcher and Xander. Two wonderful men who were both good for her, in their own ways.

Two loves lost. And two found. But only one made her heart sing.
Obvious comparisons, because of the forensics aspect, are to crime fiction by Kathy Reichs and Patricia Cornwell, plus Jeffery Deaver's Lincoln Rhyme series. But Ellison writes very differently from all of these; her investigator, Sam Owens, is refreshingly sane and balanced, and her decisions work toward solving the crime, rather than toward increasing her own pain. Count on thriller-speed action with a complex but emotionally accessible investigator who grows and changes as she increases her own capabilities and the success of her team. Ellison often teams up with Catherine Coulter, and the strong story strands and supportive threads of romance reflect that expertise. If you're new to the series, you'll still be able to enjoy WHEN SHADOWS FALL without extra explanation; if you're already following it, this is an eminently satisfying addition to the earlier Sam Owens investigations.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Charles Todd, HUNTING SHADOWS: Newest Insp. Ian Rutledge Mystery

This week's news from England included lowland flooding that's wiping out a small town -- with the promise of more of the same, thanks to global climate change. It's a sobering prediction. And it takes me back into HUNTING SHADOWS, which I read with pleasure a couple of weeks ago. This time the Todds -- son and mother writing team, under a single nom de plume -- take Inspector Ian Rutledge to England's Fen country, a lowland that's similar in some ways to Holland, and to the New Jersey Meadows: Human-made channels crisscross the landscape to drain the land and make it crop-worthy. Adding another "Dutch" touch is the presence of windmills, though they may no longer be needed or functioning; they pumped water, it seems. And they are the speechless giants of the terrain, the remnants of another time that pull Rutledge into the uneasy time warp of World War I that continues to affect his thinking and his everyday functioning.

For Rutledge is a "shell-shocked" survivor of the Battle of the Somme in World War I, and as series fans know, his particular mental disorder takes the form of an active and often cruel voice in the back of his mind, that of his close friend Hamish, whom Rutledge had ordered shot during the critical moment before the bombs fell. Hamish is protective of Rutledge -- he's likely to snap "Ware!" (Beware!) at him when danger approaches. In the Fen country, Hamish seems as overwhelmed at Rutledge himself by the fraught silences of the landscape and its people.

Rutledge is here because two murders have taken place, clearly by the same assassin, perhaps a sharpshooter torn loose of inner moorings by the war and its aftermath. And the victims are part of the upper middle class, even the upper class, so the pressure on Rutledge's Acting Chief Superintendent at Scotland Yard goes directly onto the inspector: Solve the crimes, and for heaven's sake, find the shooter before another killing takes place.

Yet in a rural community where nobody seems quite willing to tell him all he needs to know, Rutledge is doubly handicapped. Moreover, what a witness seems to have seen -- a monstrous face just before the rifle fired -- ties into whispers of a legendary assassin that the inspector recalls from his own wartime service. And the fear and anxiety linked with that tie are enough to rouse his inner guardian, Hamish, to an edgy anger that punishes Rutledge once again, even as he struggles to solve the crimes, mostly solo.

Although this mystery has less tangles with that angry Scottish voice in Rutledge's mind, and less to do with the expiation that it demands of him, HUNTING SHADOWS takes Rutledge to the edge of new possibilities in his life: Could it be that his own losses and mourning have lost their sharp edge, so that he can perhaps admit some affection for others in his life? Series readers will enjoy the slow metamorphosis of this compelling figure of Scotland Yard detection; those new to the Todd series will find enough guideposts to make the book read well, but are also likely to come away from this title with a determination to read all of the series from the beginning, in A Test of Wills. It's a great fit with the Jacqueline Winspear books, or with Pat Barker's Regeneration series, as well as an intriguing way to dig into World War I history and the English aftermath -- especially appropriate in 2014, as we mark 100 years since the start of the "War to End All Wars."

The Charles Todd books alternate between Rutledge and another series, the Bess Crawford mysteries. I like both -- but it's the Rutledge ones that take root in my mind, much as Hamish continues to accompany this Scotland Yard inspector. For more of our Charles Todd reviews, click here; and to search our holdings, click here instead.

Guest Post from Tempa Pagel, Author of THEY DANCED BY THE LIGHT OF THE MOON

Have you traveled around New England much? Visited old farms and other relics of the region's history? In today's guest post from Tempa Pagel -- whose second mystery They Danced by the Light of the Moon releases tomorrow (Feb. 19; review here) -- it's clear that the writer's eye finds mystery and suspense in that landscape ...

Derelict Buildings as Muse
by Tempa Pagel

I’ve always been fascinated with vacated buildings. I think many people are. We can’t resist peaking into an abandoned house and wondering about its former inhabitants.  Faded wallpaper around an outline of a bureau, smoke smudged walls above an old stove, imprints of lives lived here and now gone. Who were they? Where did they go? Why? Mystery hangs in the air.

Once, a long time agoI forget the circumstancesI was walking along a remote sandy strip of beach that separated woods and the rolling waves of Lake Michigan.  I came upon a house, no more than thirty feet from the water, almost swallowed up by trees and brush. It had been a stately place at one time, but was now in a serious state of deterioration: roof partially gone, windows broken out, walls falling down. A large room looking out onto the lake was now open to the elements, its elegant black and white tiled floor merging with the sand. I lingered there, at first trying to envision it the way it had been. And then, pondering the mystery of it: Who had lived there? What had happened to cause its owners to desert it?

During my teen years there were storiesperhaps urban legends, but believed non-the-lessof an old deserted tuberculosis sanatorium out in the countryside somewhere. Everyone knew somebody who had broken into the TB San, as we called it, and had found creepy things and (of course) felt the presence of ghosts. Despite the fact that I never ventured near it, vivid stories of the TB San’s lab, with its shelves of glass jars containing human organs floating in formaldehyde, created images that fooled my memory into believing I had seen it all for myself.  A vacant house holds secrets of a family, but an institution holds the intersecting stories of numerous individuals who have been isolated from society.  How did they come to be there? Did they survive?
Danvers State Hospital: http://opacity.us

When I moved to New England, two iconic buildings in my general vicinity quickly became known to me: the Danvers State Hospital, its gothic silhouette high on a hill reigning over Route 1 in Danvers, Massachusetts, and the Wentworth Hotel overlooking the Atlantic Ocean near Portsmouth, New Hampshire. A mental institution and a grand hotel, they shared nothing in common other than the fact that both were prominent examples of 19th century architecture on the decline. Within a few years of each othershortly after I learned of themthey closed. Then, because what to do with them could not be resolved, both were boarded up and allowed to deteriorate through the years.

I became fascinated with them in the same way I had been by the house on the beach and the TB San years before. When I drove by Danvers, traveling south to the mall, or passed Wentworth while meandering north along the coast, I thought of the stories distilling within their respective walls. My imagination was nurtured by tales of those who had snuck into the deteriorating Danvers hospital and scared themselves silly, as well as by stories of those whose parents had known the opulent Wentworth during its heyday. I knew I wanted to put these places in novels someday. I envisioned an historical mystery for the Wentworth. For Danvers, I didn’t yet know.

Over time, I read about grand hotels, visited one in the Midwest, and let ideas stew. When I finally started writing They Danced by the Light of the Moon I set the first scene in 1901 at a hotel inspired by the Wentworth Hotel. Immediately, my historical character, Marguerite, took over, creating some surprising twists along the way, the most unexpected being the incorporation of Danvers State Hospital. I had not planned on putting Wentworth and Danvers into the same book, so I resisted at first. But then, since both buildings had been at their peaks during that time periodin prestige and architecturallyI decided to go with it.  

I began researching facts in which to imbed Marguerite’s story. There was an abundance of information on Wentworth, including a wonderful pictorial history by Dennis Robinson, but I found little, other than online articles with small black and white pictures, on Danvers.

Then I came across an intriguing website. Before it was torn down, an urban explorer had done something I’d yearned but hadn’t dared to do: he had sneaked into the crumbling buildings of Danvers. And better yet, he’d documented them.  His spectacular pictures highlighted architectural features inside and out and even atop roofs. He photographed rooms, hallways, tunnels, stairwells, basements, auditorium, and sometimes just objects: a torn curtain, a chair, a rusty metal bed, a 1970’s calendar, news clippings on the wall. This virtual tour raised the hair on the back of my neck, and gave me goose bumps.  Inspired, we set to work, my present-day protagonist and I, climbing through a basement window, circumventing debris in underground tunnels, ascending a caged-in staircase, sidling around rotting floors, getting lost and terrified, seeking answers to the mystery of Marguerite.  How did she get here? What happened to her?

Meanwhile, the real fates of the Wentworth Hotel and the Danvers State Hospital were playing out. After a number of wing amputations, the main section of the Wentworth finally had a buyer with a plan to restore it. Danvers was not so lucky. Its buildings, one by one, were demolished. Attempts to save the last and most distinctive one, the Kirkbride, failed, and only a small section of the entire complex survived the wrecking ball to be incorporated into the new condominiums that now sit atop the hill.

Tempa Pagel

They Danced by the Light of the Moon
Five Star/Gale, Cengage, 2014

Monday, February 17, 2014

Laura Lippman Stand-Alone: AFTER I'M GONE

Following a good detective series, like Laura Lippman's Tess Monaghan books, provides some of the warmth and relaxation of supper with an old friend at a familiar restaurant. Picking up a stand-alone by the same author can have the zing of a new flame, laced with lively curiosity and that sense of risk, of not knowing quite what will happen.

Lippman's new crime novel, just released, is a stand-alone, with a familiar setting -- her own Baltimore, when her Tess Monaghan series takes place. But here's a new set of faces, a family of sorts: long-vanished Felix Brewer, who ran out of town when it seemed clear he was facing a 15-year sentence for his shady business practices; Felix's wife Bambi and their three daughters; and his equally abandoned mistress, Julie. And in that sense the book probes the effects of Felix's crimes and disappearance on five women.

But AFTER I'M GONE is also the narrative of cop-turned-"consultant" Roberto "Sandy" Sanchez. He's tackling Baltimore's cold cases, and when a photo of Julie, the stripper mistress, falls out of a folder, he feels like she's asked him to investigate -- because during the decades since Felix's disappearance, Julie was found dead, and her presumed murder has never been solved. Wouldn't you think Felix would have come back to get her, or else Bambi, or maybe slipped into the background for the graduation of one of his daughters? Maybe he did.

Lippman's comments about the book have focused on the five women who remain tied together by the vanished Felix Brewer. But it's also just as much about the way they draw men into their orbits ... and about how Sandy wrestles for the truths of their lives and eventually moves toward confronting the lies that have been in plain sight since more than a decade earlier.

This isn't a book to breeze through -- it has substance, it asks questions of us, it makes us tug at the threads until we're in a tug-of-war with a rope of old angers braided into dangerous force. Expect to spend more time here than with most crime fiction; it felt to me a lot like Karin Slaughter's tour-de-force Criminal. But it also reminded me how much I liked another of Lippman's (earlier) stand-alones, I'd Know You Anywhere. What she does in AFTER I'M GONE is similar: She shows us the weight of those years of multiple lives affected by a crime. And through characters we recognize, she makes it matter.

And that's why I keep reading her books.

Reminder: Tomorrow, second-mystery author Tempa Pagel visits here for a guest post, as she reflects on the start of her New Hampshire mystery They Danced by the Light of the Moon (Feb. 19 release). Come on back and check out the tale -- and the photos!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

New Hampshire Mystery Author Tempa Pagel: Guest Post on Tues. Feb. 18

On Wednesday February 19, Tempa Pagel's second New Hampshire mystery, THEY DANCED BY THE LIGHT OF THE MOON, will be released -- so Tempa is guest posting here on Tuesday. Hope you'll stop in then (or just add your e-mail in the little box on the side, and you'll get the posts automatically, without any list of e-mails being kept!). If you missed our earlier blog "hurrah" for this book, here's the review.

Spooky real-life setting in Tempa Pagel's new book!

Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentine's Day Storm -- Kingdom Books Is Still Indulging in Mysteries!

Our mail carrier is amazing! I followed her up the hill, then opened the box for this photo ...

And we are glad to have you come to pick out a dozen mysteries (by appointment), but please give us time for the plow jockey to come clear the driveway ...

Although I shovel the stairs to the shop door myself (who needs a gym membership?).

And Dave is keeping the Facebook pages hopping with art as we work:

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Brief Mention: Andrea Kane, THE STRANGER YOU KNOW

During this very strange Super Bowl game evening, I confess I've been distracted -- I hope my lack of attention didn't contribute to the Denver disaster. Sigh. Superstition runs rife among sports fans and writers. There is one sports fan in the house, and one writer who makes sports-related kitchen efforts. You can probably guess which of us is which.

In the process of fine-tuning the chicken wings recipe and excavating a heap of books in the kitchen (hey, you know how distraction goes), I found a title that I should have reviewed back in October, when it was released: THE STRANGER YOU KNOW by Andrea Kane. It's the latest to feature the "Forensic Instincts" team: headed by Casey Woods, and specializing in behavioral and forensic psychology. I like the generous and strong characters, the quick thriller-style pacing, and the carefully shaded modern noir note here. Kane's earlier titles brought out by Mira (the crime fiction side of Harlequin) are The Girl Who Disappeared Twice and The Line Between Here and Gone.

While I'm sorry to be late mentioning Kane and this latest title, I am glad to see the book is coming out in paperback in March. If you're a pre-order person and you'd like to sample this line of well-crafted psychological sleuthing, here's a good moment to mark Kane onto your list.

Kane is a long-time author of romantic thrillers and historical romances as well, and she's a Jersey Girl; I hope we'll see another title from her soon. Author website here.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

Best February Treat Yet: COLD STORAGE, ALASKA from John Straley

What kind of guy is author John Straley? Well, he just asked on his Twitter feed, "Does this interview make me look fat?"

So settle into his newest crime fiction crossover with rural humor in COLD STORAGE, ALASKA -- named for the remote fishing outpost where Miles McCahon's been taking care of people at the tiny health center, watching over his dying mother, and waiting for the moment when his dedicated criminal of a brother is sure to come home. And here we are: Clive McMahon is on his way, having stopped first to gather up the cash he's sure is his ... of course, it happened to be in a storage box owned by a mob boss, but why would that mean trouble might follow Clive home??

Don't think Westlake for this caper crime novel, though; think Clyde Edgerton maybe, or a tender, kinder version of Janet Evanovich (do you look fat in that comparison, Mr. Straley? not a bit). Because what makes Straley (a criminal investigator in the "real" Alaska) and his books stand out is the way his characters treat each other: with a reliable sense of love and awe, even if they do get distracted by thinking they are hearing talking animals or making a pilgrimage to the Dalai Lama.

Yes, pilgrimage to the Dalai Lama -- it's Billy who's up to that one. Here's a sample from when Billy gets rescued from the cold ocean by Bonnie, who will soon have her own important role in Cold Storage:
They both woke up in the infirmary on the boat. They were covered in warm blankets which felt as if they had just come from the dryer. Hot pads sat on their chests and bellies, the extension cords running out from under the blankets.

The ship's doctor leaned over Billy and asked him if he knew where he was.

"I'm in the Universe," Billy said with a smile on his face.

"Exactly," the doctor said and patted the shivering man's shoulder.
The plot that entangles Miles (who's well worth caring about) and Clive (and that's another) and their village includes a bar that's a part-time church, as well as the aforementioned mob boss. I hope you'll treat yourself to a copy of this wacky and enjoyable romp. I am hoping to forget most of the details over the next year, so that next February I can re-read the whole thing and laugh and smile anew.

PS -- Thanks Soho Crime. You sure do know how to pick 'em. Straley's earlier title was The Curious Eat Themselves -- and then there's The Woman Who Married a Bear, and The Big Both Ways. But this may be the best yet.