Nele Neuhaus: I Am Your Judge Sunday, Feb 7 2016 

German author Nele Neuhaus’ police procedurals featuring Oliver von Bodenstein and Pia Kirchhoff and their team have now been published in fifteen countries with over FIVE million copies in print. Last year’s The Ice Queen is now in paperback, for those who missed the third installment. Each case is solved in a book so you can start anywhere but for readers who like to follow the personal lives of the two main detectives, the first is Snow White Must Die, followed by Bad Wolf.


I Am Your Judge is the newest and the team will face it toughest case yet. With many out sick with the flu as the holidays approach, Pia is packing to leave for her honeymoon when a phone call will change her plans. An elderly woman out walking her dog has been shot, sniper style. Then a second woman is killed in the same way, this time standing in her own kitchen talking to her grand-daughter. Neither one had enemies and no motive can be found, nor a link between the two victims.

Is this sniper out killing indiscriminate people, or are they targeted?

Then two more murders follow in rapid succession just as Pia and Oliver discover a most unlikely connection–and the sniper starts leaving cryptic messages. It seems the victims are chosen for their relation to some other person the sniper wants to hurt deeply for an issue that happened years ago.

There will be unreliable witnesses, messages sent to the newspaper, and one of the victim’s daughters who starts her own investigation, determined to find out who killed her mother and why. Tightly plotted, with a sense of real police work and frustrations, conflicting personalities, and interfering and sometimes unhelpful consultants.

Meanwhile, Pia’s new husband has gone off on their honeymoon alone, the holidays occur, and Oliver has his own familial and relationship issues. One of the highlights of Neuhaus’ writing is how the lives of this duo overlap with their work and thoughts in a realistic manner that has them one of Auntie M’s favorite series.

It should be mentioned that the book is translated by Steven T. Murray. Highly recommended.

Nicholas Searle: The Good Liar Thursday, Feb 4 2016 

Good Liar hc c
The Good Liar is Nicholas Searle’s debut novel, yet it reads as if from an experienced literary hand. Mr. Searle graciously agreed to answer a few of Auntie M’s questions about this unusual novel and you’ll find them at the end of this review.

Meet Roy, a con man extraordinaire who is looking for one last big con. He thinks he’s found it in Betty, a comely widow in a nice little cottage who is placed well to take good care of him as he arranges his one last big con.

But things are not as they seem for any of the characters in this highly original and literate novel which almost defies description. It’s been called a psychological thriller akin to the best of Patricia Highsmith, and that will have to do, but it’s not your typical crime novel, for certain, it’s far more than that.

The story unfolds in a backwards stance over many decades as Roy’s story is spooled out. All of the supporting characters are finely drawn no matter the era, and the settings spring to life. It is to Mr. Searle’s credit that not once does the reader lose interest as the past alternates with the current situation occurring between Roy and Betty.

In fact, the deliberate pacing, like layers being peeled away from an onion, only heighten the tension and the race to the finish, and what a finish it is, with a twisted elegance that is most fitting. It would be difficult for Auntie M to reveal more about this story without ruining the plot, but suffice it to say that it has earned her coveted “highly recommended” rating and she urges you to find your copy.

Now to hear from Mr. Searle in his own words:

Nicolas Searle, cr John Rice

Auntie M: You touch on the rise in elderly people finding relationships on the internet and how those outcomes run the gamut from providing companionship to exploitation. After your personal brush with a relative’s less-than-successful experience, what’s your personal feeling about vulnerable elders searching for someone to share their last years?

Nicholas Searle: I think it’s great that people should seek companionship late in life, but there are risks. On the good side, it’s wonderful that people should have the energy and chutzpah to go out there and live life to the full, and not give up. On the other hand the process of finding a new partner can unleash a whole range of emotions, some of them troubling – guilt (about one’s previous, departed partner), fear (will I end up making a fool of myself?) and desperation (will I ever find anyone?). They can add up to a powerful cocktail of vulnerability that the less scrupulous can exploit. And this is, I think, magnified by modern online technologies that can make the prospective con-merchant that much more convincing. So I applaud the positivity of the elderly seeking to ride on into the sunset with someone new but at the same time I fear for their safety. It’s an issue that possibly deserves greater debate.

AM: The design of the book has you telling the main protagonist’s story in the present, alternating with chapters into his past life, delving into episodes that go earlier and earlier into his life. Did you know this would be the design of the book, or did it happen as you were writing?

NS: I knew pretty soon that the book would be structured this way. The way the book came into being was this: Roy cried out to me as a main character and I crafted the first chapter around him, finding Betty and Stephen coming out of the woodwork as I wrote. Then it was decision time, and I decided that we’d need to discover Roy’s history in order to find out what made him the way that he is. At the same time I wanted forward momentum as I was intrigued by Betty; and from that moment on the alternating chapter and present/past structure just seemed natural. I had it all worked out in my head – nothing on paper apart from the first chapter – within a couple of weeks. I was acutely aware that a narrative going backwards and forwards at the same time could end up being too complex and foxing the reader, which is part of the reason why I decided to hold the whole plot in my head rather than planning the novel with charts and so forth on paper. I rationalised that if I couldn’t keep the thread in my head then there’s no chance a reader could. Only at the end, part way through editing, did I draw up what I call a ‘map’ of the book, mainly so that I could check for continuity and plot consistency, as well as spoilers and dropping a few well-hidden (I hope) hints.

AM: I know you studied languages in England and in Germany, so the German connection was there for you, as well as the familiarity with that setting. Did that knowledge in some way lead you to the plot?

NS: I have had a long connection with Germany and German which started at school. I love the country and its people, and find both fascinating and far from the stereotypes the British have of them. There’s much more complexity and texture to both German history and – I hate generalisations but here’s a big one – the German tradition and way of thinking. So embedded in me was a strong sense of Germany and certainly what had gone on there in the 20th century. But when I started the novel in early 2014 I didn’t know (until I’d plotted the book in my head) that Germany would feature. I guess a wonderful trip to Berlin the previous summer – with the object of seeing the Berlin Philharmonic perform Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in all its glorious pomp but also to re-acquaint myself with a city I know well – was the stimulus closest to the front of brain when I began writing. The concert was a magical evening and the weekend brought home to me forcefully how in Berlin all those layers of history, from the divided city of the Berlin Wall, through the Third Reich, Döblin’s Alexanderplatz of the 1930s, the decadent Twenties, the deprivation of Germany after the First World War and the Prussian grandeur of the late nineteenth century, exist at the same time, like whispers in the air. So in a way Germany, and Berlin particularly, had to be centre stage, though I didn’t know it at the time.

AM: Roy, your protagonist, has led a carefully constructed life and taken the time to develop his stories with great skill. You’ve also given him the ability to read people to a great degree. This lets him anticipate other’s actions and wear the right mask in any situation. You describe someone you met who would choose to lie when given the opportunity but was not good at it. Have you ever known someone who was a truly great liar?

NS: Roy was based on an individual I knew in real life – more closely in the first chapter I suppose; and from there I built him and no doubt embellished him shamelessly! I have no idea, for instance, whether the real ‘Roy’ ever was a con man. The real individual was someone a distant relative of mine, to whom however I remain close, befriended some years ago. It was if you like a whirlwind romance, if a geriatric one. He moved in with her within a matter of weeks and it wasn’t until afterwards that I went down to Wiltshire and met him. And disliked him. And discovered that virtually everything he said was a lie. And that he wasn’t particularly good at lying… I think it was these last two elements that intrigued me. It’s pretty normal, if you’re not very good at something to give it up, not to keep trying and failing. As it is I don’t think that the real ‘Roy’ was out to swindle my relative of her savings (she didn’t have any!) but that he was looking for the easy life, someone to look after him and to glare at over the Daily Telegraph in the morning. In answer to your question: I’m not sure. I pride myself at being pretty good at winkling out lies. But if someone was that good a liar I wouldn’t know, would I?

AM: Readers are always interested in a writer’s process. This is a thriller with a deliberate pace and increasing tension that leads to the complex ending. Was it difficult to keep this controlled pace as you wrote or did it come to you as you revised?

NS: It wasn’t difficult, I found. I’ve explained that I didn’t go in for elaborate planning methods and had the plot inside my head. From then on I simply concentrated on the chapter in hand. The episodic approach helped, as in a way each segment in time needs to be a self-contained story – but with strong links to the main narrative. I must confess to sowing a few clues into the narrative, both while doing the original draft and when revising. My thought was that readers would happen on what lies beneath at different times. I wanted to avoid the big ‘suspects all gathered in the drawing room’ reveal. It doesn’t actually matter when you twig to what’s going on, so long as you enjoy the journey.

AM: Having been in public service in the UK and New Zealand “more years than you care to remember,” what was the deciding factor that drove you to write fiction?

NS: The deciding factor? I have always wanted to write. Always. As a child I would write stories just for fun. Then when I went to university and later pursued a career it somehow got neglected. Possibly it was my laziness or cowardice, or possibly both. But I do like to quote Heinrich Böll, one of my favourite German writers, who began writing in earnest I think when he was 43: ‘schreiben wollte ich immer, versuchte es schon früh, erst später aber fand ich die Worte’ (from memory, so it could be wrong – ‘I always wanted to write, tried it when I was young but only found the words later.’) Then, with our return from New Zealand to the UK, came the opportunity and the impetus. This was the moment, I decided, when either I did this or lived the rest of my life wondering.

AM: I believe writers must be readers. Who were your early influences?

NS: I agree. I had tremendously undiscerning reading tastes when I was young – a good thing I think. I devoured all of Agatha Christie when I was about twelve or thirteen. And I mean all of what she wrote, in one long summer holiday. At that age I could easily read two books a day. But I also loved – perhaps slightly later – many European writers, such as Camus and Böll, Grass and Sartre, Dürrenmatt and Duras. In the English language one of my biggest regrets is not being able to get into Dickens until I was much older. I was much more interested in the contemporary novel of different genres: Graham Greene, Martin Amis, Ian McEwan, John le Carré, Patricia Highsmith, P.D. James. In my thirties I began to appreciate the American big-hitters and believe that some of the best contemporary fiction emerges from the United States.

AM: Why crime fiction–is that what you enjoy reading? Whose books would I find on your nightstand?

NS: I’ll let you into a secret here: I’m not very keen on genres. I didn’t set out to write a crime novel, or a thriller, or a suspense novel. I just wrote the kind of thing I’d quite like to read – intelligent without being incomprehensible, with twists and turns but not trashy. I’m not even sure now whether The Good Liar fits with the classic thriller/crime novel genre. It seems more publishers and booksellers – rather than writers or readers – who want to apply these labels. But it doesn’t bother me. I’m cool with it all. On my nightstand now you’d certainly find the latest Kate Atkinson, Richard Ford, John le Carré, William Boyd, Sarah Waters and Howard Jacobson, as well probably as a selection of Nicci French and Patricia Cornwell. And it’s such a shame that there will be no more books by P.D. James or Kent Haruf (to name just two).

AM: Have you started another writing project? Anything about it you can share with readers?

NS: Yes, I have started on the next project, but I’m not going to tell you anything about it! At the moment I’m focusing completely on The Good Liar.

Ausma Zehanat Khan: The Language of Secrets Sunday, Jan 31 2016 

Khan’s debut The Unquiet Dead was one of Auntie M’s favorite debuts last year, introducing the unusual team of Toronto detectives Esa Khattak and Rachel Getty. Khan’s sequel, The Language of Secrets, is every bit as well done, a compelling and original plot with a timely topic handled with exquisite delicacy and precision. Instead of a formal review, Auntie M will let the author describe her book.

Auntie M had the pleasure of having lunch and a lively discussion about her work with British-born Canadian Ausma Zehanat Khan at Bouchercon last October. The author met her husband, a University of Denver professor and author who is regarded as a leading expert on Middle East affairs, when they were students at university in Ottowa, the country’s capital, and both became activists in protests against Bosnian war crimes. Her PhD research informed much of The Unquiet Dead, and her husband, Nader Hashemi, Director for the Center of Middle East Studies, became a patient and valuable resource in her research for this second book, which has her detectives investigating a Muslim terrorist cell planning an attack on New Year’s Day.

Auntie M: After all of your PhD research, why the decision to document stories and try to bring understanding through crime novels?

Ausma Zehanat Khan: I’m a lifelong crime fiction reader, which led to this series, and I chose the Canadian setting to write about my Toronto home from a distance. That distance allows me to recreate the setting for readers, who may not understand the very accepting multicultural attitudes prevalent in Toronto. So that was how I grounded my detectives. I wanted to write about the Bosnian genocide because I thought it was a war most people knew little about, and whose terrible crimes have been largely forgotten. I thought a mystery that explored the war would be a more accessible, but still compelling, entry point into that story, a story that has stayed with me as the struggle for justice continues.

AM: Your first book was based on real events; does this sequel follow that pattern?

AZK: Yes, “Secrets” is based on a case where the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Canadian Security Intelligence Service carried out a major anti-terrorism operation that resulted in the arrest of eighteen jihadists, influenced by a charismatic ideologue, who had planned to attack several sites in downtown Toronoto, as well as discussing other targets. A Muslim police agent infiltrated the terror cell’s operation and together with a second informant, helped bring about a successful sting operation that led to arrests before the plot could be carried out. My Author’s Note at the end of the book gives the full story.

AM: You do a great job of explaining how everyone feels accepted in Toronto.

AZK: Of course, I don’t want to idealize my city because I know no matter how multicultural, there are always probles within and between different groups that must be grappled with. And there can be issues of systemic discrimination, as with the over-policing of Toronto’s black communities. But I will say that Toronto is an inclusive, welcoming, multicultural city that a wide variety of groups not only call home but feel completely at home in, just as I do. Just recently, the mayor of Toronto and the Prime Minister of Canada personally welcomed Syrian refugees to the country. To me, that kind of open-hearted multiculturalism is ingrained in the idea of what Canada stands for. So it can be all the more shocking to realize there are still those who feel disenfranchised, alienated–who actively wish to do harm. I wanted to explore how, given that context, young men become radicalized to the point of disastrous action.

AM: So you decided to have Rachel Getty, the native Canadian, go undercover into a mosque! This one is filled with intrigue and Esa’s struggles with his family, while Rachel is tasting independence and a major change in her own family.

AZK: Rachel has to play a sensitive role and do it well. Esa has been told he cannot be seen to be investigating the murder of an old friend, an undercover Muslim agent, from this mosque, for fear of getting in the way of the sting operation underway. He’s hamstrung by his own colleagues and decides sending Rachel undercover may be the best way to infiltrate the cell and investigate the murder.

AM: Rachel has her work cut out for her, becoming involved in the mosque and learning the different personalities of those attending, trying to separate out the members from the terrorist cell while appearing just an interested new party.

AZK: There’s a lot at stake and it becomes personal to them when Esa’s sister becomes engaged, against his wishes, to a member of the mosque, the leader of the cell. I tried to show that passion and zeal take many forms in religion, and people turn to the comfort of belonging to a group for various, personal reasons. As she subtly investigated the congregants, Rachel is the one who arrives at these conclusions.

AM: I won’t give the ending away except to say that both Esa and Rachel come across as fully realized characters who can sustain a series. Esa is the thinker, the more reserved Muslim who is comfortable with his faith in a modern world; Rachel is the younger, hockey-playing partner trying to learn from him while they each learn to trust the other. You said you’ve always loved crime fiction. Who were your early influences?

AZK: When I was 13, my father gave me a leather-bound set of Sherlock Holmes stories and I was hooked by the master, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I also greatly enjoyed Ngaio Marsh, and later Reginald Hill became one of my favorites. His Dialogues of the Dead is what I consider a perfect crime novel.

AM: I agree. It’s one of my own favorites, too. So for reading today, who’s books would I find on your nightstand?

AZK: I enjoy series, and like Louise Penny, Charles Finch, Alan Bradley, Charles Todd, and Tasha Alexander off the top of my head. Ashley Weaver is a terrific new find. Also Martha Grimes and Elizabeth George. Morag Joss has a way with a lovely turn of phrase, and I enjoy Susan Hill’s Simon Serrailler series and the dilemmas of his family very much.

AM: All good choices and some of my own are amongst those. Good luck with this new book.

Auntie M will end here except to add that The Unquiet Dead is now available in paperback. The Language of Secrets, which Kirkus Reviews describes as a “smart, measured, immersive dive into a poorly understood, terrifyingly relevant subculture of violent extremism,” debuts Feb. 2nd and earns Auntie M’s “highly recommended” rating.

Going to the Dogs: Diana Orgain, Nancy Martin, Michelle Kelly Sunday, Jan 24 2016 

Dogs featured in various ways in several of the recent books Auntie M has read, so she thought she’d group a few cozies together for your interest. First up is Diana Orgain’s Yappy Hour, which takes readers to the small California town of Pacific Cove.
This light=hearted humorous cozy has a hint of romance and a mix of quirky characters that are canine and human. Maggie has relocated to the area from her New York life as a financial advisor to restart her life and be near her Great-Uncle Ernest, whom she and her sister, Rachel, call Grunkly. Rachel owns the The Wine and Bark, a dog-friendly wine bar.

Maggie is eyeing a position on a cruise line as a purser when Friday rolls around. That means the Roundup Crew will head to Rachel’s bar for Yappy Hour with their dogs in tow. Then Maggie gets an urgent text from Rachel, saying she has to unexpectedly go out of town, and asks Maggie to cover Yappy Hour for her.

When Maggie arrives, she finds a woman and her dog standing over a dead body. With the woman on the phone with 911, Maggie checks for a pulse and notices Rachel’s name on a letter that she slips into her pocket. It won’t be the last time Maggie interferes with the murder investigation, despite her penchant for panic attacks.

The fun starts when Rachel is deemed a suspect for fleeing the scene and Maggie reopens the bar, learning how to make Muttgaritas and Arf D’Oeuvres. Then the Roundup Crew swing into action to save the bar and help Maggie find the real killer. Grunkly will prove a distraction, too. It doesn’t help that Maggie feels drawn to the good-looking detective, Brad Brooks, or that she actually doesn’t care all that much for dogs.

This is lighthearted fun that is a quick breezy read.

Miss ruffles
Mule Stop, Texas is the setting for Nancy Martin’s Miss Ruffles Inherits Everything., another romp filled with humor.

Sunny McKillip is still getting used to Texas when she takes a job as dog sitter to Honeybelle Hensley, of formidable wealth and a real character in her town. Texas seems sometimes to Sunny like Wonderland must have been to Alice, filled with ruthless people.

When Honeybelle is suspected dead, the entire town goes into revolt, especially Honeybelle’s own family, when it turns out she’s left her entire fortune to her dog, Miss Ruffles, a Texas Cattle cur of dubious fame. Known for chasing the UPS man and destroying prize rose bushes, Miss Ruffles often showed her strong objection to Honeybelle’s callers, especially the men vying for her fortune–ah, attention.

Sunny’s job now becomes less sitter and more bodyguard for Miss Ruffles, with a killer still on the loose. Then the dog is kidnapped and there will be twists and secrets until the truth becomes known, a whopper that changes everything for a lot of the characters, and especially for Sunny.

With a hint of romance on the offing, what seem like jagged ends comes together in the end.

The dog in question this time in Michelle Kelly’s Downward Facing Death is the huge Irish Wolfhound belonging to Jack Tibbins named Bambi, one of the first people Keeley Carpenter encounters when she returns to her hometown of Belfrey in England, a charming, traditional village.

Away for years finding herself and learning yoga, slimming down, too, Keeley’s return to take over her dead father’s vacant butcher shop sounds like a grand plan: she’ll open a yoga cafe’, selling vegetarian food and teaching yoga classes.

But a huge wrinkle occurs before Keeley’s even had time to visit the shop: she’s told by DC Ben Taylor that an arsonist tried to burn the building down. And when he takes her to visit the damage to the back of the building, he adds that a dead body was found in the upper studio.

It’s a huge blow, made worse by the fact that Ben Taylor is the same guy Keeley had a crush on back in school. Faced with him now in this new position, he regards her with suspicions at first and something much different later. Bambi will turn out to be a comfort to her while she struggles to make sense of her new position at her old home, as she tries to find out about the victim found dead on what are now her premises.

She’ll need friends, because some of the townspeople feel Keeley’s New Age shop is one more shout of the death knell to the farming community and greet her with suspicion and downright hostility. As she draws closer to Ben, there will be threatening letters sent, and when Bambi is poisoned, things suddenly become much more threatening, for it was Bambi’s barking that had brought attention to the fire at Keeley’s shop and stopped the body from being burned.

And suddenly Keeley will realize the importance of the dog who barked in the nighttime. Complete with yoga instructions and a few recipes at the end.

Happy Birthday Edgar Allan Poe! Thursday, Jan 21 2016 


Auntie M wanted to help celebrate Edgar Allan Poe’s Jan 19th birthday by sharing what spurred the publication of The Wicked Cozy Authors new anthology. Thanks to Sherry Harris who posted this on his actual birthday, all the gals of this great New England Cozy Author group who contributed, and to Edith Maxwell for sharing the cover jpg and the okay to mirror it today. Auntie M has a special fondness for this group of talented New England cozy authors and has absolutely no doubt you will enjoy their new book, EDGAR ALLAN COZY:

Auntie M has visited Poe’s Baltimore home with her Screw Iowa! writing group, where today you can be treated to his stor, with an actor portraying bits of his stories. We also visited his grave, a total-immersion-in-Poe day. So a belated happy birthday to this famous author with the sad life, a small man who wrote giant tales and poetry we still read, quote, and admire–and whose influence has touched many a writers’ life.

Here now in their own words, how this interesting anthology came to be:

Edgar Allan Cozy — Wicked Short Stories
Posted on January 19, 2016 by Sherry Harris

We are celebrating Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday with a new short story anthology! Last year Jane Haertel, aka Sadie Hartwell (aka Susannah Hardy), asked the Wickeds if we’d be interested in doing a short story anthology based on Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories — only these stories would have a twist — a cozy take on his original stories. The result is the ebook Edgar Allan Cozy. Here’s how we chose our stories:

Edith: At a young age I was haunted – haunted, I tell you! – by the “The Tell-Tale Heart.”
And by young I mean nine or ten. When the light went out in my room at night, I knew I could hear that heart beating under the floor. I didn’t know anything about sanity or insanity. I didn’t know what a rheumy eye was. But I could feel that story. I’m not sure my mother was entirely sane letting her third daughter read Poe and the tales of Sherlock Holmes in the fourth grade. Read them I did, though, over and over, and that reading started me on the path to where I have ended up: writing mystery, heart-stopping suspense, and even a bit of horror now and then. I tried to craft “An Intolerable Intrusion” after the manner of “The Tell-Tale Heart” — only with a modern twist.

Sadie/Susannah/Jane: My story, “Within These Walls,” about a Shriner clown’s wife who inherits a brooding mansion set high on a bluff in Raven Harbor, Maine, is based on Poe’s “Cask of Amontillado.” While I love all the Poe stories and poems, this is the one that sticks with me. Our narrator gets his friend Fortunato drunk on Amontillado, a rare wine, then proceeds to wall him up–alive!–in his ancient house. I’m not in the least claustrophobic, but whenever I think of poor Fortunato dying, alone and desperate, in his dank, dark, sealed-up prison, I feel a little short of breath. A little palpitate-y. And it’s always driven me a bit mad that we never find out exactly what Fortunato did to his frenemy Montresor that motivated Montresor to get his revenge in this dreadful way. We’ll never know. But not to worry… I gave the characters in my tribute story some specific motivations, so you won’t have to spend a lot of years wondering.

Sherry: A strange thing happened on the way to picking a Poe story for the anthology — I stopped to read the poem “Annabel Lee” because I hadn’t read it in years. And as soon as I finished reading it the story of Anna, Belle, and Lee popped into my head. It was one of those glorious moments in writing when something really flows. But because the poem is short, I needed to write a story, too. I kept sorting through them and good heavens a lot of those stories are grim!

Then I came across the partially finished story of “The Lighthouse” which is a diary with only three entries. It in itself is a mystery. Why isn’t it finished? Or is it finished? No one really knows and I liked that. In my story I write about a relative who tries to find out what happened to her missing great-great-great grandfather using his diary entries. But she has some problems of her own.

Barb: We’ve all been transported by the rhythms, internal rhymes, and relentless story-telling of “The Raven.” But I’ve always wondered–what if the poem was moved to modern times? And what if the narrator was driven mad, not by a bird, but by the haranguing of a telemarketer? To answer these questions, I offer my updated version.

Sheila: While I had read most of Poe’s short stories years ago, I wanted to find something I wasn’t familiar with, and discovered the 1883 story “MS. Found in a Bottle.” The narrator is a sailor who encounters some rather extreme circumstances during a voyage on a cargo ship at sea. Or does he? Some early readers have asked if Poe meant this as a satire, or a parody of some contemporary sea stories—although they never quite agreed on which author Poe was poking fun at. Still, the editor who published the story called it “distinguished by a wild, vigorous and poetical imagination.” I thought it might be interesting to see what would happen if I recast the story with the sailor telling his story to a modern audience, and whether he would be believed under different conditions.

Thanks for this overview, Wickeds! Readers can find this fascinating update on Poe’s stories at:

Colette McBeth: The Life I Left Behind Sunday, Jan 17 2016 

If you enjoy the novels of S J Watson and Rosamund Lupton you’ll be crazy for Colette McBeth’s accomplished second suspense novel, The Life I Left Behind.

Strong female perspectives tell the story: Melody Pieterson, whose close escape with death six years ago still haunts her and has changed her daily life, despite her former close friend, David Alden, being caught and serving time for her attack. Engaged to be married to Sam, he’s built a house for her that’s safe and secure and even installed a fence around its perimeter when her David is released from jail. Yet she can’t escape the feeling she’s being followed at times, while questioning the life she’s leading, closed off from everyone.

Eve Elliot, a determined investigative reporter and friend of David’s sister, is the most poignant of the voices, and speaks to the reader after her death, recounting her agreement to take on the job of trying to clear David. Despite him already having served his sentence, David maintains his innocence and wants his reputation cleared. Once Eve agrees to take on his case, her usual thorough job of dissecting the evidence against him finds discrepancies the original police investigation missed. Just as she’s ready to bring her findings to the police, Eve is murdered in exactly the same way Melody was attacked and left for dead, and David is arrested for her murder.

DI Victoria Rutter is assigned the case of Eve’s death. Her mentor cleared Melody’s attack in record time. Facing retirement in a matter of weeks, he urges her to bring charges against David, and she feels she’s betraying her mentor for not accepting his blithe acceptance that David Alden would attack a woman in exactly the same manner he was jailed for last time, just a few weeks after being let out of prison. Her conscience makes her investigate Eve’s death more fully.

And then a friend of Eve’s turns in the files she’d been working on after giving a copy to Melody, and things change dramatically. Secrets will be revealed and the tension mounts as Melody and Di Rutter both go through the files and come to the same conclusion: David is probably innocent of both incidents. But that means a murderer is still out there, and Melody is jeopardy once again.

Readers will find themselves unable to put this one down. Auntie M was close to finishing it and stopped reading on on purpose to make dinner. She wanted to stop the dramatic flow of action so that she could fully absorb the ending she knew was mounting. This is writing that gets deeply into the heart of human emotions and examines the faces we wear for others, the ones they expect, and the ones we think they expect. Highly recommended and a writer to watch for down the road.

David McCallum: Once A Crooked Man Tuesday, Jan 12 2016 


Actor David McCallum, yes thatMcCallum, of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and now Ducky on NCIS, debuts a crime and espionage caper with just enough wry humor to let you know he had a ball writing it.

New York actor Harry Murphy could never imagine the consequences peeing in an alley against a building could bring. When he overhears the Bruschetti brothers plan their retirement, which includes the murder of their British connection, his conscience won’t allow him to forget what he’s overheard.

In true comedy of errors fashion, Harry decides to fly to England to warn the unlucky victim, but he’s mistaken for one of the mobsters’ associates and finds himself with a load of cash, fleeing from the bad guys. British authorities save him, but in order to clear himself, he’s soon on his way back to the US with the cleverly hidden cash and a comely British undercover agent accompanying him to flush out the brothers and put an end to their activities.

But that’s the crux: the brothers have decided to retire and go straight. Well, at least as straight as they possibly can. There will be shootouts, high speed chases, a probable drowning . . . and Harry really hoping he gets the voiceover for a mayonnaise commercial.

There’s plenty of action, along with the sly humor and impossible get-out-of-trouble adventures that remind readers of a bumbling James Bond.

With a surprising depth to the characters motivations, this is a clever and fun debut. Auntie M hopes McCallum will continue Harry’s adventures now that he’s had a taste for the wild life and plumbed his own plucky resolve.

Favorite Reads of 2015 Tuesday, Jan 5 2016 

London Rain
My Favorite Reads of 2015

Last year Auntie M reviewed around 145 books in 85 posts plus hosting guests. Those don’t include the books she reads for herself, like the one her grand-daughter loved and insisted she read (Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See—she loved it, too!); or for sheer delight, like the Judi Dench photo-autobiography Behind the Scenes (huge Dench fan).

Out of all of those books, there are always those that remain firmly in her mind as ones where she’s looking forward to more from these authors. They impress her for their creativity, their characters, their storytelling. In no particular order, she went through her posts and pulled out these highlights, most of which received her “highly recommended” citation. There could have been even more . . .

Series continuations:
London Rain by Nicola Upson: Her Josephine Tey series continues with a strong entry, set in 1927 London at the time the BBC ruled the radio and broadcasting. Well-researched and written, with absorbing characters and a few twists you won’t see coming, set against the backdrop of the Coronation of George VI. An accomplished series.

The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths and This Thing of Darkness by Harry Bingham: One of the most unusual and compelling characters to head a series, Griffiths remains a feisty detective in search of her past and herself whilst she figures out how to be human. The second was not formally reviewed so let Auntie M add here that Fiona’s story continues with a punch that proves Bingham deserves to be more widely known in the US.

The Kill and After the Fire by Jane Casey: The Maeve Kerrigan series just keeps getting stronger with each installment. With irascible DI Josh Derwent as her partner, the duo are working together like a well-oiled machine, despite the occasional dig. Could grudging respect be far behind?

Behind Closed Doors by Elizabeth Haynes: DCI Lou Smith heads a team investigating when a young woman missing for a decade suddenly reappears. Haynes uses primary policing source materials reproduced for the reader: police reports, interviews, analyst research, even phone messages, which add a depth and texture to the books.

The Ghost Fields and The Zig-Zag Girl by Elly Griffiths: The next Ruth Galloway installment is a grand mix of the kind of ancient mystery only working mum Ruth could solve, coupled with tremors in her personal life. A satisfying series with original characters. Griffiths also debuted a second period series, and Brighton of the 1950’s comes to life with two unlikely friends, a detective and his magician friend, who need to stop a killer.

The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny: Inspt. Gamache and his lovely wife try to settle down to retirement in Three Pines, until a young boy prone to telling tall tales turns out to be telling the truth. All the eccentric regulars appear to help solve the mystery, a bit different from Penny’s usual but just as engaging, a mix of bittersweet and heartwarming.

Banquet of Consequences by Elizabeth George: After taking time to introduce the family who feature largely in the case to follow, Lynley manages to have Havers and Nkata assigned to investigate a poisoning case. A piece of bacon figures here. Just read it. The plot is as complex as the players involved, and will leave readers thinking about what constitutes justice.

The Slaughter Man by Tony Parsons: A slaughtered family and a missing child prove a tough case for DI Max Wolfe, juggling his young daughter and personable dog, Stan. The weapon used fits the MO of an earlier murder years ago, and that man is now out of jail. Could this be history repeating itself?

The Secret Place by Tana French: With a few characters you’ll recognize if you’ve read her others, and you should, detectives investigate the murder of a young man at a private school. You hardly realize until it’s over that the action takes place all in one day—she’s that good.

Deadly Measures by Jo Bannister: Policewoman Hazel Best and her friend, Gabriel Ash, face their most dangerous and upsetting period together when arms pirates who have kidnapped Ash’s family agree to return them—if he’ll kill himself online for all to see. And yes, Patience, the dog who talks to Ash, is along for the ride.

A Song for Drowned Souls by Bernard Minier: Minier’s second French crime novel finds Commandant Servaz trying to prove his former lover’s son is not a murderer while he protects his own daughter. A rich tale of history and emotion mixed up in murder and secrets from the past.

The Storm Murders by John Farrow: Newly-retired detective Emile Cinq-Mars is known as the Poirot of Canada and can’t get used to not working. Then murders inside a snowed-in house in his neighborhood catch his eye—there are no footsteps in the snow. And he’s asked to intervene and finds himself in New Orleans and his own wife kidnapped.

Winter Foundlings by Kate Rhodes: The psychologist with interesting friends and family returns, working short-term at a hospital for the criminally insane. A taut plot, a compelling story and a protagonist you can’t help but admire in Alice Quentin who should have it all and keeps getting very close.

Run You Down by Julia Dahl: Journalist Rebekah Roberts finds herself investigating the possible murder of a young ultra-Orthodox woman whose contacts might just put Rebekah in touch with the mother she’s not sure she wants to find. Dahl’s first, Invisible City, won multiple awards this year, with good reason. An equally impressive follow-up.

The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zehanat Khan: An undeniably strong debut, backed with meticulous and absorbing research, this Toronto mystery introduces a Muslim detective working with his Canadian female partner to unravel if a dead man fell, committed suicide, or was pushed off a cliff. A series to watch for, with a sequel out soon that’s every bit as good as the first, and will be reviewed shortly.

Recipes for Love and Murder by Sally Andrew: The South African Klein Karoo landscape, nature, food, language and habits of the area come alive through the eyes of Tannie (Auntie) Maria, a widow who happens to be a brillant cook. Mevrou van Harten knows that her food works magic in people’s hearts, not just their stomachs, and uses her knowledge to help solve the murder of an abused woman. Recipes included.

Crucifixion Creek by Barry Maitland: Anyone who reads Maitland’s English Brock and Kolla series know he’s far from a debut novelist, but this marks the debut of a new series set in Australia, Maitland’s home. He introduces detective Harry Belltree, suddenly overwhelmed with three homicides to investigate: a woman shot during a meth-addict biker siege; an elderly couple who commit apparent suicide at their favorite outdoor cafe’; and a white male stabbed to death in the street, who turns out to be his brother-in-law. A strong start to a new and absorbing series.

Five by Ursula Archer: The Austrian children’s lit author tries her hand at mystery and writes an absorbing police procedural with geo-caching at its heart and a realistic, harried, divorced mother of two as the detective.

A Murder of Magpies by Judith Flanders: A wry inside look at London publishing with the protagonist an editor who fears one of her favorite authors has been murdered and becomes drawn into the investigation. With humor and a hint of romance, book two arrives soon.

In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward: Accomplished debut procedural finds detectives looking into a cold-case murder of a young girl when her mother suddenly commits suicide over thirty years later. Absorbing and well-developed characters. First in a series.

Disclaimer by Renee Knight: A most unusual premise explores a family torn apart when a woman’s hidden secret appears suddenly as the plot of a book in her own home. Original and creative.

Everything She Forgot by Lisa Ballantyne: Ballantyne masterfully connects two threads: a young girl’s kidnapping, and a grown woman traumatized in a car accident, to show how secrets buried in the past have come full circle. Creative and compelling.

Sheer Delight:
The No. 2 Feline Detective Agency by Mandy Morton: Of all the humorous novels Auntie M read, this one stands out for its sheer ingenuity and creative premise: a world of cats, peopled and run by cats, who sometimes resemble humans we might recognize. PI Hettie Bagshot and her sidekick Tilly, their team of friends and their world are filled with Morton’s wry humor. Sales help find homes for less fortunate cats. CCat Amongst the Pumpkins coming soon.

Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett: Keeping More Than One Book in the Air! Wednesday, Dec 30 2015 

Please welcome Kathy, er…Kaitlyn, who will try to explain how she juggles so many fine books!
The Scottie Barked at Midnight (208x300)

Keeping More Than One Book in the Air
(or, How to Juggle)

byKathy Lynn Emerson (aka Kaitlyn Dunnett)

It isn’t at all uncommon for writers of genre fiction to produce more than one novel a year, nor is it all that rare for the same person to write more than one series.

Sometimes they do so under more than one name, but not always. I’ve been juggling two or three books a year for a long time now, going way back to the late 1990s, when I alternated category romances with historical mysteries.

How do I keep more than one book in the air? By not trying to do everything at once. By that I mean that I focus on Book One but never completely lose sight of Book Two. I write myself notes about Two and let my subconscious noodle plot problems. I can see Two out of the corner of my eye even as I’m spending my actual writing time on Book One.

Inevitably, the day comes when I need a break. Perhaps I’ve hit a snag and don’t know what comes next. Maybe I’ve completed a draft and just want a little time to pass before I try to revise it.

Whatever the reason, by then I’m more than ready to tackle Book Two and, because I took a break from it, my enthusiasm for that project is high. I’m brimming with fresh ideas that occurred to me while I concentrated on Book One, so I’ll work on Book Two until, as with Book One, I come to a point where I need a break. That’s when I go back to Book One, armed with a fresh perspective and renewed enthusiasm.

All that sounds fairly simple and if I was completely in charge of my writing time, it would be. It’s both good news and bad news that I currently write for two different publishers. They set the deadlines. Despite my best efforts, those deadlines can end up being uncomfortably close together.

Then, too, time has to be budgeted for revisions an editor asks for, line edits, copy edits, and reading page proofs. When each book is published, add in blogs, interviews, and other publicity-related tasks. Some of that is ongoing. I also chime in twice a month at and maintain a presence on Facebook (as Kaitlyn Dunnett) and at Goodreads.

I admit there are times when all the books and book-related tasks I have in the air threaten to fall and land squarely on my head. It can be downright dangerous to juggle too many things at once. I have been asked to write faster and produce more than one book in a series in the same year. I resist. That way lies potential disaster. Yes, I could come up with 75,000 words in three months, but they wouldn’t be the best words. I firmly believe that any manuscript needs time to rest before it is revised. Without a break, I’d skim right past trouble spots without noticing them. Ideally, I’d like a year to write each book. I produce two a year by alternating between them. Each manuscript undergoes several complete revisions before I’m satisfied with it. The end result is the best novel I am capable of writing.
Murder in the Merchant's Hall
What am I juggling right now? Book One is the third Mistress Jaffrey mystery set in Elizabethan England. It’s due in June. Book Two is a proposal for a new contemporary mystery series—synopsis, first three chapters, and brief pitches for future books. Kilt at the Highland Games, the tenth Liss MacCrimmon mystery will be published at the end of July, so it is in production with assorted edits and page proofs still to come. And I’m still doing publicity for the second Mistress Jaffrey mystery, Murder in the Merchant’s Hall, which came out in ebook earlier this month. That’s four books in the air.

Maybe, if I’m very careful, I can add that short story I’ve been meaning to revise . . .

Kathy Lynn Emerson (224x300)
Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett is the author of over fifty books written under several names. She won the Agatha Award in 2008 for best mystery nonfiction for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2014 in the best mystery short story category for “The Blessing Witch.” Currently she writes the contemporary Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries (The Scottie Barked at Midnight) as Kaitlyn and the historical Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries (Murder in the Merchant’s Hall) as Kathy. The latter series is a spin-off from her earlier “Face Down” series and is set in Elizabethan England. Her websites are and

Barry Maitland: Crucifixion Creek Sunday, Dec 27 2015 

Auntie M is a huge fan of Aussie Barry Maitland’s England series featuring DCI Brick and DI Kolla. Now he’s on his home turf, premiering a new series with a most unusual protagonist, Sydney’s homicide detective Harry Belltree in Crucifixion Creek.

With echoes of his Afghanistan military experience haunting his dreams, Belltree is suddenly overwhelmed with three homicides to investigate: a woman shot during a meth-addict biker siege; an elderly couple who commit apparent suicide at their favorite outdoor cafe’; and a white male stabbed to death in the street.

Then he’s shocked when the stabbing victim turns out to be his brother-in-law Greg, his wife’s sister’s husband, who owned a contracting business.

Journalist Kelly Poole will become far too involved for Belltree’ liking, but does she have a point when she insists these three incidents are all connected? She’s uncovered ties between Greg and the elderly couple to a corrupt money man who has influential friends.

While Belltree can’t officially be a part of Greg’s investigation, the links to the others allow him some latitude and he wants to be the one to brig the person responsible to justice for his wife’s sister and her family. And in doing so, he will bring danger to himself and his family.

With his blind wife becoming his unofficial sidekick, this is an intriguing and suspenseful mystery by a master at work. Highly recommended.

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K.R. Morrison, Author

My author site--news and other stuff about books and things

Wicked Cozy Authors

Mysteries with a New England Accent

Some Days You Do ...

Writers & Writing, my own & other people's; movies, art, music & the search for a perfect flat white - the bits & pieces of a writing life.

Gaslight Crime

Publishers of crime and thrillers


#1 for Crime


John Harvey on Books & Writing - his own & other people 's - Art, Music, Movies, & the elusive search for the perfect Flat White.

A thrilling Murder-Mystery... being made into a radio drama


"Tell me and I forget-Show me and I remember-Involve me and I learn"

Past Offences: Classic crime, thrillers and mystery book reviews

The best mystery and crime fiction (up to 1987): Book and movie reviews


Forensics demystified for the fiction writer


Just another site

Eco Women: Protectors of the Planet!

Saving the planet one day at a time.


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