Four Greats: Hannah, Billingham, Ahmad and Harvey Tuesday, Sep 30 2014 

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Sophie Hannah’s psychological novels are powerhouses for writers, grand examples of ingenuity when it comes to plotting. It’s probably one reason Agatha Christie’s estate chose her to write the new Poirot novel debuting this month. She’s back with The Telling Error, as original as all of her previous novels.

Her Zailer/Waterhouse series is notable for these reasons, and for how she chooses to use a new protagonist for each new novel, despite the married detective duo and some of their family and colleagues being repeat characters. On her way to her son’s school Nicki Clements gets stuck in traffic and sees a police officer she doesn’t want to encounter again. Doing a U-turn, Nicki heads away, only to find herself brought in for questioning the next day about the murder of controversial newspaper columnist Damon Blundy, who lived on that road. While she may not have murdered Blundy, Nicki has plenty of secrets she needs to keep.

The book takes off in a clever, tautly-plotted psychological thriller which explores pertinent issues of our modern lives: the prevalence of the internet’s importance, the influence of the media, as well as the public’s relationship with the police. And of course, the way in today’s world where one can never, ever be truly anonymous.

Nicki’s secrets get her into trouble. She’s an interesting mixed character, evoking sympathy and anger all at once. Her use of a secret ad site is interspersed with the excerpts of the dead man’s columns. And her secrets will bring her under suspicion, but she’s unable to answer the police’s main questions. This killer has used a knife in a way that brings about death without blood, and painted across the victim’s study: HE IS NO LESS DEAD. What, exactly, does that mean?

Nicki’s actions are artfully explained through her history, and the duality of her personality remains intact at the end of this absorbing novel. Highly recommended reading.
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Opening about six weeks after The Dying Hours, Mark Billingham brings DI Tom Thorne back in his twelfth novel, The Bones Beneath.

Insisting that he will only deal with Thorne, Stuart Nicklin, the most dangerous serial killer Thorne has put in prison, claims he will reveal the whereabouts of one of his early victims–but only if Thorne is present.

To do so means not only taking Nicklin from prison, accompanied by two guards, but a tense overnight journey to a remote island off the coast of Wales where Nicklin spent time as a youth, and where he will supposedly show them where this body is buried. It smacks of manipulation–and Thorne thinks he’s prepared for Nicklin’s games, but only to a point, for he has no idea just how far this maniac will go.

Thorne knows Nicklin enough to know this and prepares for the worst, but even he could not imagine how devious the prisoner will become–or just how severe will be the choice he will be forced to make. Nicklin’s schemes result in more deaths and leave behind scars both external and internal that will not soon heal.

It is difficult to do this plot justice without revealing too much of the action. Trust Auntie M then when she tells you that you will be swept up in the horror Thorne is forced to endure from the machinations of a manipulative psychopath.

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A. X. Ahmad caught Auntie M’s attention with The Caretaker and its intriguing protagonist, newly-immigrated Sikh Ranjit Singh.

He brings Singh back in The Last Taxi Ride, an absorbing and fast-paced follow-up that left author Peter May commenting: “Wow! Barely had tie to fasten my seatbelt. A. X. Ahmad takes us on a breathtaking roller coaster rider through an underworld most of us would never guess existed.”

High praise from a master; well-deserved and to the point. Ahmad brings Singh, now divorced, to New York City to work as a taxi driver, trying to raise enough money to have his daughter, Shanti, join him from India. He recognizes the Bollywood actress Shabana Shah when he gives her a ride to The Dakota.

Hours later, Singh is in trouble: Shah is found dead, brutally murdered, and Singh has eaten dinner in her vacant apartment with his friend, a former solider colleague who works as a doorman at the famed co-operative. With his fingerprints all over the crime scene and the murder weapon, he must lie low while trying to clear his name.

Into this mess, and with his doorman friend and only alibi missing, he turns to a young hostess, Leela, for help from the underworld Shah has become mixed up in–and finds himself once again using his soldiering skills and help from Leela and other taxi friends to clear his name and find out what really happened that night in the apartment.

With it’s noir-type feel, this is a realistic look at a world few of us will know about.

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John Harvey’s twelfth Charlie Resnick novel is the one the author swears will be his last. Darkness, Darkness joins the pantheon of other Resnick novels, along with his Frank Elder series, stand-alones, and many other writings from this prolific and accomplished author, one of Auntie M’s favorites.

This time we revisit the miners strike in England of third years ago, which turned neighbors against each other, and in some households, wife against husband.

Resnick, not enjoying retirement, is forced to recall the days when he was made inspector, and despite his ambivalence about some of the tactics the police used, found himself gathering information at the center of the strikers actions.

When the body of a young woman who disappeared during the strike is found at one of the houses in Resnick’s territory, his familiarity with the miners and residents at the time make him the perfect detective to be asked to join the investigation into her murder.

As he delves into his own past and that of the murdered woman, Resnick hopes to put the case, and his career, to rest. A satisfying and adept ending to a long and storied career for detective and author alike.

Catherine Aird/Dead Heading and Peter May/Entry Island Sunday, Sep 28 2014 

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With over twenty books in print, Catherine Aird is a master of the country village crime. In Dead Heading she brings her detecting duo of Sloan and Crosby in full form as they search for the reason someone ehas broken into Jack Haines greenhouse and destroyed his crop of specially-grown orchids. And what is the importance of the names of these orchids?

At the same time they become aware of a missing person: Miss Enid Maude Osgathorp travels frequently and is assumed away on a trip. But her deserted home shows signs of being ransacked, with traces of blood on the floors, and their antenna twitch away as quickly as the lace curtains at most village windows.

Aird’s dry wit is on view here as the detectives investigate what turns out to be linked cases.

There will be another greenhouse break-in as the suspects mount up and they learn that dear Miss Enid used to be the doctor’s receptionist and was perhaps not above using her local knowledge to fund her travels.

There’s a suicide, a bonfire, and then a dead body shows up … and there’s still the destruction of hundreds of baby orchids to unravel.

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Peter May is back after the success of the Lewis trilogy with another book that combines the history of a place tangibly linked to the story. Entry Island takes readers to the Gulf of the St. Lawrence and the Magdalen Islands, a rare mix of English and French isles.

His Detective Sime Mackenize, named for a Scottish ancestor, is happy to escape Montreal and his pathetic existence since his marriage fell apart. The insomnia that plagues him represents his loneliness and he’s not in the best frame of mind when he alights on the English-speaking Entry Island, home to less than 130 people, to investigate the murder of its wealthiest inhabitant.

James Cowell had married an islander, the lovely Kirsty, who presence immediately feels too familiar to Sime. It’s a sensation he can’t escape: he knows her. But that’s impossible.

As, it seems, is her story that a masked intruder attacked her in the home with a knife and when James intervened, was stabbed for his efforts. The intruder ran off and Kirsty attempted CPR but was unable to save James from his wounds. Covered in his blood, it’s difficult to establish if there are any other footprints.

With his team and half the island convinced Kirsty killed James over his affair with the Mayor’s wife, she doesn’t stand much of a chance of a fair hearing. Until Sime, convinced he is missing something important, insists on continuing the investigation to almost disastrous consequences.

Chapter of the present are presented with alternates from the past, snatches of memory from Sime’s relatives diary as he remembers stories his grandmother read to him and his sister from it. What connects this past with Sime and Kirsty? The signet ring he wears is the same design as a brooch she’s inherited. Until that brooch is taken and Sime doesn’t know if he can believe Kirsty’s story about her past, her reluctance to leave Entry Island, and her insistence she didn’t kill her husband.

Intricate and compelling, a read that will fill your sense of history. Auntie M always enjoys May’s books because she learns so much from them. And you will, too, while enjoying the intricacies of the plot and Sime’s investigation.

Elizabeth Corley: Grave Doubts Wednesday, Sep 24 2014 

This fall Auntie M is departing from her usual weekly post routine. Instead, every few days there will be new review of a great book or books she’s read all summer long for your fall reading.

First up is a UK writer you should be reading if you haven’t yet: Elizabeth Corley.

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Elizabeth Corley’s third DCI Andrew Fenwick mystery, Grave Doubts, is every bit as complex and thrilling as the first two.

Described as “part psychological thriller and part haunting crime novel” by Minotaur, the journey she takes her characters and readers on will leave you reading on the edge of your seat.

The story focuses on Fenwick’s recovering Sergeant, Louise Nightingale, who survived and ordeal from a serial rapist who would have murdered her. Trying not to dwell on the case, she finds herself a jumble of nerves, and after the car accident that takes both of her disapproving parents lives, seeks solace in a run-down and remote mill house that has been in the family.

At the same time, DCI Fenwick is coping with the continued coma of his wife while he parents his two young children and tries hard not to let his job interfere with his time with them. With the arrest of horrible serial murderer, he thinks the country is that little bit safer. Then the murders start again, but with the perpetrator behind bars, have they arrested the wrong man?

Despite many colleagues’ and superiors’ misgivings, it becomes clear to Fenwick that Nightingale is the killer’s ultimate revenge. If he can only figure out where she’s hidden herself away and get to her in time …

This has more twists and turns than usual and will keep you flipping pages, with its complicated plot and the feeling that evil people do exist. Chilling and disturbing with high suspense.

Susan Sloate: Author and Writing Coach Sunday, Sep 21 2014 

In the interests of mixing things up and bringing you great information, here’s a post from author and writing coach Susan Sloate for all of the writers and would-be writers who read Auntie M Writes. Welcome, Susan~

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When You Can’t Do It Alone…
By Susan Sloate

If you’ve ever spent time dreaming of being a writer, it’s inevitable that you’ve also begun to collect depressing writer stories. You know the ones I mean. They’re either those terrible stories of writers being disgustingly productive, or worse, writers who produce one book and shoot to everlasting fame and fortune.

About the only thing more awful than productive-writer stories or overnight-fame stories is the meant-to-be-soothing comment from some idiot friend when you point them out: “Isn’t that inspiring? See, you can do the same thing.”

Anyone who has heard such garbage and restrained themselves from reaching for the nearest shotgun, in my opinion, qualifies for immediate sainthood.

In the overnight-fame category is Margaret Mitchell, whose first (and only) novel, Gone with the Wind, became an overnight success, selling five thousand copies on the day of publication and going on to sell a million hardcover copies in less than six months.

Put it in perspective: the little lady from Atlanta wrote her enormous book (1,037 pages) on a rickety card table over a span of ten years, showing it to no one except her husband, who acted as her editor. She then sold it (for a $500 advance) to the first publisher who ever saw it, and to add insult to injury, the publisher had to beg her to let him see it. (True story: Mitchell didn’t think the book was any good, so when Harold Latham of Macmillan came to Atlanta looking for new authors and books, she met him socially but refused for several days to show it to him. Could you just puke?)

As if that isn’t enough to make you gnash your teeth, because of the book’s length, the original hardcover edition sold for $3—which was significant because 1936 was the height of the Great Depression, and a loaf of bread cost six cents. Yet before the end of that year, Margaret Mitchell earned almost half a million dollars in royalties. (God help her accountant.) And she was the leading celebrity in Atlanta, and one of the most famous in the world, for the rest of her life.

Much as that story makes me want to weep, what brings tears to my eyes faster are the productive-writer stories. Consider this (and please, if you have suicidal tendencies, stop reading right now. I won’t be responsible for your actions):
Walter B. Gibson, under the pseudonym Maxwell Grant, was a ridiculously prolific author of pulp fiction, best known for his stories about The Shadow, the crime-fighter Orson Welles famously voiced on the radio show based on Gibson’s character. The Shadow was so popular, and the demand for his pulp-fiction stories was so high, that at its peak, Gibson was writing—gulp—up to 24 books per year, of about 50,000 words each. He actually had to bandage his fingers because they bled from how often they struck the keys of his (manual) typewriter.

When I read that, in Max Allan Collins’ brilliant novel, The War of the Worlds Murder (highly recommended—it’s wonderful), I had to lie down with a cold cloth on my head. Just thinking about someone writing 24 novels in one year (when I’m happy to write one during Nanowrimo), is enough to make you want to smash your computer, burn your notebooks and maybe bite your dog.

So before you slit your own wrists, remember this: these stories are out there because they’re the exception, not the rule. Most of us can’t write that fast, or that well, or for that long. Most of us don’t become fantastically famous, even if we’re genuinely wonderful writers and have well-reviewed books that pick up accolades, awards and move high up on the bestseller lists. And honestly, if Mitchell and Gibson were writing today—I’ll bet even they might have some trouble getting noticed as well. It’s a different era.

As an author who speaks before aspiring authors, I’ve found myself answering a lot of questions: how do you get published, how do you market your books, how do you get noticed, how do you navigate the whole crazy maze of the book world without losing your sanity or your ability (and drive) to write more? How?
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Obviously I can’t answer these questions in a single blog post, and after years of answering them with hundreds of writers, I’ve realized I can’t answer them to anyone’s satisfaction in a brief conversation. But I do feel for all the writers embarking on their paper journeys, and want to help as many as possible. What I’ve learned is that despite the solitary nature of a writer’s life, what we often need as much as inspiration is a coach—someone to lay out a game plan for both publishing and marketing, hold us accountable for working it and encourage us every step of the way. Once upon a time, a writer could just write, and rely on others for the rest. It’s a different world out there today, and you need to be prepared for it.

I took on my first clients as a writer’s coach this past spring and now offer my services (with limited spots available) on a one-on-one basis to writers everywhere. Some writers want help with structuring or revising their novel. Others are looking for practical advice on publishing. Still others have navigated those waters but are now looking for a step-by-step marketing plan to announce their book to the world.

As the author of 20 published books, I’ve been involved in traditional publishing with major houses, small-press publishing and self-publishing. I’ve been through revisions, the editing process, the galley process, creation of the book cover, the writing of the blurbs, the press releases and the book launch. I’ve made two of my books Amazon bestsellers (there’s a whole strategy for that, which is great for enhancing your book’s credibility). As a story analyst for more than 30 years, I’ve helped hundreds of writers with structure, characterization, plot, theme and more.

I may not always know all the answers, but I sure am familiar with the questions.

If you’re struggling and wishing you could be the next Margaret Mitchell or Walter Gibson, and you feel as though you’ve hit a wall and can’t go beyond it without some help, please check out my website at http://susansloate.com and click on the tab ‘Coaching for Writers’, which explains my services. Or send me an email at susan@susansloate.com for more information.

It used to be writers could be solitary. Now they either need a team—or have to become their own. Either way, turning over all the decisions to someone else is no longer an option for us. There’s greater opportunity than ever on the road ahead—if you can avoid the pitfalls and stay on your path to the end. I’d be happy to help if I can.

Best of luck with YOUR journey!
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Susan Sloate is the author of 20 published books, including three novels published in a single 90-day span last fall: STEALING FIRE, FORWARD TO CAMELOT (with Kevin Finn) and REALIZING YOU (with Ron Doades). STEALING FIRE became a #2 Amazon bestseller and took finalist honors in the 2014 Readers’ Favorite Book Awards. The original 2003 edition of FORWARD TO CAMELOT became a #6 Amazon bestseller, took honors in 3 literary competitions and was optioned for film by a Hollywood production company. All 3 books earned five-star reviews from Readers’ Favorite book reviewers.

Susan has also written 17 young-adult books, fiction and nonfiction, which have been honored in literary competitions and led to her 2009 TV appearance on The History Channel (as a result of MYSTERIES UNWRAPPED: THE SECRETS OF ALCATRAZ). She has founded an authors’ festival in her hometown of Mount Pleasant, SC and has recently begun coaching writers to success in book publishing and marketing.

Visit her at http://susansloate.com.

MC Beaton: The Blood of an Englishman Thursday, Sep 18 2014 

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M C Beaton has written Agatha Raisin’s 25th adventure! The long-running witty series continues without missing a beat with The Blood of an Englishman.

When Agatha finds herself attending the Winter Parva pantomime production of “Babes in the Woods,” she never figures on the Cotswold’s village losing its popular baker. Dragged there by the vicar’s wife, the only redeeming thing about the evening appears to be meeting the producer, Gareth Craven, who sets her hormones firing.

But moments after strutting on stage as a threatening ogre, baker Bert Simple disappears through a trap door as planned, and isn’t seen at the final curtain call. His body is found by the show’s producer, standing up and pierced by a horrible spike affixed to the platform.

When the good-looking Craven asks Agatha to help him find the murderer, how can she resist?

All of the usual staff at Agatha’s PI business are on hand, from the ex-policeman Patrick, the youngsters Toni and Simon, the older Phil and her secretary, Mrs. Freedman. And she starts where she should, with the biggest gossip in the village, and branches out from there.

There will be broken marriages and engagements, a blacksmith, temperamental feuds in the cast, and a whole lot more as Agatha’s team start to get too close to a killer. In her usual manner, Agatha manages to smoke her annoying cigarettes, have a few drinks, annoy the police, and find herself perilously close to death. And all while checking out the new antiques dealer she meets in a bar. Vintage Beaton.

In honor of Beaton’s 25th book, Minotaur teamed up with Stash Tea and sent along two boxes of tea for an afternoon tea party. Here’s my favorite RAISIN scone recipe, courtesy of Gail Monaghan, NY cookbook author and cooking teacher. These freeze well, just as she promised, and I’ve made them raisins but also subbed with chocolate chips and with craisins. All variations are excellent. Pop one in the toaster straight from the freezer and relax as your kitchen fills with the scent of a baking scone. And don’t forget the culpa Stash tea!

2 cups all purpose flour
1 Tblsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/3 cups dried currants
1/3 cup sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1 cup cold heavy cream

3 Tblsp unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Over large bowl, sift flour, baking powder, salt and the 1/3 cup sugar. Stir in currants. Add heavy cream and use an electric mixer to blend on low until all ingredients are just combined.

Dump dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead very briefly. Roll sought out to 1″ thickness. Use a biscuit cutter to cut scones, or as I do, a sharp knife to make triangles. Place 1″ apart on greased or parchment-lined baking sheet.

Use a pastry brush to paint topf of scones with the melted butter and sprinkle with sugar. Place sheet in center of oven and bake until golden, 12-15 mins.

Let cool on baking rack. Serve warm or at room temperature with butter and jam, or as they do in England, with clotted cream. Store in airtight container if to be used in the next day; or freeze up to 12 weeks and pop in the toaster when you have a craving for tea and scones!

My own favorite tea party was this past summer, when I spent the afternoon in London with mentor and friend, P. D. James and her assistant, the lovely Joyce McLennan. There was even a cozy on the teapot!
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Alafair Burke: All Day and a Night & Writers Police Academy 2014 Sunday, Sep 14 2014 

Auntie M recently had a wonderful experience at the Writers Police Academy, held in Greensboro NC over three and half days, and filled to the brim for any writer whose work contains any element of crime.WPA_Logo

The instructors were culled from all aspects of crime: police, fire, EMT, self-defense, Secret Service and more, even a microbiologist. Classes were a mix of group assembly and individual lectures. I learned all I needed for my next book about smallpox from Dr. Denene Lofland, wife of Lee Lofland, retired police and author whose is the brainchild of this compelling event.

These were long days and I filled a notebook with information. Friday and Saturday mornings started with group events and then you took off for your chosen classes. Friday AM we watched a setup scene play out: A vehicle had plowed into a group setting up for a yard sale. Seven victims were made up with with realistic injuries except for the two dummies who stood in for the dead ones the car had run over. At GO: The Fire Dept arrived and used the Jaws of Life to raise the car off the dead victims, while the police arrested the drunk driver and the EMT’s rolled in, sirens blasting, and triaged the patients, then set about doing first aid and taking them on stretchers by ambulance. The entire scene was cleared in 40 mins. Sat AM’s was watching two officers use C4 to blast open doors and gain access to a building. Demo5

You could sign up for physical events, like ride-alongs with real officers for half a shift, riding in an ambulance, learning about fire calls and deaths and scenes. You could shoot a fake gun and do the same routine offers train with, running through an area to flush out criminals and hope you don’t shoot the baby in the stroller! (Author Lisa Gardner, one of the Everyone’s Assembly speakers, shot the baby–and then was so adrenaline pumped she shot the real criminal over twenty times!). You could sign up for the driving simulator, too, and most everyone crashed chasing a criminal. Harder than it looks.

There were at least six different lectures you could choose from in EVERY slot, two in the AM, two in the afternoon. Lunches were provided. The Everyone’s Assembly speakers were Lisa Gardner and Alafair Burke, both very good presentations, more notes, lots of time for Q/A after. All of the instructors were real hands-on law enforcement, psychologists, EMTs, including Secret Service, FBI, and even the Chief of Police of a Louisiana parrish who was a SWAT agent for 16 yrs. Then there was Dr. Katherine Ramsland, who does forensic autopsies and specializes in serial killers. She has worked with serial killers, collects chainsaw suicide cases (yes, you CAN commit suicide using a chain saw on yourself and she had photos to prove it!) and focuses on paraphilias–graphic photos and fascinating stuff. We were riveted. I also took a class from Robin Burcell, a police officer and artist, now author, who writes a series with a protagonist who does that. We learned how she gets the information she needs from witnesses to create her drawings. She showed us her sketches and then the photo of the criminal who was subsequently caught and how close those were. And most give their talk twice so if class size meant when you arrived at their classroom and there were no seats, you simply chose another in that slot and took it on the second try. All had Q/A so you could ask about your particular book, and this helpful to me in the Microbial class I took, taught by Dr. Denene Lofland, about viruses and bacterial spread and attacks.

Even though my particular series is set in England, there was plenty there for me to use. For instance, one session was with the head of Forensics at Durham’s Police Department–a real CSI–and the methods for photographing and gathering and preserving evidence apply through most countries.

At the Sat evening banquet the guest was Michael Connolly, interviewed by former Secret Service agent Mike Roche, who described writing his Harry Bosch and Micky Haller series and then graciously sat at a table and signed books for another hour, as did all of the guest lecturers who had books in print.

If you write any type of novel that hits on any of these highly recommend this chance to meet other writers, learn a lot from the experts, and have a few laughs. The fee without the hotel room was $270 for the conference and HALF of that is paid for by Sisters in Crime if you are a member. They are a huge sponsor of this event. Well run, and worth the time and money. And don’t forget to check out Lee Lofland, the retired officer who writes Graveyard Shift, a great blog on things for writers to help them get cops and criminal justice “right,” and who blogs every week after CASTLE episodes with author Melanie Atkins who hits the romance angle, about what they got right and where they are lacking, often with tons of humor.

www.leelofland.com/wordpress/ Lee is the author of HOWDUNIT, a volume that makes police procedures easily understood for writers, and MASTERS OF TRUE CRIME. Howdunit_

One of the assemblies for the group was by Alafair Burke, a wonderful presentation on the myths she learned as a prosecutor. Now teaching law at Hofstra University, Burke explained the exceptions to needing a search warrant and the facts behind search and seizure law. Alafair at WPA

She’s also the author of crime fiction novels, including two series. Here’s the review of her newest NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher series, All Day and a Night.
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The title refers to a sentence of life without parole, the harshest New York can hand out in the absence of the death penalty. It’s been given to serial killer Anthony Amaro, convicted two decades earlier of a murder and believed responsible for several others. That is, until he receives a letter in prison stating that the recent murder of psychotherapist Helen Brunswick contained the same signature as those murders attributed to Amaro: the victim’s bones were broken after she was dead.

With Amaro asking for his sentence to be vacated and a tough celebrity lawyer on his case, things heat up for Det. Ellie Hatcher and her partner JJ Rogan, who are brought in to review the past evidence in what is termed a ‘fresh look’ team. In theory it means going over the past evidence. In practice, it means questioning everything done by the first team on the case, and isn’t designed to win them friends with their colleagues. It doesn’t help that Ellie’s boyfriend, ADA Max Donovan, is the one who’s given them this assignment.

What follows is the taking apart of a case from twenty years ago, with the added heat brought on by the distaste of the previous officers, compounded by Amaro’s lawyer, Linda Moreland, who has managed to spirit young lawyer Carrie Blank away from her elite law firm to this cause. Carrie’s half sister was one of Amaro’s victims–or was she? Does she represent an outlier? And who is really responsible for the murder of Helen Brunswick?

As Carrie Blank and Ellie and Rogan run similar investigations, things heat up when they all travel to Carrie’s upstate hometown, and culminate in an attack on Carrie that makes it clear someone has gotten too close to the truth.

Burke’s complex plot and ability to keep her detectives human is the hallmark of the series. This story involved the choices women make, and all of those repercussions on so many angles. Readers will feel like they are in the midst of this investigation with the detectives, even as the twists are thrown at them.

Coco Ihle: She Had to Know Sunday, Sep 7 2014 

Welcome guest author Coco Ihle and leave a comment to win a free copy of her book SHE HAD TO KNOW.

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Words of Wisdom for Dreamers by Coco Ihle

We’ve all had dreams. What are yours? Have you had some fulfilled? Are you still in the process of realizing your desires?

Doggedly pursuing our dreams gives us a sense that they may come to fruition, that we may actually accomplish something in our pursuit. The more passion and determination we possess, the easier it is to move toward our goals, and having a support system helps us emotionally and practically.

Years ago when I first started writing, I shared with friends and relatives my intention of writing a book one day. Some encouraged me to go for it, some said it would be too difficult, an impossible accomplishment. I chose to go for it, despite what pitfalls I might encounter. One friend in particular shared with me a poem that has been a mainstay in my quest. The author is unknown, but I would thank him/her if I could. Here it is. I hope it will encourage you, as well.

I wish I were a could be
if I could not be an are.
For a could be is a maybe
with a chance of reaching far.
I’d rather have been a has been
than a might have been, by far.
For a might have been has never been,
while a has was once an are.

I’ve been thinking about the journey I’ve made to become a published author. As I look back, it hasn’t been short or easy, but it has been rewarding. Persistence through all the stumbling blocks, and even working through discouragement from time to time, has made my dream come true. My wish for you is that you have a good support system, dogged determination and persistence to make your dreams come true. I think it’s worth it. I hope you do, too.

I’d love to hear any secrets you may have in fulfilling your dreams. And for someone who leaves a comment and would like to write a review of my book, SHE HAD TO KNOW, I’ll put all the names in a caldron, stir the brew and select a winner for a free copy. Thank you so very much, Marni, for having me as a guest on your blog.

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Coco Ihle’s debut mystery, SHE HAD TO KNOW, has autobiographical elements involving two reunited long lost sisters’ harrowing adventures in a castle in Scotland. A product of foster care and adoption, Coco spent over fifty years searching for her sister, and found her in 1994. In her former career, she was an internationally known belly dancer who was privileged to perform in Greece, Turkey, Mexico, Spain, Hawaii, and for appearances with the Today Show’s Willard Scott, actors Cliff Robertson and Whoopie Goldberg. She was a magazine staff writer, fundraiser for many charities and an instructor at Auburn University. A contest won her a spot in the Florida Writers Association anthology, published in 2009 and she is a contributing author in an anthology from Second Wind Publishing, recently released. She is a member of MWA, SinC, FWA, the ALMA Society and Clan Buchanan of Scotland. She lives near Tampa, Florida. http://www.cocoihle.com

Elizabeth George: Just One Evil Act and The Edge of the Water Sunday, Aug 31 2014 

Don’t let the size of Elizabeth George’s newest Lynley-Havers novel put you off. Just One Evil Act finds her back in fine form with an engrossing read and a case that has unexpected turns and settings.JustOneEvilAct

Readers of the series know Sergeant Barbara Havers has grown fond of her neighbor, Taymullah Azhar, and his daughter, Hadiyyah. Never married to the child’s mother, Angelina had nevertheless reappeared in an previous book and charmed her way into the life of both Havers and Azhar before disappearing with the child. Havers can’t really help—Azhar had never married Angelina, and his name isn’t on Hadiyyah’s birth certificate so he has no legal claim. In desperation, Azhar and Barbara hire a private detective to find her without success.

Then Angelina reappears with shocking news: Hadiyyah is missing, kidnapped from an Italian marketplace. The Italian police are investigating, and the Yard won’t get involved–that is, until Havers takes matters into her own hands at the risk of her own career. And there’s no doubt her career is in jeopardy: Lynley’s brief affair with her superior now over, the woman seems out to end Haver’s career and a colleague gleefully assists her.

Havers travels to Italy to the town of Lucca, charmingly and faithfully described, and what she finds there will have Inspector Lynley joining her as they try to unravel what soon becomes a far more complex case than a typical kidnapping, revealing secrets that have far-reaching effects outside of the investigation. There will be disputes with the Italian police and a diabolical politician as both Havers and Lynley find themselves in unknown territory and with their authority in question. With both her job and the life of a little girl on the line, Barbara must decide what matters most, and how far she’s willing to go to protect it.

At times there seems to be no good ending for either Havers or Azhar and his daughter; and yet at the end of this book readers will feel that the resolution is the only one that could have happened.

the-edge-of-the-water-book-cover

George has also tested the waters in the YA department with the publication of the first in a new series last year, The Edge of Nowhere, which introduced teen Becca, who has a sixth sense about people and who is on the run from her criminal stepfather. Its sequel The Edge of the Water,, finds Becca still living in secret on Whidbey Island, even hiding from her boyfriend, the Ugandan orphan Derric.

This is not as simple a book as you might expect if you’re an adult reading a novel intended for the YA audience, and there is a lot of exploration of the sex lives of teenagers. There is also a story line of a black seal named Nero who returns to the same place every year that gives a different kind of edge to the mystery which might frustrate adults reading it but Auntie M suspects it will delight YA readers.

Becca’s ability to hear people’s thoughts are there, along with a supernatural mystery and plenty of teen drama for the intended audience. The main characters’ arcs show development and the discoveries within the community are an added facet. There will be resolution to some of the issues at the end with enough open to lead YA readers to the next installment.

Sherry Harris: Tagged for Death Sunday, Aug 24 2014 

Thanks so much for asking me to join you today to talk about how the Sarah Winston Garage Sale series came about. My path to publication is a bit different. An editor in NYC gets an idea for a series with a garage sale theme. He goes to an agent, who goes to a friend, who comes to me. It sounds easy, right? Oh, if it only were!

Tagged for Death mech.indd
I’ve been writing for a number of years and have three manuscripts in the drawer and a stack of rejection letters to go with them. Over those years I’ve attended a number of writing and fan conferences. One year at Malice I sat at a table with Julie Hennrikus (now one of my fellow Wicked Cozy Authors). Julie lived in Massachusetts. We’d just found out that my husband was being stationed at Hanscom Air Force Base near Bedford, Massachusetts that summer. She told me I should join the New England chapter of Sisters in Crime when we got there.

I did and I continued to work on the craft of writing. (Yes, I’m a slow learner!) Two years ago I pitched to agent John Talbot at Crime Bake. He wasn’t interested in the three books in the drawer either. A few weeks later I received an email from Barbara Ross. An editor in New York had an idea for a cozy mystery series with a garage sale theme. The editor contacted John Talbot. John then asked Barbara if she knew anyone she thought might be able to write the series. Barbara knew I loved garage sales and asked me.

A week later I’d written a proposal for the series. All the characters, the setting, and the plot flowed out of me. I turned it in to John. He tweaked a few things and sent it off. After much handwringing and pacing, I signed a three book deal. The books are set in the fictional town of Ellington, Massachusetts and on a fictional Air Force base I named Fitch Air Force Base. I guess all of those years of preparation paid off when an unexpected opportunity came to me.

In Tagged for Death Sarah has to make a decision whether to help clear her ex-husband’s name after he’s accused of murder. Why would help a lying, cheating ex? Because otherwise she might also be accused. Tagged for Death, the first in the Sarah Winston Garage Sale series, will be available December 2, 2014.

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Sherry Harris started bargain hunting in second grade at her best friend’s yard sale. She honed her bartering skills as she moved around the country while her husband served in the Air Force. Sherry uses her love of garage sales, her life as a military spouse, and her time living in Massachusetts as inspiration for the series. Blog: Wickedcozyauthors.com Website: Sherryharrisauthor.com

James Callan: Forget the Labels Sunday, Aug 17 2014 

Please welcome James R Callan, mystery writer and author of a resource for writers: Character: The Heartbeat of a Novel.

cover-character Forget the Labels

We’ve all heard, “Clothes make the man.” Actually, I don’t believe that. But I do believe the writer can use clothes to show her readers a lot about a character – without actually telling those things.

I’m not talking about giving the reader the designer’s name for each piece of clothing the character is wearing. Personally, I tire of that quickly. I know other avid readers who feel the same way. It’s one of the instances when I’m taken out of the story by the thought that the writer is trying to impress me with her knowledge of all those designers.

I’m sure some readers and perhaps some publishers like that attention to detail. Frankly, that’s too easy to get much credit for detail. Once you’ve established this character likes designer labels, the rest is not so much detail as fluff.

If you’re trying to get across the idea that this character has a lot of money, or she shops at exclusive boutiques, or designer clothes are important to her, or she was raised to wear only designer clothes, then I believe you can do that in a better way.

What I want to explore today is what clothes tell us about the character, rather than who manufactured the clothes. Here’s an example from my book on character development, Character: The Heartbeat of the Novel.

The silky material clung to every curve and garnered the attention of every male, and many of the females, in the crowded room. Jane tugged at the skirt, trying to keep it from hugging her hips. Why did she get talked into wearing this? Her blue cotton skirt and white blouse would have been more comfortable.

Regardless of what label adorns the skirt, the reader gets a good feel for how Jane feels about clothes. Even more important, we have shown the reader a lot about Jane, how she feels about herself, how she sees herself. We accomplished this in a subtle way, but the reader will get it very clearly.

You can accomplish similar things by showing how a character feels about other aspects of personal care or appearance. Here are two examples from my character development book.

Jennifer fished a lipstick out of her purse and with two quick motions ran a hint of pink across her lips.

Ashley used a fine brush to outline her lips, opened another tube and brushed on a deep rose color to her lips. Finally, she applied a thin coat of gloss. She studied the effect. It was only a casual lunch. This would do.

Do you get a clear picture of how these two women deal with appearances? Does this show you something about them, without the author having to tell you?

Could I tell you Ashley is very concerned that she always looks her best, even at casual events? Certainly. But in this short paragraph, I have shown you much more clearly, and in a way you will likely remember. I could write several paragraphs explaining that Jennifer isn’t concerned with makeup. She uses lipstick mainly to keep her lips from drying out, plus a little color gives her face more definition. She is confident in her looks and doesn’t feel like she needs to enhance them. But one sentence gives the reader most of that and in a way that will be believed.

The universal admonition is: “show, don’t tell.” Use clothes, makeup, and hair not so much to tell the reader the outward appearance, but to show the reader who this character really is, how they feel about themselves, how they relate to others.

Cover-A Ton of Gold

After a successful career in mathematics and computer science, receiving grants from the National Science Foundation and NASA, and being listed in Who’s Who in Computer Science and Two Thousand Notable Americans, James R. Callan turned to his first love—writing. He wrote a monthly column for a national magazine for two years, and published four non-fiction books. He now concentrates on his favorite genre, mysteries, with his sixth book releasing in Spring, 2014.

Website: http://www.jamesrcallan.com
Blog: http://www.jamesrcallan.com/blog
Amazon Author page: http://amzn.to/1eeykvG
Twitter: @jamesrcallan

A Ton of Gold On Amazon at: http://amzn.to/UQrqsZ or Nook at: http://bit.ly/1kM7p1M

Character: The Heartbeat of the Novel, (Oak Tree Press, 2013)
On Amazon at: http://amzn.to/13ADvF3

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