Hot Summer Recommendation: Aline Templeton Sunday, Jul 31 2011 

Author Louise Penny, she of the multi-award winning Three Pines series and the creator of Inspector Gamache, first recommended UK author Aline Templeton, and Auntie M has been thanking her ever since.

Templeton worked in education and broadcasting, writing numerous stories for newspapers and magazines, before turning her hand to crime novels. She lives in Edinburgh with her husband and has two grown children.

Her DI Marjory Fleming series is a stand out. Here we have a woman in a hard-driven job usually given to men, constantly proving herself, while she juggles two teenagers at home. And did I mention her husband is a sheep farmer? This is a well-drawn character, a woman who readily admits cooking is not her forte` and one who would rather unwind in the evening with a dram of scotch, her old collie and her husband beside her.

Templeton does a fine job of exploring and explaining crime taking place in small, southwestern Scottish towns along the coast. The first in the series is titled Cold in the Earth, and Auntie M is still searching for a copy of it. The next, The Darkness and the Deep, was my first introduction to this readable series. The novel revolves around the Royal National Lifeboat Museum and its rescue service, where the ancient stone harbour of the port of Knockhaven becomes the setting for a most unusual murder. Centered around the  wreck of the Knockhaven lifeboat with multiple loss of life, the tragedy impact the entire community.

Then DS Tam McNee discovers this supposed accident was a deliberate act, and the hunt is on for a murderer. But who of the dead was actually the intended victim? When the case breaks, Fleming and her team plunge into the searching, routing the lives of the small town’s inhabitants who were close to the victims. In a fishing port ravaged by unemployment, even the idea of vandalism gone awry must be explored. The drug trade has taken root in the area, providing an additional area to investigate.

As Fleming’s team works hard and the town becomes hungry for justice, the pressures, both personal and professional mount. The book is well-plotted and a great read.

 

Next in the series is Lying Dead, which opens with the bludgeoned body of an attractive young woman being found in the woods after the silence of the quiet spring morning is broken by the ringing of her mobile phone. At first it appears the woman is from Manchester, and efforts to identify her start there. It will be difficult to describe more of the convoluted plot without giving too much away, but suffice it to say that you won’t be disappointed as Fleming and her team search for a canny murderer.

This time the town of Drumbreck, a few miles from Glasgow, comes into scrutiny, which it is determined the victim used to live there and still has multiple ties to the area. As much as Templeton does justice to the small towns she creates, these lovely novels are all character-driven, with entirely believable characters. Templeton takes care to never allow them to become parodies of “country folk,” and the themes she explores are universal. Here adultery is the crux of the matter, and as Fleming manages the personnel in her team, we see her in both domestic and professional modes.

 

 

 

 

The third Auntie M read is titled Lamb to the Slaughter and it opens with the tranquility of a sunny evening broken by the brutal murder of an old man, gunned down on his own doorstep. The peaceful market town of Kirkluce is locked in a bitter debate which has divided the population: whether a proposed superstore would benefit or harm the charming community. The victim would have been instrumental in passing this scheme, or not, depending on whom Fleming speaks to. Fleming and her team are investigating this murder when a dead sheep, bloodied and gored, is found abandoned in the streets. Added in are bouts of escalating vandalism which seem to be bordering on sinister aggression against an elderly woman. Are the two things connected? Then a band of teenaged bikers loom on the periphery of Fleming’s case when it hits too close to home and she finds her daughter has befriended the group.

When a second victim dies in an apparent random shooting, the townspeople fear walking the streets. It’s up to Fleming to prove these are not motiveless sniper deaths, and she struggles to unearth how the crimes are connected.

Next, Auntie M found one of Templeton’s earlier stand-alones. 1980’s Death is My Neighbor is out of print, so if you become a fan, start searching those used bookstores. Five more stand-alones follow, most published by Hodder and Staughton, and 2001’s Shades of Death is one I scored and read. In this one Templeton takes us to a remote area of Derbyshire, filled with caves, and uses the landscape in this psychological novel filled with suspense.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DS Tom Ward finds himself in charge of the Peak District investigation when the skeleton of an eleven-year old girl is discovered after lying in wait to be found for the last eighteen years. The lapse of time proves a huge stumbling block as he tries to work his way back in time to discover who would have wanted such a young child to die. His route is filled with folklore, suicide, and more death, and peppered with the appearance of a beautiful young widow Ward refuses to believe is involved. But is his attraction blinding him to reality?

This thriller goes beyond the usual police procedural in its deft style and taut plot. I’ll be looking for some of Templeton’s back list for the other stand-alones, and am scurrying to find the next to Fleming novels: Dead in the Water and Cradle to Grave. Good luck on your own hunt. These will not disappoint.

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Summer Two-fers: Martin Edwards Lake District Mysteries Sunday, Jul 24 2011 

Martin Edwards is the author of the popular Harry Devlin novels, but his Lake District series is one I follow as my Nora Tierney novel-in-progress, working title THE GREEN REMAINS, is also set in Cumbria–just a tad of shameless self-promotion there.

The Serpent Pool follows Cold Case Squad’s DCI Hannah Scarlett as she investigates whether the seven year-old death of young Bethany Friend was accidental or a murder. Drowning in the shallow waters of the Perpent Pool in an isolated area up in the fells suicide had been the accepted the theory for years until Hannah gets her hands on the case, determined to find the truth for Hannah’s dying mum.

Hannah’s personal problems threaten to outshadow her investigation. Her relationship with bookshop owner Marc Amos is becoming unhinged, even as they work on a home they’ve purchased together near the Serpent Pool. At work, she is handed a new sergeant to work with, but the man brings a history of being a trouble-maker.

Hannah meets Louise Kind, sister of the historian Daniel Kind we’ve met in previously in this series. Louise has just struck her lover with a knife in an embarrassing breakup. This leads to a string of horrific murders, the involvement of serious book collectors, and Daniel’s own work on a book about 19th-century English writer Thomas De Quincey, the brilliant but opium-addicted author whose obsessions seem to be echoed in the secrets Hannah and Daniel uncover.

The next in this series is The Hanging Wood. Orla Payne returns to the Lake District and taken a job in a residential library where Daniel Kind researches and works. With his prompting, she tried to interest Hannah in unraveling the truth about the disappearance of her brother twenty years ago. At the time the teenaged Callum Hinds went missing, his uncle was suspected of harming the boy, and hanged himself after being questioned by the police. His suicide was accepted as a confession, but Orla has never believed in his guilt.

Then Orla dies in a shocking and horrific way, and Hannah becomes determined to find the truth about her death–and Callum’s. Hannah’s personal life remains as screwed up as usual, so don’t expect any resolution on that end yet, and indeed in this kind of series, these things are approached slowly.

These novels hang together on the strength of Hannah and Daniel’s characters and they progression–or lack of it, for varied reasons–on their personal relationship. My only complaint is that the copies I’ve read were both published in the US by Poisoned Pen Press, and lately their books have contained an unreasonable number of typo’s that I find extremely distracting when reading. So if you can possibly find a good used reading copy of the original UK printings, you’ll be ahead of the game.

Guest Blogger Esri Allbritten: Plot Holes on the Writing Road Sunday, Jul 17 2011 

                                                                                                                                                      Plot Holes on the Writing Road

[Note: I’m coming at this from the perspective of writing mysteries, where plot is king, but this applies to all stories.]

My husband and I recently watched an Inspector Lewis episode on Masterpiece Mystery (Episode title: Expiation). I won’t go through the entire, terrifically convoluted plot, but here’s the part that gave us problems. A man finds out that when his wife was a little girl, she had a moment of insanity and killed her infant brother rather horrifically. She’s grown up and apparently normal now, but when the man finds out about her past, he worries that she’ll harm their two kids. However, he still loves her and doesn’t want to hurt her, so he manipulates her into a romance with a friend. She obligingly leaves the husband and marries the friend. That’s all fine, except that the kids go with her. Wait, didn’t the first husband push her away because he was worried about the kids? Plot hole.

This was one hitch in an otherwise satisfying plot, but it deflated our suspended disbelief with an audible hiss. When characters in a story behave in a nonsensical way, they don’t feel real.

I’ve found that the best way to detect plot holes is by listening to my overworked inner voice. Are you making any of the following excuses?

The events in my book take place over a long period of time, so it’s natural that the details are a little fuzzy. (A book plot is not a memory. It’s a narrative of events, and the details should all be there and all make sense.)

It’s not acting out of character if the character changes. People change over time. The readers will understand that. (Not unless you map out the reasons for your character’s change. If you don’t, your character has become a mere plot device, and not a very good one.)

There’s so much great stuff going on in my plot, the reader won’t notice this one little problem. (My husband and I did. Your readers are the same people who leave comments on IMDB like, “In the bar scene, the knot on Simon’s tie changes size.”)

When the action takes place, the reader won’t have enough information to know that it doesn’t quite make sense. (Bad author. No biscuit.)

Plot holes happen. You’re writing away, secure in your outline, when you discover that lawyers don’t have access to certain files. A DUI conviction keeps someone from driving for longer than you thought. Your character needs to have been in a certain military action but is then too old to bear a child. You won’t know about a lot of details until you’re well into your first draft. Ideally, you want a fix that doesn’t require a big rewrite. Here are a couple of methods I’ve used successfully.

Give two characters a shared past that makes sense of the problematic plot point. This back story doesn’t have to be integral to the central plot, and you can keep it secret until it’s convenient to trot it out.

Add a character. If it doesn’t make sense for your existing characters to do something necessary to the plot, give the action to someone new. The nice thing is, characters can be introduced at any point in the story. I had an expedient new character suddenly take center stage and add a tremendous amount to the book.

Add another secret. In the Inspector Lewis plot I described earlier, the author could have had the husband suspect that the kids were fathered by someone else. In that scenario, he wants to avoid the trauma of seeing them hurt, but doesn’t feel as compelled to protect them. After all, his worries might come to nothing. He doesn’t want to take his wife’s children away on a mere suspicion, he just doesn’t want to be involved.

Change your villain. In a mystery, your reader doesn’t know who the murderer is until the story’s end (you hope). If you have a great plot but one of the key points doesn’t quite work, give the gun/pillow/poison to someone else. I’ve done this twice, and couldn’t believe what an easy fix it was. After all, each of your suspects should have some reason to kill the victim, in order to provide red herrings. Until you reveal everything at the end, it could be any of them. Use that to your advantage.

A rich, complex plot is satisfying to the reader, but it’s also more work. Review your plot periodically while you’re writing. Be flexible. This kind of quality control is part of being a good writer. Your readers will notice and appreciate it.

————–

Esri Allbritten is the author of Chihuahua of the Baskervilles, published by St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books  and available in hardback and ebook.   

Tripping Magazine is a low-budget travel rag that covers destinations of paranormal interest. The problem is, every time the staff tries to cover a supposedly supernatural event, there’s a crime behind it (think Scooby Doo for adults). In Chihuahua of the Baskervilles, the staff of Tripping Magazine hears about a ghostly Chihuahua seen by Charlotte Baskerville. Charlotte is the rich founder of Petey’s Closet, a clothing catalog for small dogs. Editor Angus MacGregor, photographer Suki Oota, and writer Michael Abernathy travel to Manitou Springs, where the ghost howls advice and spells out threats in tiny paw prints. But is the glowing apparition really Petey’s ghost, or is someone in Charlotte’s household trying to teach a dead dog new tricks – like murder? It’s up to Tripping Magazine to save Charlotte Baskerville, preferably without losing the story.

Visit EsriAllbritten.com to read an excerpt of Chihuahua of the Baskervilles.

Summer Two-fers: SJ Bolton Sunday, Jul 10 2011 

It’s summer and those book bags are filling as readers make time for reading, whether at the beach, on vacation, or taking a plane somewhere exotic. This is the start of Auntie M’s special Two-fer recommendations to keep you turning pages. First up is UK author S J Bolton, author of Sacrifice, previously reviewed. Her first three novels are all stand-alones so you can read these in any order without losing a character thread.

Bolton’s next two offerings follow her debut only in terms of mining folklore and mythic tales for her modern gothic thrillers. Awakening was a Booklist Top Ten Crime Novel of the Year. Totally riveting, Bolton’s story unfolds with an opening shudder:rescuing a baby from a snake; and a death after a snakebite. Clara Benning is the reclusive veterinary surgeon whose expertise is called upon, and who finds herself unwillingly involved when it’s determined the man’s venom concentration was artificially constructed, leaving his murderer to be very human.

Clara’s reclusive streak is down to a childhood accident which left has with a facial disfigurement. Her reticence to become involved is slowly eroded when snakes start to appear in volumes in the homes of the villagers she serves. Intrigued and concerned, Clara starts to investigate, with the help of an eccentric expert in reptiles, and a neighbor whose intentions are not what they seem on the surface. As she uncovers an ancient ritual and then an abandoned house, the tension climbs, and it soon becomes obvious that a decades-old secret lies at the heart of this mystery.

Not being a snake fan, I was surprised at how quickly I read this book–it’s that good.  The second offering is my personal favorite of her books so far, and the one I’m hoping to see some of her characters appear in a sequel.

Blood Harvest takes the reader to Dorset and a small village on the moors that ought to be a paradise for anyone who settles there. The Fletcher family has built a beautiful new home between the newer and oldest churches in Heptonclough and someone seems determined to scare them away. Childish pranks give way to serious threats with increasing danger to the three children in the home. The most affected is the oldest, Tom, a bright ten-year old who frustrates his parents when he begins to believe someone is watching them.

Therapist Evi Oliver is called in to examine and treat the boy. Also serving the villagers is a new vicar, Harry Laycock, and between the two of them, they try to salve the villagers fears. Then Evi uncovers the mysterious deaths of three toddlers from the town over the last ten years, and the emerging pattern becomes a nightmare that threatens to be repeated. Against a race of time, Evi and Harry hurry to unravel an evil killer in their midst and save the lives of the Fletcher children. Evi and Harry have wonderful dialogue and repartee and are the two characters I am hoping Bolton will resurrect in another novel.

Bolton’s protagonist’s all have some kind of flaw which affects them deeply: in Sacrifice, the protagonist is an OB-GYN who can’t get pregnant herself; she gives Clara a facial disfigurement; and here she has given Evi a severe sciatic injury which affects her ambulation and gives her pain. This injury becomes a powerful plot point at the novel’s climax. It will be interesting to see how her heroine fares in the fourth novel, Now You See Her~

Nancy Drew, Unplugged Sunday, Jul 3 2011 

Today’s guest blogger is Canadian author Nancy Lauzon, whose exciting new novel debuts this fall.  Hannah is a character whose voice you will enjoy, and who gets herself into and out of trouble the way most of us change our clothes. The dialogue is snappy and you’ll gobble this one up!  Get a jump on the rest with this special contest Nancy is offering:

The Chick Dick Blog Contest!

Just visit Nancy’s blog at http://nancylauzon.blogspot.com and click “Follow” in the right hand column.

All new blog followers will be eligible to win a FREE copy of The Good, The Bad and The Hair-a Chick Dick Mystery. Deadline September 1st, 2011

   “Chicks make lousy detectives,” he said.  “Trust me, I’ve worked with a few. They can’t keep their mouths shut and they’re too emotional. You need a dick to be a good P.I., not to mention balls.”

   She smiled. “I guess that explains why you’re not a very good P.I. then, doesn’t it?”

Excerpt from:     A Few Dead Men – a Chick Dick Mystery by Nancy Lauzon            Release date: Fall 2011

Imagine an alternate universe, where a frizzy-haired Nancy Drew drives a beat up Delta, ekes out a living at a health food store, and worries about her father, on probation for tax evasion.

Or a disillusioned Nancy Drew with a bigamist father, who must save the family home from foreclosure.

Or a depressed Nancy Drew who runs away to escape her past traumas, and ends up in a haunted house.

Welcome to the world of Chick Dick Mysteries, a collection of novels inspired by my lifelong love of the Nancy Drew Mystery series, about women who share many of the qualities that Nancy Drew was noted for: brains, bravery, deduction, or a well placed karate kick.

Nancy Drew, an attractive girl of eighteen, was driving home along a country road in her new, dark-blue convertible. She had just delivered some legal papers for her father … Carson Drew, a well known lawyer in their home of River Heights, (who) frequently discussed puzzling aspects of cases with his blond, blue-eyed daughter.”

(Excerpt from “The Secret of the Old Clock” by Carolyn Keene)

Problem is, how many eighteen-year-olds do you know who are allowed to drive around in a snappy roadster and solve mysteries for fun? Nancy’s father never nagged her about getting a job or studying harder at school. He was an unending source of emotional and financial support. His sternest warning? “Be careful.” Carson is the father every girl wants.

But not the one most of us have. Dad, I love you, but you never bought me a car for my birthday.

Growing up, I never had a Ned Nickerson in my life, either. Wouldn’t it be great to have a guy who was handsome, reliable and gallant, ready to fight off arsonists and kidnappers at a moment’s notice, but also willing to stay in the background if you needed your independence?

Nancy also enjoyed loyal and steadfast friends like Bess and George, who didn’t mind getting knocked down, poisoned, or nearly suffocated in an ice-cream freezer. Being friends with Nancy couldn’t have been easy, but it must have been irresistible.

On the flip side, a Chick Dick heroine’s personal life is usually a mess. They are noted for their disastrous love lives, dead beat–or dead–parents, mind-numbing jobs, and second-hand cars. A far cry from Nancy’s idyllic existence in River Heights, but perhaps a more relatable one for readers.

Nancy’s passion was solving mysteries and helping others. Chick Dicks are amateur sleuths too, but usually out of necessity rather than choice. A Chick Dick heroine gets thrown into the mystery by chance. While she might enjoy the challenge of following clues, the stakes are higher, and much more personal.

Nancy has been a wonderful role model for generations of fans, and has captured our hearts for more than eighty years. We love her, even though we might be just a tad jealous of her perfect life.

Following in Nancy’s slender, size 5 footsteps, Chick Dicks will beat their bad luck, bad hair and bad relationships. They’ll rise to their challenges and earn their happy ending.

But their path may be a little rockier.

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Liz Loves Books

The Wonderful World of Reading

The Life of Guppy

the care and feeding of our little fish

dru's book musings

Reading is a wonderful adventure!

JoHanna Massey

“Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known.” ― Carl Sagan

MiddleSisterReviews.com

(mid'-l sis'-tǝr) n. the reader's favorite sister

My train of thoughts on...

Smile! Don't look back in anger.

Make

Make Your House a Home

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

Author and reviewer of period crime fiction

Crimezine

#1 for Crime

Mellotone70Up

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...

...now being made into a radio drama

BOOK SHELF

"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

forensics4fiction

Forensics demystified for the fiction writer

milliewonka

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