Mary Daheim and James Runcie: Polar Opposites Sunday, Jul 29 2012 

This week Auntie M brings you a repeat performer AND she introduces a new series from across the pond.

Seattle native Mary Daheim’s newest in hardcover from William Morrow is The Wurst is Yet to Come. It continues her hallmark bed-and-breakfast mystery series filled with word play and humor.

This time Judith and her cousin Renie travel by train over the mountains to man a booth featuring B&B’s at Oktoberfest in Little Bavaria.

Every German association you can think of has been put into the town for the event, from lederhosen and oompah bands to sauerbraten and wursts. There’s even a life-szied dancing bear running around the streets.

Judith is stinging from criticism from the state B&B association, threatening to pull her license due to the number of bodies that have piled up at her B&B, Hillside Manor. When she enlists Renie and heads off to Little Bavaria, she’s hoping to avoid murder and mayhem and bring new business to her inn.

But things kick off decidedly differently from her plans. In the middle of the opening celebration, which includes a band of German dancers, the town’s beloved patron, Dietrick Wessler is murdered.

Despite her best efforts to avoid being involved, Judith finds her reputation has preceded her. When the local police chief, a man with a huge appetite and dubious investigating skills, begs her to help solve the murder, Judith knows she can’t refuse.

Then she finds herself also investigating a death from the previous summer, and amidst a bewildering number of locals thrown in with the various people showing up for Oktoberfest, she agrees to help out, but with one twist:  Renie will pose as the sleuth to keep her reputation from becoming even more tarnished.

She’ll meet more of Wessler’s extended family than she wants to, and come to know the menu of the local pancake house inside and out as she tries to juggle her hours at the association booth while using her investigative prowess without calling attention to herself.

Whether this works out or not is half the fun for fans of the series in this 27th offering, who will enjoy the goofy turns of events and pure brain candy as a murderer is unmasked.

Next we have The Grantchester Mysteries from the artistic director of the Bath Literature Festival, James Runcie, author of four other novels, and with a resume that includes stints as a theater director, award-winning filmmaker, and scripts for several BBC television films. Sidney Chambers and The Shadow of Death takes a leap to Cambridge and a trip back to 1953, where Runcie introduces his unlikely sleuth: the Canon Sidney Chambers, vicar of Grantchester, an unusual detective at first glance, whose guilty pleasure is an affection for jazz and warm beer.

The 32 year-old bachelor, an unconventional clergyman at best, also has an unconventional friend: Inspector Geordie Keating, whom he meets every Thursday night at the pub for an evening of mutual relaxation–until the night Keating convinces Sidney to help him investigate the suicide of  Cambridge solicitor Stephen Staunton.

Sidney can go where Keating cannot, and that includes talking at length with the dead man’s wife, partner and secretary. He also finds the company of the new widow, the German Hildegard Staunton, an accomplished pianist, to be surprisingly soothing. Sidney’s own gentle manner and unassuming ways soon lead him to unearth the truth behind Staunton’s tragic death, but this is only the first of a string of crimes where he will find his tact and position called into play to use in an investigation.

Sidney’s detecting skills will try the patience of his housekeeper and his own conscience, as he continues his church duties and takes tutorials at his old college, Corpus Christi, while defining what a vicar should be for himself and for his parish family.

A jewelry theft will occur right under his nose at a New Year’s Eve dinner party; the murder of the daughter of a former mob boss at a jazz club will find him closely involved; a death which may be a mercy killing will find him questioning ethics; a case of art forgery will bring involve him and bring danger to his friend, Amanda, whom Keating thinks Sidney should marry; and a murder in the middle of an amateur production of Julius Ceasar becomes a matter of reputation.

Runcie has done a lovely job with the period details, down to the music and behaviors that match the time. In Sidney Chambers, we have a vicar who quotes poetry and muses on the meaning of love: ” … It was the most unpredictable and chameleon of emotions, sometimes sudden and unstable, able to flare up and die down; at other times loyal and constant, the pilot flame of a life.”

These consecutive stories were a pleasure be immersed in, transported back to a time when the world was regaining its footing after World War II. It is to be hoped that Runcie will continue the Canon’s adventures for our reading pleasure, brain candy of a very different sort, but just as satisfying.

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Faye Kellerman: Gun Games Sunday, Jul 22 2012 

Fortunately for readers, Faye Kellerman’s Dentistry doctoral degree couldn’t keep her from writing the consistently winning  Peter Decker/Rina Lazurus series. Starting  in 1986 with the Anthony Award-nominated TheRitual Bath, that book won the Macavity for Best First Novel and launched the series Kellerman has kept writing, in addition to producing other novels and short stories, some with two of her four children.

From this auspicious start, which expertly detailed the rituals of Jewish Orthodoxy, Kellerman took the pair to LA where we’ve watched the Decker’s extended family grow and change. One of the delights of the series has been the way their family life and traditions have been incorporated into the stories. She’s managed to keep the series fresh by changing the focus of each story, even taking readers to Israel on one occasion.

In this 20th in the series, Gun Games, the Decker’s are grandparents via Decker’s daughter and empty-nesters with their youngest child together finally off to college. They should be starting to enjoy some well-deserved alone time, but on the heels of the prior novel, Hangman, they’ve become temporary guardians to the teenaged son of notorious psychopathic gangster Chris Donatti, welcoming Gabriel Whitman into their home and family. Gabe is a talented pianist interested in composing music, a quiet and often secretive youth who, despite his worldly attitude, isn’t immune to the high emotional turmoil and roiling hormones of his biological age.

Interspersed with Gabe’s life and his lovely, believable romance, the story follows Decker at work as lieutenant detective when he and his team become involved in investigating the apparent suicide of a boy Gabe’s age who attended a prestigious prep school.

Then the second suicide of another teen from the same school leads the detectives to discover a nasty clique of privileged, wealthy students who harbor a thirst for bullying, guns and violence.

Decker’s team of Marge Dunn and Scott Oliver help him as he unravels the reality behind the unbelievable actions of this group of spoiled teens whose dark side has triumphed over their better judgement.

Kellerman does a wonderful job of showing us Decker’s growing comprehension as he struggles to believe what is truly happening. This parent thought he had a handle on teens, including Gabe, but it soon becomes apparent that he is out of his realm of knowledge and experience. Kellerman also has a grand handle on the emotional roller coaster that all teenagers face and shows how differently they handle this challenge.

When the dark group overlaps Gabe’s path, the ramifications become terrifying and deadly. Don’t miss this compelling thriller from a writer who knows how to explore her character’s personalities and tell an all-too-realistic and frightening story at the same time.

 

 

 

Katia Lief: Vanishing Girls Sunday, Jul 15 2012 

Lief’s previous two suspense novels featuring former detective Karin Schaeffer are filled with malice and the kinds of twists and turns that kept readers turning pages as they became emotionally involved with her protagonist.

In Vanishing Girls, a serial killer who has remained on the streets of New York murdering prostitutes for two years appears to strike again.

Now married to her former partner, Mac, and with a young son, Ben, Karin is still learning to cope with loss when she becomes involved unofficially in the cases of two women found one Sunday night on a Brooklyn street.

With Mac ill with s serious case of the flu, Karin responds to a friend’s call and arrives on the crime scene. One victim is an eleven-year old girl, the apparent victim of a hit-and-run, who remains uncommunicative throughout the early part of the investigation. The second body mirrors the work of the serial killer on the loose.

Complicating matters is the post-traumatic syndrome that Karin and Mac’s good friend, homicide detective Billy Staples, is suffering from, a year and a half after loosing an eye and almost his life in a shootout with the woman he loved. His dazed appearance at the crime scene confuses Karin, and at the same time, convinces her Billy needs professional help.

“There was something to see hiding in the shadows” Karin thinks, as the plot turns and escalates.

As she gets involved deeper into the cases, a strange link occurs that will change everything, and terror will strike close to home, changing Karin’s family in unexpected and profound ways.

Lief paints a realistic picture of Karin’s distraught feeling that she attracts darkness to her life and the fears for her family that this brings. She’s also produced a suspense-packed novel that will have you looking for the next Karin Schaeffer installment.

 

 

Joe McCoubrey: Someone Has to Pay Sunday, Jul 8 2012 

While Auntie M has been having stormy electric issues on the East Coast, writer Joe McCoubrey stepped up all the way from Ireland to guest blog this week. Thanks, Joe!

Irish author Joe McCoubrey explains why he chose the subject for his first novel and outlines some of the challenges he faced in mixing fact with fiction

                                      How I came to write my current novel

When you’ve lived in troubled times and you’re a writer, it’s probably inevitable those troubled times will feature heavily in your first novel. In my case, as a young reporter caught up in the midst of the worst of Northern Ireland’s conflict in the seventies and eighties, I had an urge to tell a story that went behind the headlines, a story of hard-hitting fiction that sailed uncomfortably close to the truth.

And so it was that Someone Has To Pay was born. It was more than two decades in the making and became subjected to endless rewrites and updates to keep pace with the frantic events unfolding around it. Fiction it might well be, but it had to be set against the stark realities and historical milestones that would lead eventually to peace in a troubled land.

It’s a story as cruel and uncompromising as the events which drove it. That was the times we lived in. There was no shortage of factual material from which to draw inspiration; indeed there were almost too many real occurrences that could have been used to over-glamorise or over-sensationalise what lies between the covers of my book.

But all conflicts have their victims. Hardly a family in Northern Ireland was untouched by the ‘troubles’ which beset our little corner of the globe, with the result that too many are still living today with the pain and memories of the past. The last thing they need is for some fictional jockey to come riding over the hill with gung-ho recounts of episodes that touch deeply into the hearts and minds of individuals.

I made a conscious decision to avoid these at all costs. My story simply didn’t need them. Instead I stuck with what I knew, and what I believed could have happened, as international pressure to end the conflict gathered an inexorable momentum.

I made sure too that the story was told from a balanced viewpoint, choosing no political or religious ascendancy for any side. That’s how it was, and that’s how it should be.

My bottom line for writing Someone Has To Pay was to produce an exciting and entertaining action thriller. Certainly I wanted its backcloth to be one that I knew and experienced, but it’s just that – a platform for telling what I believe is a cracking good yarn.

It will be for readers to judge whether or not I succeeded.

Joe McCoubrey is a former journalist turned author. His first novel Someone Has To Pay is being released shortly by Tri Destiny Publishing, with number two already in the bag and number three halfway there.

In between he has written a short story which was published last month in an Action Anthology. To find out more about Joe check out the following links:

Blogsite: http://joemccoubrey.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/#!/joe.mccoubrey

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JoeMcCoubrey1

Andrew Gross: Eyes Wide Open Sunday, Jul 1 2012 

Andrew Gross drew on a personal story for the main theme of this thriller which will hit home with any reader who knows anyone coping with the loss of a child. A sad author’s note explains the impetus for the story that inspired Eyes Wide Open.

Two brothers have taken divergent trails in life. Jay Erlich is a successful surgeon with two great kids and a wife he still loves after twenty years. Jay and Kathy are celebrating that milestone anniversary on the east coast when a call comes from California that will have Jay flying across country on a wild odyssey. His only nephew, Evan, has been found at the bottom of a cliff, an apparent suicide.

Evan Erlich had inherited his parents bipolar disease from Jay’s older brother, Charlie, and his wife, Gabby. Charlie had always been the the wayward child, a true sixties rebel, and at one time  associated with a group whose cult behavior led Charlie to flee.

When Jay arrives to comfort his brother and sister-in-law, he is outraged that this troubled youth was released from a mental health facility only a few days after a violent outburst. The  small halfway facility he was sent to seems inappropriate for the state with the boy was in, and Jay tries to bring justice for Evan by going to the press and interviewing the coroner’s detective who is ready to stamp the boy’s death a suicide.

But things quickly start to unravel and Jay finds himself increasingly convinced that Evan’s death might be a murder. He delays returning home in an effort to convince Detective Sherwood that there is more to Evan’s case than a trouble youth launching himself to his death, and he begins to suspect that Charlie’s involvement with the cult is at the bottom of it all.

Russell Houvnanian’s charisma had led to a nightmare of multiple murders decades before on the scale of Charles Manson; the man and several of his accomplices remain in jail. After Sherwood and Jay visit Houvnanian in a maximum security prison, evidence mounts that leads them to suspect cult disciples are operating in their leaders name. It soon becomes clear to Jay that the monster’s influence is still felt in the outside world as people associated with Charlie start to die, one by one.

This is a chilling page turner with a relentless pace, as Jay keeps postponing his return home, to the chagrin of his wife and his colleagues. There is a tough emotional component, too, as Jay makes the connection between his father’s life, Charlie’s, and Evan’s, and realizes it is just a trick of fate that he has not inherited the same bipolar illness. He also finds the overarching reach of a maniac will go years into the past and threaten his own future.

Gross gives us Jay’s point of view in first person and several of the other main characters, including Det. Sherwood, in third, an effective device that brings the action close to the reader as we experience the unraveling of the story through Jay’s frustration and increasing suspicions.

Nelson DeMille notes Eyes Wide Open “should be read with the lights on and the door closed. A rare and menacing psychological thriller that works on every level.”

This is a frightening study of the power of evil to affect generations.

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