R. E. Donald: The Highway Mysteries and Hunter Rayne Sunday, Apr 27 2014 

Auntie M is at the Day of the Book in Kensington, MD today. Please drop by the Bridle Path Press table to say hello if you are in the area. In my absence, welcome R. E. Donald, who shares the story of her Highway Mystery Series.

A Hero in the Slow Lane

If you don’t personally know a trucker, this might come as a surprise: truck drivers are as diverse and disparate a group of individuals as the general population. Some are happy-go-lucky and chatty, some are crude and unkind, some are well-educated and eccentric, some are cowardly and mean, some are messy and good-natured – I could go on.

An assorted group of former truck drivers, for example, are Elvis Presley, Liam Neeson, Charles Bronson, Sean Connery and Richard Pryor. The long-haul driver I write about in the Highway Mysteries, Hunter Rayne, is a hero, in his own polite, tormented way.

Why would a woman whose favorite mystery novelists at the time were Dorothy L. Sayers, Elizabeth George and P.D. James, choose to create a series whose hero is a truck driver? Having lived most of my life on the west coast of North America, I couldn’t write a series set in England (although Elizabeth George, whom I learned a great deal from at an excellent writing workshop at The Book Passage, has done it very successfully). I wanted to write a traditional-style mystery in a setting that I knew well, with believable situations, and with characters that seemed so real that a reader might expect to meet them in her home town. I had a lifetime of west coast characters and twenty-five years experience in the international transportation industry to draw on for ideas and inspiration.
I looked at my bookshelf and realized it held numerous series featuring police detectives, lawyers and private eyes. I had no desire to compete head-on with the likes of Michael Connelly, John Lescroart and Sue Grafton, yet I wanted a hero who might realistically get involved in investigating murders and also have access to some of the investigative tools a true amateur would not. A former homicide investigator with friends still in the police force fit the bill.

As a fan of the TV series “Murder She Wrote”, I also realized that setting a crime series in a single community raised issues of credibility. How many murders can take place in one small town like Cabot Cove? With my hero on the road, I have a continent full of crime at my disposal.

That’s how the Highway Mysteries series with “semi-professional” detective Hunter Rayne was born. The first novel in the series, Slow Curve on the Coquihalla, is named after the mountainous highway featured in Discovery Channel’s “Highway Thru Hell” reality show. The supporting cast includes Hunter’s boss and dispatcher Elspeth Watson and a garrulous biker of Viking descent named Dan Sorenson. In spite of an acrimonious relationship with his ex-wife, Hunter struggles to stay connected with his two teenage daughters. His divorce and the suicide of his best friend have left him with wounds that are slow to heal, and a need for the solitude afforded him by life on the road.

You can find Slow Curve on the Coquihalla, Ice on the Grapevine and Sea to Sky in digital or print format at most on-line book retailers, or they can be ordered through your favorite bookstore. A fourth novel in the Highway Mysteries series will be released later this year.

RE Donald web
Full information is available at proudhorsepublishing.com or the author’s website at redonald.com.
About R.E. Donald: Ruth recently moved to a ranch in the South Cariboo region of British Columbia with a French Canadian cowboy, three horses and two dogs. She has never actually driven an eighteen wheeler, and probably never will.

Nicola Upson: The Death of Lucy Kyte Sunday, Apr 20 2014 

Readers know that Auntie M has long been a fan of Nicola Upson’s series set in the 1930s and featuring Josephine Tey as the protagonist. Starting with An Expert in Murder, through the stunning Fear in the Sunlight, each book is carefully researched and an enjoyable read.

So it was with great delight that after this brief review she is able to bring you an interview with Upson with questions based on her newest offering. THE DEATH OF LUCY KYTE is perhaps the author’s most challenging novel to date, a mystery within a mystery, meticulously researched, and a resounding read. It’s complex plot features the Suffolk countryside as the setting, where Tey has inherited a remote and crumbling cottage from her godmother.
Death of Lucy Kyte

Along with the hard work needed to make it habitable comes just the sort of intrigue to pique the interest of a mystery writer. A centuries-old murder still resonates on the minds of the villagers; yet the young woman named as the beneficiary in Tey’s godmother’s will seems to have disappeared from their memories. How Tey solves the mystery of Lucy Kyte forms the basis of this intelligent and rewarding read. Highly recommended.

And now in her own words, learn the story behind this book and please welcome Nicola Upson:

Auntie M: You obviously spend a great deal of time doing research on your novels and their settings and history: Angel With Two Faces and the Minack Theatre in Cornwall; Fear in the Sunlight and the Hitchcock’s in Portmeirion, Wales. Now with The Death of Lucy Kyte you’ve indicated that Polstead and the story of Maria Marten and William Corder is one you grew up with and wanted to explore in this book. How did you decide on the storyline to bring Josephine Tey to the area and involve her in its history?

Nicola Upson: I felt justified in bringing Josephine to Suffolk, as she had Suffolk ancestry on her mother’s side – her family brewed beer in the county – and it’s clear from her letters that she often visited many of the places that are referred to in the book – Stoke, Lavenham and, of course, Newmarket for the horseracing. ‘Josephine Tey’ was a pseudonym (her real name was Elizabeth MacKintosh) and she claims to have taken that name from her Suffolk great-great-grandmother. But you’re right – the decision to set a book in Suffolk was a personal one, and much more about me than it was about her! It’s my home county, where I grew up and where most of my family still lives, and it’s where my roots are. So – perhaps inevitably – Josephine’s story is a very personal one in this book, a story that touches on her family and her past, and in which she feels very strongly the presence of the people she’s lost, and the book feels very personal to me as well.

The Red Barn Murder – the killing of Maria Marten by her lover, William Corder in May 1827 – is certainly the first crime story I was ever aware of. As a child, I remember summer days out in the Suffolk village of Polstead with my parents, walking past Maria’s house or William’s, fascinated even then by what had happened there and by the real people behind the legend. I lived in Bury St Edmunds, the town where Corder was hanged, and every weekend I passed the Gaol where the execution took place on the way to my grandmother’s house. Bury’s museum, Moyse’s Hall, has a macabre collection of exhibits from the crime – Corder’s scalp and death mask, an account of the trial bound in his skin – and those things were so thrilling and so horrifying to a little girl. And we know from Tey’s work that she was fascinated by true crimes from the past – The Franchise Affair and The Daughter of Time are both based on historical crimes – so I felt she would have loved the facts and the mythologies that circle around the Red Barn Murder, too.

Choosing and getting to know the setting for each book is, for me, one of the greatest joys of writing. Lucy Kyte was different in that Polstead was a place I knew well as a child and have now rediscovered; most of my other novels have been set in locations that I’ve come to know primarily through the act of writing and research, places like Portmeirion or areas of London which were unfamiliar to me before I set books there. So it was special for me to revisit those childhood landscapes, to see Polstead in each new season and to imagine myself back there in a different time – first Josephine’s, and then Maria’s. 

AM: We don’t learn who Lucy Kyte is until the storyline is well-established and unravels, yet her death forms the last part of the book. After reading it, I realized this was absolutely the best title for this book. Did that come to you after writing the book, or was it always your premise from the start?


It’s the only one of my books that has had and kept its title from the very beginning. Titles are so hard because it’s not just your decision: you have to find something that feels right to you for the story, but your publisher has an input and it has to be something which tells a reader what to expect and which fits with the genre you’re working in. It wasn’t until Two for Sorrow that I titled one of my own books! My editor suggested An Expert in Murder, and PD James gave me the poem that’s titled Angel With Two Faces, because she felt it was exactly what the book was about. But there was never any question about this one: as soon as the character was named Lucy Kyte, the book had its title and I’ve never thought of it as anything else.

AM: Even as you’re promoting Lucy Kyte I’m certain you’re researching and writing the next Tey book. What’s in store for Josephine that you can share, and will her cottage figure in the future you have planned for her?

NU:The sixth book in the series – which currently has two titles! – is indeed underway, and it sees Josephine back in London in May, 1937, where she is involved in a cycle of radio plays at the BBC to celebrate the coronation of George VI. The repertory company of characters is back for this book, with Archie and Bridget, the Motleys and Lydia, but there will be other books that are more intensely focused on Josephine in the way that Lucy Kyte is.

Josephine’s cottage will be a very important part of her future, particularly as we head towards the war years. It’s funny, but when I started Lucy Kyte I deliberately held back on making a decision as to whether or not she would keep it at the end of the book: I wanted to feel my way into it as she did, and see how we both settled in! But there was no doubt in my mind by the end that she’d fallen in love with it, and I certainly haven’t finished with Suffolk as a novelist. And in all the books, there is an element of wish-fulfilment, of giving Josephine things in life that I genuinely believe she would have enjoyed under different circumstances. She wrote very movingly to friends about wanting one day to make a home for herself – she’d always lived in digs or the family house – but never got the chance to do that as she died so shortly after her father; I think she’d have liked the one I’ve chosen for her. I hope so, anyway.

AM: Besides Tey, whose writing has been an influence on your own?

NU: PD James. I think it’s significantly down to Phyllis and to Ruth Rendell that people like me are able to write detective fiction with the freedom and popularity that we enjoy today. When they began to publish in the early 1960s, crime fiction was at a crossroads: it could be relegated to the realms of slightly outdmoded entertainment, or it could become the living, breathing reflection of society that it is today; they set us out on the right path, and really expanded those boundaries – and they’re still doing it, creating benchmarks for writers to aspire to and books for readers to love, and I’m hugely grateful to them for that. And when you pick up a PD James novel, you get a brilliant fusion of theme, setting and character which makes the book about so much more than the plot; her descriptive passages take your breath away. For me, Death in Holy Orders is the perfect (crime) novel.

Reginald Hill is another huge influence. He has inspired me to be brave with a series, to try to develop characters whom readers will feel a real ownership of, and to play with the format and not be afraid of trying something a bit unexpected between one book and the next. He was a writer who really trusted his readers to go with him, and that takes a lot of courage.

Pat Barker is a remarkable novelist – I loved Toby’s Room; it’s a brilliant book, and her blend of fact and fiction is truly inspirational.

AM: When you read for pleasure, whose books are on your nightstand?

NU: I love Irish fiction, so Sebastian Barry, William Trevor, Jamie O’Neill and Colm Toibin are favourites. Susan Hill amazes me every time with her versatility. I treasure a book that makes me laugh, and I’m particularly keen on Barbara Pym, Stella Gibbons and Angela Thirkell – that wry, female humour with a real sting in its tail. Every summer, I re-read JL Carr’s A Month in the Country, which is probably the novel I wish I’d written, short and very, very beautiful. Virginia Woolf and Elizabeth Bowen have always been important to me. Wuthering Heights – which I first read when I was seven because of Kate Bush! – is a book I return to often, and it’s never disappointed me at any age – very few books grow with you in that way. Other than Tey, the Golden Age writers I love are Christianna Brand and Edmund Crispin. And the book I’m saving because I don’t want it to be over is The Days of Anna Madrigal, the most recent volume in Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City.

AM: We share many of the same affections and mentors. Many thanks for sharing your influences, your insights and especially the background regarding this newest addition to your exceptional series.

Opposite Poles: Nele Neuhaus and Laura McHugh Sunday, Apr 13 2014 

German Nele Neuhaus and American Laura McHugh are two writers who couldn’t be more different in their writing or their settings, yet both of their works use setting to their advantage to add to the stories they want to tell.

Nele Neuhaus returns with Bad Wolf, the second in her series that started with last year’s Snow White Must Die. Set in Frankfurt and featuring Inspectors Pia Kirchhoff and Oliver von Bodonestein heading their team, the usual police procedural takes on a darker tone despite the nod to Grimm’s fairy tales in Neuhaus’ titles.

It’s hot in Frankfurt in June when a sixteen-year-old girl’s body turns up on a river bank outside of town. Despite the brutality of her injuries, her identity remains unknown and no one turns in a missing person report. Pia’s team is frustrated for weeks and then a new case takes precedence. A television reporter who’s become a known personality is attacked, raped, and locked in the trunk of her car, barely surviving.

Pia suspects the reporter’s investigations into a popular child welfare organization, run by an old, established family with an untarnished reputation, may provide the key to the woman’s attack.

Then a link is drawn with a child pornography ring, and overruns into both inspectors’ personal lives. This chilling tale has a huge emotional component as the different subplots connect. Well-crafted and engrossing, it’s an unpredictable and multi-dimensional book that will hook readers from the start.

Neuhaus started out selling her self-published books out of the trunk of her car before becoming Germany’s top crime writer. Don’t miss this powerful psychological thriller based on a police procedural.


Laura McHugh’s debut The Weight of Blood is a totally different kind of crime novel, yet every bit as disturbing. Told from the viewpoints of Lucy Dane and Lila, her mother who disappeared when Lucy was a child, the action revolves around the the murder of one of Lucy’s friends, the slow-witted Cheri.

The setting this time is the tiny village of Henbane, deep in the Ozark Mountains. Filled with strange ways and customs, and a fear of strangers, it’s an area the modern world has almost passed by. McHugh manages to make the landscape come alive, and the story is inspired by a true incident that took place in the Missouri town where the author went to school.

Small wonder then that its authenticity rings so true. Readers will be drawn in immediately by the voice of Lucy and then by that of her mother, Lila, a young woman whose destiny is not hers to decide. Lucy is haunted by the mystery surrounding Lila’s disappearance and by the murder of young Cheri. Here is McHugh in Lucy’s voice describing her emotions when Cheri’s body is found: “…Boys our age, the ones at school, were cruel. They called her a retard and make her cry. I told her to ignore them, but I never told them to stop, and that’s what I remembered when Cheri’s body turned up in the tree: the ways I had failed her.”

That sense of failure will drive Lucy to investigate Cheri’s death, while not forgetting her mother, and the result will call into question everything Lucy thinks she has come to learn about family and secrets.

This is beautifully written novel that will suck you in from its opening as the story gains momentum to its powerful conclusion. No spoilers here: read it yourself and you’ll find you’re flipping pages well past bedtime.

ALSO RECOMMENDED: Cover of Snow by Jenny Milchman. This debut follows young widow Nora Hamilton, trying to make sense of the suicide of her police officer husband, a man who loved her, his job, and their Adirondack town–and died without leaving her a note of explanation? A taut and believable mystery.

Hard Going: Cynthia Harrod-Eagles newest Bill Slider crime novel brings back his family and partner in a complex mystery that interrupts his vacation week. A retired solicitor, known for his good deeds, has been bashed in the head with a statue in a frenzied attack that will have them searching into the man’s past for the culprit. Highly satisfying.

Hunting Shadows: Inspector Rutledge returns in Charles Todd’s sixteenth book in the post WWI series. The countryside of Cambridgeshire finds Rutledge to town to locate the murderer of a man at the doorstep to Ely Cathedral, on his way to a wedding. After a second murder, one witness’s description leaves the locals convinced a madman is on their doorstep. Great period details and a intricate plotting are the hallmark of this series.

AND NEW IN PAPERBACK: Jane Casey’s The Last Girl, the third DC Maeve Kerrigan novel. Compared to Tana French or Denis Mina, Casey’s series twists and turns through the investigation of the murder of a wealthy defense attorney. But was this a disgruntled client, or does the truth lie closer to home?

Elizabeth Haynes: Under a Silent Moon Sunday, Apr 6 2014 

When Auntie M met Elizabeth Haynes last summer at Bouchercon, she found a warm, funny family woman with a history of working in police intelligence. Haynes’ darkly creative imagination was behind her first three sterling thrillers: Into the Darkest Corner, Dark Tide, and Human Remains.

Now Haynes is back with an incredible new book, the first of a series, where she brings her past experience into a startling procedural that has her trademark unusual way of telling a story. Under a Silent Moon introduces DCI Louisa Smith, heading up a investigation team in London’s suburbs.

What sets this novel apart from the usual police procedural is the device Haynes uses, containing a mix of police reports, witness statements, call logs and crime charts that add superb layers to the complex story and very human characters she creates. Haynes’ graphs and charts are the ones used in reality, and they add an extra layer to the book, while showing the inner workings of a real police investigation like never before. It also explains the role of the civilian police analyst and how their work aids and interweaves with the police.

Two women in horse country are dead, and Lou and her team must establish if their deaths are related. At a farm outside a small English village, a lovely young woman had been found murdered, the bloody scene a testament to her last minutes. In a nearby quarry, a car fallen into holds the body of an older woman and is at first considered a suicide. But is there a link between the two women and their deaths?

When it’s found that the first victim, Polly Leuchars, had open sexual relationships with many people of both sexes, the suspect list grows. Then an elusive woman who may have been involved in Polly’s circle brings drama of a different kind to a member of Lou’s team. There will be hasty decisions, regrets, and lives brought close to the brink of death before it all comes together.

Haynes has a wonderful grasp of human relations and emotions, and by telling the story from multiple points of view, she maintains a steady, growing tension that affects Lou and her team as they move to separate motive and opportunity within the lies they are being told. By having the same information Lou and her team are privy to at their fingertips, the reader feels they are uniquely involved in getting to the truth as Lou’s team investigates. It’s a wonderful device that immediately keeps the reader flipping pages to the next point of the view, the next interview, the next chart, at the same time as readers are caught up in the emotions and private stories of Lou and her team. It’s to Haynes’ credit that she manages to bring her police team off as every bit as human as the victims and suspects they are interviewing.

This is the first of a planned series and DCI Lou Smith is more than capable of holding the reader’s attention for future novels. Highly recommended.