Catriona McPherson: A Deadly Measure of Brimstone Sunday, Nov 30 2014 

Deadly Measure
Auntie M loves the cover art of Catriona McPherson’s newest Dandy Gilver Scottish mystery, A Deadly Measure of Brimstone. The strong series, among other awards, won the Bruce Alexander Memorial Historical Mystery Award in 2013 and 2014.

But she liked the inside even more, as Dandy moves her two sons and husband, all recovering from a bout of the nasty chest illnesses which reach to the staff, to the spa town of Moffat to recuperate. Dandy has her own agenda to install central heating when the family is gone, and has neglected to mention this to her husband, Hugh.

Of course, with Dandy it’s never that simple. She and her partner Alec agree to take on a case to investigate the death of a woman who died suddenly at Laidlaw’s Hydropathic Establishment. Mrs. Addie’s grown children have written to ask Gilver and Osborne to look into their mother’s death, termed heart failue, which her children insist was not Mrs. Addie’s health issue before this visit.

It seems fairly simple: have Hugh and the boys treated and give them time to recover whilst investigating the death. Even aging dog Bunty comes along for the trip. But nothing is ever that straightforward with Dandy,
who soon finds herself disrobing to take saunas, cold baths, and salt rub massages all in the name of finding the evidence they seek.

With Alec also at the Hydro, the duo will find spirits, mediums, an even an after-hours establishment at the Hydro, run by Dr. Dorothea Laidlaw and her brother Thomas, who inherited the spa from their father.

McPherson gets the period details just right, from clothing and manners to the way people spoke in 1929. And Dandy’s humorous and slightly irreverent thoughts are on full display, as when Dandy and Alec endeavor to describe Mrs. Addie: “Thrashing out a description which honored her memory – one could not simply say she looked like a piglet in tweeds …”

Great fun that encapsulates the bygone Golden Age era from this award-winning author.

Cold, Cold Sea by Linda Huber Sunday, Nov 23 2014 

Please welcome guest Linda Huber, a Scot who lives in Switzerland (big sigh here) who will describe the impetus for her book THE COLD COLD SEA: TCCS3

Tale of Two Families

Family is such a big part of everyone’s life. My own family spans two countries now; Scotland, where I grew up, and Switzerland, where I’ve lived for the past twenty-odd years.

Living as I do between two cultures has certainly enriched my writing, but it was a family event that inspired my second book, The Cold Cold Sea, which tells how a (fictional) family cope after the death of a child. My Scottish roots have always been important to me. In the late 90s I began to research my family tree, and found something that shook me to the core. These were the pre-Internet days and I had sent charts of various family groups to all the relations I could find, asking them to fill my gaps with as much detail as they could.

One distant cousin returned hers having added a child to an aunt’s family – a girl who died in the 1940s, aged just eleven. Beside the child’s dates she had written two words – Agnes drowned. I was horrified to think that this little girl had lived her short life in a branch of my own family – and I had never heard of her. We discovered later that she had drowned in an indoor swimming pool in Glasgow.

I began to wonder – how do parents cope with such a tragedy in their lives? What do they do to get over their loss? How is the relationship affected? And the siblings of the dead child?

Then I thought – what if they don’t cope, these bereaved parents? What if this new, terrible reality in their lives is so unbearable that they have to change it? And of course, you can’t change reality. Or can you? And that was the start of The Cold Cold Sea.

Website: Huber/e/B00CN7BB0Q/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1414345217&sr=1-1
Linda Huber grew up in Glasgow, Scotland, where she trained as a physiotherapist. She spent the next ten years working with neurological patients and handicapped children, firstly in Glasgow and then in Switzerland. During this time she learned that different people have different ways of dealing with stressful events in their lives, and this knowledge still helps her today in her writing.

Linda now lives in Arbon, Switzerland, where she works as a language teacher at a school in a medieval castle on the banks of Lake Constance. The Paradise Trees is her debut novel and was published by Legend Press in 2013. Her second Legend Press book, The Cold Cold Sea, was published in August 2014. She has also had over 50 short stories and articles published in women’s magazines.
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D. E. Ireland: Wouldn’t It Be Deadly? Thursday, Nov 20 2014 

D. E. Ireland is the pen name of two Michigan authors and friends who’ve hit upon a wonderful device: continuing the story of Eliza Doolitte and Henry Higgins in their first mystery, Wouldn’t It Be Deadly?

With all the original players here, including Colonel Pickering, Freddie Eynsford-Hill, and even Mrs. Pearce, the action opens just after Eliza’s appearance at the Embassy Ball which cemented her transformation from a Covent Garden flower girl to a duchess.

Eliza is living with Higgins’ mother, dating Freddie, and still nursing her annoyances against Higgins, while working as the assistant to his rival elocution expert, Emil Nepommuck. When her boss makes the unfortunate mistake of taking public credit for Eliza’s transformation, Higgins’ publishes a damning article that exposes Nepommuck as the fraud he is–until he’s murdered, and the most obvious suspect is, of course, Henry Higgins.

The only way to clear Henry is for Eliza to help him sleuth the many enemies Nepommuck has gathered, and what a crew it turns out to be: elderly dowagers, Americans, actresses–all have been tutored by the charlatan to lose their accents and upgrade their vowels and consonants. There are secrets being kept, and Higgins has his own surprising one to hide as the investigation heats up and it soon becomes clear that he is on the verge of being arrested.

The author’s are to be credited for maintaining the tone and the personality of all of the players, down to using dialogue you can believe these characters would say. There is humor and exasperation, and the final scene rivals anything yet to be seen on Drury Lane. All of the period details are spot on. A wonderful debut of pure brain candy and one can only feel G. B. Shaw would be best pleased.

Maia Chance: Snow White Red-Handed Sunday, Nov 16 2014 

Please welcome author Maia Chance. To be entered to win a copy of SNOW WHITE RED-HANDED, leave a comment~
snow white red handed

Bit Part Firecrackers

A reader recently asked me, “How do you create your secondary characters?”

This isn’t talked about much—we writers adore rhapsodizing about our fierce/vulnerable/dauntless/altogether fascinating sleuths and sidekicks instead. But cozy mysteries are character-driven stories, and that refers to all of the characters.

Snow White Red-Handed, my newly-released historical cozy mystery, trots out an eclectic cast of secondary characters, from castle servants and a casino owner to a mysterious Russian princess and an ungainly stepsister. And so—in answer to my Gentle Reader’s question—here is my checklist for secondary characters.

1. They are Fleshed Out.

This applies even to secondary characters who have only one speaking line. Why? Here’s something special about a whodunnit-style mystery: since many of the secondary characters are murder suspects, that means that one of them is really a primary character: the villain. Trippy, right? So, every one of the suspects must have enough punch and intrigue not to seem like a random killer when the truth comes out at the end. My rule of thumb is that everyone has a secret even if it’s not THE secret.

2. They Provide Variety.

Secondary characters can create dimension not provided by the main characters. In Snow White Red-Handed, for instance, I explore class and nationality not only through my sleuth Ophelia Flax (American variety hall actress) and her romantic interest (privileged British professor); I also have a family of American upstarts with a fortune made in the railroad and down-at-heel German servants. And I was able to explore varied settings through secondary characters, too. Because of a couple of sinister guards, the protagonists are lured into a horseback chase through the forest, while my bombastic lady naturalist leads the sleuths to a luxurious health sanatorium. What is more, each of these characters is distinctive in appearance, dress, and mode of speech. Mr. Smith, the American millionaire’s private secretary, speaks like this:

“Like California? Haw! The Black Forest is about as much like California as one of them Arabian racehorses is like a Mexico donkey. Oh, that’s a hoot! No, one thing’s certain, and it’s that I’ve got to get myself back to some real wilderness. That durned police-man, Schubert, has forbidden us all to leave until he gets to the bottom of the murders, but I figure that’ll take about as much time as for him to learn to be a ballerina.”

3. They Provide Absurd (Comic?) Relief.

I admit, Snow White Red-Handed isn’t exactly a serious story. Early readers have called it “fun,” and I can more than live with that. Because even though I will never, alas, be as witty as P. G. Wodehouse (secret fantasy of mine), I do want my books to be at least mildly amusing. I find that my secondary characters, behind my back, tiptoe again and again over the threshold into Absurd Territory. Here is one of the descriptions of the lady naturalist and her elderly, consumptive employer, two characters I immensely enjoyed writing:

“Miss Gertie posed like one of those Viking ladies at the opera, all blond braids and magnificent bosom, in an arched doorway at the far end of the dining room. All that was missing was one of those helmets with horns. She gripped the handles of a wicker wheelchair, which was occupied by what appeared to be a heap of black wool with a white wig.”

4. They Provide Historical Dimension.

Here’s something people have been asking a lot about: how I came up with the attitudes of my German fairy tale scholar, Professor Winkler. His snotty belief that fairy tales are merely the product of debased “peasant” minds is derived from an actual historical essay written by James Russell Lowell (a Harvard professor) in 1870. There was no way I could’ve made it up; Lowell’s assertions have that special outlandish-yet-real flavor. (This is why I compulsively read Wikipedia articles: truth is way, way weirder than fiction.)

5. They Enhance Themes and Motifs.

In Snow White Red-Handed, secondary characters embody or enact themes and motifs from the fairy tale “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.” For instance, from the fairy tale I pulled the theme of beauty tied to a mother-daughter relationship. Next, I explored that theme through the avenue of the secondary character Prudence Bright, whose actress-and-courtesan mom taught her to value her looks and feminine wiles above all else. As another example, “Snow White” has that little detail about the Wicked Queen wanting to eat Snow White’s liver (or lungs, or heart, depending on the version), so in Snow White Red-Handed I HAD to go there:

“Luncheon, by the by,” Winkler said to Mr. Coop, “was superb. The sautéed liver! Your cook is a sorceress. Did you bring her from America?”

Truthfully, there are lots of writing days when my secondary characters are vastly more amusing to play with than my main characters. On those days I feel like I should, like a theater manager, pull the exuberant bit part actor offstage with a cane. Yet sometimes I indulge, and let them bask in the limelight a moment or two longer.

BIO: FEM_0463 web

Maia Chance writes historical mystery novels that are rife with absurd predicaments and romantic adventure. She is the author of the Fairy Tale Fatal and The Discreet Retrieval Agency series, and her first mystery, Snow White Red-Handed, is available now from Berkley Prime Crime.

Maia is a candidate for a Ph.D. in English at the University of Washington. This means that the exploits of Fairy Tale Fatal’s heroine, variety hall actress Ophelia Flax, were dreamt up while Maia was purportedly researching 19th-century American literature and fairy tale criticism. The Discreet Retrieval Agency series was born of Maia’s fascination with vintage shoes, automobiles, and cocktails combined with an adoration of P. G. Wodehouse and chocolate.

Upcoming titles include Come Hell or Highball (St. Martin’s Press, 2015) and Cinderella Six Feet Under (Berkley Prime Crime, 2015). Maia lives in Seattle, where she shakes a killer martini, grows a mean radish, and bakes mocha bundts to die for.



Tony Parsons: The Murder Man Wednesday, Nov 12 2014 

murderman Journalist and internationally-known author Tony Parsons turns to crime, introducing London police detective max Wolfe in The Murder Man.

The book opens with a strong introduction: “I was waiting for a man who was planning to die.” It then recounts Max’s conviction and actions that save the day and become the catalyst for his transfer to the Homicide and Serious Crime Command to work under DCI Victor Mallory.

Despite his love for dogs and coffee, coupled with insistent insomnia, this single parent is tenacious as he tackles the trail of serial killer who cuts throats and gets away without leaving evidence behind. The first victim, investment banker Hugo Buck, has a lovely wife he abuses and a history that is sparked by a photograph he keeps on his desk: what looks like seven young soldiers in the 80’s.

The photograph is a key clue for Max as the killings continue and it becomes obvious that the young men in that photograph are targets. And it’s up to Max to find the perpetrator before they’re all murdered.

With his young daughter, Scout, a reasonable housekeeper in the form of Mrs. Murphy, and that adorable King Charles Cavalier Spaniel, Stan, Max struggles to keep up with this canny killer. But don’t let these domestic details fool you into thinking this is anything resembling a romantic read. There is pathos in Max’s home situation as he struggles to adjust to raising his daughter alone and is determined to do right by her.

There are also some lovely lines in here that add texture to Max: “I tried to look beyond the blood and the horror. I tried to look at what had once been a man.”

This is an auspicious opener for what promises to be one heck of series and Auntie M is looking forward to the next installment. Highly recommended.

Sisters in Crime: Four Mysteries Sunday, Nov 9 2014 

As a member of Sisters in Crime, Auntie M has found a community that sustains her when facing that blank white page that proscribes the daily writing life. A huge part of that organization is the support the members give each other on so many facets of writing, from craft to legal issues, from deadly poisons to process to marketing and blog tours.

So today she’s highlighting four Sisters (and a Mister!) who have books for your reading pleasure.

truthbetold Hank Phillippi Ryan’s Jane Ryland series echoes the author’s own history as an investigative reporter. In Truth Be Told, the award-winning author brings her insider’s knowledge to a different kind of case: middle-class families caught in the housing foreclosure debacle who are evicted from their homes.

At the same time, her relationship with Boston police detective Jake Brogan has hit a snag. The long-awaited vacation they’d planned has to be cancelled when someone suddenly confesses to the twenty-year old murder called the Lilac Sunday Killing, the unsolved case that haunted Jake’s grandfather. With evidence mounting that the confession might be phony, Jake delves into his grandfather’s basement files on the original case.

With the strain of keeping their personal lives separate from their jobs, and that line crossing more than either of them expect, things heat up when murders start to occur in the supposedly empty homes of evicted families. Enter the daughter of a bank president, a young woman with her own special accounting system, and the cases take off, each from their own perspective.

Ryan does a nice job of bringing these two story lines together while Jane and Jake struggle to hold onto their relationship in the midst of misunderstandings and the differences of their jobs as they each try to figure out who’s behind the murders, and why someone would confess to a murder they didn’t commit.

G. M. Malliet’s Max Tudor series takes readers to the charming English village of Nether Monkslip, where the former MI5 agent has carved out a new life for himself. In A Demon Summer, the heat isn’t the only thing that has Max sweating: he’s soon to be a parent with his beloved Awena, and has yet to tell his Bishop of that development.

This is kind of mystery that isn’t built on action but on thoughtful investigation, as Max is sent by the Bishop to Monkbury Abbey after it seems their fruitcake was the vehicle used to try to poison the 15th Earl of Lislelivet. Tasked with discreet inquiries just at the time he’d rather be home and planning his marriage, Max nevertheless takes the job seriously and sets off to the remote abbey, home to nuns who are part of the order of the Handmaids of St. Lucy.

Amidst rumors of buried treasure regaling that of the Holy Grail, Max finds the cloistered order living their lives plainly, bound by rules and bells calling them to prayer. Along with the Lord back for a second visit are a philanthropic American family, an art gallery owner and a photographer, all sharing the guesthouse when Max arrives to begin his investigation.

There will be tales of funds going missing or misappropriated, of poison berries, or family tragedies–and then the Lord’s body is found down the well and Max must kick his investigation into overdrive. A device Malliet uses is chapter epigrams from The Rule of the Order of the Handmaids of St. Lucy. Great fun and with a Poirot-like ending where the little grey cells of Father Max have figured out what’s really happening behind the abbey’s walls.

murderhoneychurch Across the pond, Hannah Dennison, author of the Vicky Hill mysteries, debuts a new series with Murder at Honeychurch Hall.

The Devon setting, home to Agatha Christie’s Greenway and where she grew up, seems like a character in this humorous opener featuring Katherine Stanford, known to as Kat, a television celebrity leaving that life behind, who thinks she’s getting ready to launch the antique business she’s always wanted to run. Her partner and newly-widowed mother, Iris, has a huge surprise that throws a wrench in Kat’s plans: instead of going into business in London with Kat, Iris has bought a seriously dilapidated carriage house on the grounds of Honeychurch Hall, hundreds of miles from London.

With her partner David away for the weekend, Kat drives to Devon to see what kind of fix Iris has gotten herself into after breaking her hand, and discovers a host of characters that pale beside the ones Iris has been writing in her racy romances.

This is a modern-day Upstairs, Downstairs in some respects, with a lot of humor thrown into the mix as Kat at arrives at the Honeychurch Hall Estate on the River Dart and becomes involved in a family struggle to keep the estate intact as opposed to selling to developers. Iris’ part in all of this conflict is a puzzle to Kat, and its revelation will let Kat realize she doesn’t really know Iris at all.

The changes extend to Kat, with the vision she had for life after her television show needing to be rewritten. She begins to reconsider her fiancé, still married to Kat’s nemesis, and dragging his feet on the divorce. Devon proves to be anything but the boring out-of-the-way backwater Kat was expecting. There will be ghosts, an older countess and a young girl, the early death of the Lord’s first wife, as well as a Detective Inspector named Shawn who gets thrown into the mix when the manny goes missing– a DI whose phone ring tone is a steam engine. Things heat up with a murder as Iris’ past comes into play, and Kat decides she needs to rethink her future plans. This is the set up for a continued series in a delightful setting.
The mother/son writing team of Charles Todd have written their sixth Bess Crawford mystery that marks the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. An Unwilling Accomplice finds the nurse and sleuth home on leave and assigned to accompany a wounded solder to Buckingham Palace for the King’s award.

Bess is smarting from the apparent loss of a patient, facing an inquiry by the army and her nursing service. But the fact that the hero was wheelchair-bound and shouldn’t have been able to leave his hotel on his own hasn’t seemed to clear her. She was assigned to care for the ailing Sergeant Wilkins when his orderly heads back to the battle lines. What she doesn’t expect is for her patient to go missing when she leaves him at his hotel room for the night. With the mores of the era, it isn’t proper for a woman, even a nurse, to stay in the man’s room overnight. But how and when did Wilkins go missing?

With Bess’ professional credentials being called into question, she faces scrutiny from her boss as well as having to answer to the local police as to why she simply let a man go missing.

Then her lost hero is found: Wilkins has been sighted in Shropshire, with a witness claiming he’s committed murder. Bess swings into action to find Wilkins and tries to get to the bottom of his actions. Constricted by the mores of women traveling alone and hampering her investigation, she enlists family friend Simon Brandon to help solve the mysterious disappearance, restore her reputation, and clear her name. It’s the only way to save her own reputation–before a possible deserter kills again.

The Todd’s bestselling series featuring Ian Rutledge also carries their accurate historical illustration of the era. This latest entry continues that atmospheric and realistic portrayal of this time period with vivid details and a complete grasp of setting.

John Bainbridge: The Shadow of William Quest Sunday, Nov 2 2014 

Please welcome UK author John Bainbridge:


Thank you for the kind invitation to talk about my novels. I have been writing for most of my life, though usually journalism and non-fiction. After a number of abortive attempts at novel writing, I decided to sit down and write the kind of historical crime thriller I actually wanted to read, but which wasn’t out there to buy.

I read for a degree in literature and Victorian history, and specialised in the Victorian Underworld. About a year ago I had this image in my mind of a Victorian gentlemen walking down an alley carrying a swordstick – and very little more. I knew he was there to right wrongs, but that was about it.

So I sat down and started writing. It was really quite spooky! One scene after another unrolled on the screen, characters seemed to leap out – almost as though it all had a life of its own. Before I knew it William Quest, his friends and enemies, were there before me. It was like watching a film. In all my writing life, I’ve never had anything flow quite so easily.

The result was The Shadow of William Quest. I wanted a hero with a dark edge and Quest is – to say the least – morally ambivalent. A man who takes the law into his own hands as he fights against the injustices of Victorian society. I wanted to try and portray Victorian life as it really was, from the rookeries of London to the harshness of rural counties, but try and put forward some uplifting message. After all, we all benefit from the great social reforms put forward by campaigning individuals in that era.

I’m now writing a second William Quest novel, which will be out for next summer. I’ve also finished a novel set in England during the 1930s, (no final title yet) which will be out in December. Apart from Quest I also collaborate with my wife Anne on Victorian Cozy crime novels, The Inspector Abbs mysteries. Two out so far, A Seaside Mourning and A Christmas Malice.

Fortunately, I have a lot of ideas and intend to write several novels featuring William Quest. We have a blog at which keeps our readers up to date with our latest work.