The Narrow Bed: Sophie Hannah Sunday, Feb 28 2016 


The multi-faceted Sophie Hannah does it all: compelling stand-alones, resurrecting Hercule Poirot for Agatha Christie’s estate, and her Culver Valley police procedural series. But she doesn’t stop there–the hallmark of this series is that the protagonist of each book is a character involved in the action, not the detectives, centered on Simon Waterhouse and his wife, Charlie Zailer.

We learn of the continuing saga of the married duo as a secondary plot, insinuating itself into the main plot of the newest in the series, The Narrow Bed. And a strong feminist will muddy the waters by insisting the killer being sought is a misogynist pig, as three of the four victims are women. Could she be right?

There’s more than a bit of sly humor when your protagonist is a professional stand-up comedian. Kim Tribbeck has received a little white book, mostly blank, with a few lines of poetry inside. She’s tossed it away, but she does remember receiving it.

The importance of this becomes clear when a murderer takes to killing pairs of best friends, four in all over the last four months. In each case he’s given the victim one of these same hand-made books before killing them. Each contains a line of poetry. Each poet was a woman whose name started with an E. So where does that lead them?

Dubbed “Billy Dead Mates” by the police, the detectives have exhausted ways to link the victims. It becomes clear the case revolves around books, but in what way? And if these are truly killings of best friends, why was Kim Tribbeck given a copy and left to live? Could it be that the fact she hasn’t had a best friend in years has saved her life?

At once convoluted yet sharply intelligent, the plot wraps around itself until the mind of Simon Waterhouse is the one who can see beyond the obvious and pull the case together. There’s an almost gothic feel to the book, as the story unfolds by way of excerpts from a book Kim writes after the case is over, added to by conventional chapters of interviews and the thoughts of the various detectives on the team searching for this killer.

The characters are true to themselves, with distinctly-drawn personalities that show Hannah’s expertise at describing the psychology of different people with that wry edge that smacks of verisimilitude until they seem to leap off the page. The Independent has compared Hannah to Patricia Highsmith and Ruth Rendall with good reason.

Jerrye Sumrall: The Bayshore Mysteries Saturday, Feb 27 2016 

Something different for readers today: Children’s author Jerrye Sumrall, author of The Bayshore Mysteries, will explain how her middle-school series began and how she gets her ideas. With five in this series, they’re certain to be winners for young readers.


How The Bayshore Mysteries began: Although my idea of doing a children’s mystery series didn’t come to me until later in life, the framework started when I was a child. I grew up in a small southern town with lots of freedom to play and explore my surroundings. As with all childhoods, there were ups and downs, but these experiences along with a vivid imagination and fascination with the unknown served as a springboard for my writing. In my adult years, my experience as a teacher and counselor further developed the writing framework that later grew into a unique children’s series, The Bayshore Mysteries.

Why I chose to write for the middle grade audience and how I got my ideas: I decided to write for the middle-grade audience because I’ve had the most experience with that group of children, and it was the age I remember so fondly as a child. I think my ideas came naturally from my fascination with mystery, adventure and the unknown, even into adulthood.


I have always been intrigued with horror flicks, mystery books, and any entertainment venue with a mysterious setting and plot. I have also been fascinated with local historical settings that could easily be transformed into a mystery plot. That is actually how all of my books began. I would pick the historical location, choose the characters, and devise a mystery plot that would fit the characters and setting.


What are the historical settings for my books: The historical settings in my books are ones that I could easily research and visit. I am fortunate to live in an area that is full of history and suspense, wrapped up in unique settings. The Eastern Shore region of Mobile Bay, an area rich in Civil War history and small town culture, serves as a springboard for my first book, Intruders on Battleship Island. The Beatrice and Monroeville, AL, setting found in The Secret Graveyard brings to life new mysteries and secrets from that area. Mobile, Al, with its festive Mardi Gras celebration and spooky swamp setting serves as the backdrop for The Mystery of Wragg Swamp. Mound Island, located deep in the delta region of Baldwin county, AL, serves as the setting for the fourth book in the series, Mystery on Mound Island. Historic Blakeley State park in Spanish Fort, Al, the site of the old town of Blakeley, Fort Blakeley, and the last Civil War battle, serves as the setting for the fifth book in the series, The Ghost of Blakeley Past.


My emphasis on relationships and understanding others: For the character relationship aspect of the stories, I wanted to emphasize getting along and understanding others. In addition to the main characters that appear in each of my books, I have also included at least one new character who was either annoying, disliked, or very misunderstood. Through the course of each story, the characters all learned important lessons in friendship, courage, and determination. That idea came from my own childhood and from my experience as a teacher and counselor.

In each one of my books, I’ve tried to incorporate mystery, action and adventure, local history, and enduring characters who learn lessons in friendship, courage, and self-awareness. I feel that my choice of unusual settings, my use of historical fact, my presentation of age-appropriate mystery, and my focus on lessons in self-reliance and respect for others has made The Bayshore Mysteries a unique middle grade series.


Jerrye Sumrall lives in Spanish Fort, Alabama with her husband. Formerly an elementary schoolteacher and counselor, she is now a full-time writer, homemaker, amateur photographer and office manager for the couple’s business. She is the author of five middle grade books: Intruders on Battleship Island, The Secret Graveyard, The Mystery of Wragg Swamp, Mystery on Mound Island, and The Ghost of Blakeley Past, all part of a mystery series called, The Bayshore Mysteries.

*For more information about Jerrye Sumrall, visit her websites at and

*All five books in The Bayshore Mysteries can be purchased in print and e-book format at

Nina Mansfield: Swimming Alone Monday, Feb 22 2016 

Please welcome author Nina Mansfield, who will talk about YA crimes, real and imagined:

SwimmingAlonefrnt (2)

The Thrill of Sneaking Out
By Nina Mansfield

It was 1987, maybe 1988, a muggy night in the middle of summer. We were camped out in the garage outside my friends’ summer home on a lake in the Adirondacks. The boys from next door had joined us. We were twelve, maybe thirteen years old, so we were doing the kind of silly stuff that kids that age used to do.

This was in an age before the internet, before cell phones, so we had to find creative ways to entertain ourselves. Someone put on a scuba suit. Someone may have suggested a game of spin the bottle. We probably spent a good deal of time playing truth or dare.

I am not sure who suggested sneaking out and walking around the lake. It would take us hours, at least five. All of the adults had long since gone to sleep. Still, we waited until past midnight. And then, amidst giggles and shushes, we started our trek.

After hiking through the forest and past sleepy lakeside cottages, we made it to the roadway. Someone seemed to know where we were going, because I certainly didn’t. I just followed. Whenever cars passed by, we would jump into a ditch on the side of the road. Sure, it was the blissfully unsupervised 1980s, but a group of pre-teens out at that time of the night would still have aroused suspicions. Not that we were doing anything illegal. And not that anyone had actually told us we couldn’t walk around the lake in the middle of the night. But we knew we were breaking all sorts of unspoken rules.

No actual crimes were committed . . . at least none that I’ll admit to. And I don’t really remember all the specifics. What I do remember is that it was one of the most thrilling nights of my life.

Any moment, we could’ve have been caught. Any moment, someone’s headlights might have spotted us. Any moment, some unseen terror in the night could have devoured us.

Maybe that’s why I included a “sneaking out” scene in SWIMMING ALONE. Because anything can happen in the wee hours of the dark. Especially if there is a serial killer on the loose.

But fifteen-year-old Cathy Banks is willing to take that risk. After all, her friend is missing.

We had no greater calling that night in the Adirondacks. We were just killing time. Luckily, there was no serial killer out there, at least none that we knew of. I’m not sure we would have been so brave if there had been. But I am glad we did it. Because 25+ years later, it is still inspiring my fiction.

SWIMMING ALONE, by Nina Mansfield
The Sea Side Strangler is on the loose in Beach Point, where fifteen-year-old Cathy Banks is spending what she thinks will be a wretched summer. Just when she begins to make friends, and even finds a crush to drool over, her new friend Lauren vanishes. When a body surfaces in Beach Point Bay, Cathy is forced to face the question: has the Sea Side Strangler struck again?

NinaMansfield2016 Nina Mansfield is a Connecticut-based writer. Her debut novel, SWIMMING ALONE, a YA mystery, was published by Fire & Ice YA in 2015. Nina has written numerous plays, which have been published and produced throughout United States and internationally. Her graphic novel FAKE ID: BEYOND RECOGNITION, illustrated by Leyla Akdogan, will be out with Plume Snake in 2016. Nina’s short mystery fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Mysterical-E. She is a member of ITW, MWA, SinC, SCBWI, The Short Mystery Fiction Society and the Dramatists Guild.

You can read more about Nina at:; blog:
Facebook:; Twitter:

SWIMMING ALONE Buy Links Print: $10.95, Ebook $4.99
• Amazon:
• Smashwords:
• Fire & Ice:

Frederick Wysocki: On careers, lessons and sagas Sunday, Feb 21 2016 

Please welcome thriller writer Frederick Wysocki, who will explain to Auntie M’s readers how he changed careers, the lessons he’s learned, and how he gets his inspiration for new books~

My wife has always called me a storyteller, as if it were a bad thing. However, I never thought I could muster the patience to write a hundred-thousand word novel. Now I have written five within in just over two years and I’m currently working on number 6. (My imaginary friends keep telling me more of their secrets.)

In my first career, I was in high technology having started my first company in 1975. It involved constantly flying somewhere. During those trips, I always packed a thriller or two to read.

I retired early and was finally inspired to start my second career of writing while sharing a golf cart with a movie producer. It turned out he was playing slow because he was finalizing the writing of a novel. We talked. I told him some stories about the tech industry and he told me they were fascinating and to write them down.

I decided to try it and started to learn the craft by going to writer’s groups I found on I am now a Mister with the Sisters in Crime and DesertSleuths.
I still find I’m drawn to writing crime fiction novels inspired by real events.

The most important lessons I’ve come to learn are:
• That one should only write something you truly enjoy, as you will have to reread the darn thing a hundred times before it’s ready.
• That readers love obstacles, suspense and twists.

I find myself inspired daily by what I hear on the news and read about in technology blogs. I start by doing research then writing out a rough plot. Then I layer in subplots and decide how my characters will change. I avoid lengthy descriptions. I tend to write short chapters that are heavy on dialogue.

THE START-UP for example, started with a news headline about a still ongoing FBI investigation.
I was curious. How does someone (Anthony Rizzo) start a computer software company and sell it months later for billions of dollars? Then the buyer finds out that it was all a scam and calls in the FBI. With a diverse Board of Directors and countless lawyers and investment bankers, how does a large tech company get duped? How does the FBI deal with it? And yes, it is still in the news today. That was the plot behind THE START-UP.


Against that backdrop I layered in a ‘Hero’s Quest’ character arc of a young man (Frank) facing increasingly ruthless tasks in order to make his share and how it changed him and his girlfriend.
Upon publishing, I discovered eighty percent of my readers of THE START-UP were women and they wanted to know what happened to Frank. The answer came in the form of books 3 & 4. (More on them in a minute.)

Reader feedback also gets my creative juices flowing. Two examples of reader feedback:
• A former FBI agent told me that his first undercover job with the Bureau was similar to my plot for A Timely Revenge. He told me I got the era, events and motives of the crooks just right.
• A relative of a mob family told me she recommended my books to her family as they were the best portrayal of modern Mafia white collar crime she had ever read.

It seems every reader that meets me thinks they know each books’ inspiration and are asking me things like: is Anthony Rizzo (insert name of major CEO)?


What happened to Frank and his girlfriend? That was the question I explored in BLOOD RIVALS and NO TIME FOR FOOLS.
The inspiration behind BLOOD RIVALS came from an interview I did with Fiona Quinn of I told her about a case where the FBI had mistakenly focused on the wrong suspect from an inconclusive fingerprint.

Naomi Dolphin was introduced in BLOOD RIVALS as a young female bodyguard who Frank hires.
My next novel – THE ARABIAN CLIENT – should be out in a few months and is a prequel of how Naomi went from being a maid and nanny on the island of Anguilla to becoming the bodyguard for a Saudi princess in Saudi Arabia. She struggles to overcome the Islamic culture and terrorists, as well as her clients.

THE ARABIAN CLIENT is very different for me since it’s a psychological thriller and is written from a female point of view. It goes behind the headlines and answers the questions about what is really happening in the Middle East. I’ve had Middle Eastern Muslim women review it for accuracy.

A critical part of my process is reaching out to friends who seem to know unique ways to kill someone.
For example in NO TIME FOR FOOLS:
• A doctor from Florida gave me three methods of killing someone with a cigar lighter.
• The former helicopter pilot for a USA President explained the best way to crash a jet plane without using a bomb.

I did not start out to write more than one book, nor did I want to do a series. Now with prequels and sequels, I find myself in the midst of writing a saga.

At first, I thought I was writing a single novel, THE START-UP. Readers were all asking me what happens next for the main characters. I had already started on a prequel of Anthony Rizzo – the family crook. That became A TIMELY REVENGE.
Readers were unanimous in asking me what happened to Anthony’s nephew – Frank Moretti. Thus were born BLOOD RIVALS and NO TIME FOR FOOLS. Both those books feature a female bodyguard – Naomi – for Frank.
Readers asked me how she became a bodyguard and that is why I am currently finishing THE ARABIAN CLIENT. It chronicles Naomi, her time in Israel and her first assignment in Saudi Arabia.

Book 6 (takes place in Russia) will pick up where NO TIME FOR FOOLS left off.
As long as my real world readers keep asking me about my imaginary friends, I’ll keep writing.

Thanks very much for hosting me!


My novels are available on Amazon in print and ebook.

Website Links:
Twitter: @FredWysocki

Alison Bruce: The Promise, DC Gary Goodhew #6 Wednesday, Feb 17 2016 


Auntie M is a huge fan of Alison Bruce’s DC Gary Goodhew series. She’s back with the sixth in the series, The Promise, and found it as compelling a read as the others in this series with the unusual protagonist, still recovering from injuries suffered in the sad and dramatic ending of The Backs, which has left him and several colleagues still reeling.

Whether Gary is up to returning yet is somewhat beside the point when the body of a homeless man who knew is found on Market Hill. The unusual signature of the murderer has the team scouring local haunts and reviewing CCTV tapes for witnesses, but as usual Gary has his own unique way of working a case.

Kyle Davidson, undoubtedly suffering from PTSD from the Afghan War, has a wife he barely tolerates and a baby boy he adores. The marriage is over, but an action by his wife sends him spiraling into a desperate scramble to protect his son, his sister and his mother. Does he tell what he knows and hope to save them all, or will that put him squarely into the bulls eye of a merciless killer?

The the investigation twists with a rented garage is found to have only one thing inside: a freezer containing the body of a murdered young woman, bearing the same signature as the homeless man. Suddenly the hunt is on for a serial killer and no one, it seems will be safe.

In Gary’s personal life, his grandmother and his police mentor have both been keeping a secret from Gary, one that happened when he was a small boy, and one that threatens now to destroy him unless they can tell him before he founds out from someone else. Although there were good reasons for keeping this secret at the time, it’s unclear how Gary will feel once he finds out he’s been lied to all these years by the very people he thought he could trust most.

Bruce’s menacing plot keep increasing as the tensions rises, all against the backdrop of Cambridge and the very different mind of a young man with incredible instincts who runs against the pack. Steve Mosby calls Bruce: “A superb writer,” and Auntie M heartily agrees.

Alison Gaylin: What Remains of Me Sunday, Feb 14 2016 

What Remains

Stick with this twisted plot of Alison Gaylin’s for a rich payoff in her newest stand alone in psychological suspense, What Remains of Me.

Alternating between events of 1980 and 2010, she tells the story of Kelly Lund, a teen influenced by living in Hollywood and all that meant in the 80s. With the death of her twin sister two years before, Kelly is warned by her mother to stay away from “Hollywood types” but soon finds herself with an unlikely best friend: Bellamy Marshall, daughter of movie legend Sterling Marshall, who becomes her surrogate sister and introduces her to wild parties with drugs and movie stars. Later that year Kelly shoots and kills Ocsar-nominated powerhouse director John McFadden, best friend of Marshall, and spends the next 25 years in prison for it.

Fast forward to 2010 and Kelly has been out of prison for five years and is now the daughter-in-law of Sterling Marshall, after marrying his son, Bellamy’s younger brother, Shane, whilst in prison–but the two women are estranged. Living in the isolation of Joshua Tree, Shane and Kelly have formed an unlikely alliance that works for them at the moment–until Sterling Marshall is found dead in his office, shot in the same way John McFadden was, and she finds herself the prime suspect once again as the murderer of her husband’s father.

Gaylin spools out the story of both time periods, jumping back and forth as the story unfolds, giving just enough information from each era to ratchet up the tension until the twisted end. And just when you think you know what happened, think again, and then again. It’s a mix of unreliable narrators and people hiding secrets, but with more sympathetic characters than something like “Gone Girl.”

Readers will find themselves rooting for the unlikely heroine, murderess Kelly Lund, hoping she finds some kind of solace even as the truth of her life becomes revealed as Gaylin skillfully peels back the layers of the onion that is her life.

Maia Chance: Beauty, Beast and Belladonna Wednesday, Feb 10 2016 

Auntie M has hosted and reviewed author Maia Chance before. She likes to mix fairy tales with mystery in a smart and intriguing way. For her new release, we decided to shake things up: Here’s a Q/A from the author, followed by an excerpt from her new book, Beauty, Beast and Belladonna.

Beauty, Beast

1) Describe Beauty, Beast, and Belladonna in 140 characters or less.

Beauty, Beast, and Belladonna is a fun, adventurous, and romantic historical mystery set in a secret-riddled French chateau in 1867.

2.) What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Happiness for me is spending time outside somewhere beautiful, with my husband, kids, and dog.

3.) What’s your favorite part of Ophelia’s quirky personality?

I like the way Ophelia compensates in creative and gutsy ways for her lack of a good formal education. She’s smart and resourceful and she uses her unusual skill set—farm girl, circus performer, actress—to help solve the mystery.

4.) Which living person do you most admire?

My husband, actually. He is an unusually gifted person who overcame significant disadvantages and obstacles to get where he is today. And he gives the best pep-talks!

5.) What inspired you to marry fairytales and mystery?

I was searching for something that hadn’t been done yet, and I was reading a lot of fairy tale criticism for school at the time. It sounded like a deliciously fun project, so I plunged in.

6.) Is there a type of scene that’s harder for you to write than others? Love? Action? Racy?

Dialogue definitely comes more easily for me. I find action scenes more challenging—I’m paranoid that they’ll get bogged down. (So if I can, I add dialogue to my action scenes!)

7.) What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Sticking to strict schedules. I don’t like to keep people waiting, but there is something to be said for giving yourself creative or restful wiggle-room during the day.

8.) Which of the characters in this novel do you feel the most drawn to?

I became more attached to Professor Penrose in this book. He’s more vulnerable and at a loss than in the previous two books—and more deeply in love.

9.) Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

Oh, my. Probably dozens. I seem to like “buzz” a lot for some reason. I’m deleting it all the time.

10.) Can you describe for us your process for naming characters?

For historical American characters I use census records. I collect names from cemeteries whenever I visit one, and I often borrow names from literature. Since my books have lots of characters, I try to give them all distinctive names that hint at their personalities, to help the reader keep everyone sorted in their mind.

11.) Who are your favorite writers?

Agatha Christie, P.G. Wodehouse, Edith Wharton and Theodor Adorno.

12.) Who is your most loved hero of fiction?

Indiana Jones.

13.) Which talent would you most like to have?

It would be ecstasy to be a really, really great opera singer.

14.) You’re hosting a dinner party, which five authors (dead or alive) would you invite?

P. G. Wodehouse would probably be the life of any party. Also, Agatha Christie, Edgar Allan Poe, Shakespeare, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. There would be lots of drinking at this party. Maybe some arguments. No strip poker though.

15.) Do you have a favorite time period in literature?

Not really. Because of my English degrees I have read very widely, and I have favorites from every era. And every era has its stultifyingly boring authors, too.

16.) What is your motto?
Keep trying.

17.) What is the best reaction over a book that you’ve ever gotten from a fan?

Fans who say my book gave them pure pleasure—that’s happened a few times—make me so happy. It’s my aim to give people something to read that’s a pleasurable and absorbing diversion from Real Life. Real Life is hard.

18.) Where would you most like to live?

A place with lots of trees where I could do all my daily activities and errands on foot. I’m working on it.

19.) Which historical figure do you most identify with?

No one specific, but I often think of the female writers over the centuries who kept at their stories even when they had screaming kids and the dinner to cook and a really messy house piling up around them. They did it, and so can I.

20.) What are you working on next?

I just completed a humorous contemporary mystery that does not yet have a publisher, and I’m working on a historical fantasy adventure with a co-author. After that, the next thing will be book #3 of the Discreet Retrieval Agency series.

And now for that promised excerpt:

“What’s this?” Ophelia had almost stepped on something at the base of the cave wall.
Penrose crouched and held the lantern over it. “Good God,” he muttered. “Is it . . . a shrine?”
Small earthenware dishes held what appeared to be chocolate drops, purple berries, and loose pearls. A clay vase held a red and white striped rose.
Churches in New England didn’t have shrines. They didn’t even have stained glass windows or statues.
“Pearls,” Ophelia said. “Madame Dieudonné was missing a pearl necklace.” But—she looked carefully at the shrine—no ruby ring. Still, the pearls connected the shrine, very loosely, to the missing ring. There was hope yet.
“This resembles the offerings people of the Orient assemble for their gods or ancestors,” Penrose said.
“Those are belladonna berries, professor.” The skin of Ophelia’s back felt all itchy and crawly, and she stole a glance to the black gap where the cave continued into the earth. Someone could be back there. Watching.
“Miss Flax,” Penrose said slowly. “Look at this.” He lifted the lantern, illuminating the picture on the wall above the shrine.
Heavens to Betsy. A carved, black-painted beast, half-man, half-boar, undulated in the light.
The body of the beast was like a man’s, although the feet seemed—Gabriel squinted—yes, they seemed to have hooves. But the head! It was unmistakably that of a furry boar, with large pointed tusks and tiny round ears.
A slight crunching sound made Gabriel and Miss Flax freeze. Their eyes met.
Gabriel knew that somewhere in the shadows, someone or something lay in wait.
Miss Flax, wide-eyed, in those awful trousers, seemed at once horribly vulnerable and dear beyond measure. The pistol tucked into Gabriel waistband felt newly heavy. He picked up the lantern and slowly stood, willing himself not to exude the essence of fear in case whatever was watching was an animal.
“Come,” he mouthed to Miss Flax, wrapping his free hand around her wrist. “Slowly.”
She stayed very close to him as they walked steadily out of the cave.
They emerged into the cold, damp night. The moon glowed whitely above. The air tasted of soil and rot.
“Shouldn’t you extinguish the lamp?” Miss Flax whispered as they started down the rocky, ice-slicked slope. “So they can’t see us?” She tugged her wrist free of his hand so she could climb.
“Wild animals are afraid of light.” Gabriel longed to grab her wrist again, to enfold her, keep her safe. If something were to befall her—
“It wasn’t an animal in there,” Miss Flax said. “It was a human being. I could feel it. Animals don’t make one feel so frightened.”
“Not any animals?”
“No. Animals never seem evil, and I felt something evil up there in the cave.”


Beware of allowing yourself to be prejudiced by appearances. –Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, “Beauty and the Beast” (1756)


The day had arrived. Miss Ophelia Flax’s last day in Paris, her last day in Artemis Stunt’s gilt-edged apartment choked with woody perfumes and cigarette haze. Ophelia had chosen December 12th, 1867, at eleven o’clock in the morning as the precise time she would make a clean breast of it. And now it was half past ten.
Ophelia swept aside brocade curtains and shoved a window open. Rain spattered her face. She leaned out and squinted up the street. Boulevard Saint-Michel was a valley of stone buildings with iron balconies and steep slate roofs. Beyond carriages and bobbling umbrellas, a horse-drawn omnibus splashed closer.
“Time to go,” she said, and latched the window shut. She turned. “Good-bye, Henrietta. You will write to me—telegraph me, even—if Prue changes her mind about the convent?”
“Of course, darling.” Henrietta Bright sat at the vanity table, still in her frothy dressing gown. “But where shall I send a letter?” She shrugged a half-bare shoulder in the looking glass. Reassuring herself, no doubt, that at forty-odd years of age she was still just as dazzling as the New York theater critics used to say.
“I’ll let the clerk at Howard DeLuxe’s Varieties know my forwarding address,” Ophelia said. “Once I have one.” She pulled on cheap gloves with twice-darned fingertips.
“What will you do in New England?” Henrietta asked. “Besides getting buried under snowdrifts and puritans? I’ve been to Boston. The entire city is like a mortuary. No drinking on Sundays, either.” She sipped her glass of poison-green cordial. “Although, all that knuckle-rapping does make the gentlemen more generous with actresses like us when they get the chance.”
“Actresses like us?” Ophelia went to her carpetbag, packed and ready on the opulent bed that might’ve suited the Princess on the Pea. Ladies born and raised on New Hampshire farmsteads did not sleep in such beds. Not without prickles of guilt, at least. “I’m no longer an actress, Henrietta. Neither are you.” And they were never the same kind of actress. Or so Ophelia fervently wished to believe.
“No? Then what precisely do you call tricking the Count Griffe into believing you are a wealthy soap heiress from Cleveland, Ohio? Sunday school lessons?”
“I had to do it.” Ophelia dug in her carpetbag and pulled out a bonnet with crusty patches of glue where ribbon flowers once had been. She clamped it on her head. “I’m calling upon the Count Griffe at eleven o’clock, on my way to the steamship ticket office. I told you. He scarpered to England so soon after his proposal, I never had a chance to confess. He’s in Paris only today before he goes to his country château, so today is my last chance to tell him everything.”
“It’s horribly selfish of you not to wait two more weeks, Ophelia—two measly weeks.”
Not this old song and dance again. “Wait two more weeks so that you might accompany me to the hunting party at Griffe’s château? Stand around and twiddle my thumbs for two whole weeks while you hornswoggle some poor old gent into marrying you? Money and love don’t mix, you know.”
“What? They mix beautifully. And not hornswoggle, darling. Seduce. And Mr. Larsen isn’t a poor gentleman. He’s as rich as Midas. Artemis confirmed as much.”
“You know what I meant. Helpless.”
“Mr. Larsen is a widower, yes.” Henrietta smiled. “Deliciously helpless.”
“I must go now, Henrietta. Best of luck to you.”
“I’m certain Artemis would loan you her carriage—oh, wait. Principled Miss Ophelia Flax must forge her own path. Miss Ophelia Flax never accepts hand-outs or—”
“Artemis has been ever so kind, allowing me to stay here the last three weeks, and I couldn’t impose any more.” Artemis Stunt was Henrietta’s friend, a wealthy lady authoress. “I’ll miss my omnibus.” Ophelia pawed through the carpetbag, past her battered theatrical case and a patched petticoat, and drew out a small box. The box, shiny black with painted roses, had been a twenty-sixth birthday gift from Henrietta last week. It was richer than the rest of Ophelia’s possessions by miles, but it served a purpose: a place to hide her little nest egg.
The omnibus fare, she well knew from her month in Paris, was thirty centimes. She opened the box. Her lungs emptied like a bellows. A slip of paper curled around the ruby ring Griffe had given her. But her money—all of her hard-won money she’d scraped together working as a lady’s maid in Germany a few months back—was gone. Gone.
She swung toward Henrietta. “Where did you hide it?”
“Hide what?”
“My money!”
“Scowling like that will only give you wrinkles.”
“I don’t even have enough for the omnibus fare now.” Ophelia’s plans suddenly seemed vaporously fragile. “Now isn’t the time for jests, Henrietta. I must get to Griffe’s house so I might go to the steamship ticket office before it closes, and then on to the train station. The Cherbourg-New York ship leaves only once a fortnight.”
“Why don’t you simply keep that ring? You’ll be in the middle of the Atlantic before he even knows you’ve gone. If it’s a farm you desire, why, that ring will pay for five farms and two hundred cows.”
Ophelia wasn’t the smelling salts kind of lady, but her fingers shook as she replaced the box’s lid. “Never. I would never steal this ring—”
“He gave it to you. It wouldn’t be stealing.”
“—and I will never, ever become. . . .” Ophelia pressed her lips together.
“Become like me, darling?”
If Ophelia fleeced rich fellows to pay her way instead of working like honest folks, then she couldn’t live with herself. What would become of her? Would she find herself at forty in dressing gowns at midday and absinthe on her breath?
“You must realize I didn’t take your money, Ophelia. I’ve got my sights set rather higher than your pitiful little field mouse hoard. But I see how unhappy you are, so I’ll make you an offer.”
Ophelia knew the animal glint in Henrietta’s whiskey-colored eyes. “You wish to pay to accompany me to Griffe’s hunting party so that you might pursue Mr. Larsen. Is that it?
“Clever girl. You ought to set yourself up in a tent with a crystal ball. Yes. I’ll pay you whatever it was the servants stole—and I’ve no doubt it was one of those horrid Spanish maids that Artemis hired who pinched your money. Only keep up the Cleveland soap heiress ruse for two weeks longer, Ophelia, until I hook that Norwegian fish.”
Ophelia pictured the green fields and white-painted buildings of rural New England, and her throat ached with frustration. The trouble was, it was awfully difficult to forge your own path when you were always flat broke. “Pay me double or nothing,” she said.
“Deal. Forthwith will be so pleased.”
“Forthwith?” Ophelia frowned. “Forthwith Golden, conjurer of the stage? Do you mean to say he’ll be tagging along with us?”
“Mm.” Henrietta leaned close to the mirror and picked something from her teeth with her little fingernail. “He’s ever so keen for a jaunt in the country, and he adores blasting at beasts with guns.”
Saints preserve us.

* * *

Ophelia meant to cling to her purpose like a barnacle to a rock. It wasn’t easy. Simply gritting her teeth and enduring the next two weeks was not really her way. But Henrietta had her up a stump.
First, there had been the two-day flurry of activity in Artemis Stunt’s apartment, getting a wardrobe ready for Ophelia to play the part of a fashionable heiress at a hunting party. Artemis was over fifty years of age but, luckily, a bohemian and so with youthful tastes in clothing. She was also tall, beanstalkish and large-footed, just like Ophelia, and very enthusiastic about the entire deception. “It would make a marvelous novelette, I think,” she said to Ophelia. But this was exactly what Ophelia wished to avoid: behaving like a ninny in a novelette.
And now, this interminable journey.
“Where are we now?” Henrietta, bundled in furs, stared dully out the coach window. “The sixth tier of hell?”
Ophelia consulted the Baedeker on her knees, opened to a map of the Périgord region. “Almost there.”
“There being the French version of the Middle of Nowhere,” Forthwith Golden said, propping his boots on the seat next to Henrietta. “Why do these Europeans insist upon living in these Godforsaken pockets? What’s wrong with Paris, anyway?”
“You said you missed the country air.” Henrietta shoved his boots off the seat.
“Did I?” Forthwith had now and then performed conjuring tricks in Howard DeLuxe’s Varieties back in New York, so Ophelia knew more of him than she cared to. He was dark-haired, too handsome, and skilled at making things disappear. Especially money.
“You insisted upon coming along,” Henrietta said to Forthwith, “and don’t try to deny it.”
“Ah, yes, but Henny, you neglected to tell me that your purpose for this hunting excursion was to ensnare some doddering old corpse into matrimony. I’ve seen that performance of yours a dozen times, precious, and it’s gotten a bit boring.”
“Oh, do shut up. You’re only envious because you spent your last penny on hair pomade.”
“I hoped you’d notice. Does Mr. Larsen have any hair at all? Or does he attempt to fool the world by combing two long hairs over a liver-spotted dome?”
“He’s an avid sportsman, Artemis says, and a crack shot. So I’d watch my tongue if I were you.”
“Oh dear God. A codger with a shotgun.”
“He wishes to go hunting in the American West. Shoot buffalos from the train and all that.”
“One of those Continentals who have glamorized the whole Westward Ho business, not realizing that it’s all freezing to death and eating Aunt Emily’s thighbone in the mountains?”
Ophelia sighed. Oh, for a couple wads of cotton wool to stop up her ears. Henrietta and Forthwith had been bickering for the entire journey, first in the train compartment between Paris and Limoges and then, since there wasn’t a train station within 50 miles of Château Vézère, in this bone-rattling coach. Outside, hills, hills, and more hills. Bare, scrubby trees and meandering vineyards. Farmhouses of sulpherous yellow stone.
A tiny orange sun sank over a murky river. Each time a draft swept through the coach, Ophelia tasted the minerals that foretold snow.
“Ophelia,” Forthwith said, nudging her.
“What is it?”
Forthwith made series of fluid motions with his hands, and a green and yellow parakeet fluttered out of his cuff and landed on his finger.
“That’s horrible. How long has that critter been stuffed up your sleeve?” Ophelia poked out a finger and the parakeet hopped on. Feathers tufted on the side of its head and its eyes were possibly glazed. It was hard to say with a parakeet. “Poor thing.”
“It hasn’t got feelings, silly.” Forthwith yawned.
“Finally,” Henrietta said, sitting up straighter. “We’ve arrived.”
The coach passed through ornate gates. Naked trees cast shadows across a long avenue. They clattered to a stop before the huge front door. Château Vézère was three stories, rectangular, and built of yellow stone, with six chimneys, white-painted shutters, and dozens of tall, glimmering windows. Bare black vegetation encroached on either side, and Ophelia saw some smaller stone buildings to the side.
“Looks like a costly doll’s house,” Henrietta said.
“I rather thought it looked like a mental asylum,” Forthwith said.
Ophelia slid Griffe’s ruby ring on her hand, the hand that wasn’t holding a parakeet. Someone swung the coach door open.
“Let the show begin, darlings,” Henrietta murmured.

A footman in green livery helped Ophelia down first. Garon Gavage, the Count Griffe, bounded forward to greet her. “Mademoiselle Stonewall, I have been restless, sleepless, in anticipation of your arrival—ah, how belle you look.” His dark gold mane of hair wafted in the breeze. “How I have longed for your presence—what is this? A petit bird?”
“What? Oh. Yes.” Ophelia couldn’t even begin to explain the parakeet. “It’s very nice to see you, Count. How long has it been? Three weeks?”
Griffe’s burly chest rose and fell. “Nineteen days, twenty hours, and thirty-two minutes.”
Forthwith was out of the coach and pumping Griffe’s hand. “Count Griffe,” he said with a toothy white smile, “pleased to meet you. My sister has told me all about you.”
Ophelia’s belly lurched.
“Sister?” Griffe knit his brow.
“I beg your pardon,” Forthwith said. “I’m Forthwith Stonewall, Ophelia’s brother. Didn’t my sister tell you I was coming along?”
The rat.
“Ah!” Griffe clapped Forthwith on the shoulder. “Monsieur Stonewall. Perhaps your sister did mention it—I have been most distracted by business matters in England, très forgetful . . . And who is this?” Griffe nodded to Henrietta as she stepped down from the coach. “Another delightful American relation, eh?”
It had better not be. Ophelia said, “This is—”
“Mrs. Henrietta Brighton,” Henrietta said quickly, and then gave a sad smile.
Precisely when had Miss Henrietta Bright become Mrs. Henrietta Brighton? And . . . oh, merciful heavens. How could Ophelia have been so blind? Henrietta was in black. All in black.
“Did Miss Stonewall neglect to mention that I would chaperone her on this visit?” Henrietta asked Griffe. “I am a dear friend of the Stonewall family, and I have been on a Grand Tour in order to take my mind away from my poor darling—darling . . . oh.” She dabbed her eyes with a hankie.
Griffe took Henrietta’s arm and patted it as he led her through the front door. “A widow, oui? My most profound condolences, Madame Brighton. You are very welcome here.”
Ophelia and Forthwith followed. The parakeet’s feet clung to Ophelia’s finger, and tiny snowflakes fell from the darkening sky.
“You’re shameless,” Ophelia said to Forthwith in a hot whisper.
Forthwith grinned. “Aren’t I, though?”

Nele Neuhaus: I Am Your Judge Sunday, Feb 7 2016 

German author Nele Neuhaus’ police procedurals featuring Oliver von Bodenstein and Pia Kirchhoff and their team have now been published in fifteen countries with over FIVE million copies in print. Last year’s The Ice Queen is now in paperback, for those who missed the third installment. Each case is solved in a book so you can start anywhere but for readers who like to follow the personal lives of the two main detectives, the first is Snow White Must Die, followed by Bad Wolf.


I Am Your Judge is the newest and the team will face it toughest case yet. With many out sick with the flu as the holidays approach, Pia is packing to leave for her honeymoon when a phone call will change her plans. An elderly woman out walking her dog has been shot, sniper style. Then a second woman is killed in the same way, this time standing in her own kitchen talking to her grand-daughter. Neither one had enemies and no motive can be found, nor a link between the two victims.

Is this sniper out killing indiscriminate people, or are they targeted?

Then two more murders follow in rapid succession just as Pia and Oliver discover a most unlikely connection–and the sniper starts leaving cryptic messages. It seems the victims are chosen for their relation to some other person the sniper wants to hurt deeply for an issue that happened years ago.

There will be unreliable witnesses, messages sent to the newspaper, and one of the victim’s daughters who starts her own investigation, determined to find out who killed her mother and why. Tightly plotted, with a sense of real police work and frustrations, conflicting personalities, and interfering and sometimes unhelpful consultants.

Meanwhile, Pia’s new husband has gone off on their honeymoon alone, the holidays occur, and Oliver has his own familial and relationship issues. One of the highlights of Neuhaus’ writing is how the lives of this duo overlap with their work and thoughts in a realistic manner that has them one of Auntie M’s favorite series.

It should be mentioned that the book is translated by Steven T. Murray. Highly recommended.

Nicholas Searle: The Good Liar Thursday, Feb 4 2016 

Good Liar hc c
The Good Liar is Nicholas Searle’s debut novel, yet it reads as if from an experienced literary hand. Mr. Searle graciously agreed to answer a few of Auntie M’s questions about this unusual novel and you’ll find them at the end of this review.

Meet Roy, a con man extraordinaire who is looking for one last big con. He thinks he’s found it in Betty, a comely widow in a nice little cottage who is placed well to take good care of him as he arranges his one last big con.

But things are not as they seem for any of the characters in this highly original and literate novel which almost defies description. It’s been called a psychological thriller akin to the best of Patricia Highsmith, and that will have to do, but it’s not your typical crime novel, for certain, it’s far more than that.

The story unfolds in a backwards stance over many decades as Roy’s story is spooled out. All of the supporting characters are finely drawn no matter the era, and the settings spring to life. It is to Mr. Searle’s credit that not once does the reader lose interest as the past alternates with the current situation occurring between Roy and Betty.

In fact, the deliberate pacing, like layers being peeled away from an onion, only heighten the tension and the race to the finish, and what a finish it is, with a twisted elegance that is most fitting. It would be difficult for Auntie M to reveal more about this story without ruining the plot, but suffice it to say that it has earned her coveted “highly recommended” rating and she urges you to find your copy.

Now to hear from Mr. Searle in his own words:

Nicolas Searle, cr John Rice

Auntie M: You touch on the rise in elderly people finding relationships on the internet and how those outcomes run the gamut from providing companionship to exploitation. After your personal brush with a relative’s less-than-successful experience, what’s your personal feeling about vulnerable elders searching for someone to share their last years?

Nicholas Searle: I think it’s great that people should seek companionship late in life, but there are risks. On the good side, it’s wonderful that people should have the energy and chutzpah to go out there and live life to the full, and not give up. On the other hand the process of finding a new partner can unleash a whole range of emotions, some of them troubling – guilt (about one’s previous, departed partner), fear (will I end up making a fool of myself?) and desperation (will I ever find anyone?). They can add up to a powerful cocktail of vulnerability that the less scrupulous can exploit. And this is, I think, magnified by modern online technologies that can make the prospective con-merchant that much more convincing. So I applaud the positivity of the elderly seeking to ride on into the sunset with someone new but at the same time I fear for their safety. It’s an issue that possibly deserves greater debate.

AM: The design of the book has you telling the main protagonist’s story in the present, alternating with chapters into his past life, delving into episodes that go earlier and earlier into his life. Did you know this would be the design of the book, or did it happen as you were writing?

NS: I knew pretty soon that the book would be structured this way. The way the book came into being was this: Roy cried out to me as a main character and I crafted the first chapter around him, finding Betty and Stephen coming out of the woodwork as I wrote. Then it was decision time, and I decided that we’d need to discover Roy’s history in order to find out what made him the way that he is. At the same time I wanted forward momentum as I was intrigued by Betty; and from that moment on the alternating chapter and present/past structure just seemed natural. I had it all worked out in my head – nothing on paper apart from the first chapter – within a couple of weeks. I was acutely aware that a narrative going backwards and forwards at the same time could end up being too complex and foxing the reader, which is part of the reason why I decided to hold the whole plot in my head rather than planning the novel with charts and so forth on paper. I rationalised that if I couldn’t keep the thread in my head then there’s no chance a reader could. Only at the end, part way through editing, did I draw up what I call a ‘map’ of the book, mainly so that I could check for continuity and plot consistency, as well as spoilers and dropping a few well-hidden (I hope) hints.

AM: I know you studied languages in England and in Germany, so the German connection was there for you, as well as the familiarity with that setting. Did that knowledge in some way lead you to the plot?

NS: I have had a long connection with Germany and German which started at school. I love the country and its people, and find both fascinating and far from the stereotypes the British have of them. There’s much more complexity and texture to both German history and – I hate generalisations but here’s a big one – the German tradition and way of thinking. So embedded in me was a strong sense of Germany and certainly what had gone on there in the 20th century. But when I started the novel in early 2014 I didn’t know (until I’d plotted the book in my head) that Germany would feature. I guess a wonderful trip to Berlin the previous summer – with the object of seeing the Berlin Philharmonic perform Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in all its glorious pomp but also to re-acquaint myself with a city I know well – was the stimulus closest to the front of brain when I began writing. The concert was a magical evening and the weekend brought home to me forcefully how in Berlin all those layers of history, from the divided city of the Berlin Wall, through the Third Reich, Döblin’s Alexanderplatz of the 1930s, the decadent Twenties, the deprivation of Germany after the First World War and the Prussian grandeur of the late nineteenth century, exist at the same time, like whispers in the air. So in a way Germany, and Berlin particularly, had to be centre stage, though I didn’t know it at the time.

AM: Roy, your protagonist, has led a carefully constructed life and taken the time to develop his stories with great skill. You’ve also given him the ability to read people to a great degree. This lets him anticipate other’s actions and wear the right mask in any situation. You describe someone you met who would choose to lie when given the opportunity but was not good at it. Have you ever known someone who was a truly great liar?

NS: Roy was based on an individual I knew in real life – more closely in the first chapter I suppose; and from there I built him and no doubt embellished him shamelessly! I have no idea, for instance, whether the real ‘Roy’ ever was a con man. The real individual was someone a distant relative of mine, to whom however I remain close, befriended some years ago. It was if you like a whirlwind romance, if a geriatric one. He moved in with her within a matter of weeks and it wasn’t until afterwards that I went down to Wiltshire and met him. And disliked him. And discovered that virtually everything he said was a lie. And that he wasn’t particularly good at lying… I think it was these last two elements that intrigued me. It’s pretty normal, if you’re not very good at something to give it up, not to keep trying and failing. As it is I don’t think that the real ‘Roy’ was out to swindle my relative of her savings (she didn’t have any!) but that he was looking for the easy life, someone to look after him and to glare at over the Daily Telegraph in the morning. In answer to your question: I’m not sure. I pride myself at being pretty good at winkling out lies. But if someone was that good a liar I wouldn’t know, would I?

AM: Readers are always interested in a writer’s process. This is a thriller with a deliberate pace and increasing tension that leads to the complex ending. Was it difficult to keep this controlled pace as you wrote or did it come to you as you revised?

NS: It wasn’t difficult, I found. I’ve explained that I didn’t go in for elaborate planning methods and had the plot inside my head. From then on I simply concentrated on the chapter in hand. The episodic approach helped, as in a way each segment in time needs to be a self-contained story – but with strong links to the main narrative. I must confess to sowing a few clues into the narrative, both while doing the original draft and when revising. My thought was that readers would happen on what lies beneath at different times. I wanted to avoid the big ‘suspects all gathered in the drawing room’ reveal. It doesn’t actually matter when you twig to what’s going on, so long as you enjoy the journey.

AM: Having been in public service in the UK and New Zealand “more years than you care to remember,” what was the deciding factor that drove you to write fiction?

NS: The deciding factor? I have always wanted to write. Always. As a child I would write stories just for fun. Then when I went to university and later pursued a career it somehow got neglected. Possibly it was my laziness or cowardice, or possibly both. But I do like to quote Heinrich Böll, one of my favourite German writers, who began writing in earnest I think when he was 43: ‘schreiben wollte ich immer, versuchte es schon früh, erst später aber fand ich die Worte’ (from memory, so it could be wrong – ‘I always wanted to write, tried it when I was young but only found the words later.’) Then, with our return from New Zealand to the UK, came the opportunity and the impetus. This was the moment, I decided, when either I did this or lived the rest of my life wondering.

AM: I believe writers must be readers. Who were your early influences?

NS: I agree. I had tremendously undiscerning reading tastes when I was young – a good thing I think. I devoured all of Agatha Christie when I was about twelve or thirteen. And I mean all of what she wrote, in one long summer holiday. At that age I could easily read two books a day. But I also loved – perhaps slightly later – many European writers, such as Camus and Böll, Grass and Sartre, Dürrenmatt and Duras. In the English language one of my biggest regrets is not being able to get into Dickens until I was much older. I was much more interested in the contemporary novel of different genres: Graham Greene, Martin Amis, Ian McEwan, John le Carré, Patricia Highsmith, P.D. James. In my thirties I began to appreciate the American big-hitters and believe that some of the best contemporary fiction emerges from the United States.

AM: Why crime fiction–is that what you enjoy reading? Whose books would I find on your nightstand?

NS: I’ll let you into a secret here: I’m not very keen on genres. I didn’t set out to write a crime novel, or a thriller, or a suspense novel. I just wrote the kind of thing I’d quite like to read – intelligent without being incomprehensible, with twists and turns but not trashy. I’m not even sure now whether The Good Liar fits with the classic thriller/crime novel genre. It seems more publishers and booksellers – rather than writers or readers – who want to apply these labels. But it doesn’t bother me. I’m cool with it all. On my nightstand now you’d certainly find the latest Kate Atkinson, Richard Ford, John le Carré, William Boyd, Sarah Waters and Howard Jacobson, as well probably as a selection of Nicci French and Patricia Cornwell. And it’s such a shame that there will be no more books by P.D. James or Kent Haruf (to name just two).

AM: Have you started another writing project? Anything about it you can share with readers?

NS: Yes, I have started on the next project, but I’m not going to tell you anything about it! At the moment I’m focusing completely on The Good Liar.


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Auntiemwrites Crime-Mystery Author M K Graff

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Auntiemwrites Crime-Mystery Author M K Graff

Award-winning Mystery Author on books, reading and life: If proofreading is wrong, I don't wanna be right!

Lee Lofland

The Graveyard Shift

S L Hollister, author

Romantic Suspense she writes...

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!

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

My train of thoughts on...

Smile! Don't look back in anger.

Emma Kayne

The Department of Designs

K.R. Morrison, Author

My author site--news and other stuff about books and things

The Wickeds

Wicked Good Mysteries

John Bainbridge Writer

Indie Writer and Publisher

Some Days You Do ...

Writers & writing: books, movies, art & music - the bits & pieces of a (retiring) writer's life

Gaslight Crime

Authors and reviewers of historical crime fiction


#1 for Crime


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