Gabriel Valjan: Dirty Old Town Monday, Jan 20 2020 

Please welcome Gabriel Valjan, whose new mystery, DIRTY OLD TOWN is just out. We sat down recently to talk about it.

Auntie M: Your new book, Dirty Old Town, is the first in the Shane Cleary Mystery with Level Best Books. What drew you to create Shane and after five books in your Roma Series with Winter Goose Publishing, what drew you to writing this new series?

Gabriel Valjan: The Roma Series novels were written out of my love and appreciation of Italy, having spent time abroad and reading the late Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano series. What I continue to admire in Camilleri’s writing is the way he braided food, history, and humor while serving up a slice of crime and corruption to readers. I should also mention that the end notes from his translator Stephen Sartarelli are brilliant.

As a writer I like to challenge myself. With the Shane series, I’m working on my goal to write historical fiction, and the Seventies were a part of my childhood. I didn’t live in Boston at the time, so I think being an outsider is a positive because I can see and appreciate New England from a different angle. The Seventies is a maligned decade for its fashion, music, and even its headless sense of direction after the tumultuous Sixties; it was, for me, an era full of cults and conspiracies—Watergate being the foremost political debacle—and an era that wanted to feel passionate about something, whether it was the environment, feminism, or other forms of social justice.

AM: The title brings a reader immediately to asking questions and investigating the setting, making this reader feel that Boston will function as a strong character. Was the title always Dirty Old Town, or was it an editorial suggestion?

GV: Dirty Old Town was my title. People might think “Dirty Old Town” is a riff on Jim Botticelli’s book Dirty Old Boston (2014), which started out as a Facebook group page, or the Pogue’s track, “Dirty Old Town” from their 1985 album, Rum Sodomy & the Lash, but the truth is I was thinking of how dirty the Charles River and Boston Harbor were in the Seventies.

I remember vividly the campaign ads George Bush, Senior ran against Governor Dukakis in 1988. Bush drilled down on Dukakis’s failure to clean up Boston Harbor, which is ironic, given the Exxon Valdez spill in 1990.

AM: How does the world of this private investigator function? Do you think you’d like being a PI in reality?

GV: Shane becomes a PI, after a failed career with the Boston Police Department. Why he left the BPD is part of a longer story arc. He believes in Right or Wrong, but he also understands Life in Boston is often gray and ambiguous. He’s knows class distinction and prejudices.

His best friend is another Vietnam vet and cop, who happens to be closeted gay. Shane himself came up working-class, aware of the difference between ‘lace curtain Irish’ and ‘shanty Irish.’ He is educated among the Elites, until his father’s suicide changes his life’s direction. His client in this first novel is the husband of his ex, who married up “because she had a name and no money, and he had money and a name.”

I’d like to think I’d make a decent PI. Research has always been a strength for me. Back in the day, I worked in a lab, which taught me procedure. Once upon a time I was in engineering, which taught me structure. I was a nurse, which helped me ‘read people.’

We’ve talked about this last point at Malice Domestic. Nurses rely on Observation and Assessment, which lead to hypotheticals and POE, Process of Elimination. I know this will sound terrible, but nurses are the most ruthless people I know. We don’t have luxuries when it comes to saving lives. We see and we respond. Like a PI or a cop, sometimes a hunch is involved.

We shouldn’t be surprised if past experiences influence writing. We have several journalists among our ranks (RG Belsky, Hilary Davidson, and Hank Phillippi Ryan); lawyers (Shannon Capone and Connie Hambley Johnson); health care professionals (me, you, and Alexia Gordon), and we have folks from law enforcement (Micki Browning, Bruce Coffin, and Lissa Marie Redmond).

AM: To expand on my earlier question of ‘Why the Seventies?’ Were there any pitfalls or dangers of this era?

GV: Like trying not to sound like George V. Higgins, Robert Parker, or Dennis Lehane? Let’s be honest, each decade of American history is a continuum of unresolved social issues, however we label or repackage them. Black Power. Gay Liberation. Women’s Lib.

We’re having the same conversation today, albeit with a different vocabulary. Any cynicism, like cologne, varies with intensity. Power and Money still rely on desire and division, whether it’s your vote or how much is in your wallet. Aware of history, I try to avoid clichés and caricatures in my writing when I take the reader into the Seventies.

People want stories. I try to tell one that’ll make you experience a different reality. I want you to feel the people I create, cringe and shudder with them, and laugh at them or with them. Life is about learning, living, and dying. Learning about yourself or others is on you.

Gabriel Valjan lives in Boston’s South End where he enjoys the local restaurants. When he isn’t appeasing Munchkin, his cat, with tuna, he documents the #dogsofsouthendboston on Instagram. His short stories have appeared online, in journals, and in several anthologies. He has been a finalist for the Fish Prize, shortlisted for the Bridport Prize, and received an Honorable Mention for the Nero Wolfe Black Orchid Novella Contest. Gabriel is the author of two series, Roma and Company Files, with Winter Goose Publishing. Dirty Old Town is the first in the Shane Cleary series for Level Best Books. You can find him on Twitter (@GValjan) and Instagram (gabrielvaljan). He lurks the hallways at crime fiction conferences, such as Bouchercon, Malice Domestic, and New England Crime Bake. Gabriel is a lifetime member of Sisters in Crime.

Raymond Fleischmann: How Quickly She Disappears Sunday, Jan 19 2020 

The remote Alaskan bush of the 1940s provides the compelling and remote backdrop to Raymond Fleischmann’s How Quickly She Disappears.

Elisabeth Pfautz has come to Tanacross, Alaska, with her daughter, Margaret, due to her husband’s teaching job. Homeschooling Margaret, a brilliant young girl, Else, as she’s called by her husband, John, puts her own teaching career on hold as the little family adjust to the barren landscape.

It’s a lonely life as Else reacts to the Alaskan culture, beautifully described in many scenes, and based on the Fleischmann’s grandparents stories of living in Tanacross for several years during this time.

Else sees in Margaret the twin sister who disappeared when the girls were eleven. No trace of Jacqueline has ever been found, yet Else believes firmly that she is alive.

When a German pilots lands in Tanacross, an act of horrible murder brings him to prison but with an unexpected result: the pilot, Alfred, contends he knows what happened to Jacqueline, even where she is, and will share this with Else only after she completes three requests for him.

Determined to find out the truth about her sister, Else will brave her marriage and her safety to follow her conviction that the pilot, whatever his own obsessions, does indeed have information about what happened to Else’s twin all those years ago.

Fleischmann parses out the twins’ history so readers follow the events leading up to Jacqueline’s disappearance. His scenes between Else and Alfred are cat-and-mouse at first glance, who is actually toying with whom?

There’s an element of rising tension as the story advances that will keep readers glued to the pages with a very layered tension that builds to a stunning climax. A dark but absorbing debut. Highly recommended.

Jane Shemilt: The Playground Thursday, Jan 16 2020 

Jane Shemilt’s The Playground brings rising suspense to a hot London summer with unexpected consequences.

Three very different couples with children converge w hen their children join Eve’s tutoring classes. An earth mother, type, she vastly differs from Melissa, an interior designer with an abusive husband, and from Grace, the Zimbabwe wife who keeps her novelist husband and children afloat while her own writing is put on hold.

While the husbands also differ, their relationships with their wives will change and morph.

That summer the couples becomes close–almost too close–and lose sight of how their children are behaving. When tragedy upon tragedy strikes, the couples will turn to each other, wanting to learn the truth behind what happened, but afraid of that very truth.

There’s a destructive force at work, and with harrowing twists, including a surprising courtroom scene, the suspense builds to a shattering climax.

Peter Robinson: Many Rivers to Cross Tuesday, Jan 14 2020 

Peter Robinson’s 26th Alan Banks mystery, Many Rivers To Cross, brings today’s issues to the forefront in the long-running series. Robinson manages to remain timely while bringing a fresh perspective to Banks, his colleagues, and detecting.

A young Middle Eastern boy’s body is found stuffed into a garbage bin, and with no identifiers or missing persons report, it takes Banks and his team a while to find his identity.

Found on the East Side Estate, interviews with the few neighbors provide little information other than that of a car engine leaving the area of the old woman whose bin has been used as a dump site.

Then a heroin addict is found dead in his home in an estate scheduled to be torn down for redevelopment. Are the two deaths related and are drugs involved? Or are illegal immigrants and trafficking at the bottom of these deaths?

With information from other squads pointing Banks toward organized crime in his beloved Eastvale, Banks must separate the twisted threads to find out the truth.

A fascinating subplot follows a friend grappling with her past and dealing with the trauma. Add to that Banks’s musical choices, and readers will be treated to a police procedural that keeps on winning on all fronts.

MC Beaton: Beating About the Bush Sunday, Jan 12 2020 

MC Beaton brings Agatha Raisin back for a new adventure in Beating About the Bush.

The private detective’s newest case concerns an elderly woman whose body–or parts of–are found in the shrubbery on the road out of town.

Soon Agatha and her accomplice, Toni, are involved in a case of espionage at a factory. And did Auntie M mention there’s a donkey involved? And Russians?

There’s also Sir Charles Fraith back on the scene, complicating Agatha’s heartstrings.

In her 30th outing, Agatha’s irascible personality veers from harsh to witty to charming. Fans will not be disappointed, and the general consensus is that the books far outweighs the charms of the television series.

Johana Gustawsson: Blood Song Wednesday, Jan 8 2020 


Gustawsson’s third in her award-winning Roy and Castells series, Blood Song, ties in events of the heinous acts during the brutal dictatorship of Franco’s regime with a series of murders in Falkenberg, Sweden, during contemporary times.

If this seems an unlikely connection, it will be clarified as readers become involved with Scotland Yard’s newest profiler. Alienor Lindbergh’s family have died under especially horrific circumstances, murdered in the wealthy family’s Swedish home.

With her profiler mentor, Canadian Emily Roy, accompanying Alienor home for the investigation, and French true-crime writer Alexis Castells involved, the unlikely trio will soon find that there is a tie to fertility clinics as well as to the sad and terrifying brutality of the orphanages of Franco’s Spain.

As the body count continues to rise, the women use the Swedish police resources as well as their own knowledge to figure out what’s been happening. There will be side trips and tough interviews as the darkness that happened decades ago deeply shadows modern times.

Gustawsson’s Authors Note bears reading first to ground the reader in the research and reasoning in connecting the two time periods. It’s a dark and unpredictable story, with an ending that is extraordinary.

Michael J. Malone: In the Absence of Miracles Saturday, Jan 4 2020 

Michael J. Malone’s haunting thriller, In the Absence of Miracles, has the distinction of garnering Auntie M’s first “Highly Recommended” rating of the New Year, thanks to @orendabooks.

The novel brings John Doherty to the page, a teacher whose mother is recovering from a massive stroke that will leave her in a facility. With his job and relationships in turmoil, John’s younger brother arrives to help with the selling of the family home.

It’s while John roots through stored items in the attic that he comes across a photo of himself as a toddler being held by an older brother he never knew existed. Setting out to find the truth behind that photo, along with other scarce evidence he uncovers, John plays detective-of-sorts, investigating the knowledge both of his parents hid from their other two sons, even while he discounts memories he might have buried.

John’s younger brother finally comes on board to help in the search once it becomes clear there was indeed an older brother neither boy knew about. But things continue to twist as the plot becomes as complicated as John himself.

Are there other secrets to uncover? What about the memories John can’t recall? Whose truth and memories are the right ones? How did growing up in this particular home affect these three young men and their choices?

Ian Rankin calls this novel “Vivid, visceral and compulsive” with good reason. Readers may be shocked by one particular twist, but Malone manages to capably illustrate what happens in a family where secrets are kept and hidden, and the long-term repercussions of growing up in such a home.

There’s heartbreak here, but also redemption for some characters. Malone has a gift for perceiving facets of human nature as he combines the inexplicable with a degree of sensitivity that brings a simple beauty out of tragedy. Not to be missed.

Happy New Year: My Highly Recommended of 2019 Wednesday, Jan 1 2020 

Happy New year to all the readers of the Auntie M Writes Crime blog! This year Auntie M is stepping out from behind the personality of Auntie M to myself, Marni Graff, writer and mystery author of two series. I wish you all a healthy and happy 2020!

Over the past year, it has been my distinct honor to review 148 books on the blog. This doesn’t include the occasional guest I give a slot to, because the writing community is one of the most generous and giving I’ve been a part of, and it is my pleasure to share in that.

It’s also the time of year when I want to thank my followers of the blog, and hope you will continue reading into 2020.

I read about 3 books a week in all kinds of places and always carry a book with me wherever I go. This year there were only 3 books I didn’t review as they were not for me–hey, it happens.

But of those 148 I’ve shared, 37 of them received my “Highly Recommended” rating. That’s about a quarter of the many books to receive HR, so you can see that a book knocks my socks off to receive that rating.

So here they are, in the order they were reviewed. Clumps of HRs reflect publishing cycles and my time to read, nothing more. If an author or title strikes your fancy and you missed the original review, all reviews are archived by month:

Jan: Louisa Luna/Two Girls Down
Fiona Barton/The Suspect
Christian White/The Nowhere Child

Feb: CJ Tudor/The Hiding Place
Ausma Zehanat Khan/Deadly Divide
Peter Robinson/Careless Love

Mar: James Oswald/No Time To Cry

Apr: Lexie Elliot/The Missing Years

May: Nicola Upson/Stanley and Elsie
Elly Griffiths/The Stone Circle
Mandy Morton/Beyond the Gravy
Roz Watkins/The Devil’s Dice & Dead Man’s Daughter
Susan Hill/The Comforts of Home
Aline Templeton/Carrion Comfort
Sophie Hannah/The Mystery of 3 Quarters

June: Ashley Dyer/The Cutting Room

July: Natalie Daniels/Too Close

Aug: Anthony Horowitz/The Sentence is Death
Jane Casey/Cruel Acts
Alex Michaelides/The Silent Patient
Louise Penny/A Better Man
Kate Rhodes/Fatal Harmony & Ruin Beach

Sept: Ann Cleeves/The Long Call
James Oswald/Nothing to Hide

Oct: Nicola Upson/Sorry for the Dead
Laura McHugh/The Wolf Wants In
Kate Atkinson/Big Sky

Nov: GR Halliday/From the Shadows
Paula Munier/Blind Search
Alex North/The Whisper Man

Dec: Stuart MacBride/All That’s Dead
Stuart Neville/So Say the Fallen & Those We Left Behind
Vanda Simon/The Ringmaster

Now get reading!

Lee Lofland

The Graveyard Shift

S L Hollister, author

Welcome to Leeward

Liz Loves Books

The Wonderful World of Reading

The Life of Guppy

the care and feeding of our little fish

dru's book musings

Reading is a wonderful adventure!

JoHanna Massey

"I tramp the perpetual journey." Walt Whitman

MiddleSisterReviews.com

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

My train of thoughts on...

Smile! Don't look back in anger.

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, my own & other people's; movies, art, music & the search for a perfect flat white - the bits & pieces of a writing life.

Crimezine

#1 for Crime

Mellotone70Up

John Harvey on Books & Writing - his own & other people 's - Art, Music, Movies, & the elusive search for the perfect Flat White.

A thrilling Murder-Mystery...

...now being made into a radio drama

Past Offences: Classic crime, thrillers and mystery book reviews

The best mystery and crime fiction (up to 1987): Book and movie reviews

Lee Lofland

The Graveyard Shift

S L Hollister, author

Welcome to Leeward

Liz Loves Books

The Wonderful World of Reading

The Life of Guppy

the care and feeding of our little fish

dru's book musings

Reading is a wonderful adventure!

JoHanna Massey

"I tramp the perpetual journey." Walt Whitman

MiddleSisterReviews.com

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

My train of thoughts on...

Smile! Don't look back in anger.

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, my own & other people's; movies, art, music & the search for a perfect flat white - the bits & pieces of a writing life.

Crimezine

#1 for Crime

Mellotone70Up

John Harvey on Books & Writing - his own & other people 's - Art, Music, Movies, & the elusive search for the perfect Flat White.

A thrilling Murder-Mystery...

...now being made into a radio drama

Past Offences: Classic crime, thrillers and mystery book reviews

The best mystery and crime fiction (up to 1987): Book and movie reviews