Author Spotlight on Micki Browning: Adrift & Beached Sunday, Jun 24 2018 


Auntie M had the pleasure of meeting author Micki Browning at Malice Domestic this year, where she was an Agatha nominee for Best First Novel for Adrift. That led to Auntie M asking Browning several questions about her two releases, Adrift, and Beached, the Mer Cavallo Mysteries. In addition, the retired law enforcement commander saw her debut net the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence and the Royal Palm Literary Award.

Let’s hear from Browning:

Auntie M: You retired as a division commander in law enforcement. What drove you to write crime fiction? Why chose NOT to do a police procedural?

Micki Browning: I’d be silly to squander twenty-two years of law enforcement experience! I speak the language. I’ve felt the buck of a handgun, the kick of a shotgun, and the steadiness of a rifle. I learned how to manage a four-wheel drift on a tight curve and not end up in a pile of twisted metal along the side of the road. I’ve also experienced the less exciting aspects of law enforcement: the tedium of paperwork, the heartbreak that goes with certain types of investigations, the long hours, missed birthdays.

After all that, I needed to decompress a bit, so while I knew all my stories would have a criminal element, they wouldn’t all be procedurals. My husband and I moved to the Florida Keys to take advantage of its gin-clear waters and dive. While living in Key Largo, I hit upon the inspiration for Adrift. It could only be told from the point of view of an amateur sleuth and Mer Cavallo was born. She’s had two adventures. She’ll return for a third in Chum, after I complete the procedural I’m currently writing.

AM: Ah, so there IS a procedural in the works! Louise Penny has said after the success of Still Life, she had a difficult time writing the second Gamache. You won the Dapnhe du Maurier and Royal Palm Literary Awards for your debut, ADRIFT. Did that early success and notice make writing BEACHED easier or harder for you?

MB: I had an easier time writing Beached, but I attribute that to already knowing many of the characters that would romp across the pages. I’d also learned more about the mechanics of writing and structuring a novel. I’ve since been named an Agatha Award finalist for Best First Novel. I have to confess, I’m glad I had Beached wrapped up before that was announced. The book I’m currently writing gave me fits until I realized I was trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. Once I realized who really needed to tell the story, the elements started to fit together nicely. Is there pressure? Yes, but it’s self-imposed and only because I want every book I write to be better than the one that came before it.

AM: You have made your protagonist, Dr. Mer Cavallo, currently work at a Key Largo dive shop. Those scenes are the height of realism. How long have you been diving? What is it about SCUBA you enjoy most?

Before I became a cop, I briefly entertained becoming a marine biologist. I earned my open water scuba certification in 1986. I was living in California and did the majority of my diving off the Channel Islands. The kelp forests were captivating and the water was cold. Flash forward to the Keys where I discovered warm water and coral reefs. I became a professional divemaster and worked in the industry. Being able to explore the depths is both humbling and liberating. The barrier reef that runs along the coast took a beating from Hurricane Irma, but it is rebounding. I particularly enjoy diving the many shipwrecks that dot the Keys. There are stories found around every corner, on every deck. Plus, there are no cell phones.

AM: Who are your influences in crime fiction? Whose books do you enjoy reading now when you have down time?

MB: Gosh, how much time do you have? Recent favorites include Jane Harper, Anthony Horowitz, Lou Berney, and Lori Roy. I’ve recently discovered Alafair Burke. Some of my go-to crime fiction authors include Dennis Lehane, Lisa Gardner, and Daniel Woodrell. I’m looking forward to the next release from Bruce Robert Coffin. For beauty in all its simplicity, I turn to Kenneth Rexroth’s translations of Chinese poems from the early dynasties. I revisit Tolkien every five years or so, and I blame him for my love of all things medieval and/or mythical.

And Harry Potter. Because there is a bit of Harry, Hermione, and Ron in us all.

AM: Well said, Micki Browning! And now to discuss the books themselves.

Adrift introduces Dr. Meredith Cavallo, sea researcher whose specialty is octopuses, and don’t let anyone tell you it’s octopi. She’s been in the Arctic at the North Pole doing research but these last two months she’s warming up by working at a dive shop in Key Largo.

When the dive boat she’s out on rescues an unconscious diver, not from her boat, he comes to with the story of seeing a ghost on the Spiegel Beagle, a wreck five miles from where he’s picked up. Impossible. But Rob Price insists it’s true, and soon ghost hunters and reproters clog the docks, with more who appear to film aboard the Spiegel.

This ghostly news has spread to YouTube and brought The Spirited Divers to the Keys. Documentarians known for their work on deep sea paranormal activities, the team is led by Ishmael Styx. Soon Cavallo is sent on their night dive as safety diver on their latest film project.

But a number of unexplained events occur as the dive commences, followed by a panic attack by a less experienced member of the team. As Cavallo seeks to assist with the ascent, she leaves Styx behind, believing him capable of reaching the surface alone.

When he doesn’t appear, he is presumed dead after days of searching, and Cavallo is the suspect in the sights of the detective on the case. It doesn’t help that Cavallo doesn’t believe in ghosts but in scientific process and searches for a rational explanation.

With the rest of the Spirited Divers mourning the likely loss of their leader, Cavallo is forced to help them finish the documentary, only to discover that things may be more paranormal that meets the eye.

Complicating things is someone from Cavallo’s past who resurfaces, and the biologist must wrestle with relaxing her strong scientific mind when presented with much she cannot explain.

The supporting cast of recurring characters is strong and finely drawn, different and distinct. The characters that people this particular mystery are also individuals. As Cavallo battles to disprove there are ghosts and clear her name, the stakes are raised when there’s a second murder.
A strong debut that will lead readers to quickly reaching for Beached.
h
After the events of the first book, Mer Cavallo has decided to stay for a while in the Keys, and continues her work at the dive shop while she evaluates her complicated relationship with Selkie, the man who broke her heart 12 years ago and now is her next-door neighbor.

Against this backdrop, she’s out on a dive with Captain Leroy when they come across what she learns is called a “square grouper,” a bale of marijuana wrapped in black garbage plastic and bound with twine. Leroy explains they will call the Coast Guard when they are closer to the dock and turn it in.

Checking the bundle, the two find a coin from 1733, and a list of names on a brittle page in between the drugs. Also in the bundle is a GPS tracker, and before they can get their divers aboard and take off for safety, a speed boat appears and starts shooting at them.

As they speed for the dock, Mer pushes the bale off the boat and the speedboat veers off.

But this is the just the start of the troubles that will come to roost upon Cavallo, as she’s kept the coin to track its provenance.

Cavallo sounds finds herself drawn into the world of pirates, legends, and an 18th century shipwreck in her research, but brushing up agianst. modern pirates, also after the treasure aboard this centuries-old Spanish galleon.

There will be museum paintings, a wheelchair-bound philanthropist and soon it turns personal against Cavallo and her home. With a man’s life hanging in the balance, she will do everything she can to find the culprit and the treasure.

In each book, the author describes what is real and what is fictional, but the strength of her diving background lends a serious realistic feel to those scenes. If you’re not a diver, you will learn about the process as you read. Likewise, her police background allows the investigation by the professionals to follow established procedures, even when those are sometimes at odds with what Cavallo would wish.

A fine action-packed series with a likeable protagonist.

Advertisements

Tony Parsons: Girl on Fire Friday, Jun 22 2018 

Auntie M doesn’t understand why she doesn’t see Tony Parsons’ name on more short lists for UK crime fiction awards. His series featurning DC Max Wolfe and his daughter, Scout, is one of her personal favorites, and mixes a darn good police procedural with a huge dose of humbling humanity in his little daughter and the family dog, Stan.

Parsons returns with Girl on Fire, the latest crime novel that touches on a timely situation in England. The opener is strong: Max is in a West End London shopping centre getting Scout a new backpack when an Air Ambulance is shot out of the sky and falls into the shopping centre, killing over forty, injuring scores of others.

Seeing the first-hand devastation in close quarters brings the situation home to Max. When ties to a particular family are shown and missing grenades for further devastation sought, a manuveur goes terribly wrong when the lead of the Specialist Firearms Unit is gunned down right in front of her team as they attempt to apprehend the Khan brothers.

That sets off a chain reaction that will have repercussions for the entire team, Max included. How this is interwoven with the Khan family members judged to be innocent forms the most devastasting part of the book. It’s a close look at a complicated situation, touching on assimilation of immigrants and innocent family members tainted by others who might be terrorists.

Max has had a complicated emotional life, especially when his wife, Anne, left him and Scout behnd for a man she’s now married and their new son. Max has been the best father he can be to Scout, but somehow Anne decides it’s time Scout lived with her. Then an ugly court hearing is in the offing, with judges and social workers who don’t know Scout planning to interview her and take away even more of her innocence. But the silver lining is the new depth of his relationship with fellow cop Edie Wren.

How it all turns out will surprise readers, who will be carried away on a wave of emotion with the end results on all fronts. A stunning entry in a wonderful series. If you’re ot a Max Wolfe fan yet, start now. Highly recommended.

Arnaldur Indridason: The Shadow Killer Tuesday, Jun 19 2018 


The second book in Indridason’s new series, The Shadow Killer, builds on the tone set in The Shadow District.

It’s 1941 and Iceland is occupied by British forces, with American GIs arriving, too. When a man is found murdered in a basement apartment in Reykjavik, shot in the head with an American pistol, it’s up to the thinned out resources of officer Flovent, assisted by serviceman Thorson, to investigate. The Canadian/Icelandic officer knows the language, which becomes a boon to Flovent.

The two officers complement each other, and the suspense builds through the tone of their investigation, which illustrates how sometimes tedious investigative work can be, as they split their interveiwing duties, following threads they find.

The dead man is first identified incorrectly, adding to the confusion, but soon turns out to have been a traveling salesman whose girlfriend left him recently.

Whether this has bearing on the case is unknown, but what is known is equally disturbing: shot in the head, the man’s killer then drew a swastika on the victim’s forehead.

One avenue the men follow concerns another salesman, whose family had Nazi ties at one time, and questions of wild experiments done on youths add to the secrets being kept. And just what does a possible visit from Winston Churchill have to do with it all, if anything?

The two men will face a wall of suspicion and untruthful answers from many of the people they investigate. Each man will also face his own concerns amid the wild days when the world is turned upside down, strangers walk amongst the small towns, and nothing is as it seems during the days of occupation.

A realistic look at what it must have been like during those days with period details creates a haunting, dark mood.

Two Historicals: Marco Vichi and Tessa Arlen Friday, Jun 15 2018 

Auntie M has two from very different eras to recommend:


The lastest Bordelli mystery from Marco Vichi, Ghosts of the Past, take readers back to Florence of 1967, a year after the flood that devastated the area and claimed Bordelli’s conscience.

The Inspector’s new case revolves around the murder of Antonio Migliorini. The wealthy businessman was loved by all who knew him–so who could have wanted him dead?

That’s the question Brodelli must answer, and it will take him to unusual places. The victim was killed with the thrust of a fencing foil to his heart. Some jewelry was stolen,, perhsaps to muddy the waters, but no other forensic evidence is on hand to help the detective.

Revisiting the victim’s past days find Bordelli crossing paths with a war friend, Colonel Arceri, whom he invites into his home. That sets off a chain of events that will lead to Bordelli finding the murderer in a most unexpected way.

The series is filled with Bordelli’s dreams, his memories and recollections, and his yearning for the beautiful Eleanora. There is humor, too, and Florence and its environs come alive under Vichi’s talented pen, set within a complex mystery.

Tessa Arlen’s Lady Montfort series takes readers to WW1 England in Death of an Unsung Hero.

Lady Montfort has convinced her husband to offer their dower house for soldiers suffering from what is now called PTSD, with her no-nonsense, practical housekeeper, Mrs. Jackson, serving as the hospital’s quartermaster.

Such a good deed comes under scrutiny when Sir Evelyn Bray is found dead in the garden from blunt force trauma to his head. Add in the local farming community’s disapproval of this easy way out for men they consider cowards, and the two women become afraid the War Office will close their hospital in an upcoming visit.

It doesn’t make sense to either woman that someone would want to murder a soldier suffering from amnesia, unless it’s to kill him before that memory fully returns. With his brother due to visit, his death is tough news to break.

When a local man is arrested, to the women’s chagrin, it adds impetus to their resolve to find the real killer. Readers also gain more knowledge of Lady Montfort’s family. With the war on, Edwardian values became more relaxed, especially for women, and this is illustrated well.

The historical details are well-researched, and eccentric characters add to the texture of the mystery. A high note is the relationship between the two women of different social stratas, and how well they work in concert, bringing their individual strengths to a murder investigation.

Ashley Dyer: Splinter in the Blood Tuesday, Jun 12 2018 

Ashley Dyer is the pen name of the UK writing team of Margaret Murphy and Helen Pepper. Their debut, Splinter in the Blood, introduces DS Ruth Lake and her boss, Greg Carver.

In an explosive opening, Ruth stands over Greg, shot in his own home, and cleans up the crime scene, wiping fingerprints and hiding evidence.

Then she realizes he’s not dead.

Carver is lucky to be alive, and has only a hazy memory of what happened the night he was shot. Worried about threats to his wife, his frustration is palpable as he tries to heal his mind and his body quickly.

Ruth and Carver decide he was shot because he was close to uncovering the killer’s identity. It falls to Ruth to figure out what’s happened by taking Carver’s private files home and working the case in addition to her normal work. The Thorn Killer case that obsessed Carnver took his attention over the last year and cost him his marriage.

The Thorn Killer uses a most unusual method to tattoo his female victims and keeps them alive for weeks, undergoing horrific torture before the release of death. While Ruth investigates, she knows more than she’s telling, putting her at odds with her superiors. It’s a engrossing game Ruth’s playing, hiding her own secrets, enlisting the aid of a new co-worker.

Dyer manages to balance detailed forensic information with realistic characters. Ruth is especially intriguing, and readers will be looking forward to the next in the series.

This is a fascinating story, highly original and filled with complex twists you won’t see coming until they are upon you. Ann Cleeves calls Splinter: A taut and compelling thriller, as sharp as the thorns that feature in the plot.” Highly recommended.

More Thrillers: David Gibbins and Ben Saunders Sunday, Jun 10 2018 

Two more thrillers that make great summer reading:

The 10th Jack Howard thriller brings the archeologist to a wreck off the Cornish coast in Inquisition.

In the manner of Steve Berry, blending real history with fiction, the Holy Grail is the subject this time. With action spanning 258, 1684, and present day, there’s something here for any reader.

This is a nice mix of action and adventure, with an enjoyable relationship between Howard and his buddy Costas. Both are intelligent and believable, but are up against villains who are smart and resourceful.

This makes the read entertaining and adds to Gibbins ability to be thought-provoking as the story unfurls. The brutality of the Inquisition adds to the backdrop, and there will be pirate ships and secret societies before the adventure is over.

Gibbins experience in underwater archeology shines through and adds an aura of authenticity that makes this shine.

The Stakes, by New Zealand author Ben Sanders, brings readers Miles Keller, the NYPD detective who steals from criminals, a real rip-off artist. The dirty cop is a veteran of the robbery division, currently suspended over shooting a hitman.

At least that has been his MO until he runs up against Nina Stone. The anti-hero crime thriller takes a surprising turn when she convinces Keller to put it all on the line for a big heist before he retires and fades away into the sunset with his bounty.

But there’s another hitman on Keller’s trail and things turn decidedly dicey. With action in LA and New York, there is a strong visual quality to Sanders’ writing. And there’s plenty of action, from page one, almost unrelentless, wiht layers to the story and differing points of view.

A highly charged thriller, well-plotted and complex.

Two Thrillers: Spencer Kope and Steve Berry Thursday, Jun 7 2018 

Auntie M has a pile of read but not reviewed books to catch readers up on. There are great beach reads in here and others that will catch your fancy and keep you up at night that she’ll be reviewing over the next few weeks. Let’s start off with two thrillers:

Steve Berry takes readers back to the days before Cotton Malone had his adventures and working as a Navy lawyer in The Bishop’s Pawn, his 13th Malone story.

It’s the 1990s and secret files about Martin Luther King’s 1968 assasination are the center of attention when Malone is helped out of a bad situation by someone in the Justice Department who calls in her own return favor.

A complicated plot involving a rare coin turns into much more when Malone discovers what he’s really holding are files relating to James Earl Ray, King’s assassin, which lead Malone to realize he was intentionally misled in what his mission was to be.

Factions within the Justice Department, the FBI, and others are at war over the possession of the files. Soon it seems they will stop at nothing to keep long-buried secrets hidden.

This prequel to the others in the series explain more of Malone’s history than readers have experienced before. The action never lets up, with Berry doing his usual grand job of blending history with mystery. Berry’s research is impeccable, and he ends up offering hreaders fact-based fiction that is startling and new.

Kope’s Whispers of the Dead brings Steps Craig and his 3-men elite team to find a killer after they identify the victim, when a pair of severed feet is found stored in a cooler in the house of a Texas Federal judge, soon after solving a gruesome murder in Washington State.

Steps’ synesthesia, something he calls “shine,” allows him to see a unique color in whatever a person has touched. Known only to a few people, he guards his secret but uses it to help solve difficult cases. And this certainly is one.

When more victims are found, the killer earns the sobriquet “The Icebox Killer.” With partner Jimmy Donovan in tow to find the hard evidence needed for a successful prosecution–Steps’ special skill is inadmissiable in court–it soon becomes apparent they are on the trail of a serial killer.

That trail leads them all over the West Coast, and the two have their work cut out for them. One of the things that elevates this series from a standard police investigation is the well-drawn characters and their relationships and interactions, with Steps’ wry humor and a bit of snarkiness adding to the read.

Readers will never be bored reading how this case is solved. Hold onto your hats.

Sharon Bolton: The Craftsman Saturday, Jun 2 2018 


Sharon Bolton’s novels are always original and well-crafted. Elly Griffith’s notes that her newest, The Craftsman, is ” . . . an absolutely terrific crime novel that takes your darkest fear and makes it real” in this first of a planned trilogy.

It’s 1999 and Florence Lovelady has returned to Lancashire for the burial of Larry Glassbrook, who has died in prison for burying three teens alive, thirty years before. She travels with her teen son, Ben, to Larry’s funeral, and stays on when a new piece of evidence comes to light. The case made Florence’s career, and yet she wonders now if she put the right person behind bars all those years ago.

The book swtiches to 1969, when the third of three teens has gone missing. Trying to fit in to her Lancashire posting, southerner Flossie is a WPC whose manner, posh education, and sex all come into play with her disparaging colleagues.

Three young children have gone missing over as many months. The town is scared, and it’s down to Florence to suggest a re-enactment of the day the third, Patsy Wood, went missing. It’s a novel approach, but one her Superintendent decides to try.

But it’s down to Flossie, who decides she must investigate a freshly-dug grave, after young children admit to hearing someone calling for help from it days before. Uncovering the grave means she’s the one who finds Patsy’s body, buried on top of another corpse. It’s evident at once the teen was alive when she was put into the casket.

The horror of such a death is immediately apparent and haunts the reader. Indeed, it is the stuff of nightmares for most people, and the dark and disturbing images stay with readers as the book advances and the perpetrator is caught.

Or is he?

With its history of Pendle Hill witches in the area adding to the terrifying atmosphere, this is the kind of gothic novel that grips you by the back of your neck and doesn’t let go even after the last page is turned. You’ll learn the difference between caskets and coffins and why that matters. You’ll learn how the moon affects witches. And you’ll learn to be terrifed and then in awe of Florence. Highly recommended.

Elly Griffiths: The Blood Card Sunday, May 27 2018 

Elly Griffiths, known for her Ruth Galloway series, has a wonderful second series, and if readers haven’t yet had the pleasure, now’s the time to read a Stephens and Mephisto Mystery.

The newest is The Blood Card, with DI Edgar Stephens and his old Army buddy, premiere magician Max Mephisto heading up the cast of characters. It’s the summer of 1953 and the country is gearing up for the big Coronation, all over but especially in Max’s London and Edgar’s Brighton, where the DI is supposed to be looking into the suicide of a gypsy fortune teller.

Then murder of their men’s former wartime commander sets the two friends right in the midst of the investigation, after the victim is found with the ace of hearts, known as the Blood Card, on his body. Added to this, there are rumors of a plot to have something dramatic happen to ruin the Coronation.

It’s a case that has both men working different points, with Max in London, and Edgar traveling from Brighton to New York State, of all places, to follow a clue.

The advent of television adds to the stress and to the plot, as well as to Max’s future, when he’s asked to perform for a new show that will bring him into the homes of millions of people.

It’s a race to the finish as the gypsy family overwhelms Edgar’s team and puts them in danger. The two men must solve the murder of two men in different countries to stop the threat to hundreds more.

One of the highlights of this series in the complicated relationship between Edgar and his fiancé, Ruby, who is Max’s daughter. Adding to this are the period details that Griffiths gets just right, as she brings to life this era when television took over from dance hall and variety shows as the public’s major form of entertainment.

Not to be missed~

David Mark: Dead Pretty Thursday, May 24 2018 

Dead Pretty was Auntie M’s first DS McAvoy novel but it won’t be her last.

The dark Hull crime novel is filled with realisism and an eye for the telling detail. It’s been called “gritty” and “atmospheric,” and those terms certainly apply when McAvy and his Superintendent friend, Trish Pharaoh, try to solve what turns out to be a string of horrific murders.

McAvoy’s devotion to his cases is unshakeable, the unsolved ones haunt him. It’s been 9 months since Hannah Kelly went missing, and he can’t pretend she’s still alive when a second young woman is found murdered with striking similarities.

He’s looking for a connection between the two young woman just as Reuben Hollow is released from a murder conviction on appeal. Hollow has taken a liking to Super Pharaoh and it’s a dicey relationship, especially when her home is broken into and her young family threatened.

The way the two story lines come together is twisted but realistic, as is the complex ending with twists that will leave readers breathless. Adding to the haunting feel is McAvoy’s own family, who become involved. With strong characters, especially McAvoy’s wife, and a supporting cast who add texture, the bleak city streets of Humberside come alive under Mark’s talented pen.

One to look for, with a totally unique main character who defies being put in a box.

Next Page »