Charlot King: Poison Sunday, Apr 2 2017 

Charlot King’s new Cambridge Murder Mysteries debuts with Poison. Bringing her personal knowledge of Cambridge, its colleges, and environs, written in present tense, with a prodigious use of commas, this delightful first in a series proves to be one readers will enjoy.

King’s sense of Cambridge as a setting brings it to life under her talented pen–she also takes lovely photos of the area she posts on Twitter, and has an artistic eye. Readers will feel they’ve been there, walking through the colleges, punting on the Cam, and following Dr Elizabeth Green as she solves a murder of a colleague who lands right at the end of her garden.

A specialist in plants and their poisons, King has done exhaustive research to show Green’s expertise and it shows. Still grieving over the loss of her husband, Green teams with Inspector Abely, the golf-playing detective who admires her and whom she’s helped previously. Aided by her grandson, living with her for the term, they will sleuth out the murderer from amongst the victim’s family and close friends.

King was kind enough to answer a few questions for Auntie M, and here are her thoughts:

Auntie M: Your debut mystery, Poison, introduces Professor Elizabeth Green. What made you decide on this particular person to be your protagonist, as your research is meticulous on her plants/poisons knowledge?

Charlot King: Thank you. It’s a really interesting question, how characters develop. For me Professor Elizabeth Green just came to me, like I’d known her all my life (that doesn’t often happen). I wanted to write about a woman who on some level is invisible, who has been sidelined, or who society categorises as an irritant. When women hit their forties, fifties I think this happens all too frequently. They become invisible in stories too, a lot. I like the writer Nancy Meyers in the states, who is bringing back this age group into the movies – with ‘Somethings Gotta Give’ and ‘It’s Complicated’. It’s not just women she writes about, older men too (in ‘The Intern’). They get written off, when they’ve still got a lot to give. Anyway, I’m talking about the movies when I should be talking about books (!). I guess I am interested in those women and how they deal with the society that does that. After all, she (Elizabeth) was a little girl once too, a young woman, someone’s wife, someone’s mother. Women do so much and yet society finds it harder to applaud them for their achievements. Elizabeth’s flaw is that she is strong, very strong. What’s wrong in that? That makes her annoying by society’s standards. It makes her a closed book, and an island. Not the vulnerable woman, not deferential or ‘ladylike’. I wanted to read more of that, so I wrote it (I guess that’s what writers do)… As for the research, I bought books on poisons. It was a lot of fun, and I learned a lot. My oh my, it’s easy. I did wonder if anyone looked at my online search history and purchases whether they might think I was trying to bump someone off. But Poison is a work of fiction, not a reference book of accuracy or to give anyone ideas.

AM: Elizabeth is aided by her grandson. How did you decide to have Godric be involved? I thought him a bit like Bertie Wooster. Since Elizabeth’s cat is named Bertie, I’m assuming you’re a Wodehouse fan, too?

CK: I am a huge Wodehouse fan, huge, and yes you are right the cat is named Bertie because of that. Ha ha. I once stayed in Tuscany for a month and it was early spring and quite cold when we woke up. In the mornings I would lay in bed waiting for the sun to heat up the day, and I would read Wodehouse. I must have read them all. And I was completely in love with Bertie Wooster by the end of it. His enthusiasm, optimism and just irrepressible jollity, well, it is intoxicating. I didn’t deliberately think of Bertie for Godric. I guess they are not totally dissimilar. Godric is posh, a buffoon, and by his very nature he always gets into scrapes. But he’s different in that he’s also a bit of a chip off his nanna. Ultimately he’s much smarter than Wooster. What I find enjoyable to write about Godric is his air of mischief and play. And I wanted to bring Godric into Elizabeth’s life as ultimately – although she’d never admit it – she’s alone right now and at a low ebb after losing her husband. So Godric is the joy in her heart and her life. Perhaps he’s what saves her.

AM: Then there’s Cambridge detective Inspector Abley. He admires Elizabeth, but is frustrated by her, too, although her involvement gets him to the golf course faster. Does he continue in the series as her police link?

CK: Yes, he’s in all the books. He was the person who first asked Elizabeth to help the police force, and he’s been leaning on her ever since. Not because he’s a bad policeman, just because she’s of a superior intelligence. He’s a man of honour, who is loyal to his friends, who has a warm demeanour (cuddly jumpers and a kind heart). It’s true, he’s not always great at his job – and I’m sure in the real world he wouldn’t last in the force – but then I’m writing fiction. When Elizabeth’s husband dies, to a certain extent Abley fills a little of his shoes for her. He’s her rock, or most of the time. He is dependable, he cares about Elizabeth and is one of the few who understands her and sees beneath her hard exterior. She doesn’t need him as she doesn’t need anyone, but he makes her life better than it would be without him.

AM: Elizabeth’s husband has died in an accident. Will that be an issue down the road or remain part of her backstory?

CK: That would be telling . . .

AM: Poison really brings Cambridge alive. The town and the colleges spring to life. I have friends who live there, but have only visited them for a day, and need to go back. What’s it like to live there?

CK: I lived in Cambridge through a lot of my twenties, and there was something about it that stuck with me after I’d moved away. I think places do that to people. We all travel more these days, but places still have a huge effect on us. Yes, I found myself at a crossroads in my life and it wasn’t hard to decide where to move back to when I needed to escape and feel free again. I feel like I’m on holiday all the time in Cambridge and it suits me living in the centre, as the river runs through it, there are commons (large expanses of fields often with cattle), so although you can pop to the cinema or restaurant with your friends you only have to turn and walk the other way and you can feel like you are in the countryside. Well, you are in a way. I mean if you walk to Fen Ditton or to Grantchester. And these places just outside the centre feel like villages from the old days to me. So much has been done in Cambridge to preserve the best of the city. And of course then there is the university, which oozes culture. I have met so many interesting people here. I can’t imagine living anywhere else. It’s in my veins.

AM: Your photography showcases some of the best of Cambridge. Is that a new interest for you?

CK: Ah, I like walking and I am lucky enough to live somewhere where around almost every corner there is something beautiful. So I just snap things, nothing more. I’m no photographer, I just use an old phone. Cambridge does the rest. You really don’t need any talent to take a beautiful picture here. They are to share with people who feel the same way about Cambridge as I do. We do have quite good weather in Cambridge – as it is on the drier side of the country, and often sunny so we are lucky for that too.

A: Your second in the series, Cursed, is out in the US in Kindle now. Can you give readers a tickler to interest them?

CK: I’d say read Poison first, as they are in order. But if you fancy reading on, and have already tried the first book, then Cursed will take you on another journey through Cambridge with the three key characters – Elizabeth, Inspector Abley and Godric. You will get to know them more and hopefully like them more. As for the plot, I don’t want to say much, but a tease would be that a porter dies in College in suspicious circumstances. Inspector Abley is not on the ball with the case, and Elizabeth steps in to help find out what’s happened. So she starts to lead the investigation. As curses, death threats and other witchy goings on are left at the Porters’ Lodge, Elizabeth is left wondering if it’s an inside job. But at the same time a very important stone has gone missing at another College. The story is set right in the heart of university life, with students and professors caught up in it, alongside townsfolk. Everything starts to unravel, as Abley isn’t helping and Sergeant Lemon struggles. Will Elizabeth be able to find out the truth before more are dead? If you like puzzles and Cambridge, then hopefully you might enjoy reading the book.

AM: Why do you write mysteries vs another genre? Who were your influences in crime writing?

CK: I have always been drawn to books by people like Agatha Christie, Colin Dexter, Raymond Chandler, the whodunnit authors have always appealed. I’m fascinated by that stereotypical British under reaction, too. Someone’s been murdered, so let’s have a cup of tea. We are taught not to reveal our feelings when catastrophes happen. And to a certain extent, we also have that Dunkirk spirit, and almost a black comedy about us. So when you have a murder and people react that way, then the story becomes all about the puzzles and the clues. I like reading stuff like that. I’m currently writing a fiction book about dogs, departing entirely from the Cambridge Murder Mysteries for a short break. But will be back to write Book 3 soon, as I’ve already plotted it out. I just need to sit down and write.

AM: Who’s books are on your nightstand, waiting to be read?

CK: I read a lot of autobiographies, mainly by comedians. I think often comics are the most brutally honest about themselves and about the human condition. They hold up a mirror and tell us the truth. There is often a lot of tragedy in there, too, and the juxtaposition often makes for an interesting read. I finished Paul Merton’s book recently. At the moment I’m also reading the Old English Training Guide (!) as we have just been joined in the family by an Old English Sheepdog puppy, who recently chewed my glasses (good job they’re not reading glasses). In terms of crime, I’m about to start reading P.D. James The Lighthouse. Not sure why I’ve never read it before. But it’s queued up and I’m looking forward to that.

And I’m sure Charlot King will enjoy the James as much as readers will enjoy Poison and Cambridge.

Scott Frank: Shaker Friday, Mar 3 2017 


Scott Frank is a talented screenwriter and director, penning movies such as Dead Again, one of Auntie M’s favorite movies, Get Shorty,Out of Sight, Minority Report and The Wolverine, to name just a few.

So it’s no surprise that his debut thriller, SHAKER, has short, declarative chapters and is filled with characters whose lives you will become immersed in, all wrapped up a well-plotted novel that comes alive on the page as it explores the dark underbelly of LA.

Hit man Roy Cooper is unlike any other character. You will not come to like him but you will understand him. You may even have empathy for the predicament he finds himself in. Just days after a major earthquake hits the area, and after fulfilling his most recent contract, Roy becomes a media hero after an onlooker catches him on video standing up to a gang where a mugging in an alleyway has turned deadly.

Soon everyone wants Roy, and no one more so than the hit man who taught him everything he knows, and who thought Roy was long dead.

Frank does a remarkable job of exploring the history and psychology of Roy Cooper, the gang members, and LA detective Kelly Maguire. There are themes of family and political corruption, as well as race, but what stands out is Frank’s ability to craft a book that will take readers on a bloody wild ride before the gripping conclusion.

There’s humor and pathos along with the action. Readers will be flipping pages faster and faster–Auntie M read it in one night. What Frank has done is to allow the reader to clearly understand each of these tormented and damaged characters. Stunning.

Tracee de Hahn: Swiss Vendetta Wednesday, Mar 1 2017 


Tracee deHahn’s debut bring readers to Lausanne, Switzerland, in Swiss Vendetta.

Perfectly capturing the setting during an ice storm, she introduces detective Agnes Luthi, a Swiss-American who has left behind her work with Financial Crimes to shed her old life before her husband’s death. Being new to Violent Crimes, Agnes is juggling her three sons’ care and grief, while living with a mother-in-law who blames her for her husband’s death.

Her first case will turn out to be a locked-room style, when she is called to investigate the murder of a young woman at the grand Chateau Vallotton, on Lac Leman. The ensuring blizzard and ice storm will keep Agnes and several others at the Chateau for days as the investigation continues and they are cut off from the outside world.

It’s not just the intense cold that has Agnes in its grip–it’s the eerie candlelit vastness of the Chateau, with too many rooms to count or explore; it’s the emotions and guilt she carries after her husband’s death; and it’s the knowledge that a murderer is among the people she’s staying with, eating with, talking with.

This Swiss family includes servants loyal to them for generations, and so Agnes worries her questions are not being answered truthfully when a young appraiser for a London auction house is found stabbed to death on the grounds.

Everyone she comes into contact with is a suspect; and she despairs of trusting anyone.

An complex mystery with plays out on several emotional levels, making it an accomplished debut. Highly recommended.

Susan Alice Bickford: A Short Time to Die Wednesday, Feb 1 2017 


Susan Alice Pickford’s debut crime thriller, A Short Time to Die, tells the story of two women who become linked in a most unlikely way.

Marly Shaw has the misfortune to be born into an extended family whose relations rule her rural area of Central New York with an iron and physical grip, dispensing their own brand of revenge or twisted justice in often lethal ways.

After years of abuse and a narrowly missed brush with her own death, Marly vows to find a way out of the town and that life. She becomes the protector of her young niece and nephew, and soon finds what she thinks may be a way to leave Charon Springs behind her.

Over a decade later, human remains found in California are traced to this same family, both with criminal records. Detective Vanessa Alba needs to know how these two felons died, and who is responsible. She and her partner head to the Finger Lakes region to conduct interviews with the remaining members of the Harris clan, determined to figure out why these two would have traveled all the way to California, out of their element, to be killed–and soon come to see that they were perhaps not so undeserving of their fate.

The brisk cold and rugged terrain are vividly described, as are the tough characters that are cut from a mold some could mistakenly take for extinct. Marly is an intelligent young woman with a honed set of instincts borne out of her desire to survive this pathological family she’s attached to by way of her mother.

The action alternates between the year 2000 when the Harris clan sets in motion the deeds that will culminate in the two deaths of 2013. This allows the reader to see how the situation developed, and how desperately Marly wanted to escape and save her sister’s children.

A fascinating look at a diabolical family with an unlikely ending that develops. A strong debut with a unique cast of characters. Readers will be rooting for Marly from the first chapter.

Ava Marsh: Untouchable Wednesday, Apr 20 2016 

Take one unusual, flawed protagonist, add in the details of her life as an elite London call girl and some explicit sex scenes, wrap it all in a damn good mystery and you have Untouchable, former journalist Ava Marsh’s strong debut.

“Stella” has a complicated past that has made her turn to her life as high class escort. When she’s not working she’s taking night shifts at a rape crisis center. Then one of the escorts she knows is murdered, and it quickly becomes apparent that a group party she shared with the dead woman makes her a likely victim. What is it that she knows but isn’t aware she knows?

The way the women are exploited will make some readers blood boil, but Stella’s unapologetic approach makes this most unlikely woman a striking protagonist as she tries to unravel what happened to the young murdered woman. She knows that the death of a prostitute will not be taken as seriously as would the murder of a society matron or a young mother. And when she feels some of the powerful men in London she’s come across might be involved, it’s only a matter of time before she finds herself on their list for extermination.

What started out as way to explain a death quickly becomes a race to save her own life for Stella.

This is a fascinating look at the life these women live, from waxing and personal appearance woes to the sadistic men they encounter. There are powerful men, too, and others who are lonely, merely looking for a connection to a woman who will listen to them. For that’s one thing Stella is paid to do, besides perform sex acts, and that’s listen. It’s a gift that may end up saving her life before it’s all over.

A gritty, unusual debut Auntie M found highly readable.

Edith Maxwell: Delivering the Truth Friday, Apr 8 2016 

Edith Maxwell is one of the hardest working authors Auntie M knows, juggling now four series and bringing out books that have a wide readership. Today she’s talking about her new historical mystery, Delivering the Truth, the first in her Quaker Midwife Mysteries. Check out that neat cover and discover the mystery inside.

Delivering the TruthCover

Learning about the Past

Thanks for having me back, Auntie M!

My latest venture – historical mystery – involves a level of research I don’t need to do when I write my contemporary mysteries. I had so much to learn about the late 1800s. And there’s nobody still alive to ask.

How would a Quaker speak and act? What did women wear under their outer clothes? Did a modest New England home have indoor plumbing, gas lamps, a coal stove? What were matches like?

I’ve found a couple of good reference books for everyday life. Ruth Goodman’s How to Be a Victorian describes everything from toothbrushes to underwear. Miss Parloa’s New Cookbook and Marketing Guide from 1890 has all kinds of handy tips about the kitchen and foods available in the end of the century. Pinterest provides images of clothing. And then there’s Sarah Chrisman – who lives like someone in 1888 and writes about it!

I needed to learn about all the different types of horse-drawn vehicles. Carriages, wagons, buggies, drays, runabouts, broughtons, phaetons, surries – and so many more. Luckily for me, the town where the series is set, Amesbury, Massachusetts, is where I live and it was world-famed for its carriage manufacturing. There are antique carriages all over town, a thriving Carriage Museum, and many enthusiastic history buffs to call on.

Because my protagonist is a midwife, I delved into medical care of the time. Basic uncomplicated childbirth hasn’t changed that much. But did they know about the importance of washing hands yet? I learned that the germ theory of infection was known. Was there a hospital nearby in case of emergency? Yes, the hospital in the next town was eight years old at the time of Delivering the Truth. I found a midwifery textbook from the era. I learned that blood typing wasn’t yet used but that a lab could find out from a snip of hair if arsenic had been ingested.

Reading local newspapers from a hundred and thirty years ago provide much detail about both news and the prices of goods and services, as do the Sear & Roebuck catalog and the Montgomery Ward catalog, both of which are available on Amazon as reproductions. For example, you could buy a two-spring Phaeton (a single-horse kind of buggy with a roof) for $70, a drop-leaf desk for $9.50, and a pair of Irish lace curtains for $2.35. My midwife Rose bought a new bicycle for $45.
And because I write mysteries, there’s the all-important question of police procedure. I’ve found pictures of the local police force in town, and dug up The Massachusetts Peace Officer: A Manual for Sheriffs, Constables, Police, and other Civil Officers from 1890. An officer had to lay a hand on the shoulder of someone he was arresting, for example. I also learned that they didn’t yet use fingerprinting.

There’s more, of course. Local historical societies and museums are a rich resource. But at some point you just have to write the book!

Readers, do you like doing research? Where do you find resources to learn about the past, or about your current passion, whatever it is?


Edith Maxwell writes the Quaker Midwife Mysteries and the Local Foods Mysteries, the Country Store Mysteries (as Maddie Day), and the Lauren Rousseau Mysteries (as Tace Baker), as well as award-winning short crime fiction. Her short story, “A Questionable Death,” is nominated for a 2016 Agatha Award for Best Short Story. The tale features the 1888 setting and characters from her Quaker Midwife Mysteries series, which debuts with Delivering the Truth on April 8.

Maxwell is Vice-President of Sisters in Crime New England and Clerk of Amesbury Friends Meeting. She lives north of Boston with her beau and three cats, and blogs with the other Wicked Cozy Authors. You can find her on Facebook, twitter, Pinterest, and at her web site,

Thom Satterlee: The Stages Wednesday, Mar 9 2016 

The Stages

One of Auntie M’s favorite books in past years was Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. So when she was offered a chance to read Thom Satterlees’ The Stages, she knew she would enjoy the chance to follow an adult character with Asperger’s Syndrome.

Daniel Peters is an American translator living in Copenhagen and working at the Soren Kierkegaard Research Center. He’s become known as one of the philosopher’s best translators, and frequently lapses into interior monologues with the reader about what Kierkegaard has to say on a particular subject. His mentor and friend, and former love, Metta Rasmussen, is also his supervisor, who has diagnosed correctly, helped him learn techniques to handle living in a world where he doesn’t ‘get’ social clues, facial tics or body language. There’s a defined rhythm to his days and habits, including a propensity for eating danishes, and where better to find them?

Then the unthinkable happens: Mette is found murdered, and a new manuscript he’d been translating has been taken. Daniel was the last person to see her alive, but although he comes under suspicion, he thinks he’s able to persuade a female detective that he’s innocent. But it means she needs him to help with her investigation, if only to help him clear his name. And as he does that, he needs to learn how to express his grief for the friend he’s loved and lost.

Stepping outside his comfort zone is a mild way of describing how Daniel must act and react in this compelling mystery set inside a totally different world to most readers. It’s a satisfying read and one that brings Copenhagen alive on the pages.

Satterlee speaks Danish, and lived with a family in Denmark for his junior year in high school. The informs the novel with a vast sense of reality. Reading and understanding Kierkegaard is an entirely different matter, yet it’s obvious Satterlee has more than a grasp of the iconic philosopher’s life and work. Who would have thought an author could create a mystery surrounding Soren Kierkegaard and make it compelling and highly entertaining at the same time–Thom Satterlee did, and it’s a worthy accomplishment.

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.

David McCallum: Once A Crooked Man Tuesday, Jan 12 2016 


Actor David McCallum, yes thatMcCallum, of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and now Ducky on NCIS, debuts a crime and espionage caper with just enough wry humor to let you know he had a ball writing it.

New York actor Harry Murphy could never imagine the consequences peeing in an alley against a building could bring. When he overhears the Bruschetti brothers plan their retirement, which includes the murder of their British connection, his conscience won’t allow him to forget what he’s overheard.

In true comedy of errors fashion, Harry decides to fly to England to warn the unlucky victim, but he’s mistaken for one of the mobsters’ associates and finds himself with a load of cash, fleeing from the bad guys. British authorities save him, but in order to clear himself, he’s soon on his way back to the US with the cleverly hidden cash and a comely British undercover agent accompanying him to flush out the brothers and put an end to their activities.

But that’s the crux: the brothers have decided to retire and go straight. Well, at least as straight as they possibly can. There will be shootouts, high speed chases, a probable drowning . . . and Harry really hoping he gets the voiceover for a mayonnaise commercial.

There’s plenty of action, along with the sly humor and impossible get-out-of-trouble adventures that remind readers of a bumbling James Bond.

With a surprising depth to the characters motivations, this is a clever and fun debut. Auntie M hopes McCallum will continue Harry’s adventures now that he’s had a taste for the wild life and plumbed his own plucky resolve.

Favorite Reads of 2015 Tuesday, Jan 5 2016 

London Rain
My Favorite Reads of 2015

Last year Auntie M reviewed around 145 books in 85 posts plus hosting guests. Those don’t include the books she reads for herself, like the one her grand-daughter loved and insisted she read (Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See—she loved it, too!); or for sheer delight, like the Judi Dench photo-autobiography Behind the Scenes (huge Dench fan).

Out of all of those books, there are always those that remain firmly in her mind as ones where she’s looking forward to more from these authors. They impress her for their creativity, their characters, their storytelling. In no particular order, she went through her posts and pulled out these highlights, most of which received her “highly recommended” citation. There could have been even more . . .

Series continuations:
London Rain by Nicola Upson: Her Josephine Tey series continues with a strong entry, set in 1927 London at the time the BBC ruled the radio and broadcasting. Well-researched and written, with absorbing characters and a few twists you won’t see coming, set against the backdrop of the Coronation of George VI. An accomplished series.

The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths and This Thing of Darkness by Harry Bingham: One of the most unusual and compelling characters to head a series, Griffiths remains a feisty detective in search of her past and herself whilst she figures out how to be human. The second was not formally reviewed so let Auntie M add here that Fiona’s story continues with a punch that proves Bingham deserves to be more widely known in the US.

The Kill and After the Fire by Jane Casey: The Maeve Kerrigan series just keeps getting stronger with each installment. With irascible DI Josh Derwent as her partner, the duo are working together like a well-oiled machine, despite the occasional dig. Could grudging respect be far behind?

Behind Closed Doors by Elizabeth Haynes: DCI Lou Smith heads a team investigating when a young woman missing for a decade suddenly reappears. Haynes uses primary policing source materials reproduced for the reader: police reports, interviews, analyst research, even phone messages, which add a depth and texture to the books.

The Ghost Fields and The Zig-Zag Girl by Elly Griffiths: The next Ruth Galloway installment is a grand mix of the kind of ancient mystery only working mum Ruth could solve, coupled with tremors in her personal life. A satisfying series with original characters. Griffiths also debuted a second period series, and Brighton of the 1950’s comes to life with two unlikely friends, a detective and his magician friend, who need to stop a killer.

The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny: Inspt. Gamache and his lovely wife try to settle down to retirement in Three Pines, until a young boy prone to telling tall tales turns out to be telling the truth. All the eccentric regulars appear to help solve the mystery, a bit different from Penny’s usual but just as engaging, a mix of bittersweet and heartwarming.

Banquet of Consequences by Elizabeth George: After taking time to introduce the family who feature largely in the case to follow, Lynley manages to have Havers and Nkata assigned to investigate a poisoning case. A piece of bacon figures here. Just read it. The plot is as complex as the players involved, and will leave readers thinking about what constitutes justice.

The Slaughter Man by Tony Parsons: A slaughtered family and a missing child prove a tough case for DI Max Wolfe, juggling his young daughter and personable dog, Stan. The weapon used fits the MO of an earlier murder years ago, and that man is now out of jail. Could this be history repeating itself?

The Secret Place by Tana French: With a few characters you’ll recognize if you’ve read her others, and you should, detectives investigate the murder of a young man at a private school. You hardly realize until it’s over that the action takes place all in one day—she’s that good.

Deadly Measures by Jo Bannister: Policewoman Hazel Best and her friend, Gabriel Ash, face their most dangerous and upsetting period together when arms pirates who have kidnapped Ash’s family agree to return them—if he’ll kill himself online for all to see. And yes, Patience, the dog who talks to Ash, is along for the ride.

A Song for Drowned Souls by Bernard Minier: Minier’s second French crime novel finds Commandant Servaz trying to prove his former lover’s son is not a murderer while he protects his own daughter. A rich tale of history and emotion mixed up in murder and secrets from the past.

The Storm Murders by John Farrow: Newly-retired detective Emile Cinq-Mars is known as the Poirot of Canada and can’t get used to not working. Then murders inside a snowed-in house in his neighborhood catch his eye—there are no footsteps in the snow. And he’s asked to intervene and finds himself in New Orleans and his own wife kidnapped.

Winter Foundlings by Kate Rhodes: The psychologist with interesting friends and family returns, working short-term at a hospital for the criminally insane. A taut plot, a compelling story and a protagonist you can’t help but admire in Alice Quentin who should have it all and keeps getting very close.

Run You Down by Julia Dahl: Journalist Rebekah Roberts finds herself investigating the possible murder of a young ultra-Orthodox woman whose contacts might just put Rebekah in touch with the mother she’s not sure she wants to find. Dahl’s first, Invisible City, won multiple awards this year, with good reason. An equally impressive follow-up.

The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zehanat Khan: An undeniably strong debut, backed with meticulous and absorbing research, this Toronto mystery introduces a Muslim detective working with his Canadian female partner to unravel if a dead man fell, committed suicide, or was pushed off a cliff. A series to watch for, with a sequel out soon that’s every bit as good as the first, and will be reviewed shortly.

Recipes for Love and Murder by Sally Andrew: The South African Klein Karoo landscape, nature, food, language and habits of the area come alive through the eyes of Tannie (Auntie) Maria, a widow who happens to be a brillant cook. Mevrou van Harten knows that her food works magic in people’s hearts, not just their stomachs, and uses her knowledge to help solve the murder of an abused woman. Recipes included.

Crucifixion Creek by Barry Maitland: Anyone who reads Maitland’s English Brock and Kolla series know he’s far from a debut novelist, but this marks the debut of a new series set in Australia, Maitland’s home. He introduces detective Harry Belltree, suddenly overwhelmed with three homicides to investigate: a woman shot during a meth-addict biker siege; an elderly couple who commit apparent suicide at their favorite outdoor cafe’; and a white male stabbed to death in the street, who turns out to be his brother-in-law. A strong start to a new and absorbing series.

Five by Ursula Archer: The Austrian children’s lit author tries her hand at mystery and writes an absorbing police procedural with geo-caching at its heart and a realistic, harried, divorced mother of two as the detective.

A Murder of Magpies by Judith Flanders: A wry inside look at London publishing with the protagonist an editor who fears one of her favorite authors has been murdered and becomes drawn into the investigation. With humor and a hint of romance, book two arrives soon.

In Bitter Chill by Sarah Ward: Accomplished debut procedural finds detectives looking into a cold-case murder of a young girl when her mother suddenly commits suicide over thirty years later. Absorbing and well-developed characters. First in a series.

Disclaimer by Renee Knight: A most unusual premise explores a family torn apart when a woman’s hidden secret appears suddenly as the plot of a book in her own home. Original and creative.

Everything She Forgot by Lisa Ballantyne: Ballantyne masterfully connects two threads: a young girl’s kidnapping, and a grown woman traumatized in a car accident, to show how secrets buried in the past have come full circle. Creative and compelling.

Sheer Delight:
The No. 2 Feline Detective Agency by Mandy Morton: Of all the humorous novels Auntie M read, this one stands out for its sheer ingenuity and creative premise: a world of cats, peopled and run by cats, who sometimes resemble humans we might recognize. PI Hettie Bagshot and her sidekick Tilly, their team of friends and their world are filled with Morton’s wry humor. Sales help find homes for less fortunate cats. CCat Amongst the Pumpkins coming soon.

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