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.
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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.

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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.

Linda Lovely: Picked Off Tuesday, Jun 5 2018 


Linda Lovely’s Brie Hooker series debuted with Bones to Pick, and Lovely’s back with the sequel, Picked Off, every bit as filled with humor, wrapped in a great mystery.

Vegan Brie Hooker finds herself living with her Aunt Eva at Udderly Kidding Dairy goat farm in South Carolina. Their barn is hosting a costume fund-raiser for Eva’s friend, Carol Strong, running for Governor. Carol’s hunkey football player son is scheduled to arrive, too, a nice prospect as Brie can’t decide between to equally attractive men, good friends, who both want to date her.

Then an scary incident that night brings injury and makes the barn a crime scene. It sets off a string of events that include a kidnapping, blackmail, and lead to murder.

There’s a serious string of crimes happening, despite the humor Lovely injects to balance the happenings. Brie finds herself using doing her darndest to get to the bottom of things, often putting herself at risk.

Brie’s a gutsy gal, and easy to like, but she’s not a pushover. Smart and strong, Brie somehow manages to to stay on top of the eccentric characters while she gets to the bottom of the nastiness. There are hijinks coupled with real terror and life-threatening action at times.

With the southern setting perfectly drawn, Lovely’s mysteries provide plenty of action with a complex plot. This is the perfect series for summer beach reading.

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.

Pamela J. Castrucci: Down the Staircase Sunday, Apr 8 2018 

Pamela J. Castrucci’s first novel, Down the Staircase, is a work of Magical Realism enriched with elements of crime, suspense and mystery.

Inspired by true events in her own life, Castrucci currently anticipates releasing the next installment of The Staircase Series by the end of 2018. Castrucci, a successful attorney and single mom, shares what moved her to write her novel. *****

When I was young, I was fairly certain that my parents feared that I would run off and join the circus someday. A good student, I was keenly focused on the arts, particularly literature and theater. I indulged my passions by obtaining a degree in literature, but life events occurred, as they so often do, which caused me to choose another path.

My love of the arts, particularly writing, were eclipsed by my need to pursue justice. I obtained my law degree and entered the Navy. My time in the Navy’s Judge Advocate General (“JAG”) Corps, while brief, was intense, challenging and fulfilling.

Once I got over the initial shock and dismay when I learned that my cases largely involved domestic violence and crimes against children, I felt a fire ignite within me. I needed to do whatever I could to deliver justice for those victims, especially the youngest, who had no voice.

Like Cara Stone, the protagonist in Down the Staircase, those cases both haunted me and spurred me onward. Even after leaving the service, the lessons I had learned in prosecuting those cases formed a foundation for the rest of my legal career, while thoughts of pursuing my writing becoming more remote with each year.

I have had Cara’s story rattling around in my brain for more than twenty years. Like so many, I promised myself I would one day bring her story to life. Other priorities allowed me to keep her story safely tucked away on a quiet, dusty shelf in my mental filing cabinet, enabling me to procrastinate and avoid being vulnerable.

But then life has a way of getting one’s attention, drawing our deeply held needs to the surface and into the light. And so it was for me this past October, when various coincidences converged. Every year, I ask my young twins, my Raptors, the same series of questions, delighting in how their interests and priorities change and evolve.

I’d had a very challenging day at a job I truly enjoy last October. I chose to ask my children their annual questions as an antidote to that difficult day. Their answers were as fun and as satisfying as ever, but this year, there was a twist. When I had finished by asking them what they wanted to be when they grew up, they then asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. We discussed my dream of becoming a novelist and with the clear- eyed pragmatism of young children, they could not see any reason why I couldn’t fulfill that dream.

Their wisdom gave me pause. Earlier that day, I’d received an email from a business coach I’d met earlier in my career, promoting a self-publishing school for new authors. These coincidences – the difficult day, the confidence of my children, and the seemingly-random receipt of an email with the promise of tools to make my dream come true – were just what I needed to take Cara’s story “off the shelf.”

I signed up for the course that very night. I hope readers will enjoy Cara’s story and will look forward to the next installment in the series. I also hope that my story will encourage other writers to take the leap and bring their stories into the world.


You can find Down the Staircase on Amazon~

https://www.amazon.com/Down-Staircase-1-Pamela-Castrucci/dp/1986845028/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1522700628&sr=8-2&keywords=down+the+staircase

Christi Daugherty: The Echo Killing Monday, Mar 26 2018 

Christi Daughterty’s accomplished debut, The Echo Killing, will have readers looking for a sequel (it’s in the works for next spring), after meeting crime reporter Harper McClain.

The lushness of antebellum Savannah, Georgia, lends its setting to the story of the determined reporter, and Daugterty’s own experience in that job shines through, as does her love for the city which echoes Harper’s own.

Harper enjoys her job, despite her sad family history. At the age of twelve, she walking home from school to find her artist mother’s brutally murdered body. With the unsolved murder never far from Harper’s thoughts,she works evenings on the crime beat, spending time following the police radio to crimes that will bring headlines and please her editor.

Then a new murder takes her to the house of a murder, where she watches the victim’s young daughter being led away from the scene, just as she was years ago. Harper is determined to glimpse the actual murder scene, and soon is sorry she did. It’s eerily familiar to her mother’s murder, from the naked victim,being found in the kitchen to the multiple stab wounds.

Only someone who had seen her mother’s killing could replicate it in so much detail. Does this mean her mother’s killer is on the loose again? The killer is forensically aware, too, leaving no clues for detectives.

The new case becomes an obsession with Harper, despite being warned by the cops she’s close to, her photographer friend, and her editor to leave it alone. This victim turns out to have a very different background from Harper’s mother, and as she investigates her life, Harper soon finds a disturbing tie to several prominent people, including someone on the police force.

Her probing could cost Harper more than just her job–it cost her life as she unravels the complicated case.

This atmospheric, engrossing tale is filled with realistic characters and dialogue, and a romantic subplot only adds to the layers of the book, which aptly illustrates what it means when murder is so personal.

A suspenseful mystery that will have readers lined up for its next installment. Highly recommended.

Phillip Margolin: The Third Victim Saturday, Mar 24 2018 

Phillip Margolin’s newest legal thriller, The Third Victim, debuts a new series featuring young lawyer Robin Lockwood. Just landing her dream job working with Regina Barrister, the legend of criminal defense attorney, after a clerkship at the Oregon Supreme Court.

The strong opening gives readers a dark rural Oregon road and a lone driver, who slams on the brakes when a young woman–dehydrated, starved and beaten–runs across his path asking for help.

She’s escaped from a cabin where she’s been held prisoner, and soon the cabin’s owner, a prominent attorny in his own right, is arrested for the beating and kidnapping, as well as the deaths of two other women in similar circumstances.

With evidence against him mounting, Robin’s firm take on the defense of Alex Mason, who insists he’s innocent. Second chair on this very public trial is Robin, but she’s seeing things with her renowned boss that lead her to worry about Barrister’s behavior.

Then several details in their case seem at odds, and it will take Robin and Barrister’s team to figure out what is really going on. The complicated plot hangs together well, with enough twists and turns to keep readers guessing as the story unfolds, inside the courtroom and out.

An interesting lead character, Robin Lockwood’s past as an MMA fighter just might find her in good stead when things turn ulgy. Margolin’s own experience as a criminal defense attorney shines through, turning the legalese and court proceedings into interesting scenes.

This crafty story with its tight plot will leave readers looking for the next installment featuring Robin Lockwood and the legal team.

Stuart MacBride: A Dark So Deadly & Now We Are Dead Wednesday, Feb 28 2018 


Stuart MacBride is a favorite of Auntie M’s. She recently had the good fortune to catch up on two new releases. First up is A Dark So Deadly, featuring DC Callum MacGregor, who complains he gets all the boring cases.

His team is made up of misfits, but when an ancient mummy turns up in a landfull site, his job is to find which museum it’s been stolen from.

But things heat up and a chance to redeem themselves occurs when Callum finds a link between the mummy and three missing men. The Misfit Mob is handed the assignment, and although the higher-ups doubt they will succeed–well, that would spoil all the fun if Auntie M told you it all, now, wouldn’t it?

Callum’s big brother Alastair, a washed-up celebrity, gets thrown into the mix and adds to the delightful read. A new character written with MacBride’s trademark humor, making this a strong read. We can hope we see more of Callum and his friends.

With Now We Are Dead, MacBride centers on one of the most imaginative characters he’s created, Logan MacRae’s thorn in his side, DCI Roberta Steel, that not-so-paragon of virtue who has been caught during In the Cold Dark Ground setting up a defendant, despite his badness and more than deserving prison actions.

You don’t have to read the previous book to get this one, although you should read the entire series, but in this one Roberta takes on center stage. With his trademark humor, MacBride gets down and dirty with Roberta.

Demoted and given DC Stewart Quirrel to keep her company, Roberta and Tufty, as he’s known, start off following a pack of shoplifters.

Jack Wallace, the creep Roberta was caught fitting up to get a solid conviction, is back on the streets. With women being attacked again, she’s certain it’s Wallace up to his old tricks.

But there are the solid alibis he’s manufactured for himself, complete with CCTV coverage, plus the similarity to his MO, leaving Roberta to think he’s schooled assistants to replicate his attacks.

But when Wallace and his cronies decide to go after Roberta’s wife and two daughters, it’s no-holds-barred in one of the most action-packed and fitting climaxes MacBride could have written.

Makes Auntie M’s heart sing just to think about it again. Don’t miss this one, either. Just get the whole darn series. Highly recommended.

Yrsa Sigurdardottir: The Legacy Thursday, Feb 15 2018 


The Queen of Icelandic Noir debuts a thrilling new series with The Legacy, introducing detective Huldar and psychologist Freyja.

The two share an uncomfortable event before being assigned to a case that’s fraught with misery: A woman is horrifically murdered in her own home, and the only witness is her seven-year-old daughter, who hid under her mother’s bed during the killing.

Using Freyja’s talents with the child, Huldar must test his new promotion to its limits as he tries to make sense of the unusual murder method.

Pushing young Margaret has produced little effect, but once it’s known she was a witness, her life becomes in danger and Freyja ends up taking her into her home for safety when the killings continue.

But is that really a safe environment? And how can Hildar figure out why the seemingly unrelated victims are related to the killer, who seems aware of forensic concerns?

A complicated thread of evidence with short-wave radios and a series of numbers that impact the investigation provide an unusual subplot that adds to the horrid murder methods the killer uses.

It will take all of Huldar’s smarts and savviness to figure out what Margaret has obliquely told him. Named Best Crime Novel of the Year in Iceland, this is one Auntie M dares you to figure out until the end. Highly recommended.

Michelle Birkby: The House at Baker Street Wednesday, Oct 25 2017 

Former library assistant Michelle Birkby has long been a fan of the Conan Doyle stories and especially of his female characters, so it’s no surprise her debut, The House at Baker Street, concentrates on the giving those women their own stories to tell.

Shortlisted for Best Historical Crime Novel by the CWA, her story takes two beloved women, Mary Watson and Mrs. Hudson, and given them full-depth characterizations. Her fresh take on Mrs. Hudson, always so much more than just his housekeeper, pushed the action. After working with Sherlock Holmes and observing him at work, when he turns down a case, she and Mary Watson decide they will take it on themselves.

Laura Shirley is a society woman who is being blackmailed, but the two sleuths quickly discover she’s just one of a long list of women trying to preserve their reputations when women’s rights meant something entirely different that that phrase conjurs up now, and when a whiff of any impropriety, justified or not, could ruin a woman. Despite not demanding money, the blackmailer is ruining lives, and Mrs. Hudson, who’s voice is grand in this, determines she cannot abide the practice and sets out to stop him. When the women realize the depth of the tragic ends some of the women come to, their resolve deepens.

This feminist take on the classic detective investigation will see the two women using the Baker Street irregulars and even Irene Adler to follow clues to bring the perpretrator to justice. There are appearances by Holmes and Watson, and references to the Canon, but the story belongs to the women.

Original and entertaining, with a second book already set for next year.

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