Daniel Cole: Hangman Sunday, Aug 12 2018 


After the success of his debut Ragdoll, Daniel Cole returns with Detective Emily Baxter in Hangman.

The acerbic British Baxter travels to New York City as part of an investigation into copycat murders that echo the Ragdoll killings.

The serial killer case left Baxter reeling and this time she doesn’t have the help of missing colleague Wolf Fawkes. She’s trying to move on at work and in her personal life until she’s seconded to assist the FBI and CIA in these new cases.

With “BAIT” carved into the chest of victims, and soon, “PUPPET” in the chest of others, the killings escalate to both shores of the Atlantic, adding a fierce depravity to the killings.

Tense and conflicting personalities within the task force don’t make Baxter’s job any easier, not does her tendency to piss people off.

This is a dark, distrubng read of increasing suspense as Baxter realizes she doesn’t know whom she can trust. And that bottom of it all is a twisted killer who knows no bounds.

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Three for Summer: Cleland, Stanley, Bannalec Sunday, Jul 15 2018 

Three delightful reads for summer fun:

Jane Cleland’s Josie Prescott series, set along the New Hampshire coast, brings antiques into focus. Her newest, Antique Blues, revolves around her friend Mo, who asks Josie to appraise a Japanese woodblock print Mo has acquired.

The woodblock has come from Mo’s sister’s boyfriend, who raises Josie’s hackles in all the wrong ways, including questioning the provenance of the print.

It doesn’t help that Cal appears to be abusing Mo’s sister, Lydia. And when Mo is found murdered and Cal disappears, he’s the likely suspect.

All the usual characters are here, from the young reporter Wes Smith and Rocky Point’s own police chief, Ellis Hunter, as Josie tried to track Mo’s killer. And don’t forget her fiance, Ty. There’s a bit of controversy over just how big their wedding should be.

There will be an appraisal of a vintage guitar, and a chance to merge businesses on the Josie’s horizon. With all she has going on, she still manages to pull off a murder investigation.

Josie’s job as an antique expert and appraiser teaches readers about many areas that Cleland has knowledge of, having once owned her own antique business.

City of Sharks is Kelli Stanley’s new Miranda Corbie Mystery, and takes readers into the world of the San Francisco private detective in the 1940s. The strong and capable protagonist is evocative of the era and woman’s new roles with the world on the brink of WWII.

When a secretary at a publishing house, Louise Crowley, convinces Miranda she’s afraid of being killed, with multiple good reasons, the PI puts her England travel plans on hold to investigate.

Then Louise’s publisher is killed, with Louise and possibly her sister targeted as suspects. Miranda’s investigation will bring up a host of other possible suspects, and there are even encounters with John Steinbeck and CS Forester, as well as newpaperman Herb Caen.

With period details that bring that height of that time to life, this one’s like having a noir movie play out in front of readers in an interesting mystery.

It’s atmosphere of a different sort when Jean-Luc Bennalec takes his Commissaire Georges Dupin away from his job in Concarneau to the salt marshes in The Fleur De Sel Murders.

The landscape is lovingly described, the scent of violets in the air from the harvested salt in the strange completely flat area. This is where Dupin has come, to the Brittany area, after a tip from a journalist he knows that something odd is going on in the marshes involving blue barrels. As he sniffs around, almost hallucinating by the scent of the area, trying to decide what might be wrong, Dupin is grazed by a shot coming at him. Is this to warn him away?

It’s hardly the way he’d hoped the case to proceed, and he’s not in his own district. It makes him miss a planned birthday dinner in Paris with his girlfriend, and thrusts him into an investigation with the local commissaire, a woman who is less than happy to have him on her patch.

When the journalist is found dead, Dupin stays to uncover her killer, amidst the wonderful cuisine in the area that will have readers’s mouths watering. The area is presented beautifully, with details galore that bring it to life.

You’ll feel you’ve been to Brittany. Now where are my fleur de sel caramels?

Mary Feliz: Disorderly Conduct Tuesday, Jul 10 2018 

Please welcome Mary Feliz, who write the Maggie McDonald Mysteries. Book Four is the newest release, Disorderly Conduct:

Dynamite-worthy dirt

In Disorderly Conduct, the fourth book in my Maggie McDonald Mystery series featuring a Silicon Valley professional organizer, one of the characters becomes a murder suspect after wounding himself with a gardening implement while digging in the region’s rock-hard adobe soil.

While injuries and accusations of murder aren’t the typical outcomes of gardening pursuits in San Francisco’s Bay Area, adobe causes infamous headaches for anyone who would till the soil.

In the early 1800’s when the area was settled, adobe made the perfect low-cost building material. Adobe (which means mudbrick and has existed as a term for thousands of years in a variety of languages) is easily formed from a combination of mud and straw. Once dried, the material is durable. Heat retention properties of the bricks, coupled with Silicon Valley’s warm days and cool nights, means they’ve offered passive heating and air conditioning systems for hundreds of years.

But that same durability makes the soil a nightmare to garden. It’s crippled many a home roto-tiller, makes a pick-ax a necessity, and tempts landscapers to consider the efficacy of dynamite.

Soil amendments are the topic of many a spring newspaper article, with various experts recommending a combination of sand, manure, compost, peat, wood chips, shredded bark, and other materials. Yet the truth, as locals boasting a green thumb will tell you, is that you’ll need to add those soil amendments annually and blisters are inevitable for anyone trying to make a comfortable bed for flowers, vegetables, and any other plantings.

But those amendments offer better and more even distribution of the Bay Area’s most precious resource, water. They also protect plants from mid-summer heat, which increasingly reaches triple digits. In recent years, for sheer ease-of-use, raised beds filled with commercially available potting soil have exploded in popularity.

senior farmer checking the apricot in his orchard


Apricots were once the premium product of the fertile agricultural area now known as Silicon Valley.

It’s hard to imagine that Silicon Valley was once known as the Valley of Hearts Delight, and was the world’s largest fruit production and packing region. Nearly forty canneries once operated within its borders, along with flower and seed production facilities. How those early settlers farmed the region’s adobe soil boggles my mind. Perhaps the easy availability of building resources helped them save up energy from housing construction and dedicate it to cultivation.

While I struggled to work the adobe soil for decades, telling myself that well water and abundant sunshine made up for the hard work of getting the ground seedling-ready, my ultimate solution was to move. Now, I garden in the sandy soil of the Monterey Bay area. Though it offers its own challenges and demands for soil amendments, it can be easily worked with a plastic shovel. The characters in my series are jealous, particularly the uber-organized efficiency expert, Maggie McDonald.

Maggie McDonald’s golden retriever Belle is an avid gardener.

Curious dog watching when working with a pitchfork in the garden.

Professional organizer Maggie McDonald balances a fastidious career with friends, family, and a spunky Golden Retriever. But add a fiery murder mystery to the mix, and Maggie wonders if she’s found a mess even she can’t tidy up . . .

With a devastating wildfire spreading to Silicon Valley, Maggie preps her family for evacuation. The heat rises when firefighters discover a dead body belonging to the husband of Maggie’s best friend Tess Olmos. Tess becomes the prime suspect in what’s shaping up to become a double murder case. Determined to set the record straight, Maggie sorts in an investigation more dangerous than the flames approaching her home. When her own loved ones are threatened, can she catch the meticulous killer before everything falls apart?

Mary Feliz writes the Maggie McDonald Mysteries featuring a Silicon Valley professional organizer and her sidekick golden retriever. She’s worked for Fortune 500 firms, and mom and pop enterprises, competed in whale boat races, and done synchronized swimming. She attends organizing conferences in her character’s stead, but Maggie’s skills leave her in the dust. Address to Die For, the first book in the series, was named a Best Book of 2017 by Kirkus Reviews. All of her books have spent time on the Amazon best seller list.

MJ Arlidge: Love Me Not Friday, Jun 29 2018 

This Helen Grace thriller opens with a jolt, as Helen finds the body of a woman killed savagely at the side of the road. Readers are aware of the circumstances that Helen can only guess at, which adds to the tension.

Out of prison for 9 months after a wrongful conviction was finally overturned, Helen is struggling to maintain her team at Southampton Central, many of whom had turned on her, and she is finding it difficult to know whom to trust. Only Charlie Brooks has been a stalwart defender and the one person Helen can trust.

But this case turns the team on its head when the killings continue and there seems to be no rhyme or reason for the chosen victims. It soon becomes apparent there are two killers, and the reasons for the young couple’s killings are dire.

The action is swift and non-stop, taking place over the course of one day, highlighted by the time as chapter headings.

Of course, arch enemy reporter Emilia Garanita is on hand to record everything. And then the impossible happens and one of Helen’s team is lost, leading Helen to question if she can continue to live herself.

A strong entry in a compelling series.

Martha Grimes: The Knowledge Wednesday, Jun 27 2018 


A friend of Auntie M’s had just seen a documentary about the arduous course London taxi drivers follows, called The Knowledge, when Martha Grimes turns up with her newest Jury that’s titled . . . The Knowledge.

Indeed, the complicated course, where London drivers must know every street, every theatre, every landmark and which roads are one-way or not, becomes of essence when a group of kids the drivers use as insiders become involved in a murder case.

Cab driver Robbie Parsons finds a man with a gun in his cab, right after that man has shot a husband and wife to death in front of the tony Artemis Club, a casino mixed with a high-end restaurant that contains an art gallery.

The chase extends to Nairobi, where the culprit is followed by one of these accomplished teens, while Superintendent Richard Jury becomes involved in the case when he recognizes the victims. There is astrophysics, specialized African art, and the possibility of smuggling jewels in the case.

Soon Melrose Plant and even Marshall Trueblood become involved. There will be an African safari for one and a stint as a croupier for another before the scheme is unwoven. And then there is the pub called the Knowledge, that’s not on any maps and no London cabbie will take anyone to…

An entertaining and wild ride in which Jury finally manages to pull one over on Melrose Plant and Vivian Rivington. Delightful ending.

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 Grove, 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.

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.

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.

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.

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