Ellen Byron: Cajun Country Mysteries Monday, Apr 23 2018 


Around awards season here in Hollywood, you hear the phrase, “It’s an honor to be nominated” a lot. I used to roll my eyes. Now I know through my own amazing luck that it’s absolutely true.

There are so many fantastic books launched every year that I go into mystery awards season with zero expectations. Yet I’ve somehow been the recipient of both Lefty and Agatha nominations for my Cajun Country Mysteries.

I feel like Sally Field when she won her second Oscar and uttered the words that have haunted her ever since: “You like me. You really like me!”

To be honest, I also feel like the characters in Wayne’s World, who uttered these immortal words: “Not worthy.” Like so many writers, I’ve had to contend with insecurity, fear of success, and yes, bouts of depression, throughout my career. On top of that, as someone with the combined ethnic background of Jewish and Italian, oy maron, the guilt! Why me? Is it fair? Managing this emotional stew ain’t easy.

But I can tell you exactly where I was when I got the news that I was nominated for an Agatha Best Contemporary Novel award this year – making a right turn onto Oakdell Street in Studio City.

I’d spent the afternoon at the Getty Museum with a friend, an outing that turned into a nightmare when the last day of an exhibit coincided with Free Museum Day. After an hour in a line of cars trying to park, we raced through the exhibit in forty-five minutes to beat the museum’s closing hour.

While zooming past Mayan gold artifacts, I got a text that my friend and fellow Chicks on the Case blogmate, Kellye Garrett, had been nominated for a Best Debut Mystery Agatha. We Chicks text-celebrated with confetti bitmojis, and I put the nominations out of my head.

When the phone rang with my own news as I made that right turn into my neighborhood, I was so surprised that I burst into tears and sobbed, slightly freaking out the lovely Malice board member on the other end of the call.

The best part about being a mystery award nominee is that you get to share a panel with wonderful authors. For me, this year’s joy is magnified by the fact that not only will fellow panelists be the terrific writers Annette Dashofy and Marilyn Levinson (as Allison Brook), the slate also includes two of my mystery idols, Louise Penny and Margaret Maron. I’m not kidding when I say I choked up just writing that sentence.

Chicks on the Case recently published a group post with all the Best Contemporary Novel nominees. Louise, winner of countless awards for her Inspector Gamache series, answered the question, “What would you do differently starting out as a writer again?” by saying, “I think I’d enjoy it more…. I was riddled with insecurities. My agent finally sat me down and spoke quite sternly. ‘You’re not only living your dream, but the dream lots of other people have, who don’t get this far. If you can’t enjoy it, then it’s wasted on you.’”
Agatha Best Contemporary Novel Nominees: We Asked, They Answered

When I get to Malice next week, I’m going to get over my Wayne’s Worldian not-worthiness, take Louise’s honest response to heart, and enjoy every minute of the nomination- especially that Best Contemporary Novel panel. Because it’s more than an honor to be nominated. To paraphrase Louise’s agent, it’s a dream come true.

Ellen Byron, author of the Cajun Country Mystery series, is perhaps best known as a former cater-waiter for the legendary Martha Stewart, a credit she never tires of sharing. A Cajun Christmas Killing and Body on the Bayou both won the Lefty Award for Best Humorous Mystery and were nominated for Agatha awards in the category of Best Contemporary Novel. Plantation Shudders, was nominated for Agatha, Lefty, and Daphne awards. Ellen’s TV credits include Wings, Just Shoot Me, Fairly OddParents, and pilots for major network and cable outlets. She’s written over 200 national magazine articles, and her published plays include the award-winning Graceland. A native New Yorker, Ellen now lives in the Los Angeles area with her husband, daughter, and two spoiled rescue dogs.



Sasscer Hill: The Dark Side of Town Tuesday, Apr 17 2018 

Sasscer Hill’s second Fia McKee mystery packs a whallop from the opening scene of a jockey committing suicide in The Dark Side of Town, set at the Saratoga Racetrack.

The undercover detective and former police officer is working for the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau, the TPRB, investigating trainer Mars Pizutti, believed to be fiddling with illegal drugs on his horses, who have been far too successful. She’s also a sucker of someone in need.

But the suicide has Fia on high alert, and soon she’s involved deeper than she’d like investigating a young jockey who’s been told to throw races or his young sister will be harmed. She aided by another undercover detective, the charismatic Calixto Coyune, a coffee heir whose wealthy playboy cover is perfect for him to hang around the track.

Despite their steamy attraction, sleuthing is the first order of business. Then Fia’s estranged mother contacts her, and it seems the stepfather who caught her mother’s eye and led to her abandoning Fia’s family 17 years ago may be involved in an illegal hedge fund manuveur. And then there’s the abused former Miss Jamaica Fia just has to help.

It will take all of Fia’s smarts, and Calixto’s protective eye, to help the young jockey while sorting out mob connections. There are scenes where Fia’s changing appearance comes in handy, and others, fast-paced, where it seems Fia can’t survive.

With her own knowledge as an amateur steeplechase jockey, as well as a horse owner and breeder, Hill’s knowledge shines through. The working side of the glamourous racing world rings true, as does Hill’s love of horses.

Jim Jackson: Empty Promises Sunday, Apr 15 2018 


Marni invited me to write a guest post based on a bit of serendipity. My series amateur sleuth is named Seamus McCree.

I don’t plot my novels ahead of time. I know what the inciting incident will be, and then I let the characters take the stage—and we both find out what happens as I compose at the keyboard.

In the first five novels, readers discover Seamus has an estranged sister—but that’s all we know. Much to my surprise, she appeared on stage in the first draft of the sixth novel, False Bottom. She even came with a name: Fiona.

As you may know, Marni has two dogs: Seamus and Fiona. When I discovered that on Facebook, I let Marni know of the coincidence, and that led her to invite me to write this blog.

I love serendipity. It’s the basis for all the “small-world stories” we share about standing in line three thousand miles from home only to discover the person behind us went to the same high school we did. It’s why I don’t mind getting lost—provided I don’t have an appointment to make; then it drives me bonkers.

I never know what experience, or piece of knowledge, or acquaintance I’ll gain while bumbling about. The same thing with writing blogs: I never know where my research will take me.

Serendipity can be a driving force for many amateur sleuth stories. If the sleuth trips over a dead body, it is almost always serendipitous. Often while trying to go about their normal business or investigating one thing, they will uncover something that later becomes a lead. Their curiosity about the world, combined with their power to reason things out, allows them to succeed at pulling clues together into a coherent pattern and eventually solve the crime.

It turns out that the invention of the word serendipity was related to a story of detection. Merriam Webster produced a podcast that touches on this when they selected serendipity as their 2/13/14 word of the day. I also came across a blog I found very interesting that provides a longer version of the story.

How about you? Anything serendipitous happen recently?

James M. Jackson authors the Seamus McCree series consisting of five novels and one novella. Jim splits his time between the deep woods of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and Georgia’s Lowcountry. He claims the moves between locations are weather-related, but others suggest they may have more to do with not overstaying his welcome. He is the past president of the 700+ member Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime.

You can find information about Jim and his books at https://jamesmjackson.com. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and/or Amazon.

In Empty Promises (Seamus McCree #5) Seamus’s first solo bodyguard assignment goes from bad to worse. His client disappears. His granddog finds a buried human bone. Police find a fresh human body.
Seamus risks his own safety and freedom to turn amateur sleuth in hopes he can solve the crimes, fulfill his promise of protection, and win back the love of his life. Wit and grit are on his side, but the clock is ticking . . . and the hit man is on his way.

It’s available at your favorite physical or online bookstore. You can find more information about it including a link to download the first four chapters at https://jamesmjackson.com/novels/empty-promises.html.

Elizabeth George: The Punishment She Deserves Wednesday, Apr 11 2018 

Elizabeth George clocks in with her newest Lynley-Havers, The Punishment She Deserves, at a meaty 595 pages. But don’t let the long length deter you from reading the continuing story of so many characters readers have come to know and love, especially Barbara Havers.

It’s a fine line Barbara has danced since her crossing the line in Italy two books ago. “Dancing” has a secondary meaning here, as the redoubtable Dorothea Harriman has had the sergeant accompanying her to tap dancing class. Yes, you read that correctly. Barbara Havers is tap dancing.

It’s a tap dance around Det. Chief Superintendent Isabelle Ardery, too, when she’s told she must accompany Ardery to be a second set of eyes on an investigation into the apparent suicide of the son of a wealthy brewer while in police custody.

It’s a twisted tale, and Lynley cautions Barbara to watch herself with Ardery, knowing that she and the Assistant Commissioner would love to see Barbara transferred to some small outpost and out of their hair.

And Barbara is up to the task, even as she tries to keep herself from going off kilter into her own threads of investigation. She manages to do enough to convince herself there is something seriously off in the medieval town of Ludlow. But Arder wants to rush back to London to do legal battle with her ex over her twin sons,and is willing to overlook important points Barbara’s uncovered.

Which is when DI Lynley becomes involved.

George’s class distinctions form the bit of wry humor Havers exhibits and as usual, we learn about the extended characters and their lives to the point that they become real. Several absorbing subplots play out against the background of Barbara’s investigation.

And there’s that tap recital to look forward to…

Another winner from the master of psychological depth. Highly recommended.

Beth Gutcheon: The Affliction Friday, Mar 30 2018 

If you like your mystery with a dose of humor, you’ll enjoy Beth Gutcheon’s second book featuring retired headmistress Maggie Detweiler and her good friend and cohort, Hope Babbin, The Affliction.

Currently heading a team evaluating a girls’ boarding school on the Hudson River, Maggie soon finds the high and low points. She also finds Florence Meagher, the art history teacher, working on a book on Velasquez. She also had “the affliction” of not being able to stop talking once she gets started–and not knowing when to stop.

Until suddenly Florence is silenced forever when her body is found floating in the school’s pool. Asked to stay on as the crime is investigated, students and faculty alike come under the microscope of the local detectives, and of Maggie and Hope, running their own parellel investigation.

The women’s society contacts and friends in high places give them information the police detectives won’t uncover. Picture Rosemary and Thyme let loose in New York’s Hudson Valley and you’ll enjoy the adventures of this mature sleuthing duo who provide humor and suspense in equal measure.

David Rosenfelt: Fade to Black Wednesday, Mar 28 2018 

David Rosenfelt is perhaps best known for his Andy Carpenter series, with the dog rescuing lawyer echoing his own dog rescue efforts in real life.

With a new series and a new character introduced in Blackout, Rosenfelt brings a sequel in Fade to Black, continuing the story of New Jersey policeman Doug Brock. Shot in the line of duty, Brock’s ammesia produces intersting conversations that pepper his life and his work as people refer to cases and things he has no memory of in the past decade.

It’s not all bad news, for Doug is reunited with his almost-fiance` and is attending an amensa support group at her insistence. It’s after one of these meetings that a new member approaches him and asks Doug to investigate a cold case.

Sean Conner has found a scrapbook in his attic containg clippings of an unsolved murder case, but he has memory of the victim or why he would have kept the story. After Doug convinces his captain to let him look into the case, he finds he has a connection to the murder, one he doesn’t remember.

Soon there are more things that don’t add up, and as the threads come together, there will be more murders tied to this case. But what’s really going on? It will be up to Doug and his partner to find out in this well-plotted procedural that has Rosenfelt’s trademark touch of wry humor.

Alex Gray: The Silent Games Sunday, Mar 18 2018 

Alex Gray’s DCI Lorimer series are proven winners. She returns with The Silent Games, with its nicely twisted plot adding it to the list of ones to read.

A bomb explodes in the rural area near Lorimer, and it seems this may have been a rehearsal for terrorists planning a bigger event at The Commonwealth Games being held this summer in Glasgow.

The area is wrapped up the Games and all of the commerce this will bring, but Lorimer is sworn to secrecy as the hunt for extremists commences. Then a young black woman’s body is found near the site, strangled, and they have no idea of her identity.

He decides to attend what we in the US call a high school reunion, run by a former flame. He finds the beautiful red-head who once entranced him is still gorgeous, with nostalgic memories surfacing. In Glasgow with her wealthy husband for the Games and a theatre business enterprise he’s running, Vivien Gilmartin calls Lorimer in hysterics after returning to her rented flat as she’s found Charles dead in bed.

With no one else in the area to turn to, Lorimer takes Vivien into the home he shares with his lovely wife, Maggie. Despite her best efforts to be kind to the woman who has just lost her husband, Maggie gets a strange vibe from the woman and isn’t happy the longer her guest stays.

When its deemed Charles Gilmartin died from poison, suicide versus murder must be ruled out. Due to her personal connection, the case is turned over to Lorimer’s colleague, but he’s aware of events as they unfold.

The reader knows more than Lorimer through the eyes of a young African girl who has been kidnapped from her village and brought to Glasgow to be part of a human trafficking ring for sex. The harsh realities of her existence contrast with the outside environment with people gaily
preparing for the games.

And it’s tied in to the identification of the troupe preparing to make everyone’s worst nightmare come true at the Games.

Grey’s skillful plotting lets readers in on the mechanics and realities of police investigating while her characters are always realistic and well-drawn. Several continuing characters make their appearance, too, and while readers can handle this as a stand-alone, for those fans of the series, the familiar souls that populate the book have become old friends.

Another winning entry in a long-running series, not to be missed.

Frances Brody: Death in the Stars Friday, Mar 16 2018 

Frances Brody newest Kate Shackleton mystery bring Yorkshire in 1927 to life in Death in the Stars.

The great eclipse is on its way, and Kate has been contacted by the msyterious but beloved singing star Selina Fellini to arrange her transport and accompany her to a viewing party at Gigglewsick School.

Kate is certain there’s more to Selina’s fretfullness over not having flown before, but arranges the flight for herself, Selina and the singer’s good friend and co-star, comedian Billy Moffatt.

When Billy goes missing right after the eclipse, he’s ultimately found by the chapelon the grounds of the school. An alert senior student who plans to go into medicine helps Kate figure out that Billy’s cigar was tainted.

While Kate sits by the comatose Billy so Selina can keep her theatre committment that evening, she ponders the underlying nature of Selina’s anxiety: two other performers in their theatre troupe were killed in different but also mysterious ways.

Soon Kate has Bill Sykes and Mrs. Sugden on board as they investigate all three murders and find far too many suspects, which include Selina’s husband, a talented songwriter with a disfiguring war wound who’s mentally distraught. It’s a race to find the culprit to keep the next person close to Selina from being killed.

One of the things that remains consistently charming in the series is the depth of research Brody maintains. The feel of postwar England with authentic period details adds to this look inside the world of British music halls of the era.

This ninth in the series, with its well-plotted mystery and colorful characters, is a pure delight. Readers will wonder why this engaging series hasn’t been picked up yet by Masterpiece Mystery.

Jan McCanless: The Beryl’s Cove Mysteries Wednesday, Mar 7 2018 

Please welcome Jan McCanless, author of the Beryl’s Cove Mysteries, to share her trademark humor on her thoughts of space travel:

All Aboard for Mars and Beyond

I used to think that self cleaning ovens and automatic can openers were the end all be all, and nothing could be more fantastic than that.

Do you remember, as a kid, every time a plane flew over, we’d stop and watch it awhile, marveling at the science that brought it to fruition? I never dreamed, in a million years, I’d ever fly in one of the things.

It was exciting to think of soaring thousands of feet in the air, with nothing below you but earth. I still feel the excitement, but, not in the same way, my heart races, my palms sweat, and I have to pee. I pray the entire time that we land safely, and nobody falls out of it or it plummets thru the air like a great fireball from the sky. Hey, you get excited your way, I’ll do mine! I never said I liked to fly, only that it excited me.

We had a neighbor family when I was a kid–they lived behind our house, and their daughter, Ann Karen, was pal of mine. Her dad bought the first Thunderbird I ever saw in my life, and of course, the first one in the entire world, as far as I was concerned. It was back in the early 50’s, and her Dad wanted to take all us kids for a ride in it. It was a two-seater, so, we were literally hanging off it anywhere we could grab ahold. I was sitting up on the back of the convertible top as we cruised the streets(try doing that now without a jail sentence). It was fun though, and we thought we were really special.

Ann Karen and her family were what you might call “avant garde”, even back then, Her dad was an architect, and their house resembled an unfurled sheet, with a winding driveway, colored stones for a walkway, and Ann Karen was the first person I ever knew who had a telephone in her bedroom. Oh man, I lusted after that phone. Didn’t have anyone to call, but, still I wanted one, too. How could society advance any further than having a Thunderbird and private telephone?

When America shot Alan Shepherd up into space, I was working as a laboratory technician at Rowan Hospital (as it was called then), and as many employees as could fit in the place crowded the front waiting room, watching a small screen TV to catch it all. Mesmerized as we were, we had to go back to work, and each of us, in our own way, thought we had truly entered another realm of reality. Never, never, could we get any further than that.

Now, this, the Starman in his car, racing towards Mars and the android belt. Who’d a thunk it !!! I saw on the news this morning too, where China has developed a flying car, tooling along at treetop level, above all the traffic. It looks like a giant drone, with a driver. Now THAT I could probably go for. Treetop level is not high, how badly could I get mangled if I fell out of the thing?

I was a science major in college, and it still fascinates me, as I have always been interested in all branches of science. It excites me, in a good way, so the flying car is definitely on my bucket list.

I’ll let the dummy in the orbiting car have at it, though. I have no desire to go to Mars or any other planet–I haven’t completely conquered this one yet !!!

About Jan:
Jan McCanless has been a best selling author for 15 books. A mother of three, and grandmother to nine, she started as a high school teacher, sequed into freelance newspaper work, and from there, she moved into murder mysteries with a humorous twist. She compiled 2 volumes of humor columns, winning the 2013 Mother Vine award for best stories for her first compilation, titled Wyatt Earp, GAP Pickles and Thoughts of Home,. Her 2nd compilation, Tire Patch Cookies are Good for the Soul , is a continuation of the fun, with more award nominations for the year it was published.

Her mysteries have been called a combination of Murder, She Wrote, and Mayberry RFD, and have all been best sellers. The Beryl’s Cove mysteries have lovable, quirky characters that are positively addictive, and Jan’s humor shines through all of them.

Listed in Who’s Who as a noted Southern Humorist, she is a mix of lecturer, stand up comedienne,and teacher, giving talks and workshops around the country. Rowan County’s Woman of the Year in 1978, she was a nominee for International Woman of the Year in 2005. Jan’s interests are varied, and she takes pride in being an ordained Lutheran Lay minister.

Her books and access to them are listed on her website, http://www.janmacbooks,com,. and they may be found on amazon.com, Barnes and Noble and in bookstores throughout the southeast.

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.

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