Vivian Barz: Forgotten Bones Thursday, Aug 1 2019 

Vivian Barz brings the most unusual and highly original protagonist Auntie M has read about in a long time to be one half of an investigating team in her thriller Forgotten Bones. With a strong storyline and two equally strong characters leading, this promises to be a the start of thrillers readers will be clamoring for.

A car accident leads to the discovery of a young boy’s buried body in small town California. But despite this body being decades old, that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Soon FBI are soon swarming the town, unearthing multiple bodies in various stages of decomposition, and closing out the local police, including Susan Marlan, one of their officers. Dedicated, smart, and tenacious, Susan can’t let the thought of that little boy go, or the others as the numbers mount to double digits. Someone has been killing people for a very long time, most of them children. Frustrated by her own boss and the FBI, Susan takes it upon herself to do a bit of off the record investigating.

Meanwhile, Eric Evans is new to the area, starting work as a geology professor at the local community college. He knows no one in the area, has no friends or relatives near by, and right now he likes it that way. He’s running from his former life and marriage in Philadelphia, in the throes of a divorce from the wife who he discovered having an affair with his older brother.

As if that’s not enough to be dealing with, Eric is a schizophrenic who’s learned to take his medication and manage its side effects, until the day he starts to see a young boy in denim overalls.

The overall suspect for the killings is a pedophile recently released from prison. Not only are the bodies on his property, he disappeared the day the first boy’s body was found. What could be clearer?

As more and more bodies are found, what Eric thinks are hallucinations starat to increase, until there are physical things happening inside his house that lead him to suspect that little boy is trying to send him a message. But how can he get anyone to believe him?

When Susan’s path ovelaps Eric’s, an unlikely duo are formed as the two try to figure out the clues they are being given amid secrets held for decades. And can they do it in time to save themselves?

This is the first in a planned trilogy, and Auntie M won’t be surprised if Barz finds herself giving these two a series of their own beyond that. The contemporary romance writer (writing as Sloan Archer) has found an exhilarating way to combine a police procedural with a modern ghost story while illustrating how some people suffering from mental illness can lead almost-normal lives.

Victoria Helen Stone: False Step Friday, Jul 19 2019 

A young boy goes missing from his Denver home, and Veroncia Bradley, along with everyone else in the area, looks at her own young daughter and prays he will be found safely in Stone’s compelling False Step.

When the miracle happens, it’s her own husband, the charming Johnny who finds young Tanner Holcomb, grandson of a wealthy local family, when he’s out on one of his hikes. The rescue brings Johnny notoriety and something he needs even more: new clients for his fitness trainer business. With Veronica an occupational therapist, the little family has struggled financially.

Their young daughter, Sydney, is the focus of Veronica’s life. With her own father a philanderer who broke her mother’s heart before their divorce, Veronica never plans to divorce Johnny, even if their marriage has gone stale.

But Veronica does have a secret life that keeps her going, and it revolves around Johnny’s best friend. It’s an intense time at the Bradley house, made worse by the media focus, and all of Johnny’s fair weather friends coming to party.

Then news comes that Tanner didn’t just wander off, and suddenly things are changed. Veronica’s secret under threat, she treats everyone Johnny has in his circle with suspicion, as the police circle Johnny and the scrutiny becomes intense.

With a twisted tension that never leaves, readers will watch as Veronica desperately tries to maintain the facade she’s set up to get through her life. Until it all falls apart in a devastating manner.

A page-turner that feels all too believable.

Alex Dahl: The Heart Keeper Wednesday, Jul 17 2019 

Alex Dahl’s newest Scandanavian Noir, The Heart Keeper, comes with a giveaway! One lucky reader who leaves a comment will be chosen to receive a copy of the book, so all you readers and lurkers out there, leave a comment today!

The book has a harrowing premise that makes it irresistible. Alison is the former celebrated journalist who became a mother later in life, and then lost her little girl to a drowning accident. The tragedy is one she cannot get over, and she’s consumed with grief. It’s ruining her health and her marriage.

But one thought helps her through her sorrow: that other children have been helped by the donation of Amalie’s organs.

Iselin has her own daughter, a sickly child who needed a heart transplant. She has received Amalie’s heart, and two struggle to find normality after the effects of the huge surgery Kaia’s had.

The single mother, hurting for money, is surprised but welcomes Alison’s interest in her and her child, not realizing the connection.

Alison becomes convinced that Amalie lives in Kaia as things start to spiral out of control. The pace becomes frenetic as Alison puts in force a plan she’s been working on–a plan that will allow her to recapture Amalie, even a little bit.

It’s an all-too believeable premise that makes for a gritty tale of motherhood and obsession as Alison spirls out of control. A dark thriller.

Paul Burston: The Closer I Get Friday, Jul 12 2019 

Paul Burston’s The Closer I Get, examines the world of social media and how strong the connection can be between people who meet there—and how those relationships can sometimes go disastrously wrong.

Tom Hunter’s a successful novelist with a first book made into a movie that’s brought notoriety, who’s stumbling with his third book after a bomb of a second. He blames his writer’s block on the suffocating admiration of a woman he’s met online who won’t—or can’t—leave him alone.

Evie is a bit unstable, and has become obsessed with Tom. But online relationships are necessarily two-sided. Just how culpable is Tom? And what of his close friend, Emma? Despite Tom’s homosexuality, Emma has always been a shoulder for Tom to lean on, and he does so now.

What’s at play here for the reader is the idea that perhaps neither Evie nor Tom as reliable narrators, when the police become involved after Tom lodges a complaint about Evie’s obsession with him and her behavior. Cyber-stalking is very real, which makes this a timely and completely believeable story.

Here are two manipulative main characters, finely drawn, and the reader will find themselves siding with each one at times. There are mind games and reversals and lies told to others, but more interestingly, those we tell to ourselves.

A fascinating look at the personas that can be created online that come to be believed. Burston’s observant eye lends total credence to a plausible and chilling tale.

Lexie Elliott: The Missing Years Tuesday, Apr 23 2019 

After last year’s explosive debut, The French Girl, Lexie Elliott returns with another strong psychological thriller that explores the ideas of shifting memories and truths in The Missing Years.

Meet Ailsa Calder, a producer of investigative journalism who’s inherited her family home, The Manse, set in the hills of the Scottish Highlands, a nicely gothic setting for the story she unfolds. When her mother dies, Ailsa finds her inheritence is her mother’s half of the home. With her father missing for decades, she must have him declared legally dead in Scotland to inherit his half of the creeky old place.

She brings her half sister, actress Carrie, with her as she sets up camp in the house and tries to figure out if she even wants the old home. Foreboding and far too large, she feels she will sell it at as soon as possible. But this is a chance for her and Carrie to spend time together, even if she feels, ridiculously so, that the house doens’t want her there.

Ailsa, traveling the world on assignment, has had a long-term relationship with an older reporter, and she’s unclear about their future together. Then strange things start to happen at The Manse, from threatening notes to dead animals turning up on her doorstep, and she’s uncertain she has a future at all.

The locals Ailsa meets and becomes involved with are distinctly drawn, and function to serve not only as steadying influences but also devil’s advocates of a kind, as Ailsa starts to have difficulty deciding what is real and what is her imagination. Does the house want her to leave, or to uncover its secrets? Who can she trust amongst her new cadre of friends?

With overtones of Gaslight, the tension rises as the mystery into her father’s past rises to the surface in a chilling climax.

This one will have readers flipping pages long after the lights should be out. Elliott owes Auntie M a night’s sleep! Highly recommended.

Diane Les Becquets: The Last Woman in the Forest Wednesday, Apr 10 2019 

Author Les Becquets calls on her love of nature, coupled with a a string of real-life murders, and brings the experience of her own horrific assault to meld The Last Woman in the Forest into a consuming and deliberate high tension thriller.

Loner Marian Engstrom loves working with rescue dogs to help her track endangered wildlife amidst conservation efforts from the oil industry. A personal tragedy in northern Alberta has her questioning everything she once believed about the man she loved, Tate, and puts Marian on a quest to find the still-open serial killer of at least four women.

There are scenes of breath-takiing beauty and wilderness survival as Marian enlists the help of a retired forensic profiler, Nick Shepherd, to help her reach the truth–could the man she loved have been a serial killer?

With victim reports interspersed throughout, this character-driven thriller moves around timelines. Getting inside the head of a serial killer is done well, and as the two investigate, every time Marian thinks she’s uncovered something that points to Tate’s innocence, another clue points to his guilt.

With a startling climax, this is one that will keep readers wondering until its climax. The result is that women must take their own instincts into account, perhaps more than they are trained to do. A suspenseful thriller that will grip readers.

Timothy Jay Smith: The Fourth Courier Wednesday, Apr 3 2019 

Auntie M recently had the pleasure of interviewing Timothy Jay Smith about his new thriller, The Fourth Courier. Having lived in Warsaw in the early 90’s, Smith witnessed the upheaval of that time, and his experience brings a clear eye to the time. Don’t miss the video at after the interview, where you can see the town and listen to Smith explaining his premise. Welcome Timothy!

Auntie M: Your new novel, The Fourth Courier, is set in Poland. Tell readers what it’s about:

Timothy Jay Smith: The Fourth Courier opens in the spring of 1992, only four months after the collapse of the Soviet Union. A series of grisly murders in Warsaw suddenly becomes an international concern when radiation is detected on the third victim’s hands, raising fears that all the victims might have smuggled nuclear material out of Russia.

Poland’s new Solidarity government asks for help and the FBI sends Special Agent Jay Porter to assist in the investigation. He teams up with a gay CIA agent. When they learn that a Russian physicist who designed a portable atomic bomb is missing, the race is on to find him and the bomb before it ends up in the wrong hands.

My novels have been called literary thrillers because I use an event or threat to examine what the situation means to ordinary people. In The Fourth Courier, Jay becomes intimately involved with a Polish family, giving the reader a chance to see how the Poles coped with their collective hangover from the communist era.

AM: What prompted this particular story?

TJS: The Fourth Courier goes back a long way for me. In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell and Solidarity won the first free election in Poland in over sixty years. In the same year, Mikhail Gorbachav introduced new cooperative laws in the Soviet Union, which was an area of my expertise. I was invited to the Soviet Union as a consultant, which led to my consulting throughout the former Soviet bloc, eventually living for two years in Poland.

At the time, there was a lot of smuggling across the border between Russia and Poland, giving rise to fears that nuclear material, too, might be slipping across. While on assignment in Latvia, I met with a very unhappy decommissioned Soviet general, who completely misunderstood my purpose for being there. When an official meeting concluded, he suggested we go for a walk where we could talk without being overheard.

I followed him deep into a forest. I couldn’t imagine what he wanted. Finally we stopped, and he said, “I can get you anything you want.” I must have looked puzzled because he added, “Atomic.”

Then I understood. In an earlier conversation, there had been some passing remarks about the Soviets’ nuclear arsenal in Latvia, for which he had had some responsibility, and apparently still some access. While my real purpose for being there was to design a volunteer program for business specialists, he assumed that was a front and I was really a spy. Or perhaps he thought, I really did want to buy an atomic bomb!

AM: Have you always been a writer?

TJS: In the sense of enjoying to write, yes. I actually wrote my first stage play in fourth grade and started a novel in sixth grade, but I didn’t become a full-time fiction writer until twenty years ago. The first half of my adult life I spent working on projects to help low income people all over the world. I always enjoyed the writing aspects of my work—reports, proposals, even two credit manuals—but I reached a point where I’d accomplished my career goals, I was only forty-six years old, and I had a story I wanted to tell.

AM: And what was the story?

TJS: For over two years, I managed the U.S. Government’s first significant project to assist Palestinians following the 1993 Oslo Accords. One thing I learned was that everyone needed to be at the negotiating table to achieve an enduring peace. So I wrote a story of reconciliation—A Vision of Angels—that weaves together the lives of four characters and their families.

If anybody had ever hoped that a book might change the world, I did. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to bring about peace in the Middle East, but I’ve continued writing nevertheless.

AM: The Fourth Courier has a strong sense of place. It’s obvious that you know Warsaw well. Other than living there, what special research did you do?

Warsaw is a city with a very distinctive character. It’s always atmospheric, verging on gloomy in winter, and the perfect location for a noir-ish thriller.

I had left Warsaw several years before I decided to write a novel set there, so I went back to refresh my memory. I looked at it entirely differently. What worked dramatically? Where would I set scenes in my story?

It was on that research trip when all the events along the Vistula River came together for me. There was a houseboat. There was Billy’s shack, and Billy himself whose “jaundiced features appeared pinched from a rotting apple.” There were sandbars reached by narrow concrete jetties and a derelict white building with a sign simply saying Nightclub. Fortunately, Billy’s dogs were tethered or I wouldn’t be here to answer your questions.

My main character is an FBI agent, and I didn’t know much about that. A friend, who was an assistant to Attorney General Janet Reno, arranged a private tour of the FBI’s training facility in Quantico. That was before 9/11. I don’t think that could be done now. Maybe for James Bond himself but not for a wannabe writer.

If I was going to write a novel about smuggling a portable atomic bomb, I needed to know what a bomb entailed. Weight, seize, basic design, fuel? How would a miniature bomb be detonated? So I blindly contacted the Department of Energy. I explained what I wanted and was soon connected to an atomic expert who agreed to meet with me.

We met on the weekend at a Starbucks-like coffee shop in Rockville, MD. We met in line and were already talking about atomic bombs before we ordered our coffees. He had brought basic drawings of them. He was an expert and eager to share his knowledge.

Can you imagine having that conversation in a café today, openly looking at how-to schematics for building an atomic bomb while sipping skinny lattés?

AM: No, actually, I can’t! Today you’d probably be on the NSA’s radar just by making those calls. You’ve mentioned ‘scenes’ a couple of times. I know you also write screenplays. Do you find it difficult to go between the different formats or styles?

TJS: The sense of scene is crucial to my writing. It’s how I think about a story. Before I start new work, I always have the opening and closing scenes in my head, and then I ask myself what scenes do I need to get from start to finish.

I think it comes from growing up in a house where the television was never turned off. My sisters and I were even allowed to watch TV while doing homework if we kept our grades up. Sometimes I joke that canned laughter was the soundtrack of my childhood. I haven’t owned a television for many years, but growing up with it exposed me to telling stories in scenes, and it’s why my readers often say they can see my stories as they read them.

For me, it’s not difficult to go between prose and screenplays. In fact, I use the process of adapting a novel to a screenplay as an editing tool for the novel. It helps me sharpen the dialogue and tighten the story.

AM: I can see that and have a similar way of writing, visualizing the story in scenes. In your bio, you mention traveling the world to find your characters and stories, and doing things like smuggling out plays from behind the Iron Curtain. Was it all as exciting as it sounds?

TJS: It was only one play, and yes, I confess to having an exciting life. I’ve done some crazy things, too, and occasionally managed to put myself in dangerous situations. Frankly, when I recall some of the things I’ve done, I scare myself! By comparison, smuggling a play out of Czechoslovakia in 1974 seems tame. But I’ve always had a travel bug and wanted to go almost everywhere, so I took some chances, often traveled alone, and went to places where I could have been made to disappear without a trace.

AM: It sounds like you have a whole library full of books you could write. How do you decide what story to tell and who will be your characters?

TJS: I came of age in the 1960s during the Civil Rights Movement and the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, so I developed a strong sense of social justice. That guided my career choice more than anything, and when I quit working to write full-time, it was natural that I wanted my books to reflect my concerns. Not in a “big message” way, but more in terms of raising awareness about things that concern me.

For example, take Cooper’s Promise, my novel about a gay deserter from the war in Iraq who ends up adrift in a fictional African country. It was 2003, and in a few days, I was headed to Antwerp to research blood diamonds for a new novel. I was running errands when NPR’s Neal Conan (Talk of the Nation) came on the radio with an interview with National Geographic photographer Jodi Cobb about a project on modern-day slavery. It was the first time I heard details about human trafficking, and was so shocked by its enormity that I pulled my car off the road to listen.

I decided on the spot that I needed to find a story that touched on both blood diamonds and trafficking. When I went to Antwerp a few days later, I visited the Diamond District as planned, but also visited a safe house for women who had been rescued from traffickers.

AM: In The Fourth Courier, you team up a white straight FBI agent with a black gay CIA agent. Even Publishers Weekly commented that it seemed like an ideal set-up for a sequel. Do you plan to write one?

TJS: Probably not. My to-be-written list is already too long.

I’m close to finishing the final edits on a book set in Greek island village, which is more of a mystery about an arsonist than a thriller. I’ve already started a new novel set in Istanbul about a young refugee who’s recruited by the CIA to go deep undercover with ISIS. I’ve never written a novel set in the States but I have the idea for one.

To date, my books have been stand-alones with totally different settings, characters, and plots. I try to write what I like to read: smart mysteries/thrillers with strong plots and colorful characters set in interesting places. I suppose like me, I want my stories to travel around and meet new people.

AM: You’ve had gay protagonists or important characters since your first novel over twenty years ago when gay literature had not yet become mainstream. How would you say that affected your choices as a writer, if it did?

TJS: Friends warned me that I shouldn’t become known as a gay writer because it would pigeonhole me and sideline me from consideration as a serious writer. At the time, I think the general public thought gay books were all about sex and more sex. Of course, already there were many emerging gay literary writers; it was more stigma than reality.

The world of thrillers and mysteries is still largely uninhabited by gays. Hopefully I am helping to change that. I also hope that my novels expand my readers’ understanding of homosexuality in the places where I set them. In The Fourth Courier, the gay angle is key to solving the case. In my other novels, too, the plot turns on something gay, and the way it does is always something that couldn’t have happened in the same way anywhere else because of the cultural context.

AN: What do you want your readers to take away with The Fourth Courier?

TJS: What motivated me to write The Fourth Courier was a desire to portray what happened to ordinary Polish families at an exciting albeit unsettling moment in their country’s history. I hope my readers like my characters as much as I do—at least the good guys. The people are what made Poland such a great experience. The Fourth Courier is my thank-you note to them.

AM: Now that your interest is on high alert, here’s a link to purchase the book:

AM: And now as promised, here’s Timothy in Warsaw:

CJ Tudor: The Hiding Place Tuesday, Feb 5 2019 

CJ Tudor had a huge hit out of the box with last year’s The Chalk Man, and follows that up with another terrific stand-alone, The Hiding Place (in the UK, The Taking of Annie Thorne).

Joe Thorne has returned to the place he grew up, ostensibly to fill the place left open by a teacher who had killed her young son and then herself. Arnhill, an old mining town, hasn’t changed all that much, and Joe finds to his suprise that some of his old gang are still around, but none seem too happy to see him.

Renting an old cottage, the same one where the gruesome murder/suicide took place, Joe comes across the woman he yearned for all those years ago, now married to his worse enemy.

But Joe has hidden the real reason for his return, and while it seems fitting that he should, his appearance sets off a chain of events from which there will be no going back.

Joe’s young sister, Annie, disappeared when she was young, but returned, apparently unharmed a few days later. That was truly when things changed forever for Joe and his family.

Now as he struggles to keep an open mind and figure out what really happened to Annie all those years ago, he must face the ghosts of his past who are ever present.

To say this is a compelling, suspense-filled plot with multiple twists doesn’t do justice to Tudor’s knack for keeping readers glued to the page. Highly recommended.

Louisa Luna: Two Girls Down Wednesday, Jan 9 2019 

Louisa Luna’s knockout Two Girl’s Down introduces two highly original characters readers will want to follow.

California PI Alice Vega finds herself on a plane to a small town in Pennsylannia when two young girls disappear. Having built up a reputation for finding missing children, the girl’s aunt has contacted Vega to assist the local police.

Max Caplan is a disgraced cop trying to make a living as a PI while raising teenaged daughter, Nell, after a divorce. When Vega contacts him to be her local contact and work the case with her, an unlikely partnership develops.

The local police are less than helpful, and with Cap’s history, the two strike out on their own at first. With the FBI’s invovlement, an uneasy truce is struck on sharing information and the two go to town.

Vega is unlike any other investigator Cap has known. Tough and smart, strong and feisty, she has contacts he doesn’t. But Cap has the local knowledge she needs as the fast plot crackles with suspense.

All of the characters are well-drawn, from the distraught family to the witnesses the duo encounter. It’s a read that will keep you rooted to the page, cinematic in its detailed view. You can hear the screenwriters sharpening their pencils.

The twists keep coming with an ending that flips back on itself and brings even more surprises. Readers will be clamoring for more Vega and Cap. This is Auntie M’s first Highly Recommended of 2019.

Gilly Macmillan: I Know You Know Friday, Oct 12 2018 

Gilly Macmillan’s psychological thriller, I Know You Know, contrasts newly-found bones under asphalt with the twenty year-old unsolved murder case of two young boys.

The connection between both cases is Detective John Fletcher, who’s life has been haunted by the boy’s death. Charlie Paige and Scott Ashby were only eleven when murdered outside a Bristol dog racing track. Charlie was barely alive wtih Fletcher and his partner found the boys, and he died in Fletcher’s arms.

While a mentally-deficit local man was arrested and spent years in prison for the murders, there have always been those who felt Sidney Noyce didn’t commit the crimes.

Enter Cody Swift, not a filmmaker who was the third friend in a trio with the dead boys. He’s spent time digging into the reports and loose threads that remain from the initial investigation, and starts a podcast to find out the truth. He aims to get those who might have kept silent at the time to speak up now.

Through Macmillan’s taut and addictive pages, readers meet the families of the dead boys and learn the history of that night. Jess, Charlie’s mother, is a pivotal figure. Now happily married with a teen daughter, her first child and his death affect her every waking moment.

The long-dead body found near the site of the boy’s bodies means the two cases might be linked and Fletcher will do all he can to find out what really happened all those years ago.

A close look at a complicated case and how the actions of one detective had a domino affect on the lives of so many others.

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