Ragnar Jonasson: The Island Friday, Aug 7 2020 

This is the original review for Jonasson’s The Island, NOW out in paperback!

Jonasson’s second Icelandic series with its compelling protagonist, Detective Inspector Hulda Hermansdottir, returns with its second installment in The Island.

The time period is set earlier than in last year’s The Darkness and its startling ending. It’s 1987 when the book opens with the details of a new young couple’s romantic but secret trip to the isolation of the Westfjords, a trip that ends in disaster when the young woman is found dead.

A decade later, four friends have a reunion to honor their dead friend, reconnecting with a trip to an old hunting lodge in an even more isolated area of southern Iceland. Cut off from the outside world for the weekend, only three will survive.

Hulda is determined to find the culprit, which means she must explore the history behind the initial investigation into the young woman’s death. She needs to explore the relationships between all of the principal’s involved, some of which had drastic and tragic results, as well as the way in which the investigation itself was handled by her police colleagues.

What she finds will reveal long held secrets that have ramifications for several families as well as Hulda herself.

With the dark, foreboding setting an adjunct character, Jonasson makes the most of Hulda’s tragic life and frustrations as she finds herself looking into the deepest recesses of the darkness that lurks within us. Masterful look into the human psyche.

Vanda Symon: The Ringmaster Tuesday, Dec 24 2019 

After introducing Sam Shepherd in Overkill, the newly-minted New Zealand detective returns in The Ringmaster.

With a move to the university town of Dunedin, rooming at the home of her best friend’s aunt and uncle, Sam is a lowly detective constable with an unerring sense of human nature.

Sam clashes with her boss, who keeps her under his thumb, yet is forced to include her on the fringes of an investigation into the murder of a university researcher. The young woman’s work was the envy of her doctoral colleagues, yet Sam suspects the motive to be far more personal.

With a local circus in town, Sam connects several unsolved murders to dates of visits by this traveling circus, and soon the interviews are interminable. This is where Symon shines, as she manages to bring humanity to the various workers, and even the animals. There will be more tragedy, some that impacts Sam personally, before the stunning and unforeseen climax.

Symon brings the New Zealand setting wrapped into the story so well its stark beauty becomes another character with her vivid imagery. The series will make you want to visit the area.

But the story belongs to Sam, feeling her way in what is still very much a man’s police world here. Her wit and foibles make her a very likable and identifiable young woman, one readers will have no difficulty following.

Look for book 3 in the series, Containment, in the US in early 2020. Highly recommended. @OrendaBooks @vandasymon.

Nicola Upson: Sorry for the Dead Tuesday, Oct 8 2019 

After the tremendous success of the stand-alone Stanley and Elsie, Nicola Upson’s tour de force of the artist Stanley Spencer’s complicated marriage and art from the view of his housekeeper, Elsie Munday, the author gives us the the eighth in her series the Sunday Times calls “historical fiction at its very best” featuring Josephine Tey as its main character in Sorry for the Dead.

Upson takes readers in part to Tey’s younger years, alternating with the time period associated with the majority of the previous novels in the 1930s, with a few brief forays a decade later. It is to Upson’s credit that the details for each period ring true and cement each era without confusing the reader. Indeed, the reader becomes immersed in each time frame, in its details and its mores within history.

These periods are needed to tell the story that starts in 1915, when a young Josephine is present as a teacher at Charleston Farmhouse on the Sussex Downs when a young girl dies under suspicious circumstances.

Decades later when Josephine returns to the same house, the memories of those days already brought to the forefront of her mind by recent events, she remembers the two women who ran the farm and taught horticulture to young women during the Great War.

Georgina Hartford-Wroe and Harriet Barker had a difficult time with the neighboring farmers, with whispers about their personal relationship they might have overcome, if not for the tragic death of the girl in their care. That death will turn out to haunt both women for the rest of their lives.

Deftly weaving the storylines between young Josephine’s life and choices then to the path she has chosen as an adult, readers are given privy to her backstory and the events surrounding the death; and later as an adult as she determines she must follow up on the death of that young woman.

In each period, Upson’s language captures the essence of any scene, such as when Josephine as an adult peers into the former site of the girl’s death: “Everything was covered by a silver labyrinth of spiders’ webs, miraculously strong enough to hold the past in place,” presenting a wonderful foreshadowing of the secrets from that long-ago day.

In the earlier time frame, she illustrates the pathos of a WWI train station:

“The platform had filled up quickly, with no one willing to board the train before the last possible moment. She scanned the faces of those who had come to see their loved ones off: wives who talked too much to hide their fear; fathers standing strict and silent; children for whom a uniform hadn’t lost its glamour … As for the men themselves, their faces were set and impassive, and she noticed how few of them dared to look for long at the people they loved.”

This sense of loss, the effects of war, the horrors it brought to those who fought and to those left behind, are indicated in such a subtle but discerning way that it is impossible to forget the aura of the day in the earlier chapters, and in those of 1938, the lead up to the brink of new horrors.

The ending brings with it not so much a sense of justice as that of survival and ultimately, unending love. This is an accomplished novel, as moving as it is complex, with the mystery of a young woman’s death at its heart. Highly recommended.

Carol Pouliot: Threshold of Deceit Tuesday, Sep 24 2019 

Carol Pouliot’s Threshold of Deceit is the second in her Blackwell and Watson Time-Travel mysteries.

It’s 1934, and the Depression is still felt, John Dillinger is on the run, and people trying to ignore rumors of Hitler’s strength. A nature-filled picnic soon becomes the site of a murder; readers know the killer of Frankie Russo is a woman, but which of the suspects introduced could it be?

Detective Steven Blackwell has many women in his life in the small NY town of Knightbsbridge who need to be eliminated, some related by marriage. The woman his thoughts linger on, however, is Olivia, the young woman from contemporary times who he’s met through extraordinary circumstances.

Living in the house where he grew up, Steven and Olivia are navigating this unusual facet and it’s Olivia who wants to spend time in 1934. But will she be able to return to her time?

On her first prolonged visit, period details Olivia notices at a smoke-filled pub, while wearing Steven’s mother’s clothing, set the stage for the era, as does the absence of cell phones. Using her research background as cover, Olivia and Steven explain that she’s writing a series of articles on women of the time and their roles, from the famous like Katharine Hepburn and Amelia Earhart, to the local women at the knitting factory.

Frankie Russo was married to Lucy, but was known as a ladies man, working two jobs, alternating weeks away at his second job in Syracuse. As Steven’s investigation widens, detecting in 1934 is vastly different from today’s forensic work and plethora of tools available to the police. Then a second murder occurs, bringing the pressure to bear on Steven and his team.

Meanwhile, Olivia has detecting of her own to do. Her elder friend, Isabel, asks Olivia to use her research skills to find the twin brother she’s never known. Readers see how Olivia manages look for the missing sibling using today’s methods, a nice contrast to the murder investigation.

Pouliot gets the slang of 1934 just right while wrapping up both investigations. Along the way there will be family secrets, blackmail, affairs, and adoptions. And the time-travel continues between these two compelling characters. A satisfying sequel that will leave readers waiting for book three.

NFReads.com: Paying it Forward Saturday, May 18 2019 

This article by Auntie M appears today in NF Reads (nfreads.com). Just click on the link if you’re interested in reading how her relationship with PD James led to Auntie M starting the Writers Read program in Belhaven NC:


Laura Kalpakian: The Great Pretenders Sunday, Apr 28 2019 

Laura Kalpakian brings 1950s Hollywood leaping off the page in The Great Pretenders.

It’s the time of the McCarthy hearings, and no one is more aware of the ramifications for Hollywood than gutsy Roxanne Granville, granddaughter of a studio mogul who decides to start her own writers agency after dropping out of college to be independent after the death of her beloved grandmother, who raised her in Paris.

After her studio-head grandfather gets her a job at an agency where the boss thinks sexually harrassing her is in her job description, Roxanne leaves to figure out her future.

Deciding to change the course of what she sees as overt racism, Roxanne uses front men to obtain scriptwriting jobs for men who’ve been ostracized for their beliefs. She also starts a relationship with an African-American journalist, Terrence Dexter.

Roxanne is determined to lead her own life. This will have devastating consequences for some of the people in her orbit. Dropping actor and studio names with aplomb, Roxanne rubs up against all of the people of the era, vividly bringing that time to life, when studios governed their actors and writers private lives or made them up; when gossip was king; and when a congressional hearing with the wrong answers could exile someone to Europe or Mexico.

A fascinating look at the Hollywood blacklist and racial prejudices of the time, filled with the glitzy stuff and lore of that storied town. Readers will revel in the behind-the-scenes gossip of Hollywood at the time, while the story brings to the forefront the way lives were destroyed unfairly and how mixed-race relationships were denied. It wasn’t really that long ago . . .

Thomas A Burns, Jr: Trafficked! Monday, Apr 1 2019 

I am Thomas A. Burns, Jr., author of the Natalie McMasters Mysteries. I want to thank M. K. Graff for graciously allowing me a guest post on her blog on the day that my third Natalie McMasters novel, Trafficked!, goes live on Amazon. She also served as a member of the Trafficked! book launch team.

Who is Natalie McMasters?

Natalie McMasters is a detective for the new millennium. As Trafficked! opens, she’s twenty-one, short and blonde (OK, it’s bleached), a way cute former stripper and a pre-law student on a leave of absence from State University. Nattie also moonlights as a private detective trainee at her uncle’s 3M detective agency. The stories are written in her voice in the present tense, to heighten the immediacy of the narrative and put the reader into her head so they can experience the story right along with her. If you don’t watch out, Nattie will get in your head!

Nattie was introduced in the short story, Stakeout!, which you can read for free. I published the first novel, Stripper!, in April,2018, followed by Revenge! in October. While the novels are chronological, enough background is given so each one can be enjoyed as a standalone.

In Stripper!, Nattie enters the seamy world of web cams and strip clubs to hunt a killer. Her investigation forces her to reassess many of the ideas that she’s lived by her whole life and do things she’s never considered before – strip on a stage, question her sexuality, and rediscover the meaning of love itself.

Revenge! is a sequel to Stripper! A scandalous video of Nattie from her web cam days is posted on the State campus CCTV system for all to see, and is just the first in a series of vicious attacks on Nattie, her family and her friends. What could she have possibly done to someone in her short life to deserve the callous revenge her unseen tormentor is so brutally exacting?

Trafficked! is the sequel to Revenge! and tells of Nattie’s search through New York City’s squalid sexworld for the most important person in her life, who doesn’t want to be found.

The investigation of the mystery is only one aspect of the story told in Trafficked! Additionally, it’s my personal homage to New York City, where I spent four years of my life as a high school student.

Trafficked! is also about love, sexuality and relationships, the importance of friends and family, and sheds light on serious social issues such as homelessness, drug addiction, and human trafficking. Parts of it are dark and gritty, and may be disturbing to some readers. The Natalie McMasters books are not cozy mysteries!

I already have a working title and a plot for a fourth novel, which I hope to have out by the end of 2019. It will resolve some of Nattie’s life issues resulting from the events in Trafficked!, and have a gothic setting.

I was born and grew up in New Jersey, attended Xavier High School in Manhattan, earned B.S. degrees in Zoology and Microbiology at Michigan State University, and a M.S. in Microbiology at North Carolina State University. I currently live in Wendell, North Carolina with my wife Terri, my younger son Taidhgin, four cats and a Cardigan Welsh Corgi.

As a kid, I started reading mysteries with the Hardy Boys, Ken Holt and Rick Brant, and graduated to the classic stories by authors such as A. Conan Doyle, Dorothy Sayers, John Dickson Carr, Erle Stanley Gardner and Rex Stout, to name a few. I’ve written fiction as a hobby all my life, starting with Man from U.N.C.L.E. stories in marble-backed copybooks in grade school. I built a career as technical, science and medical writer and editor, working nearly thirty years in industry and government.

Now that I’m truly on my own as a full-time novelist, I’m excited to publish my own mystery series. I’ve also got a story about my second most favorite detective in Volume XIV of the MX anthology of New Sherlock Holmes Stories, entitled “The Horror in King Street,” coming out in June.

You can learn more about Nattie by signing up for my newsletter on my website, and follow me on BookBub, Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr.

Three Thrillers: Berry, Margolin,Ryan Sunday, Mar 10 2019 

For your reading pleasure this March, as the rains come and the winds blow: three thrillers certain to keep your mind off the weather! Watch this spot for Margolin and Ryan later this week!

Steve Berry’s Cotton Malone thriller, The Malta Exchange, has been compared to Brown’s The Da Vinci Code with its ties to the Vatican, but it has a more complex plot that will capture your attention.

Malone sure does get around, and readers have to hope Berry and his wife, who are co-founders of History Matters, a non-profit that preserves historic sites, manage to get in some travel to the places Malone does when Berry is doing research for a new novel.

In Italy on Lake Como, Malone is trying to track letters between Churchill and Mussolini. Having disappeared in 1945, these could literally change our experience of the history of that time. But as if that alone is not enough of a storyline, of course Malone is not the only one who’s on their trail.

This is all happening at the same time a conclave is in progress to elect a new pope. Kastor Cardinal Gallo, however, is off looking for a document in Malta that stretches back to the 4th Century, but are his motives pure?

The two trails will soon merge. Readers will learn the older history of the Catholic Church as well as the more recent the role of the popes during the rise of Fascism and Mussolini in Italy. The Knights of Malta play an important role and readers learn their history (they exist to this day), as one of the smallest sovereign nations in the world. All the settings are well described, readers will feel they have been there, without it ever coming across as a travelogue.

Because the story starts a day before the Conclave is about to begin, that time constraint adds to the fast pacing. There are older characters readers know, like Stephanie and Luke, but also new ones, including twin brothers. Sure to delight readers new to the series and repeaters.

Sophie Hannah: The Next to Die Friday, Feb 22 2019 

The multi-faceted Sophie Hannah does it all: compelling stand-alones, resurrecting Hercule Poirot for Agatha Christie’s estate, and her Culver Valley police procedural series. But she doesn’t stop there–the hallmark of this series is that the protagonist of each book is a character involved in the action, not the detectives, centered on Simon Waterhouse and his wife, Charlie Zailer.

We learn of the continuing saga of the married duo as a secondary plot, insinuating itself into the main plot of the newest in the series, The Next to Die. And a strong feminist will muddy the waters by insisting the killer being sought is a misogynist pig, as three of the four victims are women. Could she be right?

There’s more than a bit of sly humor when your protagonist is a professional stand-up comedian. Kim Tribbeck has received a little white book, mostly blank, with a few lines of poetry inside. She’s tossed it away, but she does remember receiving it.

The importance of this becomes clear when a murderer takes to killing pairs of best friends, four in all over the last four months. In each case he’s given the victim one of these same hand-made books before killing them. Each contains a line of poetry. Each poet was a woman whose name started with an E. So where does that lead them?

Dubbed “Billy Dead Mates” by the police, the detectives have exhausted ways to link the victims. It becomes clear the case revolves around books, but in what way? And if these are truly killings of best friends, why was Kim Tribbeck given a copy and left to live? Could it be that the fact she hasn’t had a best friend in years have saved her life?

At once convoluted yet sharply intelligent, the plot wraps around itself until the superb mind of Simon Waterhouse allows him to see beyond the obvious and pull the case together.

There’s an almost gothic feel to the book, as the story unfolds by way of excerpts from a book Kim writes after the case is over, added to by conventional chapters of interviews and the thoughts of the various detectives on the team searching for this killer.

The characters are true to themselves, with distinctly-drawn personalities that show Hannah’s expertise at describing the psychology of different people with that wry edge that smacks of verisimilitude until they seem to leap off the page. The Independent has compared Hannah to Patricia Highsmith and Ruth Rendall with good reason.

Simon Lelic: The Liar’s Room Tuesday, Jan 15 2019 

Simon Lelic’s The Liar’s Room bring an original concept to a thriller, a high stakes cat-and-mouse game that is unsettling while entrapping the reader in this gripping read.

When therapist Susanna Fenton starts a session with a new patient, her instincts tell her something’s off. Adam Geraghty gives off vibes that have Susanna’s sense on high alert, but she gives him the benefit of the doubt.

Until she soon realizes from their exchanges that Adam is determined to break into the secrets of her past which include her new identity, started years ago to protect her teen daughter.

During the course of this single therapy session, as the light fades and her hopes start to dwindle, Susanna must face the tragedy of the earlier life she sought to overcome.

The story alternates between this session, diary entries, and Susannna’s own memories to tell the story. Who is the real liar here? An unsettling and yet deeply engrossing story, where neither the patient nor the therapist are whom they claim to be.

Next Page »