Nupur Tustin: A Minor Deception Thursday, Dec 15 2016 

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Please welcome Nupur Tustin, who will describe the starting point for her historical mystery starring none other than Austrian composer Haydn:

How Haydn Captured My Heart

Nupur Tustin

Franz Joseph Haydn, the Austrian composer, was born in the tiny village of Rohrau, the son of a wheelwright and his wife. By the year 1766 when A Minor Deception, the first Haydn mystery, begins, he was being hailed as the “darling of the nation,” and was employed by the wealthiest and most powerful noble family in the Habsburg Empire, the Esterházys.

But this amazing rags-to-riches story, inspiring as it is, isn’t what compelled me to choose Haydn as the protagonist of my historical mystery series. The qualities that won me over are quite different.

In the year 1802, seven years before his death, Haydn received a letter from the music lovers of a small German town called Bergen. The musicians in this little town had performed his oratorio—a religious opera—The Creation. The work had been so well-received and enjoyed so much, the town and its inhabitants felt obliged to communicate their delight to the composer.

Now, Haydn by this time was “free of care,” as he put it. He owned a comfortable house in Gumpfendorf, at the time a suburb of Vienna, and was able to afford a good glass of wine and enjoy three or four courses at dinner. He had received medals and honors, and had consorted with “emperors, kings, and many great gentlemen.”

Yet a letter from this obscure town received an immediate response. “It was indeed a most pleasant surprise to receive such a flattering letter from a place where I could have no idea that the fruits of my poor talents were known,” he begins, going on to express his own delight that the work had been so well-received.

This is only one of countless tales of Haydn’s humility, his modesty, and his complete lack of ego even at the height of his success. It gave him genuine pleasure that anyone enjoyed performing and listening to his compositions. It mattered not who you were.

That modesty was accompanied by a strong sense of humor that took no umbrage when he was mistaken for a servant and treated brusquely.

Good fortune may have taken him from Rohrau to Vienna, the musical capital of the Habsburg Empire. But it was sheer diligence that resulted in Haydn’s fame and fortune.

“I was diligent,” Haydn was to say years later. “When my comrades went to play, I took my little Clavier under my arm and went up to the attic, where I could practice undisturbed.”

It took ten long years of grinding poverty before he received employment as Kapellmeister—Director of Music—first to Count Morzin and later the princely Esterházy family.

In those years of living in a dingy attic, without heat, with barely enough money to keep body and soul together, did the young Haydn sometimes feel discouraged, and wonder if his hard work would pay off? If so, what encouraged him to continue?

A passage from the letter of 1802 provides the answer:

Often, when contending with obstacles of every sort that interfered with my work, often when my powers both of body and mind were failing and I felt it a hard matter to persevere in the course I had entered on, a secret voice within me whispered, “There are but few contented, happy peoples here below; everywhere grief and care prevail; perhaps your labors may one day be the source from which the weary and worn, or the man burdened with affairs, may derive a few moments’ rest and refreshment.” What a powerful motive for pressing onward!

What a powerful motive, indeed! Haydn was speaking of the exhausting labor that went into the writing of the Creation. But I like to think that the same voice kept him on his course when as a young man poverty and hunger may have tempted him to look for some easier means of earning a living.

It’s hard work being a writer. The pursuit of any worthy endeavor, in fact, is hard. The road may not be long, but it is arduous. But Haydn’s own diligence, his ability to forge ahead despite obstacles, have taught me to persevere, even in the telling of his story.

He was never an amateur sleuth, although if someone had approached him for help, he would have given it quite willingly. His readiness to help, his humility, and his diligence serve as a moral compass for me. Quite simply, Haydn is my muse.

A Minor Deception is a fun, entertaining mystery. But much of Haydn’s character shines through in the fiction I weave. I hope as you read my novel, the Kapellmeister will capture your heart as he did mine.

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Bio:
A former journalist, Nupur Tustin relies upon a Ph.D. in Communication and an M.A. in English to orchestrate fictional mayhem. Childhood piano lessons and a 1903 Weber Upright share equal blame for her musical works. A Minor Deception is the first in her Joseph Haydn mystery series. Print and e-copies are available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, and Kobo.
Haydn Series: http://ntustin.com
Haydn Blog: http://ntustin.com/blog
Music: ntustin.musicaneo.com

Buy Links:
Amazon Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01M4HHNXT?ref_=pe_2427780_160035660
Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/s/Nupur+Tustin?_requestid=744712
Kobo: https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/a-minor-deception
iBooks: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id1164641370

HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE: Great reads for your gift list Thursday, Dec 1 2016 

At this time of year, Auntie M likes to give readers a compendium, if you will, of stacks of books to choose from for gifts for the readers on your list. Don’t forget her axiom that it’s perfectly reasonable to buy a few for yourself!

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Let’s start off with a little goodie that should soon appear in stockings all over the world: Short stories from the Queen of British Mystery, P D James, gathered into a slim volume perfect for stockings. The Mistletoe Murder and other Stories contains four classic short stories, two featuring her detective, poet Adam Dalgliesh. For a brief moment in time, readers can hear James’ voice in their reader ear once again. A delightful foreword by Val McDermid and a preface by James herself frame the perfect holiday treat. These are delicious: a snapshot of a setting, a crime to be solved, and you’re off! That’s the US cover on the left and the UK cover on the right. Enjoy!

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Keeping with the holiday theme is Ann Myers’ third Santa Fe Cafe` Mystery, Feliz Navidead
. Chef Rita Lafitte of Tres Amigas Cafe has her mom visiting from Minnesota to entertain, while keeping track of her teenage daughter performing in the outdoor Christmas play. When Rita discovers a dead actor during the first performance, she swears off investigating, but soon finds herself involved in a very dangerous situation. The Knit and Snitchers, her elderly group of knitting ladies, are back, giving information and clues to Rita even as they sneak their knitting onto statues and stop signs. There are a host of other entertaining characters, and don’t forget Rita’s mom. Who can resist Santa Fe at Christmas? Watch Rita solve a murder and drool over Myers’ recipes, too.

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The Twelve Dogs of Christmas
is David Rosenfelt’s newest Andy Carpenter mystery in the long-running series. This time he and his trusty golden retriever are helping his friend “Pups” Boyer, accused of murder when said neighbor is found dead–by Pups. It doesn’t help that the neighbor had filed a complaint against Pups and the noise of her local dog rescue. While Andy doesn’t believe Pups is guilty, his digging will bring him closer than he’d like to the real murderer. Rosenfelt’s real Tara Foundation, which finds home for injured or sick dogs, is the basis for Andy’s foundation.


Maggie Patterson is helping out her sick sister, covering for her at The Wine and Bark, the dog-friendly bar Rachel runs in a usually-quiet seaside town in California in Trigger Yappy. It’s Maggie who hears the argument between her friend Yolanda and Bonnie, the gal who runs the Chic Chickie shop. When Bonnie is murdered, the Roundup Crew and the very cute Officer Brad Brooks are on hand to help Maggie investigate to clear Yolanda, even if means putting her purser job on hold to do so. Filled with good humor, charm and a bit of romance.

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We’ll stick with humor in Agatha Raisin’s latest adventure, Pushing Up Daisies. M. C. Beaton’s beloved character is the kind of sleuth Miss Marple wouldn’t recognize, with her hard-drinking man lust. A land developer is murdered and there are far too many suspects. Lord Bellington wanted to turn the community garden into a housing development, so there are few tears shed at his death. The villagers seem happy enough that his heir and son, Damian, doesn’t intend to follow his father’s plans, but he does want to find his father’s killer, and hires Agatha to investigate. This time a retired detective is on hand to assist Agatha, and it helps that he’s handsome. Agatha doesn’t let a second murder of a woman seen kissing the new detective deter her from her case–or him. Vintage Beaton.

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A switch to historicals, and we start of with the continuing Charles Lenox series by Charles Finch with The Inheritance. With fine attention to Victorian detail, Lenox is thrust into his most personal case yet. His friend from Harrow, Gerald Leigh, asks for help from Lenox, only to disappear. Knowing that in the past Leigh has been the recipient of a bequest from an anonymous benefactor, he finds Leigh has received a second bequest. Could they be from the same person? And what does either had to do with his friend’s disappearance? His investigation will take him from the highs of society to the lows of the gangs of the east end of London before it’s over. An intricate plot with realistic and finely-drawn period details.

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Ian Sansome’s new County Guides novel, Westmoreland Alone
, with Stephen Sefton as narrator, Professor Morley (the People’s Professor) and his daughter Miriam, newly engaged, set out to conquer the Lake District. Owing to the the rather unusual end to Sefton’s night at the pub and cards before leaving, he persuades Morley he should take the train, with disastrous effect. A horrid crash reminds Sefton of his time in Spain and there is a tragic death. It’s the juxtaposition of the three personalities that provides a lot of the humor in the strained setting. Stranded after the fatal train crash, the three become involved in a suspicious death when the body of a woman is found at an archeological dig. It’s 1930’s England with all of the mores of the time. We see more of Sefton’s PTSD as the trio investigate gypsies, wrestling habits, country fairs and more.

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Wilbur Smith has been called “the best historical novelist” by Stephen King, and he brings that talent to ancient Egypt in Pharaoh
. This action-packed epic follows the Pharaoh’s advisor, Taita, where Egypt is under a brutal attack and Pharaoh Tamose is gravely injured. Despite leading the army to victory, Taita is branded a traitor after Tamose dies by the new Pharaoh. With his first person narrative bringing Taita and Egypt to life, sometimes in a boastful way, history feels present under Smith’s skilled hands when a kidnaping leads to preparation for another war.
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1967 Florence and Italian culture come alive under Mario Vichi’s hands in the fifth Inspector Bordelli mystery, Death in the Tuscan Hills. Florence is getting over the tragic floods of the previous winter but Bordelli has resigned after failing to solve the investigation into a young boy’s murder at that time. He leaves the city, determined to find peace in his new home in the Tuscan hills, despite the nagging thorn in his side by leaving the boy’s killers free. While he learns a new way of life, tending to an olive grove, gardening, cooking, and worries about his confused love life, he still obsesses about the men at large. Retribution is at hand when he discovers all the cohorts’ identities. But now what will he do about it? An absorbing tale with Vichi’s usual footnotes for clarification in several places.

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Will Thomas’ latest Barker and Llewellyn novel put their detecting skills to the test in Hell Bay, an impossible crime set in 1889 Isles of Scilly, off the coast of Cornwall. Barker has been tasked with providing security for a secret meeting with the French government at the estate there of Lord Hargrave. The security team fails miserably, with two deaths on the island and no means of leaving or signaling for help. It’s a classic locked-area mystery, as Barker and Llewelyn race to uncover the killer among them before he strikes again and dashes all hope of negotiating a new treaty with France. Chock full of historical details and rising tension.

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Andrew Hunt’s Desolation Flats captures 1930s Salt Lake City in his Art Oveson series. The famed Bonneville Salt Flats are the site of international racers, there to break the land speed record. Then Nigel Underhill, a wealthy English participant, is murdered, and his brother disappears. It’s a case for Art in the Missing Person’s Bureau, and he’s been handed a helper: a former Scotland Yard detective the Underhill family has hired to assist Art. The trail will lead them between Utah and London and end in a most unlikely manner. A gritty and engrossing read.

For readers who enjoy books set in different countries, check out these:

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Adam LeBor’s Yael Azoulay series have been praised for the geopolitical thrillers’ realistic and intelligent plotting and savvy yet human protagonist. Yael has managed to stop the plans of the powerful Prometheus Group and its leader is out for revenge. This third installment, The Reykjavik Assignment, takes the covert UN negotiator to Iceland for a secret meeting she’s arranged during a UN conference between three key players: the US Secretary of State, The UN Secretary General, and the President of Iran. She soon discovers a plan to disrupt it as an act of revenge against Yael herself. As the tension rises, and with the US President on hand, Yael races to stop the murder of the UN Secretary by unmasking the killer, who has his own motives for wanting the man dead. A chilling climax with a surprising twist at the end will answer some of Yael’s long-held questions. A stunning end to the trilogy.

realtigers It’s off to England and London’s Slough House in Mick Herron’s Real Tigers, a Jackson Lamb spy thriller that’s been called some of the finest spy fiction of the last 20 years. Slough House is where a disgraced spy is sent to push paper. But when one is the victim of a revenge kidnapping, it leads to a group of private mercenaries within the Security Service. Enter Jackson Lamb to sort it all out in a manner that will convince readers the spy novel with sharp dialogue and filled with sly wit is still around.

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The Patriarch brings Bruno, Chief of Police, to the French countryside for the birthday celebration of the man who is Bruno’s childhood hero: Marco “the Patriarch” Desaix, a WWII flying ace. He knows many of the attendees, and is enjoying himself immensely, far away from his daily grind, when a longtime friend of the family is found dead. What started as a pleasant day turns into the kind of investigation he’d hoped to avoid, as what at first appears to be a tragedy may just be a murder. With his hero’s family all coming under suspicion, he must tread lightly in the Dordogne, from the river chateaus to the prehistoric cave paintings to find a killer.

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To North Korea and the enigmatic Inspector O, in James Church’s sixth in the series, The Gentleman from Japan
. Living with his nephew, Bing, the director of state security in northeast China near the border of North Korea, Inspt. O becomes involved when Bing needs his help after there are seven deaths in one night, apparent poisonings in noodle shops. Despite not wanting to investigate them, Bing needs O’s help more than ever. Their investigation will take them to Spain and Portugal before it’s straightened out as a world-wide plot develops. Satisfying and complex.

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Back to the US for some great mysteries. Douglas Schofield’s Storm Rising fits that bill, with cop’s widow Lucy Hendricks leading the charge. After leaving for Florida, Lucy decides its time to move home to New Jersey and lay her old ghosts to rest. Yet the mystery surrounding her husband’s death becomes even stronger when her young son, Kevin, experiences a change in his behavior. With Hurricane Sandy quickly approaching, the elements conspire to destroy more than Lucy’s home as she tries to unpick the mystery surrounding her husband’s death. A true mystery laden with supernatural elements.

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Not supernatural, but with a substance not known in earth: that’s the crux of the case before Kay Scarpitta in Patricia Cornwell’s new CHAOS
. A bicyclist has been killed with superhuman force and Kay and her investigating partner, Peter Marino, are on the case in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where the body has been found near the Kennedy School of Government. What doesn’t add up are the calls Kay’s husband, FBI agent Benton Wesley, have received before the incident from Interpol. Or were they? And when her tech-savvy niece Lucy fails to be able to trace the sender, all bets are off with a cyberbully involved. High tension, detailed forensics, and a whopping good story.

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Ellen Crosby brings back her Virginia Wine Country Mysteries under the Minotaur umbrella in The Champagne Conspiracy. Vintner-sleuth Lucie Montgomery investigates an older mystery with her partner, Quinn Santori, when his uncle Gino enlists their help solving the 1920s death of Zara Tomasi, the first wife of his grandfather, who died under suspicious circumstances in 1923. Is there a connection to her death the day after President Warren Harding died at the same San Francisco hotel? With a blackmailer breathing down their necks, Gino and Lucie search for the truth before a family secret is revealed. Everything they hold dear will come under threat as a murderer tries to keep the truth about Zara’s death buried in time.

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Gritty crime fiction takes to the streets of the Bronx in John Clarkson’s
Bronx Requiem
. James Beck is back, and he takes it hard when an ex-con, determined to change his ways, is murdered just hours after his release before he can change his life. Enter James Beck, whose ring of ex-cons in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn try to find justice for the murdered man. But a deeper look into a street killing turns into something more complicated, and soon Beck and his ring need to watch their own backs to uncover the truth. Fast-paced and action filled.

And for those who want a paperback for stocking stuffers or maybe that grab bag gift, look no further than these:

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Her Last Breath is Linda Castillo’s Kate Burkholder entry new in paperback, and she’s a favorite of readers with good reason. Investigating the world of the Amish isn’t easy, but it’s a world Kate knows, and as Chief of Police, she’s called in to a hit-and-run that leaves an Amish deacon and of two of his children dead, with a third clinging to life. The Amish lifestyle is accurately portrayed, its simplicity a stark contrast to the rapid pace and high tension. The widow was Kate’s friend as youths, and while she’s determined to find the killer, she starts to suspect it’s much more than a simple case in Painters Mill.

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Sophie Hannah’s The Narrow Bed
is part of her Culver Valley crime series with the highly interesting married detective duo, Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer. A serial killer is murdering pairs of best friends after giving the victim a hand-made white book containing a line of poetry before their death. Their search centers around stand-up comedian Kim Tribbeck, who was a recipient of one of the white books, but is still alive a year later. How they solve this crime and it all comes together shows the hallmark of Hannah’s complex plotting for a read that’s filled with pathos and psychological ambiguity.

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Carla Norton’s What Doesn’t Kill Her is the second Reeve Le Clair thriller. Now a college student after surviving being the captive of killer Daryl Wayne Flint, she’s getting her life back on track. Then the unthinkable happens: Flint manages to escape from the psychiatric hospital where he’s been held, and starts killing people from his past, settling old scores. And that included Reeve, and she knows she’s on his list. Not only that: she realizes she’s the one who knows him best and is the only one who can stop him. Chilling and tautly plotted.

And one for your true crime aficionado: possessed
True crime writer Kathryn Casey earned Ann Rule’s two thumbs up as one of the best in the business. Now Casey explores the “Infamous Texas Stiletto Murder” in Possessed
, taking readers to Houston and what at first glance is a domestic murder. The details include the magnetic and erratic Ana Trujillo, who had a reputation in Houston for her supposed occult powers. Stefan Andersson is the gentle, Swedish man who falls for Ana and comes under her spell. A fascinating look at the forensic evidence and witness testimony comes under the microscope as Ana tries to claim she killed Stefan in self defense. Meticulously presented.

Eleanor Kuhns: The Devil’s Cold Dish Wednesday, Jun 15 2016 

Please welcome Eleanor Kuhns, who will describe how witches and witchcraft are not just found in Salem, and how that ties into her new Will Rees mystery:

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Witches and Witchcraft – Not just Salem

While I was researching Death in Salem, I visited this city several times. Since Will Rees, my amateur detective (and traveling weaver) visits Salem in the mid 1790’s, a full one hundred years after the trials, I did not write about the trials. I alluded to them of course, but by 1796 Salem is a wealthy and cosmopolitan city, the wealthiest in the new United States and the sixth largest.

But I couldn’t get the witch trials out of my head. Why did it happen? What happened to the people afterwards, especially to the people who saw their loved ones accused and, in some cases, hanged? That question formed the beginning of The Devil’s Cold Dish
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The facts of Salem’s witch trials are these: In 1692, a group of girls, including the daughters of the village minister Samuel Parrish, claimed that they were being tormented by witches – and the girls accused some of the women in Danvers (this did not happen in Salem but within a small village just outside). Before the fury ended,150 people were imprisoned and 19 people – and two dogs- were hanged.

One man, Giles Corey, was pressed to death. He cursed all future Sheriffs of Salem to die of some chest (respiratory) illness. Apparently most have, but in an era without antibiotics (forget about good hygiene or healthy food) I don’t think that is surprising.

What happened? Reasons given for the explosion of belief and hangings in Salem are many.

This event occurred in Massachusetts after several centuries of the trials and burnings in Europe. Probably everyone is familiar with the Biblical injunction about not suffering a witch to live. In 1200, Pope Gregory IX authorized the killing of witches. In 1498, Pope Innocent VIII issued a declaration confirming the existence of witches and inquisition began. Thousands, mainly women, were burned at the stake during the 1500s and 1600s. (Accused witches in this country were never burned. They were hanged instead.)

This was a superstitious age, and belief in magic was widespread. Girls used spells to try and see the faces of future husbands, and superstitions regarding illness, birth, and harvest were rife. Harelips were caused when the mother saw a rabbit, birth marks because the mother ate strawberries, for example. One of my favorites: to protect a mother and child during birth, an ear of corn was placed on the mother’s belly. But I can’t believe EVERYONE believed in the supernatural. In fact, one of the essayists of the time, Robert Calef, suggested that the trials had been engineered by Cotton Mather for personal gain. (I doubt that. Evidently fighting out different opinions in print is not a new phenomenon). And anyway, other motivations for accusing someone of witchcraft have been documented. Sometimes it was for gain: the old biddy hasn’t died and I want her little farm, for example. (No surprise there, right?) Sometimes it was to settle scores. Apparently at least part of the reason behind the accusations directed at the Nurse family had at the bottom resentment and the desire for payback.

Tituba, a slave owned by Samuel Parrish, and her stories that she told the girls played a part. Variously described as an Indian or a black slave, her testimony apparently drove much of the content of the stories and was a direct cause of the eventual hangings of women described as her confederates. (Ironically, Tituba was set free.) A shadowy character, she has been also described as practicing voodoo. Her testimony, at least to me, reads more like the Christian belief in demons and the devil. Once she was released, however, she, like the girls whose fits started the terror, faded into obscurity.

Then there are the girls themselves. To modern eyes, the easy belief in the veracity of a group of girls is incredible. Samuel Parrish believed in the truth of the accusations until the end of his life. I suspect there is another explanation. Women, and young girls especially, at this time were supposed to be quiet, meek and submissive. The claims made by these girls, and the charges against others in the village, put them on center stage. I do not wonder that they kept ratcheting up their stories; anything to keep that attention.

Then there is the possibility of ergot poisoning. Ergot is a fungus that grows on rye during wet and cool summers. It releases a toxin similar to LSD. So it is possible that people were genuinely suffering hallucinations.

The hysteria ended in 1693. After 1700 reparations began to be paid to the surviving victims and families of the executed. But belief in witches and the trials did not end. In the new United States, a trial and a judicial solution to perceived witch craft became unlikely (and I imagine that the uncritical acceptance of spectral evidence by Samuel Parris in Salem had a lot to do with increasing skepticism) but accusation and hanging by mobs could still happen.

In Europe women were still attacked and in some cases executed for witchcraft: in Denmark-(1800), in Poland
(1836) and even in Britain (1863). Violence continued in France through the 1830’s. Accusations continued in the United States as well. In the 1830s, a prosecution was begun against a man (yes) in Tennessee. Even as recently as 1997, two Russian farmers killed a woman and injured members of her family for the use of folk magic against them.

There were two incidents of note in New York State. In 1783, Ann Lee, the spiritual heart of the new faith now commonly known as the Shakers, was arrested and charged for blasphemy. One hundred years earlier she might have been hanged as a witch or devil worshipper. But she was released. Persecution of the Shakers continued, however. And Lydia, my primary female character who is a former Shaker, would have been a target.

The final trial for witchcraft took place in 1816 in Nyack. Jane Kannif, the widow of a Scottish physician, lived in a small house on Germonds Road in West Nyack. An herbalist and widow of an apothecary, she treated neighbors that came to her with herbs and methods she learned from her late husband. But she was eccentric. According to the people at that time she dressed oddly, was unsociable and wandered around talking to herself. She was regarded as insane, or worse yet, a witch. It was decided to take her to Auert Polhemus’s grist mill and using his great flour scales, weigh her against the old Holland Dutch family Bible, iron bound, with wooden covers and iron chain to carry it by. If outweighed by the Bible, she must be a witch and must suffer accordingly. She was taken to the mill, put on the scales, and weighed. Since she weighed more than the Bible, the committee released her.

So what happened in Salem? It seems as though the town lost its collective mind.
Despite the attention paid to the accusations and the trials and hangings, for me the real focus lies with the rest of the village, those who saw family and friends turn on them. Think what it must have been like living there at this time. Salem was a small community. Those accused were friends, family and neighbors of their accusers. How could you forgive the ones who hanged one of your family members as a witch and terrorized the others? Especially since the accounts make is clear that some of the charges sprang from the worst of human nature: greed, revenge and malice. What kind of amends would be enough? Would financial reparations ease the grief? I know this is something I could never forgive. And I would guess that, despite the end of the witch hunts, this village remained troubled for years. In fact, many of those whose family members had been accused or hanged moved away to a new village called Salem’s End. After those experiences, how could anyone ever trust again?

Although PTSD is not a term they used, I am certain those who survived their experiences in Danvers suffered from it the rest of their lives. People on both sides: the accused and the accusers, changed their names. One of the hanging judges was a Hathorne; Nathaniel Hawthorne added the w. And the Nurse family, right in the thick of the storm, moved away and became Nourses.

That brings me full circle, back to The Devil’s Cold Dish. Rees has a history with several people in his hometown and Lydia, a former Shaker, would surely be suspect. What if -?

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Eleanor Kuhns wrote her first story at the age of ten and hasn’t stopped since. She won the 2011 Mystery Writers of America/Minotaur Crime competition with A Simple Murder. The Devil’s Cold Dish is the fifth in the Will Rees series. A lifelong librarian, she is the Assistant Director at Goshen Public Library in Orange County. She lives in upstate New York with her husband and dog.

More Than A Touch of Humor: Carter, Kelly, Haines, Hess, Dorsey, Dennison, Sansom, Shelton Sunday, May 15 2016 

Auntie M is visiting her four Grands in the Midwest the next two weeks, celebrating a Sweet 16 for #2, a HS graduation with #1 on his way to Harvard, a special choir concert for #3, and four teams worth of lacrosse games. There will be lots of hilarity and she’s hoping #4 is still the only one shorter than she is! So in honor of all the smiles she’ll be receiving, she’s handing you the following for your reading–and laughing–pleasure!

DeathDummy

CF Carter and his wife publish a monthly mystery magazine, so he knows how to plot one. His debut, Death of a Dummy, is the first in a planned Wax Museum series. Set in Old Quebec, it introduces the black sheep of his wealthy Vancouver winery family, surf bum Paul Wainscott. Accompanied by his Golden Retriever, Benchley, he heads to Old Quebec City after his father dangles one last business proposition, designed to give Paul a future and a way to learn how to run a business out of sight of the beguiling waves.

His father has bought him a building to fill with tenants and a credit card with enough money to cover his expenses for three months. After that, he’s on his own. It’s an interesting premise, made more interesting by the decrepit wax museum in the basement. And with Quebec having one of the lowest crime rates in North American, what could possibly happen?

He meets two women who will become integral to him: Sophie, the pretty chef of the nearby crepe restaurant, and Dottie, a octogenarian who watches over him and becomes his business partner while making fascinators on the side. He’ll meet Guy Trembley, owner of the antique shop across from his lovely building, and learn he knew Guy as a child. There’s his one renter, mime Remy St. Claire, and former policeman Bernard Curtius. This mix of characters sustain the plot when one of the above-mentioned turns up murdered.

Carter’s use of history to mine the Wax Museum adds another level of interest as Paul finds himself at the heart of a murder investigation.

Against-the-Paw-cover

The fourth Paw Enforcement mystery by Diane Kelly, Against the Paw, is the next installment in the Fort Worth series whose recipe features rookie Megan Luz and her K-9 partner, German Shepherd Dob mix Sergeant Brigit. Add Megan’s bomb squad boyfriend, Seth, to the mix, for that touch of romance, and then alternate chapters in points of view that include Brigit, and you’re in for a hilarious ride–especially those snarky asides from Sgt. Brigit. An dont forget Megan’s colleagues, who include Dereck Mackay, always out to thrust Megan in as poor a light as possible. What’s a female officer to do?

There’s a convicted burglar who’s broken parole and Megan’s goal is to find him and put that feather in her cap with Captain Leone and Chief Garlic. But there’s also a Peeping Tom terrorizing the upscale neighborhood, and the Neighborhood Watch group grows in ferocity as their perceived threat increases.

Kelly ramps up the humor with chapters from “Tom’s” point of view. There will be surprise mystery guest, too, in Megan’s private life.

RockAByeBones

Carolyn Haines newest Sarah Booth Delaney Mystery is Rock-A-Bye Bones. It finds the unlikely PI still smarting after the break with her fiancé and subsequent attack she suffered in Bone to be Wild now out in paperback. Sarah Booth will get the surprise of her life when she finds what she thinks is a kitten mewing on a cold night at her home in Zinnia, Mississippi. The appearance of the spirit, Jitty, in different guises, adds to the excitement in Sarah’s home.

For that kitten turns out to be an abandoned newborn in a basket. Bloody footsteps leading to her door are her first clue; a dark-colored car leaving the area is her second. It will be up to Sarah and her PI partner, Tinkie Richmond, to find the baby’s mother. But as they start to investigate, it soon becomes apparent that this was not a mother abandoning a child as much as a woman running for her own life and trying to protect her infant.

With Sheriff Coleman Peters still stirring unresolved feelings in Sarah Booth, and Tinkie taking care of and becoming attached to the baby girl, Sarah has a lot on her mind in addition to tracking down the real mother of this little girl. It will soon become apparent that the mother wouldn’t have left her baby unless she had something to fear–and Sarah is following her uneasy and terrified footsteps.

TerrorTaffeta
Marla Cooper’s accomplished debut, Terror in Taffeta, serves up a feisty amateur sleuth readers will want to read again.

Kelsey McKenna is a wedding planner who has learned to juggle everything from wardrobe issues to groomsmen who start to party too early. So she’s received to be wrapping up what she thinks is almost hit a home run with a destination wedding in the charming Mexican town of San Miguel de Allende–until during the ceremony, a collapsing bridesmaid turns a faint into a murder investigation by dying.

Pressed by the paying mother of the bride to not ruin the wedding, Kelsey must keep the murder to herself and play homicide detective–in another country–where she has no power and knows no one–or does she? And then there is a second murder and suddenly the maid of honor is a suspect.

Smart and funny at the same time, Kelsey must track down a murderer, all the while wondering how this is going to affect her business.

PridevPrejudice
Joan Hess brings back her almost-retired bookseller, Claire Malloy, in Pride v. Prejudice. A widow with a teen, Caron, who speak in ALL CAPS, Claire’s marriage to Deputy Police Chief Peter Rosen has changed the landscape. She has employees to run the Book Depot and is able to serve on jury duty.

But her colorful past comes back to haunt her, as Claire comes up against a prosecutor who has a grudge against her and Peter. He humiliates her even as she’s dismissed from jury duty. But Claire doesn’t take the slight lying down: She decides to prove the defendants’ innocence.

Of course, this proves to be more difficult than she’d first expected, as the evidence Claire uncovers points squarely to Sarah Swift’s guilt. Before it’s over, the FBI will be involved, and so will Claire’s now mother-in-law. A delectable bite of fun.

Cocnut Cowboy

We travel next to Florida and Tim Dorsey’s remarkable serial killer, Serge Storms, in Coconut Cowboy.

Serge has always been obsessed with all aspects of Easy Rider. The lovable serial killer decides he must finish the journey of Captain American and Billy, his heroes. Calling himself Captain Serge, he sets off for Florida’s panhandle with Coleman riding shotgun to find what he calls the real America, filled with apple pie and Main Streets.

But rural American is not what Serge expected at all. The duo find more than their fair share of corrupt politicians. A few mind-altering meds will be included before their wild ride is over, and of course, their usual homicides that just seem to follow these two.

There will be gunfights, Senators and more for the font of trivia that is Serge. This is the 19th in the series and fans can’t get enough of Serge and Coleman’s adventures, which Dorsey admits are often inspired by stops along his extensive drives around Florida doing signings, wearing his usual wild Hawaiian shirts.
Killer Ball\
The third installment in Hannah Dennison’s series brings her usual hilarity through its eccentric characters. This time it’s A Killer Ball at Honeychurch Hall that does the honors, the Hall being Kat Stanford’s estate, a 600 yr-old mansion that appears to have a hidden room. Being set in the lovely Devon area doesn’t hurt, either.

Kat finds the room exploring an unused wing at the Hall. But ti seems someone else has gotten there before her, for she finds the body of a young woman, dressed in an Egyptian costume, with a costume necklace around her very broken neck.

Anyone at the Hall at this time falls under suspicions, and it is up to Kat to clear her friends and find the real killer. Iris, Kat’s mother, also known as Krystalle Storm, a bestselling steamy romance novelist, is on hand to muddy the waters with the related characters representing a modern-day Downton Abbey, of a farcical style.

A classic country-house mystery for modern times with modern sensibilities.

DeathDevon

Auntie M is a fan of Ian Sansom’s Mobile Library Mystery Series, and so was intrigued to receive a review copy of his “Country Guide” installment fearing the “People’s Professor,” in Death in Devon. The first is set in Norfolk Guide; this one takes readers to Agatha Christie’s home county.

Readers should be prepared for a very different outing than the breezy humor of the Mobile series. This is a sendup of the 1930s, replete with the class system, school bullies, poor Sefton with PTSD–it’s all there and all ready to be parodied. Told from the viewpoint of Stephen Sefton, assistant to Swanton Morely, the story begins with the two men setting out to Devon, accompanied by Sefton’s comely and adventurous daughter Miriam as driver of the family Lagonda.

Merely is to speak in Rousdon at All Souls School at their Founders Day, an event destined to bring in large donors of the attendant boys. But tragedy strikes early in the form of a youth found dead at the bottom of the famous Devon cliffs. Is this an accident or a case of murder?
It remains to be seen, as police investigate quietly so that the Founders Day founders do not scatter or withdrew their financial support. The story unwinds in an obtuse and meandering way, elaborating on the eccentricities of many of the faculty.

Of course, no character is as eccentric or as bold as Swanton Morely himself, who has seemingly written more books, papers, treatises and articles on almost as many subjects as one can imagine one would tackle and still sleep, if he ever does. He is a fountain of information, some of it suspect, and Sefton is the chief gatherer of his rambling monologues and then some. The plot is so loose it flies in the wind. This is not for the reader who expects a plot-driven mystery, but is for one who enjoys characters larger than life and a hang-onto-your-hate wild ride, whilst learning real history of the area. There’s more here than meets the eye at first read.

crackedspine

Paige Shelton premieres a new series, this time set in Scotland, with The Cracked Spine.

Kansas native Delaney Nichols has a new job after she answers an ad and finds herself on her way to Edinburgh. With her degrees in English and History, working for a bookshop that specializes in rare books and manuscripts sounds ideal, even if owner Edwin MacAlister sounds vague about her duties. The shop is as crowded and wonderful as Delaney could imagine, even if she longs to bring a sense of organization to the premises.

She finds the staff as eccentric as Edwin, too. There’s Rosie, an elderly woman accompanied by her little dog, Hector; and Hamlet, a would-be actor with a checkered past–but not as checkered as that of Jenny, Edwin’s sister, battling an old drug habit that’s nearly destroyed her relationship with her brother.

Delaney is barely settled into her cottage, owned by a friendly taxi driver she’s met, when Edwin’s sister is brutally murdered after entrusting Jenny with an extremely rare and valuable manuscript–which is now missing. With Edwin grieving both the loss of his sister and the manuscript, Delaney starts asking questions. It’s not long before she’s investigating to find the murderer and retrieve the manuscript, especially when Hamlet becomes a suspect.

There will even be a bit of romance with a man in a kilt, too, before Delaney’s first Scottish adventure is ended. A delightful start to a new series.

Jeanette DeBeauvoir: Deadly Jewels Sunday, Apr 10 2016 

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One of Auntie M’s favorite novels last year was Jeannette DeBeauvoir’s debut Asylum, a chilling and often terrifying mystery that introduced Martine LeDuc, the engaging protagonist who is publicity director for the city of Montreal.

Auntie M recently had the opportunity to ask the author a few questions about her work:

Auntie M: You have developed a backdoor to these crime investigations for your protagonist, PR director Martine LeDuc. What made you choose her position and that approach?

Jeannette de Beauvoir: I was looking for someone whose work would, first of all, allow access to a range of different situations, and secondly, be flexible in terms of how the protagonist spent her time. Public relations could arguably have its hand in a lot of different problems, and the person at the top of the department can come and go with staff to cover day-to-day operations if she needs to be elsewhere.

AM: Everyone’s family has a story, and Martine’s home life is grounding, yet it feels very realistic. How important do you feel it is for readers to see that there are other forces pulling at her that require her attention?

JDB: It’s truly about making her a whole person. We’re all made up of mosaics, aren’t we—no one is *only* their job, or *only* their family life, or *only* anything… so it is always important to me to give characters a backstory and a personal life. Doing that offers so many opportunities, especially for a series such as this one, for the character to grow and change, to make mistakes and learn from them… in other words, to develop fully as a human being. The Martine of Deadly Jewels is different from the Martine of Asylum, and will be different from the Martine of the next book should there be one. If the books were *just* about the mysteries, I think they’d be a lot less interesting.

AM: After growing up in Angers, France, you now divide your time between Montreal and Cape Cod. Do you see a difference between the Canadian mind and the American mind when it comes to readers of crime novels and their questions for you? Between the French and the American?

JDB: I’m half-French and half-American, and I often think that if I were a city, I’d be Montréal… with part of me reflecting each culture. But we’re really talking about three different cultures, and three different ways of approaching literature. Readers from the U.S. tend to want to be plunged directly into the story, whereas French readers are looking for more depth—more philosophy, if that makes sense. Neither book has been translated (yet) so it would be interesting to see people’s reactions to them.

AM: A consistent thread is Martine’s love of Montreal, and a highlight for me as a reader is exploring the city through her eyes. The research you’ve done for both Asylum, a first-rate novel, and Deadly Jewels, another winner, adds so many layers to the books. Have you found it easy to obtain access to what might otherwise be off-limits areas for these projects? I’ve found assuring a contact’s name will appear in the Acknowledgments is often a great enticement. Have you had a similar response to your requests?

JDB: I have found people to be amazingly generous with their time and expertise in every project I’ve undertaken. I’ve asked difficult questions and I have never had anyone refuse to help. And people really are the best resource. One of the classes I teach online is writing historical fiction, and I tell students two things: do your research before you talk to people (so that you are suitably immersed in the subject and you don’t ask the questions whose answers you could have Googled), but then find the experts and ask them. Someone who has lived through an era can give so much more information than just reading secondary sources about it. And the same goes for mystery writing: find the experts, be respectful of their time, and you will be astonished at the results.

AM: Your background includes poetry and plays. What made you decide to write a crime series?

JDB: Ah, the poetry and plays are pretty much accidents: I’m really a novelist. I wrote historical fiction for quite a while but realized at some point that what I love to read most is mystery fiction, and I wasn’t writing it—there was a disconnect there. So I co-authored my first mystery novel (mostly because I didn’t think I was terribly good at plots!), got braver and wrote one on my own, then finally discovered what works for me: combining mystery and historical fiction. Not in the same way that an Ellis Peters does, with a character in the past solving a crime from the past—but rather with someone in the present-day finding that the past doesn’t in fact really go away. I think it makes for good storytelling and has the added advantage of teaching a little history as well.

AM: When you have precious down time, whose books would readers find waiting to be read on your nightstand?

Phil Rickman: he’s a brilliant writer, his stories are intricately plotted, his characters are haunting, and he’s just spooky enough to keep your heart rate up. He writes a series about a female Anglican priest who’s also an exorcist, but also has wonderful standalone books that borrow characters from the series, so that you can follow them from book to book. He is one of the authors I admire most for making the *geography* as much a character as the people: he writes about the border between England and Wales and makes the liminality of such a place intrinsic to the plot.

AM: Thank you for that recommendation. I’ve just ordered his first in the series to try. Now on to the review of DEADLY JEWELS:

De Beauvoir’s sequel brings Martine LeDub back for another adventure that has the same chilling suspense as her first, yet manages to be a different book entirely. It still pivots on moral questions, and she shows her love for the city in its exploration by the main characters as they try to stop what amounts to a cult operation from decades ago that has reached fingers into present day Montreal.

Martine has a mutual dislike relationship with the Mayor who serves as her boss. But this time when she’s called to his office, it’s not to be rebuked, but to be introduced to an graduate student who just may have pulled off a PR coup: she’s found proof that long-held rumors are true and that proof has been found during underground excavations taking place under the city. The British crown jewels were once housed there in Montreal during WWII and then returned to London.

It promises to be a grand revelation for all, until Martine accompanies Patricia Mason to the excavation site. Sure, they do find several diamonds, left behind from the original cache. But they also find the skeleton of man shot execution-style decided ago. It appears he swallowed these remaining jewels.

Now it’s a job of containment, as Martine and her colleagues in several places determine how to handle the scandal. And this won’t be great PR for Montreal or for her job.

But then Mason is shot, and she turns to her detective friend from the first book, Julian Fletcher, to help her out with the cold case. And just as things heat up, her stepchildren arrive for a visit and her husband disappears that same weekend to have a meeting with his ex-wife.

There will be several twists and turns along the way as the case unravels, with surprising results. Along the way, Martine will be introduced to and interview Nazi survivors and their families, and those trying to resurrect that regime in a startling way.

As the action heats up, it’s not just Martine who will find herself in jeopardy.
One of the things that set this apart from the usual series is the way De Beauvoir skillfully weaves the modern with the historical. Flashbacks to two key characters explain the historic journey of the jewels and the men involved with them and add substance and key clues to the action.

The author bio for De Beauvoir states in part: “. . . She finds that the past always has some hold on the present and writes mysteries and historical fiction that reflect that resonance.”
You’ll understand the meaning of that line once you read this fine mystery that evaluates many sides of a situation. Highly recommended.

Edith Maxwell: Delivering the Truth Friday, Apr 8 2016 

Edith Maxwell is one of the hardest working authors Auntie M knows, juggling now four series and bringing out books that have a wide readership. Today she’s talking about her new historical mystery, Delivering the Truth, the first in her Quaker Midwife Mysteries. Check out that neat cover and discover the mystery inside.

Delivering the TruthCover

Learning about the Past

Thanks for having me back, Auntie M!

My latest venture – historical mystery – involves a level of research I don’t need to do when I write my contemporary mysteries. I had so much to learn about the late 1800s. And there’s nobody still alive to ask.

How would a Quaker speak and act? What did women wear under their outer clothes? Did a modest New England home have indoor plumbing, gas lamps, a coal stove? What were matches like?
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I’ve found a couple of good reference books for everyday life. Ruth Goodman’s How to Be a Victorian describes everything from toothbrushes to underwear. Miss Parloa’s New Cookbook and Marketing Guide from 1890 has all kinds of handy tips about the kitchen and foods available in the end of the century. Pinterest provides images of clothing. And then there’s Sarah Chrisman – who lives like someone in 1888 and writes about it! http://www.thisvictorianlife.com/

MontWardCarriages
I needed to learn about all the different types of horse-drawn vehicles. Carriages, wagons, buggies, drays, runabouts, broughtons, phaetons, surries – and so many more. Luckily for me, the town where the series is set, Amesbury, Massachusetts, is where I live and it was world-famed for its carriage manufacturing. There are antique carriages all over town, a thriving Carriage Museum, and many enthusiastic history buffs to call on.

MidwiferyBookLeish
Because my protagonist is a midwife, I delved into medical care of the time. Basic uncomplicated childbirth hasn’t changed that much. But did they know about the importance of washing hands yet? I learned that the germ theory of infection was known. Was there a hospital nearby in case of emergency? Yes, the hospital in the next town was eight years old at the time of Delivering the Truth. I found a midwifery textbook from the era. I learned that blood typing wasn’t yet used but that a lab could find out from a snip of hair if arsenic had been ingested.

Reading local newspapers from a hundred and thirty years ago provide much detail about both news and the prices of goods and services, as do the Sear & Roebuck catalog and the Montgomery Ward catalog, both of which are available on Amazon as reproductions. For example, you could buy a two-spring Phaeton (a single-horse kind of buggy with a roof) for $70, a drop-leaf desk for $9.50, and a pair of Irish lace curtains for $2.35. My midwife Rose bought a new bicycle for $45.
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And because I write mysteries, there’s the all-important question of police procedure. I’ve found pictures of the local police force in town, and dug up The Massachusetts Peace Officer: A Manual for Sheriffs, Constables, Police, and other Civil Officers from 1890. An officer had to lay a hand on the shoulder of someone he was arresting, for example. I also learned that they didn’t yet use fingerprinting.

There’s more, of course. Local historical societies and museums are a rich resource. But at some point you just have to write the book!

Readers, do you like doing research? Where do you find resources to learn about the past, or about your current passion, whatever it is?

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Edith Maxwell writes the Quaker Midwife Mysteries and the Local Foods Mysteries, the Country Store Mysteries (as Maddie Day), and the Lauren Rousseau Mysteries (as Tace Baker), as well as award-winning short crime fiction. Her short story, “A Questionable Death,” is nominated for a 2016 Agatha Award for Best Short Story. The tale features the 1888 setting and characters from her Quaker Midwife Mysteries series, which debuts with Delivering the Truth on April 8.

Maxwell is Vice-President of Sisters in Crime New England and Clerk of Amesbury Friends Meeting. She lives north of Boston with her beau and three cats, and blogs with the other Wicked Cozy Authors. You can find her on Facebook, twitter, Pinterest, and at her web site, edithmaxwell.com.

Kate Parker: Deadly Scandal Sunday, Mar 6 2016 

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Please welcome author Kate Parker and her new historical mystery, set in 1930’s London, Deadly Scandal. Kate will describe how she came to create her protagonist, Olivia Denis.

Murder and Fashion Sense

When I was a girl, there was a comic strip in the newspaper called Brenda Starr, star reporter. She was a tall, slender, leggy redhead who worked for a metropolitan daily and went after the hard news, the big stories. She got the exclusives. She never took no for an answer. She was tough and sexy and bright and lucky. I wanted to be her when I grew up.

In the spirit of truth in journalism, I have to admit the only resemblance was in my reddish hair. I might pass as a reporter; no one would ever mistake me for Brenda Starr.

I saved this icon from my childhood, and when it came time to write a mystery about an unprepared woman who lands a job on a metropolitan daily newspaper in 1930s London, I knew what she looked like. She’s a tall, slender, leggy redhead. She’s bright and sexy and lucky.

And that’s where I stopped the similarities.

I gave Olivia Denis a love and flair for fashion. I gave her a talent for sketching dresses, hats, and shoes as well as a fabulous wardrobe. And I gave her a love of shopping that she couldn’t indulge once she was widowed at twenty-five.

But since she had Brenda Starr’s luck, she has a good friend whose father published one of the biggest daily newspapers in London. And so she landed a job as a society reporter, where the publisher thought she couldn’t do much damage.

However, Olivia Denis doesn’t have Brenda Starr’s street savvy. When offered a much higher salary than she expected, along with a requirement to carry out certain unspecified clandestine assignments that she is not to mention – ever – she says yes. She knew no one else would pay her that much. She doesn’t ask about the nature of these assignments. She doesn’t stop and consider. She just thinks about the money and says yes.

So here you have Olivia Denis, young widow, who is going to hunt for her husband’s killer. She owes her livelihood to the father of a school friend who needs her to carry out clandestine assignments under the guise of society page reporting.

Olivia is young and pretty like Brenda Starr. And while she’s a novice, she has something else Brenda Starr had: Determination.

Find out how it all works out in Deadly Scandal by Kate Parker.

Learn more about Kate and her books at http://www.KateParkerbooks.com

Order now at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01AU0KC8E
B&N: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/deadly-scandal-kate-parker/1123286621
Apple: https:geo.itunes.apple.com/us/book/deadly-scandal/id1076628067?ls=1&mt=11

Medieval Mysteries and Magic Tuesday, Aug 11 2015 

Here are great books for those readers who enjoy theirs set in far away times with the hint of mysterious fairy tale adventures–enjoy!

I-LOVED-A-ROGUE
Katherine Ashe’s third in her Prince Catchers series, I Loved a Rogue, has garnered enthusiastic reviews.

A soothsayer has foretold the future for one of three orphaned sisters: one will marry a prince. It’s the stuff of fairy tales for certain, as they await the mystery of their past to be revealed. Only the last sister can fulfill the prophecy, but it comes at a price: resisting the advances of a seductive rogue.

Eleanor Caulfield appears to be the perfect vicar’s daughter, yet she’s been in love with a gypsy, Taliesin, who broke her heart years ago. The only unmarried sister, Eleanor is fast approaching spinster hood. With the marriage of her father, she determines she must unravel the mystery of her parentage. Having almost died as a child, Eleanor’s sisters demand she have an experienced traveler be her guide.

With Taliesin appearing for her father’s wedding, the sisters suggest he accompany her, and Eleanor sets off with mixed feelings.
As they travel the countryside in search of clues to her parent’s identity, flashbacks show the duo’s history: the mixture of awe and devotion Taliesin feels for Eleanor; her fear and infatuation, under the impending doom of society’s disapproval.

Their challenging of each other is what strengthened Eleanor after her sickness and now galvanizes her on the quest for her parents. No spoiler alert here, but definitely an interesting ending to the series by a talented writer.

Auntie M had the pleasure of meeting Katherine Ashe at the Pamlico Writers Conference this year. She’s as charming as the heroines she writes about.
LampBlack
Paula Brackston’s novels of witches and spirits have a commanding following. She’s back with her fifth, Lamp Black, Wolf Grey
, set in Wales, and this time one of her characters is none other than Merlin himself.

Dual stories in different times both feature the legendary Merlin. Laura, a painter, has moved to the Welsh countryside with her husband to make a fresh start after years of infertility. They are looking to trade the noise and busy London lifestyle for the quiet, quaint wilds of the Welsh countryside, and choose an ancient home named Penlan.

Instead of solace and inspiration, Laura finds herself experiencing emotional longings and mysterious unexplained occurrences. Living in a centuries-old house in a remote area rich in lore and mystery, she feels echoes from the past. Her imagination runs wild with tales of Merlin the Magician having lived nearby in his pre Arthur days, and she tells herself it’s her imagination or else she’s losing her mind.

Interspersed throughout Laura and Dan’s story is that of Megan, a servant in the house of a wicked lord, and of her romance with the magician Merlin. This duality fleshes out the story in a nice mix that’s hallmark Brackston. Laura is a complex and likable heroine, with very relatable weaknesses. The mythical Merlin remains more enigmatic and mysterious. The historical parts are well done, yet readers will enjoy the the compelling contemporary plot line.

Dragon Handale
Cassandra Clark’s fifth Abbess of Hildegard mystery takes readers to 14th century England in The Dragon of Handale. Clark introduces the characters and their backgrounds so readers who have not read the previous novels can plunge right in.

Hildegard of York is a former nun, something of a sleuth, used to being in a position of authority, a woman who’s become ambivalent about whether she should re-enter a convent or continue on in secular life. Her former prioress suggests that she stay at the remote Handale Priory while she ponders her decision.

Yet once she’s settled at Handale, Hildegard begins to wonder if there was a hidden agenda involved in sending her there. Handale is a place for penitents – but in practice, it appears more a kind of prison for sinning nuns. Life there is harsh and unforgiving.

Everywhere she looks, Hildegard’s sharp and inquiring mind sees suspicious activity. There’s a strange rumor of a vicious ‘dragon’ outside the priory walls. Then a mason, one of a group hired to do work for the abbey, is brutally murdered. The woman in charge seems deliberately cruel. Young novices are desperate to escape. And what is a wealthy merchant doing within the walls?

Hildegard realizes that these strange incidents make it her job to get to the bottom of what’s really going on at Handale. Her investigation will range from small and personal injustices right up to high affairs of state and the politics of the realm. Intriguing to see a mystery and amateur sleuth in this kind of setting.

RedRose

Joanna Hicson’s Red Rose, White Rose takes readers to fifteenth century England in the time of the War of the Roses. This well-researched historical fiction is based on Cecily Neville, the wife of Richard Plantagenet of York and mother of Edward IV and Richard III. Cecily Neville is the youngest daughter of Ralph Neville, Earl of Westmorland, and her advantageous marriage with Richard, Duke of York, combines two of the most powerful families in the land.

But Cecily soon learns that being married to one of the richest men in the country is not without danger, and as she discovers that life so close to English royalty is fraught with both treachery and peril.

Beautifully researched, the story combines the best of both fact and fiction. Throughout the novel, readers learn Cecily’s perspective about her life; we see her maturing from a young and idealistic teenager to a mature woman with her own children and responsibilities for vast estates.

She’s a compelling protagonist, opinionated and controlling at times, but ultimately loyal to those she loves and respects. The co-narrator is Cuthbert, who is described as Cecily’s illegitimate half brother. This fictitious figure provides a much needed male perspective on what it was like to serve the Neville family. And as he gets tangled up in the politics and manoeuvrings of the scheming Plantagenets, we gain insight into the intrigue and deceptions that were so much a part of this deadly game of thrones.

Siege Winter
Ariana Franklin’s death in 2011 left readers clamoring for her unfinished manuscript, and her daughter Samantha Norman has done a grand job of stepping in to finish her mother’s final manuscript, leading many to feel she can more than inherit her mother’s legacy in The Siege Winter
.

Research on everyday medieval life brings real authenticity to the novel. During this era, England’s civil war between supporters of Stephen (grandson of William the Conqueror), and his cousin, the Empress Matilda, for the throne of England forced occupants of cathedrals as well as castles to take sides.

The fictional Kenniford Castle is a pivotal site because it is on a key Thames crossing. The castle’s mistress is 16-year-old Maud, a ward of King Stephen, forced to marry the much older, crass and barbaric John of Tewing, who arrived at the castle for the wedding with both his son and his mistress.

In alternate chapters, readers follow the fate of a young girl who had gone out to gather fuel with her family and was caught by a group of men, led by a sadistic rapist and killer monk with a penchant for red-headed children. Emma was left for dead but was found by Gwilherm de Vannes, a mercenary who had his horse stolen by the very men who ravaged Em.

Gwil nurses the girl back to health and she remembers nothing of the trauma that almost killed her, nor of her life before it. Gwil calls her Penda after a Pagan warlord. He cuts her hair to disguise her as a boy, and he teaches her to defend herself with a bow. The two travel through the countryside earning money by giving archery exhibitions. What Gwil doesn’t share with Penda is his determination to track down and destroy the monk who brutalized her. In addition, he suspects the monk may not be done yet with Penda, because when Gwil found her, she was clutching a valuable parchment that the monk needs to recover.

Events take a turn when Mathilda and two protectors, Alan and Christopher, stumble upon Gwil and Penda during a snowstorm, and take shelter with them. They beseech Gwil and Penda to help them get Mathilda to safety, and the five of them end up at Kenniford castle. Before long, the castle is besieged by the much larger and better armed forces of Stephen, and must survive a brutal winter while avoiding death and destruction.

A fascinating look at medieval times with a mystery within the rages of war.
Bitter-Greens-Thomas-Dunne-Books

Kate Forsyth is quickly becoming a name in historical fiction as she explores fairy tales. Her debut, Bitter Greens, won the Best Historical Fiction prize from the American Library Association.

It’s the time of the Sun King, Louis XIV, and novelist Charlotte-Rose de la Force has been banished from the Court of Versailles for behaving like a man in terms of her love life.

Running alongside Charlotte’s story is the thread of the fairy tale of Rapunzel, told to Charlotte by an old nun, which gives the story it’s interesting structure. The two story lines share themes as the female characters struggle for independence and the right to decide their own destinies.

This also echoes the life story of the witch who confined Rapunzel. For the first time we see her backstory and her fight for the freedom to make her own choices. This has her become a more sympathetic character than fairy tale readers recall, even though she remains a dark element in the Rapunzel story. The witch’s fears are common ones with which most people contend: the fear of aging and death. With its echoes of feminism, the themes apply to modern times and keep all the woman deeply human.

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With The Wild Girl
, another exploration of fairy tales, Kate Forsyth deals with the Brothers Grimm. This is a richly imagined tale of the woman who gave the Grimm brothers some of their best stories. History is very much part of the foreground, as the Napoleonic wars rage around the small kingdom of Hessen-Kassel. The book deals with how the lives of ordinary people, especially the poor or the marginalised, experience history as a material impact on their bodies and minds, and their everyday lives.

The romance between Wilhelm Grimm and Dortchen Wild unfolds slowly and deeply over many years. Dortchen is wild by nature, headstrong and curious. At the hands of her cruel and domineering father, she moves from innocence to experience, and the novel takes a hard turn. Its darkness is relieved by the meetings between the lovers, as she tells Wilhelm tales and they fall deeply into a forbidden love. There is real despair here, not a cliched romance, as the lovers are helpless in the face of circumstance.

Yet the romance becomes almost secondary to the sophisticated and thoughtful power of the stories. “Stories help make sense of things,” Dortchen tells Wilhelm. It’s long been known that many nursery rhymes and fairy tales were commentaries on the politics of their time. And in this novel we see the additional importance of stories in preserving a culture, in remembering history, and in connecting people in time as all good fairy tales do.

Kate Forsyth is a deft writer, her prose elegant and spare, almost Germanic in its precision and placement in this novel in contrast to the different language she uses in the French tale Bitter Greens, which has an almost baroque feel to her chosen words. So besides weaving talented tales and doing complex research of each time, this author manages to tailor her language to each novel’s setting. And the covers are gorgeous~

Tony Lee Moral: Playing Mrs. Kingston Sunday, Jan 11 2015 

Please welcome Tony Lee Moral, who will describe the genesis of his new mystery, Playing Mrs. Kingston:

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How Alfred Hitchcock can influence Your Novel Writing by Tony Lee Moral

Alfred Hitchcock has been a huge influence on my life, ever since I saw my first Hitchcock film, I Confess, at the age of 10 years old. I was immediately struck by the moral ambiguity of the film and the conflicted viewpoint of the central character, a priest, played by Montgomery Clift. Since then I’ve written three books on Hitchcock, the Master of Suspense. Two books are on the making of specific films, The Birds and Marnie, which were made in the early 1960s and have a close production history; and a more general book called Alfred Hitchcock’s Movie Making Masterclass, which is about all of his films, for aspiring screenwriters and film makers.

So when writing my murder mystery novel Playing Mrs. Kingston, I was immediately drawn to the Hitchcockian principles of suspense and characterization. The central character, Catriona Kingston, takes after many a Hitchcock blonde, particularly Grace Kelly, Ingrid Bergman and Eva Marie Saint. She is feisty, determined, action oriented, duplicitous and mysterious. The duel identifies she plays, both Catriona and Catherine, is reminiscent of Kim Novak’s character in Vertigo. Her boyfriend, Mario Montefiore, a saxophonist at the the Stork Club, was inspired by Henry Fonda’s character in The Wrong Man, who himself was based on the real life Manny Balestrero, wrongfully accused of a series of robberies in 1950s New York, the same time period in which my novel is set.

Hitchcock often spoke about the MacGuffin in his films, a key plot device that drives the story. The MacGuffin is the engine that propels the plot. It is the object around which the plot revolves and motivates the actions of the characters. In North by Northwest, the MacGuffin is the roll of microfilm in the pre-Columbian statue, which both Cary Grant, the hero, and James Mason, the villain, are after. In Playing Mrs. Kingston, the MacGuffin is the stolen Caravaggio painting, which Catriona’s arch enemy so desperately wants. But the real story is about Catriona and Mario, and finding out who the killer is. But in having a MacGuffin in my novel, the stolen painting, it drove the plot forward, and motivated the characters, especially in the second half of the book, when all seemed lost.

Good writing is subtext, reading between the lines, rather than on the nose dialogue. Much of the dialogue in Hitchcock’s best screenplays, such as Notorious, Rear Window and North by Northwest, have layers of meaning. Good dialogue should be full of conflict between the chracters and have a natural rhythm that’s easily spoken, like a verbal sparring game that resembles the epic tennis match in Strangers on a Train until someone scores a point. The writing between Catriona and Detective Radcliffe is like a cat and mouse game, with Catriona trying to stay a few steps ahead of the Detective who is chasing the real Catriona Benedict, while she is in disguise as Catherine Kingston.

Hitchcock loved counterpoint and contrast and often had two things happening at once. He built tension into a scene by having contrasting situations, with two unrelated things happening simultaneously. In Notorious, a big party is taking place in Ingrid Bergman’s honor, but she is too preoccupied in showing Cary Grant the wine cellar, which holds the MacGuffin, in this case the uranium ore stored inside the wine bottles. Upstairs the champagne is quickly running out, threatening to expose the couple to Nazi villain Claude Raines, who Bergman has married, which ratchets up the tension.

A good example of this in Playing Mrs. Kingston is when both Lowry, Catriona’s old theatre boss, and Detective Radcliffe are at the Kingston gallery, and Catriona is threatened to be unmasked at any moment for who she is really is. I had Notorious very much in my mind when writing the novel, especially the big party scenes, when the moral ambiguity of the conflicted heroine comes into play, and she marries into a family full of secrets and becomes trapped in the enemy’s house. Only by using all her wits is she able to escape.

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Alfred Hitchcock’s Movie Making Masterclass is published by Michael Wiese Books

Playing Mrs. Kingston is published by Zharmae Publishing Press

John Bainbridge: The Shadow of William Quest Sunday, Nov 2 2014 

Please welcome UK author John Bainbridge:

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Thank you for the kind invitation to talk about my novels. I have been writing for most of my life, though usually journalism and non-fiction. After a number of abortive attempts at novel writing, I decided to sit down and write the kind of historical crime thriller I actually wanted to read, but which wasn’t out there to buy.

I read for a degree in literature and Victorian history, and specialised in the Victorian Underworld. About a year ago I had this image in my mind of a Victorian gentlemen walking down an alley carrying a swordstick – and very little more. I knew he was there to right wrongs, but that was about it.

So I sat down and started writing. It was really quite spooky! One scene after another unrolled on the screen, characters seemed to leap out – almost as though it all had a life of its own. Before I knew it William Quest, his friends and enemies, were there before me. It was like watching a film. In all my writing life, I’ve never had anything flow quite so easily.

The result was The Shadow of William Quest. I wanted a hero with a dark edge and Quest is – to say the least – morally ambivalent. A man who takes the law into his own hands as he fights against the injustices of Victorian society. I wanted to try and portray Victorian life as it really was, from the rookeries of London to the harshness of rural counties, but try and put forward some uplifting message. After all, we all benefit from the great social reforms put forward by campaigning individuals in that era.

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I’m now writing a second William Quest novel, which will be out for next summer. I’ve also finished a novel set in England during the 1930s, (no final title yet) which will be out in December. Apart from Quest I also collaborate with my wife Anne on Victorian Cozy crime novels, The Inspector Abbs mysteries. Two out so far, A Seaside Mourning and A Christmas Malice.

Fortunately, I have a lot of ideas and intend to write several novels featuring William Quest. We have a blog at http://www.gaslightcrime.wordpress.com which keeps our readers up to date with our latest work.

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