Kermit Roosevelt: Allegiance Wednesday, Aug 31 2016 


Kermit Roosevelt (yes, he is President Theodore Roosevelt’s great-great-grandson) has taken an incident in our country’s history and thrusts the reader straight back in time to explore the inner workings of what to most Americans is a lofty but unknown world, The Supreme Court. Allegiance is his well-drawn legal thriller that brings that period to life and involves the reader totally in its compelling plot.

Set during World War II, when then-President Franklin Roosevelt signed an Executive Order that imprisoned Japanese=Americans in war camps, the author cannily focuses on one young Philadelphia lawyer and his experience to personalize and fictionalize that time in our history.

Caswell Harrison is known as Cash, and thinks he has his life on a known track, from his girlfriend to law school and after. Then Pearl Harbor occurs, and after flunking the army physical, Cash is given the honor of clerking for Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black. Disappointed in not serving in the army, with his girlfriend unhappy that he is leaving her in Philly for Washington DC, Cash finally is convinced this is how he will serve his country.

He’s overwhelmed at first by the paperwork and learning how to fit in, but he soon adjusts, even to playing tennis with Justice Black at his home, where he becomes a substitute son for the justice’s own two enlisted sons. But soon he and a colleague uncover a conspiracy which points at pressure being brought to influence the Court’s decisions regarding these important cases.

It’s a difficult thing find evidence to prove, as the cases revolve around the constitutionality of the prison camps where the Japanese-Americans have been interred and documents they have been asked to sign. Then Cash’s friend and colleague dies under suspicious circumstances, and Cash finds himself embroiled in an surreptitious FBI investigation, colluding with J. Edgar Hoover himself to obtain evidence.

Along the way Cash will find himself questioning everything he thought he believed in–and everyone he thought he trusted. This could be called a loss of innocence story, and there is certainly that angle to the novel, but it’s more about Cash finding his true self and his values while he finds out just how good a lawyer his can be.

There are plenty of figures from history who are portrayed accurately and brought to life bedside Hoover and Black, such as Felix Frankfurter and Francis Biddle. And his exhaustive research informs the law around the cases of Hirabayashi, Korematsu and Endo that formed so much of the lasting history of this time. The time period is reflected accurately, from the clothing to the mores of our culture in the era.

It’s also a crime novel at its heart that is based on a thoughtful examination of our country and the values. In the author’s words: ” . . . the story I tell through my hero is that good people can do bad things. The internment decision has the form of a basic moral dilemma: when is it okay to hurt some people to help others?”

It’s a fascinating question that Roosevelt thoughtfully examines through Cash, and readers will easily be caught up this legal thriller that examines one of the worst civil rights violations in our country’s history.

Roosevelt’s knowledge and experience include clerking for DC Circuit Judge Stephen Williams and Supreme Court Justice David Souter before becoming a professor of constitutional law and creative writing at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

Connie Hambley: On writing, law and how to construct a captivating thriller Tuesday, Dec 22 2015 

Auntie M met author Connie Hambley at New England Crimebake. As a nice bookend to the year’s posts, and we decided to do an interview as we had something in common in our backgrounds, a change of profession. Happy Holidays to all, Merry Christmas, too, and Auntie M will see you in 2016!

Here’s Connie’s story on how being a lawyer makes her a great writer:


Auntie M: I was a nurse who wrote on the side until I could write full time. You were a lawyer who now writes. Was it always your intention to write, too, or did you fall into it sideways?

Connie Hambley: Definitely a sideways freefall. My DNA is coded to communicate via the written word and I thought becoming a lawyer was a perfect fit. Words? Clear expression of nuanced meanings? Boo Yeah! The hitch was I also hate conflict. An epically bad career choice turned around when I applied the lessons learned in law school to writing.

Lawyers are trained to inhale vast amounts of information then distill the concepts down to their essence. In constructing a legal argument, a position is taken –think ‘guilty’ or ‘innocent’ – and each word written leads to that conclusion. A well-written thriller or mystery does the same thing. From the very first word on the page, authors construct a world to manipulate readers’ beliefs and emotions with the ending goal in mind–to have the readers completely engaged in the story and believe the conclusion. The best books –just like the best legal arguments–change readers’ perspectives on the world around them. Once I started writing fiction, I knew I found my home.

Storytellers are consummate communicators. When I construct a story, I think of my readers as a first-rate opposing counsel. If I let a detail slip or if my characters’ motivations don’t ring true, readers will find reasons to disengage–or worse, critically attack. When I find a compelling question, I construct a story in a three-dimensional world filled with facts, motivations, and conflicts–just like a legal brief, but my outcome is fiction. (I will refrain from telling any lawyer jokes here, but the restraint is killing me.)

I write to an intelligent and discerning reader in the same way I would write to crafty opposing counsel. Resolving the conflicts into a satisfying and solid climax is a job well done. Oh, and the journey has to be nerve-racking for the readers.

AM: So why crime novels in particular?

CH: My thrillers take a crime to the larger stage. My family was the target of an arsonist who burned our farm down simply because he had an ax to grind. The repercussions of this act reverberated for decades. I learned that people who look like you and me can do reprehensible things yet still be loved by a spouse and children. For me, that crime opened my eyes to layers and shades of good and evil.

I explore crimes within the theme of terrorism because one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. Readers’ natural repulsion for terrorist acts is a tool I use to ratchet up tension.

I use pacing similar to crime novels to breed suspense. You know the Alfred Hitchcock technique of showing the bomb to the viewer but hiding it from the characters? The viewer is nerved up, but the characters are going about their day. I use the same technique. A discarded backpack on a crowded street signals volumes to the reader, but the characters stand beside it. Horrible!

Vivid and compelling characters also propel my thrillers. Understanding motivation, or at least articulating it, invites the readers to stand in the characters’ shoes. Giving my characters the heft of a strong narrative invites the readers deeper into my web, er, story. A crime is more compelling when the reader asks, “Could I do that?” “Would I make the same decision?”

Inside the international crime story of The Troubles, I answer how a biological mother can live with her child for a decade and never say the words, “I’m your mother.” What powered that decision? The psychology of the characters is just as important as their actions, if not more.

AM: When we met during costume night at NE Crimebake, you were wearing authentic riding silks. I assumed you were Sid Halley, one of Dick Francis’ protagonist jockeys. Who else were your influences in writing crime?

CH: Ha! I channeled my inner “Chick Francis” for Crimebake! The main character in my books is Jessica Wyeth, a world-class equestrian who witnessed, and then was framed for, a murder. I seasoned my first book, The Charity, with John Grisham as Jessica tries to clear her name. That book has a strong legal thriller aspect to it, but also has the dark thriller tone of Jo Nesbo. In The Troubles, Jessica is drawn into an organization some folks refer to as the Irish Mafia. The unfolding layers and expanding world is definitely inspired by Stieg Larsson and the multi-generational story-telling is capturing Ken Follett’s spirit. Book three, with a working title of The Wake, has a pinch of Colleen Mccullough and another smattering of Grisham!

AM: Who is on your nightstand waiting to be read when you have rare down time?

CH: An essential part of a writer’s career is always to be reading! Lined up is Hank Phillippi Ryan’s newest book, What You See, and Susan Elia MacNeal’s fifth Maggie Hope book, Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante, is underway. Kate Flora’s Death Dealer is in the queue, too.

AM: And what about those beautiful silks–were they yours?
CH: Those cringe-worthy neon silks are mine! I grew up riding horses so Jessica’s backstory is richly detailed with the sights, sounds, and feel of riding. The breeches, helmet, and boots are my ‘real’ riding clothes and the silks have a long and storied history of being a family gag gift for Yankee Swaps at Christmastime! You know how one picture or scent can trigger a wealth of memories? If I ever need a little inspiration, I just open my closet.

Business Headshots2a
Connie Johnson Hambley weaves stories from real-life experiences with a passion for exposing history with a fresh twist.
Hambley was a lawyer before turning her attention to writing, and she freely admits to having much more fun now. Her writing pursuits include being a featured columnist for Bloomberg Businessweek, an invited contributor to Nature, and a featured writer for Massachusetts HighTech. International money flow and laundering schemes were learned during her tenure as a Vice President at a major Boston bank and investment house–not that she ever directly uses that experience. Hambley creates worlds that leave readers feeling like eye-witnesses to international crime.

Hambley is a member of the Speakers Bureau of the Sisters in Crime, a professional organization supporting women mystery writers, and frequently speaks on the joy of writing mysteries and insights into the publishing process.

The Troubles, a sequel to The Charity, continues to explore the unseen impact of terrorism through the people and the organizations that fund it. Boston’s ties to the Irish Republican Army, Northern Ireland’s history, money laundering schemes with legal loopholes, and family secrets populate her books if not her real life.

Follow Connie on Twitter @conniehambley
Her blog is here:
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. . . and website:
She’s on Google+ too, but who uses that anyway?
In a crazy tradition of professionalism, Connie promises to personally respond to you. . . eventually

Chilling Thrillers Sunday, Jun 30 2013 

06-12Nightshade-2Stephen Leather is the accomplished author of several thriller series, including the bestselling Spider Shepherd series.

He returns with the newest in the Jack Nightingale occult thrillers in Nightshade, which he based on areal incident that occurred in Scotland when a middle-aged farmer entered a primary school and killed sixteen children and an adult before committing suicide. This case formed the basis that led to a ban on handgun ownership in the UK.

What Leather does spectacularly well is to use the theories for that massacre as the plot line in this chilling novel that is disturbing as it brings a dark twist to the events that feel too real and possible at times.

When Jimmy McBride walks into a school with a double-barrelled shotgun and begins his massacre, he sets into motion a chain of events that lead his brother, Danny, to employ Nightingale. The former cop-turned-private eye reluctantly agrees to look into the case and finds to his horror too many connections to discount.

Police have found evidence of Satanic practices at McBride’s farm, which Danny insists were not present just days before when he visited Jimmy at his farm.

Woven into the story is a young girl who is miraculously revived after being declared dead after a horrible home invasion. Bella claims she’s spoken to people from beyond the grave but a disturbing pattern soon emerges. People who she’s whispered her secrets to start to die and often take others with them in bizarre killings.

Nightingale soon realizes there is much more at work here than appears on the surface, and as he digs deeper he brings his own life into jeopardy.

This is a compellingly told tale that will leave readers sitting on the edge of their seats as the events leading to the haunting prologue start to make a terrible kind of sense that only Nightingale can resolve.


Philip Margolin brings back fan favorite private investigator Dana Cutler, previously seen in his Washington Trilogy series, in the fast-paced legal thriller Sleight of Hand. sleight-of-handjpg-670e1b783e618ea9

Dana will face a fierce opponent: the slick criminal defense lawyer Charles Benedict, a man whose talents include magic tricks–and murder.

Sent to the west coast on the trail of a stolen relic, Dana doesn’t see a connection with the missing medieval scepter until she’s deeply embroiled in the case of the missing wife of millionaire Horace Blair.

The action hinges on the prenuptial agreement signed by Blair and his wife, Carrie, guaranteeing her twenty million dollars if she remains faithful for the first ten years of their marriage. When Carrie disappears the week before their tenth anniversary, Horace is charged with her murder. Surely twenty million is a great motive for murder?

Blair hires Benedict to defend him, not realizing the very man who is responsible for him going free may also be responsible for the murder of his wife.

Benedict uses sleight of hand to frame Benedict for Carrie’s murder, which is the inspiration for the book’s title. His own motives prove chilling and Dana is determined to bring the lawyer down.

How Dana manages to outwit the psychopath Benedict creates the high suspense that is a hallmark of Margolin’s novels and involves readers in Dana’s hunt to bring down a cunning and cold-blooded murderer.




Lisa Jackson adds a hint of romance to her thriller, Cold Blooded, set in New Orleans and featuring Olivia Bechet, a young woman who has inherited her Grannie Gin’s ability to see through the eyes of a murderer.

When a woman’s slashed and burned corpse is found in a seedy New Orleans apartment, jaded detective Rick Bentz discounts Olivia’s reports of visualizing the bizarre ritual murder in a nightmare.

Bentz has his own demons he’s dealing with, and they certainly don’t include a tendency to believe the supposed sightings of Olivia.

Then the bodies start to pile up, and it’s obvious young college women are being targeted, with Bentz’s own daughter, Kristi, is in the mix.

Suddenly the visions he discounted start to make terrible sense, and Bentz starts to believe Olivia’s visions.

Jackson shows the killer’s point of view, too, which ups the suspense, as The Chosen One focuses in those around Bentz.

When his own brother is thrown into the mix, Bentz doesn’t know where to turn. Is his brother an innocent victim, set up to take the fall for The Chosen One? Or is his brother really the maniac who is terrorizing the area?

For those who like their action mixed with a hint of sizzle, this is a perfect, briskly-paced summer read.