Kate Rhodes: The Locked-Island Mysteries Sunday, Jan 22 2023 

Kate Rhodes has been a favorite author of Auntie M’s, starting with her compelling Alice Quentin series. Now that’s she’s branched out to her Locked-Island Mysteries, set in the Scilly Isles, Auntie M caught up with the series that features local detective DI Ben Kitto, with the 5th and 6th in this compelling series.

Devil’s Table centers on the island of St. Martin’s, where young Jade and her twin brother, Ethan, are attacked after leaving their shared bedroom at night. Ethan escapes but Jade is nowhere to be seen, and an island-wide search starts with residents and police battling the incessant fog that permeates the island.

Then a body is found in a dramatic, posed fashion, and Ben and his small team scramble to redouble their efforts to find the missing girl, while at the same time searching for a killer amidst the seemingly innocent narcissi harvest. The juxtaposition between the fields of fragrant bulbs, to be picked and flown to the mainland for Christmas and New Years clashes with the tiny community burdened by suspicion. 

Having grown up on nearby Bryher, Ben knows most of the people on St. Martin’s, who suddenly become suspects in this baffling murder of a man who is seen differently by people. Grudges held from long ago surface, and he must question everyone, regardless of his history with them.

A tense and gripping plot combine with an atmospheric mystery that make this an instant classic.

The Brutal Tide has Ben looking for clues to a set of old bones found during the excavation for a new outdoor activities center on Bryher, spearheaded by two locals who married and have returned home to complete this project.

Not everyone is a fan of the new center, and as Ben tries to find the identity of these bones, they suddenly disappear, and one of the  loudest critics of the project is found dead.

At the same time, a young woman whose father has been a crime kingpin sets up a plot to take out the officers whose information sent her father to prison. Now dying, Craig Travis has constructed this plan for his daughter Ruby with a devious way to take his revenge on those he hates, all from his prison hospital bed.

Ben Kitto, whose undercover past has returned to haunt him with a vengeance, must search for a killer on his home island while he avoids being Ruby’s last victim—all while his partner reaches the end of her difficult pregnancy.

A taut, clever mystery, with a very real protagonist at the heart of this series, makes this a tense and beautifully written mystery. 

Rhodes abilities as a poet surface in her lyrical prose and beautifully constructed descriptions and prose; her talents at creating tension have Elly Griffiths calling her “An absolute master of pace.”

Do yourself a favor if you haven’t already discovered the wildly talented Kate Rhodes, and immerse yourself in her wonderful sense of place and character, wrapped in stunningly good crime stories.

Mariah Fredericks’: The Lindbergh Nanny Tuesday, Nov 15 2022 

Mariah Fredericks’ THE LINDBERGH NANNY takes readers inside the homes of Anne Morrow and Charles Lindbergh, exploring their marriage, their travels, and the horrific kidnapping in 1932 of their first-born child, Charlie, all from the point of view of the young nanny they hire, Betty Gow.

A Scottish immigrant learning East Coast etiquette after a disastrous affair, Betty is often put off by the eccentricities of Colonel Lindbergh. She admires Anne Lindbergh for her attempts to live up to her husband’s expectations, despite her shy and nervous manner. Coming from a monied family, the young couple live with the Morrow’s as they renovate a house in New Jersey.

Charlie is a darling child, sweet-natured and adventurous, and well as he gets on with Betty, Anne Morrow often worries he’s growing more attached to his nanny when she’s away on world-wide jaunts with her famous husband. At times not understanding how the parents can be away from Charlie for such extended periods, she nevertheless spends her own money on his clothing when he outgrows what she’s been left with. Yet she carves out a life for herself and even has a new beau.

Then when Anne is heavily pregnant with the couple’s next child, tragedy strikes, becoming one of the most celebrated international cases when young Charlie is kidnapped and his body eventually found. 

Betty soon finds herself at the center of journalists and public scrutiny, when a suspect is arrested. She understands that to clear her name for the future, she must figure out what really happened that night when a loose shutter allowed the child she’d come to love to be abducted.

You may think they know this story, but Fredericks’ manages to bring readers into the closed off world of the Lindbergh’s and into Betty’s thoughts, as she adds a sense of tension and mystery to the story. The characters, real and fictional, are finely drawn. With its on-the-spot view, this is a book that speaks to the role of women in the 1930s and delves into what might have happened on that fateful night, and who was responsible. A gripping and suspenseful read.


Jane Marple: An Icon for Crime Writers Wednesday, Oct 12 2022 

When Agatha Christie wrote a short story featuring Jane Marple in 1927, she didn’t think the character would have sustainability. It wasn’t until three years later, with The Murder at the Vicarage that she wrote the first Marple novel, “for a bit of fun,” her grandson Matthew Pritchard notes, and then she concentrated on Hercule Poirot and didn’t write another Marple mystery until twelve years later.

Yet Jane Marple proved to be a favorite of readers and many writers, myself included, with an enduring quality about her. I have always loved Miss Marple and her wry humor and retiring manner, and I’m not alone. Richard Osman of the Thursday Murder Club series notes she is his inspirational protagonist, and so it would seem, do many of the leading crime writers of today.

Forty-five years after the last Miss Marple mystery was published, William Morrow’s new book, MARPLE, is a collection of twelve new Miss Marple stories written by such crime writing luminaries as Val McDermid, Elly Griffiths, Ruth Ware, and Lucy Foley.

Each author exhibits a new take on Miss Marple, and while Elly Griiffths has her visit Italy,  Alyssa Cole takes her to Manhattan. Yes, Miss Marple visits New York! But while their settings and the age of Jane Marple may vary, what doesn’t is the spinster’s ability to read people who remind her of the inhabitants of her small village of St. Mary Mead. Each story brought Miss Marple back to life for me, and I had great fun reading the these stories. 

Agatha Christie’s estate has had author Sophie Hannah write new Hercule Poirot novels. The Mystery of Three Quarters is the most recent. Hannah captures Poirot’s voice and his mincing mannerisms, carefully bringing Hercule to live another day. I was delighted to see that while these authors each have a different take on Jane Marple, she does indeed, live again for another day in a very recognizable way.

While actresses such a Helen Hayes, Geraldine McEwan, and even Angela Lansbury played Jane Marple at different times, Margaret Rutherford’s take on the role over four films gives viewers a touch of nostalgia when seen today.

But Christie has said Jane was based on her grandmother and that woman’s cronies, and admitted that of all the actresses who played Miss Marple over the years, her favorite was Joan Hickson, who fit Christie’s visual image of a “bird-like and slightly twittery” spinster, and she is my personal favorite, too. 

Jane Marple’s endurance perhaps comes from her as a symbol of “Britishness,”  of country life that seems tranquil until it’s applied to murder. With one of my own series set in England, she remains a constant to turn to while evoking another era, a source of comfort as readers know at the end of it all, Miss Marple will figure out who is the murderer and justice will be served.

When I bought a Mini Cooper a few years ago, I had to name it for their marketing department to find in their computer. They then send you hilarious emails as it’s being made and shipped across the ocean.

I couldn’t think of a better name than Miss Marple.

Readers, what are your thoughts about an icon being resurrected in this way with new authors? Do you think you’d enjoy this story collection?

The Evening’s Amethyst: Nora Tierney #5 Monday, Oct 4 2021 

Auntie M is very pleased to announce that the fifth Nora Tierney English Mystery, THE EVENING’S AMETHYST, has made it through the Covid delays and the paperback is now available. Kindle and Audible version will follows in the next few weeks, but she’s excited to have the book on offer.

This time the majority of the story takes place in Oxford, where Nora is settling into her new home with her fiancé, DI Declan Barnes, her young son, Sean, and their puppy, Typo.

Who is Verity? That soon becomes the central question for Nora and Declan, after his new case at Exeter College coincides with a frantic call from Nora’s stepsister, Claire Scott: a fellow graduate student has died in a fall, and Claire begs Nora to help her prove Bea Jones would never commit suicide.

The sisters start their own snooping, while Declan and his team juggle this death investigation with a cold case that will prove to have a startling resolution. Over twenty years ago, toddler Donnie Walsh was kidnapped from his dirty playpen outside a Cumbrian pub. His body was never found. Now in the midst of Declan’s new case, a young man walks into St. Aldate’s Police Station claiming to be Donnie Walsh.

A mix of amateur sleuth and police procedural, The Evening’s Amethyst has garnered wonderful early reviews, including this one from Nicola Upson, author of the Josephine Tey series: “A fine addition to a wonderful series, Graff delivers her trademark blend of compelling mystery, vivid setting, and engaging characters—and in Nora Tierney she has created a sleuth whose humanity and insight are the stars of the show. I loved it.”

Available now on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Evenings-Amethyst-Tierney-English-Mystery/dp/0990828735/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=the+evening%27s+amethyst+by+m+graff&qid=1633376773&sr=8-1 OR

for signed copies contact the author at: bluevirgin.graff@gmail.com.

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!


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.


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.


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.

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.

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.


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.


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.

Michael Wallace: Not Death, But Love Sunday, Aug 16 2015 

While Auntie M is attending St Hilda’s Mystery and Crime Conference in Oxford, please welcome California author Michael Wallace, who will describe the genesis of his third mystery, Not Death, But Love:
Not Death,But Love

The Book That Wanted to Be Written

Most authors, I’m guessing, are carrying around several unwritten books in their heads. Typically we have an idea of which one will get written next, but sometimes one of the stories insists on muscling its way from the back of the queue to the front.

Something rather like that took place with my third Quill Gordon mystery, Not Death, But Love, which was published on Amazon May 27. This wasn’t originally going to be the third book in the series, but things happened.

In 2012 I was hired by a family foundation to write the family’s history. It’s one of the best jobs I’ve ever had, because it paid generously and the work was fascinating. By the end of it, I felt the long-deceased family members had come alive inside my head and that I was able to convey a reasonably good sense of them to the readers.

In the course of that work, I came across several things that were a surprise to the people who hired me. There were no terrible scandals, but there were lawsuits and family schisms they hadn’t known about until I started digging. At the time, I was simultaneously working on my second mystery, Wash Her Guilt Away, and at some point it occurred to me that a family history with a deep secret — one worth killing to keep — could make the basis for a good mystery.

One of my plans for a future book had been a story centering on a controversial land-use plan, something that would make use of the knowledge I picked up working as a consultant for Wells Fargo Bank and The Home Depot more than a decade ago. That one had been on the back burner, but I decided to combine ideas to make the land development part of the family history, and was off to the races.

When I was working on the real family history, I often lamented that none of the family members had kept journals (at least none that had survived). I decided to give my murder victim, a retired English teacher named Charlotte London, a journal. It was originally supposed to provide a set of clues to complement those in the family history, but it ended up being much more than that.

Simply put, in the course of creating the journal sections, I discovered that Charlotte had come to life most vividly, and, surprisingly to me, became one of the most dominant and complex characters in the book. Not to be gooey, but I got to be rather fond of her, and I’m hoping the book’s readers will, too.

The history aspect carried through the rest of the book as well. I found myself wondering about, and inventing, histories of various elements of the book. These included the lake, the Italian restaurant where the characters ate dinner, the Rotary Club, where community and political alliances were cemented, and the town where the story was set. Such details, I feel, are what add richness to a book. They can often be what a reader remembers long after he or she has forgotten whodunit.
book cover 2 first proof revised


MICHAEL WALLACE is a native and lifelong resident of California. He received an A.B. degree in English Literature from the University of California, Santa Cruz, worked for 19 years as a daily newspaper reporter and editor, and has had a long second career as a public relations and publications consultant. He has been an avid reader of mysteries since childhood and a fly fisherman for more than three decades. He lives in the Monterey Bay area with his wife, Linda Ogren, a university lecturer in biology. Their son, Nick, is in the army.

LINKS The McHenry Inheritance Book: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008OAODZ6 Video: http://youtu.be/qeUj3R4mf_Y Wash Her Guilt Away Book: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00K1DOV56 Video: http://youtu.be/m1Hqg11YJ0o Not Death, But Love Book: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00U5LEFHS Video: In production Website: http://www.quillgordonmystery.com Blog: http://www.outofglendale.blogspot.com Twitter: @Qgordonnovel Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/MikeWallaceMysteryWriter

NEW in Paperback: Casey, Bolton, Haynes, Dahl, Margolin Wednesday, Apr 29 2015 

Auntie M reads so many books but that you’d think they’d all run together after a while …

But in the case of the following, these are new in paperback, already been reviewed in hardcover, but were some of my favorites. So in case you missed them then, for your consideration:

Stranger You Know pb cover

Jane Casey’s THE STRANGER YOU KNOW was chosen by the UK Times as one fothe top 10 crime novels of 2014. This is a terrific series with a strong female protagonist who has a frustrating relationship with her partner DCI Josh Derwent. The series delves into the interoffice relationships all detectives must face in a realistic manner. Here they face unraveling a series of three stranglings that point to a sadistic killer and right now, all of the evidence points right to Jane’s partner.

Dark and Twisted Tide pb cover

Sharon Bolton’s Lacey Flint series have the young detective with the secret past working on London’s marine unit in A DARK AND TWISTED TIDE. When Lacy finds the shrouded body in the river, it will lead her to investigate other murders that have their origins in Afghanistan and may include Lacey’s newest friend on the river.

Elizabeth Hayne’s stand-alones (Into the Darkest Corner, Dark Tide, Human Remains) all earned Auntie M’s ‘highly recommended’ listing with good reason. Her first of a series, introducing DCI Louisa Smith and her team, was UNDER A SILENT MOON, a gripping police procedural that finally lets a female investigator have a private life while it doesn’t take a whit away from the strong and compelling plot. In this debut, Louisa is tasked with two murders of two woman in a horse and farm suburb outside London. Haynes’ use of graphs and charts as well as investigative reports, witness statements and call logs that are in use in real investigations give the books a sense of being plunged into the life of a working detective.


Julia Dahl’s debut, INVISIBLE CITY, was an instant hit and has been nominated for all kinds of awards. She brings the world of Brooklyn’s Hasidic Jews to life as a young reporter, Rebekah Roberts, tries to solve the mystery behind the death of a woman from the community whose life may have ties to Rebekah’s own mother. A strong mystery with a compelling narrator, it also gives readers a look into the world of tabloid journalism.

Phillip Margolin’s pioneer saga, WORTHY BROWN”S DAUGHTER, is a mix of Old West, legal drama, and racism in a portrait of small town justice. It’s 1860 in the new state of Oregon, and judges often held court in fields or taverns, and were often put up by families as they traveled their territory. The story was inspired by a real case from that era, when freed slaves tried to find and have their children returned to them. Raw in authenticity, Margolin’s years of research will bring you back to a forgotten era.

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:


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.

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

Playing Mrs. Kingston is published by Zharmae Publishing Press

Coco Ihle: She Had to Know Sunday, Sep 7 2014 

Welcome guest author Coco Ihle and leave a comment to win a free copy of her book SHE HAD TO KNOW.

Words of Wisdom for Dreamers by Coco Ihle

We’ve all had dreams. What are yours? Have you had some fulfilled? Are you still in the process of realizing your desires?

Doggedly pursuing our dreams gives us a sense that they may come to fruition, that we may actually accomplish something in our pursuit. The more passion and determination we possess, the easier it is to move toward our goals, and having a support system helps us emotionally and practically.

Years ago when I first started writing, I shared with friends and relatives my intention of writing a book one day. Some encouraged me to go for it, some said it would be too difficult, an impossible accomplishment. I chose to go for it, despite what pitfalls I might encounter. One friend in particular shared with me a poem that has been a mainstay in my quest. The author is unknown, but I would thank him/her if I could. Here it is. I hope it will encourage you, as well.

I wish I were a could be
if I could not be an are.
For a could be is a maybe
with a chance of reaching far.
I’d rather have been a has been
than a might have been, by far.
For a might have been has never been,
while a has was once an are.

I’ve been thinking about the journey I’ve made to become a published author. As I look back, it hasn’t been short or easy, but it has been rewarding. Persistence through all the stumbling blocks, and even working through discouragement from time to time, has made my dream come true. My wish for you is that you have a good support system, dogged determination and persistence to make your dreams come true. I think it’s worth it. I hope you do, too.

I’d love to hear any secrets you may have in fulfilling your dreams. And for someone who leaves a comment and would like to write a review of my book, SHE HAD TO KNOW, I’ll put all the names in a caldron, stir the brew and select a winner for a free copy. Thank you so very much, Marni, for having me as a guest on your blog.

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Coco Ihle’s debut mystery, SHE HAD TO KNOW, has autobiographical elements involving two reunited long lost sisters’ harrowing adventures in a castle in Scotland. A product of foster care and adoption, Coco spent over fifty years searching for her sister, and found her in 1994. In her former career, she was an internationally known belly dancer who was privileged to perform in Greece, Turkey, Mexico, Spain, Hawaii, and for appearances with the Today Show’s Willard Scott, actors Cliff Robertson and Whoopie Goldberg. She was a magazine staff writer, fundraiser for many charities and an instructor at Auburn University. A contest won her a spot in the Florida Writers Association anthology, published in 2009 and she is a contributing author in an anthology from Second Wind Publishing, recently released. She is a member of MWA, SinC, FWA, the ALMA Society and Clan Buchanan of Scotland. She lives near Tampa, Florida. http://www.cocoihle.com

Sherry Harris: Tagged for Death Sunday, Aug 24 2014 

Thanks so much for asking me to join you today to talk about how the Sarah Winston Garage Sale series came about. My path to publication is a bit different. An editor in NYC gets an idea for a series with a garage sale theme. He goes to an agent, who goes to a friend, who comes to me. It sounds easy, right? Oh, if it only were!

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I’ve been writing for a number of years and have three manuscripts in the drawer and a stack of rejection letters to go with them. Over those years I’ve attended a number of writing and fan conferences. One year at Malice I sat at a table with Julie Hennrikus (now one of my fellow Wicked Cozy Authors). Julie lived in Massachusetts. We’d just found out that my husband was being stationed at Hanscom Air Force Base near Bedford, Massachusetts that summer. She told me I should join the New England chapter of Sisters in Crime when we got there.

I did and I continued to work on the craft of writing. (Yes, I’m a slow learner!) Two years ago I pitched to agent John Talbot at Crime Bake. He wasn’t interested in the three books in the drawer either. A few weeks later I received an email from Barbara Ross. An editor in New York had an idea for a cozy mystery series with a garage sale theme. The editor contacted John Talbot. John then asked Barbara if she knew anyone she thought might be able to write the series. Barbara knew I loved garage sales and asked me.

A week later I’d written a proposal for the series. All the characters, the setting, and the plot flowed out of me. I turned it in to John. He tweaked a few things and sent it off. After much handwringing and pacing, I signed a three book deal. The books are set in the fictional town of Ellington, Massachusetts and on a fictional Air Force base I named Fitch Air Force Base. I guess all of those years of preparation paid off when an unexpected opportunity came to me.

In Tagged for Death Sarah has to make a decision whether to help clear her ex-husband’s name after he’s accused of murder. Why would help a lying, cheating ex? Because otherwise she might also be accused. Tagged for Death, the first in the Sarah Winston Garage Sale series, will be available December 2, 2014.


Sherry Harris started bargain hunting in second grade at her best friend’s yard sale. She honed her bartering skills as she moved around the country while her husband served in the Air Force. Sherry uses her love of garage sales, her life as a military spouse, and her time living in Massachusetts as inspiration for the series. Blog: Wickedcozyauthors.com Website: Sherryharrisauthor.com

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