Susan Van Kirk: The Endurance Mysteries Thursday, Nov 17 2016 

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Please welcome Susan Van Kirk, to introduce her Endurance Mysteries, and don’t miss her giveaway mentioned at the end for her newest in the series, Marry in Haste:

The Endurance Mystery Series

If you are looking for a new mystery series, please check out my Endurance Mysteries. Five Star Publishing/Cengage has published the first two books in the series, and I published a novella as an e-book only on Amazon.

Let me clue you in on some “insider information.” Each of the novels has a title that come from Ben Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac. The last word in each of the novels is “Endurance.” Finally, my three children gave me a word to use in each of these books, hoping to stump me. Hasn’t happened yet. Even “helicopter” fits in.

Endurance is a small town with a history going back to the 1830s, when settlers came to downstate Illinois to found towns and colleges on the edge of the prairie. In our time, the town has a population of 15,000 and places with such names as Patsy’s Pub, the Coffee Bean, the Penny Saved Shoe Store, Shady Meadows Cemetery, and the Homestretch Funeral Home (my personal favorite.) It’s a nice town, you know what I mean … as long as you don’t mind a murder or two.

The main character is Grace Kimball, widow and mother of three adult children. She is 57 and has just retired from teaching at Endurance High School. This means she sees former students all the time, and the reader gets to hear the crazy antics she remembers about their high school years.

Grace has a circle of female friends, but her best friend is Detective TJ Sweeney. Some might say theirs is an improbable friendship, since Grace grew up in a white bread Indianapolis home, and TJ is an intelligent biracial woman who is the product of a broken home. Grace taught TJ and mentored her through high school and college. They are loyal to the end and have each other’s backs, which is a good thing. Grace gets herself into all kinds of trouble because of her curiosity.
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Into this relationship comes a mystery man, the 62-year-old Jeff Maitlin, who was a big deal in the NYC journalism community. He has decided to end his career by working part-time with a small-town newspaper, the Endurance Register. Maitlin is a mystery man because no one knows why he came to such a small place or what his past has been.

In the first book, Three May Keep a Secret, we meet Grace and discover she is haunted by a tragedy in her past that she has never been able to put behind her. When shoddy journalist, Brenda Norris, is murdered in a suspicious fire, Grace is hired by the newspaper editor, Jeff Maitlin, to fill in for Brenda, researching the town’s history for a big centennial. Unfortunately, that past hides dark secrets.

When yet a second murder occurs, Grace’s friend, TJ Sweeney, homicide detective, races against time to find a killer. Even Grace’s life will be threatened by her worse nightmare. Against the backdrop of the town’s 175th founder’s celebration, Grace and Jeff find an undeniable attraction for each other. But can she trust this mystery man?
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I was told by my publisher that it would be a loooong two-year break between the first and second books. So, I self-published a novella about my complicated police detective, TJ Sweeney, called The Locket: From the Casebook of TJ Sweeney. It is an e-book and takes us back to the 1940s. A body is discovered when workers are digging the foundation for a new building. TJ Sweeney must identify the victim and figure out what happened to her.

Obviously, we had no DNA in the 1940s, so this will be difficult. We also learn about Sweeney’s past and her complicated feelings about her Caucasian father, who left when she was little. Her mother, a proud African American woman, tells TJ about what it was like to be in a mixed marriage in the 1940s. The victim was last seen at a big band venue called The Roof Garden, and TJ has an amazing conversation with an elderly woman who explains what it was like back then when she danced at The Roof Garden in the 30s. Dead ends, difficulties, and amazing finds … and then, for TJ Sweeney, this case becomes personal.

The second novel, Marry in Haste, is the story of two women, a century apart, living in the small town of Endurance, and both ignoring Ben Franklin’s “Marry in Haste, Repent at Leisure.” A huge Victorian house is the setting for much of this novel, and in the house Grace finds a hidden diary from 1893.

It reveals the bittersweet story of Olivia Havelock, who came to Endurance and married a powerful, but abusive, judge. In the present day, Grace’s former student, Emily Folger, is accused of murdering her philandering, abusive husband. Grace sets out to prove Emily’s innocence, working with TJ Sweeney. Can the lessons from the diary help her save Emily Folger? This second full-length novel just came out November 16.

The third book will be out next year, and it is called Death Takes No Bribes. Grace goes back to her old high school, where she taught for almost three decades, when the principal is murdered in a horrific way. It’s a sentimental journey for Grace, who retired a year ago, and now she walks among her old colleagues wondering if one of them could be capable of murder.

Each mystery has a universal theme, and at the heart of the series is the resilience of women and how they support each other. They celebrate family, loyalty, and, often, social issues. History and romance twine their way through each book. So, I hope you’ll consider trying my Endurance Mysteries. Right now, I have a giveaway going on GoodReads for Marry in Haste that lasts until midnight on November 21.

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Susan Van Kirk grew up in Galesburg, Illinois, and received degrees from Knox College and the University of Illinois. She taught high school English for thirty-four years, then spent an additional ten years teaching at Monmouth College.

Her first Endurance mystery novel, Three May Keep a Secret, was published in 2014 by Five Star Publishing/Cengage. In April, 2016, she published an Endurance e-book novella titled The Locket: From the Casebook of TJ Sweeney. Her third Endurance novel, Death Takes No Bribes, will follow Marry in Haste.

Social Media:

Website and blog: http://www.susanvankirk.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/SusanVanKirkAuthor/

Twitter: https://www.twitter.com/susan_vankirk

GoodReads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/586.Susan_VanKirk

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Barry Maitland: Ash Island Wednesday, Nov 9 2016 

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Barry Maitland’s Brock and Kolla series, set in England, has been one of Auntie M’s mainstays for years. Then last year he brought out a second series, featuring DS Harry Belltree and set in his current home of Australia. The second in the new series, Ash Island, finds Harry just back to work after his near death in Crucifixion Creek and is a strong sequel.

Harry’s posting away from Sydney and the horror of the past case suit him fine. He and his wife, Jenny, are expecting their first child together, and living in a cottage in Newcastle with Jenny’s new guide dog.

Harry’s case revolves around a body found in the marsh vegetation of Ash Island, showing obvious signs of torture. He’s convinced this is a dumping ground for bodies, and he’s proven right, but not without consequences.

Newcastle was the area of the accident that robbed him of his parents and Jenny of her sight. Harry knows it wasn’t an accident: his father was a well respected Aboriginal judge, and he’s always understood that his father’s position led to his death.

How these deaths are connected to the bodies buried in the marsh provide some of the strongest action scenes in the book, as Harry not only tries to find out what’s at the bottom of the accident, and those buried bodies, but whom he can trust.

The area comes alive under Maitland’s assured descriptions.
There will be a double surprise at the end, and the resolution Harry seeks will come at a steep price. An accomplished and fast-moving plot will keep readers flipping pages as the past reaches it fingers into the present.

Tana French: The Trespasser Saturday, Oct 22 2016 

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French’s The Secret Place introduced Stephen Moran as its narrator, the young detective itching to get into Dublin’s Murder Squad, and paired temporarily with the tough Det. Antoinette Conway. He gets his wish months later, only as the youngest and unmarried members of the team, they both get more than their fair share of night shifts. And it’s Conway who’s the narrator as the now-partners are handed a new case to work together in The Trespasser, another strong novel that shows how well French understands human nature.

Their Superintendent is convinced he’s handing the newbies a simple domestic case, easily solved. Pretty, polished and dressed for a date: that’s the impression victim Aislin Murray gives the detectives when her body is found in a pool of blood in her flat, right next to a dining table set for two, complete with candles, uneaten meal in the warming oven.

It appears to be simple, a lover’s quarrel gone bad at first glance, except that Conway is convinced she’s seen the victim before and just can’t place her. Conflicting stories from people who knew Aislinn set off the detectives radar, and further investigation shows that the young woman underwent a remarkable makeover in her appearance and manner.

Rory Fallon has been dating Aislinn, and when he’s put under the glare of being a suspect, he doesn’t redeem himself well, yet Conway isn’t convinced he’s the killer. Not so DI Breslin, the experienced detective assigned to oversee the case with the duo. He presses them hard for an arrest of Fallon, stressing out Conway and getting to Moran. His insistence leads the two to all sorts of wild conspiracy theories that keep them from seeing the truth of the case that lies right in their midst.

Adding to Conway’s stress is the harassment she’s received from her coworkers, including pranks and messing about with her reports and evidence, which doesn’t seem to apply to her male partner. Is she paranoid or is this the height of sexism? And more to the point, can she wait it out or will she crumple and make her colleagues point for them?

This is a power struggle on all fronts, sometimes between Conway and the suspect; at others between Conway and the detective sitting next to her, whether it’s Moran or Breslin. And most of all, it’s a struggle for Conway between the person she is and her urban working-class origins, and the person she wants to be.

An accomplished look inside the psychology of the narrator, and of the far-reaching implications of actions not always understood. Highly recommended.

Sarah Ward: A Deadly Thaw Sunday, Sep 25 2016 

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Sarah Ward’s debut In Bitter Chill brought her to reader’s attention quickly last year. After years of reviewing crime fiction, including acting as a judge for the Scandinavian translated crime novels’ Petrona Award, she has turned her hand to writing her own series, causing Booklist to call her “. . . a writer to watch.”

She returns with a second entry in the Derbyshire series, A Deadly Thaw, and fans of her first will be happy to know it’s every bit as well-written and suspenseful as her first. She brings back the compelling Bampton team of DI Francis Sadler and DC Connie Childs, plus other members who will have an impact on the story to investigate this unusual case.

The setup is creative and pulls the reader in immediately. Lena Grey has just been released from prison after serving fourteen years for smothering her husband, Andrew Fisher, in their bed. But then Andrew’s recently killed body is found in an old morgue.

Once the identification is complete, the questions become overwhelming: Who was the man in Lena’s bed all those years ago, and why would she lie about his identity and spend all of the time in prison? Sadler’s team must uncover why this deception could have been pulled off, while Childs is convinced it took more than a bad marriage and a lover for Lena Grey to take prison time. But Lena vanishes, leaving questions unanswered and the investigation to flounder.

The team will be led to Lena’s sister Kat, a therapist living in their childhood home, who can’t explain her sister’s actions then or now. Then Kat starts receiving packages from a young man, and based on their contents, he must know where Lena is hiding. She starts searching through their lives, looking for answers in her family’s secrets, conducting her own investigation.

Those secrets hold the key to the mystery and it will be up to Sadler’s team to put the pieces together. Distractions from personal issues within the team threaten to disturb their cohesiveness and ability to figure out the truth, but add layers of complexity to the story.

Ward’s plot is complex and well-executed, with twists and turns that make red herrings fall like so much litter as one reality becomes another. This is gripping, with an edge that makes for compulsive reading. Highly recommended.

James Hayman: The Girl in the Glass Saturday, Jun 4 2016 

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Auntie M is late to James Hayman’s McCabe and Savage series, but she’ll be back for more after reading The Girl in the Glass, its fourth installment.

The action fluctuates between Whitby Island, Maine, in a case from 1904 and the tragic death of the lovely Aimee Whitby, a French artist, whose murder remains filled with speculation but unsolved. This is contrasted against the June 2012 murder of her descendant, Veronica Aimee Whitby, and closely resembles the hallmarks of the first, with the action split between Portland and Whitby Island.

Veronica is the valedictorian of her school, a manipulative young woman killed on the night of her graduation party. Enter McCabe and Savage, determined to find the killer as quickly as possible. Despite the revelations that perhaps Veronica wasn’t the nicest young woman, she was still only eighteen and at the cusp of her life when she is murdered.

But their investigation is thwarted by the different personalities at hand. There’s the dead girl’s father, wealthy to the point of absurdity, her stepmother, and her half sister. There are petty and real jealousies, sibling rivalry, and the kind of complex family situation that you know you wouldn’t want to be at their Thanksgiving dinners.

Hayman gives McCabe and Savage their own relationship issue to struggle with as the case pushes forward, under the eye of a a strident media, dogging their heels. One of the highlights of this is seeing the duo at work, balancing their case and their emotions, trying to make sense out of the various strands. The past come into play in surprising ways as the case races to its finale. Fast paced and reminded Auntie M of the quick read in one gulp action of a John Sanford novel.

Robin Burcell: The Last Good Place Sunday, Nov 8 2015 

Robin Burcell has written a rebook of the Carolyn Weston books that formed the storyline for The Streets of San Francisco, one of Auntie M’s favorite shows in the 1970s.
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Way back in the 1970s, an author named Carolyn Weston penned the novel POOR, POOR OPHELIA. That book was the basis for the hit television show, The Streets of San Francisco. I loved that show, and so when Brash Books asked if I’d be interested in continuing the late Weston’s series, I jumped at the chance.

Besides, how hard could it be? I thought. Well… A lot has changed since the 1970s, especially police work. But I was up to the challenge, so I read the three Weston novels and made the startling realization that they were very different from the TV show that I remembered. Or rather Weston’s cops, Al Krug and Casey Kellog, were different from my memory of the TV cops portrayed by Karl Malden and Michael Douglas.

What’s a writer to do? I had a choice about leaving these cops in the 70s, but I wasn’t so sure I wanted to write historical fiction. I started as a cop in 1983 and I’m very happy with the progress departments have made over the years. I had no wish to revisit that time period—and so we made the command decision to update the series to modern day.

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My personal belief was that Al Krug, the grizzled, older cop Weston wrote as a foil to the younger, college-educated rookie, Kellog, was right for the time period in which he was created. Krug was a kick-ass-take-names-later sort of guy. Unfortunately that wouldn’t fly today, and so I knew I was going to have to temper Krug’s character—to keep him from getting fired—making him more of a mentor to Kellog, but one who was still very much old school.

And then there is the younger Kellog, fresh out of college and still living at home according to Weston’s version. The biggest problem there was that today, Kellog would have to put in at least a decade on the streets before he ever got to homicide, and so I fast-forwarded his time clock, giving him the needed years on the street (and moved him out of his parents’ house!) so that he had the experience to work homicide.

The fun part of the series was melding Weston’s characters with my memories of the television show. I wanted to bring in the best of both worlds. In the end my goal was to write a great police procedural that would pick up where the old books left off, but wouldn’t be out of place in today’s world.

Anyone else out there remember The Streets of San Francisco?

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Robin Burcell spent nearly three decades as a police officer, hostage negotiator, criminal investigator, and FBI Academy-trained forensic artist. Her most recent book, THE KILL ORDER, was named one of Library Journal’s Best Thrillers of 2014.
Her upcoming book, THE LAST GOOD PLACE, is a continuation of the Carolyn Weston police procedurals which were the basis for the TV show THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO.
More information can be found on her website at: http://www.robinburcell.com/

Sarah Hilary: No Other Darkness Sunday, Sep 6 2015 

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Sarah Hilary introduced DI Marni Rome in Someone Else’s Skin. Now she’s back with its sequel, No Other Darkness, as strong an entry as the first, a fast page-turner chock full of unforeseen events.

Auntie M should note that it’s weird reading about a main character who shares her nickname, but casting that aside, Marnie Rome is an interesting character to drive this series. She’s in a relationship with Victim Care Officer Ed Belloc, who understands the pressures of her job and helps to soothe her ragged past. And she’s proud of the team she’s put together, including her DS Noah Jake.

A particularly awful case has them in its grip: two young boys have been found dead in a bunker hidden under the garden of a young family. The Doyle’s have two little children, foster a teen, Clancy, and are expecting their third child when gardener and father Terry unearths a manhole cover and the grisly contents of the bunker it serves.

Clancy reminds Marnie of her own foster brother, serving time for the murder of her parents, and the threads of the two cases seem to overlap to her frazzled nerves. Her past interrupts on more levels than she can cope with in the form of a reporter Marnie knows from her past.

With no known identity for the boys, Marnie’s team tries to identify the two lads, probably brothers who appear to have been left in the bunker with tins of food, a bed and a bucket, until they died of starvation and exposure. Was this the work of a prepper, someone who carried apocalyptic preparations to the extreme?

Once the boys identities are known, things shift horribly: their mother had reported their drowning death years before, and that of their infant sister, although only the sister’s body had been found. She’s been in prison after confessing to the murders, a victim of postpartum psychosis. But now she’s close to being released on parole with a new identity.

How those boys came to be in the Doyle’s bunker, how Clancy figures in, along with several neighbors who appear to not be what they seem, will all cloud Marnie’s investigation as things turn on a dime when the Doyle’s young children go missing.

This is a a briskly-paced police procedural where the stakes are high and the terror never far from the next page. Competently done and filled with surprising twists and creative characters who are complex and real.

Kate Flora: And Grant You Peace Friday, Jul 10 2015 

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Auntie M owes author Kate Flora an apology: She read, and thoroughly enjoyed, Flora’s Joe Burgess mystery, And Grant You Peace last fall. Then her copy of the book fell behind a stack of many stacked books waiting to be reviewed and was just unearthed. Mea culpa.

Don’t let Auntie M’s tardiness keep you away from this great installment in Flora’s series, that starts out with a fast-paced heart-rending scene and doesn’t let up.

Sitting in his car, waiting for his shift to end, Burgess is ready to go home when a local kid he knows come running up to his door. Jason tells Burgess the nearby mosque is on fire and he can hear screaming from inside. Burgess leaps out of his car, calling the fire department, on the run inside the burning building.

A stranger steps up to help him and the two men tear down a locked door to find a woman and her baby inside the burning closet. His instincts tell Burgess the fire was not accidental, and when he learns the infant has died, Burgess knows the investigation will ratchet up now with the arson unit, fire department investigators and the state fire marshal all digging in along with violent crimes detectives.

But his thoughts turn to the scared young mother, a teenager, who has just lost her child, and gone mute. Who would have locked her and her baby in a closet inside a mosque scrawled with anti-Muslim graffiti and set fire to it? Burgess will work hard to earn her trust and learn her story.

It’s a case that will have Burgess working long hours, despite the chaos of his home situation, where his partner Chris is working and trying to hold down the fort on their newly-created family. Series regulars on Joe’s team Stan Perry, Terry Kyle will aid Burgess along with Remy Aucoin and CID head Vince Melia, as their investigation takes them to the Iman who owned the Somali mosque.

When they try to question one of the Iman’s sons, a car passes, shooting into their faces. And that’s just the start of the trouble Burgess and his team will face as they unravel the story of this young mother and her dead child.

Compellingly told, atmospheric, this proves a great addition to the series.

M. P. Cooley: Flame Out Sunday, Jun 28 2015 

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An upstate New York native, M. P. Cooley knows the area well and showed that in her debut Ice Shear, introducing police officer June Lyons. She’s back with its sequel, FLAME OUT and it’s every bit as good a story, set in the rustbelt area of Hopewell Falls, along the Mohawk River.

Auntie M must confess to a bit of added interest unknown to her until she read this book: one of her three sons is Director of the Cohoes Library, and so she knows the area and can attest that Cooley gets it the depressed neighborhoods just right.

The action sets in quickly, when June is out on patrol and she picks up the scent of gasoline as she rides near an abandoned factory. Knowing arson to be prevalent in the area, she calls the fire in and heads into the factory, over a gas slick, fire extinguisher in hand.

She follows the trail into the building and finds a running van door open, and as the flames reach the van, a woman screams and rises from the mattress stuffed in the back, her clothes on fire. June manages to rescue the woman, but her burns keep the victim in a coma and she’s not identified. Until she is …

That’s the beginning of a twisted and complex plot that will have fingers tracing back into Juen’s own family’s past and that of her partner, Dave Batko, and his family. June’s father is a retired cop who is helping her raise her daughter, yet this case brings back the history of his arrest of the factory’s owner, Bernie Mede, for killing his wife and child, despite their bodies never being found. Then while dismantling the burned factory, the body of a woman is found inside a sealed barrel, walled up inside the factory.

The assumption is that this is Mede’s missing wife, but the identity turns out to have more ramifications for June’s partner, Dave, one that will see him sidelined, with June working alongside FBI Special Agent Hale Bascom to solve the murder and arson–and to unravel the past.

A gripping tale with the setting playing an important role, this rural procedural starts out as a small-town police case and soon grows into a tale of corruption and coverup.

Ausma Jehanat Khan: The Unquiet Dead Sunday, May 24 2015 

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Rarely is Auntie M affected by a book so much that she has to let time go by to give it a fair review.
But that’s what happened after closing the last page of this disturbingly powerful novel, The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zehanat Khan.

When the Bosnian War was ongoing, Auntie M was aware of the situation, but for a mother, nurse and new wife without relatives there that were directly affected, it became something noted on the nightly news. Khan removes that distance by bringing war atrocities and their aftermath directly to the reader in the form of lasting affects on several characters who managed to escape.

At the same time, it’s also a police procedural of the strongest kind, set in Toronto with a Muslim veteran police detective, Esa Khattak, and his partner, Detective Rachel Getty. As head of Toronto’s Community Policing Section, Khattack’s team handles sensitive minority cases all the time. They are tasked with investigating the death of Christopher Drayton, a successful businessman who has fallen off a cliff near his home.

What first appears to be a straightforward accident of a fall from the cliffs overlooking Lake Ontario in the dark turns out to be so much more. Khattak soon comes to believe that Drayton was really Drazen Krstic, a war criminal responsible for the slaughter of thousands of Muslims during what has come to be known as the Srebrenica Massacre. Then it comes to light that Drayton has been receiving letters that contain quotations from war survivor’s testimony. Could his death be a revenge killing by relatives of survivors who’ve settled in Canada?

The case has personal ramifications for Khattak, and with Getty carrying her own secrets, the duo are learning to trust each other. Yet even as they build respect and trust in each other, they are learning from each other about the different cultures they represent. As their investigation continues, it will bring them more questions than answers that center on the conclave where Drayton lived and the small neighborhood there. Drayton was due to be married shortly, and his fiancee and her two daughters are several of the interesting characters Khan has created. There is also the question of a large donation he was to give to a museum in the same area and his participation in it.

Khan alternates the investigation against the background of the war, with several survivors stories representative of the horrific experiences of many. Without harping on political issues but with the travesty of war atrocities the focus, the novel stays firmly in the realm of a police investigation, with well-drawn characters, as the threads of the past and the present become woven into a chilling climax.

It is revealed after reading the novel, and there is not really a spoiler alert needed here, that the letters Drayton received contain lines from actual testimony from war crimes trials. In a lengthy and well-documented addendum, the author explains the origins of the quotes, showing the horror of ethnic cleansing that occurred at the time when a culture and its followers were attempted to be rubbed off the face of the earth.

This is an outstanding debut, meticulous in its research, compelling in its characters, and Auntie M can only hope this is not the last we’ve seen of this detective duo. Highly recommended.

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