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Showing posts by: Katherine Tomlinson click to see Katherine Tomlinson's profile
Nov 11 2016 2:00pm

6 Books to Read if You Loved The Stand by Stephen King

The end of the world as we know it (TEOTWAWKI) has always been a reliable premise for science fiction and horror novels. From nuclear annihilation (Nevil Shute’s On the Beach) to eco-disaster (The Drowned World by J.G. Ballard) to the zombie apocalypse (World War Z by Max Brooks), writers have been fascinated with doomsday scenarios both scientific and spiritual. 

In Stephen King’s masterwork, The Stand, the horror novelist explicitly pits good and evil against each other when an accidentally released bio-warfare weapon causes a catastrophic pandemic. 

What’s different about King’s post-apocalypse novel, though, is that it ends with optimism—a reminder that when Pandora’s Box was opened and all the evils of the world were released, there was one thing left in the box—hope.

If you love The Stand (and who doesn’t?), here are some books that share the same sense that man will not merely endure, he will prevail:

[See what's just been added to your TBR...]

Oct 3 2016 12:30pm

Review: Devil Sent the Rain by Lisa Turner

Devil Sent the Rain by Lisa Turner sees the return of hardboiled Detective Billy Able in this dark Southern mystery about the murder of a dazzling Memphis socialite—and the scandals revealed in the wake of her death.

In the “new” South, the scab of modernity is thin. If you peel it away, you might find healthy, healing flesh beneath, but you are just as likely to reveal a raw, festering wound giving off the stench of decaying Southern aristocracy and dying white privilege.

Caroline Lee, the moneyed Memphis socialite who meets her death wearing a wedding dress of lace “made by Belgian nuns 100 years ago” is one of the city’s entitled class. Her parents run a law firm; her brother oversees the family bank. The family home is staffed by black servants and appointed with antique furniture and sterling silver handed down from generation to generation. People like Caroline are not supposed to die in muddy pastures, shot at point-blank range and left to bleed out in that heirloom of a dress.

[Read Katherine Tomlinson's review of Devil Sent the Rain...]

Sep 17 2016 11:00am

The Best Mysteries Set in New Orleans

New’s not all King Cakes and muffuletta sandwiches and balconies adorned with wrought-iron lace. Beneath its flamboyant exterior, the city has always had a dark heart and an aura all its own—a humid miasma composed of equal parts dried early morning puke, rotting Spanish moss, and the scent of fresh beignets.

New Orleans is jazz and jism, Tennessee Williams and Kentucky bourbon cocktails.

It is Mardi Gras and Marie Laveau.

It is sex and death.

New Orleans is the city that put the “N” in Noir; fertile ground for crime writers to plant their bloody dreams.

[Crime and New Orleans go hand in hand...]

Aug 30 2016 11:30am

Review: A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny

A Great Reckoning by Louise PennyA Great Reckoning by New York Times bestselling author Louise Penny is the 12th mystery featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, set in the town of Three Pines (Available August 30, 2016).

“Every mystery is not a crime. But every crime starts with a mystery.” 

In its modern use, the word “mystery” refers to “something that is difficult or impossible to explain.” However, centuries ago it was used in the theological sense to describe a “secret thing, a mystical truth with hidden meaning.” Louise Penny’s novels have always had that ancient touch of “mystery” in them, and in this latest book featuring Armand Gamache, the story’s complex interplay of murder and morality once again mixes with themes of judgment and mercy.

Two sides of a single coin—it is both a blessing and a curse that former inspector Armand Gamache can see both sides at once. He sees this dichotomy everywhere, even reflected in the snowy landscape of Three Pines, the small Québec town Gamache calls home. Up late in the study of the comfortable house he shares with his wife Reine-Marie, Gamache realizes it’s snowing, and as the first flakes of the season fall, he thinks: 

[Read Katherine Tomlinson's review of A Great Reckoning...]

Aug 23 2016 11:00am

Review: Sorrow Road by Julia Keller

Sorrow Road by Julia Keller is the 5th book in the Bell Elkins series (Available today!).

James Iacobelli designed the cover for Julia Keller’s latest Bell Elkins mystery, and it’s striking. Black and white and shades of gray, with a shocking touch of red; it is a cover that draws the eye, which is what a cover is supposed to do.

But, covers are also the public “faces” of books, the picture that is worth a thousand words. Here, Iacobelli’s work immediately provokes questions: Where are we? Who is this woman? What is she doing out in the snow? While the default assumption to a fourth question—When is this story taking place?—is always present day, you can’t necessarily tell that from the image. The woman’s coat is a silhouette that hasn’t much changed in seventy-two years. There are other figures in the background but they offer us no clue.

Iacobelli combined two photos for the cover—one of a snowy winter road and one of a woman walking down a road with an umbrella—creating one seamless visual that echoes what the author has done in her narrative: weave two seemingly disparate stories into a tale that resonates through seven decades and multiple lives.

[Read Katherine Tomlinson's review of Sorrow Road...]

Aug 16 2016 1:30pm

Review: The Hanged Man by Gary Inbinder

The Hanged Man by Gary Inbinder is the 2nd book in the Inspector Lefebvre historical mystery series.

It is the summer of 1890 in Paris, and Inspector Achille Lefebvre is looking forward to escaping the sticky weather, when his holiday plans are sidetracked by the discovery of a man dangling from a bridge in a pretty little Parisian park. 

The police photographer assigned to record the crime scene, Gilles, immediately assumes that the dead man is a suicide, but Lefebvre is not one to make such hasty observations. He approaches the corpse as if an artist—M. de Toulous-Lautrec is an acquaintance—and his eyes are open for clues. “There are always clues, Sergeant,” Lefebvre reminds his second-in-command, Sgt. Rodin. Rodin, who admires his boss and his use of the latest forensic techniques to solve crimes, is certain if there are clues to be found, Lefebvre will suss them out—and Lefebvre does not disappoint.

[Read Katherine Tomlinson's review of The Hanged Man...]

Aug 9 2016 12:30pm

Sue Grafton Scrabble

With the release of X, Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone Alphabet Mystery series has solved almost an entire alphabet of cases. But, what’s the point of an alphabet series if you can’t have fun spelling words with the letters? And, what’s a mystery novel without a bit of DEATH?

See also: Review: X by Sue Grafton

[D-E-A-T-H. Death.]

Jul 28 2016 12:00pm

Review: The Second Death by Peter Tremayne

The Second Death by Peter Tremayne is the 26th book in the Mysteries of Ancient Ireland series.

Seventh-century Ireland—it wasn’t quite Westeros, but it was still a tough town. In this 26th book of Peter Tremayne’s Mysteries of Ancient Ireland series, we see just how dangerous it was, as murder disrupts the preparations for an annual celebration that offers citizens a nine-day respite from their toil and hardship. 

Eadulf, husband to Fidelma—no longer a “sister”—has not attended the fair in many a year, and his young traveling companion Aidan is beside himself with pride as he describes the treats in store:

‘‘The fair lasts nine days in which there are athletic sporting contests of all sorts, such as archery, and demonstrations of prowess with arms, horse racing, feats of skill from professional entertainers, feasting, assemblies presided over by the King and his Chief Brehon…why, even the great fairs of Taillteann, Tlachtga and Carman pale into insignificance compared with our fair.’’

Eadulf has every expectation that he is in for a pleasant diversion as he makes his way home. This is a summer festival, and the author’s prologue tells us the events traditionally took place “in the last days of the month once called Giblean, now April, during the approach of the Bealtaine Fair at Cashel, held on the first day of Cetsoman, which is explained in Cormac’s ninth-century Glossary (Sanas Chormaic) as cét-sam-sín, the first weather of summer, which we now call May.” There’s something deeply poetic about that sentence, which isn’t even a part of the story, though it sets the stage for what follows. 

[Read Katherine Tomlinson's review of The Second Death...]

Jun 13 2016 3:00pm

Review: The Devil’s Cold Dish by Eleanor Kuhns

The Devil's Cold Dish by Eleanor Kuhns is the 5th book in the Will Rees Mysteries series (Available June 14, 2016).

Family. You can’t live with them and you can’t kill them.

In this latest installment of Eleanor Kuhns’s long-running historical mystery series starring Revolutionary War vet Will Rees, the focus is squarely on family. Specifically on Will’s sister Caroline, who believes Will owes them a living now that her farm has been into the ground and her brain-damaged husband Sam can’t work. Will can’t help but feel guilty—Sam’s injury is the result of a blow he struck in self-defense—but at the same time, Caroline’s sense of entitlement and lack of work ethic exasperate him, especially when he finds out that every time she pays a “visit,” something goes missing. Like the odd chicken or two.

[Read Katherine Tomlinson's review of The Devil's Cold Dish...]

Jul 9 2015 11:00am

Fresh Meat: Trials of Passion by Lisa Appignanesi

Trials of Passion by Lisa Appignanesi is a dramatic narrative that details historically significant and famous crimes committed in the name of love and madness (available July 15, 2015).

Simpson, Anthony, Knox, Arias. This book is not about them, but it is. While it dissects four notorious murder trials, it’s not exactly a true crime book, but a deeper examination of the role that love and “insanity” and media have played in the way history’s sensational trials turned out.

The Simpson murder trial was called “the Trial of the Century” and it spawned Court TV, which morphed into TruTV, and it also introduced legal analyst Harvey Levin (co-founder of the site to a wider audience. The media-murder connection is now so strong that it almost feels like a citizen should be able to fulfill his/her jury duty requirement by putting in a few hours in front of a television.

But not just any murder trial becomes a media sensation (some would say “circus”). Some trials are just plain sexier than others—literally. Would anyone outside of Mesa, Arizona have cared who killed salesman Travis Alexander if the woman convicted of his murder hadn’t stabbed him multiple (27-29) times, shot him in the head, and then slit his throat? But by the end of the penalty phase (Arias was sentenced to life in prison), anyone who watched the trial had an opinion about her guilt. Was she mad (in the sense of being insane) or was she simply bad? Trial watchers were not just viewers, they were participants. They were invested in the outcome.

[And this happens all the time...]

Jun 7 2015 11:00am

Fresh Meat: The Dead Assassin by Vaughn Entwistle

The Dead Assassin by Vaughn Entwhistle is the 2nd book in the Paranormal Casebooks of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle where the author sets out to solve an ill-fated assassination (available June 9, 2015).

I am a great fan of Barbara Hambly’s James Asher novels, urban fantasies of Victorian vampires that place the protagonist—a former spy—right in the center of mysteries that often have political implications. The Dead Assassin reminded me of Barbara Hambly’s books in the very best way.

This is the second of Vaughn Entwistle’s Paranormal Casebooks of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novels but the first I’ve read. I needn’t have worried that I’d be hopelessly lost, however, or scrambling to get up to speed with the series. In just a few elegant paragraphs, Entwistle catches everyone up and sets the stage—not only for his mystery but also for the milieu in which that story takes place:

A murder. Something nasty. Something twisted. Something baffling and bizarre. Why else would the police have sought me out?

Such thoughts rattled through the mind of Arthur Conan Doyle as he watched Detective Blenkinsop of Scotland Yard step into the Palm Room of the Tivoli restaurant and sweep his blue- eyed gaze across the crowded tables, searching for something.

Searching for him.

Go away blast you! Not now. Not tonight!

Thanks to the fame Sherlock Holmes had bestowed upon him, Scotland Yard often consulted Conan Doyle on crimes that confounded all conventional means of detection. They dragged to his door the most difficult cases. The inexplicable ones. The conundrums.

The impossibly knotted yarn balls the clumsy fingers of the police could not unravel. Ordinarily, he was flattered to be consulted on such cases. But on this occasion, he wished he could throw a cloak of invisibility about his shoulders.

[Don't we all wish that at times?]

May 9 2015 10:30am

Fresh Meat: Blood Ties by Nicholas Guild

Blood Ties by Nicholas GuildBlood Ties by Nicholas Guild is a thriller pitting San Francisco homicide detective Ellen Ridley against a serial killer who she suspects of being a hacker and codebreaker with the U.S. Navy (available May 12, 2015).

Women are everywhere in Blood Ties. It can sometimes seems as if women are totally MIA in crime thrillers, except as victims, and some would argue, in disproportionate numbers compared to males. I’m not sure that’s true in general, but I do know that it’s not true in this book.

The lead detective, Ellen Ridley, has worked her way up to Homicide (“the Holy Grail of police work”) after years in uniform. She is the first to connect three different homicides to a shadowy killer she and her partner call “Our Boy.”

Our Boy is a sadist. He’s a recreational killer and his victims are women. One of the victims is just 17, and Ellen first met her as a 13-year-old stealing canned tuna fish to survive because her mother abandoned her.

[Not much of a reason for Mother's Day there...]

May 3 2015 9:15am

Fresh Meat: The Devil’s Making by Sean Haldane

The Devil's Making, a historical mystery by Sean HaldaneThe Devil's Making by Seán Haldane, winner of the Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel, features a Victorian-era Englishman who becomes a police constable in British Columbia, the ramshackle outer limit of the empire (available May 5, 2015).

In 1868, Chad Hobbes has gone to sea armed with a thirst for adventure, an enthusiasm for all things Darwinian, and a maroon leather-bound journal his mother gave him. One hundred and forty days out of Portsmouth, bound for Vancouver Island, Hobbes is thoroughly sick of the voyage and his companions, particularly the rough-hewn captain of the Ariadne who has nothing but contempt for the colony of British Columbia and even less regard for his civilian passenger.

The youngest, virgin son of a parson—his wastrel older brother Henry is safely serving in the Army and still going to church as if he cares about the beliefs that Chad has discarded after sober deliberation—Chad knows he comes across a “niminy-piminy” to those older and more experienced, if not wiser. He hopes “the Colony” will cure him of his ignorance. He may publicly claim to be traveling to see the world, but actually, he’s looking to find himself.

But first he needs to find a job.

[He'll be using shoe leather as much as book learning...]

Feb 23 2015 1:00pm

Fresh Meat: The Doomsday Equation by Matt Richtel

The Doomsday Equation by Matt Richtel is a modern techno-thriller where one man has only three days to prevent the outbreak of World War III (available February 24, 2015).

Jeremy Stillwater is smarter than you.

He’s smarter than you in the annoying way Alan Turing was, unwilling—or unable—to hide his belief that not only is he smarter than you, he’s smarter than pretty much anyone else on the planet.

Naturally, there are some smart people who resent his belief, especially because it’s true.

Jeremy wasn’t the first person to use “Big Data” as a predictive model for determining when and where and how events will occur, but he is the first person to create an algorithm that ties it all together, that makes it all make sense.

And naturally, there are some people who want him to share that algorithm.

It’s kind of like what happened with Facebook, if you’ve seen The Social Network.

[Without the Aaron Sorkin snark...]

Feb 13 2015 3:30pm

Fresh Meat: Someone to Watch Over Me by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir

Someone to Watch Over Me by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir is the 5th legal thriller set in Iceland featuring attorney Thóra Gudmundsdóttir (available February 17, 2015).

That chill you just got? It had nothing to do with the draft that always sneaks through the bedroom window when the temperature drops below freezing and the wind kicks up from the north. And those goose bumps prickling the skin on your arm? They don’t mean you need to put on a sweater or turn up the thermostat.

Someone to Watch Over Me begins with a low-key depiction of a haunting as inexplicable as it is unnerving:

Of course, this could all have had a logical explanation that time and patience would help them discover. The house was old and needed a lot of work. However, some of the phenomena couldn’t possibly be attributed to that: Pési’s pile of cuddly toys was always arranged in a neat row in the morning; they’d find his clothing folded on a stool in the corner, even if it had been lying in a heap on the floor when he went to sleep. Pési often woke up in the night, but now they didn’t need to fetch him a drink, take him into their bed to sleep or go to his room to calm him down, because when they went to check on him they would find him smiling in bed, saying: “You didn’t have to get up, Magga is looking after me.”

[A haunting winter’s read indeed...]

Sep 28 2014 8:30pm

Fresh Meat: Mean Business on North Ganson Street

Mean Business on North Ganson Street is the story of a black police detective exiled from the sunny southwest to a decaying, crime-ridden town in the rust belt, which also has a cop killer on the loose (available September 30, 2014).

From the cinematic first sentence of the first paragraph of the first page of this book, S. Craig Zahler serves notice that the term “mean streets” is not exclusively reserved for big cities on either coast.

The North Ganson Street of the title is located in a small rustbelt town in  Missouri called Victory, a place where African-American detective Jules Bettinger is living in unwilling exile from Arizona after a spectacularly disastrous incident involving a missing person’s complaint.

Zahler draws us in with a wealth of visceral, visual detail until the reader’s experience is multidimensional, as if experiencing a fully realized movie coming off the page:

Wearing a blue parka, brown corduroy pants, and gloves, Bettinger backed a yellow hatchback out of a two-car garage in Stonesburg, Missouri. His green sedan had died after six days of cold weather (which seemed like a prophecy), and since most of the family money was tied up in bonds and the Arizona house, the detective had been forced to buy himself a cheap replacement...

Affixed to a pole on the right side of the road was a wooden plank that read WELCOME TO VICTORY. Human excrement had been smeared across the greeting.


[Raise your pinkies, and wash your hands!]

Aug 29 2014 10:00pm

Fresh Meat: Fall of Night by Jonathan Maberry

Fall of Night by Jonathan Maberry is the second thriller in the Dead of Night series about a world overrun with zombies (available September 2, 2014).

The road to hell, so they say, is paved with good intentions. Most disaster movies begin with a well-meaning act, or an unintentional act, or even just a mistake. But in Jonathan Maberry’s “Dead of Night” series, the end of the world is set off by an act of pure evil—a prison doctor developing a serum that will allow a prisoner’s consciousness to survive even as his body rots in his grave.

Karma, as they also say, is a bitch, and in this second installment of Maberry’s zombie apocalypse series, the bitch is back.

With a vengeance.

In the first 15 pages, someone readers care about will die, and with that death we realize we’re in George R. R. Martin territory where no one is safe.

[No, not even you!]

Apr 22 2014 11:30am

Fresh Meat: Don’t Ever Look Back by Daniel Friedman

Don't Ever Look Back by Daniel Friedman is second book featuring 88-year-old retired cop Buck Schatz who is asked for help by an old nemesis from his days on the force (available April 22, 2014).

I grew up in what was essentially a three-generation household. My maternal grandparents stayed with us off and on for months at a time because my grandfather, who’d been born in the last years of the 19th century and was ancient even when I was a kid, was being treated for various ailments at the VA hospital in the city where we lived. My grandmother hated my father and the feeling was mutual, and their ongoing hostilities made life a living hell for my mother.

I loved my grandmother dearly but she was one tough old woman who spoke her mind, damn the consequences. Buck Schatz, the ornery ex-cop at the center of Daniel Friedman’s new novel (the second in a much-heralded series) reminds me a lot of my grandmother. This was a woman who was such a terrible cook that any time we went to see her, we’d insist on taking her out to eat to avoid having to consume some godawful concoction she’d whip up out of lime gelatin and mayonnaise. And yet, she had no problem criticizing her daughter’s cooking. But at least she had the option of cooking for herself. That’s not true for Bud Schatz, and one of the (many) indignities he’s had to suffer at the Valhalla Estates Assisted Lifestyle Community for Older Adults is that the food is close to inedible.

Whoever said that life in assisted-living facilities lacked variety clearly never had breakfast at Valhalla. A single plate of scrambled eggs could have burnt bits, cold places, and runny parts.

[Can you pass the salt, please?]

Mar 25 2014 10:00am

Fresh Meat: Notorious by Allison Brennan

Notorious by Allison Brennan is a debut thriller featuring Max Revere, formally Maxine, a renowned TV investigative reporter with a passion for cold cases, who's dragged back to her hometown to confront the murder that made her who she is (available March 25, 2014).

It may not be true that behind every great crime-stopper there’s a personal connection to a crime, but sometimes it seems that way. America’s Most Wanted was born from the horrible death of Adam Walsh, and the murder of her fiancé derailed Nancy Grace’s plans to become an English professor and turned her into the passionate victims’ rights advocate she is today. The relationship between the media and crime goes far beyond the editorial policy of “if it bleeds, it leads.”  Crime fiction writers have traditionally relied on journalists to tell their stories, and more often than not, those reporters have a vested interest in solving the crime.

These days, when writers choose media figures as their protagonists, they are much more likely to bypass print reporters (like Edna Buchanan’s alter-ego Britt Montero) and pick people whose careers span the transition from print to pixel. And so it is with Alison Brennan’s 21st novel, Notorious.  Maxine “Max” Revere hosts an extremely popular cable crime show that only airs monthly but has enough of a fan base that she can’t travel incognito, not even to the funeral of an old friend.

[Lights, Camera, Action…]

Mar 12 2014 5:00pm

Whipping Boy: New Excerpt

Katherine Tomlinson

Whipping Boy, a California noir cozy novella by Katherine TomlinsonWhipping Boy by Katherine Tomlinson is a California cop mystery novella, the debut of a female criminalist whose strange existence swings from the grimmest crime scenes to life among Hollywood royalty—no wonder she has such a bad attitude (available March 12, 2014).

Murder hits close to home for criminalist Lark Riordan when a neighbor’s son is killed and another neighbor is arrested for the crime. Teaming up with homicide detective Max Siwek to investigate the case, Lark encounters family secrets, old grudges, and dysfunctional relationships that make her own life seem normal. And that’s saying something because her father is a self-involved actor who’s just been nominated for an Oscar, and she and Max have a thing for each other even though he’s her stepbrother. It’s… complicated.


I was working the night Jimmy Morrissey died.

I had been called out to an industrial park in Panorama City at seven o’clock, and three hours later, I was still processing the scene while the nineteen-year-old rent-a-cop who’d called 911 chain-smoked Marlboro Lights and tried not to puke on his already vomit-stained uniform. He’d told his story at least twice since I’d been there, and he was now telling it for a third time to the bored redheaded cop everyone called “Bozo” behind his back. Bozo’s job was to keep civilians away from the crime scene, but the industrial park had been pretty deserted by the time I arrived. The only people whose cars were still in the lot were a couple of kids who were working on a start-up that had outgrown their studio apartment.

They had bounced around the perimeter earlier, jacked up on energy drinks and curiosity, but there really wasn’t that much to see, so they’d eventually retreated to their office and returned to their regularly scheduled lives.

As the security guard droned on, I tried to tune him out, but he and Bozo were standing right outside the dumpster where I was working, and he had one of those voices—high and nasally—that was just the right frequency to cut through the white noise, so I couldn’t help hearing him as he once again recounted the sequence of events leading up to this horror show.

[Continue reading Whipping Boy by Katherine Tomlinson...]