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Q&A with Christi Daugherty, Author of The Echo Killing
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Jul 28 2015 11:00am

Fresh Meat: Lord of the Wings by Donna Andrews

Lord of the Wings by Donna Andrews is the 19th cozy mystery in the Meg Langslow series set amidst the spooky Halloween festival that's overtaken Caerphilly, Virginia (available August 4, 2015).

Donna Andrews’ nineteenth Meg Langslow Mystery, Lord of the Wings, finds her fictitious town of Caerphilly, Virginia smack in the middle of a ten-day Halloween festival. Nobody in Caerphilly does anything by halves, so it’s hardly a surprise that Meg’s neighbors have turned decorating for the festival into a bit of an arms race:

…this year, Caerphillians had applied to their Halloween decorating the frenzy they usually saved for Christmas. The local craft store had made valiant efforts to keep up, pumping tons of black and orange decorations into the local economy. The more energetic house holders had made pilgrimages to larger craft stores and Halloween emporiums in Richmond and Washington, D.C., and not long ago, at one of Trinity Episcopal’s potluck suppers, I’d spotted two matrons off to one side, in furtive conversation. I sidled close enough to eavesdrop and found that one was lending the other her collection of mail order catalogs with a good selection of Halloween merchandise.

[Sounds like the fix is in...]

Apr 29 2014 11:00am

10 Great Things About the Inaugural Maine Crime Wave

On Saturday, April 19, the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance did an extremely cool thing: they sponsored a crime writing conference. Maine’s first, unless I’m much mistaken. With a clever name, the Maine Crime Wave, they enlisted some serious talent, crafted an action-packed schedule, and waited for folks to line up at the door. Which (spoiler alert!) they did. I was lucky enough to be one of those in attendance, but I know many of you were not, so I feel it’s only just and fair that I offer you:

The Top Ten Things You Missed from the Inaugural Maine Crime Wave:

10. Gerry Boyle’s workshop on character development. He may now have a dozen published novels under his belt, but before he became a writer of fiction, Boyle worked as a roofer, a postman, a manuscript reader for a New York publishing company, and a newspaper reporter who covered everything from high-school wrestling to the police beat. Crazy talent + crazy life experiences = the ideal person to teach a class on avoiding the dreaded cardboard cutout.

[See what else you missed out on...]

Apr 7 2014 4:30pm

Fresh Meat: Blood Always Tells by Hilary Davidson

Blood Always Tells by Hilary Davidson is a standalone thriller where backstabbing, double crossing, and shifting alliances lead to kidnapping (available April 8, 2014).

Hilary Davidson’s new standalone thriller, Blood Always Tells, is a twisty, turny tale of jealousy, greed, betrayal, and loss. I’ve long been a fan of Davidson’s work; her prose is graceful and intelligent, her plots are tight, and her characters are fully realized. What I love most about her writing, though, is that if you look closely, her books always have a deeper meaning – a message that transcends the mystery. Yes, Blood Always Tells is a story about power and powerlessness, about selfishness and selflessness, about desperate people doing desperate things. Underneath it all, though, it’s also a meditation on fate and free will, on nature and nurture, and on whether it’s possible to overcome genetics and circumstance.

[Not all family is created equal...]

Oct 18 2013 9:30am

Fresh Meat: Duck the Halls by Donna Andrews

Duck the Halls by Donna AndrewsDuck the Halls by Donna Andrews is a holiday-themed mystery and the 16th book in her Meg Langslow mystery series (available October 22, 2013).

The holidays are right around the corner, and if you’re anything like me, your blood pressure is already on the rise. Who’s hosting Thanksgiving? How about Christmas? Where am I going to find the time to shop for presents, let alone hunt down and decorate a tree? Will anyone notice if my husband and I take the cat and flee to the Bahamas until the madness has passed?

Thankfully, though, this year has the potential to be less stressful than those that came before. Why is that, you ask? Because this year, I have the incomparable Donna Andrews to remind me to keep my priorities straight.

Andrews’ latest, Duck the Halls, finds series heroine Meg Langslow dealing with more than your average share of pre-Christmas chaos. For example, her mother has taken over her house with the intent of transforming it into a Christmas wonderland capable of making Martha Stewart cede her crown:

[Hand it over, Martha!]

Sep 30 2013 7:00pm

Fresh Meat: Death, Taxes, and Green Tea Ice Cream by Diane Kelly

Death, Taxes, and Green Tea Ice Cream by Diane KellyDeath, Taxes, and Green Tea Ice Cream by Diane Kelly is the sixth novel featuring Tara Holloway, an (ex?) investigative agent for the IRS with a special knack for trouble (available October 1, 2013).

I’ve spilled no small amount of ink on this here site singing the praises of Tara Holloway. In the course of her employment as a Special Agent for the Criminal Investigations Division of the U.S. Treasury Department, she’s racked up a record that could easily rival that of Karen Sisco (or, for that matter, Raylan Givens):

“Prior to the incident at the club, had you ever used your weapons on the job?”

“Yes.” I gave him my long and complete history, including my shooting a box cutter out of the hand of an auto parts store owner intent on killing me, a later shoot-out at a private residence, moving on to my putting a bullet in a target’s testicle, to a later incident in which I put one bullet each in a set of twins. I’d also been forced to shoot a rifle out of the hands of a crazy old coot who led a secessionist group, and I’d improvised a flamethrower with a lighter and a spray can to fend off another attacker. That one happened in my home, when I couldn’t get to my gun, though the man who’d broken in and attacked me had been a target in a tax evasion case.

The attorney jotted down notes as I spoke. When I finished, he looked down at my long list of human targets, then up at me. Tinkle-tinkle. This is quite a list. How many years were you with the IRS?”

I gulped back the lump in my throat. “Eight months.”

[Well, one lawyer's “trigger-happy” could be an agent's “effective”...]

Aug 30 2013 1:00pm

Fresh Meat: Clammed Up by Barbara Ross

Clammed Up by Barbara Ross, the debut food cozy in the Maine Clambake Mystery seris.Clammed Up by Barbara Ross is the debut of a new cozy mystery series set in coastal Maine, featuring struggling family-businessowner Julie Snowden, a killer at a wedding party, and traditional seafood and clambake recipes (available September 3, 2013).

Clammed Up by Barbara Ross has a lot going for it. It’s a brilliantly set up and cleverly executed mystery. It’s a book that perfectly captures the sights, sounds, and feel of small-town Maine. And it contains what look to be some truly killer recipes for a number of New England culinary classics (lobster mac and cheese, anyone?).  

If I had to pick just one way to characterize it, though, it would be this:  Clammed Up by Barbara Ross is a master class in character development.

To a person, the cast members who populate Ross’ fictional town of Busman’s Harbor read like they stepped straight off the coast and onto the page. How does she accomplish this? With a variety of techniques actually. Some are simple, like this metaphor, which succeeds on almost too many levels to count:

[Get your calculators and your chowder pots!]

Jul 15 2013 1:15pm

Fresh Meat: Hen of the Baskervilles by Donna Andrews

Hen of the Baskervilles by Donna AndrewsHen of the Baskervilles by Donna Andrews is the fifteenth humorous mystery featuring blacksmith Meg Lanslow, her family, and the community of Caerphilly, Virginia (available July 18, 2013).

Hen of the Baskervilles by Donna Andrews finds series heroine Meg Langslow in charge of organizing this year’s Virginia Un-fair:

“This isn’t just a county fair, then?”

“No, it’s a statewide agricultural exposition,” Randall said. “This is our second year.”

“What inspired it?” the reporter asked.

“The possible demise of the Virginia State Fair,” Randall said. “Oh, I know it’s not really dead now, but last year when we started planning our first event, the nonprofit that was running the official fair was in bankruptcy, and no one knew if there’d be a fair that fall. And we thought that was a shame, so we organized our own event. And since it wasn’t officially the state fair, we decided to call it the ‘Un-fair.’ ”

The reporter chuckled at that, as most people did. “And you kept on with your plans even after the state fairgrounds and the right to hold the state fair were sold after all?”

“We did,” Randall said. “The folks who bought the rights to hold the official Virginia State Fair own a bunch of state fairs and other events. They know how to run a nice fair, I’ll give ’em that. I enjoy going there. But they were out of state, and a for-profit company, so last year we weren’t sure what their event would look like. We decided there was room for another kind of event, locally run, and with a different focus.”

“What kind of focus?” the reporter asked.

“Heritage animals and heirloom crops,” Randall said. “For example, in the chicken tent, we probably have twice as many different breeds of chicken as you’ll find at most events. Here, let me show you.”

Awesome, right? The very definition of wholesome family fun. What could possibly go wrong? Well, as it turns out, theft, vandalism, and murder, and that’s just the blotter for the opening day. So now in addition to everything else on her to do-list, Meg must stop a crime wave and catch a killer before these unsavory acts can prove to be the Un-fair’s undoing.

[A delicious crime wave, perhaps?]

Jul 13 2013 12:00pm

Fresh Meat: Massacre Pond by Paul Doiron

Massacre Pond by Paul DoironMassacre Pond by Paul Doiron is the 4th novel featuring Maine game warden Mike Bowditch, who investigates the senseless slaughter of ten moose, shot and left to die on the private property of a wealthy animal rights activist (available July 16, 2013).

Massacre Pond is a damn good mystery – full of twists, turns, and clever red herrings. The prose is fantastic, too, with portions of the book reading like a love letter to the Maine woods. But perhaps my favorite thing is Doiron’s rather unconventional decision to hang his mystery on a series of animal deaths rather than the murder of a human being.

If you ask me, this is a brilliant move for a couple of different reasons. First, it adds an element of surprise. Readers have gotten so used to the standard First-Act Corpse Reveal – “Oh, no! There’s a dead man/woman/child in the pond/park/alley! And – gasp! – he/she appears to have been [insert bizarre and horrific manner of death]ed!” – that these scenes have lost their emotional impact. They’re expected; we steel ourselves for them before we even crack the cover.

But Bowdich’s grisly discovery during the opening of Massacre Pond? It’s the very definition of unexpected, and I’d be lying if I told you I was even remotely prepared for the following:

[No plot spoilers here, but tragic scenes worthy of anger...]

Jul 9 2013 9:30am

Fresh Meat: Nearer Home by Joy Castro

Nearer Home by Joy CastroNearer Home by Joy Castro is the second story about Times-Picayune reporter, Nola Céspedes (available July 16, 2013).

Note: This post contains *spoilers* regarding the first book in Joy Castro’s Nola Céspedes Mystery series, Hell or High Water.

Nearer Home–the follow-up to Joy Castro’s stellar Hell or High Water–is the tale of newspaper reporter Nola Céspedes and her investigation into the murder of Tulane University journalism professor Judith Taffner.

There are many reasons you should buy this book.  For one, it’s a clever mystery.  It’s also a thoughtful – and thought-provoking – commentary on race relations, gender inequality, the problem of poverty in New Orleans, and the divisive nature of politics.  And thirdly, the steamy New Orleans setting coupled with Castro’s lush, sultry prose makes it a perfect read for a sleepless summer night.

But if you ask me, the most remarkable thing about Nearer Home – the thing that will suck you in and keep you rapt – is the voice with which Castro chooses to tell her tale.

[The Big Easy has a voice all its own...]

Jun 29 2013 9:30am

Fresh Meat: Drift by Jon McGoran

Drift by Jon McGoranDrift by John McGoran is a complex thriller spotlighting the modern food industry (available June 9, 2013).

Jon McGoran’s Drift is the tale of Doyle Carrick, a Philadelphia narcotics detective who’s been temporarily relieved from duty thanks to some anger-management issues. Doyle plans to spend the duration of his suspension drinking alone in the quiet country house he inherited from his mother and stepfather; when he arrives at his new abode, though, he discovers that not only is somebody else already living there, but this particular patch of country is anything but quiet…

I love me a good thriller. Trouble is, they’re getting harder and harder to find. Too often, in an effort to make a thriller seem more thrilling, character development takes a back seat to pacing and plotting, and while the end result is entertaining, it leaves you feeling fed, but not sated.

Such is not the case with Drift. Sure, there are a lot of books out there that star a hot-headed cop with a fondness for whiskey, but in most of those books, said cop reads like he’s straight out of central casting. Not Doyle Carrick; he’s no mere archetype. The finished product resembles the template about as much as a stick-figure does a real live boy. While the stock version of this character is often non-specifically angsty, Doyle’s got a legitimate reason to brood:

[And drink whiskey. Everyone needs a legit reason for whiskey.]

May 30 2013 12:00pm

Fresh Meat: Death, Taxes, and Hot Pink Leg Warmers by Diane Kelly

Death, Taxes, and Hot Pink Leg Warmers by Diane Kelly, the 5th book in the Tara Holloway series, puts Tara on the trail of mortgage a strip club (available June 4, 2013).

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Diane Kelly’s Tara Holloway novels; I sing their praises every chance I get. And I’m happy to report that Kelly’s latest—Death, Taxes, and Hot Pink Leg Warmers—is perhaps her best addition to the series thus far.

This book really does have it all, folks. Want to spend the afternoon with a snarky, feisty heroine who’s equal parts brilliant CPA, badass federal agent, and total cornball? Tara Holloway, reporting for duty:

A guy who could be Tarzan’s younger brother guarded the door to the administrative offices tonight. From the dull look on his face, I surmised he might have fed on a steady diet of lead-paint chips as a child. He had a narrow nose and eyes set so close together they blended into one big eyeball when I let my vision fuzz.

“I’m Sara,” I said. “The new bookkeeper.”

“I’m Ryan.”

Nah, I thought. You’re Cyclops.

He pointed his finger downward and made a rotating motion. “Balls to the wall. I gotta frisk ya.”

[Let’s take a closer look, shall we?]

May 2 2013 9:30am

Fresh Meat: Every Broken Trust by Linda Rodriguez

Every Broken Trust by Linda Rodriguez is the second novel to feature half-Cherokee campus cop Skeet Bannion (available May 7, 2013).

When the events of Every Broken Trust conspire to land Chouteau University’s Police Chief, Marquitta “Skeet” Bannion, in the middle of yet another murder investigation—this one involving her best friend, Karen Wise—she vows to do everything in her power to nab the real killer and bring closure to those affected.

That does not, however, mean that she has the luxury of putting the rest of her life on hold while she works to crack the case; to the contrary, Skeet’s thorny personal life seems bound and determined to distract her from the task at hand. 

[We know what that’s like...]

Apr 30 2013 4:00pm

Fresh Meat: Death’s Last Run by Robin Spano

Death's Last Run by Robin SpanoDeath’s Last Run by Robin Spano is the third Clare Vengel Undercover mystery (available May 1, 2013).

A young snowboarder is found dead on the Blackcomb Glacier, and Whistler police want to close the case as suicide. The victim’s mother, a U.S. senator, says her daughter would not, and did not, kill herself. At her request, the FBI sends in an undercover agent — Clare Vengel — to find out who might have killed Sacha and why. Dropped into a world of partying with ski bums and snow bunnies, Clare soon discovers that Sacha was involved in an LSD smuggling ring. Worse: the top cop in Whistler is in cahoots with the smugglers, and Clare’s cover is too precarious for comfort. As suspicion snowballs, can Clare solve the case before she’s buried alive?

Sounds like your standard mystery novel, right? You read that back cover copy, and you’re pretty sure you know how the story’s going to go: Straight-Laced, Line-Toeing Federal Agent goes undercover and is forced to consort with Big, Scary, Dangerous Drug-Dealers in order to help Incredibly Important U.S. Senator win campaign by proving that A) her daughter didn’t kill herself, and B) drugs are the root of all evil. The end.

But you’re wrong. Because Death’s Last Run by Robin Spano isn’t your standard mystery novel. I mean, yes, it’s a mystery novel – and a damn good one, at that – but for my money, nothing that defies expectation at every turn can be classified as “standard”.

[No stereotypes here]

Apr 28 2013 10:00am

Fresh Meat: Board Stiff by Kendel Lynn

Board Stiff by Kendel Lynn is the first book in the Elliott Lisbon humorous mystery series (available April 30, 2013).

As director of the prestigious Ballantyne Foundation, Elliott Lisbon has her hands full. Not only is it her job to plan fundraisers and vet grant applicants, but the Ballantynes also expect her to fill their shoes as hosts whenever they’re away—a task that is often much trickier than it sounds:

Tod was helping me man the Bash in the absence of the Ballantynes, who were on safari in India. Or maybe it was mountain climbing in Pakistan. They entrusted me with their life’s work while away doing more life’s work. Tonight that included acting as one part host and one part referee.

“So what’s up? Is Mr. Abercorn dancing naked on the tables again?”

“Not quite,” Tod said. “You have three fires to put out, though Jane is more of a firestorm of seething lava and flaming fireballs.”

“Don’t be so melodramatic.” I glanced at my watch. It was already past eleven, dreadfully late for a party that started at five. How did I miss seeing Nick Ransom for the last six hours? My lips tingled at the thought of him being so close. Traitors.

Tod snapped his fingers. “Hello, Elliott?”

“Right, melodramatic. Things can’t be that terrible, can they?”

“Jane is beheading board members, Mr. Colbert is serving guests from the canapés stuffed in his pockets, and Mrs. Kramer is singing with the band.”

“That doesn’t sound so bad.”

“They’re in the men’s room.”

[The rich are different...]

Apr 17 2013 9:30am

Fresh Meat: Penance by Dan O’Shea

Penance by Dan O’Shea is a debut novel set in Chicago about political corruption, police detectives, and scores that must be settled (available April 30, 2013).

On its face, Penance by Dan O’Shea is the story of Chicago Police Detective John Lynch and his hunt for the Confessional Killer—a madman with a sniper rifle who’s been picking off penitent churchgoers.

But to classify Penance as a mere police procedural would be to do it a serious injustice. Because, you see, like all good crime fiction, this book is about so much more than its back cover copy might suggest. 

For starters, O’Shea’s debut is a revenge tale:

“I’ve been living with the fact that my father was murdered for most of my life, but always thought the guys who did it went down at the same time. Just found out they didn’t. Worse than that, just found out they set him up. Risky or not, I’m in.”

[And so are we...]

Mar 23 2013 10:00am

Fresh Meat: Prophet of Bones by Ted Kosmatka

Prophet of Bones by Ted Kosmatka is an alternate-earth bioterror thriller (available April 2, 2013).

Scientist Paul Carlson is unprepared for what he finds when he’s summoned to a top-secret archeological dig on the remote island of Flores. He’s heard tales, of course, and been shown pictures, but the strange bones buried there appear to belong to a never-before-seen species of tool user—a species whose very existence could turn modern science on its head and bring chaos to the world’s religions.

This is actually quite fitting, for Paul is the protagonist of Prophet of Bones by Ted Kosmatka—a book that is itself a bit of a new species.

[The bones of a new genre?]

Mar 8 2013 10:30am

Fresh Meat: Criminal Enterprise by Owen Laukkanen

Criminal Enterprise by Owen LaukkanenCriminal Enterprise by Owen Laukkanen is the second thriller in the Stevens and Windemere series (available March 21, 2013).

When first you meet Carter Tomlin, you assume he’s the protagonist of Owen Laukkanen’s new novel, Criminal Enterprise. You assume this because to think otherwise would be ludicrous. You sympathize with Carter. Empathize with him, even:

In Carter Tomlin’s world, a man provided for his family. He’d never considered himself a violent person. He wasn’t a drug addict or a gambler, didn’t cheat on his wife or his taxes. Until the layoff, he was a respectable man. A husband and a father and a decision-maker at the firm, a corner-office man on the executive track.

In Tomlin’s mind, real men dealt with adversity. They didn’t complain or talk about fairness. They didn’t take handouts; they solved their own problems. They provided.

Carter Tomlin? He’s a good man. An honest man. A man who’s trying his damnedest to take care of his family, but who just can’t seem to catch a break. He’s drowning, and he’s starting to pull his wife and children down with him, so you almost can’t blame him when he pulls his first heist: 

[We think it might not be the last...]

Mar 5 2013 10:30am

Fresh Meat: The Good Cop by Brad Parks

The Good Cop by Brad Parks is the fourth mystery featuring investigative reporter Carter Ross (available March 5, 2013).

Among the many reasons I enjoy being a newspaper reporter—not the least of which are the freedom, the fun, and the constitutionally protected right to announce when people are acting like idiots—one of the small-but-important pleasures is what I’m doing each morning at eight thirty-eight.

At 8:38 a.m., I imagine most gainfully employed, industrious members of our society are already enjoined in the struggle that is their daily grind. They have attended to their grooming needs, squeezed themselves into their workaday uniforms, rushed through a meal that puts the “fast” in “breakfast,” and made the necessary concessions to their caffeine addictions.

At 8:38 a.m., they are inhaling the carbon-tinged exhaust fumes from the car in front of them on the Garden State Parkway; or they are recovering from the latest skirmish in the ongoing Battle of No, You Cannot Wear That to School; or they are checking their emails, looking at their schedules, and generally girding themselves for all that is to come.


At 8:38 a.m., I do solemnly swear that I, Carter Ross, am asleep.

[Nice work if you can get it...]

Feb 26 2013 10:30am

Fresh Meat: Safe From Harm by Stephanie Jaye Evans

Safe From Harm by Stephanie Jaye Evans is the sequel to Faithful Unto Death, a Bear Wells mystery set in Texas (available March 5, 2013).

On the face of it, Safe From Harm by Stephanie Jaye Evans is a traditional mystery—the second in a series set in Sugar Land, Texas, and starring minister, family man, and all-around good guy Bear Wells.

To simply take this tale at face value would be a colossal mistake, though, because Safe From Harm is so much more than your stereotypical traditional mystery.

This is partly due to the unique structure Evans chose for her tale; the book opens with the apparent suicide of troubled teen Phoebe Pickersley and then flashes back several months, essentially making Safe From Harm a murder mystery told in reverse.

It also doesn’t hurt that Evans is capable of achingly beautiful prose; at times, her writing is so lush and vivid that you just want to sit and stare at the pictures it paints in your mind:

[Reading improves your vision...]

Jan 16 2013 10:30am

Fresh Meat: Death, Taxes, and Peach Sangria by Diane Kelly

Death, Taxes, and Peach Sangria by Diane Kelly is the 4th book in the humorous mystery series featuring U.S. Treasury Department Special Agent Tara Holloway (available January 29, 2013).

“Men,” I said, shaking my head. “You can’t live with ’em, and you can’t shoot ’em.”

“You’ve shot men plenty of times,” Alicia said.

“I’ve shot at them many times,” I corrected, “but I only actually put bullets in three of them.” I took the left nut off the first and got the other two in the leg. But don’t worry. They totally deserved it.

Meet Tara Holloway: Annie Oakley of the IRS.

That’s right—I said IRS.

Now, I know what you’re thinking—I say “IRS employee” and you picture a pencil-pushing math nerd. Somebody who sits behind a desk all day poring over tax returns and trying to wring blood from a stone—the blood in this scenario being money, and the stone being you.

But you’ve got the wrong idea about Tara Holloway.

[We always admire a brilliant deduction...]