Saturday, June 13, 2009

CJ Box's Edgar Award Winning Novel Is A Heavenly Read

I was looking for something to read on an upcoming flight when I picked up "Blue Heaven" by CJ Box a few weeks ago. Finding something to pass the time in airports is crucial to maintaining sanity and avoiding boredom.

This novel didn't disappoint.

The story revolves around two young children, brother and sister, and an unlikely hero, a rancher who has a damaged relationship with his own son and who's facing foreclosure on a property that has been in his family for generations.

When the youngsters witness a murder while on a fishing trip, they are plunged into a desperate game of hide and seek that could cost them their lives. As the three killers pursue them, the children find refuge in the barn of the rancher, Jess Rawlins. Jess listens to their incredible tale of flight, and then makes a difficult decision to harbor them from the authorities, despite some misgivings about their unbelievable story. Perhaps it's a desire to amend for his own damaged relationship with his family, but Jess wants to believe these kids.

The novel includes an appearance by an ex-detective who can't let go of an unsolved robbery-murder case he worked for years, and which turns out to be crucial to understanding the peril faced by the kids, Annie & William. Additional characters, such as the town banker and the children's mother, enrich the plot. It seems that past history, even the history that some characters want to forget, are influencing the present, and may lead to murder, if the bad guys have their way.

This novel examines a classic theme that has been used successfully in numerous suspense/thriller stories, from Alfred Hitchcock to Patricia Carlon. A man (or woman) who struggles alone against seemingly insurmountable odds, but keeps on fighting. CJ Box has put a new spin on the theme, and it gave this reader a hell of a ride.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Happy Birthday Dashiell Hammett! (among others)

Today is the birthday of Dashiell Hammett, the father of the noir mystery novel and author of The Thin Man and The Maltese Falcon.

Also born today was Vincent Price, actor whose stage and movie performances will be forever linked with Edgar Allen Poe.

Happy Birthday, gentlemen. Thanks for your work.

Monday, May 25, 2009

101 Things to Do Before You Die...for mystery writers (a work in progress)

It seems these type of lists were red hot for a while, in many categories, like travel and dining. I thought I'd give a stab at making my own list, in no particular order. I'm up to 30 items, so it's by no means complete. Some of the entries were written with tongue in cheek, but I hope you enjoy them. If you have an idea for additions, I'm open to suggestions, and credit will be given for any I add.

101 Things to Do before You Die (for mystery writers)

  1. Subscribe to Crimespree Magazine. Thank Jon & Jen Jordan for all their work.
  2. Attend Bouchercon.
  3. Take the Konrath Quiz! (
  4. Meet Sarah Weinman. Prostrate yourself before her while you chant “I’m not worthy!” Read her blog.
  5. Read An Unquiet Night by Patricia Carlon.
  6. Join Crimespace. Then go to Australia. Track down Daniel Hatadi (creator of Crimespace). Buy him a beer. Praise him highly in front of the other bar patrons (while you’re still sober, so they know you really mean it).
  7. This year, query three agents a week until you snag one.
  8. Get your novel published.
  9. Join the Mystery Writers of America.
  10. Visit the grave of Edgar Allen Poe, at night. Leave a rose.
  11. Go to your local library and give a talk about your book or the mystery genre.
  12. Buy a bottle of Maker’s Mark. Sip it while you read the August Riordan PI series by Mark Coggins. Note: There are several books in the series…you may need more than one bottle.
  13. Get on a panel at a writer’s conference, as a moderator or participant & teach your fellow writers about a topic you’re an expert on or excited about.
  14. Learn how to kill someone with poison and get that story published.
  15. Write and publish a story from the killer’s point of view and make him/her sympathetic.
  16. Ditto from the victim’s point of view, but make him/her unlikeable.
  17. Get a book review published in your local newspaper, whether it’s the New York Times or the Small Town Gazette.
  18. Attend the Love is Murder conference in Chicago.
  19. Read all of JA Konrath’s Jack Daniels novels. As you read each one, have a drink from the recipe in the front of the novel.
  20. Read The Rap Sheet and then visit all of the links that J Kingston Pierce lists on the sidebar…all 656 of them.
  21. Meet Allison Janssen and Ben LeRoy of Bleak House Books and tell them thanks for publishing some great novels.
  22. Attend a pitch session at every writer’s conference you attend.
  23. Send an autographed copy of your novel to David J Montgomery, because those are the ones he keeps. Thank him. Read his blog, the Crime Fiction Dossier.
  24. Read literary agent Janet Reid’s blog. If you get a chance to meet her at a writer’s conference, introduce yourself, and thank her for the useful advice. Then shake her tentacle.
  25. Write a cozy, a police procedural and a thriller & get them each published under different pen names.
  26. If you’ve never tasted it, try absinthe.
  27. Visit Hemmingway’s house in Cuba.
  28. Learn to read and speak a foreign language. Read a foreign language mystery novel in the original.
  29. At your next writer’s conference, go to the lobby or main room one after all the panels are done and read one of your favorite mystery stories out loud, even if no one is listening.
  30. Meet Julie Hyzy, president of the Midwest chapter of MWA and chat with her. Observe her optimistic and bubbly personality (you can actually hear the bubbles in her voice…it’s quite amazing). Oh, and read her books, starting with this one. She’s a very good writer.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Don't Be AFRAID to Read This Book!

I've read my share of mediocre novels with half-developed characters and a weak plot.

This isn’t one of them.

AFRAID, by Jack Kilborn, starts out with a quiet evening of fishing on a small town lake. It quickly turns deadly for the residents of Safe Haven. A helicopter carrying a secret army special ops force crashes at the edge of town. Soon people are sliced and diced faster than you can say shish-kabob.

As the body count climbs, Sheriff Streng must confront five of the deadliest killers he has ever encountered. And the more he learns, the more he suspects that the helicopter crash may not have been an accident. What’s more, the men hunting him aren’t just killing to get their kicks (much as they enjoy their work). They’re after something…or someone.

The sheriff gets some valuable assistance from a young fireman (Josh) and a single mom (Fran), who help track down the killers. There’s a surprising boost to the story from Duncan, Fran’s 12 year old son, who responds to the horror around him with a courage that escapes most of the adults in the novel.

The villains are more than just stereotypes. Kilborn takes the trouble to get into their minds to show us why they do the things they do. We also get a wonderfully delicious ending that left me cheering for more.

AFRAID will keep you up tonight, so don’t forget to lock your doors and bolt the windows. And don’t be afraid…be very AFRAID.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Exploring the Limits of DNA Profiling

This actually sounds a lot like an episode of Law & Order. Two men suspected in a jewelry theft have been freed because the DNA could not be linked conclusively to one or the other.

The problem? The men are identical twins. This doesn't even touch on the growing problem of faulty test results and understaffed crime labs around the country, but it's fascinating in its own way.

Read more about it here:,2933,509856,00.html

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Under the heading "Protect Your Witness"

This is probably good advice for any DA who wants to secure the assistance of a witness against a murder suspect.

Don't put your witness in the same cell as the guy he testifies against. Maybe it's just me, but that seems like a no brainer.

Check this link out to see exactly what I mean.,2933,509231,00.html

Monday, March 2, 2009

Cell Phones - A New and Present Danger

As Facebook and Myspace begin to clamp down of criminals who target their victims through the computer, a new threat is emerging. Predators are getting to their victims via cell phones. This ominous bit of news, from the Howard Scripp News Service, should frighten parents who think nothing of giving a twelve year-old a cell phone but wouldn't dream of letting them on a computer unattended.

Check out the following link to read more:

Get out of reading?

A creative way to reduce taxpayer expense on new prisons may have been found. Judges are starting to sentence minor offendors to read a book, in order to avoid jail time. A bit unusual, but I have to say that I like the idea, as long as we don't offer this to persons who have been convicted of violent offenses. And a preliminary study shows that participants repeated their crimes only half as often as non-participants (granted, it was a small study).

It's worth a try, considering we have almost three million Americans in prison. What do you think? You can read the article at the NYT link below, then decide for yourself.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Edgar Allen Poe 200 Year Celebration

The New York Times has created a slideshow to celebrate the 200th Anniversary of his birth, and it's well worth looking over. Most of the images come from the Berg Collection of the New York Public Library. Who knew that New York had such an amazing collection? Perhaps they deserve a piece of Poe.

Check it out here: