Monday, September 20, 2010

Beat the Heat with these Cold-Blooded Killers

If you're looking forward to autumn after a scorching summer, get ready for the cooler weather with some icy tales of murder by Mary Logue, Vicki Delaney and Tess Gerritsen.

Mary Logue continues the Claire Watkins series with Frozen Stiff, and it's a chiller in more ways than one. Daniel Walker, wintering in his Wisconsin vacation home, is celebrating his latest business scam with a hot sauna followed by a quick roll in the snow. But when he returns to the house, the door is locked...from the inside. Perhaps he isn't as alone as he thought, even though he recently dumped his second wife and his daughter is back in St. Paul. The next day, his frozen body is found by his returning spouse and Claire soons finds herself investigating what may be an accident, or may be something more. And considering the number of enemies Mr. Walker has made, she's suspicious. The suspect list seems to grow with every chapter, and the closer Claire gets to the answer the more danger she finds herself in. With the temperature well below zero, it only takes one misstep for her to find herself on a frozen lake falling through the ice and leaving the reader wondering if this could be her last adventure. The author keeps the suspense level high, and even when the crime is solved, manages to surprise the reader one final time before wrapping up a very satisfying story. Keep a cup of hot cocoa at your elbow as you turn the pages.

Vicki Delany has penned another fine Molly Smith mystery, Winter of Secrets, set in the small Canadian town of Trafalgar, British Columbia. Trafalgar is a tourist town, and on Christmas Eve the area is filled with vacationing skiers from the US and Canada, including a group of obnoxious and wealthy young men and women. Molly is still fairly new at her job, and still battling for respect on the police force while investigating an accident that sends two of the tourists into the river. When the autopsy reveals that one of victims actually died 24 hours before the accident, Molly gets an opportunity to accompany the local detective in the investigation. Having grown up in Trafalgar, she uses her knowledge of the town to help solve the mystery, despite a few rookie mistakes along the way. She discovers that these fine young men had spent almost as much time bedding the local girls as they had skiing, and that resentments abound among the town's residents. In the end, through a combination of insight and old fashioned police work (no CSI solutions here) Molly manages to uncover what really happened in this tight knit group of predatory, dysfunctional kids who managed to destroy themselves and damage the lives around them. It's enough to make any small town cop long for the peace and quiet of the off season. Vicki's intimate knowledge of small town personalities and conflicts makes this book a real treat and a nice change of pace from the avalanche of forensic subject matter that seems to dominate the mystery genre.

Tess Gerritsen continues her edition of Rizzoli and Isles with Ice Cold. The action unfolds in another remote small town in the dead of winter. Maura's in Colorado for a medical conference, contemplating a painful romantic breakup when she decides to join a group of new friends for a skiing trip.
This turns into a disaster when the group gets stuck on an unmarked road and find themselves hiking into the tiny town of Kingdom Come. Built by religious followers of Jeremiah Goode, a cult-life figure of authority who pushes the young men out of the community in order to prey on the young girls left behind. But when Maura and her group arrive, the town is empty. Twelve huts stand abandoned, yet there is food on the tables, windows ajar, beds unmade...and blood at the bottom of a set of steps in one house. With no transporation and one of their party severely injured, they must seek shelter in the abandoned homes. But it soon becomes apparent that someone is watching them. If the cold doesn't kill them, watchful eyes may, because there is something evil in the valley responsible for the destruction of Kingdom Come, and Maura may not live long enough to learn the secret of the town's fate.

The thermometer is still north of 90 degrees these days in Kansas City, but if you pick up any of these books, wrap a blanket around you, stoke the fireplace...and lock the front door. You'll soon feel a chill running down your spine.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Up to Date - Kansas City Mystery Authors Radio Broadcast

If you missed the recent broadcast on Kansas City's KCUR (89.3 FM) featuring three of our home grown and very talented mystery writers, you can go to the radio station's website and spend a few minutes searching through their archives to find the show (from August 18, 2010)...

Or you can simply click on the link below, which will take you right to it, for an hour of great listening.

Nancy Pickard, Joel Goldman and Michelle Black discuss how the internet has changed the mystery genre, and why Kansas City is a great setting for crime fiction.

Go ahead, click on it! (You know you want to).

Up to Date - Local Mystery and Suspense Genre Authors

Friday, September 3, 2010

Is LA still the capital of Noir Fiction?

This question is prompted by an excellent article by Tim Noah that appeared Thursday, Sept 2nd on under this link:

It's a review of "A Bright and Guilty Place", a history of the corruption that plagued Los Angeles in the 1920's and played a large role in inspiring the birth of noir fiction, according to the author. The book was written by Richard Rayner and takes a look at the dark side of the City of Angels.

Raymond Chandler, James Cain and Dorothy Hughes, among others, produced classic noir fiction that set the standard for future writers of noir and established LA as its birthplace (although fans of Chester Himes and Mickey Spillane might disagree).

But Tim Noah cotends that LA is not only the birthplace of noir, but still reigns as its capital.

I don't agree with that statement.

Plenty of contenders for the crown setting of noir fiction have emerged. Cornell Woolrich, Spillane, Himes and more recently SJ Rozan, can make the case for New York City. John McDonald and now Carl Hiassen give Florida a claim to the title. And some young writers are producing excellent noir fiction in Chicago, including (but not limited to) Sean Chercover, Marcus Sakey and Libby Fischer Hellman.

There are others locales that come to mind. How about Baltimore (Laura Lippman) or Boston (Tess Gerristesen)? Take your pick and share your suggestions for the setting that truely represents todays noir fiction capital.

For myself, I'm going to say Chicago is the new capital. I'm very impressed with the breath and depth of the gritty fiction coming out of that city. But that's just my opinion.

What's yours?

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

It's tough to relax when you're in The Panic Zone

The Panic Zone
Rick Mofina follows up his first rate thriller, Vengeance Road, with an encore performance in The Panic Zone. Both feature newcomer Jack Gannon, a top notch journalist with a tortured past. Despite recognition for his writing skills, he still must battle to win respect in the cutthroat world of the newsroom. When he isn't staring down the barrel of a gun while pursuing leads in a cafe bombing, he's fighting his jealous colleagues to keep his story alive.

And you thought your job was tough?

Rick's hero is a little different from the usual detective/private eye/FBI character we see in crime fiction. Yet we shouldn't be surprised. Journalists around the globe are often the first at a crime scene, ready to report the facts to the reading public. Yet this tenacious talent puts them in the crosshairs between cops who don't want to reveal crucial information and gangsters who don't want anyone to shine the light on their criminal activities.

Rick Mofina does a great job of showing us this hidden world and delivering a page turner that I couldn't put down.

While investigating a bombing in Brazil that killed two of his co-workers, Jack Gannon stumbles across evidence of a child adoption ring that may involves terrorism on a massive scale. His instincts and leads take him to the slums of Rio de Janeiro, to London and then Morocco. Along the way he crosses paths with a woman whose son is presumed dead but has actually been kidnapped in order to serve as the host to a deadly biological weapon.

If Jack can put the clues together, he can reunite the son with his desperate mother and prevent an international catastrophe.

A first rate thriller with a working class hero that could be anyone of us. One man can make a difference in the world. Jack Gannon proves it.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Crime (Fiction) Goes Global

Americans have often used international travel to broaden their horizons and add excitement to their holiday getaways. But what can you do if you lack the money to visit such exotic locales as Rome, Tokyo, Instanbul or Nairobi?

Well, maybe you should just pick up a book. An international mystery novel, more specifically.

Thanks to the success of Stieg Larsson, author of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo", publishers are frantically searching the world over for mysteries that take place the world over. And since murder is murder, no matter what language you speak, American readers have a lot of good writers to discover.

My own reading habits outside the lower 48 tend to favor our neighbor to the north, Canada, and they have some excellent crime writers who deserve a wider audience.

Vicki Delany writes a fine mystery series set in a small town called Trafalgar, with more than its share of secrets and murder.

Rick Mofina moves from British Columbia to New York and even the Middle East with his mysteries and thrillers, each setting recreated with first rate authenticity.

Sandra Ruttan pens a gritty series that is not for the feint of heart based in Vancouver. Her wicked writing easily ranks with (or above) many American best-selling authors that I can think of (and I'm thinking James Patterson, Jeffrey Deaver, Stephen King...)

Who knew Canadians could take such delight in the criminal underworld?

It's not that international mysteries are unknown here in the states ("The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency", is one). But compared to overseas readers, the U.S. has been positively xenophobic.

That's about to change.

You can read more about this trend in publishing at the Wall Street Journal's book section. If you're not a subscriber, you can access the article (Fiction's Global Crime Wave) through a link on my blog:

Fiction's Global Crime Wave

Enjoy your next destination!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

True Crime Tuesday - Six Year Old Suspected Terrorist?

You'll be glad to know that Homeland Security is working hard to protect Americans from the next wannabe terrorist who would like nothing better than to murder as many innocent people as possible. The men and women of TSA (the people who screen you at the airport) truely deserve our thanks.

Having said that, no one at TSA or Homeland Security can explain why a six-year old girl from Ohio cannot be removed from the no-fly list. And the bad publicity this fiasco creates in the media makes their job even harder. Add to that the fact that no one at the agency will accept responsibility for it.

Here's a link to the story:

Alyssa Thomas, Age 6, Is Flagged on the No-Fly List as Possible Terrorist

Feeling outraged? Wanna write your Congressman, or even Janet Napolitano, the head of Homeland Security, to express your concern? Don't bother. Because according the the TSA, such mistakes can't happen. It's true...they have a blog on their website that says so. The media must be making it all up.

Here's the link to the TSA's official blog in which they explain that there are, in fact, no children on the no-fly list:

There are No Children on the No Fly or Selectee List

You see, according to TSA, it's the airlines' fault. And the airlines just blame the government...our government.

Where's George Orwell when we need him??

Thursday, June 24, 2010

President, Warmonger and...Mystery Writer?

This Republican was one of the most unpopular Presidents in the history of the United States. Newspapers referred to him as a buffoon and a monkey. The New York Tribune chastized him for "abandoning all pretense of statesmanship" by waging a highly unpopular war that even our allies said could not be won.

Most people are well aware of these facts by now. But did you know he was also a mystery writer who published crime fiction?

I didn't know George Bush wrote mystery stories, a friend said, when I began to relay the idea for this blog post.

Who said anything about Bush?, I retorted. I was referring to Abe Lincoln.

You heard right. Not only was the Great Emancipator one of our greatest leaders, he published a mystery story while still a lawyer in Illinois. Based on one of his cases, the story was published in 1846, but you can read it here:

The Trailor Murder Mystery

Special Thanks to fellow blogger Janet A. Rudolph and the Smithsonian for their research into this "Stranger Than Fiction" tale.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

True Crime Tuesday - Justice On Overload

Forget those crime shows like CSI that pretend to show what forensic crime detection is all about. The real story is less glamorous and a bit more complex, thanks in part to a Supreme Court decision that allows lab techs to be cross examined by defendants accused of a crime (sixth amendment right to confront one's accuser).

I sort of like that idea, even though it's inconvenient and drives up the cost of fighting crime. I think our justice system is better served if the analysts who study forensic evidence get out of the lab and into the courtroom. And it should help prevent the rare but costly mistakes that have resulted when shoddy forensic lab work or mischief comes to light (lab scandals in Detroit and San Francisco, for instance resulted in hundreds of court cases being tossed).

You can go directly to the video on the website of, at this link: Justice On Overload

To learn more about why San Francisco may be forced to drop hundreds of cases against accused drug dealers, check out this link:

San Francisco Crime Lab Scandal

or this one:

DA Harris Seeks to Restore Integrity

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

True Crime Tuesday - Bank Embezzler Makes Good

Bill Porter might have remained an obscure figure, working his way upwards in pursuit of the American Dream, first as a journalist, then a banker. But then he was charged with embezzling funds from the First National Bank. Though he protested his innocence, he nonetheless fled the country. This didn't help his case, and when he finally returned to be with his family, he was arrested. Found guilty at trial, he went to federal prison for three years. End of story, right?

Well, not exactly. This ho-hum tale actually occured over a hundred years ago. And this year marks the 100 year anniversary of Bill's death on June 5, 1910. But we remember him, not because of his life as prisoner number 30664, but because of what he did after he was convicted and sent to prison. He began writing stories and sending them to magazines, and along the way became one of the most celebrated writers of the 20th century.

Perhaps embarrased by his past, he wrote under a pen name, and it is by that moniker that we know him today... O. Henry.

And now you know, if not the rest of the story, at least part of it.

Read this fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal to learn more:

His Writer's Workshop? A Prison Cell

Friday, May 14, 2010

Law and Order: Au Revoir

Law and Order, the definitive TV crime show drama for the past twenty years, has been cancelled. For those of you who, like me, grew up watching the series, it was a bittersweet ending.

I wish I could say I was still watching every episode religiously. But, in the past few years, I had migrated to the spinoffs. Compared to Law & Order SVU and Law & Order CI, the show was beginning to look a little dated. Frankly, I stopped watching the original after the death of Jerry Orbach, who played Lenny Briscoe. His sardonic wit and humanity made the show, as far as I was concerned.

Here's the announcement:

Law and Order Cancelled

And for those of you who remember the original with fondness, here's some commentary by one of the show's long time stars:

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Forgotten Film (The movie you have to see) The Public Eye

I'm a mystery writer and photographer who reviews crime fiction. But I also enjoy classic crime movies, and one of my favorite movies combines photography and a crime story in a first rate film noir setting.

It's titled The Public Eye and stars Joe Pesci & Barbara Hershey. Based on the life of the famous tabloid photographer Arthur Fellig, the film is set in 1940's wartime New York City. Leo Bernstein, who makes a living taking photos of other people's misery, stumbles upon a consiracy involving the mob, black market gasoline and a gourgeous femme fatale who owns a popular night club. Throw in some romance, corrupt cops and couple of FBI agents who'll do anything to prevent the public from learning about a scandal that hurts the war effort, and you've got the makings of a first rate noir film.

Unfortunately, the movie isn't well known. Made in 1992, it was available on VHS but never made it to DVD until 2011, which may explain it's descent into obscurity. And that's a shame, because it's a classic. Joe Pesci gives a great performance, as does Barbara Hershey as the love interest. Richard Riehle, Jerry Adler, and Tim Gamble contribute solid acting.

The suspenseful music score was written by Mark Isham, and features several tunes with sizzling vocals by Kevin Dorsey. Universal has finally issued the film on DVD, 19 years after it was made. Better late than never.

Check out the trailer to get some idea of what makes this movie so great.