Sunday, March 24, 2019

Murder and Mayhem in Chicago

Sisters in Crime Chicagoland hosted Murder and Mayhem in Chicago yesterday. With several panels and dozens of authors, it was a terrific day. Keynote speaker was Sophia Hannah, author of the new Hercule Poirot books. She delighted us with her account of how that came about.
Sophie Hannah interviewed
by Susanna Calkins
Panelists Sherry Harris, Cheryl Read, Edith Maxwell,
Carlene O'Connor and Susanna Calkins

Sisters in Chicago Chicagoland president
 Patricia Skalka and Sophie Hannah
MapYourMystery Christine Gentes with
Edith Maxwell and Michelle Cox

MapYourMystery Christine Gentes
and Sophie Hannah

Friday, March 22, 2019

The Hidden Corpse

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After her appearance on a reality baking show ruined her marriage, Hope Early returns to her hometown of Jefferson, Connecticut. Concentrating on her blog, Hope at Home, she decides to take a photography workshop taught by famous photographer Cal Barnhart.

In The Hidden Corpse by Debra Sennefelder, Hope worries about Cal's missing wife Lily and wonders how it will impact the workshop. With three other food bloggers at the workshop, Hope knows she has to stay on her toes. Blogging is a cutthroat business.

As if this isn't enough to clog her mind with worry, as she returns home, she sees smoke coming from her elderly neighbor's home. She rushes in to find a pot of burning vegetables on the stove and her neighbor unaware of what is happening around her. Thinking she needs to tell Mrs. Olson's daughter about the incident, Hope gets sidetracked and forgets about telling her.

The next day, Hope returns home to find the neighbor's house
totally engulfed in flames. As she is held back by the fire department, Hope is remorseful and wishes she had let the daughter know something was wrong. But before long the fire department discovers a second body in the charred remains and they discover it is the missing Lily Barnhart, and that the fire was deliberately set.

While investigating Lily's background, Hope discovers she was on the Planning and Zoning Commission and had been opposed to unrestricted growth. With another big vote coming up shortly, did Lily get on the wrong side of someone or was her husband involved in her death?

The Hidden Corpse is the second book in The Food Blogger Mystery series and I look forward to many more, especially if they include some other delicious recipes from Hope's blog.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

The Drowning

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Eight-year-old Joey Proctor is heading to summer camp, but not happily. He doesn't want to be away from his parents, but off he goes. To make matters worse, his swim instructor wants him to jump in the deep water and learn to swim.

In The Drowning by J.P. Smith, Joey knows he is terrified of the deep water and refuses to jump in. Alex, the instructor, wants everyone to jump in from the dock and swim to the raft. When Joey doesn't move, Alex picks up him up and throws him into the water. Thrashing around and frightened he might drown, Joey is paralyzed with fear. Alex realizes what is happening jumps in and grabs Joey. But instead of bringing him to shore, he swims with him to the raft, hoists him onto it and
swims away, telling Joey if he wants to go back to his cabin, he needs to swim ashore.

Hours later Alex checks the raft and doesn't see Joey so he believes he swam back to shore. The next morning the entire camp is in an uproar because Joey is missing, never to be seen again. An old scary legend about John Otis stealing boys from the camp rears its head. Everyone is afraid.

Fast forward 20 years and Alex Mason is a wealthy, respected real estate businessman in New York. Everything he touches turns to gold. He seems to be living a charmed life until strange occurrences begin. First someone dyes his swimming pool water red and carves the words "Remember me" on the floor of the pool. When the police ask about enemies, Alex is perplexed. He doesn't think he has enemies who would do something like this.

When the events escalate and begin to point to Joey Proctor, Alex remembers the experience from camp and believes maybe Joey is alive and seeking revenge. With his life spiraling out of control and his family threatened, Alex decides to find Joey Proctor and stop the harassment.

The Drowning is not just another camper goes missing book. It is a diabolically written mystery.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Interview with Ellen Crosby

What is the title of your newest book? How many books have you published?
Ellen Crosby photo by
Jackie Briggs
My most recent book, which was released in November 2018, is called Harvest of Secrets—the 9th book in the Virginia wine country mystery series. The tenth book, The Angels’ Share, will be out this November. In all, I have published 13 books—two series and a standalone.

How did you develop your character and choose your location?
Lucie Montgomery, who is the main character in the Virginia wine country mystery series, was only supposed to be around for one book: The Merlot Murders. I wanted a character with a strong personality; someone young and spunky. Now nearly twenty years and ten books later, I rely on the advice of my daughters-in-law, who are (much) nearer Lucie’s age than I am!

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As for choosing the location—Virginia wine country—that story starts in London where we lived for five years in the mid-1990s. One summer when we returned to the US for a visit, a colleague of my husband’s decided we needed to see the Virginia vineyards after years of living in Europe and traveling through the wine regions of France, Switzerland, and Italy.

We spent a glorious summer day visiting several vineyards, which was when I fell in love with the scenery and beauty of Virginia. Back in London, I mentioned the trip to my British literary agent who thought it was a fabulous setting for a book, specifically a book that I needed to write. I finally let her talk me into writing it—I knew nothing about growing grapes or making wine—though I told her, “Okay, but I’m only writing one book.”

For a review of Harvest of Secrets, click here.

What is a day in the life of an author like? Do you write a certain number of words, do you write in the morning or evening?
As any serious author will tell you, if you’re a writer you write. It’s not about waiting for the muse to strike or the fairy dust to settle on your shoulders and inspire you. The longer I am in this business, the more I try to guard my writing time like it is a precious jewel so I make sure I get my books written and turned in on time to my editor. It’s too easy to get lost in social networking, marketing, or even to accept every invitation you receive to give a book talk—all of which are also necessary components of a writing career.

These days—and now that my husband has retired—I spend my mornings taking care of personal and family matters, writing business obligations, a trip to the gym, and anything else that is on my calendar. I write in the afternoons—closer to the book deadline I’ll write 7 days a week—and don’t quit until I’ve written at least 1,000 words.

Do you model your character after yourself or any one you know?
Since I thought Lucie was only going to be around for one book, I didn’t really create her based on anyone I knew. I knew I wanted The Merlot Murders to begin in France and have an international “hook” so I made Lucie half-French and introduced her when she was living in the south of France and recovering from an automobile accident that left her with a limp and requiring a cane to get around.

If your books were made into a movie, who would you want to play the lead character?
Someone young and spunky like Emma Watson or Lily James.

Who is your favorite author?
Not a fair question! Too many to name.

If you could invite five people – living or dead – to a dinner party, who would they be?
Actually, I’d want to invite 6 people: my husband, three sons, and two daughters-in-law. (Soon there will be a seventh, a new grandchild!) With one son and daughter-in-law living in Germany and another living in Utah (thank goodness our youngest son lives nearby), getting together—all of us—is so rare. We stay in touch regularly and are a close-knit family but nothing beats having everyone at home together, especially around the dinner table. Besides, we are also a family of cooks, so the meal would be special, too.

If you could not be an author, what would like to do as a career?
Being an author came late in life for me, after my older sons left for college. Previously I worked as a journalist in the US and the former Soviet Union, which I loved, and before that I was the economic advisor to a United States Senator for five years until my husband’s job took us to Switzerland in the 1980s. I loved both my pre-author careers—they were fascinating and fast-paced.

Have you had your own DNA tested?
As a former journalist, I always do my homework! So, since DNA testing was part of the story in Harvest of Secrets, of course I had my DNA tested. Unlike Lucie, though, there were no surprises

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Murder Lo Mein

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Lana Lee is finally the full-time manager of the Ho-Lee Noodle House and she's happy to be in charge. In Murder Lo Mein by Vivien Chien, Lana enters the restaurant in the second annual Best Noodle Contest, knowing last year's winner wasn't really as good as Ho-Lee. (Murder Lo Mein will be released on March 26 by St. Martin's Paperbacks.)

Last year's winner, Ray Jin, is now a judge for this year's competition along with noted food critic and professional crouch Norman Pan and Stella Chung, hometown girl who made it big in Chicago. The competition is really between the Ho-Lee Noodle house and the House of Shen, but a few others restaurants have been allowed to compete.

Peter, Lana's chef is anxious because he knows how much is at stake for Asia Village, especially after the events of the last few months. Lana knows Peter's noddles are truly the best and she is confident they will win. The contest consists of three rounds before the winner is declared.

The first round finds Peter as the winner and Norman Pan receiving a threatening fortune cookie. It said If you do not seek out allies and helpers, then you will be isolated and weak. Ian discovers it is from Sun Tzu's The Art of War. Why would Norman receive it and what could it mean?

Later at the celebration party at Penny's Bamboo Lounge, everyone is relieved the first round is over. Suddenly there is a scream from inside the party room. and one of the judges is found dead. As much as she promises her detective boyfriend Adam Trudeau she will stay out of the investigation, Lana and her pal Megan cannot help themselves.

When another judge dies, it appears someone doesn't like the judges and is trying to ruin the contest. Lana wants nothing to stop her restaurant from winning this year, so she plunges headlong into the investigation.

Lana is a terrific character, but with her mother occupied by her visiting grandmother, we don't have as much of Mrs. Lee in this book. Too bad because she is every woman's mother and is so funny. Ho-Lee Noodle House sounds like a terrific restaurant and add the new doughnut shop next door and you have a great place for lunch. Stop by some time, if you dare.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Staging is Murder

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When Laura Bishop's fledgling decorating company beats out well known rival Monica Heller for the Denton mansion project, Laura is thrilled to have to work. That is until she spends some time with Victoria Denton. In Staging is Murder by Grace Topping, Laura has her work cut out for her with the Denton House in the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania. Not only is the house huge it is severely outdated, cluttered with figurines and lorded over by angry, rude Victoria Denton. (Staging is Murder will be released by Henery Press on April 30.)

Working with her assistant Tyrone, Laura butts heads with Victoria on a regular basis. Not that she is singled out; Victoria argues with everyone - her former catering business partner Cora Ridley, her ex-husband Skip Denton and even Laura's mild mannered assistant Tyrone Webster.

After working on the house and making some headway, Laura is relieved to have fewer encounters with Victoria. Early one evening while Laura is locking up to go home, she hears a door slam and goes to investigate.  Laura finds Victoria dead at her feet after tumbling down the laundry chute. Was it an accident or something more?

The police arrest Tyrone because he was the last person heard arguing with her and he was seen around the house in the early evening. While Tyrone heads to jail, Laura must keep working on the house to have it ready for the upcoming sale, but Tyrone's grandmother needs her help. Mrs. Webster urges Laura to clear her grandson. Laura pleads she is a designer, not a detective, but Mrs. Webster refuses to take not for an answer.

Using knowledge gleaned from Nancy Drew books, Laura begins her investigation, but it's not as easy as it seems in books.

Laura is an endearing character and I look forward to more of her adventures. 

Friday, March 15, 2019

A Dream of Death

After her husband tragic drowning, Kate Hamilton thought she would never have to return to the remote Scottish Island of Glenroth again. In A Dream of Death by Connie Berry, Kate returns to Glenroth, her late husband's home, at the urgent request of his sister. She is frightened by events happening around her and asks Kate to come and help her through this difficult time.

Unsure how she can leave her antiques business in Ohio, she feels obligated to assist her sister-in-law Elenor, although they have never been close. Elenor has turned the family home into a deluxe country house hotel and locals are gathering for the end of season Tartan Ball at the house. Elenor announces that she has sold the hotel to a Swiss company to the amazement of the partisan Scottish crowd. Then she announces her engagement to local author Hugh Guthrie, the author of The Dairy of Flora Arnott. 

Both announcements leave the audience in stunned silent. The local economy is based on the Scottish atmosphere of the hotel and a Swiss owner might make dramatic changes. As for a marriage to Hugh, his mother Margaret might have something different to say about that. 

The 200-year-old legend around Glenroth is that Flora Arnott, a young bride and soon to be a mother
was murdered by her husband Captain Arnott. She was shot through the neck with an arrow and her maid was also murdered. When someone is murdered after the Tartan Ball by an arrow in an eerily similar manner as Flora Arnott, Kate thinks some of the incidents that have been happening around the hotel might be connected.

The quirky twin sisters Penny and Cilla Arnott take their heritage seriously and any threat to the Arnott name, especially the Captain, is an affront to them. Not only does suspicion fall on them, but on Bo Duff, a likable but challenged handyman. 

Kate soon learns the truth and puts herself in jeopardy, but manages to solve the mystery. An excellent story and I look forward to more Kate Hamilton mysteries. 

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Pinot Red or Dead?

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It's nearing the holiday time and the wineries around Seneca Lake, New York, are preparing for "Deck the Halls around the Lake", a wine tasting festival. In Pinot Red or Dead? by J.C. Eaton, Two Witches Winery owner Norrie Ellington jumps right in to assist her staff in what sounds like a fantastic event. (Pinot Red or Dead? will be published by Kensington Publishing on March 26.)

Everyone is in an uproar when they learn a shipment of Pinot Noir from the wineries on the east side of the lake has been  hijacked from the distributor's truck. The hijackers made off with 40 cases of wine from four different wineries. This news on top of the distributor's decision to lower their compensation schedule has everyone upset.

When the west side of the lake sees vandalism on some of their Pinot Noir barrels, spoiling the wine inside, Norrie knows it is time to put down her screenplays and figure out the read mystery.

When she stumbles across the body of Arnold Mowen, owner of
Lake-To-Lake Distributors between Two Witches Winery and neighboring Grey Egret Winery, everyone becomes a suspect. To everyone's shock and surprise, Arnold's attorney announces that Arnold wanted his will read 29 days after his death at midnight in the Two Witches Winery.

When a wide range of people claim to be the heir to Lake-to-Lake Distributors, including Arnold's girlfriend Lavettia; Miller Holtz, sales rep; Clayton Levine, the secretary; and three nuns from local convent.

An entertaining mystery with a splash of red wine for impact.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Interview with Becky Clark

What is the title of your newest book? How many books have you published?
The newest book — Foul Play on Words — is so new it's not even out until April 2019! (But it's available for pre-order, hint, hint.) It's the second one in
the Mystery Writers Mystery series. The first being Fiction Can Be Murder, out in 2018. Before that, I wrote two humorous mysteries with a friend of mine, Ted Hardwick. One character is Cassidy Dunne, the other is Dan Diehl so we called them the Dunne Diehl novels, which made me laugh. Banana Bamboozle is the first and came out in 2014. Marshmallow Mayhem came out in 2015. In between the mysteries I wrote some low-calorie cookbooks, compiled into The Lazy Low Cal Lifestyle Complete Cookbook. 
(Foul Play on Words will be released on April 8 by Midnight Ink.)

How did you develop your character and choose your location?
When I have a rough idea of what the story is about, I make a list of all the characters I need who will be playing a role. I almost always have a celebrity or friend in mind for them right away, at least as far as how they look. I print out the photo and start writing the character traits on it. Then those photos go in the 3-ring binder I keep for each book. If it's been a while since I wrote scenes with them, I go back and refresh my memory with their photo page. I don't want to change an ankle butterfly tattoo into a forearm anchor, or switch a left leg limp to the right side. Of course, after they go through the character grinder they don't necessarily resemble the person in the photo. Using celebrities and people I know helps me keep everyone straight in the drafting stage. It's easy to get confused when you don't have a firm handle on who everyone will turn out to be.

My settings tend to be places I'm familiar with. Foul Play on Words is set at a writer's conference in
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Portland, Oregon, where my daughter lives and where I've attended conferences. Fiction Can Be Murder is set in the Denver, Colorado, area, where I live. Bamboozle is set in a fictional town near where I lived in California way back when. And Mayhem starts out in California, but they end up taking a winter road trip in an RV to the Colorado mountains. 
(Click here for a review of Foul Play on Words)

I worry too much about getting details wrong if I try to write about a place I'm unfamiliar with. Like, for me to write a book set at the beach, I'd have to live in a seaside villa for several months to feel like I wouldn't screw it up. Note to self: set a book at the beach some time soon. Very soon.

What is a day in the life of an author like? Do you write a certain number of words, do you write in the morning or evening?
I like schedules. I write for at least three hours Monday, Thursday, and most Friday mornings, especially when I'm in the middle of a draft. And I set aside all day Tuesday for writing. I set a timer for every hour and keep track of how many words I write. I like to know how long each book takes me. I'm an outliner so the writing itself goes pretty fast for me. I never stare at a blank screen; I always know what scene I need to write. And I write in a linear fashion, no jumping around in the story for me.

Afternoons are spent with emails, writing blogs, organizing publicity and marketing campaigns, creating and practicing workshops to teach ... at writer's conferences, like Charlee.

Do you model your character after yourself or any one you know?
In Bamboozle and Mayhem, the two main characters were pretty closely us as the authors and friends for 30+ years, so that was fun and easy. In the Mystery Writers Mysteries, I knew she was going to be a mystery writer in her 30s, so I just had to roll back my personal clock a couple of decades and try to figure out what it would be like to find Charlee's kind of publishing success at a young age. I tend to write stories where a perfectly normal person is going about their perfectly normal business when — BLAMMO — something weird happens to them. Then I try to figure out what I'd do. After I was done cowering under the covers, of course.

If your books were made into a movie, who would you want to play the lead character?
Anybody who would be besties with me and let me hang out on the set.

Who is your favorite author?
No fair! You might as well ask me who my favorite kid is or which is my favorite internal organ! (Both of which I have, but I'm not telling you. Plus, they tend to change from day to day.)

If you could invite five people – living or dead – to a dinner party, who would they be?
First, I'd want them all to be living, because gross. If it was a weeknight party, I'd invite Joe R. Lansdale because he is a storyteller extraordinaire. If you haven't read him, remedy that situation immediately. Carl Hiaasen would get an invitation because I find him absolutely hilarious and he makes his books look perfectly effortless. I'd ask for advice, tons of advice. I'd invite Amy Poehler and Tina Fey because they inspire me with everything they've accomplished but they also seem completely bemused and untouched by their fame. I'm sure they'd come because I'd promise them fancy cheese. And then I'd invite Ina Garten because someone needs to cook.

But on the weekend, it would be grand to have my three kids and my husband all around the table with me at the same time again. I mostly like my empty nest, but it would be fab to corral them from their far-off lands and busy lives for a while. It would have to be on the weekend because I'd make them spend the night. Could Ina Garten come too? Again, we'd need food.

If you could not be an author, what would like to do as a career?
The more I write and attend gruesome and fascinating Sisters in Crime meetings with forensic experts, I'd love to be able to do that. I think I'd be good at it, too, because I have great attention to detail and I'm very methodical. I would trip up those bad guys with their own strand of hair or fabric fiber or obscure mountain flora found only in one place in the world. I'd put them squarely at the scene of the crime and they would not be able to wiggle out of the noose I'd tightened around them with my beautiful, beautiful science.

I also love maps, but I'm not sure cartographer is an actual job any more.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Where in the World . . .

Many people are having their DNA tested, so MapYourMystery decided to have it done as well. Here's what we found