Category : Reading

New Release!

Sleuthing Women II: 10 Mystery Novellas was released on September 5.


Sleuthing Women II: 10 Mystery Novellas is a collection of ten mysteries featuring murder and assorted mayhem by ten different authors. Each novella is a tie-in to an established multi-book series—a total of nearly 700 pages of reading pleasure for lovers of amateur sleuth, caper, cozy, and female P.I. mysteries.

Here’s a list of the novellas, in order of appearance:

Frosted, A Moreno & Hart Novella by Allison Brennan & Laura Griffin—Three years ago LAPD Detective Scarlet Moreno and rookie cop Krista Hart were nearly killed during a botched sting operation. Now, they’re best friends and partners in the Orange County private investigation firm of Moreno & Hart. But their routine assignments are anything but safe.

Crewel Intentions, An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Novella by Lois Winston—Craft editor Anastasia Pollack receives a desperate call for help from former fashion editor Erica Milano, now in Witness Protection. Erica is being stalked and is afraid to notify the authorities. She once saved Anastasia’s life. Will Anastasia be able to return the favor before the stalker strikes?

No Quarter, A Cleopatra Jones Novella by Maggie Toussaint—Amnesia, the doctor says when accountant Cleopatra Jones wakes in a distant hospital. Hours later most of her memory returns. Detective Jack Martinez visits Cleo’s nearby wealthy client, only she’s dead and broke. To Cleo’s horror, she’s a murder suspect. Will she totally recover her memory before the killer returns?

What the Widow Knew, A Kali-O’Brien Novella by Jonnie Jacobs—Attorney Kali O’Brien takes on the case of a young woman accused of murdering her much older, very rich husband. As evidence mounts and other possible suspects are eliminated, Kali’s doubts about her client’s innocence grow. Meanwhile, Kali is also grappling with her feelings for longtime boyfriend Detective Bryce Keating.

The Magnesium Murder, A Periodic Table Mystery by Camille Minichino—While freelance embalmer Anastasia Brent prepares the body of a young bride-to-be, she learns the girl’s mother suspects foul play. Once again Anastasia is pressed into service as a sleuth, following a trail of clues in search of a murderer and justice.

Honeymoons Can Be Murder, A Lee Alvarez Novella by Heather Haven— When PI Lee Alvarez goes on her honeymoon with bridegroom, Gurn Hanson, they find a dead woman practically on their doorstep. Kauai breezes may be soft, but there are gale force winds of accusation against Gurn. Will Lee find the real killer before her new hubby gets sent to a Hawaiian hoosegow?

Smoked Meat, A Carol Sabala Novella by Vinnie Hansen—Baker and wannabe sleuth Carol Sabala visits her mother for a family Christmas get-together. It’s murder, in more ways than one.

A Deadly Fundraiser, A Talk Radio Novella by Mary Kennedy—When radio talk show host Dr. Maggie Walsh and her pals start digging up clues in a scavenger hunt at a glitzy fundraiser, the game suddenly turns deadly. Will Maggie and her team be able to crack the case and solve the crime?

The Color of Fear, A Kelly O’Connell Novella by Judy Alter—Kelly receives a written kidnap threat targeting her infant daughter, Gracie. Kelly’s assistant Keisha narrates as Kelly and her family plot their precautions, but as time passes and the threat still looms, fear takes a toll on the family…and on Keisha.

Papa’s Ghost, A Gladdy Gold Mystery Novella by Rita Lakin—Gladdy and her girls accept an assignment iat a famous resort in Key West, thinking it will combine business with pleasure. Once they arrive, Gladdy suspects something is strange. Not only is their client an unexpected shock, but so is the case of murder they are expected to solve. Can they succeed when a whole city is against them?

A Day in the Life

Thanks to Dru Ann Love for inspiring this blog. Dru is known for her blogging and extreme fandom, so much so that she won the Raven Award this year:

Here’s my latest post on Dru’s blog last week.

Third P0stmistress Mystery

A Day in the Life of Cassie Miller, Postmistress

By Jean Flowers

I’m beginning to think I’ve brought a curse on my hometown.

Before I returned to North Ashcot, Massachusetts as its postmistress, the town was relatively crime free. A few B&Es and a carjacking or two per year, some shoplifting and teen vandalism, all quickly solved. While I’d been building my post office career in Boston, my hometown rolled along peacefully, the loudest noises coming from the soccer field. No screams in the night, no gun shots.

Since I came back, however, the crime rate has soared. I heard someone in line at the post office joke that in our zip code, COD is beginning to mean Cause of Death. Really! I’d deny it, but just a few minutes ago, I heard about a third murder among my friends. Dennis Somerville, physics professor at the local community college and guitarist for The Ashcots, our neighborhood band, has been shot in his home. The artificially pretty lady on the TV news has called it a robbery-gone-bad, but I have this feeling in the pit of my stomach that there’s more to it.

For one thing, Dennis stormed up to my counter yesterday, demanding that I investigate threatening letters he’d received. How I wish I’d paid attention. Instead, I’d invoked the postal service’s official investigative body. As if that were a paragon of speedy justice. For another thing, lately, when I was involved in any way, a crime was never as simple as surprising a thief.

Right after the news, my phone rang and it was my BFF Sunni on the line, Police Chief Sunni Smargon, to most citizens. Another feeling washed over me—that she was about to give me orders to stay out of the Somerville murder case. I was not a sworn police officer, did not have a badge, blah, blah, blah.

I was lucky that the retired postmaster, Ben Gentry, was pining for his old job and only too happy to fill in for me. Which left me free to walk around Dennis’s campus and also casually interview his fellow musicians. I was also lucky that my boyfriend, Quinn Martindale, was a great cook and loved to take over my kitchen, thus freeing me to snoop around and trail suspects, should I be so inclined.

Which I was. And which got me into a bit of trouble, and—maybe—danger. The result was—well, never mind. It’s all written down if you care to read it.

The good news is that I’m fine and back at my job, so I don’t see what all the fuss was about my health and safety in the first place. Will I follow orders the next time? We’ll just have to see.

Irritating Reads

What good is a rant if you can’t reuse it?

Here’s my latest, on The LadyKillers blog a couple of weeks ago.

One of my biggest pet peeves in crime fiction is HEAD-HOPPING. You know what I mean – the practice of switching point of view within a scene.

I spend a good deal of time discussing POV with my writing students, and invariably one will point out a best-selling author who does this willy nilly (at random, every which way, here and there, all over the place, in no apparent order).

After I ungrit my teeth, I try to explain. And I try to find good articles on the topic. Here are a couple of favorites.

http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/blog/2014/04/30/head-hopping-fiction-writing/

http://theeditorsblog.net/2011/09/10/head-hopping-gives-readers-whiplash/

https://ellenbrockediting.com/2013/11/26/the-difference-between-omniscient-pov-and-head-hopping/

Head-hopping is common and acceptable in the romance genre:

As Billy Bob and Sally Jo danced, he felt he was in heaven and she couldn’t wait for the last chord.

But in a romance, it’s the relationship that’s the main character, the romance matters more than either Billy Bob or Sally Jo.

Head-hopping in a mystery, however, is detrimental to the story. The best-selling author (I’ll call her P. L.) who invaded my class most recently at least plays “fair,” in that she gets into the head of every principal character except one—the killer’s, of course. So, after four or five head-hopping chapters, you can identify the killer.  He’s the one whose thoughts you’re not privy to. Booo.

Another best-selling author (I’ll call him S. J.) cheats! You get into the head of every character, including the killer, but while you’re in the killer’s head, he “acts” as innocent as all the others, wondering what the killer’s motive was, how the killer managed to escape, and so on.

Both the cheating and the non-cheating versions are IRRITATING. (Yes, I’m shouting.)

Now—your turn!

Does head-hopping bother you? What does?

Best of 2016

In case you missed this on the LadyKillers Blog. It’s the time for “Best Ofs”.

My favorite book of 2016 came to me by way of a swag bag shared by Ann Parker.
She knew I was mad about Malcolm Mackay’s trilogy THE SUDDEN ARRIVAL OF VIOLENCE, HOW A GUNMAN SAYS GOODBYE, AND THE NECESSARY DEATH OF LEWIS WINTER. If you love a good hit man story, as I do, these books are for you.

So I was ready for Mackay’s newest offering, THE NIGHT THE RICH MEN BURNED. Here’s how the Prologue opens:

He ended up unconscious and broken on the floor of a warehouse, penniless and alone. He was two weeks in hospital, unemployable thereafter, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was that, for a few weeks beforehand, he had money. Not just a little money, but enough to show off with, and that was the impression that stuck.

I look for three things when rating a book: character, story, and writing. Mackay is a 10 on all counts. In the first lines (above) you know this character: You know what he values, and what he will do to get it. You have arrived in the middle of a story: the man is unconscious, penniless, and alone. And you have great writing: not a wasted word (also not a gerund or an -ly adverb!).

I’m in a few book clubs, one of which is a mystery reading group at a library. We begin each meeting by rating the book, from 10

I’m almost always amazed at ratings.
“I’d give this an 8 or a 9,” Edna might say.
“But the story was weak and there were 3 subplots that weren’t wrapped up.”
“Yeah, I agree,” Edna will say with a shrug. “But I liked the woman.”

or

“I’d give this story an 8 or a 9,” Ralph might say.
“But the writing was terrible. It could have been written by a third grader.”
“Yeah, I agree,” Ralph will say. “But the story was good.”

and so on.

Apparently, I’m the fussy one, demanding all three criteria are met. I’m curious about you and your rating policies. What does it take for you to give a book a 10? a 1?

Classic Thrills

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to include a short piece on classic crime stories in the MWA NorCal newsletter. Here it is, reproduced with my permission.

You always remember your firsts.

The first time words on a page brought me to tears was when Beth March died in “Little Women.” The first time words frightened me to death occurred when an arrogant, drunken Fortunato was lured into the vault in “The Cask of Amontillado.”

Imagine my thrill when I realized how much more excitement and suspense awaited me in the works of Edgar Allan Poe.

Next I read “The Tell-Tale Heart,” in which the dark guilt of a murderer is his undoing: I admit the deed! — tear up the planks! (Poe was not one to stint on exclamation points!) “The Pit and the Pendulum” gave me the most meticulous description of a torture chamber: Any death but that of the pit! And surely no character descriptions in literature can match those in “The Man of the Crowd,” the art of following a stranger who captures your fancy.

Still, “The Cask of Amontillado” remains my favorite: I plastered it up. Surely one of the most chilling lines in crime fiction.

A place to curl up with a good thriller

•  Care to share your reading “firsts?”

Bloody Stories

A recent blog site topic invited us to compare American and British writers. Here is my response, reproduced.

Wouldn’t it be considered unpatriotic if I said I prefer British mysteries, as if I wished we had lost the Revolutionary War? From a native Bostonian yet, where it all began?

As I thought about the nationalities of writers I love, it turns out I have favorites from many countries. Karin Fossim from Norway. Pierre Lemaitre from France (How can I resist a male cop named Camille?) The recently deceased Umberto Eco from Italy. An American or two, like Thomas H. Cook and John Verdon. I thought I had a few British favorites, too, but it turns out Peter Robinson is Canadian and Peter May is a Scot. I’m one of the few readers unimpressed by the work of Denise Mina or Val Mcdermid, but Brit Mo Hayder makes up for them.

A couple of years ago, I became a British writer. Well, to be exact, a UK magazine asked me to write a short story. I was (and am) thrilled. The story, Majesty in Miniature, was published in parts over 3 months in The Dolls House Magazine.

I set the story at Windsor, the home of Queen Mary’s famous dolls house, sending my protagonists Gerry Porter and her granddaughter, Maddie, on a tour of the majestic house.

Although I’ve never seen the house in person, I knew all about it from books and videos. I knew about its running water (the cisterns housed in the basement), electric lighting, and working lifts, its miniature crown jewels and special tea services.

I was sure I could capture the essence of the dolls house; what I worried about was the language of the British characters, especially the British docent. I agonized over using “bloody”—too mild? too wild?—and finally checked in with my friend Simon Wood, who agreed to vet the story.

There was only one language problem that neither Simon nor I could have predicted.

“Docent?” a UK contact from the magazine asked me. “We’re not sure what that is.”

What? I’d been concerned about the docent’s dialogue, not the definition of the word. And isn’t the UK the home of the OED?

I figured the person was too young for an old word, or she was a foreign intern serving across the pond.

In the end, we settled on changing “docent” to “guide” and the story made it through the rest of the process.

A Postmistress Speaks

Few jobs or services have the bad press accorded the USPS. Post office employees have the singular honor of having an unflattering term that refers to their behavior. “Going postal” has come to signify becoming extremely and uncontrollably angry, often to the point of violence, and usually in a workplace environment. The term originates from the series of incidents beginning in the late ’80s, in which employees or former employees of the post office committed acts of murder.

I think it’s time for my favorite postmistress, Cassie Miller, of the Postmistress Mysteries, to convey a more positive view.

The calm, welcoming post office of my childhood

From Cassie

As you can see from the badge on my regulation blue USPS jacket, I’m CASSIE MILLER, POSTMISTRESS. I’ve just come in from one of my favorite duties, hoisting the American flag outside my post office. After many years working in Boston’s main postal facility, I recently returned to my home town of North Ashcot, Massachusetts.

Nothing makes me more nervous than writing an essay. Except possibly public speaking. I’m feeling that old classroom anxiety all over again. I remember those awful Compare and Contrast questions. The State the Theme of challenge. The Prove Your Point with Examples dare. Old Mr. Warren required a minimum of 500 words. Didn’t he realize how many that was? A typical thank-you note, a task forced on me by my mother, runs about 15 words. Thanks very much for the pretty green sweater, Aunt Tess. I wear it very often. That’s my speed.

But to please my mentor, Jean Flowers, I’ve agreed to write about my life running my one-woman post office in a small town. So here goes.

I love my job. I think of all USPS workers as the greatest couriers in the world. I’m honored that my customers trust me with their most important communications. Whether they’re paying a bill, sending an invitation, or dropping a Get Well line to a friend, they count on me to deliver.

Even though I’m only one person in a long chain of people on the way to your addressee, I take my responsibility very seriously. I imagine I might be handling a life-changing missive. A love letter, or its opposite. A job offer, or its opposite. An acceptance. A rejection. Every one of the approximately one billion Valentine’s Day cards that are sent annually is important.

Lately I’ve had some unusual experiences. I didn’t expect to become involved in solving murders, for example! But I’ve been exposed to many aspects of USPS employment, from sorter to letter carrier to counter service, plus brief stints with the inspection arm and what we used to call the Dead Letter Office, but now refer to in a more positive way as the MRC (Mail Recovery Center).

My training has served me well. Not that I’m skilled with weapons (although guns sometimes arrive at the MRC) or forensics, but a postal worker has to be a problem solver. Like all the times the USPS receives letters addressed to God, or Santa, or the tooth fairy. Or when the mailbox on the corner yields not only envelopes but keys, eyeglasses, gloves, and the occasional roast beef sandwich.

So far, I’ve been able to help our Chief of Police, my friend Sunni Smargon, as she works to bring the bad guys to justice. But what I like to talk about best is post office history. Did you know, for example, that:

• The first woman featured on a U.S. postage stamp was Queen Isabella in 1893.

• The first American woman featured was Martha Washington in 1902.

• The USPS has more than 200,000 vehicles, one of the largest civilian fleets in the world.

• The USPS handles 47% of the world’s mail volume.

You can imagine the fun postal workers have when we get together and exchange trivia!

Funny post office stories are also high on the list when my best friend Linda and I chat. Linda still works at the main post office in Boston and not a day goes by without at least one laugh. Today Linda told me about finding an unorthodox envelope in the outgoing mail slot—the customer had taped 1 quarter, two dimes, and 4 pennies across the top.

The best story might be the one about the elderly woman who addressed a letter to God, asking for $100 to cover her food and drug needs for the month. She had no one else to turn to, she said. A kind postal employee took up a collection and managed to pull together $90 and send it to the old lady. A few days later, a note in the same handwriting appeared, again addressed to God. “Thanks a lot for your attention,” the woman wrote. “But you should know that those corrupt postal workers stole $10.”

Not every good deed is rewarded, but here at the post office we do our best all the same.

MATRIMONY IN MINIATURE

The 9th miniature mystery is set for release next week. For once I can tell you the ending without being a spoiler — the title says it all: MATRIMONY IN MINIATURE.

Of course, things go wrong; otherwise, it wouldn’t be under “Crime Fiction” in bookstores and libraries.

Here’s how amazon describes it:

When murder happens in the small town of Lincoln Point CA, there aren’t many degrees of separation between the victim and retired teacher Gerry Porter. How can she stay away from the investigation when the crime scene is the venue for her marriage to Henry Baker? But this time, nephew Detective Skip Gowen tries to discourage Gerry’s and granddaughter Maddie’s efforts to solve “The Case.” He couldn’t live with himself if the murderer learns of their efforts and comes after them.

BEACH READS

Beach Reads: A popular term as we begin the summer. But not for me. (If you’ve ever read The Real Me, you’re not surprised.)

I don’t like beach reads because I don’t like beaches for more than 5 minutes.

Early in my California residency, I decided to try the beaches west-coasters always talked about. The ones in Hawaii.

First, why not? They were so close. Just off the coast of Los Angeles, right? At least that’s what all the maps pictured.

Imagine my surprise!

After a loooooong plane ride, which could have taken me to Coney Island instead if I’d made a quick U-turn, we were on a serious island. Maui. One with no skyscrapers nearby. No Edward Hoppers as far as the eye could see. Unlike Manhattan, which is an isle of joy.

The “vacation” turned out to be the longest 2 weeks of my life. Several times, I  thought of leaving early, but we’d paid in advance, and maybe it would get better.

There was no bookstore (not then, anyway, early 1980’s) in case I did want a “beach read.” There wasn’t an activity in the tour book where you could wear a decent pair of pumps.

Beach reads? Nah, I’ll take subway reads any day. Or, maybe the term should be Bleacher reads. Picture this: the bleachers in Times Square. Now there’s a comfy reading corner.

A perfect place to read.

Your friendly local newspaper

Famous blogger, Lisa A. Kelley, shared a great idea with cozy authors: why don’t we “publish” newspapers from our fictional towns? I’m in!

The first issue of The Lincolnite was published by Lisa on June 1. Here are some of the sections of the newspaper, in case the link is not active by now. It’s worth a look to scroll down on Lisa’s site to see her great graphics.

THE LINCOLNITE

Lincoln Point, California              Forever 50 cents

SADIE’S ICE CREAM SHOP EXPANDS MENU, CAUSING UPROAR

Picketers lined Springfield Boulevard on Monday, protesting the newly offered lunch menu at Sadie’s Ice Cream Shop. “NOT FAIR TO WILLIE” read the signs, referring to Willie’s Bagels, only 2 doors down from Sadie’s and a popular lunch spot for many years.

“People don’t want to have to get up and trudge outside between lunch and dessert,” a spokesperson for Sadie’s said. Regular customer Mabel Foster said, “It’s hard when it’s raining,” while her companion, who wished to remain anonymous, asked “When is it ever raining?” The two businesses have agreed to arbitration, which will be facilitated by retired English teacher, Geraldine Porter.

LOCAL DOGS HONORED

A monument unveiled at a ceremony this week at Lincoln Point Park, Civic Center, honored the K-9s that serve alongside the city’s police officers. Civilian volunteer, Bev Gowen, arranged the privately funded dedication. “In the coming year we plan to honor the human officers in the unit,” said Gowen, the mother of Detective Eino “Skip” Gowen. The younger Gowen was unavailable for comment.

SPORTS

The Mary Todd Gym has issued swag bags to all lifetime members. Featured is a red logo travel mug with I’D RATHER BE READING in white letters.

SCIENCE FAIR

Local middle school children showed off their projects this week at the annual Science Fair. Heading the judges panel was a visiting physicist from the Boston area, Dr. Gloria Lamerino, who is responsible for the nationally recognized Cannoli Method of awarding prizes. “I’ve never seen so many 5-Cannoli projects,” Lamerino said. First prize, a 1-inch mini Austrian crystal cannoli went to Maddie Porter, 12, for her working model of a waste water recycling plant.

POLICE BLOTTER

After a string of more than a dozen murders in the last 8 years, the Lincoln Point Police Department is pleased to announce that the only crime committed so far this year is the theft of a small fountain from a lawn on Gettysburg Avenue. The thief left a note reminding the homeowner that it was drought season in California and that he should stop being “a water waster.” The homeowner has decided not to pursue the matter.

COOKING WITH CAMILLE


Abraham Lincoln High School home economics teacher CHEF CAMILLE offers a special recipe for Father’s Day: an Honest Abe top hat cake.

DIRECTIONS:

Start with your favorite basic cake—white, yellow, or chocolate—and bake THREE 8-inch rounds. Split the rounds, giving you six layers. Mix black food coloring into enough frosting to spread between layers and around the top and circumference of the cake. Use the last of it to spread around the edge of the cake plate, to make the brim of the hat. Add a BEST FATHER figure as pictured, and let the celebration begin!