Category : crime

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?”

HALLOWEEN Preview

Cornelia Parker’s PsychoBarn, rooftop installation at the Met

Few words say “scary” like “Psycho,” the hallmark of suspenseful movies. And few American artists have been as inspirational as Edward Hopper.

Last summer, the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Fifth Avenue paid tribute to the movie and the artist with its rooftop installation.

Here’s another view, that’s more revealing of the structure of the “barn”:

I sat on a bench on the rooftop for the better part of an hour. The weather was perfect for a non-sun-worshipper like me: overcast, chilly. In all that time, as crowds came and went, I saw few people approach the structure closer than about 10 feet.  No one ran her hand along the railing, or closely examined the shingles, or checked the flaking paint, though the only written warning was not to climb the steps. It’s hard to tell in the photo, but at one point, when a little girl approached the steps, her (presumably) mother pulled her back in a protective gesture, covering the girl’s eyes.

And no one peered in the windows. I wonder why?

Trending: Zombies!

Never let it be said that The Real Me missed a trend. My guest today is bestselling, zombie-loving CHRISTINE VERSTRAETE. Here she is.

Why oh Why Zombies?

By Christine Verstraete

Thanks Camille for inviting me to your blog. I promise not to scare you or your readers too much. Heh-heh.

This is another stop on the release blog tour for Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter.

I can hear Camille asking, why zombies? (You can add a bunch more why’s to that, too!)

My answer: Why not?

Actually, I found myself glued to The Walking Dead TV series like a lot of other people, which one day led to a kind of epiphany: I started looking at the Lizzie Borden records and autopsy photos and realized what other reason could Lizzie Borden have for killing her father and stepmother? The photos give another more sinister reason if you look at it from a horror and supernatural viewpoint.

Of course, writing about a real-life murder can be tricky. The crime was horrific, but with the passage of time, it’s also become history. We’re distanced enough from the actual event that it has become a part of our culture. Who doesn’t remember that sick little rope-skipping rhyme, Lizzie Borden took an axe…?

And since no one really knows much about Lizzie as a person other than the modern-day film and fiction portrayals, it leaves her personality open to interpretation. Spoiled spinster? Greedy? Abused? Jealous and angry? Who really knows?

Obviously there were some problems in that family. There were rumors of Lizzie stealing. The doors in the house were all locked, even inside. Were they locked against someone on the outside—or someone on the inside?

In Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter, the enemies are both within and without. Lizzie has to put aside her own disgust, shock and utter disbelief at her own actions and what she’s encountered. But even as she goes on trial and faces the gallows, she is determined to see this horror through to the end. She has to protect her sister, and her hometown, from the terrors that have been unleashed, even if it means uncovering her own father’s secrets.

The Lizzie we read about at the inquest who’s unsure, confused and kind of lackadaisical (likely due to the drugs she was given) becomes a strong, confident woman determined to fight these monsters—and win.

In real life, Lizzie chose to remain in her hometown after the trial, which takes some strength of character in and of itself. How many of us could stay somewhere where every move we made was watched and talked about? Despite being snubbed, shunned and judged by society even after the trial, she is determined to live life on her terms. Or was she thumbing her nose at everyone? Again, who knows?

I have my own reasons as to why she stayed. Having talked to people overseas who had lived in the same home and the same town for generation after generation, it’s easy to see why Lizzie would have stayed. As she says in the book, “I was born here. I intend to die here.”

Lizzie supposedly had gone to Europe like other young women of her time. A theater fan, she traveled to see stage plays. But despite that, and finally having the money to do anything and live wherever she wanted, she chose to stay in Fall River, Massachusetts. Stubbornness? Again, maybe. But roots can grow deep and can be even harder to pull up.

Maybe with all that happened to her, both in real life, and in my fictional, zombie-infested world, Lizzie felt she deserved to live out her life and settle down in the only place she felt comfortable in. The one place she would always call home.

** What do you think? Why do you think she stayed? Please comment (and leave an email to enter the giveaway!)

About the Book:

Every family has its secrets…
One hot August morning in 1892, Lizzie Borden picked up an axe and murdered her father and stepmother. Newspapers claim she did it for the oldest of reasons: family conflicts, jealousy and greed. But what if her parents were already dead? What if Lizzie slaughtered them because they’d become zombies?
Thrust into a horrific world where the walking dead are part of a shocking conspiracy to infect not only Fall River, Massachusetts, but also the world beyond, Lizzie battles to protect her sister, Emma, and her hometown from nightmarish ghouls and the evil forces controlling them.

** Follow the blog tour and be sure to get your copy of Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter in print and Kindle Sept. 13!

Add it on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/31553183-lizzie-borden-zombie-hunter

** Go to Christine’s blog, http://girlzombieauthors.blogspot.com and enter the rafflecopter giveaway to possibly win 1 of 10 Kindle copies of Lizzie Borden, Zombie Hunter.
Email is required for entry. Contest ends 9/14.**

Think you know Lizzie Borden? Read on! The blog tour schedule is:

Mon. Sept 5 - GirlZombieAuthors – Introduction – A Little About Lizzie

Tues. Sept. 6 - Jaime Johnesee blog – 12 Questions for Lizzie Borden

Weds. Sept. 7 - Jean Rabe’s blog – Lizzie Borden… Dog Lover?

Thurs. Sept. 8AF Stewart blog interview

Fri. Sept.  9Haunt Jaunts blog – More Lizzie

Sat. Sept. 10Stephen D. Sullivan blog – Lizzie Films

Sun. Sept. 11GirlZombieAuthors recap; Camille Minichino blog – Why oh why zombies?

Mon. Sept. 12Horror Maiden’s Book Reviews

Tues. Sept. 13 - RELEASE DAY!

Zombies and Toys Review!

Join the FB Release Party – prizes, guest authors, zombie fun! (See info posted on my Facebook page and website.)

Weds. Sept. 14Chapter Break Book Blog – Lizzie as a Zombie Hunter

To give the book a boost: Share a review. And come back to the GirlZombieAuthors blog or the author website for info on another blog tour starting Sept. 26 with Bewitching Book Tours.

End note from The Real Me: If you’re not a believer by the end of Christine’s tour, you’re even more stubborn than I am.

Where am I?

Only a few weeks ago,  I was in Phoenix, Arizona. It’s no secret that I’m more of a street-tree person than a cactus person, but I have to say that the people of Phoenix were welcoming and friendly to the hundreds of mystery writers and readers who landed there for a conference. So, thanks to the organizers and attendees of CACTUS CAPER.

My panel topic was “The Making of a Cozy Murder: What defines a cozy?” moderated by the legendary blogger and mystery fan, DRU ANN LOVE (If that isn’t a great name for a fan . . .)

On a panel with Ritter Ames, Carolyn Greene, Donna Andrews, and Dru Ann Love

We discussed the tropes of cozies, such as the don’t-kill-a-pet rule (no such limitation on little old ladies) and, as Donna Andrews observed, the “Keep it clean” admonition.

One of the more interesting questions Dru Ann addressed to the authors: “Would you make a good amateur sleuth?”

I’d never thought about that before, but (slam to head) I realized my answer had to be NO!

My main shortcoming, besides my current inability to give chase, is that I have a notoriously bad sense of direction. Make that: no sense of direction. I am orientationally challenged. I’m not just referring to getting lost on the freeways, but getting lost in a restaurant.

For example, say I’ve been to the restroom, clearly marked by a large sign. Say I want to get back to my table, where my friends are chatting, expecting me to return. Uh-oh. An embarrassing moment, more so even than if I’d gone into the men’s room by mistake. Unless the restaurant is smaller than my own kitchen, I’m lost.

I try to orient myself by standing at the threshold into the dining area. I try to locate the sign-in desk. Where did we go from there? Can I see the table I left? Many times, I end up seeing my server (I am good at remembering faces, at least). I make an excuse for needing help to my table.

I’ve had this disability all my life, therefore there’s more of a chance now that I’ve remembered to drop bread crumbs on the way to my target—I try to notice that I’m taking a right at the large fake palm, so I should take a left to get back. ETC.

Bottom line: don’t be surprised if I abandon you on our next date. And never, never ask me for directions.

The best of . . .

Don’t you love all the year-end lists? Some of them?

I’m falling into the “BEST OF” trap and reprinting an answer to “Best book read in 2015.”

I heard a talk by Margaret Atwood a few years ago. During Q/A, someone in the audience asked her, If you could take just one book with you to a desert island  . . .

Atwood’s answer: I’d take the longest one, of course.

I could borrow her answer for this blog topic, but that would be cheating. Except that, in a way, my favorite was one of the longest ones, taken together: THE GLASGOW TRILOGY by Malcolm Mackay.

The books have everything I love in crime fiction: a hit man protagonist, writing that you want read over and over, and a story that grabs you and won’t let go until the end, when you sit back and say wow, or some other brilliant comment.

Calum MacLean, 29, is a lot like Dexter, except he’s a hit man instead of a serial killer. Each is engaging, lives by a code, and is smarter than everyone around him.

Here’s a sample that I gave my writing class. I could have chosen any two pages. The pages are full of emotional elements, subtext, and suspense. See if you don’t run out (or in) and grab these up.

CLICK TO VIEW LARGER AND READ

Holiday Mysteries

This summer I took advantage of an invitation to join 11 other mystery writers in an anthology of holiday stories and revisited retired physicist Gloria Lamerino and her crew. I was thrilled to be back in Revere—back in the ’90s in fact—picking up the Table at neon. The series has 8 novels, The Hydrogen Murder through The Oxygen Murder and now 2 short stories, The Fluorine Murder (2002) and THE NEON ORNAMENTS, released today, 10/15/15.

THE NEON MURDER is a historical and a prequel. Haven’t you always wanted to know how Gloria and her homicide detective husband, Matt Gennaro, got together in the first place? I have!

Here’s what happens: Physicist Gloria Lamerino meets her friend Rose in Boston for what she thinks is a girls’ getaway weekend. But Rose has other plans. She volunteers Gloria to help solve a murder. Of course, the chemistry between Gloria and the homicide detective help catch a killer?

Happy Homicides is a collection of thirteen cozy mystery holiday stories—nearly 800 pages of reading material—by a dozen different authors, all bundled into one ebook, featuring some of your favorite bestselling and award-winning mystery authors—Lois Winston, Joanna Campbell Slan, Neil Plakcy, Annie Adams, Jenna Bennett, Nancy Warren, Sara RosettNancy Jill Thames, Linda Gordon Hengerer, Joyce and Jim Lavene, and Teresa Trent.

We also have a holiday gift for you. We’ve put together a bonus file crammed with recipes, craft tips, projects, and more. You’ll find the link for the free bonus material inside Happy Homicides.

Featured stories include:

Elementary, My Dear Gertie (the sequel to the award-winning Talk Gertie to Me) by Lois Winston — Much to the dismay of her conservative parents, Nori Stedworth and her boyfriend Mackenzie Randolph are living together. Mom and Dad cope as best they can when Nori and Mac arrive in Ten Commandments, Iowa for the holidays. Mac is all for exchanging “I do’s,” but before he can pop the question, an explosion hurls him and Nori into the midst of a murder investigation. Can they uncover which of the town’s not-so-pious residents is the killer in time to catch their flight back to New York City?

Lost and Found Holiday Gifts: A Cara Mia Delgatto Novella by Joanna Campbell Slan — Santa isn’t the only one who delivers presents during the holidays. Cara Mia Delgatto sets out to do a few small favors and quickly learns how a thoughtful gift can change a life.

Dog Forbid by Neil Plakcy — A Thanksgiving trip with friends takes reformed hacker Steve Levitan and his crime-solving golden retriever, Rochester, to Pennsylvania Dutch Country. When Steve’s friend’s golden goes missing in an area notorious for local puppy mills, can Rochester nose out the missing puppy and save the holiday?

Flowers, Food and Felonies at the New Year’s Jubilee Cook-Off by Annie Adams – Busy florist Quincy McKay thought that judging the annual Jubilee food contest would be as easy as picking daisies. Will the event turn deadly when someone cooks up a scheme to slice and dice the competition?

Contingent on Approval: A Savannah Martin Christmas Novella by Jenna Bennett – On Christmas morning Savannah Martin finds herself looking at Rafe Collier, a pair of fuzzy handcuffs, an economy-sized box of condoms, and the rest of her life. But before her happily-ever-after can begin, she needs to get through a holiday dinner with her mother. Savannah has plenty to worry about, not the least of which is whether her new boyfriend will still want to stick around after the meal.

Teddy Saves Christmas by Nancy Jill Thames — When Jillian Bradley finds herself alone for the holidays, her dog Teddy latches onto a homeless woman with a dangerous secret. Jillian is forced to get involved. Can she find a way to save her new friend in time for a Merry Christmas?

Menace at the Christmas Market by Sara Rosett — With the holidays nearing, Kate has time off, a rare occurrence for a location scout. She plans to spend her time shopping for Christmas gifts, but when she goes to the local Regency-themed Christmas Market, a new acquaintance is poisoned and Kate gets drawn into the investigation.

A Diamond Choker for Christmas by Nancy Warren — In order to borrow an extremely expensive diamond and sapphire necklace to wear at Christmas party, Toni Diamond’s mother Linda offers her home as collateral. But the necklace is stolen right off her neck, and Toni has to solve the crime or her mother will be homeless for the holidays!

Dying for Holiday Tea: A Beach Tea Shop Novella by Linda Gordon Hengerer — Sisters Danielle, Chelsea, and Alexandra Powell rejoice when Alex finds their grandmother’s old recipe book–and plan to bake her gingerbread for their upcoming holiday tea. But someone else wants the recipes and is willing to kill for them. Can the Powell sisters cook up a way to catch a murderer?

The Dog Who Came for Christmas by Joyce and Jim Lavene — A woman running from her deadly past finds hope, a dog, and possibly a new love, at Christmas.

The Deadliest Christmas Pageant Ever by Teresa Trent — It’s Christmas time in Texas. Betsy Livingston and her boys are caught up in the Pecan Bayou Christmas Pageant to raise funds for needy children. Betsy gets tricked into replacing the absent director and quickly learns that show biz can be brutal—and this Christmas pageant is downright deadly.

The Rowan Tree Twig: A Kiki Lowenstein Novella by Joanna Campbell Slan — The holidays offer Kiki the perfect chance to keep a promise to her late friend, Dodie Goldfader. But this sweet thought hits a sour note when Dodie’s husband is wrongly accused of murder.

East is east

My guest blogger today is my good friend and writer, Jo Mele. Jo is the published author of The ABCs of Asperger’s Syndrome, Parent’s Magazine, Third Times A Charm, Reminisce Magazine, and Flowers, Fauna and Firearms, Lamorinda Press. She has recently completed her first cozy, ‘Mystery In Monaco’, and a memoir, ‘The Primo Grandmothers’. She is working on ‘Homicide in Havana’ based on her travels to Cuba. Hard to find a good crime spot with everyone watching everyone.

Here’s Jo at the NYPL with a friendly lion:

Patience and friend

EAST COAST – WEST COAST

Having lived on both the east and west coasts, I feel qualified to write about the similarities and differences of life, food, and murder on each coast. Caveat: being of a certain age I feel qualified to talk on any subject.

I came up with a few examples of location differences to think about when writing about murder. Second caveat: in my geography east coast means NYC. To me, considering West Palm Beach, Florida, or Portland, Maine, the east coast is laughable. When people think of the east coast they think of tall buildings, crowded sidewalks, subways, traffic, horns honking, sirens day and night. In other words cities have ear-splitting noises as background music.

City vs country locations

Killing someone in NYC and not being seen by a camera, drone, snoopy neighbor, cop, street person, dog walker, pervert, taxi driver, bag lady, or phone-carrying teenager is almost impossible today. The crime will be captured on someone’s camera. Your face, name, and mother’s maiden name will be on the web, before the body can drop to the sidewalk. If there’s enough room for the body to land on a sidewalk, in NYC.

My advice, take your victim to the west coast. In the geography book according to Jo, that means California. Portland, Oregon is not the first thing you think of when you think west coast any more than Portland, Maine screams east coast.

In California there are forests, desserts, mountains, cabins, abandoned mines, and any number of secluded spots to commit a crime. One can dispose of a body and not be seen by another camera- carrying human.

Method

Weather is a factor in planning a crime. Last year would’ve been a great time for a winter murder in the East. The corpse would still be covered in a pile of melting snow in June and the killer long gone. It’s harder to kill someone on a sunny California day, everyone’s outside chasing Frisbees or texting.

Food: Killing someone with food requires a return to the east coast. You will never die drinking bottled water and eating kale, salad, fruit, seeds, yogurt and gluten-free crackers.

NYC is perfect for death by food. Every corner has an ice cream wagon or food truck. NYC has the best cheesecake, corned beef, hot dogs, knishes, greasy egg rolls, Italian pastry, cupcakes, candy, and pizza to die for. The victim could die of natural causes and the killer would be in the clear and sunbathing in Palm Beach.

If you don’t have time to wait for natural causes, go west. Feed the vic the kale, etc. He will either die of starvation, or happily commit suicide after a week.

Means are still a factor. It’s a fact, the wealthy and connected get away with more crime than the poor. Don’t believe me? Look who’s in prison. Only the rich can hire the right sleazy attorney or hit-man, cover their tracks, and still have enough money to rent a house on a secluded island. The poor always get caught because they have nowhere else to go. They head back home where their ‘friends’ turn them in for a reward, or fifteen seconds of TV fame. The rich don’t worry about this, they have no friends.

Motive is outdated just look at the uptick in stranger murders, drive-by and gun violence in general. All a killer seems to need today is a target. Drive-by shootings are a west coast crime. If you try setting this method in NYC your killer won’t make it of the block. He will be tied up in traffic. The cops will walk up to his car and catch him with the smoking gun still in hand.

Why Write About Crime?

Even some of my miniatures end up as crime scenes.

Most of my friends in the mystery writers community have been asked at least once:  Why do you write about murder? Why not romance? Or biography? Or comics?

A few answers to a question in the words of others:

1) The old familiar:

Because All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

— Leo Tolstoy

2) A strange comment from Agatha Christie:

A mother’s love for her child is like nothing else in the world. It knows no awe, no pity, it dares all things and crushes down remorselessly all that stands in its path.

Well, not my mother, but are we to believe that all of Christie’s work represents mothers’ fighting for their children? Hmm, does this mean that even happy families might involve crime?

3) A new one, paraphrasing Michael Connelly in his NYT review of THE WHITES by Richard Price, 2/15/15:

the crime novel [is] something more than a puzzle and an entertainment; [it is] societal reflection, documentation, and investigation

That’s as good a reason as any why I write and read crime fiction.

The Bystander Effect

A popular quote reads, If you can’t say something good about someone, sit right here by me, attributed to Alice Roosevelt Longworth, daughter of Teddy Roosevelt, and supposedly found embroidered on a pillow in her home.

I like the sentiment (Dorothy Parkerlike), but one thing I resist is dissing another author’s work. I like to wait until I have only good things to say about a book before writing a review or comments.

Edgar® Nominee for Best Fact Crime

Kevin Cook’s KITTY GENOVESE: The Murder, The Bystanders, The Crime That Changed America (2014) is that book.

I suppose one reason I appreciated it so much is that I was living in New York at that time (1964), and remember the crime and its aftermath very well. Before reading Cook’s book, if I’d been asked what the incident was about, I might have said: a young woman was stabbed to death on the sidewalk in front of her building in broad daylight while everyone looked on.

That particular crime defined New York City for a long time and the effect rippled around the world, being reported by countries far and wide. “The 38″ came to define the number of people who looked on; the outcry launched the “Bystander Effect.” It took Mayor Ed Koch to bring the city back to a favorable Big Apple image. The bigger the city, the bigger the recovery, apparently. I can attest to that from my many trips there, the latest ending just this week as I attended ThrillerFest. More on that later!

Cook’s research, which included interviews with Kitty’s partner, Mary Ann Zielonko, put the crime in a whole new light for me, shattering all the media spin I’d adopted as fact. I couldn’t put the book down

I learned that almost everything about the picture I’d formed was false, a set-up engineered by the press and the police administration of the time. The crime occurred not in broad daylight, but around three in the morning; most of it took place outside the view of all but two people, each of whom saw only a part of it, and one of whom reported it.

And so on . . .  leaving you the chance to read it for yourselves.

In no way does the book lessen the horror of Kitty’s murder or the impact on Kitty’s family, especially on Mary Ann. The book is a social commentary, an excellent example of how we’re influenced by how others want us to view what’s happening around us, often in a way that’s far from the truth.