Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Crime & Beyond Book Club Reads Jesse and Jonathan Kellerman's Crime Scene

The Denver-based book club Crime & Beyond recently discussed a new book by father and son team Jesse and Jonathan Kellerman, and Kerry Hammond is here to tell us what they thought.

Crime & Beyond met this month to discuss the first book in a new series written by Jesse Kellerman and Jonathan Kellerman, a father & son writing team. Jonathan Kellerman has written the widely successful Alex Delaware mystery series, which contains 33 books to date. Jesse has written five solo novels and the two have teamed up twice before: writing The Golem of Hollywood and The Golem of Paris, a series billed as genre crossing psychological thrillers.

Crime Scene is the first book in a new series featuring former athlete turned San Francisco Deputy Coroner, Clay Edison. The book was a New York Times bestseller in its first week on the stands and it made its way to our club’s short list soon after. In the book we meet Clay and his merry band of co-workers at the coroner’s office. He is sent to the crime scene where a retired professor, Rennert, has fallen to his death. It is presumably an open and shut case; a death that no one had a hand in causing. The problem is, he meets the dead man’s daughter and she claims he was murdered.

Clay takes it upon himself to look further into the death, uncovering two more in the process; one a brutal killing of a college student and another of a colleague of Rennert’s who was involved in a college study gone wrong. Clay is unable to let the case go and spends his time digging deeper into the other two deaths to try and answer questions about his current case.

Our reviews of the book were all across the board. Some loved Clay and some didn’t. Some found his investigation plausible and others unbelievable. Many of us loved the cameo made by the Alex Delaware character and others felt it was contrived. The bottom line is that we delved into the many aspects of the story and it led to a great discussion. Many of us will continue with the series to see how the authors develop this new character and what new cases he will investigate.

Friday, May 18, 2018

“Inquiry and Assistance” and the Bronx Cocktail

We're headed to the Bronx for cocktails and a fabulous short story by Terrie Farley Moran, the author of the Read 'Em and Eat cozy series, including the Agatha Award winner Well Read, Then Dead, Caught Read-Handed and Read to Death. 

Terrie’s short mystery fiction has been published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, along with numerous anthologies and has been nominated for both the Derringer and the Agatha. 

She also co-writes Laura Childs’ Scrapbooking Mystery series including Parchment and Old Lace, Crepe Factor and the soon-to-be-released, Glitter Bomb. She is on Facebook

So it is 1934, the height of the Depression and a scant few months after the end of Prohibition. Tommy Flood is at loose ends, trying to find work and hanging out in Hanratty’s on days he can’t.

But here in New York City, where rich and poor live within blocks of each other, Tommy wanders into a wealthier part of town and stumbles into a job opportunity. You can read all about Tommy Flood’s adventure in the Derringer Award-winning story “Inquiry and Assistance” published by Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. It is available as a free read on the short story page of my website

As we follow Tommy into Manhattan’s hot spots, you might wonder what everyone is drinking. Folklore has it that the most popular cocktails of 1934 were the Martini, the Manhattan, and the Bronx. 

Hey, wait! Did I say the Bronx? My home borough? And the borough where Tommy worked as a bookkeeper in a furniture store before the hard times came along? That borough has its own drink? Where did it come from? Maybe the bartender at the Waldorf invented it, or maybe it was created in Philadelphia by a guy from the Bronx? No one really knows.
While the origin of the drink is questionable, the name is not.
- Here is how to make a Bronx Cocktail:
- 2 oz gin
- 1 oz vermouth (dry, sweet or ½ oz of each)
- 1 oz orange juice

Pour ingredients into shaker and shake gently over ice. Strain into a chilled glass, garnish with an orange slice. 


Friday, May 11, 2018

Bunker Hill Blues – And the Howard Hamm Sazerac

Paul D. Marks is the author of the Shamus Award-Winning mystery-thriller White Heat. Publishers Weekly calls White Heat a “taut crime yarn.” His story Ghosts of Bunker Hill (EQMM Dec. 2016) was voted #1 in the 2016 Ellery Queen Readers Poll. Howling at the Moon (EQMM Nov. 2014) was short-listed for both the 2015 Anthony and Macavity Awards. Midwest Review calls his novella Vortex “…a nonstop staccato action noir,” (Drinks with Reads: February, 2016: http://www.mysteryplayground.net/2016/02/vortex-and-green-absinthe-fairy.html ). Marks’ story Windward, from the Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea anthology, has been selected for the 2018 Best American Mystery Stories (fall 2018), edited by Louise Penny & Otto Penzler.

White Heat is being reissued by Down & Out Book on May 21, 2018 and is available for pre-order now on Amazon and D&O’s website. Its sequel, Broken Windows, will be released in fall, 2018.

Howard Hamm didn’t believe in ghosts. At least that’s what he’d been telling himself ever since he watched Poltergeist as a kid. On the other hand, if there are no such thing as ghosts or vampires or werewolves, his kid self would ask, why do we have words for them? He was still asking.

That’s how my story Bunker Hill Blues (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Sept./Oct. 2017) opens. It’s the second story to appear in the Howard Hamm series. The first was Ghosts of Bunker Hill (Ellery Queen Dec. 2016). 

Bunker Hill was L.A.’s first wealthy residential neighborhood, right near downtown. It was filled with glorious Victorian mansions, as well as offices, storefronts, hotels, etc. After World War I the swells moved west and the neighborhood got run down and became housing for poor people. It wasn’t shiny enough for the Powers That Be, who wanted to build up and refurbish downtown. Out with the old, the poor, the lonely, in with the new, the young, the hip. The wealthy.

So, in the late 1950s and ’60s, the Powers decided to get rid of the “blight” and modernize downtown. To that end, they began a massive redevelopment of the area, including leveling or flattening some of the hills, changing street configurations, removing and demolishing houses and other buildings. So by the late 1960s/early ’70s it was all torn down and redeveloped and progress was achieved. 

By the time Raymond Chandler, who had lived there a couple of different times in his life, was writing about it he was already calling it “shabby town”. In The High Window (1942), he said:

Bunker Hill is old town, lost town, shabby town, crook town. Once, very long ago, it was the choice residential district of the city, and there are still standing a few of the jigsaw Gothic mansions with wide porches and walls covered with round-end shingles and full corner bay windows with spindle turrets. They are all rooming houses now, their parquetry floors are scratched and worn through the once glossy finish and the wide sweeping staircases are dark with time and with cheap varnish laid on over generations of dirt. In the tall rooms haggard landladies bicker with shifty tenants. On the wide cool front porches, reaching their cracked shoes into the sun, and staring at nothing, sit the old men with faces like lost battles.
 Raymond Chandler, The High Window

Several of the grand Victorian mansions were moved to Carroll Avenue in the Angelino Heights neighborhood of L.A. near Echo Park (and Echo Park Lake), not all that far from downtown. 

Through a series of circumstances in Ghosts of Bunker Hill, P.I. Howard Hamm finds himself living in one of these houses, while still maintaining his high-tech, high-rise apartment on the “new” Bunker Hill…maybe even in the exact spot his current house once lived. In that story, Howard “inherits” one of these old Victorians when his friend, the house’s owner, is murdered on the front porch and it falls into his hands.  He hadn’t planned on living there. 

In Bunker Hill Blues, a woman shows up on Howard’s doorstep – she had lived in his house as a child, when the house was still on Bunker Hill. She asks if she can tour her old home. Her visit leads to the uncovering of long-buried family secrets and murder. And it solves the mystery of the two sets of initials carved on the floor in the corner of Howard’s home office, her former playroom. These events call for a drink:

An aura of emptiness filled the house after Bowen left. Howard poured single malt into a lead crystal snifter. Sat in the Victorian parlor chair in the study, sipped slowly. The liquid burned his throat, but soon the liquor crawled its way through his body, warming him from the inside out. He could still smell Bowen’s perfume wafting through the house. Did cops wear perfume on the job?
He finished the glass, poured another. Leaned his head back against the chair. The room seemed to spin.
―Paul D. Marks, Bunker Hill Blues

John Fante, one of my favorite writers, best known for Ask the Dust, also lived in and wrote about Bunker Hill:

The old folk from Indiana and Iowa and Illinois, from Boston and Kansas City and Des Moines, they sold their homes and their stores, and they came here by train and by automobile to the land of sunshine, to die in the sun, with just enough money to live until the sun killed them, tore themselves out by the roots in their last days, deserted the smug prosperity of Kansas City and Chicago and Peoria to find a place in the sun. And when they got here they found that other and greater thieves had already taken possession, that even the sun belonged to the others; Smith and Jones and Parker, druggist, banker, baker, dust of Chicago and Cincinnati and Cleveland on their shoes, doomed to die in the sun, a few dollars in the bank, enough to subscribe to the Los Angeles Times, enough to keep alive the illusion that this was paradise, that their little papier-mâché homes were castles.―John Fante, Ask the Dust

In the context of my Bunker Hill/Howard Hamm stories the word ghosts has multiple meanings: ghosts of the past, ghosts of who we were and what we might be and in the case of Bunker Hill Blues the ghosts of the children that once lived in Howard’s house a long time ago. 

Howard might not have believed in ghosts, but they were everywhere if you knew where to look for them: There are more things in heaven and earth, and all that jazz. Not creatures in white sheets like Casper, not malevolent apparitions like in Poltergeist. But ghosts of the past, ghosts of who we were and who we thought we wanted to be. Ghosts of our lost dreams. In some ways those ghosts are always gaining on us, aren’t they?Bunker Hill Blues

I like writing the Howard Hamm stories for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is my love for L.A. and its history. I feel very lucky that I could explore Bunker Hill with a friend before it was totally razed. We did our own little archaeological expedition of several of the houses and I even "borrowed" the top of a newel post from the long and winding interior stairway in one of those houses. A true relic of L.A.’s past, it’s a prized possession.

And Bunker Hill is where the famous Angels Flight funicular railway is. As a kid, I got to ride the original Angels Flight, before it was moved down the road, which was a thrill then and still is in memory. 

I stood at the bottom of the hill, staring up at Angels Flight, the famous little funicular railway in the Bunker Hill section of Los Angeles, that brought people from Hill Street up to Olive. I desperately wanted to ride those rails up to the top. But now the two twin orange and black cars were permanently moored in the middle, suspended in mid-air, ghosts from another time.―Paul D. Marks, Ghosts of Bunker Hill

Howard tends to drink single malt Scotch. But I thought I’d jazz it up a little so he can drink his own version of a Sazerac, thus the:

Howard Hamm Sazerac

The Howard Hamm Sazerac is a variation on the standard Sazerac, which is made with cognac or rye whiskey. Since Howard likes single malt Scotch, the HH is made with that instead of either of the other two.

Old-Fashioned Glass
Mixing glass

  • 1 sugar cube
  • Water
  • 1 1/2 ounces single malt Scotch (such as Glenlivet or Lagavulin)
  • 2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
  • Ice
  • 1 teaspoon or barspoon of absinthe
  • Lemon peel or slices

Chill the Old-Fashioned glass by rinsing it in water and placing it in the freezer for 10 to 15 minutes.
Place a sugar cube in the mixing glass and add enough water to moisten. Mash sugar cube with the barspoon until dissolved.
Add Scotch, bitters and ice to the mixing glass and stir. Set aside.
Remove Old-Fashioned glass from the freezer and add one teaspoon of absinthe. Roll the absinthe around and bathe the inside of the glass. Pour out the excess absinthe.
Strain the contents of the mixing glass into the Old-Fashioned glass
Rub the rim of the glass with the lemon peel and garnish with a slice of lemon.

Sit in your favorite Victorian parlor chair, sip and enjoy!

Both stories, Bunker Hill Blues and Ghosts of Bunker Hill can be found for free on my website: http://pauldmarks.com/stories/ 

Look for Howard Hamm to return in Fade Out on Bunker Hill (unless the title changes) in a future issue of Ellery Queen. If you like the movie Sunset Boulevard I think you’ll enjoy Howard in this tale.

And thanks for stopping by. Now go out and make your own Howard Hamm Sazerac.

Connect with Paul at:

Subscribe to my Newsletter: http://eepurl.com/bkhUbD 

Friday, May 4, 2018

Summer Sangria and Taking Care

Sangria and past loves are the themes for today's Drinks with Reads pairing. My story, "Taking Care," appears in the May/June issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. Which brings me to how I got the idea for the story.

Have you ever agreed to meet people you haven’t seen in years? 

One afternoon I got a Linked In message from a guy I worked with ten years ago and he says he’s getting our old gang together for happy hour. Work is slow, and it’s a Friday afternoon, so I leave the office early and head for this outdoor bar that I haven't been to for years. 

I arrive late, and the group has crammed too many chairs around too few tables and everyone is trying valiantly to make their current job sound better than it really is when suddenly, one guy I don’t remember very well announces that he’s rekindled the fires of his first love – his high school sweetheart – and he’s commuting to Michigan on the weekends to see her. Michigan is not an easy commute from California, but he seems so happy. And he has lost a lot of weight since I last saw him. 

He claims it’s the best relationship he’s had since his second divorce. It’s been ten years, so none of us knew about the first divorce and everyone liked the first wife, so there are some whispers at this point in the discussion, but before too long another former colleague admits that she's divorced and is now she’s seeing her high school sweetheart long distance. He lives in Tennessee. 

Before you know it, half the forty-somethings at the table are convinced that their exes are the best dating pool ever. They already know about your foibles/bad habits/prison record and they knew you when you looked really, really good. 

So instead of tracking my old boyfriends down, I decided to write a short story about this phenomenon and send it to Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. And now you can read it in this month’s issue.  It was an absolute hoot to write and I hope you enjoy it.

And now for the drink.

My protagonist is a caterer, and she makes this Summer Sangria for her customers. The recipe comes from our friend Matt at the bar at the North Bethesda Marriot, the new home of the Malice Domestic Mystery Convention. 

Thank you, Matt!

Summer Sangria

  • 2.5 ounces or Quantro
  • 5 ounces of Korbel Brandy
  • A Splash of 
    • Peach Schnapps
    • Pama Liqueur (Pomegranate liquor) 
    • Absolute Mandarin
    • Or whatever you fancy
  • One bottle of Merlot
  • Apples and Pears, chopped into small cubes
  • 2 ounces of Apple Cider

Pour liquid ingredients into a pitcher and mix thoroughly. Pour over ice, and add fruit. 

May is Short Story month so all during May we will feature excellent short stories on Drinks with Reads. 

Deborah Lacy is the founder and editor in chief of Mystery Playground. Her short stories have appeared in anthologies and magazines. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Crime & Beyond Book Club Reads The Late Show by Michael Connelly

Kerry Hammond is here with the latest report from the Denver-based Crime & Beyond book club. They read the first in a new series by one of their favorite authors, Michael Connelly.

This month we returned to a known author and read The Late Show by Michael Connelly.

Connelly has been entertaining us for years with Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller, but he now has a third series, featuring a female police officer who works the night shift in Hollywood—dubbed the "Late Show.” She was once a day shift detective with a great career ahead of her, until she filed a sexual harassment claim against her powerful supervisor and received no back up from her partner, who saw the whole thing.

She has been sent to the Late Show where cops are meant to start investigations for crimes that happen on their shift, and then turn the work over to the day shift to complete. Ballard gets caught up in two cases that she just can’t let go, and continues to investigate against advice from her own partner. One case in particular will take her to her breaking point and allow the reader a glimpse of just what she’s made of.

Renee Ballard is extremely driven. She grew up in Hawaii and hasn’t given up her love of the water, frequently paddle boarding to relieve her stress. She’s a bit of a nomad and sleeps in a tent on the beach more often than not. Some of the club members likened her to Jack Reacher with a day job and a few extra changes of clothes.

Almost everyone gave this book high scores. One of the criticisms was that Ballard is still a mystery to us, even after book one. We suspect that Connelly will dole out her backstory in pieces as he writes the series, revealing more and more about what makes her tick. We will definitely be reading book 2.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Her Beheading by Anne Graue

April is Poetry Month, so every Sunday this month we will be featuring a poem about crime from Gerald So's 5-2 blog. This week's poem is called Her Beheading and it was written by Anne Graue.


sordid garments laced
with brazen-faced

her convicted eye
her heart
her little neck

she shed her self
the germ of her
on peaceful knees

her folded hands
on white ermine
the red skirt

her throated falcon
ladies waiting
a crucifix for her waist

her gaze
a disturbance then
the gleaming descent

Friday, April 27, 2018

Kerry Hammond: Malice Domestic Mystery Most Geographical and the Chai Manhattan

Kerry Hammond's first short story has been published in the Malice Domestic Anthology: Mystery Most Geographical. Today's she tells us about her story.

Four men from four different countries are snowed in at a mid-mountain ski lodge in Megève, France. When they start talking, a question is posed: have you ever known a murderer? One man starts to tell a story as the fire crackles. He changes the names, not to protect the innocent, or so he says.....but to protect the guilty.

I first came across Megève while watching one of my favorite Audrey Hepburn movies, Charade. Megève is the ski resort where Hepburn meets Cary Grant and tells him, "I already know an awful lot of people, so until one of them dies I couldn't possibly meet anyone else." I thought the resort would be the perfect place to snow in some characters and see what happened.

To Protect the Guilty goes perfectly with a Chai Manhattan. It's strong enough to keep you warm as you envision yourself snowed in with the characters.  

Chai Manhattan Ingredients:
2 oz Bourbon
.5 oz Chai Liqueur
1  Amarena Cherry

Shake bourbon and chai liqueur in a shaker with ice. Pour into your favorite glass and drop in the cherry.