Friday, July 3, 2020

Nacho Average Murder and The Quarantine Margarita

The fabulous Edith Maxwell joins us today writing as Maddie Day for a fabulous quarantine cocktail to celebrate her latest Country Store Mystery, Nacho Average Murder. And one lucky reader (US residents only) can win a copy of the book. to enter just comment below naming your favorite warm weather drink. Now let's hear about Nacho Average Murder.

Robbie Jordan, who normally lives, works, and cooks in southern Indiana, loved being back in her hometown of Santa Barbara for her high school reunion. And I loved putting her there. She indulged in eating avocado huevos rancheros, quesadillas, artichokes, and of course nachos. What better drink to accompany that kind of food than a margarita?
I know the best margarita recipes include fresh-squeezed lime juice and Cointreau or Grand Mariner with the tequila. Uh-oh. I didn’t have either enough fresh limes or an orange liqueur. But you know what? During a time of quarantine, we make do. 

When I make the drink, I like to use a dollop of frozen limeade. It’s quick, easy, cold, and already sweet – and I had some in the freezer. I also had tequila in the liquor cabinet. In lieu of an orange liqueur, I thought I’d see how the Cardamaro my son brought me from Italy would work in the drink. You might know Amaro, but here’s the description of Cardamaro: “A wine-based aperitif, infused with cardoon and blessed thistle (two artichoke relatives), then aged in oak. The result has the richness and weight of sweet vermouth, and only a gentle herbal bitterness.”

Artichoke? Works for me, and it worked for the drink. 

Quarantine Margarita
For one drink, mix in a tumbler or shaker:
2 ounces (1/4 cup) frozen limeade (yes, scoop it right from the can)
2 ounces tequila of your choice
1 tablespoon Cardamaro (or any orange liqueur)
2 ice cubes
Sprinkle kosher salt on a plate. Wet the rim of a pretty Mexican glass and press it upside down onto the salt. Decant the drink contents, straining out the ice, from the tumbler or shaker into the salted glass. Stick a slice of lime on the rim and enjoy a mystery set in Santa Barbara!

Readers: What’s your favorite warm-weather drink? I’d love to send one of you (US only) a singed copy of the book!

Agatha Award-winning author Edith Maxwell writes the Quaker Midwife Mysteries and multi-published short crime fiction. As Maddie Day she pens the Country Store Mysteries and the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries. With twenty-one books in print and more in production, Maxwell/Day lives north of Boston, where she writes, gardens, and cooks. Find her at Maddie Day Author and as @MaddieDayAuthor on social media.
In Nacho Average Murder, Robbie Jordan temporarily leaves Pans ’N Pancakes, her country store in South Lick, Indiana, to visit Santa Barbara—where wildfire smoke tinges the air, but a more immediate danger may lie in wait.

While looking forward to her high school reunion back in California, Robbie Jordan’s anticipation is complicated by memories of her mother’s untimely death. At first, she has fun hanging out with her old classmates and reuniting with the local flavors—avocados, citrus, fish, and spicy Cali-Mex dishes. But when she gets wind of rumors that her mother, an environmental activist, may not have died of natural causes, Robbie enlists old friends to clear the smoke surrounding the mystery. But what she finds could make it hard to get back to Indiana alive . . .

Friday, May 8, 2020

The Boy Detective & The Summer of ’74 and Other Tales of Suspense and the Violet Hour

The new collection The Boy Detective & The Summer of ’74 and Other Tales of Suspense (Crippen & Landru) gathers sixteen stories by Art Taylor—among them stories which have won a dozen of the mystery genre’s leading awards, including the Edgar, the Anthony, and multiple Agatha, Derringer, and Macavity Awards. Recently, another of Art’s stories—“Better Days” from Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine—was named a finalist for this year’s Agatha Award for Best Short Story (read all the nominated stories at that link). Last year, Art wrote a Drinks with Reads post for “Better Days”, and today he offers another cocktail to accompany his new collection.  

The sixteen stories in The Boy Detective & The Summer of ’74 and Other Tales of Suspense cover more than twenty-five years of my writing career. Needless to say, re-reading those stories myself offered opportunities for reflection about that quarter-century of work—where I started as a writer, where I’ve evolved, and where (hopefully) I’ve improved. Some of the individual stories seemed reflective themselves: characters thinking about their lives, pondering existential issues, debating hard choices. The title story especially is steeped in nostalgia, swirled with a bit of melancholy, and topped with a dollop of regret.

The cocktail I’ve chosen to accompany The Boy Detective is called the Violet Hour. I know of at least two mentions of that phrase in books on my shelf. In The Hour: A Cocktail Manifesto, Bernard DeVoto writes about the martini being suited to “the violet hour, the hour of hush and wonder, when the affections glow and valor is reborn, when the shadows deepen along the edge of the forest and we believe that, if we watch carefully, at any moment we may see the unicorn.” And in Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale, James Bond christens his famous version of the martini as The Vesper: “It sounds perfect and it’s very appropriate to the violet hour when my cocktail will now be drunk all over the world.”

While each of those references refer to gin drinks and speak specifically to early evening—day easing toward night—the Violet Hour recipe below is bourbon-based and a drink I would more strongly recommend as a nightcap alongside some late-night reflections of your own: your senses settling, your mind wandering, memories tiptoeing around the edges of your thoughts. 

My friend Brandon Wicks introduced me to this drink. I’m not certain of its origins, and Googling “Violet Hour cocktail” will turn up several other cocktails with markedly different ingredients. But this specific recipe has become a regular at our house, and I’m glad to share it here. 

The Violet Hour

2 oz. bourbon
.75 oz. sweet vermouth
.25 oz. dry vermouth
.10 oz. blackstrap rum (a little over half a teaspoon)
2 dashes old-fashioned bitters

Build in a single old-fashioned glass with no ice. Stir.
Serve at room temperature. No garnish.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Here Come the Body and The NY Sour

Today we celebrate the first book in the Catering Hall Mystery series, Here Comes the Body. Written by long-time Mystery Playground fan favorite, Ellen Byron as Maria DiRico, Here Comes the Body, delivers a catering packed punch and a great drink below.

In Here Comes the Body, the first Catering Hall Mystery from Maria DiRico, Mia Carina moves back home to Queens after being cleared as a person of interest in her husband’s presumed death. She’s there to help her father Ravello, a capo with the Boldoni crime family, turn a rundown banquet hall that was surrendered to him by a broke gambler into a successful, legitimate enterprise. Mia has always wanted her father to go straight and she’s determined to help succeed. But who knew working for a catering hall could be as dangerous as working for the Mob?

Many is the night Mia comes home in need of a drink. Being a Big Apple native, even if she’s an outer borough girl, she turns to local recipes, like this one…

2 oz. rye or bourbon whiskey
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
1 oz. simple syrup
½ oz. fruity red wine

Combine the rye or bourbon whiskey, lemon juice, and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker. Fill with ice, cover, and shake until outside of shaker is frosty, about 30 seconds. Strain into a rocks glass that’s filled with fresh ice. Slowly and carefully poor the wine over the back of a spoon held just above the drink's surface so wine floats on top.
Recipe by Mary-Frances Heck, Bon Appetit

BIO: Ellen’s Cajun Country Mysteries have won an Agatha award and multiple Lefty awards for Best Humorous Mystery. Her new series, the Catering Hall Mysteries, written as Maria DiRico, was inspired by her real life. She’s an award-winning playwright and non-award-winning TV writer of comedies like WINGS, JUST SHOOT ME, and FAIRLY ODD PARENTS. But her most impressive credit is working as a cater-waiter for Martha Stewart. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Review: Paul Levine's Cheater's Game

Mary Putnam takes a break from her usual crafty creations and literary libations to review Paul Levine's Cheater's Game today. Let's hear what she has to day...

Paul Levine's CHEATER'S GAME, book 14 in his series of Jake Lassiter legal thrillers (to be released on April 20, 2020), struck a chord with me on many happy levels even though I'd not previously read any of Paul's books. Before I delve into the details, a few disclaimers:

Disclaimer #1: Although I'd not met his characters before, I have had the pleasure of meeting Paul a few times at various mystery conferences and events. Also, I received a copy of this book for free. I've done my best to write a fair and unbiased review.

Disclaimer #2: It's April 14 of 2020 and I've not left my house since a month ago--Friday the 13th!--due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Of course the world is not the same since I read this book, while on a cruise ship the first week in March. So the lens through which I'm seeing everything at the moment is a bit skewed.

I hope we'll all persevere and find humor in a variety of non-ideal situations, like the novel's hero, Jake Lassiter, does often. For example, as Jake grapples with his own medical challenges he observes: "I'm sure doctors invented hospital gowns to embarrass patients so completely that they'll be more amenable to following orders." (I'm also noticing you can't say "embarrass" without saying "bare-ass" -- coincidence? -- I think not.)

As the story unfolds, the author deftly illuminates various themes and topics "ripped from the headlines" (e.g. the college admissions scandal and football head injuries) as well as timeless questions like: "How can I convince my kid of anything while he thinks he knows more than me?"

Jake's character is well-drawn and well-balanced; not too perfect so as to become a caricature (as happens in some thrillers!) yet not so flawed we don't believe he has a chance of succeeding in his mission to save his nephew, Kip, from himself. I'm a sucker for an underdog, and also for a guy who's secure enough to NOT be intimidated by a strong and/or smart woman, so I enjoyed the relationship between Jake and his super-smart fiancee, Dr. Melissa Gold. They make a great team, struggling to help the still-very-much-a-kid Kip, who's smart on many counts--except seeing that he needs help.

I agree with Michael Connelly who called CHEATER'S GAME: "Clever, funny and on point when it comes to the inequities of society and the justice system." My favorite books enlighten while they entertain. This does both while talking the reader on a fun ride with surprising plot twists, a tour of sunny Florida and parts of California, and even some tasty food. Yum!

Friday, April 24, 2020

The Lost Boys of London and #Cocktails

We welcome Mary Lawrence to Mystery Playground to introduce her new novel, The Lost Boys of London. This is the 5th book in the Bianca Goddard Mysteries. 

Today I’m celebrating the upcoming release (April 28) of The Lost Boys of London—a Bianca Goddard Mystery. The series features the daughter of an infamous alchemist who uses her wits and a bit of alchemy to solve murders in the slums of London during King Henry VIII’s reign.
In the Lost Boys of London, Bianca's husband is fighting the Scottish rebellion while Bianca remains in London creating medicines for the sick. When a boy is found hanging from a church dripstone Bianca is consulted about a sole piece of evidence--a sweet-smelling cloth. Bianca suspects the murder may not be an act of impulse, but something far more calculated. And when her young acquaintance, Fisk, goes missing, Bianca fears he may become the next lost boy...
I chose the Smirking Priest Gimlet to go with my latest book. The name came up on a cocktail drink name generator but I couldn’t find a recipe so I conjured my own. I took a basic gimlet and added a touch of red—appropriate for a murder mystery. Enjoy this while you read about some dastardly priests working at cross purposes in The Lost Boys of London
The priest at St. Benet’s, Father Wells, began each day with a meal of poached quail eggs. While he waited to be served, he studied the silvery gray light outside his window, which overlooked a long stretch of enclosed garden—alas, still dormant and showing no signs of waking. The overcast sky promised another dreary day, and he felt his mood adversely affected. It made him think—why was it that one associated sunshine with a sanguine disposition? He tapped his spoon on the table as he considered this, then the spoon stopped midair. Likely, it was because sunshine was so uncommon. It was like a gift from God every time colors were lit to their full intensity. He nodded, content with his explanation.
   Finally, his meal arrived. The platter was lowered in front of him and his wine refreshed. His cook had arranged the twelve eggs—one for each disciple—around the periphery of the plate; an artful attempt to symbolize the seating at the Last Supper. In the center was a slice of bread, toasted lightly on one side—Jesus. 
He scooped up an egg and deposited it on one corner of the toast, then raised it level with his mouth. “Peter,” he said, naming the first apostle, and he bit off the corner. With each successive egg he named a disciple and ate “him” along with “Jesus,” saving “Judas Iscariot” for last, taking the time to bite “Judas” in half and watch his little yolk bleed. 


  • 2 ounces fine Gin
  • 1 ounce Rose’s Sweetened Lime Juice
  • 1 teaspoon Pomegranate Juice

In a shaker with ice combine the gin and lime juice. Shake for a minute. Strain into a chilled glass. Drizzle in a teaspoon of pomegranate juice which will sink to the bottom to look like a spot of blood. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Poetry Month: Florida Man

April is Poetry Month so every Saturday we are featuring one of the poems from Gerald So's crime poetry site, the 5-2. The poem "Florida Man" by Peter M. Gordon just struck me, so I had to share it. The author of "Florida Man", Peter M. Gordon, has published over 100 poems in publications such as Slipstream, the Journal of Florida Literature, Poetry Breakfast, and others. He is the author of two collections: Two Car Garage and Let's Play Two: Poems about Baseball. Peter earned a BA from Yale and MFA from Carnegie-Mellon, and teaches in Full Sail University's Film Production MFA program. 

- Deborah Lacy

FLORIDA MAN by Peter M. Gordon

When breathing air feels like drinking swamp water
and sweat falls unevaporated to sizzle on sidewalks

Florida Man emerges, to start a fight in a pizza joint
when wrong cheese is applied to his garlic knots.

Florida Man provides pot and ecstasy to reward his
children for good grades. Florida Man writes his cell

phone number and address on the stickup note to
make it easy for the teller to send more money after

the robbery. Only Florida Man snorts bath salts and meth,
walks next door to bludgeon his neighbors and eat their flesh

raw, in their driveway, where everyone can see him.
Perhaps it’s this thumb-shaped peninsula’s fault, the

right-angled thrust into the Atlantic that causes lightning
to clash over its center, illuminating all our dark places,

that makes us all a little bit Florida Man, waiting for the
weight of sin to sink our sandbar into primordial swamp.

Here Peter is reading his poem. 

Friday, April 10, 2020

Ed Ruggero and Blame the Dead

Ed Ruggero joins us today on Drinks with Reads to celebrate his new thriller, Blame the Dead with a drink called the Sicilian '43. 

Blame the Dead is a thriller set against the chaotic background of the World War Two Allied invasion of Sicily. 

Former Philadelphia beat cop Eddie Harkins is not surprised when the Army makes him a Military Policeman; he is surprised when, in the bloody summer of 1943, he is tapped to figure out who gunned down a surgeon in a US Army field hospital. Harkins, who has spent his Army time hauling in drunken GIs and breaking up traffic jams, has never worked a homicide. The lurching start to his investigation proves he is in over his head, but Harkins is not one to back down from a fight. 
  Cooperation is hard to come by in part because the victim—who was universally despised—bullied and tormented nurses. Harkins hears, “He got what was coming to him,” so often he stops scribbling the response in his notebook. Harkins’ low rank bestows little authority in his battles with the hospital commander, who is hiding bigger sins in his camp. Then, just when Harkins is starting to drag some facts from the chaos, a key witness is shot to death. Meanwhile the flood of broken bodies never slows as the hospital leapfrogs forward just behind the battlefront. Harkins is exhausted and demoralized, clueless, filthy, and far from home, and everyone is struck dumb by the heat.

The Sicilian ‘43

Eddie Harkins and his fellow soldiers would have been thrilled to get their hands on a cool drink, especially one with impossible-to-find ice. Creating this beauty of a cocktail in wartime would have been challenging; but with a thriving black-market, the more inventive and determined GIs might have made a go of it.  The inspiration for this cocktail comes from Sicily’s orange and lemon orchards, and the name is a variation on the “French 75,” a cocktail that gets its name from the French 75mm field gun of World War One. The Sicilian 43 is a nod to the land where the Allies first cracked the walls of Hitler’s “Fortress Europe.”

1 oz fresh blood orange juice
1 and ½ oz gin
½ oz Maraschino Liqueur
¼ oz Amaro Averna (an Amaro from Sicily is best; it’s a bitter liquor like Campari, easy to find, but Campari would also work as a substitute)
2-3 oz Prosecco
Orange twist 

Combine orange juice, gin, maraschino, and Averna in a cocktail shaker, fill with ice, and shake. Strain into a cocktail glass and top with Prosecco. Garnish orange twist.  Drink a toast to Victory in Europe!