Monday, January 22, 2018

Q & A with J.J. Hensley

J.J. Hensley, a former police officer and former Special Agent with the U.S. Secret Service, joins us today for Q&A about his book, Bolt Action Remedy. Hensley, who is originally from Huntington, WV, graduated from Penn State University with a B.S. in Administration of Justice and has a M.S. in Criminal Justice Administration from Columbia Southern University.

Where did you get the idea for BOLT ACTION REMEDY? How did you know that was the book you wanted to write?

Ever since I finished my first novel (RESOLVE), which was set against the backdrop of the Pittsburgh Marathon, I knew that someday I wanted to write another novel that incorporated an endurance sport. I toyed around with concepts involving a triathlon or a cycling race, but nothing seemed to click with me. Then, one day it dawned on me that not only is the sport of biathlon fascinating, but all the competitors are armed. What's better than that???? So, I developed a story in which the investigator would have to try to solve an improbably crime by working his way through an unusual pool of suspects.

Why did you decide to write about biathlon?

I think I've been aware of the sport for most of my life, but in 2002 I was working for the Secret Service and spent a couple of months in Salt Lake City, UT for the Winter Olympics. I learned more about the sport and I think my initial admiration for the abilities of the athletes always stuck with me. However, it took me fifteen years to get to the point where I could draw upon that experience and write Bolt Action Remedy.

Have you participated in biathlon or any of the other winter sports?

I can't ski or skate and hate being cold. Other than that, I'm perfectly suited for winter sports!

Did you speak with athletes as part of your research?

I ended up getting a little help from former U.S. Olympic biathlete Curt Schreiner. He helped me understand some of the nuances of the sport and probably saved me from making some embarrassing mistakes.

Tell us a bit about Trevor Galloway. Where did this character come from? Who is he?

Galloway is the protagonist I wish I would have had the ability to create years ago. For this novel, I really needed to create an investigator with great intellectual depth and even deeper internal conflicts. He's a former Pittsburgh narcotics detective who has been asked to investigate the year-old homicide of a prominent Pennsylvania businessman who was gunned down on his estate in Central Pennsylvania. Galloway is stoic on the outside but has a fuse burning on the inside. To complicate matters, he has some PTSD issues and encounters the occasional hallucination. He probably should avoid any stress, so needless to say I threw him into incredibly stressful situations. I'm kind of a jerk to my characters. Ask around.

What made you decide to address drug addiction through Trevor’s eyes?

I never intended the addiction aspect to be a main part of the story, but I did want it to always be there, looming in the background. Galloway is a man who has his demons and the demons you can't see and can't predict are often the most frightening. When a character is constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop, it creates a natural tension throughout the story.

How has your past experience as a police officer and Special Agent for the Secret Service informed your work? Do you your non-writing experience puts more pressure on you to get the details “right” in fiction?

I'm always calling on my training and experience when I'm writing. The funny thing is I don't think my readers are holding me to a higher standard when it comes to accuracy. However, I raise the bar extremely high and take few liberties when it comes to processes and procedures. The world of law enforcement is fascinating enough without having to turn it into a Hollywood production.

If Trevor was actually a real person, would you be friends with him? Why or why not?

I think I would. Both of us choose our words fairly carefully, but not always carefully enough. We both carry ourselves with a certain amount of stoicism. And neither of us are fans of idle chatter.

Damn. I guess I do like him. Now I feel guilty for putting him through so much.

You recently moved from Pennsylvania, where BOLT ACTION REMEDY is set, to the south. Has the move affected your fiction in any surprising ways?

I moved to a town outside Savannah, Georgia a couple of months ago, so I haven't written much since the move. However, this is certainly a fascinating area. It may be a while until I integrate my new surrounding into my writing, but I'm sure it will happen.

What is the best thing that has happened to you as a result of your novels?

I have a six-year-old daughter. She smiles every time she sees her name in the dedication of one of my books. Nothing beats that.

What was the last mystery novel you read, other than your own, that you LOVED? Why did you love it?

Method 15/33 by Shannon Kirk. I read a couple sentences of the synopsis on the book jacket and thought it might end up being the typical abducted girl waits to get rescued story. IT WASN'T. It's spectacular.

If you could be any character in a book, who would you be and why?

Part of me wants to say Jack Reacher. But, as much as I love the Lee Child books, when you boil it down he's an extremely violent homeless dude. I'm going to go with an obvious answer and say James Bond. Because... well... it's freakin' James Bond.

What are you working on now, and when can readers expect it?

2018 should be a blast. I just had a story called State of Decline published in Down and Out Magazine.

I've got a story in THE NIGHT OF THE FLOOD that comes out in March. It's a novel told in stories compiled by thirteen incredible authors (and me). And since I just mentioned him, Lee Child called THE NIGHT OF THE FLOOD "A brave concept brilliantly executed." Fine. I take back the "homeless dude" comment.

The second Trevor Galloway novel, RECORD SCRATCH is coming out in October.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Mystery Playground Book Club - Death Comes to Pemberly

It's time for our first ever Mystery Playground Book Club Meeting. Our first pick was Death Comes to Pemberly by PD James. Here's what the MP team thought. Make comments below or come to the Mystery Playground Facebook Group. 

Here are a few questions for book clubs who read the book:

1) Do you think the characters remained true to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice? 
2) Did you like the book?
3) Were there any plot holes, or things that bothered you?
4) Do you want to see the TV mini-series based on the book?

The book started out a little slow for me. James' summarizes Pride and Prejudice a little and I thought if you're familiar with Austen you don't need it, and if you're not familiar with it, the summary goes too fast to be of any use. After the summary, I found the book highly entertaining and easy to follow the plot. 

For me, the characters were true to Austin, for the most part, with one major exception. I did have some questions about the ending, which I won't discuss here in case you haven't read it. I have already seen the TV mini-series, but I didn't remember the ending when I read the book. 

I thought the book was great fun. I hadn't read Austen in years, but reading the phrasing in this book brought it back. The backhanded insults made me laugh. Mrs. Bennett and Lydia are still laughable. Without giving anything away, I'm still not sure about how Wickham was portrayed. This was a fast, enjoyable and easy read. Great for a break. 

I enjoyed the book, but I have no interest in seeing it on TV now that I know the ending. I'm glad I read the book. I wouldn't have picked it up myself. 


I’m a big fan of PD James mysteries as well as all of the Jane Austen novels, so I was very excited to read Death Comes to Pemberley. 

I think James really captured the characters as they appeared in the original Austen novel. The mystery she created surrounding the ball at Pemberley was very intriguing and kept me guessing throughout.

I enjoyed reading The author’s take on the lives of the Darcy’s post Pride and Prejudice. She managed to write the book as if it were written in the Jane Austen period. Once I had myself in that mindset, it was all smooth sailing and very enjoyable. I’m now off to see the movie, so I can see how the book was adapted for television.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Soup Swap

It's time to swap some soup! On cold winter days a big pot of homemade soup is a welcome friend. But on day five eating the soup, not so much. You can freeze the extra, but sometimes the veggies aren't as tasty. 

The solution to this is the old fashioned soup swap. Invite five of your friends to your house and ask them to make a pot of soup each and separate it out into six disposable plastic containers with the recipe. Then you trade the containers of soup. I usually host a lunch for the swapping, and the menu definitely contains soup. 

It's important to include the recipe so people can check the ingredients for allergens. Some swappers may make deals to take two of one type and none of another, so to avoid ingredients people can't eat. At the end of the swap you should have six yummy soup meals (including your own.) 

My friends and I have also done non-soup meals, but soup is the easiest by far. 

It's a fun event and a great way to take care of lunch for the week. 

Friday, January 12, 2018

Street of the Five Moons and an Ignorance is Bliss

Kerry Hammond is here to match book two in a great series by Elizabeth Peters with the perfect drink.

I’m a big fan of everything Elizabeth Peters. Her Amelia Peabody series is one of my favorites of all time and I’ve read each installment multiple times. I am also a fan of the shorter, but extremely entertaining, series featuring Vicky Bliss, a professor of art history who can’t seem to steer clear of adventure—and trouble.

We’ve already paired the first book in the series, Borrower of the Night, with a mulled wine drink HERE. Today we are tackling book two, Street of the Five Moons. Our drink is Ignorance is Bliss. The obvious connection to Vicky Bliss needs no explanation, but it also plays on the irony that even though Vicky is well educated, due to her measurements she has trouble getting people to take her seriously.

In Street of the Five Moons we travel from Munich, where Vicky is working at the National Museum, to Rome, Italy. She is on the trail of a master art forger whose forgeries could cause a threat to the authenticity of collections in every museum across the globe. In Rome she meets a man calling himself Sir John Smythe, someone she is romantically drawn to even though she suspects him of some shady dealings. As she closes in on the identity of the forger, she finds herself wrapped up in a level of intrigue she has never experienced.

The Vicky Bliss series is a lot of fun and they’re great books to read over and over. I find myself turning to one when I’m in the need of a book that is sure to entertain. Kind of like comfort food for the mind.

Ignorance is Bliss
1 oz Campari
1 oz vodka
2/3 oz passion fruit syrup
2/3 oz apple juice

Put all ingredients in an ice filled shaker, shake well, and strain into the glass of your choice. Squeeze and top with a wedge of lime if you’re feeling daring.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Review: Sunday Silence by Nicci French

Nicci French’s 7th book in the Frieda Klein series is out and Kerry Hammond is here to tell us all about it. My Mom also read the book and loved it. 

London-based Psychotherapist Frieda Klein is back in her 7th book, Sunday Silence by Nicci French. It releases on January 9 from William Morrow Publishers in Trade Paperback. The series is written by a British husband and wife team, Nicci Gerard and Sean French, and they have been keeping readers on the edge of their seats with twists and turns since the first book to feature Frieda, Blue Monday.

In Sunday Silence, Frieda is immediately placed on the police radar when a body is found buried underneath the floorboards of her house. She believes she knows who the perpetrator is, a man who has killed before and is strangely obsessed with her. The problem is, this man supposedly died years before and the police refuse to believe Frieda when she tells them he is still alive. As the investigation progresses, it becomes clear that Frieda is facing not one but two obsessive killers. But it’s not Frieda who seems to be in danger, rather it’s each and every person she loves.

Frieda is a great character and I have always found her fascinating. She is intelligent, resourceful, and fiercely loyal to her friends and family. She approaches things in a calm and calculating manner, always analyzing the situation rather than losing her head. She is able to see what the police can’t and is always far ahead of them in solving the murder, but she struggles with trying to convince them that her analysis is the correct one. This is great series and I would recommend that any new reader start with the first book in order to get to know the characters and best follow the progression of the storyline.

This book was provided to Mystery Playground by the publisher. The review is fair and independent.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Mystery Playground Recommends: Carolyn Hart

In our latest installment of the Mystery Playground Recommends series, where a member of our Mystery Playground team chooses an author whose work they would recommend as a body of work, Kerry Hammond is here to tell us how much she loves to read Carolyn Hart.

Carolyn Hart is the author of 58 novels. She writes traditional mysteries for readers who prefer a whodunit without all of the violence and gore. In addition to several standalone novels, Hart has written three very difference series. Her Henrie O books feature a 70 something retired news reporter and in her Bailey Ruth Raeburn series her protagonist is the ghost of woman who returns to earth as an emissary from Heaven’s Department of Good Intentions.  

The third and by far my favorite is Hart’s Death on Demand series, which follows Annie Laurance Darling, owner of Death on Demand book store on the island of Broward’s Rock, South Carolina. Annie and her husband Max (spoiler alert, they’re not yet married in the first book) find more than their fair share of murders to solve in their small island community. The books are great reads, the characters are well written and interesting, and the mysteries are always a great puzzle to try and solve. The first book in the series was written in 1987 and is called Death on Demand.

There are 27 books in this series, more than enough to keep any reader busy for the foreseeable future. The series is still going strong and the latest book, Walking on My Grave was just published in 2017. As an added bonus, true mystery fans will also get a kick out of the fact that Hart mentions other mystery authors in her series. Customers are always approaching Annie at Death on Demand to get recommendations, and Hart gives a shout out to lots of great mysteries and authors in her books. It’s a good idea to have a pen and paper handy to jot down titles to add to your TBR pile.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Stone Cold Sober and a Scotch Sour

Rebecca Marks joins us for our first Drinks with Reads for 2018 with Stone Cold sober with a Scotch Sour that can be served with or without alcohol. 

In Stone Cold Sober, Dana Cohen, a forty-three-year-old, hard-drinking NYPD detective, spent twenty-two years on the force before retiring to Long Island. Now Dana’s best friend, Marilyn, is directing a local musical theater production. Dana’s estranged lover, and the father of the child she’s carrying, Alex Frazier, is a dancer in the show, but Dana has no theatrical talent at all. So Marilyn cooks up a way to get the two former lovebirds together, hiring Dana to work security. When Dana discovers a gruesome murder during one of the show’s rehearsals, her “detective gene” kicks in, and she can’t resist the urge to throw herself into the case. But as she investigates, she uncovers some dark secrets and realizes, too late, how far people will go to keep them hidden.

Although Dana’s go-to drink was single-malt Scotch “almost neat” (with one ice cube), now that she is expecting, she is “Stone Cold Sober” due to doctor’s orders. The good news is, a Scotch Sour, which is basically Scotch infused in sweet lemonade with a twist, can be served in its “virgin” form, which is the same drink without the Scotch. In Dana’s next adventure, Old Fashioned with a Twist, Dana can add the Scotch again after she gives birth to her daughter. Here is the recipe for Dana’s Scotch Sour:

2 ounces Scotch whisky (Dana likes single malt)
2 ounces lemon juice
1 ounce simple syrup
1 egg white
Maraschino cherries and/or blackberry for garnish
Orange slice or lemon slice for garnish

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. To the cocktail shaker add the scotch, lemon juice, simple syrup and egg white, if using. Shake for about 30 seconds; pour into a rocks glass filled with ice. Garnish with cherries and orange.

Until Dana gives birth, she has to leave out the Scotch, which will produce a cool, non-alcoholic lemonade drink. After her baby is born, she can add the Scotch back.


About the Author

Rebecca Marks has been writing, playing music, and singing for as long as she can remember. Her Dana Cohen series includes On the Rocks, Four Shots NeatStone Cold Sober, and Old Fashioned with a Twist (available in early 2018). Marks is also the author of About Time and About Face. Visit her website at You can find her on Twitter: @rmarksauthor and Facebook.