Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Greg Iles Readalong Giveaway

Mystery Playground is participating in the Greg Iles' Natchez Trilogy read along and this month we're re-reading the first book, Natchez Burning. To help us celebrate, Harper Collins Publishing is sponsoring a giveaway including the tote bag above and the books in the trilogy, Natchez Burning, The Bone Tree and Mississippi Blood

To enter all you have to do is comment below about why you want to read the book. To get a second entry, go comment on our Facebook page

Here's our original post about the readalong, and our review of the first book.

My mother recommended Natchez Burning to me when it first came out. She could not put it down, and once I started, I couldn't either. It's a big book, but that means there was more to love. The setting so vibrant, I felt like I was transported.  

We just started the readalong last week so you have plenty of time to catch up. 

Don't forget to comment below to be entered to win the tote bag and the trilogy. You get a second entry if you go to the Mystery Playground Facebook Page and comment there. the contest will end one week from today. 

- Deborah Lacy

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Shattered Tree by Charles Todd

Bess Crawford is Charles Todd’s brave and capable WWI nurse who always finds herself in the middle of a puzzle that needs to be solved. See our recent interview with the author here. Today, Kerry Hammond is here to review the most recent book in this great series.

The Shattered Tree by Charles Todd is the 7th book in the Bess Crawford series, which features a British WWI nurse who often works right near the front line, caring for the wounded soldiers. The book releases August 30, 2016, in Hardcover from Harper Collins. There is a hand full of authors whose book release dates are marked on my calendar. Charles Todd shows up twice in my datebook, once for the Ian Rutledge series and once for Bess Crawford. Both are well-written, engrossing stories that I very much look forward to reading.

In The Shattered Tree, battlefield nurse Bess Crawford treats a soldier brought to her in an extreme state. He was found next to a tree that had been shattered by gunfire, he was exhausted, his clothing was in tatters, and he was barefoot. The soldier is supposedly French, but in his delirious state, he speaks to Bess in German. She confides her concerns to the field hospital Matron and is told that the soldier is most likely from the region of Alsace-Lorraine, which lies on the border between France and Germany. Those who come from that region speak German but align with the French.

When Bess is wounded and sent to Paris to recover, she feels that she must try and find out if the soldier was, in fact, French. But as she tries to investigate, she comes up against quite a few walls of silence as she digs into events from the past that many would prefer stay hidden. Without the resources of her father or his other military contacts, she puts herself in danger when she pokes around searching for answers.

This was one of my favorite books in this series. If I had to pinpoint the exact reason, I would need to name at least two. I enjoyed the fact that Bess was in Paris recovering from her wounds, therefore allowing her the freedom to investigate the whereabouts of the soldier she treated. One might think that a book about a war nurse would have few settings other than the battlefield aid station, but this isn’t the case. Todd manages to plausibly locate Bess in many interesting locations, finding a mystery for her to solve in each and every one. Part of the anticipation involves wondering just where she will be next.  

Bess Crawford, in addition to being a sleuth of sorts, is someone who has a knack for uncovering secrets. As the reader can imagine, most of the characters who are keeping these secrets are not at all happy that she excels at this. She is a strong and determined woman, and this book allowed her to show that she can work within the confines of where women found themselves in the early part of the 20th Century. Her resourcefulness and intelligence make her a favorite character of mine. I enjoyed that she was, for the most part, on her own to search for answers.

This may be the 7th book in the series, but new readers will find that it can be read as a standalone. There are no spoilers or deficiencies based on previous installments, and anyone can jump right in and follow along.

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

Monday, August 29, 2016

Denver Speakeasy: The Cruise Room

Speakeasies were secret bars that thrived during Prohibition and 83 years after the repeal there are quite a few cities that boast modern day bars with a speakeasy flair. Kerry Hammond joins us today to tell us about a Denver-based bar inside the historic Oxford Hotel. 

At Mystery Playground we love to visit speakeasies, both in our hometowns and in cities we visit. At the top of my list in Denver are Williams & Graham, and my most recent discovery Retrograde—hidden inside an ice cream shop. Both were created to reproduce some of the secretive nostalgia inevitably created during Prohibition. 

The Cruise Room, located in the historic Oxford Hotel, isn’t just a reproduction. It boasts that it is “Denver’s first post-prohibition bar.” That’s because it opened the day after Prohibition was repealed on December 5, 1933. Visitors to the bar will notice that there are no windows to the outside, causing one to speculate that it was also in operation during Prohibition—how else would it open the very next day?

I’ve had drinks at this bar many times and have always loved its Art Deco style and the fact that it makes you feel like you’ve gone back in time. I decided to make another trip to The Cruise Room, just for this post, to take a more in-depth look at the drink menu and to try another of the great cocktails prepared by in-house mixologists. No arm twisting was necessary.

The bar serves quite a few interestingly named and unique cocktails, including Corpse Revived, Red Widow, White Lady, and The Other Woman. I asked bartender Ben Lacy to suggest a drink, and he suggested one of his own recipes, a Cucumber Jalapeno Margarita. Ben even shared the recipe with me:

Muddle 3 cucumber slices and one seedless jalapeno slice in your shaker. Add ¾ ounce agave nectar, 1 ½ ounces of Milagro tequila, ½ ounce Cointreau, and a splash of lime juice. Shake and pour over ice in a glass. Garnish with a cucumber and a jalapeno slice.

Are there any Speakeasies in your hometown?

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Halloween Decor at Pier One

Halloween decor is already in the stores - everywhere. Today we're sharing some of our favorites from Pier One, like the black cat mantel scarf above and the bat candle centerpiece below.

I also love this bat candle:

Or if Dia de las Muertos is more your speed:

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Book Reviews

It's a great weekend to get a new book! Here are links to some our favorite book reviews this summer to help you find one that is perfect for you...

The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis - Seven-year-old Elka is taken in by a trapper in the woods after she gets lost. But who is this man, and where is her family?

A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding - A woman loses her daughter and grandson in the bombing of Nagasaki. Decades later a man shows up claiming to be the grandson. But is he really? 

Secrets of Nanreath Hall by Alix Rickloff - Historical suspense that moves back and forth between two time periods. 

Oliver Twisted by Cindy Brown - A humorous cozy mystery about a professional actress turned detective who goes undercover in a theater production. 

Friday, August 26, 2016

“The Odds Are Against Us” and a Gimlet

Today we welcome Art Taylor, pairing a cool summer classic with his story “The Odds Are Against Us” (Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, November 2014), winner of last year’s Agatha and Anthony Awards for Best Short Story; the full story is available online here. Art’s debut book, On the Road with Del & Louise, won this year’s Agatha for Best First Novel and is currently a finalist for the Anthony and Macavity in the same category.

- Deborah Lacy

In the opening scene of “The Odds Are Against Us,” the story’s narrator orders a gimlet from his friend Terry, who’s tending the counter at a neighborhood bar and pool hall. Their conversation seems casual enough, but it’s quickly revealed that the narrator’s mind is elsewhere, musing over deeper and darker concerns. Some decision weighs heavily on his mind, the stakes apparently high, and in his head he’s making wagers on everything around him: whether the baseball player on TV scores a hit, for example, or whether the pool players in the corner leave individually or as a group. As his decision-making plays out, the narrator also reminisces with his friend about their younger days—childhood adventures, girls from the past, a sense of nostalgia that maybe offers some sliver of brightness to whatever is casting shadows on the narrator’s mood. 

Not simply a great drink to pair with the story (a great drink period), the gimlet also proves significant to the plot itself. The first bet the narrator makes with himself is whether his friend will make the drink with gin or vodka; gin means yes, vodka means no—even if the question itself remains elusive. And the drink as motif serves other purposes as well, echoing the sense of time passing, of something cherished and lost, of a person’s own burdens and responsibilities, a lifetime of them. Here’s a line from about halfway through the story: “Terry had made me another gimlet by this point, but I hadn't tasted it. I'd just been watching the ice crystals drift and glisten. I didn't want to bring my mouth to it yet, knowing that would melt them quicker.” 

The gimlet actually has a significant history in mystery fiction, serving as a key motif in Raymond Chandler’s masterpiece, The Long Goodbye, a story also centered on friendship and betrayal. Over the course of the novel, references to the cocktail charts the evolution of Philip Marlowe’s relationship with his new buddy Terry Lennox. 

I don’t remember thinking of The Long Goodbye when I wrote “The Odds Are Against Us”—the story wasn’t explicitly intended as an homage—but with the gimlet and even Terry’s name in the mix, it’s clear that Chandler’s work, my own favorite of his novels, was echoing somewhere in my subconscious at the time.


Early in The Long Goodbye, Terry Lennox proclaims, “A real gimlet is half gin and half Rose’s Lime Juice and nothing else.” (Marlowe’s reaction: “I was never fussy about drinks.”) To most drinkers today, Lennox’s 1:1 ratio would prove unpalatable; instead, I’d personally recommend a 2:1 ratio—twice as much gin as Rose’s. 

Best yet, however, is to skip the Rose’s completely and follow Jim Meehan’s version from The PDT Cocktail Book (adapted below), a recipe that makes as delicious a summertime treat as you could imagine—perfect for the patio or really anywhere. 


2 oz. Plymouth gin (Arts’ note: Plymouth makes a considerable difference here)
.75 oz. lime cordial (see below)
.75 oz. lime juice

Shake vigorously with ice.
Strain into a chilled coupe glass.

Lime Cordial  (downsized proportionally from the PDT recipe to avoid straining your zesting hand)

4 limes
8 oz. simple syrup

Zest limes, and combine zest with simple syrup. 

After 10 minutes, fine strain into a container and chill.