Friday, December 14, 2018

Eggnog and A Mystery



It's time for holiday parties and murder with Alex Erickson's new novel, Death by Eggnog and an excellent eggnog recipe to match. If this doesn't get you ready for Christmas, I don't know what will.

Death by Eggnog, the fifth Bookstore Café mystery, opens with our heroine, Krissy Hancock, being recruited to fill in at the community theatre by her friend and town gossip, Rita Jablonski. Of course, Rita doesn’t bother telling her that the Christmas play is a musical. Krissy doesn’t have long to learn the lines, let alone the songs, and things only get worse when the man playing Santa ends up getting murdered.

Krissy is no stranger to solving murders in the small town of Pine Hills, so when her ex-boyfriend, Robert, is accused of killing Santa, she can’t help but investigate. Unfortunately for her, the director refuses to call off the play, so while she’s busy trying to solve a murder, she has to continue to sing and dance for a show that was doomed from the start.

Eggnog is not only a perfect beverage for this time of year, but it was also a favorite of our murdered Santa. In fact, he was drinking it when he died, though he never did say whether or not his personal recipe contained rum or bourbon (but yours can!)

The recipe:

6 beaten eggs
2 cups milk
1/3 cup of sugar
2 - 4 tablespoons rum (optional)
2 - 4 tablespoons bourbon (optional)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons sugar
Whipped cream
Ground nutmeg

Stir together the eggs, milk, and 1/3 cup of sugar in a heavy, large saucepan. Cook and stir continuously over medium heat until the mixture reaches 160 degrees (should coat a spoon). Remove from heat. Cool by placing the pan in very cold water. Continue to stir while the mixture cools (1-2 minutes). Stir in vanilla, as well as your alcohol of choice (if you desire a kick.) Chill in the fridge for 4 - 24 hours.

When ready to serve, whip cream and remaining sugar until soft peaks form. Transfer chilled egg mixture to serving container. Fold in whipped-cream mixture and top each serving with whipped cream. Sprinkle with nutmeg. Makes approximately 10 4-ounce servings.

Alex Erickson can be found online on Facebook and 

Friday, December 7, 2018

Dead Men Don’t Ski and The Black Manhattan



Kerry Hammond is here to pair a book with a cold setting to a drink that will warm you up.

Dead Men Don’t Ski by Patricia Moyes is the first book in the Inspector Tibbett series. The series, which Moyes started writing in 1959, continued through 19 books and ended in 1993. I usually spend the month of December reading Christmas themed books or ones set in snowy places and this book was a perfect addition to this year’s reads.

Inspector Henry Tibbett has been asked by the powers that be to take a ski holiday, with his wife in tow, to keep an eye out for any strange happenings. The location is a mountain town in Italy and the others guests they meet are extremely interesting. When a dead body is found traveling down on the ski lift, Henry must take a second look at his fellow travelers, this time wondering if any of them are capable of murder.

I love the story, the setting, and the characters. Everything was reminiscent of the classic mysteries I love to read: Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, and Dorothy Sayers. Tibbett is a very likeable and competent detective, he keeps a level head and avoids making snap judgments—unlike the Italian Detective he is working with.  

I paired the book with a Black Manhattan, a variation of the popular Manhattan that uses Averna instead of vermouth. It’s a great drink for apres ski, or anytime it’s cold outside.

2 oz. rye whiskey
1 oz. Averna
1 dash Angostura bitters
1 dash Regans’ Orange Bitters No. 6
Cocktail cherry

Stir well with ice, strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with a cocktail cherry.



Friday, November 30, 2018

Ask No Mercy and the White Russian



It's White Russians from Martin Osterdahl today on Drinks with Reads to celebrate the English translation his book, Ask No Mercy. Martin Österdahl has studied Russian, East European studies, and economics. He worked with TV productions for twenty years and was simultaneously the program director at Swedish Television. His interest in Russia and its culture arose in the early 1980s. After studying Russian at university and having had the opportunity to go behind the Iron Curtain more than once, he decided to relocate and finish his master’s thesis there.

The 1990s were a very exciting time in Russia, and 1996, with its presidential election, was a particularly crucial year. Seeing history in the making inspired Österdahl to write the first novel in the Max Anger series, Ask No Mercy. The series has been sold to more than ten territories and is soon to be a major TV series.

In 1996, Russia is preparing to vote in the first presidential election in country’s history. To save the democratic movement, western forces strikes a deal with the oligarchs and the generals. In doing so, the west unknowingly pave the way for Yeltsin’s successor, an unknown man working for the mayor of Saint Petersburg – Vladimir Putin.

In Stockholm, Sweden, a mysterious intrusion into the telecom infrastructure takes place. To Max Anger, ex-marine soldier and Russian expert at think tank Vektor, the attack look like the preparatory steps of an invasion. 

Max has tried to piece together the puzzle of his mysterious family background and found out that his father was born when Russian bomb planes dropped bombs over neutral Sweden’s capitol at the end of WW2. The official Russian excuse was erroneous navigation – Russia were at war with neighboring Finland – but Max discovers a well-hidden secret: that Stalin’s favorite spy, jailed in Stockholm and sentenced to life, was quietly returned to Moscow in the days following the attack…

At the start of Ask No Mercy, Max has to stop his private investigation when his girlfriend and colleague Pashie goes missing in Saint Petersburg. Is her disappearance connected to her work with the upcoming elections? Or is it Max’s personal research that has put her in harm’s way? 

Max’s hunt takes him through new Russia’s ruthless tech entrepreneurs and the ghosts of its dark Soviet past. To find the woman he loves and save his country Max has to question all that’s happening around him and everything he knows about himself.


The White Russian

Is the perfect partner to your Ask No Mercyread. The ice will help you cool down from the action and the coffee infusion will keep your head alert. And, because it so smooth, it won’t further upset your stomach during your encounters with the Stalinist conspiracy, so you can just keep drinking, until you reach the fitness level required to fully understand Russia.

The ingredients are:

  1 1/2 ounces vodka
  3/4 ounce coffee liqueur
  3/4 ounce cream

Three simple steps: 

The taste of vodka will be overpowered by the coffee liquor. So don’t go crazy on the brand, just make sure its Russian. I would recommend the standard Stolichnaya. Pour the Stoli into an old fashioned tumbler style glass filled with ice. Add coffee liquor of your liking, Kahlua being the most common choice but there are other makes too. Practice your bartending skills and float the cream on top of the spirits and ice. A clean layer makes for a great looking drink. 
Then serve with a straw, raise you glass and say: “Za zdorovie” – “to health”!

Friday, November 23, 2018

Wuthering Stacks and the Absolute Stress Reliever




Librarian turned detective, Bronte Williams, makes her debut on Drinks with Reads leaping from the pages of the first story in the 'Shhhh...Murder' anthology from Darkhouse Books. The story is called 'Wuthering Stacks' and I co-wrote it with my friend, Pat Hernas. It was fun write the story together.  

Bronte Williams has her hands full enough with book thefts, budget cuts and the sudden whims of the the newest potential donor, when she finds one of her colleagues dead on the floor, strangled by the cord he uses to charge his phone. She is seriously stressed out, which is why Pat and I selected the Absolute Stress Reliever because Bronte dearly needs to relax after this.

Here's the recipe:


Absolute Stress Reliever 

1 oz Absolute vodka
1 oz dark rum
1 oz peach schnapps
1 oz orange juice
2 oz cranberry juice 


In a cocktail shaker combine everything and shake well.  Pour over ice and garnish with a slice of orange and a cherry.

You can find 'Shhhh...Murder' on Amazon in ebook and paper formats. All of the stories feature a librarian or libraries and it's a fun read and features stories from Michael Bracken,  Anne Marie Sutton, Jacqueline Sewald and Amy Ballard.


Friday, November 16, 2018

Peter James' Absolute Proof and the Absolute Vodka Martini


International best-selling author Peter James is here today matching a Vodka Martini with his new novel, Absolute Proof, and to talk about the process of writing fiction. What I love most about James' books is the deep characterization and his ability to pull me into his stories. In this latest standalone he takes a break from his signature character, Detective Roy Grace, to delve into a thriller about this existence of God. 


Ask one hundred different authors about their writing day and whether they have any rituals before they start and you’ll get 100 different answers!  You can see these on my YouTube channel where I’ve asked these and another nine questions to authors as varied as Lee Child, Joan Collins, Karin Slaughter, George RR Martin and very many more.  A number of these, myself included, have a drink either to get their creative juices going, or reward themselves after a hard day slaving over a hot keypad!  So, if I were to pair the perfect drink to my new novel, Absolute Proof, it would have to be something involving Absolut Vodka…

The plot of Absolute Proof was inspired by a phone call, I got out of the blue, way back in 1989.  An elderly sounding gentleman asked if I was Peter James the author. When I said I was he replied, “Thank God I’ve found you, I’ve phoned every Peter James in the phone book in England.  I’m not a lunatic, I was a bomber pilot in WW2, I’m a recently retired university academic, and I have been given absolute proof of God’s existence, and I’ve been told on the highest possible authority that the author Peter James is the man to help me get taken seriously and to get the message out to the world!

I went to see a friend of mine who was the Bishop of Reading at the time and a very modern-thinking clergyman and asked him what, in his view, would happen if someone really did have credible proof of God’s existence.  He looked me in the eye and said, “I think he’d be murdered, because whose God would it be?  You’d have every faction of the Anglican, Catholic, Judaic, Islamic and all the other monotheistic churches claiming ownership, plus you’d have the leaders of communist countries, such as China, not wanting a Higher Authority usurping their power.  That was truly a lightbulb moment for me.  I thought, yes, I have the makings of a terrific international thriller here!  

     Absolute Proof is set in the USA, England, Egypt and in a Greek monastery.  The central character is an investigative journalist who gets that same call I got and pursues the story.  Within a short time, he finds himself and his wife under deadly threat…

TO MAKE THE PETER JAMES ABSOLUT VODKA MARTINI WRITING SPECIAL:

This serves 1 author.

Ingredients

A proper, clear crystal martini glass of decent quality.  No other drinking vessel can be substituted.

Absolut Vodka
Martini Extra Dry
Four plain olives, pitted.
1 slice of lemon
Cubed ice

1 cocktail stick
1 cocktail shaker


Method

Fill martini glass ¾ with vodka.

Using the cap of the Martini Extra Dry bottle as a measure, tip two capfuls of Martini into the glass.

Now pour the mixture into empty cocktail shaker.

Fill the glass to the brim with ice cubes and leave for 5 mins.

Pour these cubes plus fresh cubes into cocktail shaker.

Cut the slice of lemon in half and carefully wipe it around the inside of the glass and around the rim.

Secure the top of the shaker carefully then shake hard for thirty seconds and pour into glass.

It’s a powerful drink.  Enjoy, but beware!  And perhaps raise a glass to Dean Martin, who once said, ‘I feel sorry for people who don’t drink, because when they wake up in the morning that’s as good as their day is going to get.




©2018 PeterJames/Really Scary Books Ltd


Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Review: Forever And A Day by Anthony Horowitz



Ever wonder why James Bond orders his martinis shaken and not stirred? Anthony Horowitz’s new Bond novel tells us about Bond before he was 007, and Kerry Hammond is here to tell us her review of the book.

Forever And A Day is the second in the James Bond series that author Anthony Horowitz has continued in the spirit and memory of Ian Fleming. The book was published on November 6 in Hardcover by Harper.

I need to start this review off with a confession. I have never read a James Bond novel. I’ve watched many of the movies and have probably seen at least one film featuring each of the Bond actors. But I have never picked up an Ian Fleming book, never known the Bond of the page versus the Bond on screen.

I was an Anthony Horowitz follower before I even knew it. As a longtime Midsomer Murders fan, I was enjoying his work before I knew his name. Then, when my book club chose Magpie Murders as its September read, I fell in love with Horowitz’s work and knew that I had to try his 007 novels.

I didn’t start with the first in the new series, though. That would be too predictable. I started with the second book and was immediately drawn in. Horowitz is the kind of writer who just knows how to tell a good story. Again, I don’t have the reference of comparison to a Fleming novel, so I can’t comment on the similarities or differences. What I can comment on is how entertaining the book was.

Forever And A Day is written as the prequel to the very first Bond novel, Casino Royale. In it, we learn about 007 before he was 007. It’s a precursor to the series and gives backstory—based on outlines Fleming wrote for a TV series—into the character and his motivations. There’s also a lot of action scenes, a love story, and cool cars and fancy spy operations.

To complete my research, I have since purchased Casino Royale, and plan to start the series at the beginning. It’s often said that the book is better than the movie, and that’s not a cliché, it’s a fact. I look forward to finding out what I have been missing.

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



Friday, November 9, 2018

Candy Cane Cranberry Cocktails and Bells, Spells and Murders


Bells, Spells, and Murders is the newest title in Carol J. Perry’s Witch City Mystery series for Kensington Publishers—and someone is spreading deadly holiday cheer through Salem, Massachusetts. Carol has stopped by today to share a Candy Cane Cranberry Cocktail that sounds amazing and tell us more about her new novel.
Lee Barrett has landed her dream job at Salem’s WICH-TV. As the new field reporter, she’ll be covering events live as they’re unfolding. Next on the holiday checklist is an interview with the beloved chairman of a popular walking tour through Salem’s historic districts. But it may be his ghost walking this snowy Noel season after Lee finds him murdered in his stately offices, bloody Santa hat askew.
With her police detective boyfriend working the case and a witch’s brew of suspects—including some bell-ringing Santas—Lee chases down leads aided and abetted by her wise cat O’Ryan and some unsettling psychic visions of her own. When a revealing clue leads to another dead body, not even a monster blizzard can stop Lee from inching closer to the truth. . .and a scoop that could spell her own demise this killer Christmas.

Here’s a cheerful and colorful holiday drink—complete with candy canes!
CANDY CANE CRANBERRY COCKTAIL
First, crush a few candy canes. (Use a Zip-lock bag to avoid mess.)  Put aside.
1 part vodka
1 part cranberry juice
1 part Sprite

Combine ingredients and shake in cocktail mixer with ice. To serve, dip the rim of glass in water, then into crushed candy canes. Strain drink into glass and garnish with a candy cane.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Cathi Stoler and Bar None



Cathi Stoler joins us today to celebrate her new novel, Bar None. And since the book takes place in a bar, she came up with the perfect drink to match...

When Jude Dillane opened The Corner Lounge, on 10th Street and Avenue B in New York City’s Lower East Side, she had no idea that along with food and drink, there’d be murder on the menu, as well.

After Jude finds her friend and landlord Thomas "Sully" Sullivan's work pal, Ed Molina, dead in a pool of blood in Sully's apartment, she's sure it wasn't suicide as the police suspect.

I pulled out my keys from my pocket and found the spare Sully had given me for emergencies. This didn’t qualify as an emergency, just a good deed. I put it in the lock and the tumblers turned over. When I pushed the door open, it was dark, with only a little moonlight coming in through the living room window. “Ed?” I walked in the room and flipped on the light, bathing the space in a warm glow.
A half second later, I was sorry I had. A scream worked its way up from my chest and flew out my mouth. It took me a moment to process what I was seeing. Then I screamed again. Ed’s body was draped on the couch under the living room windows. It looked like he’d shot himself in the temple and took out the left side of his head. Blood was everywhere, sprayed across the couch and pooled on the floor underneath, like some bright red abstract painting. It’s metallic tang made my stomach lurch. And right in the middle of it all was the big black revolver that had done the job. I backed away, hand over my mouth, to keep back more screams and the bile rising in my throat. 
Ed was there all right, and he was as dead as the empties from the bar at last call.
Juggling her bar business with helping Sully, a former Marine, Jude goes undercover at the Big City Food Coop, posing as a sociology student in need of a summer internship. 

“And your waitressing job. Do you enjoy working in a restaurant?” Ivan was up to my current position, which I'd listed as waitress at The Corner Lounge. 
“I do, but they know I’m looking for something more related to my field of study.” Jeez, did I sound like a dork, or what? God help me if he asked me just what it was I was studying.
I’d been a little nervous about listing the restaurant as an employer. If Ivan was inclined to look hard enough, a few clicks on the Internet and he’d see me listed as an owner, not a waitress. But we’d decided to chance it, knowing Sully’s recommendation had paved the way. Hopefully, that would be enough.
“I’d think a restaurant would be an interesting place to work,” he raised his hand in an encompassing gesture, “so many different kinds of people coming in and out. Stimulating.”
“Absolutely.” I was beginning to think he didn’t get out much.
Nosing around Big City, Jude discovers a case of major fraud. Sully has given her a list of suspects based on a note he found in the dead man’s house along with their personnel files. His ‘don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude about where he obtained these files makes her job even harder.
When one of the suspects is killed, and Sully is seriously injured, the stakes get even higher and Jude becomes more determined than ever to find the killer. 
Working through the list, she finds herself in the killer's sights and knows her murder might be next. Even with this hanging over her, Jude still has to attend to business at The Lounge.
Doing a double—sleuth by day, bartender by night –Jude turns her attention
to a big event at The Lounge:  Tequila Flight Night, with a tasting menu of five specialty tequila cocktails.  Jalapeno Envy is one of them. 
I hope you’ll enjoy it as you read BAR NONE A Murder On The Rocks Mystery. Cheers!


JALAPENO ENVY

2 oz. Patron Gold Tequila

1 oz. Agave Syrup  

1/4 Ripe Mango (peeled)

Squeeze of lime

Japapeno pepper cut into thin rings


Place tequila, agave syrup, mango in blender
with half dozen ice cubes. Blend until smooth. 

Pour into a cocktail glass and add a squeeze of lime.
Float jalapeno pepper rings on top.

You can find Cathi at www.cathistoler.com
On Twitter: @cathistoler

On Instagram: cathicopy

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Review: Daughters of the Lake by Wendy Webb



Gothic suspense novelist Wendy Webb has a book out and Kerry Hammond is here today with her review.

Wendy Webb is the author of five gothic novels of suspense. Her fifth, Daughters of the Lake, was released on November 1, 2018, in Hardcover by Lake Union Publishing. I have read every one of Webb’s books and each one is a brilliantly told story that transports the reader to another place, and very often another time.

Webb’s novels have a strong sense of place. The locations play a huge role in setting the scene for the story and keeping the level of intrigue throughout. Daughters of the Lake, like most of Webb’s novels, is set on the Great Lakes. It reads like a fairy tale, toggling back and forth between present day and the past. In the present Kate Granger is struggling to cope with the break-up of her marriage. While staying at her parents’ home on Lake Superior she finds a body that has washed ashore. It’s the body of a woman and she is holding a child. The police search through missing persons reports but cannot identify the woman. Kate believes she has seen her before, but doesn’t know how to explain that she’s seen her in her dreams. A century earlier, another story began on a lake, one that turned into a tragic love story. Just how the two are related, well, you just have to read to find out.

Webb is a skilled storyteller with a wonderful imagination. This book wasn’t quite as dark and foreboding as some of her others, but like the others it kept me guessing. I thoroughly enjoyed trying to anticipate where the story was going, and was pleased to learn how wrong I was.

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



Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Crime & Beyond Reads Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz



The Denver-based book club, Crime & Beyond, recently discussed an Anthony Horowitz book and Kerry Hammond is here to tell us what they thought.

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz was a book within a book. Two whodunits in one. A traditional mystery set in the 1950s and a modern day murder stemming from it. Anthony Horowitz is a very prolific writer of fiction, writing for television, movies, and books. We suspect he doesn’t sleep, which is how he finds the time to write as much as he does. However he manages it, we are very pleased that he does.

In Magpie Murders, Editor Susan Ryeland receives the latest manuscript from famous author Alan Conway. It is his latest novel to feature his well-loved detective, Atticus Pünd. As Susan reads about Pünd’s latest exploits she is convinced there is more to the story and that Conway’s book may be something other than fiction.

We loved this book and there were so many twists and turns, so many different clues and threads, that we could have discussed it for hours. We liked all of the intricacies of the story and how each and every issue was wound around and threaded through. The nursery rhyme theme was something that you would read in an Agatha Christie novel, along with the clues that were peppered throughout the story and the small village setting where everyone had a secret – but only one led to murder.

This is a wonderful book club read because there is so much to discuss. A few club members even mentioned it was one of the best books we’ve ever read as a group. That’s high praise indeed.




Friday, October 26, 2018

Devon Delaney with Final Roasting Place


Our guest today on Drinks with Reads is author Devon Delaney. In addition to be a writer, she's an accomplished cook and won the first cooking contest she ever entered. Now she's cooking up cozy mysteries and she made us a sparkling drink to match her latest novel, Final Roasting Place. This is the second book in the series, and you can read about the first one here. Now, let's see what she has to say about Final Roasting Place.


In the second book of my cooking competition murder mystery series my main character, Sherry, has returned to her maiden name, Oliveri, with her divorce imminent. She works part-time job helping her father, Erno, with his hooked-rug business, while continuing her full-time passion, competitive cooking. Competing in a cook-off final at her local TV station, she makes short work of her competition. Having her father in attendance makes the victory all the more sweet.

Before Sherry has time to savor the win, events sour as a storm knocks out power to the studio. When the power is restored, the young anchor is found dead at her desk with a sharp object lodged in her neck. The weapon is an unusual tool, used by craftsmen who make hooked rugs, the rugs Erno Oliveri sells at his shop. Someone has made the TV station breaking news and framed Erno in the process. If Sherry’s going to protect her dad and their family name, she has to piece together seemingly insufficient clues to knock her father off the suspect list, while not becoming a victim herself. 

Amaretto Sour - A Cocktail To Die For
When I considered the perfect cocktail to cozy up to while reading Final Roasting Place something sweet and sour came to mind, reminding me of more than a few of the book’s characters. The first sip tastes sweet on the tongue before things turn lemony sour, building up to a bourbon-fueled climatic punch in the gut. Like the ending of a perfect mystery even the unlikeliest parts of the cocktail come together and you can’t wait to go back for another round.

Amaretto Sour
Ingredients:
2 ounces Amaretto
3/4 ounce bourbon
1 ounce fresh lemon juice
1 ounce simple syrup
Garnish: Lemon peel and maraschino cherry for garnish
Preparation: 
In a shaker filled with ice, add all of the ingredients and shake until chilled. Strain into an ice-filled glass. Top with a lemon peel and a cherry.


Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Review: A Forgotten Place by Charles Todd



There's a new Bess Crawford mystery by Charles Todd and Kerry Hammond is here today to let us know what she thought of it.

A Forgotten Place by Charles Todd is the 10th book in the Bess Crawford mystery series. The book was published September 18, by William Morrow publishers.

Even though the armistice has been signed and the fighting is over, battlefield nurse Bess Crawford is finding herself as busy as ever. There are plenty of injured soldiers whose suffering is only beginning. Many have become amputees and the prospect of returning to their families less than whole can feel like a fate worse than death. Bess finds herself dealing with psychological wounds in addition to the physical.

Captain Williams, an amputee himself, tries to help Bess improve the morale of his men, but many who are released from the hospital’s care are unable to face the life they left, choosing instead to end their lives. When Bess receives a letter from the Captain after he and his men have returned to Wales, she feels compelled to travel to a remote area in the dead of winter to check on her patients. What she finds is a small town full of secrets, one that does not welcome outsiders.

Beth is stranded when her driver leaves in the middle of the night without a word. With no way to contact her family or the military hospital, she takes it upon herself to investigate the strange happenings. Ships are crashing at the shore, townspeople are being attacked, and Bess feels that her own life may be in danger.

The atmosphere that the Todds create in A Forgotten Place is the reason I think it is one of the best book in this series. The Todds have captured the eerie setting of the Welsh coast and I felt transported to the cold, harsh locale. The storyline kept me guessing and I enjoyed watching the mystery unfold. As an added bonus (for those who are familiar with the series and the recurring characters) it’s fun to note that Simon makes an appearance.

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



Friday, October 19, 2018

Banana Bon Temps Cocktail and Mardi Gras Murder




 


Ellen Byron, author of the Cajun Countries is here with a fabulous banana flavored cocktail and a delicious new book, Mardi Gras Murder. Read the first page of Ellen's book at the end of the post.

Bananas have a storied history in Louisiana. Imports began in the 1870s. By the 1950s, New Orleans was nation’s largest port of entry for the tropical fruit. This is why, when I decided to invent a cocktail for Mardi Gras Murder, my latest Cajun Country Mystery, I began with the banana.

In the fictional town of Pelican, Louisiana, Mardi Gras may be the most celebrated holiday of the year. Traditions include a big parade, a pageant, a gumbo cook-off, and several Courir de Mardi Gras (Mardi Gras Runs). At Crozat Plantation B&B, family and guests enjoy a King Cake baked by Ninette Crozat, mother to my protagonist, Maggie Crozat. Everyone washes down Ninette’s delicious pastry with a Banana Bon Temps cocktail. But this year, Mardi Gras in Pelican has been up-ended by the devastating flood that preceded it. The Crozats are determined to triumph over disaster. Still, they can’t help be haunted by a grim discovery in their own backyard.

They’ll need more than a few Banana Bon Temps cocktails to get through the holiday.

BANANA BON TEMPS COCKTAIL

2 oz dark rum
2 oz banana liquor
1 ½ tsp. brown sugar
1 cup milk
1 cup ice
1 ripe banana

Blend everything but ½ tsp. brown sugar together. Pour in (highball) glasses and sprinkle each serving with the remaining brown sugar.

Serves 2


Here's the first page of Mardi Gras Murder...


MARDI GRAS MURDER


PROLOGUE
The rain came. Came in a way no one in St. Pierre Parish had ever seen before. Bayous and rivers exploded their banks, turning small towns into lakes. Some residents escaping the deluge had to dodge alligators that the rushing water swept onto their flooded front porches. “It was like the good Lord took all his showers on one day,” Claude Fauchon muttered to the Cajun Navy as the hardy volunteers rescued him and his ancient mutt from the submerged Creole cottage Claude had owned for sixty of his eighty years.
 The rain sent a torrent of water raging down the usually placid Bayou Beurre. And with it came a community’s rubbish: worn-out tires, a ringer washer, an out-of-date infant’s car seat, even a suitcase full of 1960s- era women’s wigs. The junk backed up against the single lane bridge that ran behind Crozat Plantation Bed and Breakfast, blocking the bayou’s path to the Gulf of Mexico. The bayou overflowed, threatening the B and B’s outbuildings. But an intrepid crew of Crozat family members and volunteers let the relentless rain soak them as they hauled away the detritus of small town life. It wasn’t until they’d almost reached the bottom of the pile that they found the body.
The body of a stranger to Pelican, Louisiana.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Q&A With Charles Todd





Charles Todd is a writing duo comprised of Caroline Todd and her son Charles Todd. They continue to entertain readers with not one, but two captivating series set around the time of WWI. Kerry Hammond is a huge fan of both and today she caught up with the two writers to find out about the latest in the Bess Crawford series, A Forgotten Place.


What inspired you to place Bess in such a remote locale in the latest book?

Caroline: It was such a marvelous place, and yet it had a real history that was dark and intriguing. We knew we had to write about it. As we worked with the story about what happens to amputees returning home at war’s end, we could see how the two could be combined, bringing out how Hugh Williams learns to cope and how Bess would fare in a place where she had no one she could really trust.You never know, starting a book, how it will end, but the challenge of getting there is half the fun.

Charles: I like the cover, because Bess is standing where we stood, looking down on that stunning bay. She fits that place so well too. When we’re searching for a setting and a story, it’s important for the two to work together. And we could see Bess out here, we could see Hugh Williams struggling with his crutches, wondering if he was still a man despite his injuries. In the Great War men feared amputation more than they feared death. And Bess is on her own, as Caroline said. We liked that idea, and wanted to explore it.



What kind of documents do you read up on to maintain the historical accuracy of the various scenarios in your books?

Caroline and Charles: When we first began writing about the Great War, we realized that we had two choices. We could use it as accurately as possible, keeping our mysteries well grounded in the period—what might have really happened then. Or we could make the war just a backdrop. We chose to make it real, not just a framework. And so we started looking for everything we could find on the period, mostly what was written and believed and felt at the time, not later material which looked back, using what had been learned about the war in later years. This wasn’t limited to reading. We’ve walked in trenches, been to museums, flown in a WW1 open cockpit biplane, clambered over tanks and handled weapons. These give you first-hand knowledge that can’t come from books.


How much does historical accuracy determine the plotlines you draw for Bess?

Caroline: It’s everything. Every Bess mystery hinges on something that could very well have happened at the time. We’ve been lucky too, in both the Rutledge and the Bess mysteries—we often discover something in the actual setting as we explore it ourselves, that becomes part of the story.  Sometimes we turn it on its head and explore it that way, sometimes we use it to start us off.

Charles: We’ve used the influenza epidemic, we’ve taken a horrific explosion and explored the aftermath, we’ve taken a hero to meet the King and receive a medal—all of these are real events that happened to real people, and could also happen to characters in a book. There was a real story here in Wales, too, and we could see how what happened in the past might have an impact on the present—Bess’s day.  And it worked remarkably well. It’s also very exciting to see how this plays out as we write. When you know you’re on the right track, the story just unrolls, and some of this excitement and enthusiasm reaches the reader too.


How do you manage to come up with plotlines and scenarios to fill two mystery series a year?

Caroline and Charles: That’s why we have to go to England and walk the ground. You can Google places or read about them, yes, that’s true. But when you walk into a little shop and see a photo from 1918, and the shop owner tells you a story about that photograph, your imagination is off and running. Or there’s something in the churchyard or in the stand of trees close by that seems dark and mysterious, or you hear a story of heroism by four young girls, and you know you have a story. What’s more, we can begin to see the characters, the people who might have lived there. That’s precious in putting people into your story line. They are real, not puppets, and they give the story a depth that really works.


Do you take Bess's adventures book by book, or do you have a longer term game plan for where you will take the character and what she might get involved with?

Caroline: We try not to look ahead. One way to keep a series fresh is to view each book as a stand alone.  Of course there are the series characters, there has to be some sort of continuity in the storyline, but if we look at the story as whole in itself, we can see nuances and characterizations that really are exciting and challenging. We aren’t stuck in an overall plan. This is also why you can pick up the series at any book—or start from the beginning if that’s your preference. It’s true of the Rutledge books as well.

Charles: Of course that doesn’t mean that we never have glimpses of the future. We know Bess has to go back to India at some point. Just when or why or how we leave to the Page 1 of that particular book. And yet Bess and Melinda discuss this in one of the books because the issue came up then. There’s Ireland too. We’ve got a great story possibility there that we stumbled over a few years ago, and it fits with something in Bess’s past. But we aren’t obliged to do these on a specific schedule. 


Bess's story is fictional, but the war is very real. Do you ever feel limited in your writing because you have to stay accurate in your depictions of battles and events?

Caroline: Actually the war fits very well into the story line. And because it’s real, it gives substance to the characters and the stories. So far we’ve never been tempted to change anything. There’s also something else. We wanted to make the war the centerpiece. And so it has to be accurate. Sometimes that has funny repercussions. I was in the middle of a scene one day when I had to stop and put a check out for the mail. Without even thinking, I dated the check 1917, rather than 2017, because I was still in the period.

Charles: Caroline is right. That’s one of the reasons why we have acquainted ourselves with the period and the war. We have a sense of where it has been and where it will be going. And that makes it easier to find the right story for the right time. The influenza story had to fit into the historical time line, as did the black powder explosion that Bess is drawn into. And this story A Forgotten Place worked best after the war, just when we were ready for it.  That’s not pre-planning so much as knowing where you are and what’s happening around your character. I love that challenge—it appeals to me.

Come back next week for a review of The Forgotten Place by Charles Todd.