Monday, June 11, 2018

Q&A with Paul Levine

Award-winning author Paul Levine joins us today to talk about his new book, Bum Deal, the third book in the series. Paul's books have been translated into 23 languages. Let's hear about the latest...

Please tell us a little about BUM DEAL.

Jake Lassiter, my old warrior of the courtroom, fights for justice – and his life – in his final adventure. The series began in 1990 with TO SPEAK FOR THE DEAD, my first novel, which thankfully is still in print. In BUM DEAL, Lassiter, a second-string linebacker turned criminal defense lawyer, finally switches teams. As the appointed special prosecutor in a high-profile murder case, he vows to take down a prominent surgeon accused of killing his wife. There’s just one problem…or maybe three: no evidence, no witness, and no body. Complicating Jake’s life is CTE, the lethal brain disease he may have contracted banging heads in the NFL. So, when I say this is Lassiter’s last trial...well, maybe it’s REALLY his last trial.

BUM DEAL and the novel preceding it, BUM LUCK, both touch on CTE. When did you start developing the idea to include this in your Jake Lassiter narrative? Also, how did you come up with such clever titles for this series?

A close friend of mine, a former football player and international rugby player, died of CTE a few years ago. It affected me deeply, and I decided to visit that horrific plague on my hero of a dozen novels. In BUM LUCK, Lassiter, who suffered multiple concussions playing football, begins showing symptoms of brain damage: confusion, irritability, memory lapses. In BUM DEAL, his medical condition worsens and he undergoes experimental treatments that are based on actual medical procedures. 

The likelihood that Lassiter has the disease, which is always fatal, changes his outlook on life. Perhaps that why he wants to seek justice – that illusory, shadowy concept – on the other side, i.e., the state. Now he prosecutes an accused murderer, instead of defending him.

As for titles – BUM RAP, BUM DEAL, BUM LUCK – I like their crispness. In the era when people search for books on their iPhones, it’s a lot easier to read a two-word title. I loved the book, “Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All,” but I’m not sure you could do that now.

For new readers, tell us a bit more about Jake, as well as his unlikely best friends, lawyers Victoria Lord and Steve Solomon. Where did these characters come from? Who are they?

I started writing “To Speak for the Dead” in 1988, when I was 40 and going through a mid-life
crisis. I was a partner in a large (1,000 lawyers) international law firm. My cases, primarily commercial litigation, bored me. Judges, clients, and partners irritated me. Instead of seeking therapy, I created Jake Lassiter, a guy who would punch out a witness who lied and happily be held into contempt to prove a point in court. “A lawyer who’s afraid of jail,” he says, “is like a surgeon who’s afraid of blood.” In other words, Lassiter would do things I would not. I found his conduct (and misconduct) oddly satisfying.

The recurring themes of the series are the precarious nature of justice and the difficulty (or impossibility) of achieving true justice. Lassiter has long approached the job of the criminal defense lawyer with a certain amount of cynicism. 

“A good lawyer is part con man, part priest—promising riches if you pay the fee, threatening hell if you don’t.  The rainmakers are the best paid and have coined a remarkably candid phrase: We eat what we kill. Hey, they don’t call us sharks for our ability to swim.”

Steve Solomon and Victoria Lord stem from my love of the battle-of-the-sexes dramedy.  Dashiell Hammett’s “The Thin Man” books with squabbling detectives Nick and Nora Charles and of course, television’s “Moonlighting” with Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis.

In “Solomon vs. Lord,” Steve Solomon, a street-smart graduate of Key West School of Law, teams up with Victoria Lord, a Chardonnay and pâté Ivy League grad. They defend a woman on charges she killed her filthy rich husband. It’s lighter, funnier than the Lassiter novels. Victoria plays by the book.  Steve burns the book. He has immense respect for justice but little respect for the law, which he sees as insensitive and inflexible and enforced by people who are vain and corrupt.  His own code:  "If the law doesn’t the law." And, “Choose a juror the way you choose a lover.  Someone who doesn’t expect perfection and overlooks your bullshit.” And, “Lie to your priest, your spouse, and the IRS, but always tell your lawyer the truth.” 

Did you always plan for Jake to meet Steve and Victoria? How has the trio surprised you?

I thought Solomon and Lord would spice up the Lassiter series, and I think they have. 

Your previous experience as an athlete and a lawyer obviously informed your plots and the characters. Has your past experience as a screenwriter also informed your novels? How? Will you ever write another screenplay? Why or why not?

Writing for television (“JAG” and “First Monday”) sharpened my dialogue skills. Believe it or not, I’m writing a spec feature script set in 1930's Hollywood.

If Steve, Jake, and Victoria were actually real people, would you be friends with each of them (even Steve!)? Why or why not?  

What? They’re not real?  Seriously, I created these characters. They’re already my best friends!

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

I got away from perjurious witnesses, inept judges, and obstreperous opposing lawyers...except for ones I made up.

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

“The Woman in the Window” by A.J. Finn. Slick combination of intricate plotting with smart writing. Really nice wordsmithery.

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

Sherlock Holmes, without the cocaine and morphine use. Doesn’t everyone want to be the smartest guy in the room?  

Friday, June 8, 2018

Paying Homage to Philip Marlowe with the Gimlet

R.G. Belsky, a longtime New York City journalist and a crime fiction author, is making Gin Gimlet's to celebrate his new mystery YESTERDAY’S NEWS published by Oceanview in May. This is the first book in a series featuring Clare Carlson, the news director for a New York City TV station and with RG's experience in newsrooms, it's bound to have the inside story. Can't wait to dig in... 

I'm going to go with the gimlet as the drink for my book YESTERDAY'S NEWS, a Clare Carlson Mystery.
YESTERDAY’S NEWS is about a legendary missing child cold case – and a journalist obsessed with finding out answers to what really happened. 
Fifteen years ago, an 11-year-old girl named Lucy Devlin disappeared on her way to school in New York City – and was never heard from again. Clare Carlson, a young newspaper reporter at the time, became a media star covering the sensational story – even winning a Pulitzer Prize. Now she is the news director of a New York TV station. 
But, on the 15th anniversary of Lucy Devlin’s disappearance, the story explodes into the headlines again with new evidence, new victims and new suspects. 
And Clare Carlson finds herself being drawn back into a baffling story that she thought she had left behind her a long time ago. 
Now Clare, like a lot of people in the New York City media, does a lot of hard-living and hard-drinking around town. She doesn't really drink gimlets, at least as far as I know. Like most journalists, she's more of a beer and straight liquor type of woman.
But the inspiration for YESTERDAY'S NEWS and Clare Carlson (like every other book I've written) really originated back when I first read Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe, then decided I wanted to write mystery novels too.
And Philip Marlowe's favorite drink was the gimlet.
Well, the truth of the matter is the gimlet didn't make an appearance in Chandler's work until one of his final books, The Long Goodbye. That's when Marlowe drinks gimlets with his "friend" Terry Lennox and waxes eloquently about the drink. In fact, Chandler mentions the gimlet numerous times throughout the book, identifying it with Marlowe forever in literary history.  The story was that Chandler had discovered the drink on a trip to England and liked it so that he decided to have Marlowe drink gimlets too. 

It's not a common drink today and a bit old-fashioned - but also simple to make.

Classic Gin Gimlet

  • 2 ounces gin
  • 3/4 ounce fresh lime juice
  • 3/4 ounce simple syrup
  • Lime wedge, for garnish


Fill shaker with ice and pour in the gin, lime juice and simple syrup.

Stir until cold.

Strain into a chilled cocktail glass – or any glass filled with ice.

Garnish with the lime wedge.


That's all there is to it to drink Philip Marlowe's favorite drink. In fact, it's so simple maybe I'll have Clare Carlson drink one in my next book. Yep, instead of beer or bourbon, I'll have her betting down a gimlet.

I think Marlowe would like that.  

You can find RG on Twitter @DickBel and Facebook.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Review: The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

We caught up with Kerry Hammond to see what she thought of the latest standalone novel by the prolific British writer Anthony Horowitz.

Anthony Horowitz is the author of the critically acclaimed mystery Magpie Murders, published earlier this year. He was the producer of the first seven episodes of Midsomer Murders, and the creator and writer of another great British mystery drama, Foyle’s War. He was commissioned by the Conan Doyle Estate to write two new Sherlock Holmes books and the Ian Fleming Estate to write Trigger Mortis, a novel featuring James Bond. The Word is Murder, his latest standalone, released on June 5 from Harper publishers.

The Word is Murder began as a bit of a surreal experience. The protagonist of the story is writer Anthony Horowitz. Yes, the very same Anthony Horowitz who is….the author of the book. He lists his credentials as novelist and television creator and producer; then it turns to fiction, or at least I think it does. Horowitz, in the story, is approached by ex-police detective, Daniel Hawthorne, and asked to write a story about his investigation into the death of a woman who planned her own funeral six hours before her murder. Horowitz reluctantly follows along, writing about the search for the killer. The investigation takes them back ten years, to the death of a child in a seaside town at the hands—or vehicle—of their current victim. Whether or not it played a part in the murder is part of the mystery.

I loved that there was a thin and obscure delineation between fact and fiction. The blurred line between the real life novelist and the character he plays in his own book was very intriguing. Horowitz by no means tries to make himself out to be the hero of the story. We actually see how Hawthorne controls the show and leads the writer around in the investigation, sometimes telling him so little about what is going on as to be dangerous to everyone involved.

This is my first Horowitz book but definitely not my last. I enjoyed the author’s ability to tell an interesting and compelling story that kept me engaged and guessing. I felt that Hawthorne was leading me as well, and I, like Horowitz, was clueless until the very last minute.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Review: See Her Run by Peggy Townsend

Kerry Hammond loves reading new authors and today she’s here to talk about new-to-her author Peggy Townsend.

See Her Run by Peggy Townsend was released on June 1 from publisher Thomas & Mercer. It’s the first book in a series featuring Aloa Snow, a former journalist with a checkered past. Townsend was an award winning newspaper reporter before she became a novelist, covering a variety of stories that have even included serial killers. Her pre-author background intrigued me and I was eager to start the Aloa Snow series at book one.

In See Her Run, Snow, a former Los Angeles Times Reporter, is given the opportunity to write the real story behind the death of Hayley Poole, a well-known athlete who was found in the dessert under suspicious circumstances. The reason this opportunity is so important is because Snow’s career took a nosedive when she cut corners on a previous piece and was fired and subsequently ostracized from the reporting community. Her interest in the story might be because she wants to clear her name, or because she needs the money, or to find out the truth. But the truth is, it’s really all three…and a then some.

Snow is a multifaceted and intriguing character. She felt new and different, unlike any character I have come across. She has some issues she needs to work through and I found this not only human, but very real. Kudos to the author for providing a fresh and interesting protagonist. In that same vein, supporting characters are extremely important; they can make or break a story. Snow’s band of misfits who help her investigate are wonderful. They were quirky enough to be entertaining but not too much as to be over the top. I really enjoyed this book and look forward to more in the series.

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

Friday, June 1, 2018

Cocktails with Andy Siegel

Today on Drinks with Reads, Andy Siegel joins us to celebrate his Tug Wiler series of mysteries. 

The new books—Nelly’s Case, Elton’s Case, and Jenna’s Case—which demonstrate the rush to cover up genuine wrongs, will thrust readers headfirst into the emotionally charged high-stakes arena of medical malpractice law. 

In Nelly’s Case, two girls walk into a dentist’s office … but only one walks out. Yet it’s no joke, and there isn’t a punch-line. Discovering exactly what happened to Nelly in that dental chair, anesthesia infusing, and who was responsible lies at the book’s center. The fact that a witness was on hand—Jessie, her half-sister—looks a distinct advantage. But the closer Tug gets to the truth the more elusive it becomes.
In Elton’s Case, could it have happened that, while being transported with less than suitable care in a police van, while wrongfully locked up for a crime he didn’t commit, Elton suffered injuries rendering him a paraplegic in a wheelchair for the past decade? In this twister, Tug finds himself caught in the unlikeliest of conflicts. After all, what’s he supposed to think when the defendant, the City of New York, begins offering him millions to settle while at the same time maintaining its allegation that Elton’s case is a phony one?
In Jenna’s Case, a bright, outgoing, and ace Brooklyn double-Dutch jump-roper is now a nearly mute shadow of her former teen-age self after having had her vulnerability exploited by a doctor without a conscious. As Tug proceeds to amass evidence against the defiant surgeon who’d willfully mutilated Jenna, he soon discovers that the forces set against him are not only more numerous than he’d imagined but also more deadly. 
Now for the attendant cocktail … The Tequila Tug
The Tequila Tug consists of Don Julio 1942 Anejo on ice served in a large stem glass stocked with whole California mandarin orange wedges. The third ingredient—outside the glass—consists of well-grilled asparagus topped with Kosher salt. The best part of this sweet and salty combo: eating the scrumptious tequila infused wedges while racking your brain attempting to solve your favorite Tug Wyler Mystery. 
In Suzy’s Case, the series debut novel (Optioned CBS TV, People Best Beach Read, Suspense Magazine Best Book), Tug finds himself at a bar just after hospital discharge having been run off the road by one of his own client’s. His post-coma craving—which enthralls an attractive bartender mesmerized by coma survivors—is, you guessed it, tequila and asparagus.
Finally, an ambulance chaser that you can root for …

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Review: The Lost Ones by Sheena Kamal

Kerry Hammond is here to review the first novel in a new series by a new author.

Sheena Kamal is a crime and investigative journalism researcher turned author. The Lost Ones is her first novel and it features PI-in-training, Nora Watts. It released July 25 from William Morrow. I love to read books by debut authors; it’s a great way to get a feel for a new voice and fresh characters. This book sucked me in from page one.

In The Lost Ones, we meet Nora. She’s working as a researcher for a private investigator and it’s clear from the beginning that she has a troubled past. She is contacted by a couple to find their lost daughter, Bonnie, who also happens to be Nora’s daughter. Yes, early on we find out that Nora gave a daughter up for adoption. We also learn that the circumstances surrounding that pregnancy are anything but normal. The fact that she gave Bonnie up does not change the fact that she feels compelled to locate her. As she does so, the secrets she has kept threaten to come out, she finds out who she can trust, and she learns more about what happened to her all those years ago, when she really wasn’t meant to survive.

The storyline had me hooked and just when I thought I knew where it was going, it would take another turn. Kamal has a compelling voice and I took to Nora immediately. She is such a complex character and about as far from being cookie cutter as possible. I was fascinated by her strength, resilience, and intelligence. She’s a fighter and if she’s going to be beat she’s going to go down fighting. I haven’t felt this drawn in by a character since Lisbeth Salander in Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I’m glad that I found this series, it will be one that I follow diligently.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Review: 19 Souls by J. D. Allen

Kerry Hammond is here today to review the first book in a new series by author J.D. Allen.

19 Souls by J. D. Allen is the first book in the new Sin City series featuring private investigator Jim Bean; no relation to the bourbon. The book was released on February 8 by Midnight Ink and Allen’s short stories have appeared in the 2015 Murder Under the Oaks Bouchercon Anthology and the upcoming Carolina Crimes. This is her first full length novel and she definitely jumped right in with both feet.

In 19 Souls, Las Vegas private investigator, Jim Bean, is hired by a woman to find her missing brother. He begins what he thinks will be a simple case, only to find out that it is anything but. His client isn’t who she says she is, she’s way more dangerous that he thought she was, and he may have inadvertently put the lives of several innocent people in danger. He sets out to try and make up for his mistake, finding it hard not to take it personally.

The story is quite a thrill ride and has a higher body count than a lot of books I’ve read—this is by no means a bad thing. Told with chapters that alternate between the investigation and the killer, the reader frequently sees inside the head of the person responsible for the carnage. There’s no surprise or whodunit, but a thriller that takes the reader on a wild ride to see if the good guys will prevail and how many will perish as they fight. It is soon clear that the book’s title is telltale and knowing this only ramps up the tension.

I had a hard time putting it down, even if I was a bit squeamish at times. I found that I really liked Bean as a character and it’s obvious that there is more to learn about his backstory. I look forward to the next book in the series.

Friday, May 25, 2018

West African Ginger Drink and "A Divination of Death"

Agatha- and Macavity Award-nominated author, Edith Maxwell, is here making ginger drinks and pairing them with her fabulous short story in this year's Malice Domestic anthology, Mystery Most Geographical. Edith writes the Quaker Midwife Mysteries, the Local Foods Mysteries, and award-winning short crime fiction. As Maddie Day she writes the popular Country Store Mysteries and the new Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries. 

A mother and world traveler, Maxwell is president of Sisters in Crime New England. She lives north of Boston with her beau, two elderly cats, and an impressive array of garden statuary. She blogs at,, and Under the Cover of Midnight
Read about all her personalities and her work at

West African Ginger Drink
This refreshing ginger drink is made all over West Africa. In one of the languages of Burkina Faso, where “A Divination of Death” is set, the drink is called Gnamakoudji (pronounced nya-ma-KOO-ji). Ginger can be very spicy, and helps to cool one on a hot day. When you make this drink, sweeten and dilute to your own taste. 

Twenty years ago I lived in Burkina Faso for a year with my husband and two school-age sons. Burkina is an extremely poor land-locked country in West Africa. We met an American woman doing doctoral research on fortune tellers in the countryside to the southwest of the capital, Ouagadougou. When she invited me sans famille (that is, just me) to come and visit for a week, I jumped at the chance. I visited traditional diviners with her, asked lots of questions, and soaked up the atmosphere. I’m delighted to finally see my first crime fiction set Burkina in print.

Here is the anthology’s intro to “A Divination of Death.” In a country where divination is a part of daily life, the solution to the death of a young man may depend on a dying statement and a fortune-teller’s ritual. Find the story on page 251 of Malice Domestic 13: Mystery Most Geographical (Wildside Press, April 2018).


1/2 pound fresh unpeeled ginger root, grated
Just-boiled water, as needed to cover
4 limes, juiced
1 cup white sugar, to taste
7 cups water, or as needed
16 leaves fresh mint, crushed

Place grated ginger into a bowl and cover with hot water. Cover bowl with a plate and let steep for at least an hour. Strain into cheesecloth in a colander over another bowl or pitcher. Squeeze juice from ginger pulp into a pitcher, leaving the ginger pulp as dry as possible.

Stir lime juice and half the sugar into ginger juice until sugar has dissolved. Taste, and add more sugar as desired.

Dilute with cold water to taste, stir to combine, and serve garnished with crushed mint leaves. Adding a dose of rum or whiskey would not be remiss if you like cocktails!

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: ). 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: 

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.

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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.