Sunday, April 22, 2018

Persona by Karen Petersen

April is Poetry Month, so every Sunday this month we will be featuring a poem about crime from Gerald So's 5-2 blog. This week's poem is called Persona and it was written by Karen Petersen. 


Dead male body in hotel room
age 23, overdose
with yesterday's tan.
Cheerful coroner,
little black bag,
"This one’s easy."
Hot sun melting
the weeping needle
Parking lot tar,
footprint by the door
the last evidence of life.
This kid was no one
but he had a past,
and dreams
The ticking clock...
all gone by the stillness of noon.

Here Karen Petersen reads her poem:

Friday, April 20, 2018

Death by Dumpling and the Fortuitous Sling

Vivien Chien combines two of my favorite things in the whole wide world in her novels, Chinese take out and mysteries, and today she's prepared a fabulous beverage to match all of this goodness on today's Drinks with Reads. 

Vivien Chien lives and writes in Cleveland where she is hard at work on the third book in her Noodle Shop series. The second book, Dim Sum of All Fears, will release in August 2018. When she’s not writing, she can be found frolicking in the bookstore or searching for her next bowl of noodles. 

The last place Lana Lee thought she would ever end up is back at her family’s restaurant. But after a brutal break-up and a dramatic workplace walk-out, she figures that helping wait tables is her best option for putting her life back together. Even if that means having to put up with her mother, who is dead-set on finding her a husband. 

Lana’s love life soon becomes yesterday’s news once the restaurant’s property manager, Mr. Feng, turns up dead―after a delivery of shrimp dumplings from Ho-Lee. But how could this have happened when everyone on staff knew about Mr. Feng’s severe, life-threatening shellfish allergy? Now, with the whole restaurant under suspicion for murder and the local media in a feeding frenzy―to say nothing of the gorgeous police detective who keeps turning up for take-out―it’s up to Lana to find out who is behind Feng’s killer order. . . before her own number is up.

The Fortuitous Sling is the perfect complement to Death by Dumpling not only because its tarty flavor matches the sassy attitude of Lana Lee, but much like the story, this drink is guaranteed to sneak up on you. Enjoy the subtle notes of cherry, lime and ginger orange as you delve further into the mystery of who killed Thomas Feng. But, beware, both will have your head spinning by the end of the evening!

To enjoy, follow the recipe below:
The Fortuitous Sling

.75oz London Dry Gin (Tanqueray, Brokers)
.75 Blended Japanese Whiskey (Toki) 
.75 Cherry Heering
.5 Benedictine
.25 Grenadine
.75 Fresh Lime Juice
.5 Ginger Orange Syrup*
3 Dashes Angostura Bitters
2 oz Ginger Beer

Add all ingredients and ginger beer to a cocktail shaker with ice
Shake well
Strain over fresh ice in Collins glass
Top with Ginger Beer.
Garnish with orange slice & cherry

*Ginger Orange Syrup
2:2:1 ginger:sugar: water by weight.

2lbs ginger, peeled and grated
2lb sugar
1lb water
2 oranges zested
Simmer on low/medium heat until fully incorporated, try not to boil. Has other uses for delicious Mules!

*Thank you to John Gibian at LBM Bar in Lakewood, OH for putting together this drink. For more information on this amazing establishment, check out

You can find Vivien on Facebook, on Twitter @vivien_chien and on Instagram: vivien_chien_author.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Crime & Beyond Book Club Reads The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

Kerry Hammond is here with the latest report from the Denver-based Crime & Beyond book club. They just finished a book by Shari Lapena.

Crime & Beyond met recently to discuss The Couple Next Door, written by new-to-us author Shari Lapena. The latest craze in books is the domestic thriller, think Gone Girl and Girl on a Train. A recent article in the New Yorker explains that these books are ”a subset of recent thrillers featuring “unreliable” female protagonists who, despite their considerable handicaps—which may involve alcoholism, drug addiction, paranoia, and even psychosis—manage to persevere and solve mysteries where others have failed.”

The Couple Next Door falls into the domestic thriller category and it features Anne and Marco Conti, a young couple who have just started a family with their new baby Cora. One evening they decide to treat themselves to a night out and go next door to have dinner with neighbors. While they are enjoying their little dinner party, their world is turned upside down when Cora goes missing. Blame and suspicion falls on Anne and Marco, and as the police investigate we see inside their marriage. We see that Anne was overwhelmed with her new baby, Marco was struggling at work, and Anne’s parents never approved of their daughter’s choice in husband. The story behind Cora’s disappearance takes more than one turn as each character’s story unravels and the truth is revealed.

This was a great book club pick and we had a very lively and spirited discussion. We delved into everything from Anne and Marco’s parenting skills to the author’s ability to build suspense and lay suspicion at everyone’s door. The pace of the book made it hard to put down and the style of writing kept us all interested. We had differing opinions of the final twist and this provided additional points to debate.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

To Be A Woman in American Society by Josephine Napiore

April is Poetry Month, so every Sunday this month we will be featuring a poem about crime from Gerald So's 5-2 blog. This week's poem is called "To Be a Woman in American Society" and it was written by Josephine Napiore.


She says words that fall from lips bitter
with experience. "Women," she says, "see violence
enacted on other women." "Women,"
she says, "are always aware of a constant threat."

My ears ring with memories of "sweetheart"
from a man on the bus. I just looked away.
If I had responded at all, would he have followed me
off at my stop? Of "smile" from the man
on the sidewalk who blocked my path until I did.
If I had got around him, would he have followed me,
yelling "smile"? I imagine him screaming, "Smile,
you bitch, and make ME happy!"

We are controlled—we can't go out at night
alone. We cannot go THERE at all—in that skirt.
When we are sent home from school to change clothes
because our yoga pants distract the boys from their
education, we are being told ours
doesn't matter.

We are fat-shamed, slut-shamed, frigid-shamed.
Accused of "Friend zoning," which blames us
for not wanting the one who wants us. For having
our own feelings, desires, preferences. We are bullied
—by other women—online, to our faces, behind our backs.
We are told that we asked for it when we dress sexy.
We are raped and/or murdered when we say, "No."

We have to fight for the rights to control our own bodies
—over and over. Even once we have them.
We are made to feel stupid, worthless, unfeminine,
"bossy" when we stand up for ourselves. We are "crazy"
when men don't want to deal with our anger, even
when they are the ones who treated us badly
and made us angry. We should just take it
and shut up.

I fear for my daughter in this world—her lips
are still sweet. They still smile on their own.
To be a woman is limiting—in movement,
in careers, in income, in even our own facial
expressions. To be a woman is frightening,
dangerous. There are too many words
to be used against us.

Here is the poem read by the author.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Summer Sunsets and Murder on the Rocks by Shawn Reilly Simmons

Shawn Reilly Simmons is helping us get ready for summer by matching her latest Red Carpet Catering Mystery, Murder on the Rocks, with the perfect drink. Shawn has worked as a book store manager, fiction editor, convention organizer, wine rep, and movie set caterer. She serves on the Board of Malice Domestic, is a member of the Dames of Detection, and is an editor at Level Best Books.

Cooking behind the scenes on movie sets perfectly combined two of her great loves, movies and food, and provides the inspiration for the Red Carpet Catering series, published by Henery Press. Now lets hear about her new novel and that drink...

If you’re anything like me, you’re longing for summer. Winter hasn’t taken the hint over here on the East Coast. She’s the last one at the party, worried we’ll forget about her over the next eight months while we’re sitting on the beach sipping fruit-forward cocktails. Luckily we have Drinks with Reads to distract us from the frigid temps!
The fifth book in the Red Carpet Catering Mysteries is Murder on the Rocks, and just happens to feature a cocktail-themed cover. This time Penelope Sutherland and her movie catering crew are working on a film set in the mountains of Vermont. The co-directors, the Truegood brothers, are determined to keep the carbon footprint of the production to a minimum, which means Penelope’s team can only use locally sourced produce, much of it from the Truegood’s own garden, or get supplies from locally owned farms in the area. The tranquil setting is shattered by attacks on a tennis pro consulting on the film and other members of the crew. 

For a unique cocktail recipe to pair with Murder on the Rocks, I turned to my best friend of over thirty years, Julia Brugh (who happens to be a published author herself!). One of Julia’s many talents is creating vintage cocktails by putting her unique spin on traditional recipes. She’s also a Master Gardener, so it’s not surprising many of her creations feature fresh and in-season fruits and vegetables. It’s also fitting she chose to use a Vermont-based vodka that sources from honeybees, which are featured in the book. I’m beyond thrilled that Julia created a signature cocktail to pair with Murder on the Rocks, the Summer Sunset (recipe below). And I don’t care how cold it is outside, I’m pouring a shaker of these right now.   

Summer Sunset
1½ oz. Barr Hill Vodka (or Vodka of your choice)
½ oz. Jalapeno Simple Syrup (*recipe below)
¾ oz. Fresh Lime Juice
1 oz. Solerno Blood Orange Liqueur
2oz. Peach Juice (*Instructions below)

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake vigorously  until well chilled. Strain into a chilled coupe or champagne glass (or flute).
Top with a splash of Prosecco or Club Soda (Optional).

To make simple syrup:
Combine one cup of water and one cup of sugar in a saucepan. Add half of a jalapeno pepper.
Heat until the sugar is dissolved, lightly mashing the pepper with a wooden spoon at the same time. Allow to cool, with the jalapeno in the syrup. Once cool, remove the pepper, and store in an airtight container.

To make the peach juice:
Peel and dice 2 fresh peaches and process in a blender or food processor with water until smooth. Store in the refrigerator until time to use.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Review: Scot Free by Catriona McPherson

Kerry Hammond is here today with a review of one of her favorite authors.

Catriona McPherson has started a new series and I just had to check it out. I’m a big fan of McPherson’s historic Dandy Gilver series, as well as her strange and atmospheric standalone novels. I pick up a book with her name on it and I know that I am guaranteed to be entertained, and sometimes super creeped out. She never disappoints and I was pleased to see that she was branching out into a more cozy, contemporary series with her latest book Scot Free, released on April 8 by Midnight Ink.

In Scot Free we’re introduced to Lexy Campbell, marriage counselor. Oh where to begin in describing Lexy. She’s from Scotland and recently moved to the US, specifically California, to marry a man she thought had swept her off her feet. Turns out it was a bad move and a big mistake. Her whirlwind marriage has ended in divorce and her plans to move back to Scotland are waylaid when her client is arrested for the murder of her husband…..Lexy’s other client.

McPherson delivers up a great deal of humor in this series. She even manages to take a scene involving the identification of a body at the morgue and make it funny.

The more I looked around, the more of sorts it got. The floor drain didn’t help. The rotary saw sitting on the side didn’t spark thoughts of bunnies making daisy-chains either. But worst of all was that some of the equipment was draped in sheets. My mind boggled. What were they covering if they let us see the saw?

Lexy has been drawn into the investigation of her client and feels the need to clear her of the murder charges that are plaguing her. This isn’t an easy task and she must deal with some strange characters along the way.

The book is a fun and funny new series. I really enjoyed following along with Lexy and her new friends, a motley crew of interesting people and quirky characters. I can’t wait to see what future mysteries this cast encounters.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Over It or Still buzzing? (the imperfect assimilation of a recent immigrant)

Catriona McPherson, a Scottish author who now lives in Northern California, has a new book out this week called, Scot Free. This makes her ideally suited to deliver this novel, right now. You may have seen Catriona's many Drinks with Reads posts, watched her win one of her many book awards or noticed that she's the Toastmistress for this year's Malice Domestic Convention. We'll have our book review tomorrow, but for now let's hear from Catriona about what still amazes her about living here in California.

When Lexy Campbell (heroine of SCOT FREE) moved to California, she was charmed not only by her handsome husband-to-be but also by “the exotic allure of gas-station coffee, drive-thru burgers (with a U!), and right on red”. But when Mr Handsome turns out not to be husband-quality at all, some of the other charms wear off too. “…there I was, drinking gas-station coffee that tasted like fried shoes and eating heinous burgers flipped by people who could neither cook nor spell. Right on red is a wonderful thing but it’s not enough to build a life round.”

Today at Mystery Playground I thought I’d take stock of which exotic wonders are still amazing me, eight years after I arrived in California, and which I’ve got used to. Guess which of these can still make my heart skip a beat: mailboxes, water fountains, two sinks, a big fridge and public holidays.

I spent the first forty-odd years of my life with my post coming through a hole in the front door and dropping onto a mat.  But now, there’s a mailbox on a stalk down at the end of the county road where the tarmac turns to gravel. I can put stuff in it and raise the wee flag and, when Dan the mailman can’t cram a parcel in, I get a peach-coloured billet doux summoning me to the post office.

Over it or still buzzing?

Buzzerama. I LOVE MY MAILBOX! It’s so cute. It looks like a dovecote, or a little free library. It makes me happy every day.

Water fountains
I love water fountains even more than I love my mailbox, but I’m over them too. I use them most days and I’ve forgotten what it’s like to be without them. Now, in Scotland, it feels wrong to have to take water when you go out for a run. Or buy water if you’re thirsty. Chuh! Water fountains are genius. Thank you, America.

Two sinks

I knew early on in the process of house-hunting that I was probably going to have an en suite bathroom, for the first time in my life (outside hotel stays). This was amazing. And it turned out even more amazing. Because in my en suite bathroom were . . . two sinks! One for Irish Spring scum, beard bits, frogs, snails and puppy-dogs’ tails and one for sugar, spice, and this soap here. 

But am I over it or am I still buzzing?

Are you kidding? I’ll never get over the wonder of this. I deliberately wait until the scientist is shaving and then pad over to soak a little facecloth in cool, clear water and use it to wipe of my cucumber cleanser. We catch one another’s eye and say “Two sinks! Get us!” regularly.

A fridge you could live in
This house was foreclosed when we bought it and so it was completely empty. Boy, the hole for the fridge looked huge. I couldn’t believe there was a fridge that could fill it. I was wrong. People have come down the Zambezi in smaller vessels than my current fridge. Eddie Izzard’s probably planning to cross the Atlantic in something that would fit inside my fridge. And is it empty? Nope, because everything in it is huge too: ten pound bags of local oranges, quarts of milk (pints look dinky now), more yoghurt than anyone has ever eaten in a human lifetime, pickles of a range and number beyond all comprehension . . . 

But am I over it or am I still buzzing?

I’m completely over it. I’m used to it. When guests arrive from Scotland now and open the fridge they ask “Who’s all coming?” and I say “What?” They say “Who’s going to eat all that yoghu- Jeez! What was that noise?” (It was the automatic icemaker. Tee-hee.)


My yearly rhythm was set for long weekends at Christmas, New Year, Easter, May Day, Spring Bank, August Bank, and (recently) St Andrew’s Day. And what a long haul it sometimes was between Hogmanany and Good Friday. But here in California, you’ve no sooner got the tree down on the 6th of January than it’s Martin Luther King Day. And you’re still coasting from that on Presidents’ Day. Easter’s a sore point but Cesar Chavez Day coincided this year. Then Memorial/Labor (Which one’s which? Dunno), the fourth of July, Labor/Memorial (the other one – white gloves back in the drawer), Remembrance Day, Columbus Day, Thanksgiving, the day after Thanksgiving and Christmas again.


You bet. Most of these holidays still come as a complete surprise. The scientist arrives home from work, saying: “University’s shut on Monday.” “Oh?” I say. “Why?” “Someone great but dead?” was one notable explanation a few years back. By now, I can name them all except Labor and Memorial. If anyone knows a trick for that, can you clue me in, please? Ta. 


Sunday, April 8, 2018

Confidence Man by Peter M. Gordon

April is Poetry Month, so every Sunday this month we will be featuring a poem about crime from Gerald So's 5-2 blog. This week's poem is called Confidence Man and is written by Peter M. Gordon.


I met Bill in a bar on the lower East Side.
He liked to drink and I liked to listen.
After one martini Bill shared his secret:

"Always tell the mark what he wants to hear."
Bill made good money on the grift, as he
liked to call it. Now in his sixties, hands

no longer steady enough to deal off the
bottom of the deck or switch two-dollar
bills with twenties, he reminisced about

how he roped marks like a rodeo champ.
Ponzi schemes, wire cons, badger games,
the Iraqi dinar, the Spanish Prisoner.

He played them all in his heyday. Lived
high. When drunk, Bill could still give a
cold reading to raise the hair on your

neck. I wondered why such an artist
sat on a stool night after night swapping
stories, caging free drinks. After I paid the

tab Bill snapped, "Give me a fin."
I passed him a fiver. "Come back
tomorrow," Bill said. "I’ll bilk you again."

Here is the author reading his poem:

Friday, April 6, 2018

Diane Mott Davidson: A Reminiscent Romp Through Macaroons and Murder

TK Starr is paying homage to one of her favorite mystery authors, Diane Mott Davison. 

Grab the fleece throw, a few Dungeon bars and a Double Shot of  Espresso. Get ready to have your taste buds seduced and your mystery spot tickled as you melt into the world of Aspen Meadow, Colorado and Goldilocks Catering- Where Everything is “Just Right”.

Everything, that is, except the homicide rate. Little Aspen Meadow must have had the highest per capita murder quotient behind Midsomer County in England or Cabot Cove in Maine by the time Ms. Davidson finished the 17th book  (The Whole Enchilada) in 2013 . Oh sure, the criminal catastrophes were separated by a few months, but when you’re talking about a small town perched on a mountain with Denver 40 miles downhill, it’s still impressive.  You don’t really notice the dropping bodies though as each diabolical deed is casually intertwined with Monster Cinnamon rolls drooling with a creamy sugar glaze or chewy “Cereal Killer” cookies laced with enough butter toffee bits to poison any good diet. By the time you find out who the culprit is, you’re starting to think that murder really isn’t so bad. Quite tasty actually.

I last read the Goldy books in the 90’s yet I still remember the magnificently penned descriptions of epicurean delights and the resulting sense of  comfort.  It was this yearning for nostalgic certainty that drove me to rediscover Goldy. I’m glad I did, but one thing I’d forgotten was not to read her on an empty stomach.  The constant stomach gurgling can be downright distracting. Yes, Ms. Davidson’s writing is that criminally delicious.

But let me back-up. As this endearing series opens, curly-haired Gertrude “Goldy” Bear lives in Aspen Meadow, Colorado with her 10 year-old son, Arch. She has recently escaped from an abusive marriage to Dr. John Richard Korman (aka JRK or the “Jerk”) who shares the town’s lucrative ob-gyn practice with his father and continues to viciously harass Goldy in private whenever he can. Goldy is determined to make  “Goldilocks Catering” a success as the Jerk’s spousal/child support payments are anything but reliable. Her closest friend is Marla, a wealthy woman with a kind heart who just happens to be the Jerk’s other ex-wife. Marla takes as much pleasure in trashing the Jerk as she does sharing the town gossip with Goldy. She and Goldy have also started their own “AA” support group called “Amour Anonymous” for the love addicted. It’s  through her catering business that Goldy  gets involved in the mysteries and meets Furman County Sheriff’s Deputy, Investigator Tom Schulz, a smart guy with teddy bear qualities and some wicked chocolate recipes of his own.

Each cleverly entitled book sees Goldy juggling her catering duties, mothering duties, and self-imposed investigating whatever wrongdoing is happening at the moment duties. The reasons for sticking her spatula into police business vary, but are usually very personal like saving her catering business (Catering to Nobody), absolving a friend accused of murder  (Chopping Spree) and finding justice for a murdered colleague ( Prime Cut). Even though I wished she’d stand up more to the Jerk, especially early on, it’s easy to like Goldy. I identify with her caffeine addiction, her inability to knock off those last 10  (or 15) pounds, and her snarky self-smarts.  I want Goldy to win, no matter the occasional eye rolling at her exploits.  

 An added delight this time around has been listening  to the Goldy books on my long daily commutes. The stories come alive through the talented tones of narrator Barbara Rosenblat  (please see the November 13, 2013 interview with  Ms. Rosenblat by Mystery Playground Contributor Kim Hammond  here). Ms. Rosenblat not only gives each character their own personality and voice, but her descriptions of Goldy’s delicacies are mouth watering.  I  look forward to the long drives knowing whatever happens in the real world, in Goldy’s world at least, everything really will turn out “Just Right.”


My drink for the Goldy Culinary Series can only be one thing: coffee. Straight-up, X-large and Strong. Goldy is useless before her first cup in the morning (I can relate) and often double doses at night when she’s cooking or deducting.  She sees it as her lifesaver. Literally. In one of the books (not telling which) I learned if I was ever poisoned, drink large amounts of super concentrated espresso to dilute it. Nice to know.

For this week’s conspiratorial collusion, I’ve paired a large mug of the caffeinated brew with creations based on Ms. Davidson’s 2015 Cookbook   Goldy’s Kitchen: Cooking, Writing, Family, Life”  ,  (Please see the review of the cookbook by Mystery Playground creator Deborah Lacy on September 23, 2015 here). As suggested by the subtitle, Ms. Davidson relates anecdotal tidbits on writing and life between recipes compiled from all 17 books. For example, if the first book doesn’t sell then just write another one, be wary of too much or too little praise from others, there’s no one ‘Great American Novel’ (always room for another, so keep writing) and most of all, don’t take yourself too seriously, go have a cookie.  With that said, I present my takes on Cereal Killer Cookies ( The Cereal Murders) as cookie cups and Scout’s Brownies (Dying for Chocolate) decorated for Easter. Both go quite nicely with a  steaming cup of Joe. I do hope Ms. Davidson decides to continue Goldy’s saga someday, but until then,  Bones Appetite!!

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Vineland by Robert Weibezahl

April is Poetry Month, so every Sunday this month we will be featuring a poem about crime from Gerald So's 5-2 blog. This week's poem is called Vineland was written by Robert Weibezahl.


In a box of old photos
a woman I never knew
my grandmother claimed
by a husband who would marry his mistress
He is in the photo, too
and neither looks the part
lothario or jilted wife
in fading black and white
she, solid and stolid and dowdy of dress
he, white-haired, mustached

On the back of the photo
scrawled in Grandma's broad hand
the Pine Barrens, Grandma said
which sounded at once exotic and arid and green
Burned down the house with her inside
Was she already dead?
I failed to ask, and now will never know
every witness long gone
all from that time long dead
or past caring

Thus family history fades
as vulnerable as
neglected in an old shirt box
from some department store long gone, too
How was this woman, this shadow
related to us
or was it the man who shared our blood?
More consolation in being related to the victim
than her cold-blooded killer
but cold comfort all the same

Here's the author reading it aloud: