Friday, February 16, 2018

Art Taylor, Coast to Coast and the Black Manhatttan

Art Taylor has won several of the mystery world’s top awards for his fiction, including four Agathas, one Anthony, two Macavities, and three Derringers. Today he chats about “A Necessary Ingredient,” recently named a finalist for this year’s Agatha Award for Best Short Story. The story was originally published in Coast to Coast: Private Eyes From Sea to Shining Sea, edited by Andrew McAleer and Paul D. Marks (Down & Out Books). You can read the full story for free here. Welcome, Art!

The title “A Necessary Ingredient” has several meanings—chief of which is a reference to the tonka bean, whose history and mysteries I was introduced to by a former writing professor, novelist Wilton Barnhardt (though revealing any more about that introduction would immediately prove a spoiler alert for the story itself).

In “A Necessary Ingredient,” a new chef in a mid-sized North Carolina town hires private investigator Ambrose Thornton to track down who in the area might be growing tonka beans—outlawed by the U.S. government since 1954 but a prized delicacy, especially in French cooking, for its sensual taste and aroma. Intrigued by the mission and beguiled by his client’s attractiveness, Thornton sets out on a quest to find the bean—and perhaps win her too.

But another “necessary ingredient” in this mystery’s mix is, in fact, traditional mystery fiction itself. Thornton admits upfront that he’s not actually a detective but just enjoys reading classic detective stories. That reading frames and infuses his narrative, and in many ways, I intended the story as a tribute—a tip of the fedora, so to speak—both to hard-boiled detective tales and to regional, specifically Southern, crime fiction. You’ll find nods here not only to Chandler but to North Carolina writer Margaret Maron as well, her work maybe even more integrally given the setting.

As for a drink to accompany all that, I’m drawing on a variation of a classic cocktail mentioned in the story itself. The Black Manhattan in particular has a necessary ingredient of its own: the Sicilian amaro Averna. I tried to substitute another amaro once or twice (Ramazzotti, for example) and the effect was lost. Averna gives the drink both its dark hue and a caramelly sweetness that balances against the melancholy bitterness—really an irresistible combination to my mind.

Whether my story proves irresistible too, I hope you’ll find the sweetness in it, offsetting a couple of dark twists and bitter revelations as the plot unfolds.

The Black Manhattan
2 oz. rye whiskey (your preference)

1 oz. Averna (no substitutes!)

1 dash Angostura bitters

1 dash orange bitters
Stir well with ice, and strain into a chilled coupe glass.
Cherry garnish.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Review Mister Tender's Girl by Carter Wilson

Kerry Hammond is here to tell us about the latest book that kept her up reading into the small hours.

Mr. Tender’s Girl is the sixth thriller by author CarterWilson and was just released on February 13 by Sourcebooks Landmark Publishers. Each of Wilson’s books are standalone thrillers and several have won awards, both national and international.

In Mister Tender’s Girl we meet Alice, who at the age of fourteen was brutally stabbed by two neighbor girls, the Glassin twins. The twins were obsessed with the character in a graphic novel, Mister Tender, and told the police that they stabbed Alice to please him because he promised them fame. Mister Tender was as charming as he was devious. He worked as a bartender and when he would chat people up he had a way of convincing them to do things they might not normally do. He was an instigator, and Alice paid the price. The sad twist to the whole thing is that Mister Tender was created by Alice’s father.

Now, a decade later, Alice is a continent away from that park in England where she was stabbed. She has changed her last name and tried to move on. But near the anniversary of her stabbing, she learns that someone is still watching her, and they know everything about her. They know her past and they also know her every move in the present. She has two options: she can be the victim again, or she can fight and figure out who is stalking her and why.

The book is full of one twist after another and I read it in two sittings (the second keeping me up way past my bedtime). Wilson’s ability to create strange and intriguing storylines is amazing. I found this one to be very Stephen King-esque and it had me gripped from page one. I’m sure naming his main character Alice was no coincidence. Mister Tender’s Alice was certainly down a rabbit hole, but her world wasn't quite as surreal. For her it was very real and very dangerous.

I’m always amazed when a book or movie contains an embedded story, song, or play that is written for plot. Harry Potter and his friends read The Tales of Beedle the Bard and that eventually came out as a book. I’m secretly hoping that the Mister Tender graphic novel is someday put to print.

For those who like to see great books hit the big and small screen, the author’s website says that the book is under option for a TV series.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Review: In a Cottage in a Wood by Cass Green

Kerry Hammond is here to review a new-to-her author whose latest book had her mesmerized.

Cass Green is the author of the 2017 hit The Woman Next Door and has also written several young adult novels. Her latest book, In a Cottage in a Wood, was released in Trade Paperback on January 23 by Harper Collins. This was my first read by this author and I loved every minute of it.

Neve Carey’s life isn’t quite on track. She’s living with her sister and brother-in-law, doesn’t really love her job, and has recently broken up with her boyfriend but can’t seem to get past it. One night, as she’s heading home after a night out at a club, she comes across a young woman in a bridge. She’s annoyed at the chance encounter and then horrified as she sees the woman jump to her death. Afterwards she finds out that the woman has somehow left her a cottage in Cornwall. Neve sees it as a way to escape her downward spiraling life and start over. But when she arrives it’s nothing like the idyllic country cottage she imagined. Instead it’s a dark, unwelcoming building with bars on the windows and strange happenings in the woods. Neve is torn between getting away from the depressing place and staying long enough to figure out what is going on and why the woman on the bridge took her own life.

I was mesmerized by Neve’s story and I rarely get so invested in a character when I read a thriller. I watched her grow as a person as the book progressed, and when I turned the final page I found myself hoping that she would make it and get her life back on track. Green is a master storyteller and I clearly got lost in her tale. I was entertained until the very last page and really enjoyed this book. Highly recommended.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Barking with the Stars and the Deep Blue Sea Martini

Sparkle Abbey's martinis have gone to the dogs, or rather their book, Barking With The Stars, has been matched with the perfect one. Sparkle Abbey is the pseudonym of two mystery authors (Mary Lee Woods and Anita Carter). They are friends and neighbors as well as co-writers of the Pampered Pets Mystery Series. The pen name was created by combining the names of their rescue pets-Sparkle (Mary Lee's cat) and Abbey (Anita's dog). They reside in central Iowa, but if they could write anywhere, you would find them on the beach with their laptops and, depending on the time of day, with either an iced tea or a margarita or perhaps a Deep Blue Sea Martini.

The Book

Lights! Camera! Murder!

Barking with the Stars takes place in uber pet-friendly Laguna Beach, California as do all of the Pampered Pets mysteries. The story features amateur sleuth and pet therapist, Caro Lamont, who has been asked by her best friend and former Hollywood silver screen legend turned animal advocate, Diana Knight, to assist with a benefit for Warriors for the Paws. The organization pairs therapy dogs with veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. It’s a worthy cause and Diana doesn’t have to do much arm-twisting to convince Caro to help with the Barking with the Stars event, but from the get-go things begin to fall apart.
Caro’s ex-husband, Geoffrey is spreading rumors about Caro and snuggling up to the biggest stars, including Purple, the temperamental diva and headliner of the celebrity event. All too soon, Caro is losing clients, her reputation, and patience with Geoffrey's shenanigans.

More trouble is unleashed when the high-strung diva is found dead and Caro’s ex seems to be the prime suspect. With a potential killer on the loose, Caro is hounded by questions about who had reason to want Purple out of the picture. Though all the evidence points to her ex, Caro believes the police are on the wrong trail.  Even if her sleuthing puts her in the doghouse with homicide Detective Malone, Caro must dig up the truth before the real killer gets away with murder.

The Drink
The Deep Blue Sea Martini is the perfect drink pairing for Barking with the Stars given the beautiful coastal setting, the views of the deep blue Pacific, and, of course, the star-studded attendees. It’s fresh and fruity, and guaranteed to make you yearn for a beach.

The ingredients are:
2 ounces Blue Ice American Vodka
3/4 ounce ​sweet and sour mix
1/2 ounce ​blue curacao
1/2 ounce ​pineapple juice 

Place all of the ingredients into a shaker with some ice and after a few shakes pour the bright blue liquid into a fun martini glass and garnish with a twist of lemon. 

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Hallmark Mysteries Channel: The Jesse Stone Series

Kerry Hammond is here today to tell us about another great series you can see on The Hallmark Mysteries channel.

I recently decided it was time to start watching the shows on my DVR. I’m one of those people who records lots of things, even if I'm only remotely interested, and then forgets to watch them. They get pushed down further in the list of shows and, let’s face it, if we have to press Page Down more than once, we tend to give up.

I was pleasantly surprised when I kept pressing Page Down and discovered that I had recorded all of the Jesse Stone movies when Hallmark Movies & Mysteries ran a marathon. The movies are based on the book series by Robert B. Parker, the author who also brought us the popular Spenser novels. Parker wrote nine Jesse Stone novels, which feature an ex LAPD cop who fights crime in a small New England town.

There have been nine Jesse Stone movies to date, each one featuring Tom Selleck as Stone. I’m a big fan of Tom Selleck and he does a great job portraying the troubled cop who struggles with a drinking problem.  I think the movies follow the plots of the stories they’re based on quite closely, and fans of the books will enjoy seeing the characters on screen.

The most recent movie, Lost in Paradise, was filmed in 2015, but IMDB lists a new Jesse Stone project in the works on Tom Selleck’s filmography page for 2018, so stay tuned.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Crime & Beyond Book Club Reads Every Last Lie by Mary Kubica

Kerry Hammond is here today with her report from the Denver-based Crime & Beyond book club. 

Crime & Beyond met this month to read Mary Kubica’s Every Last Lie. Kubica is a New York Times bestselling author of four novels of suspense and Every Last Lie is her latest book. In it, Clara Solberg finds out that her husband Nick was in a fatal car accident. Clara is overcome by grief and can’t get past her believe that Nick’s death wasn’t an accident. She sets out to discover the facts surrounding the crash and won’t stop until she knows the truth.

The book was told from the perspective of both Clara and Nick. Clara’s portion dealt in the present and Nick’s focused on what led up to his crash. The alternating chapters gave the reader a look into how Clara dealt with her husband’s accident and how Nick’s decisions contributed to his death.

We had mixed reviews about the book, which led to quite an in-depth discussion. We agreed that the characters were well developed and we felt sorry for Clara, who was clearly grieving for the loss of her husband. There were a couple of twists in the book but many of us thought that it fell short of the suspense promised in the description. Although Clara’s grief was very real and compelling, we were hoping for more. Several club members recommended the author’s previous books, specifically Don’t You Cry.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Cate Holahan and the Lie Down

Cate Holahan has made a new drink called, "The Lie Down," to match her novel, Lies She Told. Cate Holahan is the USA Today Bestselling author of The Widower’s Wife, Lies She Told, and Dark Turns. In a former life, she was an award-winning journalist that wrote for The Record, The Boston Globe and BusinessWeek.

Lies She Told tells the story of Liza, a struggling suspense writer whose work-in-progress thriller betrays clues to a disappearance in her real life. Every other chapter is told from the perspective of Beth, the protagonist in her story. Part of the fun of this psychological thriller is guessing the unconscious inspiration for parts of Beth’s story and using them to unravel the real murder. The novel was a Sept. Book of The Month Club pick and was called a “suffocating double nightmare” in a Kirkus’ Starred Review. RT Book Reviews said, “If you can pick only one psychological thriller to read this fall, it needs to be Holahan’s Lies She Told.”

DRINK: The LieDown

This mix of sweet and sour mix of bourbon, sweet vermouth and Campari is the perfect compliment to reading Lies She Told because of the unexpected kick packed by this seemingly sweet concoction. Lies She Told is full of surprises and you can’t trust anyone in the novel, much like you might not be able to trust yourself after one of these.


  • 1 ¾ ounces Bourbon
  • ½ an ounce Sweet Vermouth
  • ¾ ounce Campari
Drink Invented by Justin K. McWilliams, bartender Hunt and Fish NYC. #Justink_MCW

Find me on social media: Instagram:cateholahan Twitter:cateholahan Facebook:

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Agatha Raisin: There Will Be a Season Two

Kerry Hammond is here with an exciting announcement about one of her favorite mystery series on Acorn TV.

Acorn TV, which streams British mysteries, dramas, and comedies—with a bit of Australian, New Zealand and even Canadian TV thrown in—has just announced that there will be a season two of the Agatha Raisin mystery series.

Agatha Raisin mysteries are based on the books by MC Beaton, which feature an ex-PR exec who has retired young and moved to a small village in the Cotswolds. She may have left her busy London life, but soon finds that village life is full of its own kind of charm, usually ending in murder. With the help of a group of friends, which include the local policeman, she becomes quite the puzzle solving sleuth.

Season one introduced us to actress Ashley Jensen, who really does a spectacular job of playing Agatha. As usual, the television version differs from the books, but the show is so good that it’s easy to go with the changes that were made. The supporting characters are excellently cast and there’s quite a bit of humor to go with the murders.

Season two will consist of adaptations of three of Beaton’s novels. They will start filming the series in April of 2018 and plan to release the shows at the end of the year. Therefore, you have plenty of time to watch, or re-watch, season one. For a review of season one on Mystery Playground check out Agatha Raisin: Series One