Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Review: Now We Are Dead by Stuart MacBride

Kerry Hammond is here to review a new-to-her author and a book set in Scotland.

Stuart MacBride’s Now We Are Dead was released in Hardcover on January 30 by HarperCollins Publishers. This book is a standalone spinoff of the author’s popular Logan McRae series, which contains 12 books set in Aberdeen. They feature Detective Sergeant McRae as he investigates crime on the east coast of Scotland. I haven’t read any of the Logan MacRae books, instead I jumped right into this book without any knowledge of the characters, their quirks, or their background. It was a wild ride.

Former Detective Chief Inspector Roberta Steel—former because she’s been demoted for planting evidence to try and get a serial rapist convicted—is ornery, brash, loud, rude, and just plain insulting. She’s also pretty good at hear job, although she was doing much better before she was caught fitting up Jack Wallace, a man she knows to be a rapist but has had a hard time proving. She’s still determined to get him, though, and is like a dog with a bone as she follows him, picks through his mail, and does everything in her power to nail him for the crimes she knows he’s committed. Unfortunately, the police force isn’t behind her on the whole Wallace thing, and her superiors want her to chase mobile phone thieves. When a rape occurs and Wallace has too convenient an alibi, Steel is on his trail again—but he might just have something in store for her too.

This was an extremely interesting read. Steel is very scratchy and hard to like, and the dialogue takes a bit getting used to. Her methods are extremely unorthodox but her heart is in the right place and you still root for her to come out on top. I think I might like to read a Logan McRae book and see what Steel is like as a side character rather than the star of the show.

Friday, February 23, 2018

JD Allen & The Sand and Souls

JD Allen joins us today to match the perfect drink to her new novel from Midnight Ink, the Sand and Souls. JD is a member of the national board of the world's largest mystery fiction convention, Bouchercon, and a member of the Triangle Chapter of Sisters in Crime. She holds a degree in forensic anthropology and has written a fabulous book. 
Tony bartends in a tiny off-the-strip bar called The Twisted Joint. He made this drink for Jim Bean after a nasty run in with a female serial killer. The cocktail was his take on the 1920's scotch drink inspired by the movie Blood and Sand. The original film was produced in 1922 (starring Rudolph Valentino) and was remade in 1941 (starring Tyrone Powers) and again in 1989 (with Sharon Stone).

Tony gave it a slightly different title for the PI. Sand and Souls is a modern take on the classic. He reduced the juice and fruit to make it a stronger, deadlier version.

The Sand and Souls:

-1 ounce blended Scotch (Famous Grouse is Bean's favorite brand.)
-3/4 ounce sweet vermouth
-3/4 ounce Cherry Heering (no, not "herring," and yes, the brand matters)
-A good squeeze of a fresh blood orange.

Pour all of the ingredients into a cocktail shaker. Fill shaker with ice, and shake well for 10 seconds; strain into a chilled rocks glass. Bean don't need no stinking garnish. If you must, a slice of the blood orange would do.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Q & A with Michael Niemann

Author Michael Niemann joins us today to talk about his novel, Illegal Holdings.

Where did you get the idea for ILLEGAL HOLDINGS? How did you know that was the book you wanted to write?

At the beginning, I had three notions. The first was land, specifically the trend over the past decade where outsiders bought up large swaths of land on the African continent. The second was development aid,  spurred by the increasingly dominant role of global foundations. And, lastly, I knew it was going to be set in Mozambique. With that in mind, I wrote the opening scene. The rest of the story emerged from there. 

Map of Mozambique

For new readers, tell us a bit about Valentin. Where did this character come from? Who is he?

After I decided to write international thrillers, I thought a long while about who my protagonist was going to be. I wanted a globe-hopping character, but I didn’t want a spy. I’ve lived my life in Germany and the USA and the person I am today grew out of those different experiences and cultures. I consider borders and nationalism 19th century phenomena. The world is too small for them today. So a George Smiley or a James Bond were out of the question. Vermeulen comes from a small country, Belgium, which today has no geopolitical ex to grind. And he works for an international organization. His primary concern is not saving this or that country, but fighting for justice.

How did you decide to make Valentin a UN Fraud investigator? How much research did you have to do - or do you still have to do - to make Valentin’s work for the UN authentic.

That was a happy coincidence. I knew, of course, about the United Nations, but it was only in 2010 that I came across a news item that referenced the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services. Once I dug further, I learned more about its purpose, ferreting out fraud in UN operations world-wide, and the issues it deals with. I read its annual reports and the mission reports if they are public. That keeps me up to date on its activities and problems.

What about your own background? What led you to writing thrillers?

My background is academia. I studied political science in Germany and international studies in the U.S. My area of concentration was southern Africa where I did research for many years. My last academic article in 2007 dealt with some of the causes of the wars in eastern Congo in the early 2000s. The UN documents about the illegal exploitation of natural resources in the area read like they came straight from a spy novel. I realized that while my academic work would only be read by other academics, a fictionalized story might be read by a broader audience. So that research served as the inspiration for the first story featuring Vermeulen. That story was included in the 2012 MWA Anthology Vengeance, which was edited by Lee Child.

Your thrillers are international - how do you decide which locale to write about? Once you decide, how do you go about researching the setting? Have you visited the places you’ve written about?

I tend to start out with a story or incident around the world that grabs me. Something that more people ought to know about. The locales are usually determined by that incident, although I can and do move things around. I have visited many but not all the places where my novels and stories take place. So research is important. Of course today’s technology makes that much easier, but it also imposes greater demands. When Eric Ambler wrote A Coffin for Dimitrious, he could ount on the fact that most readers had not been to the locations and he could take liberties. Today, any reader can fire up their favorite map app and look at the places in the novel. I found that one issue that takes surprisingly long is finding appropriate first and last names for my characters. 

If Valentin was actually a real person, would you be friends with him? Why or why not?

Valentin is not like me. He’s younger, he’s much fitter, he’s a parent, he always gets into dicey situations, so there are many differences. Still, I think we’d get along pretty well. Our outlook on life and the world are pretty complementary. And I do like beer and food, so we have that in common. Yes, I can imagine hanging out with him, drinking a beer and contemplating what the world is coming to.

Aisa was a fantastic supporting character. Who is your favorite supporting character in ILLEGAL HOLDINGS? Why?

One of the joys of writing fiction is developing supporting characters. They add depth and complexity to the story. And I like Aisa, her quiet determination, her ability to hold things together. She’s modeled after the many strong women I met during my research work on the continent. I also like KillBill, who really came out of nowhere. I hadn’t even envisioned someone like him at the start. About a third of the way into the novel he suddenly appeared and he was perfect. Kids, especially poor kids, are always overlooked. Nobody pays attention to them. But they are keen observers and can play important roles in fiction.

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

I get to write. Which is not always easy but always gratifying. I still write about the world, but I like the genre much better.

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

Blackbird, Blackbird by Attica Locke. The book is well plotted, with a setup pointing in one direction, but a resolution that offers a far more satisfying ending. Attica Locke introduces characters not usually found in mystery fiction and the book is very relevant in the contemporary context. 

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

Hmm. That’s not easy to answer. Part of the fun of inventing characters is that I don’t have to live their lives. I prefer ease in my life and the characters in my book experience anything but that. But, while I don’t want to be Valentin Vermeulen, I do envy his traveling to interesting places around the world. I miss that. 

What are you working on now, and when can readers expect it?

The next Vermeulen thriller is in the revision stage. It is set in southern Turkey in 2015 as the wave of refugees from the Syrian civil war turns into a tsunami. The UN is busy trying to help the refugees, which means they are spending billions of dollars. Whenever so much money is spent in a hurry, there’re always people who are figuring out a way to divert some of that into their own pockets.

What is this interest about chocolate we’ve read/heard about? <grin>

Over the past two decades, I’ve often taught a course “Cocoa and Chocolate from a Global Perspective.” It combines my love for chocolate with my academic interest in showing students how the world works. We start out with the Maya and then basically explore what all has to happen before a chocolate bar ends up in the grocery store. So it’s history, politics, economics, anthropology and psychology all in one course. And we get to taste chocolate.

You can find Michael Neimann on Twitter @m_e_niemann and Facebook.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Mystery Themed Ice Cube Trays

Kerry Hammond is here today with some gift ideas for the mystery lover in your life.

Before we know it, spring will be here and it will be time for cocktails by the poolside. You'll need some ice cubes to put in your drink, so I wanted to share with you some great ice cube trays for mystery lovers.

This first tray is sold at Bas Bleu, a catalog with great gift ideas for book lovers in general. It contains a gun, knife, poison bottle, and candlestick.

You can't go wrong with skull and crossbones ice cubes from Amazon.

These giant skulls work well for drinks that you don't want watered down, like a Manhattan or Old Fashioned. Because they're so large, they melt slowly.

Mr. Bones is my favorite. I love Fred products and this guy is great because you can freeze him in pieces or as a whole skeleton, just by using or not using the plastic insert piece.

Happy Shopping.

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: https://www.facebook.com/Cateholahan

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