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.

Connect with Paul at:

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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. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Crime & Beyond Book Club Reads The Late Show by Michael Connelly

Kerry Hammond is here with the latest report from the Denver-based Crime & Beyond book club. They read the first in a new series by one of their favorite authors, Michael Connelly.

This month we returned to a known author and read The Late Show by Michael Connelly.

Connelly has been entertaining us for years with Harry Bosch and Mickey Haller, but he now has a third series, featuring a female police officer who works the night shift in Hollywood—dubbed the "Late Show.” She was once a day shift detective with a great career ahead of her, until she filed a sexual harassment claim against her powerful supervisor and received no back up from her partner, who saw the whole thing.

She has been sent to the Late Show where cops are meant to start investigations for crimes that happen on their shift, and then turn the work over to the day shift to complete. Ballard gets caught up in two cases that she just can’t let go, and continues to investigate against advice from her own partner. One case in particular will take her to her breaking point and allow the reader a glimpse of just what she’s made of.

Renee Ballard is extremely driven. She grew up in Hawaii and hasn’t given up her love of the water, frequently paddle boarding to relieve her stress. She’s a bit of a nomad and sleeps in a tent on the beach more often than not. Some of the club members likened her to Jack Reacher with a day job and a few extra changes of clothes.

Almost everyone gave this book high scores. One of the criticisms was that Ballard is still a mystery to us, even after book one. We suspect that Connelly will dole out her backstory in pieces as he writes the series, revealing more and more about what makes her tick. We will definitely be reading book 2.