Friday, December 11, 2020

Drink with Reads: Madness of the Q


Gray Basnight joins us today on Drinks with Reads to celebrate his new book, The Madness of Q, jus tin time for the holidays...


Glad to be back with Drinks with Reads. Here’s a stiff one, in honor of cryptologist and math Professor Sam Teagarden who makes his return in Madness of the Q.  He’s begrudgingly recruited by the FBI and CIA to help global chaos triggered by discovery of a 1st Century document found beneath an ancient church in northern Israel. Apparently written by Christian monks, it causes mass madness among cults and fanatics. Is it the encoded missing gospel, known in the theology world as the Quelle Document, or Q Document?  


Sam Teagarden accepts the mission to find out, only to learn that his main job, which has him careening from New York to Israel, Venice, Rome, and Berlin—is his own survival.  So Sam, if you make it back to New York, mix one of these, take a deep breath, and sip slowly. 


Have a Q-Tonic while devouring Madness of the Q

  • Mix 3 oz of Quince brand gin with a dash of Quassia brand bitter spice and shake with ice; then strain over fresh rocks
  • Add desired amount of Q Tonic brand tonic water (which contains real quinine, so take note if you have health issues) 
  • Sprinkle two drops of Bénédictine sweet liqueur in honor of the mad monks who may have caused a 21st Century stir of another kind
  • Instead of a twist, garnish with little men scrambling up and out of the glass, reflecting the madness of it all
  • Sip and enjoy

There you have it, a tangy version of the classic Gin and Tonic to accompany and soothe the fictional frenzy invoked through Madness of the Q.


More About Madness of the Q


The Quelle Document (German for the word “source”), widely known as The Q Doc, is a theorized missing source for much of the New Testament.


In Madness of the Q, it’s no longer a mere theory.  It’s real.  And when news of its existence leaks, Jonestown-style suicide erupts across the globe among two fervent groups who alternately fear or cheer that it may repudiate the foundations of Christianity. Because of his fame as a cryptologist in the prequel Flight of the Fox, math Professor Sam Teagarden returns to help determine its authenticity and end the spreading madness.  

Unfortunately, no one figured on a former Mossad agent hired by the Vatican to kill anyone who gets close to the truth, or an opposing atheist cult bent on making sure the truth is revealed.


Thomas Perry says: “Madness of the Q is a wild and breathless pursuit with Sam Teagarden on the run, desperate to connect with the right people and evade the wrong ones from New York to Israel to Italy to Germany in a non-stop plot that reminds us of Dan Brown, Ludlum, Fleming, and maybe even a bit of Umberto Eco.” 

— author of The Butcher’s Boy, The Burglar, and, A Small Town.



Comments are welcome via my website or at  



About the author: After almost three decades in broadcast news, where he wrote fact-based stories, Gray Basnight now writes fictional ones. Originally from Richmond, Virginia, he’s lived in New York long enough to consider himself a native. His latest book Madness of the Q (Down & Out, December 2020), brings back math professor and decryption expert Sam Teagarden in an international thriller sparked by the discovery of an ancient, encoded Biblical parchment.  Prior books include Flight of the Fox, a political thriller introducing Professor Teagarden, who inadvertently uncovers revelations that could change 20th Century American history (Down & Out, 2018); The Cop with the Pink Pistol, a modern NYC detective mystery/romance; and Shadows in the Fire, a historical novel about two young slaves on the edge of freedom as the Confederate capital of Richmond falls in April 1865. Gray is a member of the Mystery Writers Association, Authors Guild and Thrillerfest.

Friday, October 2, 2020

Holiday No-Egg Eggnog with Maddie Day

 Holiday No-Egg Eggnog

By Maddie Day

Thanks for having me back to Drinks with Reads! I’m celebrating the release of Candy Slain Murder, my eighth Country Store Murder, and I’ll give away a copy to one commenter.

Yes, you got it right – it’s a Christmas cozy mystery. Robbie Jordan has her country store all decorated for the holidays, and she and her assistants think up fun Christmas-colored specials to serve, like a spinach-red pepper egg bake. 

Robbie’s also fond of Four Roses bourbon. Funny, so is her author. Eggnog is a classic winter drink, and I happen to love it. But I know many shudder at the thought of raw eggs in a drink. I don’t, because I get my eggs at a trusted local small farm. Plus the sugar, cream, and alcohol offset the egginess.

So I came up with a no-egg eggnog to go with the book. As it’s currently September, not December, I don’t have a single candy cane in the house. Rest assured, if I did, one would be sticking out of that glass as a stir stick. I also realize I left the sugar and cream out of the photo. Oh, well. You know what those look like, right?

Holiday No-Egg Eggnog

Serves one

Stir two tablespoon sugar into eight ounces of cream, half and half, or whole milk (or a combination) until dissolved.
Add two ounces Four Roses bourbon or the bourbon of your choice, and one ounce peppermint schnapps.
Sprinkle with ground nutmeg.

Enjoy with your favorite new Christmas cozy mystery.

Readers: What’s your favorite holiday drink? Are you an eggnogger or not?

In Candy Slain Murder, Country Store owner Robbie Jordan’s life seems merry and as bright as the Christmas lights glistening around South Lick, Indiana – until a man claims to be the long-lost half-brother of Robbie’s assistant. A fire destroys the home of a controversial anesthesiologist, exposing skeletal remains in his attic. The twin of the long-dead woman is murdered. Unavoidably intrigued, all Robbie wants for Christmas is to stop her winter wonderland from becoming a real nightmare. 

Maddie Day pens the Country Store Mysteries and the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries. Agatha Award winning Edith Maxwell writes the historical Quaker Midwife Mysteries and short crime fiction. With twenty-three mysteries in print and more underway, Day/Maxwell lives with her beau and their energizer kitten north of Boston, where she writes, gardens, cooks, and wastes time on Facebook. She hopes you’ll find her on social media under both names, on, and at her web site.

Friday, September 11, 2020

THREE TREATS TOO MANY by Debra H. Goldstein


Champagne cocktails are the order of the day for author Debra H. Goldstein as she introduces us to her latest novel, Three Treats Too Many. And yes, there are three champagne cocktail recipes to highlight the book...

When a romantic rival opens a competing restaurant in small-town Wheaton, Alabama, Sarah Blair discovers murder is the specialty of the house . . . 
For someone whose greatest culinary skill is ordering takeout, Sarah never expected to be co-owner of a restaurant. Even her Siamese cat, RahRah, seems to be looking at her differently. But while Sarah and her twin sister, Chef Emily, are tangled up in red tape waiting for the building inspector to get around to them, the attention-stealing new establishment, right across the street, run by none other than Sarah's greatest nemesis, is having a field day thanks to its delicious vegan specialties. 
To compete, Sarah’s restaurant considers showcasing three treats a day. Because each treat will need to be paired with a perfect drink, here are the three Emily and Sarah suggest for tonight.

Glass number one (saucer champagne)

St. Germain Cocktail

3 oz. Champagne

1 oz. St. Germain Liquor

1 tsp. of fresh lemon juice

Glass rim dipped in superfine sugar

Garnished with a peach

Glass number two (champagne flute large)

Pink Fling Cocktail

2 oz. watermelon juice

1 oz. Campari

3 oz.  Prosecco

1 oz. lemon fizzy water

Garnished with watermelon wedge

Glass number three (martini glass)

Traditional Lake Vista Martini

2 jiggers of Hendrick’s Gin

A whiff of Dry Vermouth

A whiff of Olive “juice”

Garnished with two LARGE anchovy or garlic jalepeño olives

Judge Debra H. Goldstein authors Kensington’s Sarah Blair mystery series including recently 
published Three Treats Too Many, 2020 Silver Falchion finalist Two Bites Too Many, and

January 2019 Woman’s World Book of the Week One Taste Too Many. Debra also wrote Should Have Played Poker and 2012 IPPY Award winning Maze in Blue. Her short stories have been chosen as Agatha, Anthony, and Derringer finalists. 

Friday, August 28, 2020

The Key Lime Crime Key Lime Pie Martini from Lucy Burdett


It's Key Lime Pie martinis with a side of murder in Lucy Burdette's latest Key West Mystery...

In my tenth Key West mystery, THE KEY LIME CRIME, food critic Hayley Snow is covering the action at a Key West key lime pie contest, and writing articles on where to find the best pie in the city. Of course a murder ensues, and Hayley is on the case.

David Sloan (a real person who allowed me to use him as a basis for a character) served up these little gems at his booksigning at Key West Island bookstore, during one scene in The Key Lime Crime. Here’s a small snippet of that scene where Hayley is chatting with the bookstore owner and then David:

“Make sure you try one of David’s martinis. Christopher’s a wonderful bartender—executes a recipe perfectly. David’s borrows him for events when he’s not working a shift at the library. Beware, they do pack a punch. Don’t drink these if you’re driving your detective somewhere, or likely to get pulled over.”  

We both laughed and I walked over to the man tending the table at the end of the fiction bookshelves. Now I recognized him from the library event the other day. He’d been trying to contain the pie-throwing damage, along with Michael, the administrator. 

He raised his eyebrows and smiled. “Martini?” 

“Why not?” I said, thinking this could be another round-up article for Key Zest during the high season: Key lime drinks were as hot as Key lime pies, it seemed. He mixed Stoli Vanil, Liquor 43, and heavy cream in a shaker with ice, shook it, and then poured it into a plastic martini glass rimmed with graham cracker crumbs. I took a sip. 

“Wow,” I said, as the heat of the booze blazed a path down my throat. “She wasn’t kidding—that packs a wallop.

This recipe can be found in the real David Sloan’s cookbook, The Key West Key Lime Pie Cookbook. I’ve reprinted it here and in THE KEY LIME CRIME with his permission.


2 oz. Stoli Vanil

1 oz. Liquor 43

1.5 oz. heavy cream or half and half

1 tablespoon fresh Key lime juice, plus a little extra

Crushed graham crackers

Add the first four ingredients into a shaker filled with ice. Dip a martini glass into a plate containing Key lime juice and then into the crushed graham crackers. Strain the vodka mixture into the glass and enjoy!

About THE KEY LIME CRIME:With her intimidating new mother-in-law bearing down on the island and a fierce rivalry between Key lime pie bakers to referee, food critic Hayley Snow is feeling anything but festive…

 It’s the week between Christmas and New Year’s and Key West is bursting at the seams with holiday events and hordes of tourists. Adding to the chaos, Key lime pie aficionado David Sloan has persuaded the city to host his Key Lime pie extravaganza and contest. Hayley Snow can’t escape the madness because her bosses at Key Zest magazine have assigned her to cover the event. Every pie purveyor in Key West is determined to claim the Key lime spotlight—and win the coveted Key Lime Key to the City.

Another recipe for disaster—Hayley’s hubby, police detective Nathan Bransford, announces that his mother will be making a surprise visit. Newlywed Hayley must play the dutiful daughter-in-law, so she and her pal Miss Gloria offer to escort his mom on the iconic Conch Train Tour of the island's holiday lights. But it's not all glittering palm trees and fantastic flamingos--the unlikely trio finds a real body stashed in one of the elaborate displays. And the victim is no stranger: Hayley recognizes the controversial new pastry chef from Au Citron Vert, a frontrunner in Sloan’s contest.

Hayley must not only decipher who’s removed the chef from the contest kitchen, she's also got to handle a too-curious mother-in-law who seems to be cooking up trouble of her own.  

"Charming characters, an appealing setting, and mouthwatering bonus recipes make this a perfect choice for foodie cozy lovers." Publishers’ Weekly, May 2020

“The well-described Key West setting nicely complements the foodie frame in this satisfying cozy, which is a natural for fans of Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swensen mysteries.”


ABOUT LUCY: Clinical psychologist Lucy Burdette (aka Roberta Isleib) is the author of 18 mysteries, including THE KEY LIME CRIME (Crooked Lane Books,) the latest in the Key West series featuring food critic Hayley Snow. Her books and stories have been short-listed for Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards. She's a past president of Sisters in Crime and the current president of the Friends of the Key West Library.





Friday, August 7, 2020

House of Desire - Whisky and Wine

Margaret Lucke flings words around as a writer and editor in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is the author of four mystery novels: House of Desire, House of Whispers, Snow Angel, and A Relative Stranger (an Anthony Award finalist). She is also the editor of Fault Lines, an anthology of mystery short stories published last year by the Northern California chapter of Sisters in Crime. She has taught writing classes for more than 20 years, and she has published two how-to books on the craft of writing. Let's see what drink she's chosen to match her novel, House of Desire. 

In my new novel, House of Desire, reluctant psychic Claire Scanlan attends a gala fundraiser to save a grand San Francisco Victorian. There she encounters a mysterious young woman, Roxane, who is invisible to everyone but her. Roxane is a “soiled dove” plying her trade in the mansion in 1896. She has discovered a secret portal that lets her slip into what she calls the Future House when she needs to escape the most brutal of the men who buy her favors. 

When the party’s organizer is murdered in the mansion, Roxane is the sole witness. Terrified, she flees back to her own time. Claire’s philandering brother-in-law is accused of being the killer. To clear his name she must find the elusive Roxane—which means risking a perilous journey into the past from which she may never return.

The Burnham Mansion in the story is based very loosely on the Haas-Lilienthal House, where the preservation group San Francisco Heritage is headquartered. I had the pleasure of working on their staff a number of years ago. One of the many liberties I took was to give my house a piece of history that the real house doesn’t share. In the 1890s the fictional Burnham Mansion was a parlor house, or upscale bordello, known as Chez Celeste. 

The action in House of Desire moves back and forth between Claire’s contemporary world and Roxane’s Victorian-era environment. Among the many things that differentiate the past and present in the book are the beverages people drink. In the 21st century scenes, Claire and her cohorts are likely to choose wine—a full-bodied zinfandel or a crisp chardonnay. The gentlemen who patronize Chez Celeste will often purchase a tot of whiskey, poured from a decanter so they won’t notice that it has been watered down even though they are being charged full price.

While Chez Celeste didn’t offer cocktails, they were popular in the Victorian era. When looking for Victorian whisky recipes, I came upon this one, which Charles Dickens apparently enjoyed when he visited America. It may be the original cocktail, or at least 

the first to be called by that name.

The Cock-Tail

1 teaspoon super fine sugar or simple syrup

2 ounces of rye whiskey

3 ounces of water

4 dashes of bitters


Combine first four ingredients and stir. Top with grated nutmeg

Note: This recipe need not be limited to whiskey. The 19th-century instructions say that rum, gin, or brandy will work as well. Whatever your pleasure, I hope you enjoy your drink.


Margaret Lucke flings words around as a writer and editor in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is the author of four mystery novels: House of Desire, House of Whispers, Snow Angel, and A Relative Stranger (an Anthony Award finalist). She is also the editor of Fault Lines, an anthology of mystery short stories published last year by the Northern California chapter of Sisters in Crime. She has taught writing classes for more than 20 years, and she has published two how-to books on the craft of writing.

You can find Margaret on Twitter: @margaretlucke 

Monday, August 3, 2020

Q&A with Paul D. Marks

Paul Marks joins us today to talk about his new book, The Blues Don't Care. Paul D. Marks is the author of the Shamus Award-Winning mystery-thriller White Heat. Publishers Weekly calls White Heat a “taut crime yarn”. Betty Webb of Mystery Scene Magazine calls its sequel Broken Windows “Extraordinary”. His short story “Ghosts of Bunker Hill” was voted #1 in the 2016 Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Readers Award. And “Fade-Out on Bunker Hill” came in second in the 2020 Ellery Queen Readers Poll. “Windward” was selected for the Best American Mystery Stories of 2018, and won the 2018 Macavity Award for Best Short Story. He has written four novels, co-edited two anthologies and written countless short stories, including many award winners and nominees. His short fiction has been published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Akashic’s Noir series (St. Louis), Alfred Hitchcock Mystery MagazineHardboiled, Switchblade, Mystery Weekly, and many others. He has served on the boards of the Los Angeles chapters of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. 

How is the Blues Don't Care different from your other novels?

The Blues Don’t Care is different from my other novels. First, it’s set in 1940s Los Angeles during World War II and second, it’s more expansive and goes into a lot more description of the setting. I wanted to immerse the reader in the time period—really make them feel like they’re there listening to swing music, inhaling the smoke from a cigarette and feeling the rhythm of the band playing. And I wanted to dig deep into the main character, Bobby Saxon, as I find him unique and interesting.
The character of Bobby was challenging to write in that there’s more to him than meets the eye. Bobby’s on a mission. He wants to play piano for the Booker ‘Boom-Boom’ Taylor band, the house band at the famous Club Alabam on Central Avenue in the heart of Los Angeles. But there’s a problem: he’s young and he’s white. So if he gets the gig he’d be the only white player in the otherwise all-black band. That’s not the only thing standing in his way. In order to get the gig he must first solve a murder that one of the band members has been accused of. And if that’s still not enough there’s another big thing standing in his way…

Where did you get the idea for THE BLUES DON'T CARE? What made you decide to tell this story in the past rather than the present?

I had previously written three short stories with the Bobby Saxon character, but they were published quite a long time ago, so I don’t think most people remember them. The general inspiration for Bobby came from a real person. But everything else about Bobby is fictional. 

One of the elements of this story was the attitude of society at that time towards people who were different from the mainstream. Bobby doesn’t fit into the society of the 1940s and by joining an all-black band he becomes an outsider among outsiders and that gives the story another layer of depth. 
I’ve always loved the 1940s era and wished I’d been born in the 20s so I could have lived then. I think the time period is fascinating and full of conflict, both in terms of the war and in terms of changes happening in society at that time. Conflict in real life maybe isn’t so good, but it’s good for writers. It’s the engine of your story. And I think telling this story in the past allows us to view things that are happening today through the prism of the past.

What was it about the music scene that called to you? Do you have a background in jazz/swing/other music yourself?

Although I’ve always loved music, I didn’t always love swing music. My dad loved it and any time we went somewhere in the car he would play it on the radio—his car his rules. I wanted to listen to rock. Later, my dad took us to see Benny Goodman, and I was bored. But I was a dumb kid.

Then something strange happened: as I got older, I started to like it. Maybe having been exposed to it as a kid gave me an appreciation for it that came back to me later on. 

Also, as an adult I started watching old movies from the 30s and 40s and the swing music in some of them started to appeal to me. My friend Linda and I would go to swing dances and concerts at various venues and even went to see many bands and singers from that era that were still around. We got to see Bob Eberly and Helen O’Connell sing Tangerine and Brazil. We saw Tex Beneke lead the Glenn Miller Orchestra. I got to see Johnny Otis, who took over as band leader of the house band at the Club Alabam, though I would have loved to have seen him there.

My musical background, at least as a player, is rock. Bass player. I was in a few bands when I was young, but knew I didn’t have the talent to do it professionally. But that didn’t stop me from trying. And, of course, I can always listen to various kinds of music.

What did you do to research THE BLUES DON'T CARE?

I love research. It’s a downfall of mine. I just like learning stuff and love history. General history and L.A. history in particular. Blues is set on the Los Angeles home front during World War II. 
I start with the usual sources, books and the internet. But also the music of the period gives you a feel for it and for what people were thinking. As do the movies. Watching movies from the time can show you how people dressed and talked, etc. Same with reading fiction written at the time. But I also had another source that was terrific: my mom and her friends, who remembered L.A. from when they were young during the war years. So I had first-hand sources to go to. And they had things to say that you normally wouldn’t find in books or other second-hand sources.

And one question I had was how to get the characters from Point A to B. Because in those days not only were there no freeways, but some of the roads were different as well. So one of the best resources I found were old 1940s maps of Los Angeles on eBay. I bought several. And I figured out how to get Bobby and his ad hoc partner Sam from L.A. to Long Beach on surface streets. Today we’d just take the freeway, but not back then. So maps are something I highly recommend as research tools.

What was the most challenging part of dealing with several controversial subjects such as race and gender?

It’s always challenging dealing with controversial issues because writers aren’t like journalists. We’re not always trying to be objective observers. We’re trying to tell a story from our characters’ points of view and we have to get inside their heads and see things the way they would have seen them. There’s always a temptation to look at things from our modern POV but if you do that you lose authenticity.

I think the main thing is that you want to be true to the time period but at the same time realize that we’re living in a different age with different sensitivities. So things that people (characters) might have said or done back then can be hurtful today. That said, I want to be true to the time and the characters, so my way of dealing with it is to put an author’s note—or what these days might be called a trigger warning—at the head of the story so people know what to expect and can decide not to buy or read the book if they think it will upset them.

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

Interesting question and one I hadn’t thought of. Yes, I think we’d be friends. I enjoyed writing Bobby in all his aspects. I think I’d enjoy his music and empathize with his struggles as an outsider.

I like Bobby because he’s trying to find his way in the world. He’s on a mission, he knows what he wants. And is willing to do almost anything to get it. I’m kind of the same.
Also, I think we’d relate on the level of our love of music, though he’s a much better musician than I could ever hope to be. We’d also relate re: detective movies. There’s also things that we wouldn’t have in common, but that goes for anyone. 

Do you share any traits with your protagonist? Which traits?

I share traits with pretty much all of my characters because they’re filtered through me. In terms of Bobby specifically, we both love big band music. Both like detective movies. And I wish I could rock a fedora and a trench coat. I don’t smoke like he does. But I do sometimes feel like an outsider and Bobby is an outsider. In fact, he’s an outsider among a group of outsiders in the society of that time. I think we’re both struggling to find our way in the world. Like Bobby, I didn’t have a good relationship with my father and needed to look outside for role models. And I think, like him, I had certain screen characters that I found that in. And later musicians and some others. 

I’m also like him in that we’re both on missions. He to become a musician in the club band at the Club Alabam. And me to make something of myself as a writer. So even if Bobby and I are different in some ways I think in others we’re very similar. Driven. Dedicated. Sacrificing other things to do what we want. And trying to make our way in this crazy world.

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

This is a tough question because I know a lot of contemporary authors and if I mention someone then someone else’s feelings might be hurt if I leave them out. So I hope you don’t mind if I dodge this at least a little. I’ll talk about some books that I really like by well-known authors so no one feels snubbed. So these might not be the latest books I’ve read and loved, but they are definitely books I love.

Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye and The Big Sleep (and pretty much all of his novels). He’s a master of description and really puts me in the Los Angeles of another time. I feel like I’m there. And Philip Marlowe is the epitome of the cool, cynical P.I. Michael Connelly’s The Poet. I read it when it came out but it’s stuck with me and I’m ready to read it again. I like it because it’s so well written and plotted that you never see the twists coming. It’s my favorite of his books and blew me away when I read it.

Kem Nunn’s Tapping the Source. A hardcore look at the dark side of the LA sun, sand and surf scene.

Walter Mosely’s Devil in a Blue Dress. Mosley brought back the P.I. novels of the 40s and 50s but from a new perspective. Easy and Mouse are memorable, well drawn characters.
David Goodis’ Down There (renamed Shoot the Piano Player after Francois Truffaut’s move of that name, based on the Goodis book). It’s been said that Goodis is the “poet of the losers” and that couldn’t be more true. But there’s something about his losers that keeps me coming back for more.
All of Carol O’Connell’s Mallory series. Mallory is a near-sociopathic NYC detective. She had a tough life and is a hard as nails cop. I turn almost everyone I know onto this series and people either love it and her or hate it. What I like is that even though Mallory is intense, the stories are poignant and touching. It’s almost like Mallory’s lack of empathy and warmth brings out the more human elements of the other characters.
James Ellroy. Particularly his L.A. Quartet (The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential and White Jazz). His stories are tough. They don’t particularly conform to reality. And if you’ve ever been to one of his signings he’s whacko. And I guess that’s part of what I like about him.

What is your favorite book of all time?

My favorite book of all time isn’t a mystery. It’s The Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham. It’s about someone trying to make sense of the world and where they fit into everything, which is something I relate to and which also comes through in Bobby’s character. Another favorite book is Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. I like revenge stories and that’s the revenge story to end all revenge stories. My favorite mystery would probably be Chandler’s The Long Goodbye. Just so good.

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

There’s a lot of good things, but if I had to pick one it’s getting to know people in the writing community. I’ve met a lot of terrific people. I’ve made some good friends and what more can you ask for? And I feel like there’s almost no state that I can’t go to and have dinner with someone. Someone maybe I’ve met already in person or someone that I only know online. That’s pretty cool. And it goes for some foreign countries too. 

What are you working on now?

I have several things going. I’m working on the third novel in my Duke Rogers series that began with White Heat and Broken Windows. I’m also working on a stand-alone that’s set in New York City. I’m known, to the extent that I’m “known,” as an LA writer. But I write things in other locales too. And I’m really excited about this NY novel. I think it’s pretty high concept and can’t wait to finish it. I’ve also had a series of stories running in Ellery Queen—the Howard Hamm stories—and I’m working on a new one in that series, which I hope they’ll like. Have recently completed a couple of short stories for anthologies. So there’s always something happening.

Paul D. Marks is the author of the Shamus Award-Winning mystery-thriller White Heat. Publishers Weekly calls White Heat a “taut crime yarn”. Betty Webb of Mystery Scene Magazine calls its sequel Broken Windows “Extraordinary”. His short story “Ghosts of Bunker Hill” was voted #1 in the 2016 Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Readers Award. And “Fade-Out on Bunker Hill” came in second in the 2020 Ellery Queen Readers Poll. “Windward” was selected for the Best American Mystery Stories of 2018, and won the 2018 Macavity Award for Best Short Story. He has written four novels, co-edited two anthologies and written countless short stories, including many award winners and nominees. His short fiction has been published in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Akashic’s Noir series (St. Louis), Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, Hardboiled, Switchblade, Mystery Weekly, and many others. He has served on the boards of the Los Angeles chapters of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. 

Monday, July 13, 2020

Interview with Barbara Nickless

Barbara Nickless joins us today to talk about her novel, Gone to Darkness. 

Where did you get the idea for GONE TO DARKNESS? How did you know that was the book you wanted to write?

My publisher and I had agreed that we would transition Sydney and her K9 partner from the railroads, where they’d been cops through the first three books in the series, and officially into homicide investigations with Denver PD. As I considered ideas for Sydney’s introduction into Denver’s Major Crimes Unit, I decided to follow the advice of science fiction writer Damon Knight. Knight recommended creating a story by blending together two different ideas. In the case of GONE TO DARKNESS, I pursued three threads that had piqued my interest during my regular reading. First was the idea of our great silent underworld of workers—mostly women—many of whom are farm laborers or night-shift janitors or who work at meat packing plants. They are often voiceless and sometimes abused. I threaded that with the world of pickup artists, asking myself: what if a certain kind of man got tired of the seduction game and decided to simply take what he wanted? And finally, because a friend had introduced me to graphic novels, I plumbed the world of Comicsgate, a campaign meant to keep women out of comic book publishing.

For readers who may be new to your work, please briefly introduce us to Sydney Rose Parnell.
Sydney is a former Marine who served in Iraq in Mortuary Affairs, processing the bodies of the dead. Her struggle with PTSD was born out of my own post-traumatic suffering. Creating her character and writing her story became a way for me to work my way through the darkness.

What made you decide to have Sydney be a railroad cop at the series' inception?
I was looking for a twist on the usual police procedural, and when I learned that there are modern-day hobos and modern-day railroad cops—and that these cops have the same jurisprudence as traditional police, I had what I was looking for. 

The scenario I create in my books is that after Sydney returned home from the war, she wanted nothing more than to be as far away from people as she could while still earning a living wage. Because she comes from a long line of railroaders, she went through the police academy and signed on as a railroad cop—or a bull in hobo parlance. She figured working a territory that is 100 feet wide and 35,000 miles long, dealing with nothing but freight, would be perfect. And it was. Until the first body showed up.

Who or what was the inspiration for Sydney's canine partner Clyde? How did you approach researching how a canine partner would work?

My deep dive into understanding post-traumatic stress inevitably led me to learn about veterans, the group of people we most associate with PTSD. That, in turn, led me to military working dogs like Clyde. Dogs suffer from PTS just like humans, and I thought it would be good if Sydney had a partner to lean on, a partner who could also lean on her. It was a struggle for them at first. Clyde barely tolerated Sydney—he was still emotionally attached to his handler back in Iraq. I had a lot of fun developing their bond, as strong as any human-to-human connection.

Once I decided to give Sydney a K9 partner, I interviewed several police K9 handlers as well as reading everything I could. At one point I spoke with an instructor from the Air Force Academy and asked if I could meet the dogs and the handlers, maybe learn a few tricks. Picture Dwayne Johnson—aka The Rock—folding his arms and staring down at you with icy eyes. “I could show you, ma’am,” he said. “But then I’d have to kill you.”

So maybe I wasn’t quite ready to die for the cause. Instead, I was scheduled to meet with the handler and see the dogs at another air force base. Then the pandemic struck. Fortunately, I knew the owner of Mountain High Service Dogs, and Candy became an invaluable resource.

GONE TO DARKNESS is your fourth thriller featuring Sydney. How do you keep your series fresh?
As a writer, I’m definitely not interested in wash, rinse, repeat. Each book has required a different approach and created new challenges. I went full gonzo with the third book, stepping away from traditional mystery and writing a homage to one of my favorite TV series, Homeland. It was so much fun ramping up the thriller aspects of the story. 

If your Sydney was actually a real person, would you be friends with them? Why or why not? Would you like to have a Clyde of your own?
First of all, I definitely couldn’t keep up with Sydney if we were to sit down together in a bar—and I’m not saying that’s how I define friendship, although it seems to be one of my favorite activities. With Sydney, I’d be the first to pass out, and she’d trundle me into her car and make sure I got safely home. And that would be the end of our relationship. On the other hand, we share a love of good books and a strong conscience. So maybe she’d forgive for being a lightweight.

As for having a dog like Clyde, that’s a great question. Clyde is a Belgian Malinois, and these dogs require a very committed handler/partner/owner. They’re incredibly smart and have a very strong prey drive—which means anything, including your favorite shoes or the screen door—are game. There’s a reason they’re called “maligators.” Another great saying is, “Pride goeth before a Mal.” So as much as I love and admire dogs like Clyde, I know when I’ve met my match.

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

Attica Locke’s Black Water Rising. I love when a story is driven by the decisions the characters make—decisions that feel inevitable because the character is so fully fleshed. Even when we want to take the character by the shoulders and shake them for making bad decisions, we understand completely. And we’ll follow them anywhere. The hero of Black Water Rising, Jay Porter, is someone who just wants to be a good husband and make enough money as a small-time lawyer to support his growing family. He wants, simply, to be a good man. But events conspire to lead him astray. Give me a novel with a sense of moral urgency and I’m happy.

What is your favorite book of all time?
Now that is the hardest question of all. I’ve read thousands of books, and many of them affected me deeply. So just one? I’ll stick with the mystery/thriller genre and say Gorky Park. The conflicted and morally-driven character of Arkady Renko, set in motion by an intricate plot, and working in the dangerous world of the Soviet Union during the Cold War—perfection! Of course, there’s also The Constant Gardener (John le Carré), Mystic River (Dennis Lehane) and Smilla’s Sense of Snow (Peter Hoeg), all of which have wonderfully developed characters and a sense of moral urgency.

What are you working on now?
Sydney and Clyde get to take a break while I write a spin-off novel based on a character introduced in GONE TO DARKNESS. Evan Wilding is a forensic semiotician—he studies the signs, symbols, and writing left at crime scenes. With that evidence, he builds a profile of the suspect. His regular gig—aside from working as a college professor—is helping Chicago PD with their most difficult cases. He also consults with the alphabet soup of intelligence agencies—the FBI, CIA, NSA, and so on.

Friday, July 10, 2020

The Corpse with the Crystal Skull by Cathy Ace and the Jamaican Ginger Kicker

Cathy Ace joins us today to tell us about her novel, The Corpse with the Crystal Skull and match it with the perfect drink. Cathy is one of our favorite authors here at Mystery Playground and we're thrilled that's she's back with us today. 

The Corpse with the Crystal Skull is the ninth Cait Morgan Mystery, and this time Cait is in Jamaica, celebrating her 50th birthday with her husband Bud. They’re staying at a luxurious private estate owned by the eccentric Freddie Burkinshaw, who is discovered shot to death in an inaccessible room at the top of a tower reputedly built by Cait’s namesake, Sir Henry Morgan. 

Thus begins a tale that becomes increasingly complex, and mysterious. Cait has to grapple with her conscience as she’s forced to consider people she counts among her tiny group of friends as suspects; there’s the thrill of hunting down lost treasure; some shenanigans involving hidden passages, and a high-security task Bud’s been sent to Jamaica to undertake, aided by his secret-service colleagues. It’s complicated. Ian Fleming has a few things to answer for, and there’s more than a walk-on role for an ageing Italian movie star. 

Anyone who’s read a Cait Morgan Mystery knows Cait enjoys a drink, and in Jamaica she’s spoiled for choice. She’s become mildly addicted to a grapefruit-flavoured soda called Ting, which she sometimes adds to gin – but she usually resets to her standard gin and tonic for the evenings. But something she invented during her time in Jamaica is a drink she calls the Jamaican Ginger Kicker. Inspired by the Moscow Mule, Cait took vodka, added a splash of pineapple soda for a little sweetness, then added real Jamaican ginger beer (yes, Jamaican ginger beer has a specific flavour – it’s spicy! – and, yes, it’s worth getting the real thing). The full recipe appears below – you might want to try one of these when the weather is hot, you settle down with a good book (maybe even this one, to get the entire beach-side vibe), and you need something long and refreshing. It’s got some bite, but the pineapple adds depth, and sweetness. Lime is an essential ingredient – you certainly need one to squeeze into the drink, and maybe another, for decoration. Cheers, folks!


  • Large glass, with ice cubes
  • 1 measure of vodka 
  • Splash of Grace brand Island Soda Pineapple (add to taste)
  • Bottle of Grace brand Island Soda Ginger Beer
  • Squeeze one LARGE wedge of lime into the drink, add a small one for garnish (garnish is your choice!) 

(Tip: put your ginger beer, pineapple soda, and vodka in the fridge to chill beforehand)

(NOTE: Crystal Head vodka – shown in the photograph – is made in Newfoundland, Canada, and was the “brainchild” of the actor Dan Ackroyd. It’s a peaches-and-cream corn-based vodka, which this author prefers it for its pure, clean flavour. And the bottle, designed by artist John Alexander, is spectacular!)

ABOUT THE BOOK: Welsh Canadian globetrotting sleuth, and professor of criminal psychology, Cait Morgan, is supposed to be “celebrating” her fiftieth birthday in Jamaica with her ex-cop husband Bud Anderson. But when the body of the luxury estate’s owner is discovered locked inside an inaccessible tower, Cait and her fellow guests must work out who might have killed him – even if his murder seems impossible. Could the death of the man who hosted parties in the 1960s attended by Ian Fleming and Noël Coward be somehow linked to treasure the legendary Captain Henry Morgan might have buried at the estate? Or to the mission Bud and his secret service colleagues have been sent to the island to undertake?

You can find Cathy on Facebook, and on Twitter @AceCathy.