Monday, May 25, 2009

Mason-Dixon Mystery Tour

The Yankees are coming—Jane K. Cleland and Rosemary Harris are coming to North Carolina. Here to join them and help me hold down the Southern drawl will be Cathy Pickens!

We're hoping to see lots of mystery readers as we convene in bookstores and libraries in the Triangle area! All events are free and open to the public, with one exception (noted). Here's the schedule:

Friday, May 29
3:00 Eva Perry Library, Apex
7:00 The Regulator Bookstore, Durham

Saturday, May 30
11:00 Mcintyre's, Fearrington Village, Pittsboro

Sunday, May 31
3:00 Quail Ridge Books & Music, Raleigh

Monday, June 1
11:00 Raleigh Women's Club Book Club (members & guests only)
7:00 Page-Walker Hotel, Cary, sponsored by the Cary Public Library

On Saturday and Sunday, we'll be hitting most of the chain bookstores in Raleigh, Durham, Apex, and Cary so the authors can sign stock.

From the Triangle, the gals will travel to the Triad on Tuesday and then on to Charlotte.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

AN HONORABLE GERMAN by Charles McCain (Grand Central Publishing)

Although World War II ended almost 65 years ago, it remains a popular topic for discussion. It has been remembered by people who lived through it, by politicians and historians. It has been taught in our schools and is still discussed with much bitterness by those whose families were changed forever. Many books, both fiction and non-fiction have been written about it. To the winning Allies in the West, the war represented the most important event in the 20th century.

And now emerges a first-time author, Charles McCain, who has written a dazzling novel of the war—but from the perspective of a young German naval lieutenant, Max Brekendorf. Max is stationed on a ‘pocket’ battleship,honoring a German WWI ship, the ‘Graf Spee.' As the tides of war begin to change, Max starts to get a different perspective on the events that are evolving around the globe. He worries about the people back in Germany, especially his fiancé, Mareth.

McCain has done his research well, one can feel himself on the deck of the battleship as it plows the South Atlantic seeking to destroy Allied vessels, especially freighters carrying much needed supplies to Europe. However, the Graf Spee is trapped off the coast of neutral Argentina by the British, and his captain is forced to scuttle the ship. Max and his friend, Dieter eventually escape from South America and are assigned a less glamorous ship stationed in the Far East. As the war evolves during the 40s Max must come face to face with the ever changing tides of war.

This is a fascinating story of war from a perspective few of us have ever known. An excellent first book for Charles McCain.

Stephen Bank
Cary Library

POSED FOR MURDER by Meredith Cole (Minotaur)

When I read this winner of the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition, I realized that my suspicions were confirmed: Many of the "traditional" mysteries are taking a turn toward the dark side. Posed complies with most of the definition—small cast of characters, amateur sleuth, little if any profanity, and no direct violence. Where Posed takes its turn is in the subject.

Lydia McKenzie is a struggling photographer in the Williamsburg district of New York. On the opening night of her gallery showing she is stunned when police are among the visitors—a killer has posed his victim exactly like one of her photos. Lydia's entire body of work is comprised of recreations of death scenes from actual murders. Her friends—dressed in items from Lydia's vintage wardrobe——are her models.

Knowing she had nothing to do with her friend's murder, Lydia works frantically to solve the crime before others——including herself——are killed. I look forward to more from Meredith Cole!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE by Alan Bradley (Delacorte Press)

Reluctant readers to grumpy old men and everybody in between will likely enjoy this first novel. Eleven-year-old Flavia deLuce narrates the story of a few summer days in 1950 rural England. Her family could well illustrate dysfunctional: Mother Harriet is missing, presumed dead, in Tibet. Her father, a retired army officer spends most of his day in his study with his stamp collection (and mourning his wife). Flavia's two older sisters Ophelia "Feely" and Daphne spend much of their time tormenting (and being tormented by) Flavia. Flavia spends much of her own time in her well-equipped chemistry lab concocting poisons.

When two mysterious events (Mrs. Muller, the housekeeper, finds a dead bird with a stamp stuck on its beak on the back doorstep. Flavia finds a dying man in the cucumber patch) happen within hours of each other, Flavia turns from her test tubes and Bunson burners to crime solving.

Fans of Harry Potter and Lemony Snickett and mystery readers of all ages, make room in your book shelves. Flavia deLuce is here!

KILLER KEEPSAKES by Jane K. Cleland (Minotaur)

Having grown up in a house full of antiques, I guess I'm a sucker for this delightful "Antiques Roadshow" series. I really wish I could visit Prescott's Antiques and Appraisals in person, but reading about it doesn't take nearly as much walking! Jodie's personal life is steady, business is prospering, her staff is knowledgeable and dependable. Suddenly, however, Gretchen, the office manager doesn't appear for work the first day after her vacation—nor the next. When a body turns up in Gretchen's apartment, Josie realizes she doesn't know as much about Gretchen as she should.

It turns out that folks researching antiques are just as good at researching people. The team puts forth a concerted effort to both find Gretchen and to solve the murder.

THE BIG DIRT NAP by Rosemary Harris (Minotaur Books)

Following her Agatha-nominated Pushing Up Daisies, Harris has outdone herself with "Dirt Nap." Paula Holliday is still scrapping to make a living as a landscape designer and garden writer. Her best friend, Lucy Cavanaugh, who is still pulling down the dollars in the TV business invites Paula for an all-expenses weekend at a spa hotel. The carrot at the end of the stick is an opportunity to write an article about the hotel's namesake "Titan Arum" which is due to bloom at any time. This lily is encased in glass in the lobby because its odor is (and I can attest to this!) noxious.

To put it bluntly, the weekend sucks. Lucy doesn't show up, Paula nearly stumbles on a body, the police think she's a person of interest ("Don't leave town.), she thinks she might be the next victim, and menancing Russians start following her. Be glad you're reading about Paula's weekend instead of experiencing it!

CAN'T NEVER TELL by Cathy Pickens (Thomas Dunne Books)

It wouldn't be a summer carnival without a house of horrors, and you can bet that Avery Andrews will be there, young niece Emma in hand. When Emma touches a chain-saw wielding mannequin and discovers a human bone, things heat up—even for July! The next day Avery goes to a picnic and one of the guests disappears. Suddenly, Avery is up to her neck in two mysteries, and readers are in for a delightful roller coaster ride. Southerners will delight in a realistic portrayal of us. Non-Southerners can see that Deliverance wasn't a documentary!

Pickens won the St. Martin's Malice Domestic award for Best FIrst Novel in 2004, and her books have gotten stronger—and funnier—as she goes along.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

COVENANT HALL by Kathryn R. Wall (Minotaur Books)

One more reason for me to love the spring of the year is the “coming” of Kathryn Wall’s new book. She has not let me down again this year for Covenant Hall hit the book stores just a few weeks ago.

I have enjoy having the privilege of reading another mystery set at one of my favorite places, Hilton Head. In this outing, Wall has used illnesses in two families to create her story—and to great advantage. In searching for a member of Joline Eastman’s family, who is desperately needed for a bone marrow transplant, PI Bay Tanner finds papers which make her believe there is also a mystery in her own family. Bay and her co-worker work diligently to find a family member for the bone transplant going from one end of Beaufort County to another and then to surrounding counties under adverse circumstances with danger always lurking.

The second illness in this novel is that of Bay’s father. Old and suffering from a stroke, Dad seems to be coming to the end of his life here on earth. In a unique way, the two plots are intertwined and Covenant Hall helps solve both mysteries. Bay’s brother-in-law and deputy sheriff Red Tanner is in on the chase and is getting closer and closer to Bay--making the reader wonder if a marriage is in the future. Wall has again succeeded in writing a fast- moving, interesting novel that those of us who read mysteries will enjoy just as much as her previous ones.

I’m already looking forward to next spring!

--Ann Schafran

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

More Questions for Beth

Beth, I was impressed by Claire's being able to give ski lessons! Does this come from you? Are you a big skier? Do I need to knit you a hat?

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Guest Blogger - Beth Groundwater

Don't you love the virtual world? Who would have imagined 10 years ago that we'd be able to have conversations with folks all over the world simply by typing on a keyboard and then getting instant feedback with photos, video, and sound? I can hardly count the times I've driven miles to hear a favorite author speak—or the times I've missed an event because of conflicts.

Now, it's absolutely delightful to be able to sit at my new computer in North Carolina and host Beth Groundwater in her home in Colorado—and talk with folks wherever they might be. And even better—if you're in a meeting somewhere and can't be with us at the moment we're online, you can still be part of the event.

Wow! Isn't technology great? Welcome, Beth!

Let's get started.

Unlike many amateur sleuths, Claire seems to have a great deal of respect for law enforcement professionals, yet she is compelled to conduct her own investigations. Is this deliberate?

There's a lot of mother-daughter tension with Claire and Judy. Judy often refers to her mother as a "mama bear," which Claire acknowledges. Did this come from life—or imagination?

I'm always interested in how an author gets started. How long have you been a writer? How did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

I'll post more questions during the day, so get ready!

TO HELL IN A HANDBASKET by Beth Groundwater (Five Star)

When Claire Hanover's ski vacation goes bad, it really goes bad! First, she and husband Roger are barely missed by a reckless snowboarder, then their daughter's friend has a horrible accident on the slopes. Local authorities don't seem interested in Claire's assertions that either the snowboarder or the skier who made an extra set of tracks in the snow near the accident could have caused the young woman to ski into a tree.

Tragedy continues to mar the vacation, but Claire is determined to get to the bottom of the trouble, all the while guarding her daughter from further incidents. Claire is a relentless investigator, willing to move 'way out of her comfort zone but also willing to call for and accept help from professionals.

Groundwater follows her Agatha-nominated debut with a solid mystery that should broaden her fan base.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Beth Groundwater, Guest Blogger, May 6

I'm excited to announce that I'll host my first guest blogger, mystery author Beth Groundwater, on Wednesday, May 6. Beth's first mystery A Real Basket Case, was nominated for an Agatha Award. The second in the Claire Hanover gift basket designer series, To Hell in a Handbasket, will be released this month. It is set in Breckenridge, Colorado and opens with a death on the ski slope. As Kirkus Review said, "Groundwater's second leaves the bunny slope behind, offering some genuine black-diamond thrills." To prepare for Wednesday's visit, you may want to check out her website.

In any case, please join us on Wednesday.

Edgar Awards

The Edgar Awards are given by Mystery Writers of America every spring at a gala dinner in New York. This year's winners are:

Best Novel
Blue Heaven by C. J. Box for St. Martin's Minotaur

Best First Novel by an American Author
The Foreigner by Francie Lin for Picador

Best Paperback Original
China Lake by Meg Gardiner for New American Library - Obsidian Mysteries

Best Critical/Biographical
Edgar Allan Poe: An Illustrated Companion to His Tell-Tale Stories by Dr. Harry Lee Poe for Sterling Publishing - Metro Books

Congratulations to these winners!

Agatha Awards

Attendees at the Malice Domestic Conference vote every year for the Agatha Awards. Announced last night, the winners are:

Best Novel
The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny for St. Martin's Press

Best First Novel
Death of a Cozy Writer by G.M. Malliet for Midnight Ink

Best Non-Fiction
How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries by Kathy Lynn Emerson for
Perseverance Press

Best Short Story
"The Night Things Changed" by Dana Cameron for Penguin Group

Best Children/Young Adult
The Crossroads by Chris Grabenstein for Random House

The Agatha pays homage to its namesake, Agatha Christie, and the award itself is a custom-designed teapot. Congratulations to all of the winners! And thanks to Carl Brookins and Lesa Holstine for posting so promptly!

Friday, May 01, 2009


An unmarried Canadian woman who has settled in Wales for the past 25 years is the protagonist in this mystery which combines warmth, suspense, and even a bit of romance.
I found this an excellent mystery. The author began by introducing the main character—not by a description as much as by the character’s involvement with a close friend who had recently died. She then moved to another event in the small Welch village that only peripherally involved this character.

Then, of course, the two stories joined and the mystery evolved. Duncan’s character descriptions were excellent. I liked how she subtly showed changes in relationships by simply switching to a person’s given name from his surname, which had been used up to this point.

This was a simple story, simple in the most complimentary manner. The characters were real, they easily gained our sympathy, and the mystery was well presented. While the identity of the killer was kept a mystery until the very end, once revealed, we could look back and find numerous clues that would have helped us to solve the crime.

All in all, it was an excellent read. I recommend it most highly.

--Stephen Hennessey

Note: Duncan is the first Canadian winner of the Minotaur/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Contest.