Readers looking for a new noir mystery series should definitely pick up a copy of Reed Farrel Coleman's gritty Where It Hurts. They'll meet retired cop Gus Murphy, who has been a barely functioning shell of a man since his son's death two years prior. He's retired and working as a courtesy van driver when ex-con Tonny Delcamino comes to him, pleading for help in his own son's murder case. This new series simply bleeds that noirish atmosphere, from the dusty, grief- striken hero to the no-nonsense dialogue between lowlifes of all types, from cops to gang members.
"Look, Tommy, there's channels for this kind of thing, a chain of command, people to talk to."
"I done that. I talked to them till I'm blue in the face," he said. "I been up one side of that ladder and down the other. Either they don't listen or they don't give a fuck. Who am I, right? I'm a skel, a mutt, a piece of shit. And my kid wasn't no better. None of 'em said it, but they didn't have to. I may be stupid, but I ain't blind neither. Half of 'em thought, with TJ dead that was one less headache for them to deal with down the line."
I wanted to tell him he was wrong, but I didn't because he wasn't. Maybe he was a little harsh about it. Harsh was what he understood. I'd been on the other side of it. Any cop who tells you he doesn't judge some people as better than other is a liar. I did it. We all did. Like the badge and gun, judgments come with the territory. The trick was not treating people differently. The church teaches you that you're judged for your thoughts and deeds, but in the cathedral of the street, thoughts count for little. Deeds talk loudest.
What are you reading today?
Matt Marinovich's cool thriller hands a murder scene to a not-too-happy young couple, and delightfully, they use this opportunity to make many, many bad decisions. Scott and Elise are staying in the Hamptons, which is practically deserted in wintertime, as Elise handles the affairs of her dying father. It all begins innocently enough for Scott—he fills some of his ample free time by snooping around the empty next-door summer house. When he and Elise try to rekindle things in one of the guest bedrooms, things go from bad to worse. Watching this husband and wife steadily get in deeper and deeper is almost as thrilling as trespassing.
Then I heard a noise, upstairs, and I swear, for three or four seconds, my heart didn't even beat. I didn't even swallow the alcohol left in my mouth. The small snifter stayed frozen in the air, as if I were toasting someone. I pictured some man coming down the winding staircase, tying some silk belt around a silk robe as he made his way toward me.
I think I waited a minute, but there were no more sounds. I decided not to push my luck. I told myself that this was far enough. I could always come back.
I had entered mumbling to myself, still pretending I was someone else, but I left without saying a word. I just closed the door and calmly walked away. Looking back, I realize I hadn't changed yet. It was too early for that. But there was something natural about the way I walked away. Upright, unhurried, aware. It's the way intruders walk, and I swear, you either have it or you don't. It can't be taught.
What are you reading today?
Ellie Alexander's cozy Bakeshop Mysteries are full of sweet thrills and sweeter treats. The first in the series, Meet Your Baker, found Jules Capshaw seeking some healing for her broken heart in her welcoming hometown of Ashland, Oregon. In Book Three, On Thin Icing, Jules' bakeshop, Torte, is experiencing a wintertime lull, with few tourists and few customers. When catering the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Jules discovers that "things were about to get much, much colder" with a bartender's murder and her ex-husband as a suspect.
Alexander took a break from baking heavenly treats to share Jules' recipe for a broken heart—and some cookies!
There’s no better time than the winter to curl up with a toasty mug of coffee or tea and a delicious sweet treat. Winter’s biting winds and bitter temperatures harken us inside to wait out its storms. There’s also no better way to heal a broken heart than with the comfort of a warm kitchen, a hot scone and a listening ear.
Pastry chef Juliet Montague Capshaw (please call her Jules) has returned to her charming hometown of Ashland, Oregon, to heal her broken heart. While her heart is on the mend, she finds solace in the steady rhythm of kneading bread dough and in the familiar and welcoming faces of old friends. Her heart may be broken, but she isn’t, and she’s found home again.
Here is Jules’ recipe for healing a tender heart and for her delectable double dark chocolate cookies—because every broken heart needs chocolate.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cream butter and sugar together in an electric mixer. Add vanilla and eggs, beat at medium speed. Sift dry ingredients, blend at low speed until combined. Stir in chocolate chips by hand.
Form dough into one inch balls and place on cookie sheets, two inches apart. Bake at 400 degrees for ten minutes. Cool and frost with chocolate cream cheese frosting below.
Bring butter and cream cheese to room temperature and whip together in an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add vanilla. Slowly sift in unsweetened cocoa powder and powdered sugar, mixing on low until blended. Spread on cooled cookies.
It's been awfully rainy and muddy here in Nashville, so I may have picked up Murder Most Malicious, the first in the new Lady and Lady's Maid Mystery series, because it looks like the snowy December I've been wishing for. It opens on Christmas Day, 1918, as the family of Foxwood Hall celebrates the holiday as well as the end of the Great War. But 19-year-old Phoebe Renshaw overhears her older sister, Julia, fighting with the Marquis of Allerton, to whom she presumably will be engaged. But the next day, the Marquis had disappeared, and then several of the servants' gift boxes contain what appear to be his fingers. It's up to Phoebe and Eva, her lady's maid, to solve this one.
This historical mystery from the author of the Gilded Newport Mysteries is an absolute delight.
Eva preceded her father and Lady Phoebe into the jarred goods pantry, where she had deposited that dreadful Christmas box. She loathed involving Phoebe in the sordid details, wished she could prevent the girl from peeking inside. After all, she had divulged the contents of the box, so what was the point of looking, really? But Lady Phoebe had that determined set to her chin and there would be no deterring her.
Her father drew the box to the edge of the counter and lifted the lid, whereupon Lady Phoebe rose up on her toes and glanced in. A second later, she turned away and reached for Eva's hands.
Her face was pale. "I'm so sorry."
"You've no reason to be sorry, my lady."
"To have you horliday ruined by this . . ." Lady Phoebe let out a breath. "I think you and Mr. Huntford had better come upstairs. The inspector will want to speak to you both."
What are you reading?
After her father hung himself in his prison cell while on trial for murder, former celebrity photographer and "society bubblehead" Theo Bogart fled her family's tabloid legacy for the comfort and anonymity of San Francisco. In her new little corner of the world, she runs a small soap shop and visits with her many charming neighbors. But when one of her neighbors, a petty thief named Tim Callahan, turns up dead after an earthquake, Theo has a sneaking suspicion that it was murder. When another death follows, Theo finds herself in an incriminating position. Soon it's not only her privacy that's being threatened, but her innocence as well.
Former journalist Susan Cox's debut novel was the winner of the 2014 Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Competition. The Man on the Washing Machine seems perfect for mystery readers who love memorable, likable characters just as much as they enjoy unraveling a juicy whodunit.
I finished my muffin and sipped my tea looking down from my bedroom window at the leafy pocket park that occupies the combined property behind all the buildings on our block and reminds me of my home in England. San Francisco is great in a lot of ways, but I still get homesick sometimes. The way the residents tell it, the landscape has survived nearly a century of volunteer caretaker-gardeners with different and often opposing views of how the space should be used. Pine needle pathways meander in random directions. Benches and strategic clusters of Adirondack chairs provide places to relax, read, or dose. There are several areas of lawn, a koi pond, some lush perennial borders, and a ruthlessly disciplined knot garden the kids use as a maze and the adults use as a meditation labyrinth. A large compost pile and toolshead share the blue-collar end of the garden with the ragged abundance of a raised bed vegetable garden. One of the swings in the cedar-wood jungle gym was still rocking gently from the effect of the earthquake.
I was turning away when a flash of movement caught my eye in one of the third-floor windows opposite and very quickly something landed with an abrupt and repulsive thud on the lawn near the children's swings. I squeezed my eyes shut for a second, certain I must have imagined it. But when I opened them he was still there—a man dressed entirely in white, crumpled on the neatly shaved green lawn with his arms and legs arranged around him like a swastika.
What are you reading today?
Lisa Sandlin's debut mystery opens in 1973, 14 years after Delpha Wade was convicted of killing one of two men who were raping her. Delpha's just been released on parole, and she takes the first job she can get, as secretary for Tom Phelan’s brand new detective agency. Their first case is all classic noir, with a missing boy, the stakeout of a cheating husband and a mysteriously poisoned dog.
I can't think of a better book to recommend to fans of J.K. Rowling's Robert Galbraith mystery series (The Cuckoo's Calling), as Delpha and Phelan are the toughest, most unforgettable detective team since Robin and Cormoran Strike. Sandlin's prose is as well crafted as it is readable, and there's something about The Do-Right that feels like a classic mystery that has been brilliantly contemporized.
"Have to be honest with you, Miss Wade. Think I already found a secretary."
No disappointment in those blue eyes, no hope either. She just passed a certificate with a gold seal across the desk. The paper said she typed seventy words a minute, spoke shorthand, could do double entry. The brunette with the Dusty Springfield voice claimed all that too, but she'd backed it up with a giggle, not a diploma from Gatesville.
"Your first choice of a job a P.I.'s office?"
"My first choice is a job."
Touché. "What number interview would this be for you?"
"I'm flattered. Get off the bus, you come here."
The blue eyes let in a smidgen of light. "That doesn't count the eleven place I applied 'fore they showed me the door. And one other that didn't have what you could call an interview."
No wonder Joe was pushing her. "Had your druthers, where'd you work, Miss Wade?"
"Library. I like libraries. It's what I did there."
There being Gatesville Women's Prison. Now that she'd brought it up. "How many you do?"
Phelan quelled the whistle welling up. That let out check kiting, forgery, embezzling from the till, and dope. He was aabout to ask her the delicate when she handed it to him on a foil tray. "Voluntary manslaughter."
"And you did fourteen?"
"He was very dead, Mr. Phelan."
What are you reading today?
Donald Harstad worked for 26 years as deputy sheriff and chief investigator for the police department of Clayton County, Iowa. Harstad transforms those experiences into thrilling mysteries with his popular Carl Houseman series. The sixth in the series, November Rain, finds Houseman far from his usual heartland setting, as he travels to the UK to consult on a kidnapping case—and to protect his own daughter.
In a guest post, Harstad shares a bit of the real-life inspiration behind November Rain.
I’ve written six novels about a fictional deputy sheriff named Carl Houseman, set in a fictional county in northeast Iowa. Since I was a deputy sheriff for 23 years—in a not-so-fictional county in northeast Iowa—much of the research for my novels involves nothing more complex than sitting at the Sheriff’s Department and talking about the good old days with some of the officers and dispatchers I used to work with.
I certainly never thought I would write a book until I actually wrote my first. One day, as I was working on that book, Eleven Days, I spread some evidence photos out to bring back the ambience of a killing, and it suddenly came to me. Looking at the forlorn little farm house where the body was discovered, I began remembering the enormously long hours, all of them at night, when I was the only officer working in a county of 760 square miles, 1,300 miles of roads, over 2,000 farms and 19 little towns.
Scenarios. That was the key. We were required to patrol and respond to calls. Simple enough, except one did not want to be in Postville when a call came in of a serious crime in North Buena Vista: The distance between them via the best route was more than 60 miles, and a half hour response time was out of the question. Because of such circumstances, I would drive around doing my patrol thing and continuously imagine scenarios and plan response routes and times to other areas in the county, the proximity of ambulance, fire and other police services, and under what circumstances I’d request another officer be called out to assist. The night shift hated to call somebody out on their night off, and then discover it hadn’t been necessary. Shots fired? Who called this one in? Him? He’s always doing something like that, don’t really need another officer. Yet.
On the other hand, shots fired, one man down, another being threatened with a gun, concerned farm wife is watching events unfold through her kitchen window—that one actually happened about 1 A.M., and when I arrived, there was one dead man on the ground, another potential victim had fled into a tall corn field, and the suspect had headed for the barn. I’d called for an ambulance, and two other officers as I responded to the scene.
The first officer arrived 19 minutes after I called. The ambulance came in at 23, and the second officer at 34 minutes after. They hurried. Distance is a real killer, so to speak. I secured the woman witness in my car. The only other car on the place was parked very near the corpse, and she said that was the car that both the suspect and the dead man had come in. So I lit up the barn with my spotlights, and I sat on the hood of my patrol car with my AR-15 until the next cop arrived. It was a long 19 minutes. (We did go in and get him, and the man hiding in the corn emerged just as we were handcuffing the suspect.)
That’s where Eleven Days, my first novel, had originated. Although the plot was much different, the spooky feeling stayed the same, and the old scenarios bore fruit as plots and situations. In my subsequent books, although I used fictitious characters and locations, recalling and re-imagining real-life scenarios always came in very handy. We did have a gaming boat in our county, so when I wrote The Big Thaw, I drew heavily on scenarios regarding possible armed robberies on a river boat casino.
For my latest, November Rain (Crooked Lane Books), I send Carl to London for an assist in a homicide investigation. The whole London scenario is based on one of my trips there, when I discovered that then-President George W. Bush was also in London. Coincidental though it was, the disruption of the London Police Force caused by his visit, and some of the events occurring in London at the time, allowed me to justify Carl going to London in the first place.
Our daughter’s impressions, and some wistful speculation on her part about how she’d like to stay there for a few months, provided more inspiration—not so coincidentally, Carl also has a daughter. That, combined with the fact that you just cannot look anywhere in the greater London area and not find a perfect location for a fine homicide or really cool crime, gave me all I needed to start writing. Mixing that beginning with my personal experiences in law enforcement and several discussions with members of the Metropolitan Police Force became the foundation for fictional officers and conversations. Then, again by coincidence, returning to Elkader, Iowa, and bumping into a person who had personal experience with the U.K.’s MI5 and MI6 intelligence services just put the icing on the cake.
Even today, as I write, it’s memories of the multitude of unique circumstances that I draw upon for many fictional incidents, and the real world responses that would have been generated. Characters’ reactions to events are also authentic, based on people I know and the responses I saw in hugely stressful situations. And, to be fair, actual responses I observed over coffee and donuts.
When I do public appearances I always try to include stories about what really happened, to impart a little additional flavor to whichever novel we’re discussing. Then, sometimes, as I drive back home at night, I find myself running scenarios all over again . . .
Since his retirement, Donald has written six best-selling, critically acclaimed novels featuring Carl Houseman. For more, visit: http://donaldharstadauthor.com
After Go Set a Watchman, perhaps the most hyped book of 2015 was the new Lisbeth Salander novel, The Girl in the Spider's Web. Swedish journalist and author David Lagercrantz continues the late Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy with this authorized sequel, and according to the publisher, 100,000 copies sold on day one, and it has already gone back for a second and third printing. As with Go Set a Watchman, Spider's Web comes with a bit of controversy, as many readers insist Larsson's trilogy shouldn't be continued in his absence. Lagercrantz has compared his depiction of Salander to Christopher Nolan's Batman, and thus readers should consider Lagercrantz's Salander a reimagining of Larsson's character. Her motivations should remain true to the original, but the vision belongs to someone new.
Having accepted this, I still found that Lagercrantz's Salander paled in comparison to the original. Perhaps she's too iconic. That being said, the novel itself is thrilling, textured and brilliantly constructed. It's tight and smart as it explores questions of artificial intelligence, with the slow build to Salander and Blomkvist's reunion easily one of the book's greatest highlights.
From the prologue, set one year before the novel's events:
This story begins with a dream, and not a particularly spectacular one at that. Just a hand beating rhythmically and relentlessly on a mattress in a room on Lundagatan.
Yet it still gets Lisbeth Salander out of her bed in the early light of dawn. Then she sits at her computer and starts the hunt.
Readers, what do you think? Will you read Lagercrantz's continuation of the Millennium series?
Ted Kosmatka's latest novel, The Flicker Men, touches on the role that genetics plays in the age-old argument of free will vs. fate. In this gripping sci-fi thriller, disgraced scientist Eric Argus begins to explore the paradoxical double-slit experiment, and his explorations lead him to the conclusion that only humans possess souls—but not all humans. In a guest post, Kosmatka details how quantum physics inspired The Flicker Men.
Weird doesn’t even begin to cover it.
I remember the first time I heard about the two-slit experiment—that classic illustration found in many science textbooks that delineates so clearly the boundary between that which makes sense in the world of physics and that which does not.
The experiment was originally designed to answer whether light was a wave or a particle, but instead proved it was both. I recall first reading about it in high school—photons changing from waves, to particles, then back to waves—and thinking that it couldn’t possibly really work that way. How could the mere act of observation change the outcome?
The seeds for my novel The Flicker Men were probably sown in my first brush with this strange line of research, but over the years I’ve come to suspect that quantum mechanics isn’t just strange; there’s something fundamentally transcendental about it. To look deeply into quantum mechanics is to look beyond the bounds of ordinary experience. You’re treading on territory where even scientists throw up their hands. Not because they don’t know the answers anymore, but because they do. You can’t argue against quantum mechanics. To be a physicist arguing against quantum mechanics would be like a geneticist arguing against an observable phenotype. It just is. You have to deal with it, make sense of it somehow, even if it can’t possibly be right. And in the end, it all circles back around again to the observer. But what is an observer, exactly?
The Flicker Men began as a way for me to explore this question and was a challenge to write precisely because the answer hinges so clearly on results which have been tested and retested, but which lack an intuitive base from which to extrapolate. Quantum mechanics, to some extent, is a descriptive science. It can be used to predict phenomena, and yet at its core, what it says about the macro world remains unclear. This is perhaps why there are so many different interpretations, so many different theories about what is really going on behind the curtain. In its own way, this book is another one of those theories, though with a healthy dose of storytelling and artistic license tossed in for good measure.
One of the major themes of the book is the revelation of hidden knowledge. There are certain truths that can be explained in different words, and with different frames of reference, and yet still produce a spark of recognition among people as diverse as quantum physicists and gnostic philosophers.
The more I’ve learned over the years, the more I’ve come to realize that different systems of thought behave like the golden ratio found in nautilus shells. Once you see the pattern, you begin to see it other places, too, as if there was some hidden structure to the world all along—and it’s only gradually being revealed to you. The world is a jeweled box. Quantum mechanics is one of its stranger keys.
It's been a fantastic month of mysteries and thrillers during Private Eye July, but fall is right around the corner, bringing with it a list of hotly anticipated new crime fiction. Here are just a few we're looking forward to:
The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny
New books in Penny's stellar Chief Inspector Gamache series are always cause for celebration, and the 11th installment returns once again to the little Quebec village of Three Pines for a mystery involving the disappearance of a young boy. Be on the lookout for an interview with Penny in our September issue, and check out all our coverage of her previous books. Out 8/25.
The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz
Our anticipation for the continuation of Stieg Larsson's Millennium series has been building since the news broke in January. The publisher isn't releasing review copies, so we're just as excited as you are to get our hands on a finished copy. Check out all our coverage of the Millennium series. Out 9/1.
Make Me by Lee Child
The new Jack Reacher brings this beloved series to 20. Nuff said. Check out all our coverage of Child's books. Out 9/8.
The Zig Zag Girl by Elly Griffiths
We've long been a fan of Griffiths' popular Ruth Galloway series, starring an intrepid mystery-solving archaeologist. Griffiths kicks of a new series set in 1950 Brighton, starring characters inspired by a real-life group of magicians called the Magic Gang. Look for a Q&A with Griffiths in our September issue, and check out all our coverage of her previous books. Out 9/15.
The Killing Lessons by Saul Black
British novelist Glen Duncan (The Last Werewolf) makes a pseudonymous crime fiction debut with a nail-biter of a police procedural starring two sick serial killers and a substance-abusing homicide detective. Check out all our coverage of Duncan's books. Out 9/22.
Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter
On the heels of last year's exceptional Cop Town, Slaughter is returning to her original publisher, Morrow, to publisher her 15th novel and her very first psychological thriller. Says Slaughter, "This is a novel about family secrets and betrayals, which can be just as riveting and life-changing as a crime that brings strangers together." Check out all our coverage of Slaughter's books. Out 9/29.
The Guise of Another by Allen Eskens
Eskens' debut novel, The Life We Bury, was a finalist for a long list of awards, including the 2015 Best First Novel Edgar Award. It was a well-loved sleeper, and we're expecting big things from the Minnesota author's second novel. Out 10/6.
Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith
Rowling, writing as Galbraith, continues the adventures of Detective Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott with the third in the series. If you haven't gotten into Rowling's traditional mystery series, now's the time. Out 10/20.
Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham
Though the title rings a bit of "30 Rock"'s The Rural Juror, Grisham's latest legal thriller is one we won't miss. Check out all our coverage of Grisham's books. Out 10/20.
Tenacity by S.J. Law
Law served in the Royal Navy for 20 years, spending the latter half of this career in the Submarine Service, so there's no one better to take readers into the depths of a submarine-set thriller. Plus, the protagonist is the only female on board. Out 11/3.
What mysteries are you most looking forward to this fall? Be sure to check out all our mystery coverage.