Friday, December 3, 2010

Happy Chanukah and a Revisit with Harry Kemelman's Rabbi David Small

Chanukah usually falls around Christmas, but since Judaism follows the lunar calendar it arrived early this year. It will be celebrated December 1 through December 9.

Several years ago, I gave my husband eight Harry Kemelmans, one for each day of Chanukah. After the second gift, he knew what the third, fourth, etc. was going to be, and he checked my book shelves to see if he hadn't received recycled Kemelmans. No way.
He got brand new copies

I read them all, starting with FRIDAY THE RABBI SLEPT LATE, published in 1964. I was a big Agatha Christie fan and somehow the rabbi series fell in with the tenor of her mysteries.

In FTRSL, Rabbi David Small of Bernard's Crossing is suspected in the murder of a nanny which happened not far from the synagogue. That first novel, an Edgar best first novel, set off a run of best sellers. Rabbi Small, and I'm sure Harry Kemelman, warmed the hearts of millions with his erudite wit and wisdom.

Mr. Kemelman passed away shortly after THAT DAY THE RABBI LEFT TOWN was published, but I revisit the series from time to time, like I do Agatha and P. D. James, and a host of other favorites.

Happy Chanukah, one and all.

Gerrie Ferris Finger

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Too Many Clients
By David Walker
ISBN: 9780727869302
Published by Severn House,
2010, 214 pgs.
Another sparkling crime novel in the Wild Onion series. It’s always a
pleasure to open a book knowing you are in the hands of an experienced storyteller. Author David Walker has been around the block a few times and he has the accolades to show for it. His latest does not disappoint. Here we have a pair of wise and witty practitioners who are married to each other. In less sure hands, the marriage of two characters often lets a lot of steam
out of a relationship and sends readers searching for other divertissements.
Not this time. Private investigator Kirsten, married to uber-relaxed lawyer
Dugan, takes on her husband as a client, after a bad cop is found murdered.
Dugan, never a careful person, has blundered into the thing in such a way he
becomes a suspect. And while Dugan can act odd at times, almost the
antithesis of the hard-driving lawyer of many crime fiction novels, he is
far from the only character. There’s Larry. Larry Candle is a partner in
Dugan’s office. He just doesn’t come off as someone whom you’d want to
represent you in court for anything more serious than a mistaken parking
ticket. Yet Larry manages to get the job done all the while irritating
nearly everyone around him
As the days pass, Dugan and Kirsten continue to collect new clients who
somehow all want them to locate the killer of this bad cop. To Kirsten and
Dugan’s collective thinking these new clients don’t seem to be entirely
above suspicion, either. Meanwhile the cops continue to zero in on Dugan.
Gradually, as Kirsten digs deeper into the people who knew or knew about the
dead cop, the story takes on wider and wider implications, tangling mob
figures with international activities, a prominent churchman and….well, you
get the idea. Twists on top of fascinating complications.
The novel is well-paced, complicated, and a truly fun read. I look for more
cheeky stories in Walker’s wild Onion series.
Carl Brookins,
Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island,
Bloody Halls, more at Kindle & Smashwords!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

NANCY LYNN JARVIS-Realtor turned Murderer

Author Nancy Lynn Jarvis has been a Santa Cruz, California, Realtor® for more than twenty years. She owns a real estate company with her husband, Craig.
After earning a BA in behavioral science from San Jose State University, she worked in the advertising department of the San Jose Mercury News. A move to Santa Cruz meant a new job as a librarian and later a stint as the business manager of Shakespeare/Santa Cruz.

Nancy’s work history reflects her philosophy: people should try something radically different every few years. Writing is her newest adventure. She invites you to take a peek into the real estate world through the stories that form the backdrop of her Regan McHenry mysteries. Details and ideas come from Nancy’s own experiences.

Take it away, Nancy.

OK. You seem nice. You seem like someone I could talk to, like someone who would understand. I have a confession to make. I like to kill people sometimes.

Until about three years ago I sold houses — that’s right — I was a Realtor. But then the market tanked and I took a break from real estate. I got bored pretty quickly and started having these fantasies about murdering people.

It’s not that much of a stretch, real estate agents and murder, I mean. Realtors really do find bodies — sometimes dead bodies, sometimes just naked bodies — people don’t always get notified when their houses are going to be shown — but it’s an interesting business. And after twenty years I had seen a lot of things to feed my fantasies.

So I decided, just as a way to fill time, to write mysteries from a real estate agent’s perspective. I figured I could tell you about some of the things I had seen — some of the funny or crazy things — and about the bodies.

It turns out murdering people is fun. Instead of just taking a time-out from being a Realtor, I’ve retired…or moved on…and am killing for a living.

I have three books out now and am working on the fourth. I can’t tell you too much about the books because they are mysteries, but you’ll like reading about killing people the way I do it. I’m not big on graphic gore, although I do enjoy researching ways to get rid of people. I guess that’s not surprising — I do like CSI — but I’m more of a fan of the Mentalist. I like the way Patrick Jane solves mysteries: by noticing things others overlook, asking questions others aren’t asking, and by reading people. That’s how my protagonist, Regan McHenry solves mysteries and murders, too.

I just had a great idea. I know how I can introduce you to my books without giving too much away. Why don’t you go to my website and take a look? Read the beginning chapters of my books. You can do it for free. You’ll start to see how my mind works and get a better sense of how I write than by reading anything I can say here. (But since book four isn’t ready to be posted yet, I will have to tell you about how it will begin.

It starts on Halloween with a person dressed as death passing out cards to partygoers. All the cards have future dates on them except for one man’s. His has a time on it, a time just about an hour in the future.)

Oh, and there’s a recipe for Mysterious Chocolate Chip Cookies on the website in case you’re into chocolate with your murders. Come on — just between us — I bet you are, aren’t you?

Nancy Lynn Jarvis

SET THE NIGHT ON FIRE - a Carl Brookins Review

Set The Night On Fire
By Libby Fischer Hellmann
ISBN: 978-0-98406-5-7
Trade Paperback from
Allium Press, Chicago, 2010
346 pages.

Every so often a novel comes along that connects with the reader in such a
visceral way that it is like a punch in the stomach. This is such a story. If you lived through the nineteen-sixties and your memory is reasonably intact, or you learned even a small amount about those turbulent times, you will connect with this story.

On one level this is the story of Lila Hilliard. Forty-some years after a particular series of spectacular and dangerous events in Chicago that revolved around a nasty far-off war and a political convention, a mysterious fire has robbed her of the only family she has ever known. At about the same time, a man named Dar Gantner, just released from prison, returns to Chicago from prison to reconnect with a few of his former companions from the same era. One, a woman named Rain, tells Dar that another of their mutual friends has just met with an odd fatal accident. It is clear in their conversation that Rain doesn’t entirely believe that it was an accident.
From that moment on it becomes apparent that dark and unknown forces are at work. But why? Who are these people we meet at the beginning of the book, who targets them and why? Through a series of small and then progressively longer flashbacks we are transported to a time when young people believed the rhetoric, that they could indeed change the outcomes of momentous happenings, that they could affect the course of the most powerful nation in the world. Some of those players, whatever they believed, moved on to build calm and substantial lives of commerce, and politics, and contemplative existences. They don’t want to relive any part of that time.
Most readers alive today will have memories of the Chicago convention of 1968, or of the riots and will begin again to remember the emotions of the time. And even if not, the measured, artful, portioning out of connections, of information, will bring those emotions to the surface. On another level, this is the telling of the great events of the late sixties, the crimes and the abuses and the trails that descended from them, not from the newspaper headlines or the televised reports, but through the eyes and hearts of some of the young people at the center of the conflicts. But this is no polemic, nor is it an attempt to change the record. What the author has done is produce a cracking good thriller that grips a reader by the throat and doesn’t let go until the final pages. One after another the revelations keep coming, and as the central characters struggle to stay alive long enough to solve their mysteries, the author maintains our interest in the love story, the history and the dynamics of the times.
It doesn’t matter your political beliefs, then, or now; the characters and their trials will reach off the pages of this fine novel and touch you in ways that are basic to our existence as human beings. This is a fine, fine novel that well deserves the accolades it will surely receive.
Carl Brookins
Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island,Bloody Halls, more at Kindle & Smashwords!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


P. D. James
Ballantine 2001

St. Anselm's, an elite theological college, inhabits the foreboding coast of East Anglia. The sea is eating the coast, eroding the cliffs. One day, St. Anselm's will be in the sea, like the village before it.

One of the school's ordinands is found smothered by sand when a cliff above him collapses. He is the son of a powerful businessman, used to getting his way. Not satisfied that his son either accidentally met his death or that he pulled the sand down on top of himself to commit suicide, he requests that Commander Adam Dalgliesh investigate. Dalgliesh is scheduled to go on vacation and is happy at the chance to visit a place where he spent many boyhood summers at the school.

Complicating things, the Church of England is on the verge of voting to close down the high church college as their teachings are not in accordance with the teachings of other theological colleges. Right away, Dalgliesh can find little to suggest murder, until a sacrilegious murder is committed in the holy chapel. Afterward, Dalgliesh is drawn into a complex plot of psychological horror which tears the college apart and plays into the hands of the church's hierarchy.

James has written so many marvelous novels, one can be expected to fall short of perfection. Death in Holy Orders is slow, but not slower than many. The plot is rich, but not as rich as many. However, this is pure James, the master of layering passion and suspense - past upon present, evil upon good, setting upon character.

Gerrie Ferris Finger

Sunday, September 26, 2010

DEATH IN WEST WHEELING - A Carl Brookins Review

Death in West Wheeling

By Michael Dymmoch

Five Star Mysteries,

Hardcover, 182 pages

Hardcover, $25.95


Who knew author Michael Dymmoch, who has written such solid noir mysteries as "White Tiger," "The Fall" and "M.I.A.", could put together such a funny, even hilarious novel as this one, set in a small town in West Virginia, or somewhere close by? Homer Deter is currently acting sheriff and he has to investigate the mysterious disappearance of a teacher at a local missionary school.

This case is just the start of something bigger. Before long, Acting Sheriff Deter is faced with three more disappearances, an odd-acting ATF agent in search of illicit stills, a few apparently random motor vehicle accidents, and including a twenty-three car pileup right in the middle of town. And the funny thing is, all these incidents eventually connect. That even includes the full-grown escaped tiger locked in the post office.

Author Dymmoch has some trenchant things to say about relationships between men and women, and about the state of our society. It's all wrapped in fine writing, a really excellent if skewed sense of our society, and some dandy plotting.

Pick up this good short novel. You'll be glad you did.

Carl Brookins

Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island,Bloody Halls, more at Kindle & Smashwords!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


Vermilion Drift
By William Kent Krueger
ISBN: 9781439153840
Hard Cover from Atria ,2010,
305 pages

Authors of crime fiction, like authors working in any other genre, often use their talents to work through personal issues, sometimes intensely private issues. Although it is not entirely clear, the writer may be working through some family issues with this novel. Does that matter? Perhaps. That depends on the result. In this case, the author, possessed of well-honed, significant writing talent, has produced a novel of finely wrought proportions, multi-layered with considerable depth. By that I mean that the characters demonstrate multiple levels of engagement, and the story itself works on more than one level. Almost every character who appears in the book is involved in the story in more than one way. Some of their levels are casual or socially related, such as what may be routinely expected of law officers in Tamarack County, the Northern Minnesota location of this novel. Other characters, Henry Meloux, for example and other Native Americans; Sam Wintermoon, appears, and of course, Cork's mother and his father, Liam, all have, at different times, visceral involvement in the story.

The problem, if there is one, is that this story is much more a novel of family and community relationships than it is a novel of suspense, or crime, horrific and awful though the crimes were. Death is always the ultimate judge, from whom there is no appeal.

So, in my view, the problem is one of balance, or perhaps of categorization. The involvement of Cork O'Connor, now a private investigator, alone in Aurora, is mostly one of self-examination. The novel is one of Cork's journey of discovery. What was the meaning of his occasional nightmares? What were the issues that consumed and separated the O'Connor family in those last fateful months of Liam O'Connor's life?

The novel begins with Cork once again at odds with his Ojibwe heritage. His mother, remember, was a member of the tribe. He's hired by the owners of the Vermilion One and Ladyslipper mines to deal with threats against the mine. But then he's also tasked to try to locate a missing woman, sister of the mine owner. Lauren Cavanaugh has gone missing. Finding the missing woman opens a window on old unsolved crimes from a previous generation, from a time when Cork's father was the sheriff of Tamarack County.

Sorting through old albums, records and memories, fresh and repressed, takes up the body of the novel As with all of this author's previous novels, the explanation is logical, satisfying and meaningful. Krueger, as always, is skillful in evoking the landscape, not just its physical self, but its atmosphere, its mystical presence and its influences on the people who reside there.

In the end, this thoughtful exploration of law, truth and justice and their profound influences on all of us is a highly successful emotionally moving effort.

Carl Brookins

Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island,Bloody Halls, more at Kindle & Smashwords!

Monday, September 13, 2010



by Justin Scott

Poisoned Pen Press

255 pages, hardcoverISBN: 1-59058-063-X

Justin Scott has written over a dozen mysteries, thrillers and adventure novels under several names, taut, exemplary stories that illuminate and explore many of our social concerns. They are good stories, well-written with drive and panache. This is another, peopled with interesting characters, a serious underpinning, and enough crime and mystery to satisfy the most enthusiastic crime fiction reader.

Ben Abbott is a sometime private investigator, sometime real estate agent, and a full time commentator on some of the more egregious aspects of our modern society and the influence on small town America. Abbott is also one of the more pleasant and thoughtful investigators readers are likely to run across in this age. Abbott is concerned about the effects of aging on his Aunt Constance who lives nearby, he takes in children in need of adult supervision and he worries about unrestrained development of open spaces in the Connecticut town of Newbury where he lives. That last concern forms the core of this interesting novel about crooked developers, and a badly twisted legal system.

One of the worst developers, a Billy Tiller, possessed mostly of terrible taste, monumental greed and a willingness to break the law anytime he thought there was profit in it, gets his come-uppance when somebody drives a bulldozer over him at a construction site. The perpetrator, a young member of ELF, is discovered by the local troopers sitting at the controls of the offending 'dozer with the crushed body of Billy Tiller underneath. Open and shut, but Abbott, retained by the boy's lawyer, doesn't believe it. His pursuit of the truth leads him into some interesting and stressful situations.

Carl Brookins

Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island,Bloody Halls, more at Kindle & Smashwords!

Friday, August 27, 2010


The Protest Singer: Pete Seeger
By Alec Wilkinson
Pub by Vintage Books, 2010,
ISBN: 978-0-307-39098-1
Trade Paper, 152 pages, including
credits, acknowledgments and testimony.
Photo from Wikimedia.

The mystery is that Pete Seeger survives and endures. In his lifetime which spans much of the turmoil of the Twentieth Century, he has been beset by some of the most vicious and evil forces we have experienced in this country and in the world. Yet, here he is, still pluckin’ and singin’ and taking on injustice and good causes, like cleaning up the Hudson River.

I suppose I’m biased. I grew up in a time when folk singing in America was in the ascendency and I have a lot of old records and memories of these folks, including Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, several others, and had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Seeger through the good offices of my friend, another fine folk singer, Gene Bluestein. So it was great to read about all those folks, many of whom it’s easy to think of as friends, whether personal or only through their music, through the sensibilities of Seeger and Wilkinson.

It is wonderful, although disturbing, to read this elegantly written, honest look at a man, his friends and companions, his family, his trials and his triumphs, who sang his way into the hearts and memories of a lot of people. Seeger’s influence, not just in the music world; after all, the Weavers recording of “Goodnight Irene” in 1950 sold over a million copies, is and will be enduring.

This slender book, written in the kind of engaging style that is somehow the essence of Seeger’s approach to a principled life, is a moving tribute to him and to everything that’s right in these United States. Readers may disagree with his points of view, but you cannot disagree with the way Mr. Seeger fashioned his protest. Wilkinson has set down, in a most engaging manner,for readers everywhere, the values and the reality of a true American.

Carl Brookins
Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island, Bloody Halls, more at Kindle & Smashwords!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


The Fourth Sacrifice

by Peter May

Thomas Dunne Books

Hardcover, 405 pages,ISBN: 0312364644

Review by Carl Brookins

Scotsman Peter May is a fine writer and a good journalist. He has experience, a good memory and he knows how to do research. For several months he was afforded unprecedented access to Chinese law enforcement behind the curtains. His books ring with authenticity. Sometimes all this expertise and research gets in the way of a really good story. If readers are fascinated by Chinese history the excavation of the terracotta warriors at X'ian, the capital of the Middle Kingdom, and interested in the rise and fall of the Red Guards during the cultural revolution, here's a novel that opens wide a window on those parts of Chinese history. For the rest of us, there's a little too much detail.

While the mystery is carefully rooted in those subjects, the principal plot concerns the main characters in May's first novel in this series. American forensic pathologist Margaret Campbell is a smart, irascible expert, widely recognized in her field. After a disastrous affair with a Bejing detective who had abruptly disappeared from her life, Margaret is determined to return to the U.S. although she has little to look forward to. Then an American citizen of Chinese descent who worked at the American Embassy in Bejing is murdered-decapitated. It is intriguing to the authorities because this killing is similar to three other recent deaths of native Chinese.

Higher authority assigns top detective Li Yan, Margaret's former lover, to the case. Then the Embassy insists that Margaret be present at the autopsy of the dead American. Once again Margaret and Le Yan are forced together in a conflicted and tempestuous joint effort to find a killer or killers.The author's high level skills in characterization and his excellent descriptions of exotic and unusual locations are on display. The novel is replete with insider looks at legal procedures and locations most will never experience. The novel is a wonderful excursion into police procedures and the passions of two individuals from very different cultures who find themselves almost inextricably linked. An excellent novel.

Carl Brookins

Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island,Bloody Halls, more at Kindle & Smashwords!

Monday, August 9, 2010


The Anteater of Death
By Betty Webb
Poisoned Pen Press,
December, 2008,
Hard cover,230 pages, $24.95,
ISBN: 9781590585603

This is the beginning of a new series for this veteran author. Just look again at the title. Somewhere in the back of my head there's a Shakespeare quote. Ms. Webb is an accomplished writer with several excellent novels to her credit. This one is a distinct departure for her, and it seems she is almost unable to restrain herself. There are a great many asides and some tongue-in-cheek humor that sometimes distracts the reader from a rather thin plot, although the setting is intriguing and Webb uses it well.

Theodora Bentley, the central character in this drama, is a zoo-keeper in a private enterprise somewhere in Southern California in an old seaside town interestingly named Gunn Landing. This zoo is the private plaything of some very wealthy families who have deep roots in the community. The situation is made more complex because some of those family roots are deeply entangled in their own history. Thus there is a darkness to this novel which offers some opportunities for the author to move in directions which would have been unthinkable even a couple of years ago.

One of Teddy Bentley's responsibilities is the giant ant eater of the title, in the wild, a fearsome creature indeed, equipped with razor claws designed to rip logs open in search of ants. The book opens in the mind of this anteater, improbably named Lucy, in a highly unusual approach which has the potential to cause a number of readers to immediately close the book. I suggest that such readers persevere. Pregnant Lucy is disturbed when a male human enters her enclosure and she goes to investigate. Her investigation leads to an accusation that the animal has killed the man, a director of the zoo.

This accusation against Lucy rouses anger and frustration among the zookeepers especially Teddy. Gradually Teddy becomes snarled in the murder investigation, complicated by her own roots in the community and her past relationships with the Sheriff and several others. Eventually the smoothly written and complicated plot gets sorted out and Teddy receives lots of help from a substantial range of off-beat and even strange characters, not all of whom are caged in the zoo.

Funny, ironic and sometimes irreverent, the book will give readers an inside look at zoo keeping, animal protectionism and the often distorted lives of wealthy idlers.

Carl Brookins

Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island,Bloody Halls, more at Kindle & Smashwords!

Thursday, August 5, 2010


Final Approach

By Rachel Brady

Poisoned Pen Press

250 pg, October, 2009

ISBN: 9781590586556

A fine debut novel with an unusual plot line. Emily Locke is recovering from the loss of her husband and infant daughter. It is clear from the get-go there is something askew in that whole incident. Now four years later, the detective who was disgraced and dismissed from the local police department as fall-out from that calamity, is back in Emily's life. He wants her help on a case he's working on. A leap of faith is required of readers here. Is she the only person in the country the detective can count on to infiltrate a questionable sky-diving club located over a thousand miles away?

And why is Emily so available? After all she has a full-time job and is still pretty fragile from the loss of her daughter and husband. Still, the detective, not her favorite person, presses the right buttons and off she goes to Texas.

What follows is a tension-filled emotional novel of exquisite detail about sky-diving in all the right places, introduction of necessary and useful characters and enough action to satisfy the most ardent thriller aficionado. Emily is strong and distressed at all the right places, there are no real down sections of the novel.

This is a fast read and although some of the danger Emily faces doesn't reach my punch level, Emily is an interesting woman and the sky-diving is an unusual platform on which to build a crime novel. One of the more interesting aspects of Final Approach is that readers will, from the beginning, feel as though they have been brought into an ongoing story. There is occasionally a feeling of the need to catch up with background as a way to evaluate current happenings. It's a style that adds to the tension and pace.

A satisfying novel with a fine twist at the end.

Carl Brookins

Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island,Bloody Halls, more at Kindle & Smashwords!

Friday, July 30, 2010


The White Garden
By Stephanie Barron
Random House/Bantam TP2009,
318 pages
ISBN: 978-0-553-3877-9

I scarcely know how to begin, not something a reviewer should admit publically, I suppose. This wonderfully realized and written novel is a first class literary mystery. It deals with a three-week period in l941 that marks the end of a troubled life, the life of Virginia Woolf. It is serendipitous that this novel comes to my hand at a time that epitomizes a good deal of what she was all about. In a word, independence. Independence for women and independence for writers.

Virginia Woolf was an English writer, essayist and literary critic of the early Twentieth Century. Her parents did not send her to school. She was entirely self-taught and apparently randomly tutored by her literary critic father. She was a major influence on the kind of novels being written today, yet she was always, always, self-published. Hogarth Press, established by Woolf and her husband, Leonard, a political theorist of that era, in their kitchen, published Virginia's writings along with those of E.M. Forester, and Sigmund Freud, among many others. Growing up she knew people like Henry James, Tennyson, Matthew Arnold, and George Eliot. Her father, Leslie Stephen's, first wife was the daughter of the novelist William Makepeace Thackeray.

In addition to her literary credentials as an accomplished novelist, she was a prolific essayist who published over 500 essays. Virginia Wolf helped coalesce the famous (or infamous) Bloomsbury Group, a collection of social, political and economic theorists of varying stripes, including artists, critics, philosophers and writers who wrote, debated, loved, married and argued life throughout the first half of the Twentieth Century.

Woolf was sexually abused by a relative as a child, and clearly had mental problems during her lifetime. Her companions through life, including relatives, were mostly liberated intellectuals who ignored social constraints. On March 28, 1941, she disappeared from her home. Three weeks later, her body was discovered in the nearby river Ouse which had already been extensively searched. Her body was promptly cremated and there was no funeral ceremony, public or private.

Which brings us to this novel. Sixty years after Woolf's death, master garden and landscape designer, Jo Bellamy arrives in England. She is doing research for a wealthy client who wants her to recreate a famous garden of white flowers and plants at his Long Island Estate. Jo is trying to recover from her grandfather's sudden suicide. The celebrated White Garden of the title is located at Sissinghurst Castle in Kent. It was created by Woolf's friend and lover, Vita Sackville-West.

What Bellamy discovers at Sissinghurst has the potential to set decades of literary analysis and speculation on its collective ear. Whilst grubbing about in some boxes in one of the garden sheds, Jo comes upon a diary which appears to have been written by Virginia Woolf. Well and good, the problem is the first entry is dated the day after Virginia Woolf is supposed to have drowned herself. Moreover, there appears to be a connection between the castle, the garden, Woolf and Jo's dead grandfather. Shocked and amid a growing desire to learn more about her grandfather's youth in Kent, Jo Bellamy sets out on a cross-country odyssey to try to authenticate the diary and uncover her grandfather's connection to one of the most famous feminists and literary icons of the past century.

The novel is wonderfully written and mostly moves at an ever-increasing pace as Bellamy encounters an array of character who are far more interested in their own aggrandizement than in helping Jo. The diary is stolen, Jo has help from several people with questionable motives and engages in some pretty far-fetched antics in order to follow some tantalizingly obscure clues.Ultimately of course, some of the questions surrounding the diary and the last three weeks of Virginia Woolf's life are resolved, but not all.
The author, skillfully evoking a past era of English letters and philosophical thought, has provided a rich and thought-provoking experience.The novel is written with grace and is rich in atmosphere and history. It is presented as a carefully wrought piece that could be true, and that climaxes in a stunning and most satisfying conclusion.

Carl Brookins
Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island,Bloody Halls, more at Kindle & Smashwords!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


BYLINE: Gina Webb
For the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Human trafficking --- modern-day slavery --- is the fastest-growing criminal industry in the world, generating an estimated $9.5 billion every year. According to the U.S. Department of State, 600,000 to 800,000 people are bought and sold across international borders each year; half are children, most are female.

Atlanta's airports and transit systems create an ideal environment for traffickers to move victims and stay one step ahead of the police. Low-income neighborhoods are easy targets --- with few resources for extensive search efforts --- and so are high-risk children who won't be missed, such as runaways and foster children.

Or, as cop-turned-missing-children's advocate Moriah Dru calls them: "Troubled kids. My kind of kids." The kind of kids that have been disappearing from Atlanta's historic Cabbagetown neighborhood in
Gerrie Ferris Finger's debut mystery, "The End Game."

Dru runs Child Trace, the organization she formed after leaving the police force, and she's called into action when two more children go missing. This time the circumstances are too suspicious to ignore: After a house fire that kills Ed and Wanda Barnes, their young foster children, sisters Jessie, 9, and Dottie, 7, are nowhere to be found.

Dru joins forces with ex-partner Rick Lake, Atlanta PD Homicide Unit, to look into what they at first believe is a local crime. Before long, Dru gets a tip that the girls may be victims of a child sex ring with eager clients in South America. Dru and Lake have less than 24 hours to find the sisters.

End Game" won the 2009 Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel award, which celebrates the "cozy" genre. Think Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers --- old lace, small villages, and the ever-present teapot, the trademark of the cozy. Traditionally, cozies avoid gratuitous violence and explicit sex. So, how to write about something so much dirtier than a nice clean-cut murder under those conditions?

Finger carries it off by keeping the kids and their abductors offstage and the action centered on the intense but relatively bloodless hunt. The action takes place during a single day during which Dru and Lake rarely venture far from the scene of the crime --- their house-to-house interviews of witnesses and suspects constitute a walking tour of Cabbagetown.

Punchy dialogue and sly humor keep things moving, and an "eenie meenie miney moe" of neighborhood witnesses --- a prying spinster, a wrongly-convicted child molester, a store-owner who likes to dress up as Santa Claus, even the oily head of child services --- come across as all the shadier for being unlikely suspects.

Dru is a strong narrator whom we get to know through the investigation --- her questions and reactions prove that her heart goes out to hobos, the homeless, and the throwaway kids --- but Finger never allows us far enough into her head to know what drives her. Instead, our closest glimpse of Dru's emotions is of her fierce jealousy toward a rival for Lake's affections in a limp subplot that detracts from the desperate hunt for the girls.

Similarly, what we know about Rick Lake is limited to what Dru tells us: "Lake's daddy had been a cop, like Lake, and a suicide, like my daddy"--- but after dropping bombs like this, she segues back into the action. It's a missed opportunity to use the couple's backgrounds and relationship, a la Karin Slaughter or Tana French, to add depth to the story. Maybe a sequel will offer more insight into what makes these two tick.

Finger, who grew up in Missouri and now lives on the Georgia coast, spent 20 years at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she edited the columns of late humorist Lewis Grizzard and covered local and national news.

End Game"
Gerrie Ferris
Minotaur; $24.99; 304 pages

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Mood Swings To Murder
Author: Jane Isenberg
Publisher: Avon Books
PBODecember 2000

ISBN: 0-380-80282-1

Third in this series about an English teacher in the New Jersey college system. Bel Barrett teaches for a community college in Hoboken, a great platform for a variety of stories, because she'll encounter older students, some with families, and some withjobs, both of which can give rise to problems not usually encountered by more traditional, full time, students.

The previous books are "The M Word" and "Death in a Hot Flash."

Author of this series, Jane Isenberg, is a veteran urban college teacher and she writes with authority, wit and a sure sense of her environment. She also understands the processes of female aging. Her protagonist is Bel Barrett who finds it impossible to ignore student problems outside the classroom and who also spends a lot of energy worrying about her two grown children. She is abetted by two women who seem to have more time on their hands to deal with Bel's murder cases than is usual. One is a fiery private investigator which solves one continuing problems for any amateur sleuth, that of access to various agency records and actions. The two provide Bel, who has a pretty full schedule, with assistance and reassurances. With a pregnant daughter in Seattle and a son on the East Coast, both of whom seem to be less than fully settled--in their mother's view, anyway, the two women offer a level of sanity and judicious advice.

This story has an unusual plot line. It concerns the murder of a Frank Sinatra impersonator, one of several who seem to litter the Hoboken landscape. Bel, her friends and other hangers on, including Bel's mother, are swept up in Bel's attempt to figureout who killed Louie Palumbo and why. One of Isenberg's strengths is the clever and logical ways she involves Bel in murder investigations.

In this case, she and lover Sol, out for a romantic stroll literally stumble across the body.Two sub-plots are nicely handled. Bel's relationships with her sometime-live-in son and her now pregnant daughter have no bearing on the main plot but they do add dimension and reality to the characters. All in all, in spite of an abundance of angst and soul-searching in place of action and suspense, this is another worthy outing, an American cozy with a little bit of bite mixed with mystery and eccentricity.

Carl Brookins,

Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island,Bloody Halls, more at Kindle & Smashwords!

Sunday, June 27, 2010


By Martin Edwards

Published by Poisoned Pen Press,
February, 2010, Hard cover, 284 pgs.
ISBN: 978-1-59058-593-1

The author is experienced, long published. He has four mysteries in this, the Lake District police cases, featuring DCI Hannah Scarlett and historian Daniel Kind. I admit, ever since I was introduced to the Lake District through the excellent novels of Arthur Ransome, he of The Picts and Swallows, I've been a big fan of almost everything written by for and about the area. Edwards has twelve novels and a sizeable canon, plus he's a well-received critic and commentator. For those reasons I was somewhat disappointed by the long very well-written set of annoyances Mr. Martin, as narrator has put forth. He appears to dislike the wealthy, attorneys, police funding, professional police administrators, the high-born and the low, plus a bunch of others. Too bad. His annoyances get in the way of full enjoyment of a really well-conceived and rendered story.

DCI Hanna Scarlett, is still coping with her irascible lover and book dealer Marc Amos and her attraction to historian Daniel Kind. Kind, back in the district is the son of Hannah's ex-boss. Hannah heads the local Cold Case squad looking at the seven year-old death of Emily Friend. Was it murder? Or suicide and does it matter after so many years? DCI Scarlett thinks so and she takes her upstanding sense of justice into a case that grows more and more complicated and closer to home than she care to contemplate.

It is often said that good mystery writing is founded on the careful and measured release of information to the reader. Martin is a master of the technique. Whether he writes about Hannah's personal problems with the men in her life, the interesting murders of two book dealers/collectors in the immediate area, or the weather which can be depressing at times, the author maintains careful control. In most aspects, this is a novel that can be savored and fully enjoyed.

Carl Brookins

Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island, Bloody Halls

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


By Mary Anna Evans
Poisoned Pen Press, August 2005
294 Pgs., Hardcover
ISBN: 978-159-058362-3

This is the author's second novel featuring insouciant pot-hunter Faye Longchamp. Faye appears to have reformed since we last encountered her. She's back in school, studying to be an archeologist. Once again author Evans gives us a cast of interesting characters involved in various questionable if enthralling activities, even though the readers' sense of disbelief is sorely tested.

Longchamp is tasked to supervise the crew of an archeological-cum-social/historical project in central Alabama. She isn't qualified. She knows it and so does the institute which is running the project, as well as do the academic experts who are on the scene. Never mind, she creates order out of chaos, soon earns the loyalty of several locals who are on the crew and dodges ravening dogs, surly local inhabitants and murderous thieves. All in a days work.

The novel explores archeology, oral history, genealogy and medical diciplines. It seems an ethnically separate group or band of settlers have been living relatively isolated lives in the middle of the state. Doctors on the perimeter of the settlements are discovering that members of the clan are highly resistant to AIDS, among other communicable diseases. The government thereupon, and to the discomfort of the residents, mosty of whom value their privacy, issues grants, orders, research topics and general disruption.

The target group is called the Sujosa and no once seems to know quite where they came from or why. They don't fit in with surrounding populations which has caused various troubles in the past and made the clan more than a little suspicious of government in particular and of strangers in their midst. Arbitrarily plunking a group of stuffy strangers with a lot of perceived rules and attitudes among the Sujosa is a recipe for trouble and murder soon ensues.

There are lapses in logic, plot holes and occasional awkward writing. Nevertheless the central plot is a really interesting idea. From it, Evans adeptly splits off sub-plots involving some local relationships that are interesting to follow. The author is good at revealing the tensions, attitudes and prejudices of superannuated academics in both amusing and irksome ways. Some of the relationships and characters are very well developed and one might wish for fewer characters and more attention to those remaining. Likewise, one might wish for fewer plot twists and sub-plots and more complete development of those that remain.

The pace of the story is not swift, but there are few lapses. If emotional tensions between the characters are never riveting, they aren't dull and boring, either. Readers will learn a good deal, in an engaging way, about some arcane and relatively unpopular academic disciplines. That is a good thing. Never a thriller, Relics is however, a satisfying and worthy second effort.

Carl Brookins

Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island, Bloody Halls

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


Server Down
By J. M. Hayes
HC from Poisoned Pen Press
May, 2009

Poisoned Pen Press is probably the elite crime fiction publisher in the nation right now. Their standards are very high and under Barbara Peters gimlet eye and firm editorial hand, they rarely stumble. Having Bob always around to beat the drums doesn’t hurt, either. In fact, their growing power in the crime fiction community allows them to support authors who are interested in stretching their personal visions as authors.

SERVER DOWN, is a good example. J.M Hayes is engaged in writing a series set in the flatlands small mid-Kansas, largely rural, community in Benteen County. The series, this one is the fifth episode, is a gentle tongue-in-cheek riff on an old and rude English public house song with the refrain, “Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noon day sun.” Principal fellow is a part Indian Kansan who yearns to be a Cheyenne shaman. His adopted moniker is Mad Dog. His brother, the Sheriff of Benteen County is named English. It’s a family name. So naturally, people here and there refer to the Sheriff as Englishman. Mad Dog is a militant pacifist who is forever getting involved in causes, peaceful protests. That of course sets him against movers and shakers who’d like to develop the hell out of Benteen County.

Among his other interests, Mad Dog is a gamer. He apparently satisfies his bloodlust with a computer game called War of Worldcraft. Unfortunately, it turns out the massive violent game has more to it than mere pixels on a screen.

Mad Dog is in Tucson to witness classic Indian Easter ceremonies when life goes off the rails. His home back in Kansas is blown away and he’s now accused of murdering a local officer. Things spiral out of control until his entire family is at risk and the bodies begin to fall with such rapidity that it becomes difficult to keep track. It’s where the author has begun to take risks. Will his audience, used to the slightly off-kilter amusing antics of the Benteen characters, moving in generally placid currents, accept the grittier, more violent and hard-edged tone of this novel? I hope so, because this is a dandy novel. Of course the press is taking a risk as well. Author Hayes is an excellent writer and if the novel gives short shrift to the compute game that is part of the fundamental functionality of the plot, the characters and their trials are far more interesting anyway.

An eminently satisfying story, the characters perform viciously or admirably as are their roles and of course there’s Hailey. Everybody’s favorite wolf. Excuse me? You haven’t met this creature? Too bad. You’re missing one of the most interesting, effective, and silent law enforcement figures to come down the pike. Tall dark and handsome, Hailey is something else and he’s mostly silent in the bargain.

Carl Brookins

Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island, Bloody Halls

Monday, May 24, 2010


A Journey to Die For
By Radine Trees Nehring
ISBN 978-1-60364-020-6
Wolfmont Press, trade paper
296 pg., May 2010

Here’s a good example, if readers still need one, of a crime novel that fits comfortably into the fine tradition of fiction that relies on good writing, a fine plot, odd and usual suspects and an interesting setting. The author relies on a good story rather than tortured or crass language, logical development rather than constant physical action.

Carrie King a neighborly, bright, woman of late middling years and her husband, Henry King, a retired cop from Kansas City, are making an exploration into Arkansas history with a trip on a restored train to a small historic community on the shores of the Arkansas River. At the halfway point passengers leave the train to enjoy a brief sojourn in the town of Van Buren. When Carrie and Henry reach the river and a large historic mural to study, the possibility of encountering a dead body of the farthest thing from their minds. But alas, there it is and then there are the buttons.

A charming and delightful mystery ensues. Nehring’s unerring ear for dialog and her sense of what constitutes a well rounded character serve the reader well as the Kings travel between home, Van Buren and Kansas City where Henry had a solid career as a police officer. There have been allusions in the past to Henry’s rather abrupt retirement and in a powerful emotional scene at the Van Buren police station, Carrie and readers will receive serious and deep insight into Henry’s secret.

In the fine tradition of traditional American mysteries, A Journey to Die for is an excellent and satisfying entry in this author’s “to die for” series.

Carl Brookins
Case of the Greedy Lawyer, Devils Island, Bloody Halls

Monday, May 17, 2010


Hope y'all enjoy this one.

Random Victim
By Michael A. Black
ISBN: 978-0-8439-5986-4
Pub: Leisure Books, pb, 323 pages,
April, 2008

Reviewed by Carl Brookins

How did I miss this one when it first came out? I know the author, been following the man’s writing career. He gave me a copy of this book. Still, I only recently got around to reading it. And discovered to my chagrin what I’ve been missing. Delayed a really fine read. Here is Chicago, in all its grit and insouciance, its rhythm and its nasty side.

Chicago is part of Cook County, and they have a sheriff, a law enforcement presence, and all the problems an urban county can absorb. Comes now one Sergeant Francisco Leal, back after a drug bust gone bad, resulting in a grievous wound to his person. Leal, your basic resentful cynic, doesn’t enjoy busting bad guys to see them get off too lightly, and he isn’t always quiet about his feelings, even in front of the judge. Thus, “the Dark Gable Incident,” which gave Leal a certain cache, positive in some circles, but negative in many others.

We get a really good look at the simmering anger that lies under Leal’s professional demeanor and now he has a new assignment. Along with two young, inexperienced detectives and another sergeant, Leal is assigned to a politically sensitive case that is so cold, the detective’s fingers get numb just paging through the files.

Almost a year previously a major player, a judge Miriam Walker, went missing, was found dead some time later, and there were no arrests, no apparent motive, no leads.. A random victim, possibly of a carjacking? A very cold case. Now, elections are coming and the Sheriff is being beaten up over this still unsolved case. A team is assembled in an obvious political ploy, to re-examine the case and Leal is second in command, due primarily to his seniority. The team assembles with the initial understanding that there’s almost no upside to the situation.

The characters are precisely drawn, their actions methodical and deliberate and logical. The action and the tension are low-keyed for a long time, but the writing is so fine, I was drawn inexorably to page after page until the climax exploded off the page. This is one fine police procedural. Ultimately we learn that the assumption of randomness is not the truth.

Carl Brookins

Friday, May 7, 2010


Baltimore Blues
Author: Laura Lippman
Publisher: Avon Books, Inc.
ISBN: 0-380-78875-6
Price: $5.99
pub. date: February, 1997
290 pages, paper

Review Author: Carl Brookins
This review was written some time ago, on the release of Laura Lippman's first Tess novel. Did the reviewer get it right in his prediction? What do you think of her career and later books?

One expects this author to become an important voice in the mystery genre. Lippman’s observant eye, her skill with the language, and her sense of pace and timing are all on exhibit here. If Tess Monaghan, ex-newspaper reporter, is not the most unusual lead character readers may have encountered, many of the other characters are unusual enough to satisfy our needs. Moreover, as a character that shines and sometimes dominates in these pages, the city of Baltimore is a star.

This excellent first mystery presents us with Tess’ buddy and fellow rower, Darryl Paxton, accused of the murder of a prominent Baltimore attorney. Out of work anyway, Tess agrees to help Paxton’s attorney build a defense. In her sometimes emotional and mistake-ridden efforts to help Paxton, Tess encounters several off-beat characters ranging through the many levels of Baltimore’s social structure. Some of them are ordinary, and some are fascinating, and some threatening.

Lippman writes with economy and verve, and if Monaghan spends a little too much time in internal dialogue, it’s a small price to pay to be present at the beginning of what will become a strong mystery series.

Monday, April 26, 2010


Death without Tenure
by Joanne Dobson
Pub. By Poisoned Pen Press,
2010, Hard Cover, 230 pgs.

Review by Carl Brookins

For me, a mildly awkward title, but the story is anything but. Author Joanne Dobson has written another fascinating insider tale about the machinations of the very private and often arcane world of higher academia. The novel, sixth in the series, is set in the rarified world of Enfield College, a private high priced and high minded institution of higher learning.

While college and collegial are from the same root, and college administrations and faculties try to project an aura of patience, calm and reasoned discourse, we all know, when we stop to think about it, it ain’t always so.

Karen Pelletier is six years into her faculty position in the English Department at Enfield.. She is beset by an incompetent department chair and a colleague who gives her the willies. It is tenure decision time. In the academic faculty world, one’s position is essentially temporary until the faculty, deans and ultimately the college administration, makes a proffer of tenure. Tenure usually means one has a life-time appointment, so it’s a pretty big deal. What’s more, if you aren’t awarded tenure, you have to leave the institution. Pelletier is in the midst of collecting and refining her tenure materials for timely presentation. There are two professors up for tenure and only one position available. Then her competition is murdered. With law enforcement looking intently her way, the intrepid professor has to deal with a raft of odd characters, out-of-the-norm students, political incorrectness and most of the other ills that occasionally beset college campuses.

Author Dobson is peerless in her depiction of the nuanced atmosphere and language of the college. Readers will be quickly drawn into campus life. Readers might want to have a modern dictionary at hand, but the quick pace and logical development ameliorates the dense language. There was, for my taste, a bit too much detail at times about a particular decor, or the details of dress where there was little need.

A fine novel, well-plotted, thoughtful, and filled with many amusing bits about the academic life.

Carl Brookins
Case of the Greedy Lawyers, Bloody Halls, Devils Island

Saturday, April 24, 2010


THE END GAME by Gerrie Ferris Finger
Minotaur Books
Publication Date April 27, 2010

In the first five pages we neet Dru, he protagonist, and Lake, her lover, sound asleep on a rare weekend together.A train horn wakes Dru -- "the seven A.M. from Birmingham was smack on time." Lake lives on the third floor of an old cotton warehouse. Trains shake the building and their horns are "loud and long like an off-key contralto." To Dru the horns are like a piece of familiar music and she knows the"signature sounds of seven air horn maestroes."

A couple of phone calls later Dru is out of the shower, Lake has strapped on his cop gear, and they're on their way to a fire where two people are dead and two young girls are missing.The girls are foster children and the youngest is hearing impaired.

We learn that Dru and Lake were partners at the Atlanta PD until he was promoted to the homicide unit and she quit to start Child Trace and search for missing kids.

It's a chaotic scene: emergency vehicles, cops, firemen, curious neighbors, reporters, two search dogs with their handler, helicopter clattering overhead, The fire captain declares the fire an arsonist's work, using a delayed starter. Dru and Lake work the neighborhood. Everybody knows a little something but nobody wants to talk. Before long there's an "eeny-meeny-miney-moe of suspects."

Is the kidnapper Conrad, the universally disliked head of Child Protective Services? Is Doonan, the property-rich architect next door, a child molester? How about Dwight, the ex-con who may or may not have been wrongly convicted of pedophilia? How about Miss Goddard, also known as Gossiping Goddard, who keeps secrets? And who is "Santa," the person the two missing girls were seen chatting with earlier?

This is a busy novel, with the scene shifting from neighbors' houses, to the cemetery, where local families went for picnics, to the rail yards. A second explosion takes place. A family dog turns up dead. More murders confuse the cops. Rumours surface about other missing children.

For me, the pleasure of reading this novel comes from its adherence to old-fashioned police work. Dru and Lake study crime scenes, ask questions and cross-check gossip. Dru does have a computer hacker working for her who feeds her information, but again, it's nothing fancy, just a case of following leads. At first they find it slow going. People are too caught up in their own affairs to notice what goes on in the world around them. Everyone remembers something, however trivial, but fear getting their neighbors in trouble.

Dru and Lake finally get a break from a mysterious informant. Dru meets him in the local cathedral. His information is detailed and credible, and the chase is on.

One brief exchange gave me a chuckle. Dru asks the mysterious informant how the various players communicate. He says: "How does everybody communicate? E-mail."

The search for the missing girls kicks into high gear, but to say more would be a spoiler.

Two of my favorite characters were the sniffer dogs: Buddy, a German shepherd who sniffs the air, and Jed,a black Lab who's a ground-tracker. The author works their special skills into a scene without resorting to an information dump.

This book won the 2009 Malice Domestic contest for best first traditional mystery. Publication date is April 27.

My thanks to the author and her publisher for an ARC.

Pat Browning
Yukon, OK
ABSINTHE OF MALICE (Krill Press 2008)
Now on Kindle $1.99

Monday, April 19, 2010


Occasionally, because there are books and authors that bear remembering, I will submit reviews of books that were released years ago. But I always edit them to remove dated references. This is one of them. - Carl Brookins, Reviewer

by Richard Barre
published by Berkley Prime Crime
a 1996 release
ISBN 0-425-16641-4

For you who have been waiting for the paperback of this fine novel, it is now available.

Bearing Secrets is a superb novel. One has a tendency to ladle on accolades and fulsome adjectives until the feeling that no book can be THAT good becomes a barrier to readers. Expectations can be raised too high. But this is a superb novel.

This complex, rhythmic, multi-textured novel reaches out to the reader and inexorably draws one tighter and tighter. It starts with hard-nosed PI Wil Hardesty and an anguished cry for help from a prickly, vulnerable, twenty-year-old hard-case named Holly Pfeiffer. Hardesty’s marriage is coming apart and he doesn’t know how to stop it. Mostly to distract himself from his personal troubles, he agrees to see Holly. But when he gets to her cabin near Lake Tahoe, he is repeatedly, rebuffed.

This woman is a product of her radical father’s teachings. He was a veteran of Viet Nam, and then returned to Berkley where he used his considerable intelligence and skill to harass the authorities and teach military tactics to a violent splinter group of dissidents. Naturally, his activities draw the attention of the establishment. When Holly’s father Max, dies in a fall from a high ledge in the mountains, Holly accuses the FBI of killing him. After all, the gospel according to Max had taught her that years earlier the FBI engineered her mother’s death via a car bomb. In spite of her attempts to rid herself of Hardesty, in Holly’s view just another establishment lackey, Hardesty begins a patient, earnest attempt to learn some truths.

For a time, the only secrets he bares make Max look guilty. But of what? And then....

Read Bearing Secrets and you will be appalled, exhilarated, horrified and energized. This way lies death, explicit and terrible; here lies corruption and there is exploitation. You are quickly caught up in wheels within wheels. Barre builds tension and suspense cleanly and handles both with dexterity and believability. Fully-formed characters strive against insidious power, fail under the weight of crushing secrets, and strive again. Yet author Barre does not dwell lovingly on the horror. This book is cleanly written, carefully plotted and very, very intense. It will require attention and careful reading, but Bearing Secrets will reward you in full measure.

Carl Brookins

Monday, April 12, 2010


I'm happy to welcome Mark Terry. Mark is a full-time freelance writer, editor and novelist. He is the author of numerous novels including the bestselling DANCING IN THE DARK, THE FALLEN, THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK, THE SERPENT'S KISS and others. He lives in Michigan with his wife, two sons, dog named Frodo, and a bunch of guitars mostly named after Greek gods: Athena, Poseidon, Ares, and Larry. His favorite guitar's name is Layla.

Mark, your favorite guitar is rightly named after the best guitarist I've ever heard: Eric Clapton.

The Fallen has gotten raves from Booklist:
The Fallen maintains its intensity up to the very end, and Stillwater is both a sympathetic and believable hero. Readers of previous Stillwater novels will eagerly wait to see him in action again, and those new to the series will seek out his earlier adventures (including The Serpent’s Kiss, 2009).

Here's what Mark has to say about those tough guys he writes about.

I write a thriller series about Dr. Derek Stillwater, a troubleshooter for Homeland Security. His particular expertise is biological and chemical terrorism. A typical Stillwater novel involves some sort of terror attack that is going to be followed by a worse terror attack. Derek’s job is to prevent the worse terror attack from happening. If there’s a formula, that’s it, and if you think that makes it easy, you’re crazy.

In THE FALLEN, my latest (the third featuring Derek), he’s undercover at a resort in Colorado Springs where the G8 Summit is being held. He has intelligence that a terrorist group might take a run at the Summit, and yeah, they do. Things go to hell, and Derek, trapped inside a resort with the terrorists, starts his own guerilla war against the bad guys, using the crawlspaces, tunnels, air ducts, and elevator shafts to move around the facility. Think “’Die Hard’ at the G8 Summit.”

Just before I started writing this column, I was working on the fifth Derek Stillwater novel (the fourth is already written and scheduled for September 2011). It too is about terrorism and there’s already been at least one attack. But the action takes place in Moscow and Derek is there for several reasons, and one of them is to meet a son he has only recently become aware he had. And that’s the scene I wrote, the one where he meets the little boy.

But here’s the thing. The woman watching the boy doesn’t speak English; and Derek doesn’t speak Russian.

Derek’s an action hero, sure, although he’s prone to panic attacks and a nice variety of neuroses and superstitions. If you stick a gun to his head, he knows how to act. If you show him a bomb, he might freak a little, but he knows what to do. Bring him to a scene of a chemical weapons attack, once he’s done with his panic attack, give him a biohazard suit and send him on his way.

Have him try to give a stuffed toy to a two-year-old boy in front of the boy’s grandmother … we’ve got problems.

I just know I’m going to be tweaking this chapter for the next year. You just know when you’re writing a scene like this that you’re cranking open a window into the character’s soul in a way that’s very different from everything else you’ve done. This scene’s damned important and it’s got to work. It’s got to hurt.

And that’s the hardest part of being a novelist.
What do you think? What’s the hardest part for you?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


The End Game Gerrie Ferris Finger. Minotaur, $24.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-312-61155-2

A hunt for two young sisters propels Finger's compelling if at times sobering debut, which won the 2009 Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition. When Jessie and Dottie Rose vanish after their foster parents, Ed and Wanda Barnes, die in a fire that destroys their home in Atlanta's Cabbagetown neighborhood, Portia Devon, a juvenile judge, turns for help to Moriah Dru, a former cop who runs Child Trace Inc. Dru and her detective boyfriend, Lt. Richard Lake, who's officially assigned to the case, conclude that Wanda and a neighbor friend of hers, Millicent Goddard, may have known the predator who took the Rose sisters—and other girls in the area over the years. Millicent's murder and a tip that a child prostitution ring is involved raise the stakes. A well-researched plot and snappy dialogue—plus some fine rail-yard K-9 detecting by Buddy, a German shepherd, and Jed, a Labrador retriever—keep the action moving. (May)

Monday, March 29, 2010


I write a series of romantic suspense novels featuring Laura Kate O'Connell. I use only two of my three names in these stories: Gerrie Ferris. Here is a review from Long and Short Reviews for the second in the Laura Kate Plantation Series, HONORED DAUGHTERS. If you like romantic suspense, order HD from Amazon in the Kindle format or from Desert Breeze Publishing in several ebook formats.

And now the review:

Laura Kate O’Connell is a super-star of a clever southern bell with quick wit and a nice way with horses. Honored Daughters is truly more mystery than romance, but the romance matters and readers will really enjoy Jack Rhodes when they finally meet him. It won’t be a painful wait though, as from the first moments, interest and intrigue build.Overall, the quality of the story is excellent. Epic-like adventures – and love – befall our heroine, who seems pulled in several directions most of the time.

Her personal life, her decisions and future plans are complicated; Jack Rhodes is her distant, if still true love. He seems to envision an ordinary, predictable sort of future for the two of them, a future Laura Kate isn’t enthused about at all. (Although after meeting him, we do realze he’s more insightful than Laura Kate gives him credit for.)

Before we even get to questions of romance; Agent Nyan Hill complicates her life, with his desperate effort to see the murder of his niece Dari solved. Nyan & Laura Kate’s antagonistic relationship, and occasional sharp dialogue, really make reader’s admire our heroine. She’s nobody’s fool, but is at heart a caring, almost driven person.

Ferris has a distinctive voice, giving Honored Daughters a continuous, rather evocative aura. She creates a time, a place, and a series of characters that seem utterly original, yet also familiar and appealing. There are some seriously suspenseful moments, as well as more tender times; and the mystery is a real mystery, both intriguing and heart-wrenching from the start.

Read about it.

Friday, March 19, 2010


Whenever I meet a book lover, his or her first question is: what's your book about? The second question is: where did you come up with the idea?

The End Game is a mystery about two young Atlanta girls who are kidnapped for the overseas sex trade. Heroine Moriah Dru established Child Trace, Inc. after leaving the Atlanta Police Department. She'll find lost children for anyone, but most of her work originates with the juvenile court system. With the help of Detective Lieutenant Richard Lake, Dru sets out to find the Rose girls after their house burns down. and their foster parents are dead inside.

Robin Agnew, of the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association, reviewed my novel. I'll let her tell a little about the book.

"Ferris’ ethos isn’t cozy, it’s fairly hard boiled, and so is the topic she’s chosen to write about: missing children. Her spare prose and unsentimental writing style get you through some of the hard stuff in the story. … Like a runaway freight train, this novel is all about narrative drive."

Robin says other good stuff about my novel – although there are certain aspects I didn't realize I'd accomplished. As I intended, Robin nails the style and purpose of the narrative. I believe the spare prose and unsentimental writing style come from my journalism background. I worked for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for nearly twenty years.

In those first years, I edited the columns of nationally-syndicated newspaper columnist Lewis Grizzard. As his popularity grew, he compiled his writings – which exemplified his beloved South – into books that landed on the New York Times Best Seller List year after year. Lewis became my mentor, and I learned to edit as sparsely as he did. One caveat though, writing novels isn't like writing for a newspaper. You've got to put a little more flesh on the skeleton.

That brings me to the second question asked about my book: where did you come up with the story idea? Lewis died in 1994, and I joined the National Desk, where I traveled and wrote for a section of the newspaper called, Around the South. My last assignment was on the City Desk, and then I retired.

A sensational case in Atlanta became the genesis of my novel. A child went missing. He was four or five years old, and they couldn't find him in the foster care system. He'd been passed from family to family and then lost. How can you lose a child in the system? As far as I know, he was never found. About that time, the APD was busting massage parlors and finding ten-to-twelve-year-old foreign girls working in the back rooms, giving more than a traditional massage. The lost child and the young girls imported by real slavers inspired The End Game.

There is a third question I'm asked: what does the title mean? Overseas slave rings have names; one of the most infamous is called Snakehead. I named my fictional human traffickers after chess pieces. Dru and Lake will do anything to keep the Rose girls from becoming part of The End Game.

From: Sweet Mystery