Tuesday, November 29, 2011


My guest for the next few days is Lee Barwood. She writes about the road she followed to write her excellent thrillers.

Welcome, Lee. We're paying attention!

 Sometimes the road to crime can be paved with good intentions, just as the proverbial road to Hell. When that happens, it’s a reminder that the human mind is a very complex thing. People, as well as characters, can be drawn into actions that they never thought they would take—or that, under other circumstances, they would recognize as crime.

Fiction is rife with examples, such as police officers so determined to catch a killer that they will plant evidence to ensure conviction because they know they will never nail him any other way. But that is a very dangerous road. Two real cases are that of the Nebraska CSI director, David Kofoed, who in 2010 was convicted of evidence tampering in a 2006 murder case, and that of a New York City police detective who just recently was convicted of planting drugs on innocent people.

Kofoed, as reported by the blog at the Innocence Project, was accused of planting a specimen of the victim’s blood in the car of two suspects who later proved to be innocent. His attorneys claimed he had used a contaminated testing kit, but the judge said there was no evidence of that. Kofoed, in prison, is working on appeals on the grounds that a former coworker set investigators on him.

The police case is a bit different. Detective Jason Arbeeny was found guilty November 1 of official misconduct, offering a false instrument for filing and falsifying business records, as reported by The New York Times, in the case of planting drugs on an innocent woman and her boyfriend. Testimony in the case included that of a former detective, Stephen Anderson, who said that rules were often bent or broken and evidence planted so that police could meet arrest and conviction quotas.

There are plenty of avenues that lead straight to wrongdoing, and in my books the antagonists, like real people, find that various well-meaning motives seduce them into actions that under other circumstances they might find—well, criminal.

 For instance, in A Dream of Drowned Hollow, my paranormal environmental thriller, Trevor Dalton thinks he has long since shaken the dust of the little Ozarks farm community where he grew up from his shoes. But in his childhood and youth he was surrounded by poverty and violence, self-interest and hypocrisy, and these shape him far more than he knows. The orphan child of a man led down the path to despair and murder by desperation, Dalton has seen some of the worst of human nature at work.
Regarded as a charity case with “bad blood” after his father kills his mother and then himself, Trevor is taken in by a well-to-do man respected in the community who treats him as little more than slave labor. There he sees and hears much as community leaders protect their own turf and their own businesses rather than do anything to alleviate the poverty that surrounds them.
The lessons strike home but in all the wrong ways, as Trevor determines to become wealthy and powerful himself so that he can bring jobs and prosperity to the people he left behind. But his use of the power and influence he acquires is as hard-edged as what he left behind, and he becomes as ruthless as those who kept his community bound in poverty in the first place: any resistance to his original well-meaning goal is met with force—subtle at first, then increasingly obvious, though still not visibly tied to him. In his blind determination to right one wrong from his youth, Trevor becomes the instrument of far worse wrongs, until he is guilty at a single remove of intimidation, blackmail, and even murder—not to mention the environmental destruction his projects bring in their wake.
In Some Cost a Passing Bell, Tim Carthan wasn’t a very nice fellow to begin with. He had quite a sense of entitlement when it came to women and power, although he hid it well—had he lived, he most likely would have continued to deceive those closest to him that he was an all-around good guy, while those far enough removed to see him for what he was would observe how he manipulated people and used them for his own ends. In this case, however, death intervenes and takes him very far down the road of wrongdoing until he becomes a returned-from-the-grave murderer who will do anything to take back what he believes is  his—his widow, Camilla, and her psychic abilities.

And in A Lingering Passion, my most recent paranormal, Stan Richards has the ego that his show business success would seem to demand. Yet he is only following in the steps of his great-grandfather Duncan Lorean, a talented but not gifted actor who believed his acting skills to be far greater than they actually were. Both men had a heady sense of self-worth, and Lorean crossed over into obsession, committing murder when his own rise to fame was threatened. Stan, in uncovering the truth about his scandalous family history, awakens more than memories in his quest to learn why Lorean fled the country—and the line between life and death blurs even more as Stan, influenced by Lorean’s lingering presence in the theater he has bought, is unable to see his single-minded pursuit of fame for what it is: megalomania. Other lawbreakers are at work in the story, adding their own complications, as Stan goes beyond what once he would have considered unthinkable behavior and is willing to put the lives of those around him at risk to succeed in his new goal: vindication of his murderous ancestor.

Thanks, Lee for a very inciteful essay on the road to crime. Criminals might learn something, if they wre smart enough to learn anything.

Gerrie Ferris Finger

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


My guest is Eloise Hill is a Bay Area nurse, psychic, and writer who has been in love with the Tarot since she picked up her first Rider-Waite Deck, at the age of eighteen. She teaches classes on a wide variety of metaphysical subjects and is the author of The Eight of Pentacles, available at Amazon at: http://tinyurl.com/3n329gv

Welcome Eloise. You have a favorite character to tell us about? Good, we love characters. 

The Character of Place: Oakland, CA

When pondering the setting for my paranormal cozy, The Eight of Pentacles, I decided to stick with the go-with-what-you-know adage and use the town I resided in for eighteen years: Oakland, California. Oakland is frequently given a bad rap, in the media, and I wanted to offer a long time resident’s perspective of the place I had come to love: one that included multiple excursions into the character of this diverse city.

I decided to place the murder, in my novel, at Lake Merritt, on the edge of downtown Oakland, not only because of its popularity as a solace from the stresses of urban living, but also because it would provide me with the opportunity to do some research. As any writer knows, that which lies on the surface is only the beginning of the story and the lake, as it turned out, had a far richer history than even I imagined…
Lake Merritt might never have been conceived, but for the political and monetary ambitions of Dr. Samuel Merritt, a physician from Massachusetts who, at 6’3” and 340 pounds, possessed the physicality that matched his larger-than-life personna.

IIn 1849, Dr. Merritt was running a successful medical practice in the Northeast when he made the acquaintance of Daniel Webster, who encouraged him to pack up his surgical instruments and head west. Figuring Mr. Webster might know a thing or two about what it took for a man to make his mark in society, Dr. Merritt stocked a ship with general merchandise and set sail for San Francisco in November of that year. He arrived on the west coast, six months later, to discover the city in the process of recovering from a major fire and, in a matter of days, turned a tidy profit by selling off the ship’s cargo. He re-opened his medical practice and, within two years, had invested his considerable income into transporting lumber and in the buying and selling of real estate in San Francisco, and, across the bay, in Oakland.

In 1852, Dr. Merritt purchased land along the shores of a tidal lagoon called San Antonio Slough for the sum of $6000. The slough, formed from the run-off of the last ice age, was bordered by two villages on its eastern shores and the recently incorporated city of Oakland, on the west, and was being used as a sewer. By the 1860’s, the situation was getting…well…stinky and in 1867, Dr. Merritt—now, mayor of Oakland—proposed a plan to redirect the sewage elsewhere and, create a dam which would effectively sever the estuary’s neck from the San Francisco Bay. In an attempt to enhance civic pride and the value of the potentially profitable real estate he owned along the water’s edge, he financed the construction of the flood gates that would allow control over the lake’s water levels and decrease its overall salinity, thereby, making it a more hygienic locale for potential urban dwellers. The end result was the creation of the first salt-water lake in any metropolis in the U.S.

The 140 acre body of water became immediately known as “Merritt’s Lake” and substantial residential development followed. The wetlands that bordered the lake continued to attract migratory birds, as they had for centuries, and, in 1869, Dr. Merritt had the area declared a wild life refuge—the first in the nation—much to the relief of north shore residents tired of dodging bullets from hunters firing from the south end of the lake. By the 1880’s, stately Victorian homes, stables, private gardens and boathouses studded the more than three miles of shoreline.

Unfortunately, what turned out to be a goldmine for Dr. Merritt quickly deteriorated into an  environmental quagmire…literally. Much of the wetlands disappeared, with the unchecked development, and raw sewage continued to find its way to the bottom of the lake. His damn caused an interruption in natural tidal flows and Lake Merritt began to silt up. It was eventually dredged in 1891, but water movement remained so severely restricted that it often set stagnant and polluted—leading to high salinity, low oxygen levels, and periodic fish kills.

By the 1920’s, unhealthy bacterial levels had made swimming unadvisable, although recreational boating was still allowed. The then mayor, Frank Mott, encouraged by the rise of the City Beautiful movements—thought, by social reformers, to encourage both moral and civic pride and social cohesiveness—supported the creation of a municipal boathouse, bowling greens, yacht club, tennis courts, and a band stand, as well as the establishment of parklands, a beach, and a road around the lake. In 1922, more dredging was done and the first of what would become five bird islands was formed from the silt. By 1925, a “necklace” of one-hundred and twenty-six lamps and the string of lights that connected them ringed the water, providing both beauty and security for those walking or boating the lake after dark.

Fish populations continues to rise and fall, and some species, carried by what remained of the incoming tides, managed to proliferate there. It was rumored, in the mid 1930’s, the striped bass population was so plentiful, they could be removed by pitchforks. Postcards of Lake Merritt at twilight, alive with light, circulated around the world, along with serene views of  sailboat regattas gracing its waters. After the Pearl Harbor bombings, the lamps and lights were extinguished and, in 1948, the Oakland courthouse’s Art Deco/Classical facade was completed on the southwestern shore. The park’s Children’s Fairyland, one of the proto-types for Disneyland—according to urban legend—enchanted the first of the baby boomers and their parents in the 1950’s. A science center soon followed along with a cactus garden, museum and a restaurant. By the 1980’s, the summer “Festival At the Lake” had become an annual event, drawing crowds from all over the Bay Area—enhanced by the rehabbed and relit “String of Pearls”.

But the ghost of Samuel Merritt’s manipulations continued to haunt his lake in the form of decades of pollution, continued fish kills, and algae overgrowth. In an effort to put an end to these long-standing issues, a decision was made to divert the remaining sewer pipes to water treatment facilities and to dredge the lake, again. Fountains were placed in the northern arms of the lake to aerate the water and, in the 1990’s, the floodgates were positioned to allow for regular tidal flushing. The strategy worked and a more suitable habitat evolved for water contact sports as well as the fish, crabs, shrimp, clams and other delicacies enjoyed by the resident wildlife and those traveling the Pacific Flyway.

The Lake Merritt enjoyed by the families, joggers, walkers, and boaters of today bears little resemblance to that of Samuel Merritt’s era or its humble Pleistocene era origins…and represents only one of the many faces of Oakland. If you’d like to see how the lake figured into my murder site and plot resolution, check out my paranormal cozy, The Eight of Pentacles, the first in the Eileen McGrath Tarot series, at http://www.eloisehill.net

Thank you Eloise for a wonderful trip to an historic and lovely place.

Gerrie Ferris Finger

Monday, November 14, 2011


Try and top these true crime stories, fiction writers:

1. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1966)

2. Helter Skelter, Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry (1974)

3. Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, David Simon (1991)

4. The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America, Erik Larson (2003)

5. Crime and Science: The New Frontier in Criminology, Jurgen Thorwald (1967)

6. Doctor Dealer: The Rise and Fall of an All-American Boy and His Multimillion-Dollar Cocaine Empire, Mark Bowden (2000)

7. Wiseguy, Nicholas Pileggi (1986)

8. Donnie Brasco: My Undercover Life in the Mafia, Joseph D. Pistone (1987)

9. Bestial: The Savage Trail of a True American Monster, Harold Schechter (1998)

10. Blind Eye: The Terrifying Story of a Doctor Who Got Away With Murder, James B. Stewart (2000)

11. Finders Keepers: The True Story of a Man Who Found $1 Million, Mark Bowden (2002)

12. A Rip in Heaven: A Memoir of Murder and Its Aftermath, Jeanine Cummins (2004)

13. The Stranger Beside Me, Ann Rule (1980)

14. Lethal Intent, Sue Russell (2002)

15. Killer Clown: The John Wayne Gacy Murders, Terry Sullivan and Peter T. Maiken (2000)

16. The Lives and Times of Bonnie & Clyde, E.R. Milner (1996)

17. Dead Man Walking, Helen Prejean (1993)

18. Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34, Bryan Burrough (2004)

19. Angel Face: The True Story of Student Killer Amanda Knox, Barbie Latza Nadeau (2010) Amanda Knox was found not guilty of the murder in 2011.

20. The Killing Season: A Summer Inside an LAPD Homicide Division, Miles Corwin (1997)

21. The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, Kate Summerscale (2008)

22. And the Dead Shall Rise: The Murder of Mary Phagan and the Lynching of Leo Frank, Steve Oney (2003)

23. Confessions of Son of Sam, David Abrahamsen (1985)

24. Cries Unheard: Why Children Kill — The Story of Mary Bell, Gitta Sereny (1999)25. Blood and Money, Thomas Thompson (2001)

Submitted by
Gerrie Ferris Finger
The Ghost Ship

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

THE LOST WOMEN OF LOST LAKE - a Carl Brookins Review

The Lost Women of Lost Lake 
by Ellen Hart
ISBN: 978-0-312-61477-5
2011 hardcover release from
Minotaur Books, 320 pgs.

It is interesting how these things come in multiples. Libby Hellmann recently released a novel with its genesis in the riotous summer and fall of 1968. The Minnesota History Center has just opened an elaborate exhibit focused on 1968, and the History Theater in Saint Paul has mounted an original play, “1968, The year That Rocked The World.” And now here we have a powerful, emotionally intense novel by that excellent Minneapolis writer, Ellen Hart. It is a story of two women who are unable to divorce themselves from that same year, 1968 and the decisions and actions they took then.

 The story is another event in the evolving saga of Minneapolis restaurateur, Jane Lawless. This time she and bosom chum Cordelia take what they intend to be a short vacation trip into Minnesota’s benign northern wilderness to the Lawless family lodge on a lake north of the Twin Cities. It’s a common enough activity, and bucolic time on placid water amid peaceful forests is expected to provide calm and rejuvenation. Jane is trying to decide whether she can commit to working with a close friend toward becoming a professional private investigator.

 The peaceful appearing forest, like so many lives, conceals dark doings and Jane is drawn into a maelstrom of murder, revenge, drugs and double dealing. The multiple threads of this complex story intersect, divide, and then reweave. At times the action is high with tension, the pace frantic. At other times, the story becomes thoughtful, calm, like the smooth waters of the lake itself, allowing readers moments to reflect, perhaps, on their own lives and paths not taken. The women of lost lake, must, in the end, decide for themselves, and take for themselves the heart-rending consequences of their lives.

-Review by:-
Carl Brookins www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com, Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky
Submitted: Gerrie Ferris Finger

Sunday, November 6, 2011

MURDER IN THE 11th HOUSE - a Carl Brookins Review

Murder in the 11th house
by Mitchell Scott Lewis
ISBN: 978-59058-950-2
a 2011 release from
Poisoned Pen Press

 A team of intrepid and intelligent agents in league with an astrologer take on difficult cases of potential injustice. The feeling one gets from this debut novel about the Starlight Detective Agency is one of a small team of right-minded individuals with varied skills united around common goals. When government doesn’t get it right, the agency will. And they’re not above bending the law for all the right reasons. How that affects the lawyer/daughter on the team remains to be seen. The agency does work with police in New York City whenever possible, and because of his wealth and reputation, that seems to be often, but David Lowell, Astrologer non parallel, is not above spending his considerable money and influence to right apparent wrongs.

Angry bartender Johnny Colbert has a loud confrontation with a judge in a small New York Courtroom. It’s a civil case but the judge is soon dead in spectacular fashion and the bartender has no alibi. Enter Lowell’s daughter, defense attorney, Melinda, who prevails on her father to attempt to solve the mystery of who killed the judge and why, thus, presumably, exonerating Ms Colbert. The why of the murder proves far more fascinating that the astrological explanations. There are many explanations, and in some detail. They tend to slow the pace of the story considerably.

But it doesn’t matter whether you believe in astrology or not, the writing is generally smooth and the story develops logically. All of the characters stay in character, even if it’s a bit of a stretch for the young idealistic attorney to countenance what she knows is marginally illegal activity on behalf of her client. Several of the characters, Sarah and the client in particular, are interesting and well-drawn. all in all a nice traditionally-styled crime novel for a pleasant reading afternoon.

- Carl Brookins www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com, Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky