Aug 192014
Like many other writers I was shocked to learn Jeremiah Healy passed away recently. I loved his work, having picked up the first John Francis Cuddy books because I had read most Spenser books and was looking for something similar. Of course, besides the Boston PI thing there's little they really had in common. The Cuddy books had their own style and Cuddy wasn't the superman Spenser was.
So sad that now both Robert B. Parker and Jeremiah Healy have passed away.
I will always be grateful for the blurb he provided for my Noah Milano books:
 "J. Vandersteen takes us back to the glory days of pulp fiction. And I mean the genre, NOT the movie. His Noah Milano character rings completely true as a tough, lone-wolf private."

That goes to show you what a wonderful man he was and how friendly he was to his fellow writers, always ready to help them along.

He will be missed by readers, writer and family.
Aug 192014
Tom Lowe's Sean O'Brien goes Jack Reacher style in this one. It shows how versatile a character O'Brien is, working in more standard PI mysteries as well as more thriller oriented stories as this one. That's because he's got a background as a cop AND a Special Forces guy, so he's got the skills to investigate a murder AND fight terrorists.
During a fishing trip O'Brien discovers a downed submarine and material for a dirty bomb. When it becomes national news he's contacted by the granddaughter of a man who got killed sixty-seven years ago. It turns out the submarine and the murder are connected. O'Brien has to fight Russian mobsters and terrorists for the uranium and uncover the mystery behind the 67 year old murder, dealing with all kinds of agencies.
There's a lot of action in this book. I usually have a hard time with big budget action flicks style action in books because they're hard to read, but Tom pulls it of.
Looking forward to more of O'Brien, in many ways the ultimate series protagonist. He's got everything a hardboiled hero needs.
Aug 192014
I'd never heard of this mini-series that ran originally on the Discovery Channel until we came across the DVDs of it, but being a sucker for Northerns I had to get it and watch it, of course. It's very loosely based on actual incidents during the Yukon Gold Rush, but it takes so many liberties I think it would be best just to consider it historical fiction and evaluate it on that basis. And
Aug 192014

L. P. HOLMES – Destiny Range. Leisure, paperback, March 2009. First book publication: Greenberg, hardcover, 1936. First appeared in Five-Novels Monthly, May 1932; reprinted in Popular Western, October 1951.

   Dex Sublette, foreman of the Pinon Ranch, and all of the cowhands working for him are surprised to learn that the retired owner has sold the spread to a woman — and a Russian princess, to boot. They do not take the news with delight:

    “I thought I had hard luck when a bronc kicked in two ribs for me,” Shorty groaned. “But I didn’t know what hard luck was. A Russian Princess for a boss! Holy cow! If that ain’t awful! I’ll bet she’ll be a string-necked old battle-axe, soured on the world — and the male sex in particular. I’ll bet she’ll take an unholy delight in raw-hiding us to a fare-ye-well. I’ll bet–”

   Shorty couldn’t be more wrong. The young lady is Sonia Stephanovich, or at least it used to be. She now wishes to be called Sonia Stephens. Having fled the Russian Revolution with only a maid and a few belongings, she now hopes to build a new life in this section of the American West she once visited as a child.

   As for being a string-necked old battle-axe:

    Her face was a delicate oval, slightly high of cheekbone. Her skin was a dusky, smooth ivory. Her lips were bewitching. The lower one was particularly full and rich and crimson, and it gave to her expression an elfin impudence which was a delight. Here and there, from beneath the edges of her hat, a few threads of black, silken haur showed. She made an absorbing, stirring picture as she stood there, half defiantly, half appealingly.

   And of course all of the men on the ranch who now call her boss are smitten, but no more than Dex Sublette himself. The story that follows is as much a romance as it is a western novel, with all of the ups and downs and pitfalls that are bound to arise when two human beings of opposite sexes and opposite ways of life meet and are attracted to each other.

   Until, that is, page 150 or so, of a 240 page story, when Dex learns that Sonia has been kidnapped and all hell breaks loose. Not everyone survives the battle between good guys and bad, but does true love prevail? I’ll bet you already know the answer to that.

   To be honest, though, in spite of all the heroics, flying bullets and tragic deaths that occur in the last third of the book, I enjoyed the on again, off again romance in the first part of the book quite a lot more, as contrived and as (dare I say it?) corny as it reads to a modern day reader.

 Posted by at 12:59 am
Aug 182014
William F. Deeck

HENRI WEINER – Crime on the Cuff. William Morrow, hardcover, 1936.

   Cartoonists who are detectives are rare. Also infrequent are one-armed detectives. In this novel, John Brass combines the two as he investigates a dual kidnapping plus murder on his doorstep. Meant to be amusing and exciting, the novel fails on both scores.

— Reprinted from The MYSTERY FANcier, Vol. 11, No. 3, Summer 1989.

Bio-Bibliographic Notes:   This is the one of two mystery novels by author Stephen Longstreet (1907-20020, published under this name. The other is The Case of the Severed Skull, a paperback reprint of Death Walks on Cat Feet (1938), published in hardcover as by Paul Haggard.

   Also in the late 30s Longstreet wrote three other works of crime fiction as by Haggard, all three with a series character named Mike Warlock, about whom I know nothing, in spite of the interesting sounding name.

   As a literary novelist and playwright, Stephen Longstreet turns out to be significant enough to have a Wikipedia page of his own, and as a screenwriter, even more credits on IMDb. Says the biography page for him there: “Studied in Paris and at Rutgers and Harvard Universities, graduating from the New York School of Fine and Applied Art (Parsons) in 1929. [...] Writer, cartoonist, and painter. He published over one hundred novels and five books on jazz, illustrated with his own drawings and watercolors.”

 Posted by at 11:09 pm
Aug 182014
The organization Sisters in Crime Australia has announced the shortlist of nominees for its 2014 Davitt Awards. These prizes are named for Ellen Davitt, the author of Australia’s first mystery novel, Force and Fraud (1865), and are meant to honor the best in Down Under crime/mystery fiction by women. The nominees are:

Best Adult Novel:
Dark Horse, by Honey Brown (Penguin Books Australia)
Nefarious Doings, by Ilsa Evans (Momentum Press)
A Bitter Taste, by Annie Hauxwell (Penguin Books Australia)
Web of Deceit, by Katherine Howell (Pan Macmillan Australia)
Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent (Picador Books)
The Dying Beach, by Angela Savage (Text)

Best Young Adult Novel:
The Midnight Dress, by Karen Foxlee (UQP)
Girl Defective, by Simmone Howell (Pan Macmillan Australia)
Cry Blue Murder, by Kim Kane and Marion Roberts (UQP)
Every Breath, by Ellie Marney (Allen & Unwin)
A Ring Through Time, by Felicity Pulman (Harper Collins)

Best Children’s Novel:
The Perplexing Pineapple: The Cryptic Casebook of Coco Carlomagno (and Alberta), Book 1, by Ursula Dubosarsky (Allen & Unwin)
The Looming Lamplight: The Cryptic Casebook of Coco Carlomagno (and Alberta), Book 2, by Ursula Dubosarsky (Allen & Unwin)
Verity Sparks: Lost and Found, by Susan Green (Walker Books)
Truly Tan: Jinxed!, by Jen Storer (Harper Collins)
Truly Tan: Spooked!, by Jen Storer (Harper Collins)

Best True Crime Book:
Night Games: Sex, Power and Sport, by Anna Krien (Black Inc)
Deadly Australian Women, by Kay Saunders (ABC Books)

Best Debut Book (any category):
A Trifle Dead, by Livia Day (Twelfth Planet Press)
The Midnight Dress, by Karen Foxlee (UQP)
Girl Defective, by Simmone Howell (Pan Macmillan Australia)
Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent (Picador Books)
Every Breath, by Ellie Marney (Allen & Unwin)

In addition, 660 members of Sisters in Crime Australia will cast votes for their Readers’ Choice award recipient of the year.

The winners in all six categories will be declared during a “gala dinner” on Saturday, August 30, by South African crime writer Lauren Beukes.

(Hat tip to Crime Watch.)

Amazon KU

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Aug 182014

Amazon announced Kindle Unlimited last month with much fanfare, establishing a subscription model for its offerings – pay one low fee each month, read as many books as you like. You’re restricted to downloading ten at a time, though, and you have to delete one to make room for your eleventh, but hey, tomato, tomahto. The point is that you can now read whatever you like without having to pay more than $10 a month.

An awesome deal, right?

I signed up. Of course, I have no time, so it was all I could do to make it through Michael Lewis’ latest, Flash Boys, before my 30 day free trial was over (fascinating reading for anyone wondering why the markets are so broken, and who’s behind it).

For that reason, I canceled my subscription at the end of thirty days. I just don’t have the time. I have a backlog of a year’s worth of books. I’m not the target customer.

There was a SNAFU on Amazon’s side with respect to payment during that first month. Apparently the reporting dashboard was reporting all borrows, regardless of whether they were read at least 10% (the threshold for an author to be entitled to the borrow fee payment). To Amazon’s credit, instead of saying, hey, there was a glitch, you actually only are entitled to a quarter of what you thought (or whatever it is), they paid a reduced amount on all borrows, regardless of whether any of them were read or not. That was a classy move from the retailer, who could have just as easily not paid on the ones that weren’t at the 10% + read point, and been 100% in the right.

A couple of observations: Because the borrow fee looks to be somewhere in the $1.50-$2.25 range (the historical norm for Select borrows), it encourages only one sort of participation – very short works, which are hard to or impossible to sell for anywhere close to a price that will net you the amount paid for a borrow (I think of that as Amazon inefficiency arbitrage), and books that are priced in the $2.99 or under price range (for whatever reason – length, lack of popularity, whatever). Above that and you’re receiving less for a borrow than for a sale. Now, while you can argue that you are perhaps seeing borrows from folks who otherwise wouldn’t have tried your fine work, it’s impossible to know that, so I file it in the wishful thinking bin. What I do know is that there is an inverse relationship between borrows and sales. Borrows go up, sales adjust down by some amount. In my case, it’s often that the borrows cannibalized the sales at an almost 1:1 ratio. Others report different ratios, so I might just be weird, or it could be my genre, or whose shirts I wear, when I wear anything at all – and don’t judge, hatahs.

One thing I noticed as I was browsing the titles was that none of the books I have been holding off buying to read are in the program, so for me there was little value to it, even if it was only one or two books a month I could get to. Because if the ones I’m interested in aren’t in the program, then the program’s only offering me stuff I don’t much care about.

For instance, I really, really want to find the time to read I Am Pilgrim. I’ve been told by multiple people that it’s a marvelous spy thriller, right up my alley. I looked for it but it wasn’t in the program. Ditto for James Lee Burke’s latest, Wayfaring Stranger. Not in it.

These are trad pubbed titles, but my point is that I have limited time and when I get to read, I either do so for research or because it’s an author who really impresses me. A program that doesn’t give me what I’m looking for loses me.

Does that mean that the program itself is a loser? Not at all. I see the wisdom of it for voracious readers. But for authors, well, that depends. Take me as an example. The majority of my titles aren’t in the program, because to be in it requires the titles be exclusive to Amazon. Now don’t get me wrong. I have six or seven titles exclusive with them. I view that as diversification, just as I view having 23 or whatever on different platforms to be diversification as well. I want some in the program, some out, just in case the program is a windfall – I don’t want to miss out, but I don’t want to risk too much to see, either.

To be exclusive on all my books? Makes no sense because my average novel is $5, and new releases are $6. Why would I want to accept $1.80 when a sale will pay me double to triple that, and forgo the 20% or so of my sales that are not on Amazon? See the problem? Because it requires exclusivity from me, it’s created a binary decision. Perhaps if it didn’t require exclusivity I’d be more tempted to toss a few more onto the pile, but as it is, it doesn’t make financial sense. Maybe I’m wrong – the test will be how my Amazon exclusive titles do over the next months. I’ll report back on that. So far it’s a wait and see.

What do you think? What’s been your experience? Inquiring minds want to know.


Aug 182014
A weekly alert for followers of crime, mystery, and thriller fiction.

No Safe House, by Linwood Barclay (New American Library)

The Gist: “Seven years after barely surviving the terrors of No Time for Goodbye (2007),” explains Publishers Weekly, “the Archer family of Milford, Conn., once again tempts fate in this darkly comic if decidedly creepy thriller … History seems to be repeating itself as mom Cynthia fights to set limits on 14-year-old Grace, who defies her--much as the rebellious 14-year-old Cynthia herself did the night she got drunk with local hood Vince Fleming and her parents and brother disappeared. But Grace’s latest lapse in judgment--agreeing to joyride with pistol-packing bad boy Stuart Koch, whose father assists the now-grown Vince--plunges the entire clan into a deadly perfect storm of greed, violence, dog walkers, and ruthless rival crooks at cross-purposes.” Reviewing the Evidence says this novel plays to the author’s strengths: “Here we are on familiar, if still effective, ground for Barclay. He specializes in mining a suburban angst rooted in the suspicion that the leafy streets and tidy homes sit atop a subterranean fault line that constantly threatens to split wide open and engulf their earnest and respectable citizens in unexpected anarchy. He is particularly good at situating the threat in the teenaged characters, who behave in that familiar and maddening combination of reckless daring and moral superiority most parents of adolescents will recognize instantly. Grace in this case does something thoroughly foolish yet almost sweetly naïve. When she learns what she may be responsible for, she has to be almost physically restrained from rushing off to the authorities to confess, while her exasperated but loving father does what he can to protect her.”

What Else You Should Know: For a piece in The Big Thrill, A.J. Colucci “asked Barclay why he chose to go back to the story after all these years. ‘It was my U.S. publisher, Penguin, that really wanted me to do a sequel, and seven years seemed like the right amount of time. The daughter in the book, Grace, is the same age as her mother Cynthia when the first event happened, and that had some symmetry to it.’ … Barclay enjoyed going back to the original characters and imagining how they developed. ‘When something traumatic happens in the context of a thriller, even when you find out all the answers, you have to wonder--what’s it like for those people afterwards? How does their life change? What does it do to them personally? I knew how it would affect Cynthia and her relationship with her daughter. That’s the stuff I wanted to get into, how she would be so obsessively overprotective. It’s the law of unintended consequences--the more you try to achieve one thing, the more you achieve the opposite. The more Cynthia tries to rein Grace in, the more she fights back. We’ve all been there.’” The Minneapolis Star Tribune adds that “While this is a sequel to No Time for Goodbye, familiarity with that earlier thriller isn’t required to enjoy this look at a family trying to maintain cohesion. What makes the story work is the depth and strength of the Archer family and their love for each other that oozes off the page while bad things continue to happen around them.”


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Aug 182014

A Special Agent Pendergast Mystery
By Preston & Child
470 pages

When you read through 470 pages of a book and it seems like you only just started, you know it is a special book.  When you read a book that takes place in the majestic Rocky Mountains of Colorado while at the same time dealing with a lost Sherlock Holmes tale by Arthur Conan Doyle, it’s a good bet you’ve gotten into a truly unique and original adventure.  All of which are the hallmarks of the Special FBI Agent Pendergast thrillers by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child.

Easily one of the best New Pulp series on the market today, the adventures of Agent Perdergast are always a treat filled with the bizarre and unexpected.  Alone, both Preston and Child are excellent masters of action fiction; together they are unbeatable. 

In this, the fourteenth of the series. Pendergast’s young female protégé, Corrie Swanson, finds herself in the exclusive ski resort of Roaring Fork, Colorado.  As a student of a prestigious criminal justice college, Corrie has traveled to the remote mountain town in hopes of examining the recently exhumed bodies of eleven miners who were supposedly killed and eaten by a grizzly bear in the late 1800s.  All of this is for a thesis paper she is writing.  But when she exactly sees a few skeletal remains from one of the bodies, Corrie spots an anomaly that doesn’t corroborate the recorded cause of death.  Because of this revelation she is soon arrested and thrown in jail for trumped up charges by some of the wealthier townsfolk afraid of what she has accidentally uncovered.

Of course word of her incarceration doesn’t take long to reach Pendergast and he arrives days later to rescue Corrie and investigate why she was illegal imprisoned.  But before his own detective work can get rolling, Roaring Fork is beset by a serial arsonist who targets the most expensive homes in the community.  This unknown sadist invades the rich mansions, overcomes the residing families and leaves them to burn alive in the fiery conflagration.  Thus it would appear Agent Pendergast is dealing with two separate cases and that beomces his conundrum; whether they are independent affairs or in fact actually related to each other.  And if so, how?

And why does the hundred years old grizzle bear killings involve a lost Sherlock Holmes story?

The word page-turner is all too often carelessly dropped into a review without any real justification.  In this case, there is no other way to correctly describe “White Fire.”  We’ve been a fan of the Pendergast series since its inception and soundly declare “White Fire” to be one of the best thus far.  It never misses a single beat in its literary melody of suspense and thrills.