Curiouser and Curiouser!

by Helen Currie Foster

At book groups I ask the beloved readers: “Why do we read mysteries?”

After a pause, for modesty, one honest person says: “We like to figure it out!”

Yes, we do. Why? Writer Patricia Cornwell, who created the forensic pathologist Kay Scarpetta, gives this answer as to why readers are fascinated by murder forensics: “To me, this goes back to our tribal survival instincts. If you can re-create a situation in your mind about what happened to someone, how that person died, there’s a better chance it won’t happen to you…[I]t’s part of the life force compelling us to look death in the face…We want to learn what happened…so we’ll feel less vulnerable about the same thing happening to us. It’s the kind of curiosity that propels us to study monsters.” https://amzn.to/3vQ3fPe

We want to know. Who killed Cock Robin? Who killed the two princes in the Tower—was it really Richard III? https://www.medievalists.net/2021/02/new-study-strengthens-claims-richard-iii-murdered-the-princes-in-the-tower/

 Was Henry II complicit in his knights’ gruesome slaughter of Archbishop Thomas Becket in Canterbury Cathedral? https://blog.britishmuseum.org/thomas-becket-the-murder-that-shook-the-middle-ages/ Curious humans still ask, who’s the guilty party?

Astrophysicist Mario Livio has been curious enough about curiosity to write a book on it: “Why? What Makes Us Curious.” https://amzn.to/3Gm7jLW

“Other animals are curious,” he says, “but only humans are worried and curious about reasons and causes for things. Only humans really ask the question, ‘Why?’” https://www.pri.org/stories/2017-08-27/why-are-humans-so-curious

While survival provides an evolutionary purpose for curiosity, Livio points out, “One of the things that researchers still don’t have an answer to, is that we, as humans, seem to be much more curious than what is just necessary for survival.”

According to Livio, we have two basic types of curiosity that show up in two different parts of our brains during MRI scans. One type is “perceptual curiosity”—what we feel when something surprises or puzzles us. “It is felt as a sort of uneasiness, an unpleasant situation … like an itch you need to scratch…,” he says. Yes, that creepy feeling, the hair on the nape of your neck prickling, because something doesn’t feel quite right. https://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/makes-us-curious/

The interesting thing about murder is that we seem convinced that ultimately, the murderer will be found out. At least as early as the 14th century, in The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1343-1400) knew readers were sure they could identify a murderer. “The Priest’s Tale” tells us, “Though it may skulk a year, or two, or three, Murder will out…”

In Hamlet (c.1602)King Claudius fears detection of his murder of Hamlet’s father. He confesses at prayer, “O, my offence is rank, it smells to heaven; it hath the primal eldest curse upon it, a brother’s murder.” Act III, Scene 4. Hamlet has already announced in a soliloquy, “For murder, though it have no tongue, will speak with most miraculous organ.” Hamlet, Act II Sc. 2. Hamlet intends to play detective, sure that he himself can detect the king’s guilt by watching the king’s reaction to the play he has the actors perform: “I’ll observe his looks…if he but blench, I know my course.” 

Literary agent Anne Tibbets says mystery readers insist on understanding what happened. We are outraged if the author dares hide or suppress clues: we want a fair shot at solving the murder. We evaluate each potential suspect; we note physical clues; we scrutinize alibis; we use our own human experience to test the strength of each suspect’s motives. But as readers, of course we depend on the protagonist asking the right questions for us, identifying the victim, interviewing witnesses, examining the crime scene, noticing every salient detail. Each murder mystery effectively presents us with a miniature history of a crime, and we must absorb, and dissect, that history in order to satisfy ourselves we know “what happened.” 

Because we’re curious. Or, as Alice observes in her visit to Wonderland, “Curiouser and curiouser.” Lewis Carroll dubbed Alice “this curious child” and indeed, following Alice down the rabbit hole, we too want to know what the golden key will open and what’s behind the little door.

Alice is an indefatigable questioner. For instance, quizzing the Mock Turtle about his school days, she asks, “What else had you to learn?”

“Well, there was Mystery,” the Mock Turtle replied…”Mystery, ancient and modern, with Seaography…”

Mystery, for history, ancient and modern. The Mock Turtle is spot on. So much of history remains a mystery: no matter how many questions we ask, no matter how skilled and diligent the historian, no matter how thick the tome or how voluminous the footnotes,  we never have all the documents, all the testimony, needed to understand everything that happened during, say, the great convulsions of history. Just think of the unknown moments buried during Reconstruction, or the Spanish Civil War, or the Russian Revolution, or…  

Like Alice, mystery readers are “curiouser and curiouser.” The joy of being a mystery reader, after experiencing the miniature history within a good murder mystery, we reach the conclusion we’ve awaited. For once, at least, our curiosity is satisfied. We know “what happened.”

Author Helen Currie Foster lives and writes north of Dripping Springs, Texas, supervised by three burros. She writes the Alice MacDonald Greer mysteries, set in the small town of Coffee Creek, Texas, somewhere west of Dripping Springs and east of Fredericksburg. In Book 7, Alice finds herself in a lethal battle over hidden art and the victim’s will. Available on Amazon and IngramSpark, and at BookPeople in Austin.

Find her online: http://helencurriefoster.com/ and

https://www.facebook.com/helencurriefoster/

Detective Jo Wyatt Returns in Mercy Creek

By Laura Oles

For fans of M.E. Browning’s Shadow Ridge, the author returns with the second installment in the Detective Jo Wyatt series. Detective Wyatt has been called to investigate the disappearance of an eleven-year-old girl in the small Colorado town of Echo Valley. Today, Browning gives us a glimpse into Detective Wyatt’s world.

Mercy Creek, just released on October 12, is already garnering glowing reviews. Kirkus Reviews called Mercy Creek “a heartfelt procedural” and The Sun Sentinel calls it “a strong police story.” Browning’s extensive career as a police detective (she retired as a captain) informs this series well and does so in a way that the details of the work weave seamlessly through the larger narrative of the story.

LO: I’m sure readers are pleased to see that Jo Wyatt is back!  What has happened in her life since Shadow Ridge was published?

MB: First, thank you for inviting me back to the Austin Mystery Writers blog. A lot has happened in Jo’s life in the months following the blustery winter depicted in Shadow Ridge.  She’s moved forward in her personal life. Her divorce became final (although the thought of dating leaves her cold), and she’s made the decision to continue living in her childhood home with her father while she socks money away for a down payment on her own home. The biggest change on the work front is the appointment of a new Echo Valley Chief of Police. The opening pages of Mercy Creek find Jo working an extra-duty assignment on the night shift at the Echo Valley Fair. It turns into a very busy night with tremendous repercussions.

LO: Tell me about Mercy Creek and the current case that has Jo Wyatt’s attention. 

MB: A young girl goes missing, but the circumstances surrounding it are murky—including exactly when the young girl disappeared. For Jo, the case is personal. She was friends with the parents, Tilda and Lucero, in high school, but like many things that happened in high school, well, it’s complicated, and the friendships didn’t last as long as the hard feelings. The whole mess was a lesson, even if Jo didn’t quite know at the time what she’d learned. As she grew older, the lesson became clearer. People will do anything to protect the thing—or person—they love.

LO: You’ve written a series before with your Mer Cavallo books.  What was different about continuing a new series character? What did you enjoy? What did you struggle with?

MB: Marine biologist-turned divemaster Dr. Meredith Cavallo thought adjusting to a laid-back life in the Florida Keys would be a breeze after her regimented schedule on an Arctic research vessel, but of course, that wasn’t the case. In Adrift, she finds herself serving as the safety diver of a documentary crew in search of paranormal activity when one of the crew goes missing. As a scientist she is very analytical and methodical, which makes her a natural sleuth, but when she turns her focus to the disappearance, she quickly finds herself in over her head.

In contrast, Jo is a detective who has been on a rural police department tucked into the southwest corner of Colorado for fourteen years. She knows exactly what she’s signed up for and she’s good at her job, but that still leaves plenty of room for conflict when evidence doesn’t appear to match the situation. One of the perks about writing Jo was that she allowed me to return to my own law enforcement roots and incorporate my training and experience into her stories. 

What I enjoy about writing series is that I get to deepen relationships and explore new corners of Echo Valley that were established in the first of the series. The hard part is introducing returning characters or foundational settings so they are engaging to new readers without being repetitive for my established audience. To combat that, I focus on showing how a character’s environment influences who they’ve become and how it impacts their actions and reactions to their current situation. I wrote both Adrift and Shadow Ridge as stand-alone books. I thought I’d left everything on the table in those first books. But series are like a life well lived. There might be a passage of time, but the adventures never really stop.

LO: You write fondly about your home state of Colorado.  Tell us more about why you chose to set this series there.

MB: It was an honor to spend the last eight of my twenty-two-year law enforcement career as a member of the Durango Police Department. I was the first woman in the agency’s history to promote to Captain, I made lifelong friends there, and most importantly, Durango is where I met my husband. I’ve cycled the mountains, rafted the river, snow-shoed the trails, drank great craft brews, watched amazing plays and heard fantastic music. It’s a rural area steeped in tradition, while remaining forward looking and progressive. And yet, anytime you have a rural area, you have an elevated risk of danger. Like most of Colorado, the weather changes on a dime, animals encountered aren’t always friendly, and if you crash your mountain bike or suffer an injury on the trail, you could be on your own for quite some time. What better place to set a mystery? 

LO: If you had to describe the themes of Mercy Creek in three words, what would they be?

MB: Family. Loyalty. Secrets.

About M.E. Browning: Colorado Book Award-winning author M.E. Browning writes the Jo Wyatt Mysteries and the Agatha-nominated and award-winning Mer Cavallo Mysteries (as Micki Browning). Micki also writes short stories and nonfiction. Her work has appeared in dive magazines, anthologies, mystery magazines, and textbooks. An FBI National Academy graduate, Micki worked in municipal law enforcement for more than two decades and retired as a captain before turning to a life of crime… fiction. Visit mebrowning.com to learn more.

To pick up your copy of Mercy Creek, please visit here.

AND THE EYES HAVE IT!

BY

Francine Paino AKA  F. Della Notte

What exactly are these spherical bodies contained in the skull?  They appear as an orbit of different shapes, some round or oblong, curved, and dense, with a white membrane surrounding a circular colored portion called the iris.  The pupil centered in the iris is an opening through which light passes to the retina, making eyes the windows to the world. But they are so much more. As the saying goes, they are also the outside world’s windows to the soul. 

     There are over one hundred biblical references to the power of eyes. However, most in the Bible reflect the good and evil in the inner man/woman. In Matthew 5:28: But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Perhaps my favorite is Proverbs 21:4: Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, are sin.  Moving from biblical times to today, eyes have not lost their power. 

Eyes are the most written about body parts as a symbolic expression and revelation of human emotions in songs. Body language too speaks, showing tension, joy, fear, mystery, but emotions pool in and project most powerfully from the eyes. The eyes are not limited in expression. Love, hate, justice, judgment, clairvoyance, even horror can be reflected in the eyes. 

As in biblical times, even in today’s world, these blinkers are often an extension of how the human soul projects itself. Some song titles express an individual quest. In The Eye of the Tiger, an athlete drives himself to reach the top of his game. In You Can’t Hide Your Lying Eyes, a woman cheating on her husband tries to tell him that she’s going to comfort a friend. Still, in her eyes, he sees the truth contradicting her words, and in Goodbye in her Eyes, a young man reads the end of a relationship in the eyes of the woman he loves.  

The range of emotions expressed in just one look runs the gamut from the depths of love to the depths of hate, and everything in between, including pain, jealousy, and mystery. Does anyone have difficulty understanding “his eyes blazed with fury,” or “her eyes softened with love when they placed the newborn baby in her arms?”  

On Goodreads, one finds a list of 278 books with body parts in the titles. But the eyes are used the most. In the words of Flannery O’Connor, who said that writers are painters with words, “Everything has its testing point in the eye, and the eye is an organ that eventually involves the whole personality and as much of the world as can be got into it.” One look can say more than a thousand words. Even closed eyes speak. Is the person avoiding something, someone, grieving, hiding?

Sometimes we even compare human eyes to animal’s. The fierceness of Tiger eyes as used in the above song title; the gentle loyalty of the dog gazing into his master’s eyes. Cats have fascinating eye language. Dilated pupils on a cat indicate excitement, while constricted pupils mean watch out!  This cat is angry and may be ready to attack. And, as all cat owners know, in those quiet moments, squinting eyes reveal a relaxed, happy feline, sometimes ready to fall asleep.  

As a writer, I’m very aware of the power of expression emanating from my human and feline characters.  In my Housekeeper Mystery Series, I can see their eyes and feel their emotions and the reaction those expressions generate in others. In the third book in the series, The Church Murders and the Cat’s Prey, one character has unusual amber-colored eyes with thick black lashes. Not only is the eye color striking, but one look from those eyes sends chills down our protagonist, Mrs. B.’s arms.  

There is no underestimating the importance of painting characters with words and showing the reader their body language, facial expressions, and most of all, the power of the messages cast from those orbits. Who doesn’t have warning bells go off when reading, “he smiled, but the smile didn’t reach his eyes,” or, “she said, ‘no harm done,’ but her eyes said there’d be hell to pay.”

There is even a blog about what the eye color tells you. Have some fun and try it at https://blog.freepeople.com/2013/09/eye-color-meaning/ 

Eyes can be so expressive, and in reality, words alone are not always necessary to have a conversation. 

Thus, the eyes do have it.

Two Roads Diverged…

by Helen Currie Foster, September 13, 2021

Have you noticed that the roads diverged in a yellow wood?

So Frost was thinking of fall, in “The Road Not Taken” (1916). Leaves turn yellow—and not just in New England. I admit Texas Hill Country fall colors are a little muted. Bluestem bunch grass makes silvery seed-heads.

big bluestem…

And our cedar elms turn yellow green, then yellow, and then madly fling golden confetti into the air.

Yellow leaves! When new roads appear and diverge, right? New fall clothes, perhaps (even with climate change) sweaters! New books, new subjects, new teachers, new classmates.

We awake with new ideas, new projects, new dreams. On weekends the parks fill up with soccer players. Football begins. 

All our years of fall classes leave many of us with a compelling interior calendar. In September, two roads—at least two roads!—diverge. We feel energetic, restless. Do we seek the old ways again or do new roads beckon? Do we join the Master Naturalists? Take a photography class? Go for a master’s degree? We feel September’s time pressure, expressed as a desire to learn new things, tread new paths, move further into the world, even with the stultifying blanket of the pandemic heavy on our shoulders.

As Yogi Berra famously advised, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

Because—as Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson put it—

“It’s a long, long time from May to December,

But the days grow short when you reach September;

When the autumn weather turns leaves to flame

One hasn’t got time for the waiting game.”

You can hear Willie sing it, or Ella Fitzgerald, or Frank Sinatra, or others. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UslWN3LqPvYhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f88yoLs0yl0

No, when September hits, we haven’t got time for the waiting game. It’s the first day of nursery school…third grade…middle school…senior year. We can’t just stay home and watch the leaves turn to flame. 

Now for Book 8. People ask about the “writing process.” It’s like standing at the crossroads in the yellow wood. Which path? But no time for the waiting game! 

Book 8 began to take shape with wakeful nights, with a couple of strong images, where Alice must identify a body in the Aberdeen mortuary. Then a new character barged in, demanding time onstage. I’m always amazed at how characters insist on doing what I hadn’t foreseen, taking their lives in their own hands. The plot arc is there but further decisions will be made. I’m sending chapters to the critique group, and the manuscript’s got at least a provisional name. The future murder victim in Coffee Creek hasn’t yet learned her fate (sorry, honey). So it’s still wakeful nights, then pacing around the kitchen island, then sitting and writing, then pacing again, then sitting and writing, then more pacing.

Just a moment ago it was summer. But as Frost also wrote, “Nothing gold can stay” (1923). The fall equinox approaches on September 22. Following Yogi Berra’s advice, faced with all the decisions ahead––who lives? Who dies, and how?––I’m heading down the road, yellow leaves and all.

AUTHOR Helen Currie Foster lives and writes north of Dripping Springs, Texas, supervised by three inquisitive burros. Find her books at BookPeople in Austin, and at IngramSparks and Amazon.

https://www.amazon.com/Helen-Currie-Foster/e/B00R1X9

You can follow Helen at

https://www.facebook.com/helencurriefoster/

Please visit the website at https://www.helencurriefoster.com

TV Programs I Like–from the Backlist

Well. Today I planned to get out of bed and be perfect. It didn’t work that way.

First I had a fight getting a certain video to embed properly in a certain site. It was a very nice video, and I was trying to help a friend, but the video began with an ad about a cure for toenail fungus, complete with pictures. That was not what I had in mind, and it was certainly not what my friend had in mind. The fight took longer than it should have. I’m afraid to look back to see if the cure–for the video, not the toenail fungus–is still working.

Then while I fought, my breakfast, thanks to a kind husband, sat on the table beside the recliner where I was working, and I looked up and saw Ernest the Cat had designs on it. Yesterday I found him stretching upward, his paw in my bacon. He’s never tasted bacon, but he’d like to. I rescued breakfast.

So now I’m sitting here in my Snoopy and Woodstock nightshirt, entirely inappropriate attire for a woman of my age and respectability, recovering from a major fume.

I knew I should have put on makeup as soon as I got out of bed. Yesterday I did so for the first time in ages–let’s face it, staying home for seventeen months straight changes one’s attitude toward personal grooming–and with makeup, the day went better.

I used a face cream, which I thought might be a night cream but didn’t have my glasses on and so couldn’t tell but risked it anyway.  And it did wonders for the wrinkles around my eyes, filled them right in.

I put on enough blush that a ship on troubled seas would need no lighthouse to warn it away from perilous rocks, so I wiped some of it off. I used eye shadow, maybe too much, but I didn’t wipe that off because behind my glasses it’s invisible anyway. I applied lipstick.

Then I used my curling iron. That’s problematic because something is wrong with my shoulders–no rotator cuff tears, but the arms don’t like to go up as far as they should, like to the top of my head, and I refuse to go back to PT and have a bunch of skinny infants tell me I’m doing the exercises wrong, when all I’m doing is executing them faster than prescribed because I want to get them over with and go home.

But anyway, I made the effort and used the curling iron, and then I even brushed my hair, and the day really did go better. I imagine my husband was relieved. He’s staying in self-imposed quarantine, too, and there’s not much visual variety inside. I’m probably the reason he spends so much time looking at the cats.

Anyway, I spent the next part of my better yesterday deciding that I spend too much time watching television. That wasn’t a difficult decision, since I’ve watched all the BritBox offerings at least three times. I like to watch TV shows and movies more than once; the more often I watch, the less attention I have to pay to know what’s going on. But it seemed time to unsubscribe. After all, I still have Prime and ROKU.

I also decided I wasn’t listening to enough music–I used to have music going all the time–so I upgraded Spotify in hopes it will play what I tell it to, like it used to, instead of what it wants to. I went all the way up to 99 cents a month. I’m not sure 99 cents is enough to do what I expected. I want Max Morath playing piano rags–he has the best touch I’ve ever heard. And Brian Stokes Mitchell, whose name I can rarely remember without prompting, singing a certain song from South Pacific, which I’m afraid is not in the repertoire.

But there’s an out. If I’m not happy, I can always go back to Acorn TV, which I subscribed to years ago. I watch mostly British programs. The accents are comforting.

Anyway, having progressed from cussing a certain website to discussing television, I’ll move into the main idea of this post, which my high school English teacher said I should do in the first paragraph, but I’m old enough to break the rules.

The main idea is TV shows I like–old TV shows. I’m always reading the backlist, so why shouldn’t I do the same for viewing?

Here they are, in no particular order:

  1. Kavanaugh QC, starring John Thaw as a London barrister, a senior member of River Court chambers, who usually appears for the defense but sometimes prosecutes. The antithesis of Thaw’s former character, the irascible Inspector Morse, Kavanaugh is even-tempered and respected by both colleagues and opposing counsel. A family man, he is also, like many protagonists in crime fiction, a workaholic, but his character plays against type when his wife accepts a job with the European Union based in Strasbourg, and he must adjust his own life to accommodate hers. Some mild comic relief is provided by a snobbish colleague in chambers, Jeffrey Aldermarten, but Kavanaugh’s cases are serious, no comedy there. His goal is justice, which he often finds difficult to deliver, even when he wins his cases.
  2. Wycliffe, based on W. J. Burley’s novels. Jack Shepherd stars as Detective Superintendent Charley Wycliffe, whose territory covers the coast of Cornwall. He is quiet, thoughtful, and good at his job, but not interested in advancement. He’s often at odds with his Deputy Chief Constable, who is concerned with budget restraints and with convincing Wycliff to run his division from the office rather than work cases himself. The Chief Constable and others often urge Wycliffe to apply for promotion–and to retire. He is assisted by two Detective Inspectors, Doug Kersey and Lucy Lane. Kersey is a solitary man, lonely, quietly and hopelessly attracted to Lucy. Lucy, as ambitious as Wycliffe is not, finds promotion is based more on sexual politics than on ability. Cases in this series are serious, but scenes of Wycliffe’s family life, while not comedic, sometimes lighten the intensity. Emphasis is on human relationships, not on just police procedure.
  3. Line of Duty, another police procedural, which ran for six seasons and has received numerous awards, including being ranked third in a Radio Times 2018 poll of the best British crime dramas of all time. The series begins with a young Steve Arnott being transferred to the Anti-Corruption unit because he has refused to cover up a mistake made during a raid in which he took part. Corruption in the department goes deeper, however, than anyone suspects, and the lives of members of the unit are sometimes in danger, even from their own colleagues. Twists and turns abound; it appears that no one is completely clean–or they can be made to appear bent–and the viewer continually wonders whom he can trust, and even whom he can like. What makes the series especially satisfying is that the plot isn’t strictly linear–it circles around; events that seemed to be resolved in early episodes emerge as catalysts toward the end. Gritty doesn’t begin to describe Line of Duty. You’ll thank yourself for watching. I’ve seen it twice and might watch it again. And yet, I’m not sure I want to.
  4. A Touch of Frost. I love this series, the early episodes of which are based on the novels of R. D. Wingfield. David Jason stars as William “Jack” Frost, an experienced detective with the Denton Police Force, who does everything his way. Superintendent “Horn Rimmed Harry” Mullet admires Frost’s abilities but would love to retire him, downsize him, generally get rid of him–Frost is famous for neglecting paperwork, which gets Mullet in trouble up the line, and for happily putting his foot in his mouth, with generally amusing results. But Frost is the Chief Constable’s fair-haired boy–he once subdued an armed man, was shot, and won the George Cross for bravery. Frost is a flawed individual, as the best characters are. Privately, the award embarrasses him, since his heroism was the result of his being drunk on duty–he’d just made up his mind to leave an unhappy marriage when his wife was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and he carelessly risked his life because he knew he had to stay with her. In the first episode, Frost is widowed; a series of relationships fail because his job always comes first. But he is loyal to his colleagues and becomes especially fond of a young man who serves as his assistant. And although he has no tolerance for crime, he often feels compassion and understanding for those who commit it. The series comes to an end that is both sad and satisfactory, like many of Frost’s cases. The popular series ended when David Jason retired, saying at sixty-eight he was older than any real police detective, and that he couldn’t imagine filming Frost in a wheelchair.

All of these mystery/thriller/police procedurals, and many others, are available on Prime as well as on BritBox and other subscription services. 

Now I shall divest myself of my Snoopy shirt, don some regular clothes–also known as rags, but these days, only one human and two cats see them, and they don’t care–and apply makeup. Maybe I’ll wear enough blush to be a lighthouse. With the amount of rain we’ve been having, I might end up being useful.

***

Photographs of actors are television screenshots taken by me.
Photograph of Snoopy and Woodstock was taken my my husband. 

***

Kathy Waller blogs at Telling the Truth, Mainly. Her stories are published in anthologies and online. Sometimes she works on a novel. Sometimes she doesn’t. She wants to re-read an old book by Rebecca West, but she can’t remember the title. 

 

 

 

 

Some Book Recommendations

by VP Chandler

VP Chandler

I’ve been reading this summer and wanted to share some great books with you!

The Blessing Way is book #1 of the famous Leaphorn and Chee series by Tony Hillerman. This series has been in my TBR (To Be Read) pile for years and I’m happy to say that I finally got around to it! I knew that it would be good because everyone I’ve talked to has loved these books. Even knowing that, I was pleasantly surprised. Leaphorn is interesting and has an inherent understand about people and what makes them tick. His internal dialogue also teaches the reader about his heritage and culture. I honestly found that aspect of the story to be entertaining and enlightening. It was also full of suspenseful action. There’s a seen where a character is stalked by something or someone in the night. That scene was the best in the book! It was chilling and creepy. I loved it. *happy chills*

I’m currently reading book #2, Dance Hall of The Dead and it’s just as creepy and suspenseful.

Good Reads description of The Blessing Way: Homicide is always an abomination, but there is something exceptionally disturbing about the victim discovered in a high lonely place, a corpse with a mouth full of sand, abandoned at a crime scene seemingly devoid of tracks or useful clues. Though it goes against his better judgment, Navajo Tribal Police Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn cannot help but suspect the hand of a supernatural killer. There is palpable evil in the air, and Leaphorn’s pursuit of a Wolf-Witch is leading him where even the bravest men fear, on a chilling trail that winds perilously between mysticism and murder.

The second book that I recommend is The Far Empty by J. Todd Scott. It’s also the first in a series, the Chris Cherry series. While it also has a landscape that’s remote, isolated, and vast, this book is quite different. The story is told in alternating chapters from different characters. It took me a bit to get the characters straight, but once I did that, it took off. Scott does an excellent job of capturing the feel of the west Texas landscape and its people, especially bullies in small towns. As most good books, there’s a showdown of sorts and my nerves were raw, waiting to see what happens. It’s not a small book but you’ll be turning pages.

Good Reads description: Seventeen-year-old Caleb Ross is adrift in the wake of the sudden disappearance of his mother more than a year ago, and is struggling to find his way out of the small Texas border town of Murfee. Chris Cherry is a newly minted sheriff’s deputy, a high school football hero who has reluctantly returned to his hometown. When skeletal remains are discovered in the surrounding badlands, the two are inexorably drawn together as their efforts to uncover Murfee’s darkest secrets lead them to the same terrifying suspect: Caleb’s father and Chris’s boss, the charismatic and feared Sheriff Standford “Judge” Ross. Dark, elegiac, and violent, The Far Empty is a modern Western, a story of loss and escape set along the sharp edge of the Texas border. Told by a longtime federal agent who knows the region, it’s a debut novel you won’t soon forget.

Recommendation #3 is South California Purples by Baron R. Birtcher. It’s set in 1973 and starts out with an easy feel of a typical traditional Western. Then rancher Ty Dawson gets conscripted into helping the county’s law enforcement, who seems to have no interest in dealing with the growing problem. When time after time Dawson doesn’t get help from the local cops, Dawson decides to handle matters as he sees fit. If you’re looking for a mix of hard-boiled with a Western, this book fits the bill. Biker gangs vs. cowboys. You know it’s full of action. *trigger warning- it does deal with rape*

From Good Reads: Cattle rancher Ty Dawson, a complex man tormented by elements of his own past, is involuntarily conscripted to assist local law enforcement when a herd of wild mustangs is rounded up and corralled in anticipation of a government auction, igniting the passions of political activist Teresa Pineu, who threatens to fan the flames of an uprising that grows rapidly out of control.

As the past collides with the present, and hostility escalates into brutality and bloodshed, Ty is drawn into a complex web of predatory alliances and corruption where he must choose to stand and fight, or watch as the last remnants of the American West are consumed in a lawless conflagration of avarice and cruelty.

I hope this helps you find some new books. And remember, whenever possible, please try to purchase your books from local, independent bookstores. Thank you!

Dreaming in Santa Fe

by Helen Currie Foster

Driving into New Mexico with my husband (favorite long-time travel companion) I peer anxiously out the car window––I won’t be happy until I spot the first antelope, tiny, almost invisible, bounding across vast pale green ranch pastures below a string of distant mesas. First I look for a white splotch (tell-tale antelope rump), then suddenly spot an entire flock, spread out in the grass. Then, where I-25 crosses the south-running Pecos River, we see the sinuous length of Rowe Mesa, all red rock and green conifers, running for miles to the west. At Ribera we exit south on State Road 3, then climb an impressively steep gravel road to the adobe house of my cherished college classmate friend and her husband. Their house sits in the lap of Rowe Mesa, looking across the broad Pecos valley at its companion, Bernal Mesa. The old house is formal, plastered white inside, with a beautiful ceiling of beams (vigas) supporting the roof. Sticks, or latillas, lie in a formal herringbone pattern between the vigas.

Walking across the property in the cool morning we spot chips from arrowhead manufacture. Our friends have found a spot far above on the edge of the mesa littered with many such chips, where centuries ago an expert sat under a piñon in the shade, “knapping” (flaking) stones to make arrowheads and points. We saunter along, picking up turquoise-colored pebbles from the played-out turquoise mine, reveling in the view across the valley. We hear nothing but the wind in the junipers and piñons and the occasional faraway buzz of a small plane.

My friend has taken us down along the Pecos to see the extensive adobe ruins of the Spanish customs office that once controlled the river crossing into Spanish New Mexico. Further down the river we see the irrigation ditches––acequias––feeding water into Pecos farm plots, before the Pecos narrows into a canyon.

We love this place. But Santa Fe is calling.

To celebrate the June 2021 publication of Ghost Daughter, we’re on Otero Street in Santa Fe, with beauty everywhere. Carved wooden beams over doorways. Intensely colored flower gardens in yards. Curved human-scale adobe houses. Blue sky above adobe walls.

Downtown, Santa Fe offers layers of history––Pueblo architecture, Territorial architecture. In 1920 City officials ordered that buildings in the city be built Pueblo-style. The warm tan of adobe and the cool greens and blue-greens of balconies and window-frames feel soothing, low-rise, solid. Art is in the air, in the gardens, in the architecture, in the shop windows. I double-dog-dare you not to take pictures. Plus there’s an appreciation of burros (which warms the hearts of my three burros).

Along Palace Avenue by the New Mexico Museum of Art, heavy bronze sidewalk plaques celebrate Santa Fe artists. Each plaque features a helmeted conquistador…which seems incongruous for celebrating, say, Georgia O’Keefe or my hero, Gustave Baumann, the German immigrant whose vivid woodcuts tantalize my protagonist Alice in Ghost Daughter. But maybe it’s not incongruous. Baumann says he was drawn by the powerful presence of intermixed layers of history when he jumped off the train in New Mexico in 1918. And the sheer beauty! Mountains and streams! Pueblos! Golden cottonwoods in fall! He left such contributions of art and joy to Santa Fe, with his spectacular prints and the beloved marionette shows in his living room. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i516sAlDgS0

In Ghost Daughter, Alice’s trips to Santa Fe were too fraught. Although she enjoyed El Rey Court, and a hurried lunch at Café Pasqual’s, she missed so much, including the room of Baumann prints in the Owings Gallery. So we go in her stead, riveted by Baumann’s precision and freedom, his intense colors so delicately layered. I want to see his old German printing press…but rats! It’s locked up and unavailable at the history museum.

After wallowing in the Baumanns, we console ourselves with ice cream, sitting in a shady corner by La Lecheria. It’s fun watching passersby. The solitary ones walking briskly by have unsmiling faces like eagles, alert eyes fixed straight ahead. What are they thinking about so intently? Where to lay the next brushstroke on a canvas? Memorizing lines for a play? Where are they going? Then the younger people swoop by with great style, dramatic clothes and makeup, hurrying to work. And of course tourists like us.

Santa Fe calls itself the “City Different.” I feel different here too. Somehow an invisible bubble over the city blocks my usual sharp-edged worries…children, work, the state of the world. At home, open-eyed at some awful hour, I sometimes find refuge in half-awake creativity, envisioning plot possibilities, imagining scenes, hearing characters say surprising things. I’m grateful for a midnight refuge which may (not infallibly, though) trigger ideas for the next day’s writing while distracting me from cares.

But  in Santa Fe, if I wake, I listen to the quiet, peer out at the moon and…go back to sleep. After days in Santa Fe, a place weighty with history, so vividly creative, so confident in mixing the very old and very new, the traditional and startling, I feel emboldened.

Thanks, Santa Fe! Like so many…I’ll be back.

Helen Currie Foster lives north of Dripping Springs, Texas, supervised by three burros. She writes the Alice MacDonald Greer Mystery series and is active with Austin Shakespeare and Sisters in Crime, Heart of Texas Chapter. Follow her at www.helencurriefoster.com, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/helencurriefoster/, and on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/s?k=helen+currie+foster

Just One More Page…

By Laura Oles

So many great books and so little time.

As I work through a TBR list that is longer than the fish stories told by teens holding poles at the Blanco River, I feel very behind in my reading but also grateful for so many choices. This summer, I’m letting Netflix chill on its own and, instead, enjoying the selection of fantastic crime fiction that has been released in the last year.

Here are a few of my favorite summer reads so far:

LITTLE SECRETS by Jennifer Hillier:  In this dark domestic thriller, Jennifer Hillier proves why so many readers finish her books in a single sitting. Little Secrets opens with every parent’s nightmare—the disappearance of a child in a busy public place. Marin is a busy mother with a successful business, who is trying to juggle the demands of her life while being an attentive mother.  In a single moment, her young son, Sebastian, disappears when she is distracted by a phone call.  It only takes a few seconds—a situation every parent of young kids understands—for her entire life to take a devastating turn.  Hillier’s ability to bring complex characters into a twisty plot with a genuinely surprising ending is on full display here. Like many readers, I read Little Secrets in a single day. I closed the book, impressed with Hillier’s storytelling skills and ready for her next novel.

THE LESS DEAD by Denise Mina: A woman begins a search for her biological mother and ends up tracking her mother’s murderer. Dr. Margo Dunlap has her hands full with her career, her friend’s dangerous relationship and the recent discovery that she’s pregnant. When Margo decides to search for her birth mother, she meets her Aunt Nikki, who tells her that her biological mother had been murdered and the killer has never been caught.

This novel is a departure from some of Mina’s other novels, and I loved it for that reason as well as her ability to handle serious issues with care while also weaving in some dark humor. This book explores not only the relationships between mothers and daughters but the complicated realization that those we love keep secrets…sometimes for good reason.

BEFORE SHE DISAPPEARED by Lisa Gardner: Frankie Elkin is a middle-aged woman who has dedicated herself to searching for missing people, particularly those cases that have gone cold and no longer receive media attention. A recovering alcoholic who carries guilt and trauma over the death of a loved one, she channels her energy into helping other families find missing loved ones. Her current case, the disappearance of Angelique Badeau, takes her to a Boston neighborhood named Mattapan, where she meets resistance from the Boston P.D. as well as those close to Angelique.

Frankie is complicated heroine who is all at once tough, broken, thoughtful and determined. She doesn’t walk into this case with the idea that she has all the answers. She is working through her own grief while working the Angelique Badeau case. Gardner’s first-person approach kept me immersed in the story and turning the pages, and the story is compelling, smart and socially conscious. I hope to see more of Frankie Elkins in the future.

THE SUNDOWN MOTEL by Simone St. James: This atmospheric novel drew me in from the first chapter. Alternating between two time periods thirty-five years apart, this story revolves around Carly Kirk and her desire to find out what happened to her Aunt Viv, who disappeared in 1982. The book switches between Viv and Carly, and the story is part mystery, part ghost story, equally compelling and creepy. And that cover? Wow.

THE SEARCHER by Tana French: When retired detective Cal Hooper moves to a remote village in Ireland, he believes his days will be spent in solitude, fixing up a run-down cottage he purchased and exploring the countryside on his own. His plans change, though, when a young boy comes to him after hearing town rumors of his past detective career. The boy’s older brother is missing, and he wants Hooper to find him.

THE SEARCHER is quite different from French’s previous novels, a slow burn character driven story with a mystery being a smaller part of the novel. French’s ability to immerse me, not only into the setting but also the lives of the townspeople, are what kept me reading to the last page. The missing brother’s story is important, but how his absence has impacted his family, how this family is treated, and unraveling the inner workings of this tight-knit community add so many layers to this tale.

THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY by Matt Haig: Somewhere in the space between life and death, a secret library exists where you can try alternative choices to see if your life might have turned out differently. Nora Seed’s life is filled with regrets, and she is struggling to get through each day. She soon finds herself at the steps of this library with an opportunity to review her own personal Book of Regrets. She’s given the opportunity to make different choices and to see where they lead. Would one of these choices change her life and make it worth living again?

This book had a Sliding Doors feel for me, and the idea that you could explore other options and experience the results is a compelling premise. Haig’s prose is easy to read and rhythmic, and he balances light-hearted moments while also addressing deeper issues such as depression, anxiety, mental health and regret. THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY is an uplifting and thought-provoking novel that delivers a powerful story.

Next Reads:

RAZORBLADE TEARS by S.A. Cosby: I loved BLACKTOP WASTELAND and can’t wait to read Cosby’s latest novel. His talent speaks for itself, and the glowing reviews and accolades are well-deserved. As an Elmore Leonard fan, I’m thrilled that his writing has been compared to one of my favorite authors.

THESE GHOSTS ARE FAMILY by Maisy Card: Thirty years ago, a man stole the identity of his best friend and now, on his death bed, confesses this to his family. This generational family saga is a debut novel, and the more I read about it, the more I want to read it.

THINGS YOU WOULD KNOW IF YOU GREW UP AROUND HERE by Nancy Wayson Dinan: In this novel, a teenager returns from a family wedding to discover that a friend has gone missing. This novel is set during the devastating 2015 Memorial Day floods in the Texas Hill Country. Those of us who live in the area remember that time vividly and still see the damage left behind—on our landscape and in the families who were tragically impacted by so many levels of loss.

Judging a Book by Its Cover

By K.P. Gresham

“Good cover design is not only about beauty… it’s a visual sales pitch. It’s your first contact with a potential reader. Your cover only has around 3 seconds to catch a browsing reader’s attention. You want to stand out and make them pause and consider, and read the synopsis.”
― Eeva Lancaster, Being Indie: A No Holds Barred, Self Publishing Guide for Indie Authors

Of course, the opposite is capsulized in a familiar quote, “Don’t buy the book by its cover.” BUT, if an author wants to sell their book, they’d better face some marketing facts.

A book cover sells the book. At least it’s the first thing to catch the readers’ gaze as they wander through the shelves of a bookstore, library or click through bookseller websites. Yes, of course the blurb on the back is incredibly important, but it’s the cover the buyer sees first. It’s the cover that makes that buyer turn the book over and read the blurb.

Think about it. If the cover grabs you, you’ll pick up (or click on) the book. If it’s blah, chances are you’re going to move on to the next book.

Now what exactly in the cover image grabs you?  Does the cover tell you the genre? What to expect? Look professional? I’m a mystery writer, so I’m looking for a cover that not only says it’s a mystery, but what kind of mystery it is. Here are some examples.

Cozy Mysteries—The readers are looking for lightheartedness, as well as any of the tropes associated with cozies: animals, home-town-feel, food, maybe even a graphic image (cartoon) suggesting any of the above. They do NOT want to see brutality.  For example, here’s the cover for Arsenic and Adobe by Mia Manansala. Note the cartoon-like quality, the dog, the happy homemaker and the bottle of poison. All of these elements tell the reader this book is a mystery, homey, and involves cooking. (And don’t forget the dachshund on the shoulder!) Cozy readers love these signals. Yes, they’re going to turn the book over to learn more about it.

Horror Mysteries–Here the prospective buyer is looking for dark, scary elements. The cover should promise there will be blood and violence in the book. Body parts are great. The titles alone should give the reader the chills. The Mosquito Man by Jeremy Bates is a perfect example. Yikes!!!

Suspense Mysteries–Again, we start with the fact the reader wants to KNOW this is mystery. Suspense is a tricky cover. How does one put the feeling of suspense on a cover?  In a dramatic work, suspense is the anticipation of the outcome of a plot or the solution to a puzzle, particularly as it affects a character for whom one has sympathy. How do you put that in an image? There are different ways to achieve this in a cover. Location. Lighting. Showing action or giving a subtle clue; having the feel that there’s something risky going on. For this example, I’m going with Louise Penny’sAll The Devils Are Here. Here, the silhouetted building against a dark sky evokes mystery, and the Van Gogh-like swirls in the night sky suggest to the reader that there’s more to this book than simply being set in Paris. It suggests depth of plot.

These are only 3 basic categories of mysteries. Consider how the covers are created that show the true crime category? The thriller category? The paranormal mysteries category? Then study your own reaction when you’re checking out the mystery sections in your favorite bookstore or online. The only thing I can think of on a cover that would hook you more than the lay-out or artwork is the author’s name. If you have a favorite author (and yes, that for me is still J.D. Robb), I’ll buy the book without even looking at the cover. But like I said, that’s the only thing I can think of that would sway a buyer more than the visual impact of the cover.

So authors, beware! Readers are judging books by their covers! To our beloved readers, take your batch of three seconds, go book-shopping and buy some books!!!

   K.P. Gresham, author of the Pastor Matt Hayden Mystery series and Three Days at Wrigley Field, is a preacher’s kid who likes to tell stories, kill people (on paper, of course!) and root for the Chicago Cubs. Born in Chicago and a graduate of Illinois State University, K.P. and her husband moved to Texas, fell in love with not shoveling snow and are 35+ year Lone Star State residents. She finds that her dual country citizenship, the Midwest and Texas, provide deep fodder for her award-winning novels. A graduate of Houston’s Rice University Novels Writing Colloquium, K.P. now resides in Austin, Texas, where she is the president of the Sisters in Crime Heart of Texas Chapter and is active in the Writers League of Texas and Austin Mystery Writers.

Where to Find Me

Website: http://www.kpgresham.com/

Email: kp@kpgresham.com

Blogs: https://inkstainedwretches.home.blog/

https://austinmysterywriters.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kpgresham

Books by

K.P. Gresham

Three Days at Wrigley Field

The Pastor Matt Hayden Mystery Series

The Preacher’s First Murder

Murder in the Second Pew

Murder on the Third Try

Coming in 2021

Four Reasons to Die

And Over. And Over. And . . .

by Kathy Waller

I’m thinking it over.

— Jack Benny

A curse on this week’s post. I banged out nearly 2,000 words that should have been online yesterday, and the post just gets longer and longer, and there ain’t no way I’ll get it finished and revised and edited and polished today, or this week, or possibly by New Year’s Eve 2022. I know the problem. Too much thinking. But I can’t help that. So I’ve pulled up something I wrote for my personal blog in 2010. I’m reposting, with some changes. I’d like to say it’s outdated, but nothing much has changed. No matter what the last line says.

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In one of my favorite scenes from the Mary Tyler Moore Show, assistant TV news producer Mary Richards suggests that writing a news story isn’t all that difficult. News writer Murray Slaughter disagrees.

Then a wire comes in, something big. The story must be written and rushed to anchorman Ted Baxter, who is on the verge of uttering his sign-off:  “Good night, and good news.”

Murray, smiling, bows to Mary.

Mary rolls a sheet of paper into her typewriter. She types several words. Then she stops. She erases. She starts over. She stops. She erases. She starts over. She stops . . . Everyone in the newsroom stands around her desk, watching . . . waiting . . .

Finally, at the last minute, Murray loads his typewriter and, fingers flying, writes the story, rips the paper from the machine, and hands it to producer Lou Grant, who runs for the anchor desk.

That’s why didn’t go in for journalism. I’m not Murray.

I’m Mary.

That, and because I knew that if I were a journalist, I would have to talk to people: call them on the phone, request interviews, ask questions. I had no intention of talking to people I didn’t know.

But mainly, editors would expect me to write without thinking.

I look back and wonder how I got to that point. Not the distaste for talking to people I didn’t know—I’ve always had that—but the difficulty with writing.

When did I start letting my editor get in the way of my scribe?

Once upon a time, I loved to write. By the time I was seven, I was writing long letters to my grandfather and great-aunts and aunts and uncles and cousins. Once, I used a pencil with a point so soft, I doubt the recipients could read through the smears on the pages.

Another time, when I was on sick leave from school, enjoying the mumps, my mother let me use my father’s Schaeffer White Dot fountain pen, a source of even better smears.

The summer I was eight, I spent June in Central Texas with Aunt Laura and Uncle Joe while my mother stayed in Dallas with my grandmother, who was ill. My father, who remained in Del Rio working, visited one weekend and brought me a present: a ream of legal-sized paper.

I don’t know what prompted the gift, and on a scale of one to ten, most children would have rated a ream of paper at minus 3. I gave it a twelve.

I wrote my own newspaper. Most articles covered weddings between various cats and dogs of my acquaintance. I discovered a talent for describing tuxedos and bridesmaids’ dresses worn by Blackie and Bootsie and Miss Kitty and Pat Boone (my fox terrier). It was a devastating little parody of a small-town newspaper.

But suddenly, it seemed, I did what my thesis adviser, years later, warned me not to do: I got tangled up in words. Writing was no longer fun. Confidentially, I think it had something to do with English class, essays, outlines, and needing to sound erudite. I hated it.

Why I thought should teach English, I do not know.

Well, I do. Professor Ken Macrorie said English majors think they’ll be paid to read books.

It was years before the English Teacher Establishment (Macrorie was part of the shift) said, “You can’t write an outline until you know what you’re going to say, and you can’t know what you’re going to say until you’ve written something.”

Novelist E. M. Forster had said it long before: “How can I know what I think till I see what I say?” But education always lags behind.

Anyway, the word to both students and conflicted teachers (aka me) was—Write it and then fix it. And lighten up.

When I write blog posts, I don’t think so much. I lighten up. Words flow.

Unless I’m trying to be serious and sincere and profound and erudite. I’m not a profound writer. I think profound, but I write shallow. It’s in my nature.

And I still can’t imagine squeezing myself into the little journalism box. That’s pressure. And talking to people I don’t know. I’d rather make up the facts myself. Can’t do that in journalism. Journalism matters.

I don’t like talking to journalists, either. I always tell them to be sure to make me sound intelligent. A reporter told me she didn’t have to fix anything in my interview because I talk in complete sentences. I told her that was an accident.

Now. It’s way past my deadline for putting up this post.

But that is not of paramount concern. Because I’m not trying to say anything worthwhile.

I have lightened up.

*

“I’m thinking it over.” Forty seconds of perfection. (If the video doesn’t play, google “jack benny i’m thinking it over”. That should work.)

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Image of Mary Tyler Moore cast via Wikipedia. Public domain.

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Kathy Waller has published stories in anthologies Murder on Wheels: 11 Tales of Crime on the Move; Lone Star Lawless: 14 Texas Tales of Crime; and Day of the Dark: Stories of Eclipse; and online at Mysterical-E. She blogs at Telling the Truth, Mainly.

She is still amazed at how long it takes to write a blog post, even when she isn’t thinking.