….And Then What Happens?

By Helen Currie Foster

If you haven’t read Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club, or his latest, The Man Who Died Twice, fear not—no spoilers here. Oh, maybe a couple of teases, but that’s my theme today: curiosity as a driver of mystery novels.

George Saunders, in A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, his boldly subtitled “master class on writing, reading and life,” recounts his experience submitting a short story to Bill Buford, fiction editor of The New Yorker. After receiving some “painful edits,” Saunders asked Buford what he liked about the story: “Well, I read a line. And I like it…enough to read the next.”

Saunders gives a short answer to why we keep reading: “Because we want to.” And why do we want to? “That’s the million-dollar question. What makes a reader keep reading.”

Back to The Thursday Murder Club. We meet the varied characters of an upscale home for the elderly in scenic Kent who meet weekly to solve murders—old and new. Some characters seem ordinary, like the new club member, Joyce, whose journal depicts her as sprightly and slightly ditzy. Some, like Elizabeth, are veiled in mystery. Is Bogdan just a dumb Polack? We begin to wonder what’s he hiding. Then we begin to wonder what each character’s hiding. We also desperately want to know who’s buried—no, who else is buried––in the nuns’ graveyard on the hill. We read in the bathtub. We sneak our Kindle into the examining room and finish another chapter before the nurse arrives. Same with The Man Who Died Twice: we keep reading the next line! Before beginning, I asked myself, how can Orman’s second book be as compelling as Thursday? Just hide and watch. For each character—whether detective or potential villain—a slow (but never too slow) reveal will move you, the reader, to keep reading the next sentence.

In my blog Curiouser and Curiouser I mentioned astrophysicist Mario Livio’s book, WHY: What Makes Us Curious. https://www.amazon.com/Why-What-Makes-Us-Curious-ebook/dp/B01M7WV0LV/ref=sr_1_4?qid=1638133468&refinements=p_27%3AMario+Livio&s=books&sr=1-4 Livio begins by discussing Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour,” a very short 19th century tale of a woman who has just received news of her husband’s death. Livio cites Chopin’s “singular ability to generate curiosity with almost every single line of prose.” He says she inspires “empathic curiosity,” driving the reader incessantly to ask “why?” and to try to understand the desires and thoughts of the protagonist. Chopin also uses the element of surprise—“a sure stratagem to kindle curiosity through heightened arousal and attention.”

The physiological basis for such heightened curiosity? When we encounter the unexpected, our brains assume we may need to take action. “This results in a rapid activation of the sympathetic nervous system” as we focus on the key issue, says Livio. He notes that when we’re surprised and have a fear response, both fast and slow brain pathways are activated. On the fast track, our thalamus sends sensory signals to the amygdala which directs our emotional response. But on the slow track, our thalamus sends signals to our cerebral cortex before going to the amygdala—allowing a “more thoughtful” response. 

And don’t mystery readers have highly developed cerebral cortexes? Of course they do. For starters, though, we request a protagonist who engages us, so our empathic curiosity can push us to the next sentence. Perhaps we need to care at least a little for the protagonist in order to want to know what happens next. All the great tales combine empathic curiosity and surprise. Will Kim and his lama find the River of the Arrow? Will Mr. Darcy ever propose a second time to Elizabeth Bennet? Will Gus and Call survive the cattle drive to Montana? Will Frodo make it to the Cracks of Doom? Will George Smiley figure out the mole’s identity? We want to know what happens next. Mystery readers beg their authors: make us want to know!

Livio highlights some remarkably curious humans. One is Leonardo da Vinci (described by art historian Kenneth Clark as “the most relentlessly curious man in history”). A look at Leonardo’s Notebooks shows as just one example of his curiosity his study of human physiology [186] and anatomy—skeleton, musculature, circulation.

Leonardo provides detailed drawings and descriptions of human limbs, and then moves on to how they work: “The walking of man is always after the universal manner of walking in animals with 4 legs, inasmuch as just as they move their feet crosswise after the manner of a horse in trotting, so man moves his 4 limbs crosswise; that is, if he puts forward his right foot in walking he puts forward, with it, his left arm and vice versa, invariably.” We come to believe Leonardo was not just trying for painterly accuracy: he wanted to know how bodies work (as well as why candle flame moves as it does, how screws and tempered springs work, how to depict perspective…).

It goes almost without saying that mystery readers are notoriously curious. We love to plunge into new or unique settings—Alaska (Dana Stabenow), Southside Chicago (Sara Paretzky), Scotland (Ian Rankin), the south of France (Martin Walker), the Four Corners (Tony and now Anne Hillerman)…and don’t forget Texas, big cities and small towns, the coast, the border, the Hill Country. We’re delighted with new worlds—paranormal mysteries. We’re curious about alibis—any holes? What exactly did the medical examiner say? Which facts point to a motive—or lack thereof? 

Another example of a “relentlessly curious” human is astrophysicist Richard Feynman: “Feynman’s genius and achievements in…physics are legendary…He became known to the general public as a member of the panel that investigated the space shuttle Challenger disaster…When asked to identify what he thought was the key motivator for scientific discovery, Feynman replied, ‘It has to do with curiosity. It has to do with wondering what makes something do something.’” [10]

“What makes something do something.” And what makes someone do something. The stuff of mystery.

Livio considers the drive for knowledge a deeply human characteristic, with curiosity a powerful force not just for childhood cognitive development, but for intellectual and creative expression later in life. [9] He says “perceptual curiosity” motivates visual inspection—for instance, when we see something novel, puzzling, or an extreme outlier. Opposite “perceptual curiosity” is “epistemic curiosity”—sheer desire for knowledge, which Thomas Hobbes called “lust of the mind” because it only leaves you wanting more. 

Well, isn’t that your basic mystery reader? The best mysteries leave us momentarily satisfied—we want to read each next line until we get to the very last line—but still wanting more. Where’s the next book?

Helen Currie Foster writes the Alice MacDonald Mystery Series, and lives north of Dripping Springs, supervised by three burros. Find the series at BookPeople, Amazon or IngramSpark and at various libraries. The books (Ghost Cave, Ghost Dog, Ghost Letter, Ghost Dagger, Ghost Next Door, Ghost Cat, and Ghost Daughter) include “Ghost” in their titles because an old sin, old love, or old death still hangs around…resulting in a new murder. Ghost Cat won “Semifinalist” for Mystery in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Kirkus says of Ghost Daughter, “An appealing character headlines a solid thriller with panache.” 

Follow her at http://www.helencurriefoster.com,

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

A Little Hitchcock, Two Stories, Plus Spoilers

by Kathy Waller

The summer  I was six, my cousin of the same age was visiting our spinster great-aunt and bachelor uncle who lived up the street. Uncle called one evening. Cousin was being a major pain. It was a weeknight, and the only amusement our miniscule town afforded, a roller skating rink, was open only on weekends. Great-aunt and uncle weren’t accustomed to dealing with children of the painful variety, so he did what he often did when desperate. He appealed to my mother: You’ve got to do something.

A veteran of dealing with a juvenile pain, she proposed the perfect solution. They loaded both of us into the car and took us fifteen miles to the drive-in movie.

An excellent plan: Bugs BunnyPorky Pig, trailers of coming attractions, and the feature film: Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.

synopsis of the novel from which the movie was adapted appears on Wikipedia:

A prosperous shipbuilder hires a former detective who suffers from vertigo to tail his wife Madeleine who is acting strangely. The detective falls in love with the shipbuilder’s wife but is unable to stop her committing suicide by jumping from a tower. Haunted by her death, he sees a woman who bears a strong resemblance to the dead woman, however, his attempts to get closer to this doppelgänger ultimately result in tragedy.

In these enlightened times, many, if not most, parents would be horrified at anyone’s allowing a first-grader to see such a nightmare-inducing movie. I, however, spent every afternoon glued to the Afternoon Movie. I guess my mother assumed that if I could handle Don Ameche trying to get rid of his wife, Claudette Colbert, by drugging her hot chocolate and then piping in repeated suggestions that she jump off her bedroom balcony, Hitchcock wouldn’t upset me.

And I’ve always been grateful to her, because that night at the drive-in, I fell in love. I watched Hitchcock’s television programs and all the movies I could manage. They were wonderful, and if they starred Cary Grant–Francine Paino wrote about one of those, North by Northwest, last week–that was icing on the cake.

Now Netflix, Prime, Roku, and other streaming services have allowed me to watch many of them again.

But this post isn’t a celebration of Hitchcock. It’s about two stories adapted for his television show. Watching them as an adult, I saw something I hadn’t seen years (and years) ago. I enjoyed both, but one had something extra.

The first is “The Second Wife,” in which a mail-order bride comes to believe that her husband plans to kill her. At the outset, he seems insensitive, unconcerned about her needs; when she says the laundry room in the basement is uncomfortably cold, he complains about the cost of installing a heater. She also hears

stories: he took his first wife to visit her people at Christmas and she died and was buried there–or that’s what he claims.

Gossip fuels the second wife’s fears, and when the husband announces plans to take her home for Christmas, she acquires a gun. Before they leave, however, he insists she go down to the basement. She takes the gun and descends the stairs. He’ll follow in a moment.

The viewer feels her fear: The husband will kill the second wife, as he killed the first.

But there’s a literary catch. In a letter, Anton Chekhov stated one of his principles for writing fiction: “One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn’t going to go off. It’s wrong to make promises you don’t mean to keep.”

The wife has a gun. And this is Hitchcock; he keeps his promises.

The wife shoots and kills her husband, then realizes he’d only wanted to show her her Christmas present–the heating system he’d had installed in the laundry room.

A tragic ending, but satisfying in its irony.

The second story, “Night of the Owl,” however, has something extra, something unexpected.

A couple have reared an adopted daughter, now a teenager, a bright student, a well-adjusted, happy girl. But the parents have carefully guarded a secret: the girl’s father murdered her mother, then killed himself in prison. When a prison chaplain and his accomplice appear and blackmail the couple, then come back for more, the father considers his options: murder the blackmailer, or tell his daughter about her past. Both are unthinkable. Then one of the blackmailers is murdered. Evidence points to the father.

How can the plot be resolved? Did the father commit murder? He escapes being charged but can’t escape telling his daughter about her birth parents.

In “The Second Wife,” the resolution is either/or, and the viewer can almost certainly predict which it will be.

But the ending of “The Night of the Owl” isn’t predictable. Will the girl become hysterical? Fall into depression? Reject her adoptive parents? Run away? Harm herself?

Told the truth about the murder/suicide in her background, she expresses empathy. How unhappy her parents must have been, she says–what sad lives they must have lived.

I didn’t see that coming. A Hitchcock program with a happy ending. And an exceptional character.

Critics (professional and amateur) point to problems with both  programs. Fair enough. I didn’t watch for flaws. In fact, I didn’t watch for anything but the pleasure of seeing programs I’d first watched as a child. I just happened to see something more.

And to quote Osgood Fielding III, “Nobody’s perfect.”

***

“Night of the Owl” is available on Youtube.

*

Robert Bloch wrote the teleplay of “The Second Wife” based on a story by Richard Deming. It aired on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour on October 4, 1962.

Richard Fielder wrote the teleplay of “The Night of the Owl” based on a novel by Paul Winterton. It aired on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour on April 26, 1965.

*

Joe E. Brown appears as Osgood Fielding III in Some Like It Hot. He has the best line in one of the best, and funniest, movies ever made.

Research turned up this biographical item: “An ardent opponent of the Nazi regime, in 1939 Brown testified before the House Immigration Committee in support of a bill that would allow 20,000 German-Jewish refugee children into the United States. He would later adopt two German-Jewish refugee girls himself, naming them Mary Katherine Ann (born 1930) and Kathryn Francis (born 1934).”

*

Images are taken from Wikipedia. Both are in the public domain.

***

Kathy Waller blogs at Telling the Truth, Mainly.

 

NORTH BY NORTHWEST –

Alfred Hitchcock at his Best 
By 
Francine Paino AKA F. Della Notte

 

      North by Northwest, a mystery thriller filmed in the 1950s, was Alfred Hitchcock at his best, and the movie received the 1960 Edgar Alan Poe Award for Best Motion Picture. 

       The plot:  “A New York City advertising executive goes on the run after being mistaken for a government agent by a group of foreign spies, and falls for a woman whose loyalties he begins to doubt.” (quote from IMB). There are a few terms and facts viewers should know before settling down in the jammies with the bowl of popcorn (light, of course). Warning: Spoilers included.

      First—the Maguffin. An object or device in a movie or book that serves merely as a trigger for the plot and receives little in the way of explanations.  In a more current film, Titanic, the search for the Heart of the Sea diamond necklace is the trigger that drives the plot and the action, but Hitchcock popularized the concept of the maguffin. In North by Northwest, there are two: The microfilm of government secrets that James Mason’s character, Vandamm is trying to sneak out of the country, and the identity of George Kaplan, who doesn’t exist – not even in the movie.  

      The movie begins in New York with a dramatic and dangerous encounter with foreign spies. Thornhill is mistaken for George Kaplan and is kidnapped, questioned, and almost killed by the Vandamm agents. He escapes and is then framed for the murder of Lester Townsend at the U.N. Grant/Thornhill begins his trek north by northwest by sneaking onto a train headed for Chicago, pursued by the evil foreign agents and the police. Here he meets Eva Marie Saint/ Eve Kendall, a confidant of Vandamm’s, played by James Mason.

      In Chicago, Grant/Thornhill leaves the train disguised as a porter with the help of Saint/Kendall and is set up to meet the elusive George Kaplan at the Prairie Stop, Highway 41, a little-used route more than an hour outside of Chicago. Here, Hitchcock creates a scene that became the forerunner for future action movies, especially the James Bond Series. 

      Hitchcock doesn’t do the usual dark city street motif for a deadly attack on Grant/Thornhill. Instead, Hitchcock has him vulnerable in an open field and targeted by a  small aircraft with firepower.  After diving to the ground several times, Grant/Thornhill sees a cornfield and runs for cover, but in comes the small aircraft again, this time employing its crop-dusting capabilities to cover him in a cloud of chemicals and flush him out.  As the small plane circles to make a second pass, a tanker truck barrels down the highway. Grant/Thornhill jumps out in front of it, forcing the driver to stop, but the small plane misjudges and crashes into the oil truck. Both explode.  Now a few innocent bystanders appear, traveling on this up-until-now deserted road. They stop their cars and get out, to get a closer look at the disaster.  Grant/Thornhill slinks past them, steals one of their vehicles, and escapes. 

      As the story unfolds, we discover who Eve Kendall is, and we learn there is no George Kaplan, but the most dramatic scenes that end the movie take place on the remarkable stone-carved Mt. Rushmore monument, where Grant/Thornhill and Saint/Kendall try to escape by descending the faces of Rushmore, pursued and shot at by Vandamm’s agents.  

      To my great disappointment, the only authentic shots of the remarkable stone carvings of Rushmore were from a distance.  Although Hitchcock had a permit to film at the monument, government officials banned the production when word got out that the writers scripted a fight scene and a couple of deaths. Thus, the hard work of climbing, falling, and fighting took place in Hollywood, and Mt. Rushmore was created by Hollywood trickery, using set pieces, special effects, and clever camera work—but don’t let that stop you from watching.

      Of course, like most movies of those times, the good guy (Thornhill) gets the girl (Kendall), and like so many Hitchcock thrillers, the drama is intense even when you know it’s Hollywood and how it will end, but politics aside, Mt. Rushmore is its own dramatic story. 

      John Gutzon de la Mothe Borglum created this remarkable feat of sculpting and engineering.  In the summer of 1925, at the age of 57, Borglum went to South Dakota and began the project. Work on the sculpture started in 1927. Borglum remained devoted to the project until he died in Chicago, and his son Lincoln put the finishing touches on his father’s vision. Sadly, however, what’s left out of this remarkable story is that in 1933, Borglum hired Italian immigrant, Luigi del Bianco as the chief stone carver and paid him $1.50 an hour. (Excellent pay in those days. ) Del Bianco was tasked with more than the rough work of blowing up rocks and carving out simple shapes. He was entrusted with many of the finer points of creating those faces.  Among his many duties, Del Bianco was entrusted with carving the detail in the faces. He cut Abraham Lincoln’s eyes and patched a dangerous crack in Thomas Jefferson’s lip. 

      Borglum constantly praised del Bianco for his outstanding abilities as a classically trained stone carver: “He is worth any three men in America for this particular type of work…. He is the only intelligent, efficient stone carver on the work who understands the language of the sculptor….We could double our progress if we had two like Bianco.”(Wiki)

      Despite Borglum’s high regard, del Bianco, the Italian, was ignored until finally, three-quarters of a century later, his family fought for and won the recognition he so richly deserved. In 2017, a plaque was placed at the monument to honor his work as the chief sculptor.

      So, one might say that North by Northwest is a mystery/ thriller filled with high drama both on and off the set, both fictitious and real. I’ve watched North by Northwest many times and always discover something new with each viewing.  

Enjoy!

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. 

 

 

 

 

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.