Review of Billy Kring’s book Degüello

by V.P. Chandler

I just finished reading Degüello: A Hunter Kincaid Mystery (The Hunter Kincaid Mysteries Book 6) by Billy Kring and have to tell you about it.

My introduction to Billy Kring’s writing began with his first Hunter Kincaid book, Quick, and I was both hooked and blown away.

Hunter is a tough, female border patrol agent who doesn’t back down from a fight. She faces incredibly tough situations with grit and feeling. I love her! She can drink beer and eat spicy tacos with the rest of the guys, on both sides of the U.S. southern border. And her tenacity and instincts are still strong in Degüello.

(Some of you may be wondering what “degüello” means. It can mean, slaughter, massacre, a killing off, or a beheading. Wiki also says that there’s a bugle by the same name. “The Degüello is a bugle call, notable in the US for its use as a march by Mexican Army buglers during the 1836 Siege and Battle of the Alamo to signal that the defenders of the garrison would receive no quarter by the attacking Mexican Army under General Antonio López de Santa Anna.”)

And when you get to the end of the story, you’ll see that this description is appropriate. I don’t know if Kring knew about the bugle when he came up with the title, but it sure fits!

So let’s get to the story. Children are being kidnapped in Mexico and brought to the U.S. to be sold to the sex trade. They are put on an airplane near San Angelo, Texas and transported to other parts of the world. Kincaid comes across the transfer of children along the border and is able to save a child but the kidnappers escape. Then a mother of a missing child begs Hunter to find her daughter. Hunter hesitates because there are rules that she has to follow, but she wants to do what she can to help. Through circumstances, it ends up being all up to her and Ike, a former body guard of a drug cartel kingpin.

The story is full of action and cunning characters. (Poor Ike is taken to the hospital twice.) As the description says on Amazon. “Sorely outgunned and outmanned, but to save the captives, Hunter puts a desperate plan into motion, and what follows is a storm of smoke, fire, and blood, and who will survive is anyone’s guess.”

You can’t beat that!

P.S. As a side note I’d like to add my favorite line that comes towards the end of the book. A character says that Hunter came to the rescue  “Like Wonder Woman charging into No Man’s Land.”

I love Wonder Woman and that’s one of my favorite moments in the movie. And the description is spot on.

So I guess you can tell that I liked it. Go check it out and the other Hunter Kincaid books. Here’s a link to his Amazon page.

Billy Kring on Amazon

How Did She Think of That? And How Did Adamsberg Figure It Out?: Thoughts on Fred Vargas and her Policiers

by Helen Currie Foster

Fred Vargas by Marcello Casal/ABr, licensed under CC BY-3.0 BR. Via Wikipedia

Her sheer imagination, her complex and nearly crazy—yet convincing—plots, have won Fred Vargas three International Dagger Awards from the Crime Writers Associationfor her policiers, or police procedurals. Vargas is the nom de plume of Fréderique Audoin-Rouzeau, a French medieval historian and archeologist (born in Paris 1952) who worked at the Institut Pasteur. Vargas provides a vividly unusual police environment with her Paris-based Serious Crime Squad, headed by Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg. I immediately fell for her idiosyncratic protagonist—Adamsberg is Pyrenees born, left handed, a water-colorist who paints in order to puzzle out murder inquiries, and who alternately frustrates and mesmerizes his staff through his unconventional thinking. Vargas has steadily added a cadre of interesting characters to Adamsberg’s team, each quite odd in his or her own way (not forgetting the large white cat which sleeps atop the copier and must be carried to its food bowl—a cat which demonstrates great heroism in This Night’s Foul Work) (tr. 2008).

Click here to read the original post at Ink-Stained Wretches.

A Review of The Secret Lives of Cats

by V.P. Chandler

One thing I like about being in a book club is that I get a chance to read books that I hadn’t heard of. And since I hadn’t heard of Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s story, The Secret Lives of Cats, I’m glad that it came to my attention and I had a good excuse to read it.

 

Amazon describes it as: Winner of the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Readers Choice Award for 2008, this Anthony-nominated story was one of the most talked about stories of the year.

 

I can believe it. I was drawn in by its first sentence. “Homer Ziff didn’t believe in old adages, but after his long and eventful spring, he couldn’t help but think that whoever put the words “curiosity,” “cat,” and “kill” in the same sentence had to be onto something.”

 

I like curiosity, cats, and of course crime fiction. So I’m there! You got me. (And look at this awesome cover. I love it.)

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I like the premise. Ziff wonders where his cats go during the day so he attaches a small camera to each cat’s collar. The camera takes still photos, not video. (This was written when GoPro was still new and incredibly expensive.) Every day he downloads and saves many of the photos to see where they go. He notices that they go to a place where other cats congregate and sit there. Are they looking at something? What are they doing? He’s fascinated and after several days it becomes apparent that what they are looking at are bones, human bones.

 

He calls the police. “When the operator answered, he said, “I think there’s a dead body in my neighborhood.” And that brought the detectives to his door.”

 

He has to explain to them that the cats have found a dead body, but he doesn’t know exactly where it is. And he has to do this without sounding crazy or guilty. Fortunately for him, one of the detectives understands right away.

 

I’ll let you read the rest of the story to find out what happens. I thought it was a full-length book so I was a little disappointed that it was a short story, only 33 pages long. I wanted more! I liked everything about it, the characters, the descriptions, and the plot. I thought it moved right along.

 

I highly recommend this short read and I’ll definitely be reading more by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. I was curious to see what else she has written and was thrilled to find that she also writes a lot of sci-fi. I’ll confess that I’m a bit of a Trekkie so I was tickled to see that she’s written a few ST books too! (Insert The Original Series music here. Ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ah, ahhhh.)

 

So go check out The Secret Lives of Cats and the other books listed on her site. https://kriswrites.com/

 

Happy hunting and live long and prosper!

 

Originally posted on vpchandler.com 

Gretchen Archer on Road Trips, Super Spies & Double Knot

DOUBLEKNOTfrontF.jpgGretchen Archer’s biography claims she is a Tennessee housewife who turned to a life of crime (fiction) when her daughters left for college. Don’t let the housewife title fool you.

Gretchen Archer is a writer with mad skills, blending humor throughout her tightly plotted Davis Way mystery series that keeps the reader guessing until the very end. Archer is a USA Today bestselling author with a loyal readership that continues to grow with every addition to the series. Fortunately, the latest mystery, Double Knot, hits bookstores and e-readers today.

Gretchen’s ability to create hilarious high jinx in her novels must come from, in some part, raising kids because we parents know how much material our offspring provide. Gretchen’s writing is clever in its ability to draw us in immediately, giving us Davis Way, a ‘super spy’ who works for a covert security team at the Bellissimo Resort & Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi. Super spy she may be, Davis is also wonderfully relatable, allowing her humanity and imperfections to come through with an authenticity that keeps readers rooting for her success.

Double Knot has been praised by Janet Evanovich, who wrote, “Powerfully heartfelt and knock-your-socks-off hilarious. I’m a fan!” Double Knot charts new new territory with this series because it is a locked-room mystery with Davis Way and company traveling on the luxury liner MS Probability. My mind immediately went to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and John Dickson Carr’s The Hollow Man. Gretchen readily admits that this book was both difficult and exhilarating to write, exploring growth in both Davis’ world and the characters who occupy it. I asked Gretchen to give us a peek inside Davis’ life, how she came to be, and what she sees in the future for her favorite crime caper chasers.

LO: How did you discover Davis Way-or did she find you? 

GA: I was driving from Biloxi to my home in Tennessee on I-65 North in Alabama when I saw an exit sign for Pine Apple, which I thought was hilarious. When I pulled into my driveway three hours later, it was with Davis Way from Pine Apple, Alabama, who moves to Biloxi. You know how road trips are good for thinking.

LO: What is it about Davis that you think has created such a loyal following of readers? What do you hear most often?

GA: Is it Davis, you think, readers come back for? I hear “I love Davis!” and “Hurry with the next Davis!” but I get even more letters about her husband, Bradley Cole, and her doppelganger Bianca Sanders. What readers have told me they love about Davis is her vulnerability—that she’s human. They love Bradley for the opposite reason, because he’s perfect. (A perfect man is hard to write. Seriously. Because there are no ROLE MODELS.) And Bianca. First, I’ll tell you she’s enormously fun to write, and next, I’ll tell you the letters I get about Bianca are hilarious. “When is someone going to slap that woman?” and “Davis needs to shoot Bianca and get it over with.”

LO: What do you think readers would be surprised to know about Davis?

GA: She loves a good con. She doesn’t say she admires the bandits who cleverly steal from the Bellissimo Resort and Casino, because they usually leave a pesky dead body in their wake, but she’s in awe of a clever thief. Another Davis semi-secret? I wonder if readers remember that Davis had a baby when she was sixteen. I remember it all the time. It’s something they don’t tell you in Mystery Series Writing School, maybe because there is no Mystery Series Writing School (we should start one), but the history you write for your main character in book one stays with her. For the whole series. Another Davis surprise? She can’t cook. You never read about Davis cooking, which is crazy, because I feel like it’s all I do. (“What’s for dinner, Mom?” (“Anything you want! Frosted Flakes! Goldfish! Popcorn!”) What about the fact that Davis never shops? I never send her shopping but her closet is full of fabulous clothes.

LO: How do you feel Davis has changed and grown since Double Whammy?  Are there certain areas or themes you hope to explore going forward?

GA: Davis grew up in a town of four hundred. The biggest change for her has been the people she’s met since leaving Pine Apple. Fantasy is the first BFF she’s ever had, and their relationship is so much fun because they’re so close. And true love. Davis wouldn’t take a million dollars for a hair on her husband’s head. So, her biggest changes since book one are in the personal relationships category.

LO: Are there any special talents that Davis has yet to bring to one of your stories?  Ninja warrior?  Underwater basket weaving?

GA: She might learn how to land a plane. She just might.

LO: Anything else you’d like to share about DOUBLE KNOT or Davis’ world?

GA: Double Knot was a labor of love. I absolutely loved writing it. It’s a locked-room mystery on a two-day timeline. It was challenging and rewarding and I don’t know if I’ll ever get to write one this close to my heart again.

 

Here’s a sneak peak of Double Knot

At midnight, the clock clicking from Saturday to Sunday, I locked the door to my stateroom behind me. I gathered my cat, pajamas, vitamins, toothbrush, and was in a hurry for the bed when I stepped into the gold bathroom and saw an envelope taped to the mirror above the vanity. It was addressed to me. I recognized my name right away; I’ve had it all my life. The problem was—I took slow and steady steps toward the envelope—no one outside 704 knew my name. Correspondence to me aboard Probability should have been addressed to Bianca Sanders. Not Davis Way Cole. I reached for it, curious and apprehensive at the same time. I opened it to find a photograph of my boss, No Hair. My knees gave way and the vanity caught me. Hands bound behind his back, legs secured at the ankles, clothes disheveled, his tie gone and his lower lip split wide open, he was in a straight chair against a wall between two dark porthole windows. No Hair was someone’s prisoner. He looked straight at me when the picture was taken, his eyes apologetic, but everything else about his expression and posture was livid.

My head swam and I saw stars. I backed up to the square porcelain bathtub in the middle of the gold floor and sat down on the wide edge. I read the letter.

Mrs. Cole,

To ensure your safety and that of your guests and loved ones, sit back and settle in, because you’re not leaving your suite. Rest assured no harm will come to anyone as long as you follow these simple instructions: Do not attempt to escape or make contact with anyone. Jeremy Covey will be detained for the duration of the cruise, as will you and your party. You will walk off this ship unharmed if you cooperate.

Unfortunately, the medical staff accompanying you tried to board with controlled substances and was refused passage. They’re not looking for you. Your photography crew has been reassigned. They’re not looking for you. No one is looking for you. There’s no way out. Not only is escape impossible, you will most assuredly jeopardize everyone’s welfare if you attempt any overt attention-seeking endeavors. In other words, Mrs. Cole, don’t start a fire. You’ll burn.

Arrangements have been made to communicate with your husband for you. Should you try to contact him directly and by some miracle succeed, you run the risk of never seeing him again.

Relax, follow these simple instructions, and all will be well. Attempts to escape, alert your husband, the authorities, or other passengers will be met with deadly consequences. It’s up to you.

And that was it.

We were hostages on a luxury cruise liner.

Gretchen_  To learn more about Double Knot and Gretchen Archer, please visit www.gretchenarcher.com. You can find Double Knot at your favorite bookstore or online through Amazon and other retailers.

–Laura Oles

The Premise of a Mystery

A mystery needs a strong premise to succeed in today’s vast sea of manuscripts and newly published books. But what exactly is a premise? And how can you tell if the premise of your book is a good one?

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In Save the Cat, Blake Snyder defines the premise as the idea that promises to be an exciting or interesting story. It’s a short answer to the question, “What’s it about?” Its job is to make you want to read the book. Premise in this sense is similar to the back cover copy (blurb or description) of the book.

What’s a ginthewoodsood premise for a mystery? A child is murdered and the detective has to catch the killer. Not good enough. It’s a murder mystery, but why read this one?

Three children go into the woods. Two are murdered and the third is found covered with blood. He remembers nothing. Better. I might read it.

But that was 20 years ago. Now there’s been a similar murder in the same woods and the detective is the third child who survived the earlier crime and still has no memory of it. I will definitely sample that book.

A twenty-year-old body is found, that of a young woman. Twenty years earlier, a young man and his girlfriend planned to elope. When she failed to show up, he thought she’d jilted him. The young man is now a detective, and the body is that of his girlfriend.

faithfulplace

In the Woods and Faithful Place are excellent examples of one way to build a compelling premise for a mystery: an interesting crime plus a personal connection with the detective. The fundamental conflict of any mystery—murderer versus agent of truth and justice—is amplified by internal conflict.

Moreover, there is a built-in professional conflict for the detective, because he should recuse himself. In ITW, he keeps it a secret that he was the third child. In FP, he defies orders and investigates secretly on his own.

For Snyder, the premise is a what-if containing elements of both character and inciting incident. For John Truby (The Anatomy of Story), the premise is a short synopsis that includes the inciting incident, the main character, and the outcome.

His example, for the Godfather: “The youngest son of a Mafia family takes revenge on the men who shot his father and becomes the new Godfather.” The whole story, in a nutshell.

The two different senses of the term ‘premise’ are both widely used. In Story, Robert McKee discusses both concepts, which he calls, respectively, the inspiring idea and the controlling idea.

The story-in-a-nutshell of a mystery is the solution to the mystery. It is what I have elsewhere called the hidden drama. It’s the truth about the murder that is concealed in the enticing set-up.

A mystery needs a strong premise in both senses. The set-up states the mystery (someone has been murdered—why? By whom?) and the hidden drama, when revealed, must pack some sort of wallop to pay off the promise of a good story.

I cannot give you an example of the latter without spoiling a mystery. So that’s what I’m going to do. If you have not read Rebecca, STOP READING NOW! Read Rebecca and come back.

Joan Fontaine and Judith Anderson as the second Mrs. DeWinter and Mrs. Danvers, respectively, in the 1940 film diected by Alfred Hitchcock

Joan Fontaine and Judith Anderson as the second Mrs. DeWinter and Mrs. Danvers, respectively, in the 1940 film diected by Alfred Hitchcock

A shy, unconfident young woman marries a man whose first wife, Rebecca, has died in an accident. Rebecca was beautiful, talented, seemingly perfect in every way. How can our poor heroine ever compete with the ghost of this paragon?

Not the most powerful set-up (no mention of a crime), but the hidden drama—oh my. It turns out Rebecca was EVIL! Her husband hated her and murdered her! He got away with it—or did he? OMG!!! A witness comes forward! Breathtaking, page-turning suspense ensues. This book delivers on its premise like no other.

Cornwall

On just such a bay in Cornwall, Rebecca De Winter drowned…supposedly.

Call them hook and twist: a compelling crime to be solved and an underlying truth that is both unexpected and confounding. A really good mystery needs both.

Elizabeth Buhmann

————————————————————

A woman who witnessed a murder lied on the stand. Twenty years later, the man who was convicted on her testimony has just been exonerated and released:

Lay Death at Her Door, by Elizabeth Buhmann

Murder in Africa

Elizabeth Buhmann

MURDER IN EXOTIC PLACES, continued.

by Elizabeth Buhmann

Last month, I wrote about books set on the Indian subcontinent. How about books set in Africa? I have never been to Africa, but I’ve read Paul Theroux’s Dark Star Safari. The subtitle is “Overland from Cairo to Capetown.” Think about that for a minute. Not a journey for the faint of heart! But not one you have to make, because you can read a blow-by-blow that offers all the wit and keen observation of the most astute, acerbic and entertaining travel writer ever.

kenya

I loved that book, but I must have murder, and fortunately Africa is the setting for several outstanding detective series. Among the very best are Malla Nunn’s Emmanuel Cooper
presentdarknessnovels, set in South Africa during the 1950s, at the height of the Apartheid era. Malla Nunn is from Swaziland in South Africa and now resides in Australia.

All four books in her series are excellent. I started with the third, Blessed are the Dead, in which a young Zulu woman is murdered in the Drakensberg Mountains. This is a dark, gritty and well-plotted murder mystery with a fascinating geographic, social and political setting. I highly recommend it. Her latest is Present Darkness.

Botswanahouse

If you prefer light and delightful to dark and gritty, The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party is a wonderful read. It’s the twelfth book in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series sattentby Scottish author Alexander McCall Smith. The books are set in Gabarone, Botswana, and the main character is the wise and charming Precious Ramotswe.

You may already know about these books, since they have been wildly popular for more than ten years now, but did you know that there are fifteen books in the series? Here’s a checklist, so you can be sure you’ve read them all. The BBC/HBO television series captures the books perfectly, by the way; Season 1 is available on Amazon Video.

acarriondeathLess well known, and also set in Botswana, are the Kubu mysteries, by Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip, who publish as Michael Stanley. Both men were born in Africa and have traveled extensively there all their lives. Their lovable detective is the portly David Benga, affectionately known as Kubu (the Setsama word for hippopotamus). The series achieves a perfect balance between light humor and serious crime. A Carrion Death, their debut, is a good place to start.  There are four Kubu books altogether, plus a cook book.

But actually, if it’s African food you crave (and if you have ever tried African food, you surely crave it), try Jessica Harris’s Africa Cookbook, Tastes of a Continent. Babotie! Curried cabbage! Pigeon Pie! It takes all day to cook, and a village to eat, such a dinner!

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MM Kaye, you may recall from the first post in this series (Murder in Exotic Places) was born in India and lived there much of her life. After India’s independence, she followed her husband, a Major-General in the British Army, to Africa. There she wrote two more romantic suspense novels: Death in Kenya and Death in Zanzibar.

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deathinkenyazanzibarlaydeath

I stumbled on MM Kaye’s mysteries when researching my own book, Lay Death at Her Door. My main character, Kate Cranbrook, is from Kenya, daughter of American ex-voyagerpatriates, and events from her teenage years in Nairobi reach across decades of her life to haunt her.

Finally, I have just discovered a series of mysteries by Kwei Quartey. I’m currently enjoying Death at the Voyager Hotel,  set in Ghana. I’m close to the end, and I don’t know whodunnit yet!

Next: Mysteries set in the Far East.

Murder in Exotic Places

Elizabeth BuhmannBy Elizabeth Buhmann

I love to read murder mysteries that are set somewhere in the world that I have never been. Let me hasten to say that I do not care for such mysteries when they’ve been written by someone who has also never been there, or who has not been there for more than a visit.

No, I want a book that oozes local color and a narrator who has clearly lived there, walked the streets every day and been part of the community. Sometimes it’s an ex-pat, sometimes a person sent there by a job (or a spouse’s job). Or it may be an English-speaking native, or the books may have been written in another language and translated into English.

The River Ganges, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India

The River Ganges, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India

The author also needs to be a skillful and inventive mystery and suspense writer, so the kind of books I’m talking about are few and far between. When I find them, I love them. When the book is part of a series, well then. Hog heaven!

Right now for me the exotic murder mysteries are set in India. I’ve found several! MM Kaye, of Far Pavillions fame, was born in India and spent much of her adult life there. Did you know she wrote six murder mysteries? Her “Death in” series is a veritable clinic in the romantic suspense genre, and the one that’s set in India, Death in Kashmir, evokes the waning years of the British Raj.

servant

cadaver

Tarquin Hall’s Vish Puri series is more fun than a basket of Macaques (thank you, Russ Hall, for recommending them). Start with The Case of the Missing Servant. I cannot get through one of these books without making Punjabi curry and browsing Google images of Dehli.

Shamini Flint’s delightful Inspector Singh travels to Mumbai in A Curious Indian Cadaver. Flint is an attorney who lives (like her Sikh detective) in Singapore and has travelled extensively throughout Southeast Asia. Her books are set in India, Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia, and China.

deadhand

elephanta

And why go to the expense and bother of world travel when you can read Paul Theroux? He has written about India in a number of his travel books, but did you know he set a murder mystery in Calcutta? A Dead Hand is an interesting read, but  what I highly recommend is  the Elephanta Suite—it’s terrific! It’s not a murder mystery, though. It’s a collection of short stories set in Bangalore, Mumbai and a spa in northern India.

amazing

indiaSince I am digressing from murder, I have to mention Chitra Divakaruni’s books. In One Amazing Thing, an earthquake traps a diverse group of people in the basement of an Indian Consulate in America, and to while away the hours waiting to be rescued, they tell stories from their lives. When the first character began her story, I literally got a chill down my spine.

One last recommendation: If you try any of these books, you may be seized by the need for a spicy korma or rogan josh. My trusty House of India Cookbook has served me well for forty years, and it’s still available on Amazon!

Next time I’ll share a list of murder mysteries set in Africa.

laydeathElizabeth Buhmann is the author of Lay Death at Her Door (Red Adept Publishing, May 2013), a stand-alone mystery/suspense novel about an old murder that comes unsolved when the man who was convicted of it is exonerated. The story is told from the point of view of the woman on whose eyewitness testimony the prosecution was based. When the book opens, her life is about to come apart at the seams.

Mystery/Thriller Recommendations

It’s that time of year! A time for reflection on the past year and anticipation of the new. If you’re like me, you hear a lot of people mention a good book or movie and you think to yourself, “That sounds good! I gotta remember that.” And then you don’t.

So, since I have a lot of friends on Facebook who like mysteries and thrillers, I’ve asked them to recommend at least one good book or movie they discovered this year. And of course, each of us here at AMW has a recommendation too.

Here they are, in no particular order:

1. Mandy Eve Barnett (author): mandyevebarnett.com – Lucy – it is unusual, exciting and a great twist at the end! A woman, accidentally caught in a dark deal, turns the tables on her captors and transforms into a merciless warrior evolved beyond human logic.

2. Beverly Nelms (personal and book club friend) – A Most Wanted Man with Philip Seymour Hoffman from a John LeCarre book. It’s about a (most likely) innocent Muslim man being ground up in the system by the Taliban, then by us. PSH plays a German operative with a small group of “assets” who is trying to help him. Underdogs helping the underdog. The view of agents, especially ours, is devastating.

3. Laura Wilson (personal and book club friend) – I liked The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, book much better than the movie, by Stieg Larsson. The main character is a girl with a troubled background who is brilliant with technology and a research savant. There is torture, murder, blackmail and deceit all over this book.

4. Billy Kring (mystery author) www.billykring.com – Suspect by Robert Crais. One of my top reads of the year, and highly recommended. LAPD cop Scott James and his female partner are ambushed, and Scott is wounded, his partner killed. He is broken, suffering, and angry, textbook PTSD. As a last chance, he is partnered with a german shepherd with her own problems. Maggie is a two-tour bomb-sniffing dog who lost her handler in an ambush. She is also suffering from PTSD, and it is her last chance, too. When they begin to investigate the case where Scott’s partner was murdered, they have to rely on each other, and what they encounter in the case could well break both of them.

5. David B. Schlosser (writer, editor) – www.dbschlosser.com – The Broken Shore by Peter Temple. This terrific Australian mystery explores the traditional aspects of a crime/cop story — good guys, bad guys, and their travails — as well as some really interesting cultural challenges in Australia.

6. Kelly Pustejovsky (personal friend) – I watched Dream House yesterday on Netflix, surprisingly good.

7. Tara Madden (personal friend) – Wilde’s The Gods of Gotham and it’s sequel. Fairly new mystery series about the very beginnings of the NYPD set in the 1840s. Very good. Really pulls you into the story. Great richly created characters.

8. Jeanne Kisacky (writer) – It’s been out a while, but Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity defied my ability to see where the plot was going. It was truly remarkable to read a book and not have any of my guesses pan out.

9. H.M. Bouwmann (author and professor) – www.hmbouwman.com – I’ll second the Code Name Verity recommendation. And I enjoyed both Robert Galbraith (Rowling) mysteries–though I loved the first more than the second. Also, just as an FYI, the opening couple of pages are not great. Then: very good.

10. Roger Cuevas (personal friend) – I love Alice LaPlant’s “Turn of Mind.” It’s narrated by a woman, a former hand surgeon with Alzheimer’s. Then one day her neighbor and long-time friend is found dead and the body’s hands have been expertly removed. Did she do it? Our narrator just can’t remember…

11. Morris Nelms (personal, book club friend, professor of fine arts, and musician) (Yea, he’s a cool guy) – The Afghan, by Forsyth. Frequencies, a sci-fi whodunit movie. Crescent City Rhapsody, a sci-fi thriller about what happens when an EMP disables everything.

12. Joseph Huerta (personal friend) – The two “Blood” books by James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell that feature warfare against the forces of Armageddon, including angels and devils and a secret band of priests who were once vampires. Yes, it doesn’t really sound like a Joe-book but it was truly fascinating. The third book will be out this Spring.

13. Angie Kinsey (writer) – www.angiekinsey.com – The Martian by Andy Weir – a not too far fetched sci-fi thriller about an engineer who gets stranded on Mars. He has to figure out how to stay alive with the resources he has until he can connect with home. Entertaining and thrilling!

14. Debbie Woodard (personal friend) –  I discovered the BBC’S Sherlock this year. Fantastic production, great actors, character-driven-well-written scripts.

15. Elizabeth Buhmann (AMW member) – I’ve read a lot of good mysteries this year. I think I’ll go for Present Darkness, the latest by Malla Nunn, but my recommendation is not to start here but to start with her first, A Beautiful Place to Die. The setting for these books is South Africa in the 1950s, at the height of the Apartheid era.

16. Laura Oles (AMW member) – My favorite this year isn’t a traditional mystery but I loved it because it had a strong mystery component and very strong storytelling. It was Leaving Time by Judy Picoult.

17. Gale Albright (AMW member) – I was fascinated and awed by Tana French’s In the Woods, from the very first paragraph because her writing is lyrical and compelling. It’s set in Ireland and is her first book about the “Dublin Murder Squad.”

18. Kaye George (AMW member) – I’m JUST like that. I vow to remember the good books I’ve read, but, alas, my memory doesn’t really go back 12 months. I know that every Harlan Coben I read is my favorite. Recently I read “Iron Lake” by William Kent Krueger and it was terrific. It’s the first Cork O’Connor book. I’ve read others, but had never read this one.

19. Kathy Waller (AMW member) – Terry Shames’ A Killing at Cotton Hill. She captures small town life in a southern town while mixing humor with suspense and mystery. I couldn’t put it down. It won the 2014 Macavity Award. 

20. My favorite book that I read this past year was Jackaby by William Ritter. I loved the mix of historical fantasy and mystery. Jackaby is an investigator of unexplained phenomena and the story is told from the POV of his new assistant, Abigail Rook. It’s a bit like Sherlock Holmes meets Harry Potter. It was delightful and intriguing.

So there you have it! A whole slew of books to add to your TBR (To Be Read) list.

Book Review: Burrows

By Valerie Chandler

Austin Mystery Writer Valerie Chandler

Austin Mystery Writer Valerie Chandler

Burrows, the second book of Reavis Z. Wortham’s Red River series, is a page-turner and a satisfying read. In 1964, in North Texas along the Red River, young constable Cody Parker, recently back from Vietnam, has his hands full. An escaped lunatic has already left dead bodies in Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma. So when a body is discovered in the Red River, it looks like the killer is in the area.  To add to Cody’s problems, his young cousins, Pepper and Top, are always underfoot and causing trouble. Cody’s uncle, retired constable Ned Parker, can’t break his habit of following hunches and does some of his own investigating while trying to reassure the town that Cody is fully capable.

Cover of Burrows by Reavis WorthamTheir investigations lead both Cody and Ned to the Cotton Exchange over in the next town, Chisum. They believe the killer is inside a hoarder’s nest crammed three stories high with junk. It’s a masterful feat of engineering, complete with deadly booby traps and a maze of tunnels. Cody and fellow officer, Deputy Big John Washington, volunteer to enter and as soon as they do, the entrance collapses. The only way out is forward and they hope that Cody’s experience as a tunnel rat in Vietnam will get them out alive. Ned and the rest of the town have to wait outside during the ordeal, wondering if the officers are even still alive.

Wortham skillfully captures 1960’s Texas culture and language while also providing a great mystery. He places the reader right in the musty, stinky, death trap, every stifling inch of the way. It was so descriptive, I sometimes had trouble breathing and he made me squirm more than once! He does an excellent job of pacing and adding tension. Just when one problem is overcome, there is another to face. I had to keep turning pages to see what happened next.