Saturday, December 19, 2009


Second Time Around
by Linda Faulkner
January 2009, $6.99
ISBN: 978-1934258323
EPress-online, 184 pages
Paperback & e-book

Timothea Campbell (Timmi to her friends) has a perfectly nice life in a small town not far from Missoula, Montana. She owns and runs Campbell Business services in the town of Jocko. Her comfortable house on twenty wooded acres is populated with dogs cats and assorted wildlife.

While walking her pets one Friday morning, a dead man rolls down the hill and practically lands at her feet. She doesn’t recognize the corpse, even though the stiff turns out to be her father. Thus begins a wild and complicated tale of revenge, years of lies, romance, and, of course murder. More than one. This suspenseful mystery also contains a well-thought-out romantic entanglement between two feisty independent characters in a novel filled with engaging characters.

Timmi herself, a transplant from the East Coast, has adapted to rural ways quite well, even up to packing heat upon occasion. For someone with her kind of mercurial temperament, I might want her to wear a temperature gauge at times. While the story does not have a high level of forward drive, the author’s sense of place, her characters, and the complications of a former lover (Deputy Jack Kendall) becoming the principal investigator in the case as the bodies pile up, all adds to reader interest. A fun, well written, story about a couple of people you’ll want to meet again.


Loaded Dice
by James Swain
Ballantine Books, 2005
MM 298 pages

Tony Valentine is an unusual character for a crime novel. That in itself is refreshing. Add a good plot or three, some fine and twisty characters, good writing and what more could you want? You do have to get by a really obvious coincidence in the early going, but it’s handled so smoothly, readers shouldn’t mind all that much.

Tony Valentine, an ex-cop has honed his sense of grift to a really high level. Retired from law enforcement, he’s now a consultant to casino operators. He teaches them how to spot cheaters of every stripe and he manages to keep track of the latest technological devices as well. That’s what brings him to Las Vegas this time, a paid consultancy to expose a new radio card reading device. Tony is also on personal business, trying to find and figure out what his wayward son is up to.

The consultancy puts Tony in the middle of a turf war between rival casino operators and his business card turns up in the hands of a murdered stripper. The stripper’s boyfriend, a local cop, figures Valentine is involved and may in fact, have killed the girl. Welcome to Valentine’s world. Smooth writing, an attractive insouciance and a slightly skewed attitude make this an enjoyable read for anyone intrigued by big-time gambling, cops and robbers with a little romance thrown in as well. Readers are advised to pay close attention to the first four chapters.

Friday, December 18, 2009


Frag Box
by Richard A. Thompson
ISBN: 978-1-59058-678-5
Hard Cover from Poisoned Pen Press
2009 release, 222 pages

A dark and in some ways, sad and vicious novel of demons and their aftermaths. Herman Jackson, now a bail bond operator in St. Paul, Minnesota, after some difficulties in Detroit as a youngster, has a fairly settled life in the capital city. One of his regulars is a disturbed veteran of the Viet Nam war with the unfortunate name, Charlie Victor. Victor is the catalyst.

This novel is well-conceived and executed. It grabs you early on and maintains a relentless pace, even in its flashbacks, something not easy to do. On the surface, Herman Jackson undertakes a quixotic effort to determine why the homeless Victor is suddenly and brutally murdered on the street in broad daylight. But as the story develops we become aware that more is going on here than first perceived. A simple story line has developed tentacles and layers of intrigue and darkness. Herman Jackson requires a variety of questionably acquired skills to stay ahead of Charlie’s killers and the forces that motivate them. And as the novel continues we come to understand that the journey involves more than just a simple quest for answers.

The darkness that stalks this story is leavened by the cynical, wise-cracking voice of Mr. Jackson. His attitudes are well-founded. He’s seen and experienced enough of the venality of society’s representatives, whether they reside on the side of the dark angels or of the haloed ones. “Frag Box” is not a perfect novel, but if some of the fantasies serve the story more than reality, well, the totality is well worth a few minor lapses. Kudos to Mr. Thompson. Here’s an author definitely worth paying attention to. I look forward to Mr. Thompson’s next effort.


It's beginning to look like mainstream publishing is waking up to seismic changes linked to technological advances and, even more importantly, changes among readers aka book buyers.

Meanwhile, I'm going to start laying on more comments about books I read. Hope you will follow.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


by K.C. Greenlief
Thomas Dunne Books,
January 2002, 295 pages
ISBN 0312278470

Murder among the pines and bucolic snowy life of central Wisconsin brings chills of a different kind.

This novel has just about everything you could ask for in a novel. The author has created a fascinating pair of detectives in sheriff Lark Swenson and Wisconsin State Bureau detective Lacey Smith. There’s a nice blend of early antagonism, questioning, interesting circumstances, and psychological dancing as the pair becomes better acquainted and more respectful of each other’s experience and talent.

The story begins with the discovery of human remains on a cold and snowy November day in middle Wisconsin. Ann Ranson’s dogs bring home a boot which, on closer examination, contains part of a human foot. This chilling discovery starts a chain of events that will keep readers reading long into the night. While the cold and snow creeps into the corners of the reader’s mind, the authorities in the story are forced to deal with weather and a perplexing find. Is the body evidence of a crime? Or is it accidental death, an individual who simply became lost in the woods?

When another female corpse turns up, the county sheriff, Lark Swenson decides he needs help and contacts the State police. Enter Lacey Smith. The weather, a huge factor during this deer hunting season, begins to close in even more, hampering the efforts to identify the victims and find the killer or killers.

Greenlief has surrounded her principal characters with a logical, carefully differentiated group of secondary characters who consistently act the way they are suppose to. The flow of the book is first-rate. The descriptions are often chilling and are very much to the point.

Cold Hunter’s Moon is that rare novel in which every word counts. Throughout, characters find themselves in logical if sometimes amusing situations which leavens the almost unremitting suspense just enough to give the pace rhythm. The surprising conclusion fits exactly into the fabric of the story and the final scenes leave just enough questions to leave us wanting more about the police duo. Excellent from start to finish, I expect more good reading from this author.

Monday, December 07, 2009


Cold has finally come to the top of the map. Minnesota, that means. Canada has its own map. I got to thinking about comfort food. One comfort food I haven’t had much of recently is my mother’s ham loaf.

So when my wife agreed the other day I went to the market to scare up some essential ingredients. I knew what I needed because I have my mother’s recipe. The recipe is on a 3x5 lined card in our extensive file of recipes. It’s a stained card showing that somebody making or baking something had handled it in the past. In fact, when I look at the card I see it’s written in my mother’s hand. Which means it isn’t precisely complete. “Add milk if necessary.” What does that mean? Presumably if the mix is too dry.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I go to the market. At the meat market I ask for three-quarters of a pound each, of ground pork, ham and veal. One of the butchers looks at me with an amused glint.

What? I wonder. I say, I can come back if….I gesture.

No no, he says, it’s just we don’t have three quarters of a pound wrapped.

You want it mixed, of course, says another. He grins and starts ripping open packages. Pound packages, I assume. He eyeballs the pound of ground veal and whacks off what looks to my untrained eye like precisely three-quarters of the lump. Pretty soon he’s got his fingers all over my ground veal, pork and ham. After he mixes and wraps and weighs an d labels, he hands me the package and smiles. Ham loaf, I bet, he says.

Making ham loaf tonight? M y wife asks while gazing at the big lumpy package of ground meat in the refrigerator.

So I nod and drag the package of meat and other ingredients out and assemble tools. I find the recipe card. Soon I’m measuring, mixing and I’m back in a different kitchen. My mom is doing something in the sink. She looks over her shoulder and says mix it well, but don’t squeeze it together. Do you need milk? Is it too dry? I guess I shrug, what do I know?

I shrug and she comes over, pokes a finger in the big bowl and nods. Give it a splash or two. When I turn back from the refrigerator, I’m back in my own kitchen. I add a little milk and the egg and mix the pile thoroughly, her gentle admonishment still in my head.

Set the oven baking temp and wait.

Some time later the oven does its thing and the house is filled with memories and the smell of onions and salt and heating ham, veal and pork. Mouthwatering odors.

Yes it was a success. The resulting ham loaf was excellent.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009


Both Robin and Kevin make good and valid points regarding the problems confronting any new author who hasn’t done his or her homework. The vultures who hide among legitimate agents, publishers and others in the community are many and are adept at concealment. Authors with low levels of tolerance toward legitimate criticism are another factor which affects all of us. Some things can be helped, others cannot.

My concerns are these: instead of trying to control the problems we all perceive with, for example, lists of “approved” publishers or “approved” agents, why not bend greater efforts to alert and advise new authors as to how the game is played with aggressively marketed workshop sessions? While responding to questions at presentations that “New York publishers insist new work come via agents,” why isn’t more attention paid to discussing good and poor contract language? Why don’t we offer and promote sessions on exactly what an author who self-publishes faces regarding distribution?

Joint ventures in which two or more parties invest in the possible success of a book are a perfectly acceptable business model, so long as everyone understands the limitations and responsibilities of each party to the contract. Has a small bookseller ever explained to a room full of authors what the real and hidden costs are to accept books on consignment? Or to set up yet another account? What decisions must a bookseller make when one of their wholesalers demands an increase in minimum book orders from , say $50 to $400?

Yes, I am aware that professional organizations like EPIC post acceptable contract language on their web site. What I am suggesting, however, is that passive resistance to evil is not acceptable. I think organizations like MWA, RWA, Sisters in Crime and IBS and trade associations like ABA as well as many others ought to mount aggressive educational campaigns to reveal to new authors and others, just what the business is all about.

I’d like to see a business track designed for new authors at Malice, at Bouchercon, at Left Coast Crime, to name just a few. For far too long, it seems to me, the publishing business, in all its facets, has just been going along with practices developed over years of neglect rather than with proactive profit-centric attitudes. Better books, better agenting and editing, better distribution can only result in better literacy and more profits for everybody.