Fiction Review

Interview with Isabella Maldonado

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Isabella Maldonado

Isabella Maldonado is the author of the debut mystery, Blood’s Echo. It’s not that a debut author doesn’t need an introduction. But Maldonado’s personal story is so fascinating that I’ll let her answer the questions. You should read her answers

Isabella, would you introduce yourself to the readers?

My journey to publication took a 22-year detour. I always planned to write, but also wanted to be a police officer. I joined the force right out of college and, over two decades later, retired at the rank of captain. While on the department, I was a patrol officer, hostage negotiator, spokesperson, and recruit instructor at the police academy.  After being promoted, I was a patrol sergeant and lieutenant. Finally, as a captain, I commanded the Special Investigations and Forensics Division, Gang Council, Public Information Office, and a patrol precinct with over 130 officers, detectives and civilian employees.

One of my most memorable experiences was graduating from the FBI National Academy in Quantico, which involved eleven weeks of physically and mentally challenging study for law enforcement executives from around the world.

After retiring and moving to Arizona in 2010, I joined the Sisters in Crime Desert Sleuths Chapter with the goal of embarking on a second career as a crime fiction writer. For five years, I studied writing and published three short stories. In 2015, at the annual “Write Now!” conference in Scottsdale, I pitched to Terri Bischoff, Acquiring Editor for Midnight Ink, and was subsequently offered a three-book deal. The first book in the Veranda Cruz series, Blood’s Echo, debuted in March and is now available in hardcover, paperback, and digital formats. I’m finalizing edits on book two while writing book three…still have to pinch myself!

Tell us about Blood’s Echo, without spoilers.

Blood's Echo

Detective Veranda Cruz is on a mission to bring down the Villalobos cartel. Not content to simply sell drugs, the sprawling criminal empire engages in human trafficking, computer crimes, money laundering, and illegal weapons. Every cop wants to put cuffs on Bartolo Villalobos, but Veranda is determined to see him behind bars for her own reasons.

After a two-year investigation, she’s on the verge of success, but her quarry is one step ahead of her. Bartolo not only evades her trap, but unearths Veranda’s secret and uses it against her. As she races to solve the mystery of Bartolo’s power, she’s thrown into the path of a hot arson investigator and an overzealous Internal Affairs sergeant.

Veranda is surrounded by a large, loving family and shares a special bond with her mother, who sacrificed everything to give her a better life. Horrified, Veranda learns the consequences of her determination to end the Villalobos family’s stranglehold on Phoenix when those she loves are put squarely in their crosshairs. As Bartolo closes in, Veranda draws on her experience as an undercover detective to make the most heart-wrenching decision of her life.

You’ve kicked off a new police procedural series with Blood’s Echo. Can you give us some hints about the second book?

The second book picks up six weeks after Blood’s Echo ends. The wild ride from the first story creates repercussions for the characters, and the second installment continues their journey.

As firstborn son, Adolfo Villalobos seeks his rightful place at the helm of the cartel, but must prove himself to his own family. Sensing weakness, rival crime bosses encroach on his territory. When Veranda goes after him, he’s fighting on three fronts and lashes out, cutting a swath of destruction through downtown Phoenix and making national headlines. The FBI, along with an alphabet soup of federal agencies, creates an inter-agency minefield Veranda must navigate.

Veranda’s career, relationship with her family, and inner strength are tested to the breaking point as she pursues a murderous crime boss who’s determined not just to kill her, but to utterly humiliate and destroy her.

Why did you decide to write crime fiction?

As a cop, I had to delve into the psyche of both perpetrators and victims to conduct investigations. I want to give readers a peek into what police do and how much it costs them and their families. So often, what we see on television or in movies is far from reality. Some of this is by necessity due to the constraints of the medium, but novels lend themselves to a more complete portrayal. I owe it to my fellow law enforcement officers to be relentlessly authentic, and that’s what I’ve endeavored to do.

Readers will undoubtedly think of your career when they think of Veranda. What was your most unusual experience that you can tell us about?

When I was a uniform patrol officer early in my career, a detective asked me to help him serve a burglary arrest warrant. When we arrived at the suspect’s apartment, which was little more than a tenement, we found him with his wife and two-year-old son. It was near the holidays, and the young father hadn’t told his family the presents he’d gotten for them were stolen. He’d broken into a business office and taken a stereo for his wife and an enormous stuffed bear for his son.

When we entered the apartment, I was shocked to see they had no furniture. They all slept together on a mattress on the floor and ate at a rickety card table. The stolen items were the only other things in the tiny apartment. As his wife sobbed, the man came to me, head bowed, and held out his wrists.

The little boy watched as I handcuffed his father. The detective retrieved the stereo, and directed me to confiscate the bear, which was not only stolen property, but evidence. My stomach twisting into knots, I approached the toddler, who clutched the bear as tears rolled down his face. I had just taken his father, and now I would take his only toy. He wouldn’t let go, and his mother was too hysterical to help.

I had to gently pry the teddy bear out of his little arms. My efforts to console him were useless. I realized that this is what the child would think of the police. That we were monsters who took away his daddy and his only toy. This was not why I became a cop, and I had to make it right.

After we booked the father, I asked my captain for permission to purchase a big stuffed bear and take it to the child as a replacement. An hour later, I knocked at the door of the apartment holding the biggest stuffed teddy bear I could find at the local toy store. When I walked in, the boy was playing with an empty toothpaste tube. His mother had nothing else to give him.

What happened next changed everything. My captain contacted a reporter with the Washington Post, who subsequently interviewed me about what happened. The next day, the story ran as a feature in the Metro section. It was meant to be a story about a tender-hearted cop (and I took some ribbing from my fellow officers about it), but it morphed into something much more significant.

Gifts for the family began appearing at our police station. People brought toys, food, furniture, books, and clothing for the family. Over the next few days, the pile grew until we had to use the conference room to hold the donated items. Television news got wind of the story and sent camera crews to cover the outpouring from the community.

It soon became apparent there was more than enough for the small family in their little apartment. I spoke to the mother, who readily agreed, and we made arrangements to share the items with other needy families in the building. A moving company volunteered to transport what was now a trailer full of goods to the complex, where many low-income families were able to have books to read, eat healthy food, and sleep in a real bed for the first time.

So many impoverished children and their families ended up having an amazing Christmas that year. The father served a short sentence, and promised to find a way to provide for his family that didn’t involve theft. To this day, when Christmas rolls around, I think of that family and how the whole community rallied to support them. I’m also grateful for one little boy who won’t think of the police as heartless.

What authors have inspired you?

As a child, the first book that blew my mind was A Wrinkle in Time. The idea that a writer could transport me to another dimension amazed me.

When I was a police lieutenant, a senior patrol officer in his fifties recommended the Harry Potter series…how could I resist? That began a love affair with all things JK Rowling (and Robert Gilbraith) that still goes on to this day.

As a female crime writer, I owe a lot to Sara Paretsky. Not only did she pave the way for other women to break into a traditionally male-dominated genre, she also helped found Sisters in Crime. I have been a member for seven years, and served as the Phoenix chapter president in 2015. One of my highlights was meeting Ms. Paretsky, who came to speak at our annual conference that year.

Other than your own, name several books you would never part with.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, The Black Echo by Michael Connelly, One for the Money by Janet Evanovich, The Stand by Stephen King, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling, and You are a Badass by Jen Sincero.

What’s on your TBR (To Be Read) pile?

Unsub, by Meg Gardiner, A Reek of Red Herrings by Catriona McPherson, Carved in Stone by Maegan Beaumont, The Accidental Alchemist by Gigi Pandian, Pandora’s Legion by Harold Coyle and Barrett Tillman, Paying the Piper by Simon Wood, and The Kept Woman by Karin Slaughter.

You live in my favorite state, Arizona. What’s your favorite place to take visitors when they come?

If the visitor is outdoorsy, there’s nothing more spectacular than the red rocks of Sedona or the Grand Canyon. If the visitor is the type who likes to be pampered, the spa at the Phoenician Resort is truly in a class by itself. But no trip to Arizona would be complete without eating at the best authentic Mexican restaurant in the state: The Barrio Queen in Scottsdale.


You can find signed copies of Isabella Maldonado’s Blood’s Echo through the Web Store.


CozyCon @ The Poisoned Pen

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The Poisoned Pen’s CozyCon is an afternoon of authors, panels, discussions, and refreshments. There are lots of photos here. And, there are even more pictures on The Poisoned Pen’s Pinterest site, courtesy of Cathy Cole.

What do authors do before an event? Hang out in the green room, or, in this case, the newly remodeled addition space that The Pen took over.

Left to right – CS Harris, Paige Shelton, Hannah Dennison, (hidden-Jenn McKinlay), Vince & Rosemarie Keenan (Renee Patrick), Tessa Arlen, Francine Mathews
Francine Mathews, Megan Miranda, Jennifer McMahon
Tessa Arlen, Rob Rosenwald (owner of Poisoned Pen Press), Francine Mathews

Now for the event –

Tessa Arlen and CS Harris
Barbara Peters, owner of The Poisoned Pen, with Rosemarie & Vince Keenan, who write under the name Renee Patrick
Left to right – Jennifer McMahon, Megan Miranda, Jenn McKinlay, Hannah Dennison, Paige Shelton, Francine Mathews
Vince & Rosemarie Keenan (Renee Patrick)
Jennifer McMahon and Megan Miranda
Barbara Peters and Francine Mathews


Paige Shelton, Hannah Dennison, Jenn McKinlay, and John Charles from The Poisoned Pen
Paige Shelton and Hannah Dennison
Jenn McKinlay and John Charles

And, one last photo because it’s a great picture of Cathy Cole, who does the Pinterest site and some of the social media for The Poisoned Pen.

Cathy Cole

Looking for mysteries? Check out the Web Store and look for the authors who participated in CozyCon.

Hot Title of the Week – David Baldacci’s The Fix

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The latest Memory Man novel, David Baldacci’s The Fix, is The Poisoned Pen’s Hot Book of the Week.


Here’s the summary.

Amos Decker witnesses a murder just outside FBI headquarters. A man shoots a woman execution-style on a crowded sidewalk, then turns the gun on himself.

Even with Decker’s extraordinary powers of observation and deduction, the killing is baffling. Decker and his team can find absolutely no connection between the shooter–a family man with a successful consulting business–and his victim, a schoolteacher. Nor is there a hint of any possible motive for the attack.

Enter Harper Brown. An agent of the Defense Intelligence Agency, she orders Decker to back off the case. The murder is part of an open DIA investigation, one so classified that Decker and his team aren’t cleared for it.

But they learn that the DIA believes solving the murder is now a matter of urgent national security. Critical information may have been leaked to a hostile government–or worse, an international terrorist group–and an attack may be imminent.

Decker’s never been one to follow the rules, especially with the stakes so high. Forced into an uneasy alliance with Agent Brown, Decker remains laser focused on only one goal: solving the case before it’s too late.


Would you like a signed copy of David Baldacci’s latest? You can order The Fix through the Web Store.

Jeff Guinn, author of The Road to Jonestown

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Jeff Guinn, author of The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple, will be at The Poisoned Pen on Wednesday, April 26 at 7 PM.

Road to Jonestown

Reporter Robert Anglen from The Arizona Republic will discuss the book with Guinn. Anglen has written a fascinating review of the book.

If you can’t make it to the program on Wednesday, you may still want to buy a signed copy of The Road to Jonestown after reading Anglen’s review. You can order a copy through the Web Store.

Jeffery Deaver @ The Poisoned Pen

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Lincoln Rhyme is back! And, Jeffery Deaver talked about him at The Poisoned Pen since he is on book tour for The Burial Hour.

Burial Hour

Here’s the summary of the new book.

Forensic detective Lincoln Rhyme is back with his most harrowing case yet in this newest installment of Jeffrey Deaver’s New York Times bestselling series.

A businessman snatched from an Upper East Side street in broad daylight. A miniature hangman’s noose left at the scene. A nine-year-old girl, the only witness to the crime. With a crime scene this puzzling, forensic expertise of the highest order is absolutely essential. Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs are called in to investigate.

Soon the case takes a stranger turn: a recording surfaces of the victim being slowly hanged, his desperate gasps the backdrop to an eerie piece of music. The video is marked as the work of The Composer…

Despite their best efforts, the suspect gets away. So when a similar kidnapping occurs on a dusty road outside Naples, Italy, Rhyme and Sachs don’t hesitate to rejoin the hunt.

But the search is now a complex case of international cooperation–and not all those involved may be who they seem. Sachs and Rhyme find themselves playing a dangerous game, with lives all across the globe hanging in the balance.


If you listen to Jeffery Deaver talk with Barbara Peters, owner of The Poisoned Pen, you’ll hear them talk about the slight changes in Lincoln Rhyme’s physical condition. You can watch the event on Livestream.

Check out the photos from the evening.

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Jeffery Deaver
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Deaver and Barbara Peters

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Barbara Peters giving away a copy of Eliot Pattison’s Water Touching Stone to a lucky audience member
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The book signing line

Don’t forget! You can order a signed copy of The Burial Hour through the Web Store.

Greg Iles @ The Poisoned Pen

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Greg Iles’ concluding novel in his Natchez Burning trilogy, Mississippi Blood, has been on the New York Times Best Sellers list for several weeks now.

Mississippi Blood

Rather than summarize the book, you can watch Iles discuss it with Barbara Peters, owner of The Poisoned Pen, on Livestream.

Don’t feel bad if you didn’t make it to the program. Two hundred people did, and Iles offered them money to give up their seats.

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Signing copies of Mississippi Blood
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Barbara Peters and Greg Iles
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Greg Iles
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Ready for the in-person book signing
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The signing line

If you didn’t get to the event, you can still purchase a signed copy of Mississippi Blood through the Web Store.


Lisa Preston – An Interview

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Once in a while, I get the chance to interview authors. Today, I’m talking with Lisa Preston, author of The Measure of the Moon.

Lisa Preston

Lisa, would you introduce yourself to the readers?

I am, of course, a lifelong reader and I wrote in childhood, starting with horse stories because I couldn’t find enough of them. I still write what I’d like to read: character-driven revelations, stories moved forward by interesting people in interesting situations.

Introduce us to Greer and Gillian from The Measure of the Moon.

Greer is a rural boy, the youngest child in a rowdy family, with five grown siblings. Gillian is a thirties-something photographer and film rescuer in Seattle who is dysphoric in her marriage to a good guy, and she needs to figure that out.

Measure of the Moon

Tell us about The Measure of the Moon, without spoilers.

As a whole, this is a novel about protecting the people you love. Moon explores childhood post-traumatic stress through parallel stories. The link between Greer and Gillian’s lives is a good guess for some readers, while other reviewers are gobsmacked. I love those different reactions to Moon.

The Measure of the Moon has some very dark elements. How do you escape from the dark side in your daily life?

Realistically, I think many of us aren’t free of those dark slices of life, but living through tough events with healthy choices makes all the difference. Bringing that hope forward in my novels lets the reader find a satisfying resolution.

Alaska and Washington. You’ve lived both places as an adult. What are your favorite spots to take visitors?

I love open country. I take friends to the trails and the big views, whether on the shore, looking up to my mountains, or high in the hills, gazing out to the sea.

You’ve been a paramedic and a police officer. What was the most unusual work experience that you can tell us about?

Those jobs make you clean up after some of the most shocking, heartbreaking and unbelievable human behaviors. Delivering secret babies was a challenge. There was a teen who’d successfully hidden her pregnancy from her parents, and a bathtub birth from a woman who’d hidden it from her husband. The latter call necessitated police protection for the woman and for us in the Fire Department. Death notifications I delivered as a cop are stuck in my memory, as are so many bizarre and ugly events that I expect most civilians really do not want to know.

What made you decide to write fiction?

I’ve always been a reader and loved great fiction. As a child, I’d pause after finishing a good story and want to give back the pleasure that the novelist lavished on me. I love the timelessness of good books.

What authors have inspired you?

The first was in childhood, when Mrs. Kendall read Wilson Rawls’s Where the Red Fern Grows aloud to our class. It was my favorite part of third grade. Hearing a wonderful story unfold lets the mind run free. I’ve read countless good works since then, with many more to come.

What author would you like to recommend who you think has been underappreciated?

With a nod to my friend Jo-Ann Mapson who recommended this novel to me, I suggest Joyce Weatherford’s Heart of the Beast, which deserved its wonderful reviews.

You attended Left Coast Crime in Hawaii. What was your favorite experience at the conference?

Honolulu Havoc was a hoot. I got to: say hi to Barbara and Robert; give a talk at the ‘Meet the New Authors’ Breakfast; co-host a banquet table with the lovely Catriona MacPherson; moderate a roaring panel featuring Doug Lyle, Patty Smiley, Ellen Kirschman, AK Gunn, Bette Lamb and John Burley; then speak on a panel about specialized police work.

The big serendipity of this year’s Left Coast, however, was discovering that the wonderful Janet Rudolph may have been my high school English and Humanities teacher! We’re still combing back through the dates, but she was on her first job where I went to school, at around the same time.

Thank you, Lisa. Lisa Preston’s website is

You can see the book trailer for The Measure of the Moon here.

You can order a copy of the book or the audio book through the Web Store.