Fiction Review

The (Family) Business of Crime

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The Jewish News of Greater Phoenix just published this interesting piece on the Kellermens and their upcoming appearance here at the Poisoned Pen at 7 PM next Tuesday, the 16th of September. Take a minute and check it out. The link is below.


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Dana Haynes, author of four thriller novels from St. Martin’s Press, will offer a workshop and a signing from noon to 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 14, at The Poisoned Pen,  4014 N. Goldwater Blvd. No. 101, Scottsdale, AZ. (


His latest novel, GUN METAL HEART, has just been released under the Minotaur Books imprint of St. Martin’s Press. (

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Haynes will offer a workshop titled, “It Ain’t Rocket Surgery — Secrets to Make Novel Writing Easier.” Haynes helps aspiring writers master the shortcuts and tricks of the trade that will help them get from concept to those ellusive words, “The End.”


In GUN METAL HEART, Daria Gibron is a former soldier and spy now working as a freelance operative with a long and deadly history. While hiding in Italy from her various enemies, Daria gets dragged into battle against a Serbian hit squad, a renegade band of ex-CIA agents, and a woman whose skills and background are a match for Daria. The tale rockets from Florence, through the mountains of France, and into the former Yugoslavia, including Sarajevo and Belgrade.


Daria made her debut in Haynes’s 2010 thriller CRASHERS, which focused on a team of airline crash investigators. She also appeared in Haynes’s BREAKING POINT and Daria’s own breakout novel, ICE COLD KILL.


The reviews for GUN METAL HEART have been pouring in since its debut in August:


“Fans of the Brad Thor and Robert Ludlum vein have a new author to enjoy.” — RT Book Review.

“A fine entry in a series that’s espionage at its most fun” — Booklist

“Frenetically fast-paced and fun international thriller. Conspiracies, double crosses and drones — oh my!”– Early Word

“What’s a girl to do? If she’s Daria, she kicks butt. … Daria is an arresting character, like a female, petite Jack Reacher.” — Shelf Awareness

“Daria is … irresistible and lethally dangerous … in Haynes’s most fully realized book to date.” —


Kira Peikoff discusses her new book, No Time To Die

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Author Interview Questions

Kira Peikoff author, NO TIME TO DIE

 notimeAuthor photo Kira Peikoff credit Matt Jacob


  1. NO TIME TO DIE focuses on a 20 year-old woman who stopped aging at 14 years-old – where did you get this idea?

A few years back, I saw a documentary on Discovery Health about a young woman who had inexplicably stopped aging. She was almost 20 years old but had stayed frozen as a toddler her whole life, baffling doctors and scientists alike. The case caught my attention because I’ve always been interested in medical mysteries, and like many people, I’m also fixated on the promise of eternal youth. Yet staying young forever, as welcome as it might be, could also be a curse. I decided to explore it further in a novel, but I didn’t want my protagonist stuck as a toddler without much mental or emotional capacity.  So I decided to trap her in the worst possible page for maximum drama and frustration. What could be worse than 14?

  1. Do you think scientists will find a cure for aging?

Some leading researchers believe the end of aging is within reach–perhaps in the next century. One respected scientist, Aubrey de Gray, thinks that the first person who will live to age 1,000 is already alive now.

  1. How did you choose the thriller genre?

I feel into it by accident. When I started writing fiction, I gravitated toward stories with high stakes, increasing tension, cliffhanger chapters, and a fast pace. I didn’t actually intend to write in any genre, but after I wrote my first book, I realized I’d written a thriller.

  1. NO TIME TO DIE offers some great surprises, twist and turns. Who are your biggest influences in the thrillers and suspense genre?

Michael Crichton, Michael Palmer, Lisa Unger, Gillian Flynn. If you want to get old-school, I would add O. Henry and one of my favorite books as a teen: The Scarlet Pimpernel.

  1. As a writer, how can you explore differently in your works of fiction vs. your non-fiction articles for publications?

The threshold for exactness is much looser in fiction. In non-fiction, I am careful to be extremely accurate in my reporting. Accuracy to a journalist is like steadiness to a surgeon. You’re useless without it. (You won’t accidentally kill anyone–one nice thing about being a writer–but you might damage someone’s reputation by misrepresenting a source.) In fiction, there’s greater freedom to stray without that kind of accountability. I try to stay as true-to-life still as I can, but I do have to stretch and imagine a lot, which makes it more fun and also a hundred times harder.

  1. NO TIME TO DIE – how was the book title chosen?

 My wonderful late mentor, Michael Palmer, suggested the title to me when I told him I was stuck on a title. (Titles are impossible.) Everyone at the publishing house immediately liked it, so we went with it. It’s extra meaningful because Michael died shortly after I turned in the final manuscript. It was one of the last novels he read.

  1. In NO TIME TO DIE, one of the main reasons scientists are busy researching defying aging is because: they have a back story. Many have a loved one they wish could have lived longer  – it’s a very human side to all the scientific lab work involved – was your writing process different when explaining the scientific lab work vs. the human and emotional side of your characters?

Yes, writing about the lab work was more of an intellectual challenge, because I had to figure out how to incorporate real-life details with fictional ones. It was like a puzzle. Writing about the human side came more naturally. I tried to tap into how I might feel in their place, and why I might do what they were doing, so I could access that yearning and vulnerability.

  1. What do you hope readers will gain from reading NO TIME TO DIE?

First and foremost, that they will be transported on a thrilling and satisfying journey with characters they’ve become invested in. Then: that they’ll possibly think about their own positions on the controversial subjects the book raises, and finally that they will be shocked by the big twist ending.

Jim Chee as Coyote by Professor Barbara Leavy, Poisoned Pen Press author

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       As it is probably unnecessary to say to Tony Hillerman readers, he drew heavily on Navajo mythology and was made by the Navajo an honorary member.  His use of myths went far beyond drawing on them as background.  To invoke a metaphor from the theater, they do not provide a backdrop for his mysteries. Rather, his characters, I would argue, are incarnations of well-known Navajo mythological characters.  Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, for example, correspond to the Monster Slayer twins he often alludes to in his books. And research into the Monster Slayer mythology (is there a better image of crime investigators?) is to realize they are not twins in the usual sense but older and younger brothers.


     Other than the Navajo stories, Hillerman is not an allusive writer, as is Robert Parker, for example, who peppers his mysteries with literary allusions most readers are not likely to pick up.  For those who do, the allusions provide additional fun in reading his books. Even Hawk, in the later books, has become a reader and there is an allusion to a particular author he is reading, Simon Shama, a Harvard scholar of history and writer.  This reference supplies Hawk with another dimension for those who try to fathom this often unfathomable character.


     It is arresting, therefore, to find a particular allusion by Hillerman in one of his early Chee mysteries (sorry I am not taking time now to consult my notes).  Before Chee marries Bernadette Manuelito, he has two failed relationships with Anglo or part-Anglo women.  One of these as I remember is Janet Peete, whom he takes to see his trailer home. Not for the perhaps usual reason—Hillerman once announced that he received letters for readers asking why he never let Leaphorn or Chee get laid—but just to show her around.  On Chee’s shelves are books and one of these is specifically, again a rare allusion to anything but Navajo myth.  It is by Paul G. Zolbrod and its title is DINE BAHANE: THE NAVAJO CREATION STORY. It is a very readable collection of stories with very significant notes for those interested in the mythology. Despite its readability, it is a very scholarly work with notes to other historians and scholars who have studied the Navajos and their myths.


     One of these notes  has to do with the Navajo version of the Coyote tales, Coyote a figure written about widely and told in stories of many tribes.  This is what Zolbrod argues, and it is in my reading experience a unique approach to this mythological figure. He says that Coyote is the individualist among Navajo mythological figures. Those of us who have read the Chee books know that he does often march to a different drummer and he oscillates between continuing as a tribal policeman and joining the FBI, as he takes investigative roads that are often at odds with his superiors, later Joe Leaphorn until Leaphorn retires and, like Ruth Rendell’s Inspector Reginald Wexford, works unofficially from the sidelines.  Chee certainly is within his culture an individualist and finding his place in that culture although he consistently studies the rituals of his people. It is interesting to note that Hillerman said he invented Chee when, because of a movie contract, he lost for a period of time exclusive rights to Leaphorn.  In the later books both Leaphorn and Chee appear.


     Did Hillerman intend that some of his readers would pick up his allusion to Zolbrod and his interpretation of Coyote?  Or was he intending to suggest a very good book on Navajo mythology to those who wanted to know more about it.  He may very well have made the connection to Chee and Coyote but that would be hard for me to prove definitively based on secondary material that exists.  And the first Chee novel was published in 1980  and Zolbrod’s book is copyrighted 1987 (University of New Mexico Press). When he decided to create Jim Chee, he did have at hand the figure of the younger Monster Slayer, and Chee is certainly reflected in Coyote. Fine writers have a special creative imagination and while research may be reflected in their work, it would be unusual for a secondary source to shape the essentials of their major characters. 


     More likely, Hillerman, who must have read many of Zolbrod’s sources, found in the latter’s notes an interpretation of Coyote he had already written into Jim Chee.  I have certainly not read all of the books on Navajo myth available, but I have read the major ones, such as that by Gladys Reichard, as well as the works of the many folklorists cited in Zolbrod’s bibliography, who write not only on Navajo myth but the mythology of other peoples and, theoretically, on folklore in general.


Hand of Fire by Judith Starkston

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Hand of FireJudith Starkston

     In Hand of Fire author Starkston has pulled off a remarkable feat.  She has taken a briefly mentioned character from Homer’s Iliad(whether she actually existed is debatable) and brought her to life.  Impeccably researched, this fictional realization of the Bronze Age, in all its quotidian and cosmological aspects, ensnares the reader in a story that is both alluring in its strangeness and all too close to our own present day.
Through Briseis, our heroine, Starkston presents an alternate view of the Iliad.  Seen through the eyes of a young woman, who because of her status, becomes a pawn in the powerful forces that raged in Troy at the time, we become privy to a version of the story that is unique.
While Homer is a combination of history and mythology this book weds these themes in a straight forward manner that makes it all accessible to the modern reader.  I was fascinated by Starkston’s view of Achilles.  We see him via the sensibility of Briseis, who loves him, while his struggles, both mythological and existential, rage within and without.
Most readers will already be familiar with the broad outlines of Homers epic so I will forgo reiterating the plot.  For those who do not know Homer’s tale then this is a great place to learn about it.  What I will emphasize is that once one begins this tale one is transported back thousands of years to a time both ancient and modern all at the same time.  Reading Hand of Fire is akin to entering a time machine.  I felt the age come alive through Starkston’s subtle manipulation of her research and her narrative skill.  These fully fleshed-out characters leap off the page and a time that is far away chronologically becomes all too real.  This a wonderful introduction to both Homer and the late Bronze Age.  Any reader from teen-ager on up will find this both a fascinating history lesson and a thrilling novel.
Judith Starkston will be appearing at the Poisoned Pen bookstore on September 10th at 7 pm to discuss and sign this wonderful novel.Reviewed by Steve Shadow Schwartz