Fiction Review

Suzanne Chazin, “He Said, She Said”

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Suszanne Chazin, author of the Jimmy Vega mysteries, agreed to write a guest post, not an easy job when it’s hard to concentrate right now. Chazin’s latest, Voice with No Echo, is released on Tuesday, March 31. You can order copies of Chazin’s books through the Web Store.


                He said/She said: Why I love male and female leads in mysteries 

     I’ve been binge-reading some of my favorite mystery series while we’re in lock-down here in New York: Dennis Lehane’s old Patrick Kenzie/Angela Gennaro novels, S.J. Rozan’s Bill Smith/Lydia Chin books and the Russ Van Alstyne/Clare Fergusson series by Julia Spencer-Fleming. Notice a pattern? All of them have both male and female protagonists. Just like my Jimmy Vega series, which features a homicide detective and his immigrant-activist girlfriend solving crimes in upstate New York. 

     Some people read a mystery series for the breathless action, the bravado of the main character or the cleverness of the crime. I’ve always been drawn to series where the crime is almost secondary to the sexual tension between the main protagonists. It doesn’t matter whether they end up romantically involved or even stay romantically involved. Just having these sorts of questions running through a story keeps me turning pages and waiting impatiently for the next book in the series. Will they sleep together? If they do, will they regret it? Will they stay together? Will someone or something come along to break them up? 

    Here’s my favorite story arc (and one I use in the Jimmy Vega series): the two main characters each have a stake in the crime. They start off actively disliking each other. But as the action moves along, they find they have more in common than they first realized. Dislike slowly evolves into grudging respect and finally, romance (or at least, a sense of romantic connection). There are often a ton of false steps in between and often, over the course of a series, their relationship moves up and down with each new crime or moment of self-discovery. 

     In Jimmy’s case, he’s a 43-year-old county homicide detective in upstate New York, wrestling with the death of his mother, the estrangement of his teenage daughter and a sense of rootlessness from abandoning his Puerto Rican heritage in favor of his (now ex) wife’s Jewish culture. He’s called in to a small town in his jurisdiction to help investigate the death of a Hispanic woman found in a reservoir. In the victim’s handbag, he finds a photograph of a young child and a note: Go back to your country. You don’t belong here. Was this a hate crime? And if so, where is the child? 

     To solve the mystery, Jimmy needs help from the Hispanic community. He turns to the head of the local immigrant advocacy center, a Harvard-educated attorney named Adele Figueroa, a woman as fiery and complex as Jimmy. Adele, like Jimmy, is New York born and Hispanic. But their backgrounds differ. Jimmy is the child of a Puerto Rican single mother. He knew poverty and discrimination growing up, but he never lived in fear of being deported. Adele’s parents, by comparison, were teachers in Ecuador who came to the United States without papers and worked themselves to death to give her and her sister a better life. She wants to solve this crime and find the perpetrator as much as Jimmy, but her background makes her naturally suspicious of the police.  

     Of course, the sparks fly. That’s where the fun comes in. Jimmy and Adele don’t share the same politics, world view or faith in the law. There are things Jimmy, as a cop, can’t tell Adele and things that Adele, who feels an allegiance to her (often-undocumented) clients can’t share with Jimmy. Yet, they must work together, not just in one book, but throughout my whole series. 

     Writing about Jimmy and Adele is by far, the most fun I have with each of my books. (My fifth just came out and my sixth is due out next year). I love writing mysteries full of red herrings and action. I love when readers write me that they never guessed the ending. But for me, the relationship between my main characters is what always keeps me going. 

     The challenge for a series writer of course, is to keep it fresh. If two characters fall in love, then what? I solve the dilemma by creating new dilemmas. Is there a decision Adele must make that will impact Jimmy? Is there a secret Jimmy is keeping from Adele? For instance, in my second Jimmy Vega novel, Adele has an opportunity to take a new job in Washington, DC that might potentially take her out of Jimmy’s life forever. In my third book, Jimmy makes a tragic mistake that threatens to imperil not only his career but hers. There are tough decisions in each book that characters have to make—with repercussions that will follow them throughout the series. Sometimes, even I don’t know the outcomes until I write them. 

     Just as our real-life relationships are always evolving, so too, do fictional ones. How do characters cope with changes to their personal lives and careers? Does one crave intimacy more than the other? Is one more secretive? Is one more daring? A satisfying relationship in a mystery series grows as the series grows. That’s what makes it fun to watch. 

     Life is challenging right now, I know. We need our friends and families to help keep us sane. But what we also need right now is escape. Suspense, thrills, and yes—romance. What better way to find it while we are social distancing than watching characters make up and break up while solving a good mystery? 


Here’s the description of Voice with No Echo.

A long-buried family secret and a chance encounter with an estranged sibling force police detective Jimmy Vega to confront his deepest fears in this gripping new mystery by award-winning author Suzanne Chazin . . .

It’s spring in Lake Holly, New York, a time of hope and renewal. But not for immigrants in this picturesque upstate town. Raids and deportations are on the rise, spurring fear throughout the community. 
Tensions reach the boiling point when the district attorney’s beautiful young bride is found hanging in her flooded basement, an apparent victim of suicide. But is she, wonders Vega? If so, where is her undocumented immigrant maid? Is she a missing witness, afraid to come forward? Or an accessory to murder?
Vega gets more help than he bargained for when Immigration and Customs Enforcement sends an investigator to help find—and likely deport—the maid. It’s Vega’s half-sister Michelle, the child who caused his father to leave his mother. Now an ICE agent, Michelle tangles with Vega and his girlfriend, immigrant activist Adele Figueroa. The law is the law, Michelle reminds Vega. And yet, his heart tells him he needs to dig deeper, not just into the case but into his past, to a childhood terror only Michelle can unlock.
While Vega searches for the demon from his youth, he discovers one uncomfortably close by, erecting a scheme of monstrous proportions. It’s a race against the clock with lives on the line. And a choice Vega never thought he’d have to make: Obey the law. Or obey his conscience. There’s no margin for error . . .


   Suzanne Chazi n is a former journalist and the award-winning author of two suspense series. Her latest stars Hispanic homicide detective Jimmy Vega, an upstate New York cop wrestling with the new suburban melting pot and his own complicated place in it.  

The series has received glowing reviews for its authentic portrayal of immigrants and its timely and realistic storylines. Suzanne drew inspiration for the books from her volunteer work with immigrants and her own childhood as a first-generation American. Voice with No Echo, the fifth and latest installment, will be released March 31st. 

Suzanne’s prior mystery series stars Georgia Skeehan, a New York City firefighter-turned-fire-investigator solving arsons in the macho world of the FDNY. USA Today called the series, inspired by her husband, an FDNY veteran, “searing and emotionally explosive.”    When she’s not writing, Suzanne can be found burning dinner, helping with homework and trying to find her muse beneath two feet of laundry. Find her at:

Matthew Quirk’s “Hour of the Assassin” Virtual Event

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It’s no April Fool’s joke that Matthew Quirk will discuss his latest book, Hour of the Assassin, for a Poisoned Pen virtual event on Wednesday, April 1 at 6 PM MST.

And, even if you can’t attend an in-person event right now, you can still order a signed copy of Quirk’s latest book through the Web Store. If you pre-order books, it helps the author, so you might want to consider ordering Hour of the Assassin now.

Matthew Quirk will be discussing Hour of the Assassin with Barbara Peters, owner of The Poisoned Pen via Skype and it will be broadcast live on our Facebook Channel. Watch in real time and submit questions for Matthew, or catch it later on FB or Youtube!

Here’s the description of Hour of the Assassin.

“Quirk has earned his spot in the front ranks of thriller writers. Opens with a bang and keeps exploding for three hundred pages.” —David Baldacci, New York Times bestselling author of A Minute to Midnight

Framed and on the run for his life, a former Secret Service agent discovers how far some men will go to grasp the highest office in the land in this electrifying tale from the author of The Night Agent—a propulsive political thriller reminiscent of the best early Baldacci and Grisham novels.

As a Secret Service agent, Nick Averose spent a decade protecting the most powerful men and women in America and developed a unique gift: the ability to think like an assassin. Now, he uses that skill in a little-known but crucial job. As a “red teamer,” he poses as a threat, testing the security around our highest officials to find vulnerabilities—before our enemies can. He is a mock killer, capable of slipping past even the best defenses.

His latest assignment is to assess the security surrounding the former CIA director at his DC area home. But soon after he breaches the man’s study, the home’s inner sanctum, Nick finds himself entangled in a vicious crime that will shake Washington to its foundations—as all the evidence points to Nick.

Nick knows he’s the perfect scapegoat. But who is framing him, and why? To clear his name, he must find the truth—a search that leads to a dark conspiracy whose roots stretch back decades. The prize is the most powerful position in the world: the Oval Office.

To save himself and the people he loves, Nick must stop the men who rule Washington before they bury him along with their secrets. 

“This one is a gritty, intense political thriller, filled with nuance and dire exploits. Totally entertaining. A treat from start to finish. —Steve Berry, author of The Malta Exchange

Don Winslow’s “Broken” Virtual Tour

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Don Winslow may have been forced to cancel his book tour for his new book, Broken, but he’ll be available for Poisoned Pen fans and readers with a virtual event. The “virtual” event will happen on Monday, April 6th at 5pm. Don Winslow will discuss his work with Patrick Millikin and Barbara Peters via Facebook Live. Tune in to watch it in real time, or catch it anytime thereafter. It will also be added to the Youtube Channel. 

Don Winslow will be signing copies of Broken as originally planned, and we’re still accepting orders for signed first edition copies!  Make sure you pre-order a copy of Broken through the Web Store.

Here’s the description of Broken.

“One of America’s greatest storytellers.” – Stephen King

No matter how you come into this world, you come out broken . . . 

In six intense short novels connected by the themes of crime, corruption, vengeance, justice, loss, betrayal, guilt and redemption, Broken is #1 international bestseller Don Winslow at his nerve-shattering, heart-stopping, heartbreaking best. In Broken, he creates a world of high-level thieves and low-life crooks, obsessed cops struggling with life on and off the job, private detectives, dope dealers, bounty hunters and fugitives, the lost souls driving without headlights through the dark night on the American criminal highway.

With his trademark blend of insight, humanity, humor, action and the highest level of literary craftsmanship, Winslow delivers a collection of tales that will become classics of crime fiction.


When Winslow was forced to cancel the actual book tour, the headline in Deadline read, “Coronavirus Scare Prompts Don Winslow To Cancel ‘Broken’ Book Tour.” Fortunately, he’s doing the virtual book tour, and now you can even watch the event the day before release date for Broken.

You’ll probably appreciate this comment in Mike Fleming Jr.’s article in Deadline. Fleming quotes Don Winslow. “I remember when my career started and no one showed up to see me on tour. One bookseller, Barbara Peters of Poisoned Pen, actually bought a copy of my book from her own store because she felt so bad for me. Independent bookstores stayed with me until my ‘overnight success’ in my mid-50s. I will always be grateful to independent bookstores and I don’t make this decision lightly because I know they will be deeply impacted. Ultimately there is nothing more important than the safety of everyone during this difficult time and that is why I made this decision. However, I truly feel like several of the short novels in Broken represent my best work as a writer and I hope people will seek out and order the book.”


Consider supporting The Poisoned Pen and an author who supports independent bookstores. Check the Web Store, and pre-order a copy of Broken.

English Village Murder Mysteries

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Colin Dexter (Inspector Morse). Elizabeth George (Inspector Lynley). Caroline Graham (Inspector Barnaby). James Runcie (Grantchester). G.K. Chesteron (Father Brown). The characters might be more familiar to fans of English village mysteries than the authors are. In Olivia Rutigliano’s recent article for CrimeReads, she talks about “Quaint English Village Murder Mystery TV Shows with a Million Seasons, For Your Binge-Watching Pleasure During These Hard Times”. You can find the article here.

After you’ve escaped into some of these TV shows, you might want to explore the written world created by the authors. Check The Poisoned Pen’s Web Store for their books, and make your pleasure last even longer.

Hot Book of the Week – City of Margins

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The Poisoned Pen still has a Hot Book of the Week, William Boyle’s City of Margins. And, you can still order a signed copy of the book through the Web Store. Don’t forget! Because the book is more than $25, there’s free shipping if ordered before April 15 to addresses in the United States.

Here’s what you need to know about City of Margins.

A vivid new cast of characters collide in gritty 1990s Brooklyn, in this latest from acclaimed neo-noir author William Boyle.

In City of Margins, the lives of several lost souls intersect in Southern Brooklyn in the early 1990s. There’s Donnie Parascandolo, a disgraced ex-cop with blood on his hands; Ava Bifulco, a widow whose daily work grind is her whole life; Nick, Ava’s son, a grubby high school teacher who dreams of a shortcut to success; Mikey Baldini, a college dropout who’s returned to the old neighborhood, purposeless and drifting; Donna Rotante, Donnie’s ex-wife, still reeling from the suicide of their teenage son; Mikey’s mother, Rosemarie, also a widow, who hopes Mikey won’t fall into the trap of strong arm work; and Antonina Divino, a high school girl with designs on breaking free from Brooklyn. Uniting them are the dead: Mikey’s old man, killed over a gambling debt, and Donnie and Donna’s poor son, Gabe.

These characters cross paths in unexpected ways, guided by coincidence and the pull of blood. There are new things to be found in the rubble of their lives, too. The promise of something different beyond the barriers that have been set out for them. This is a story of revenge and retribution, of facing down the ghosts of the past, of untold desires, of yearning and forgiveness and synchronicity, of the great distance of lives lived in dangerous proximity to each other. City of Margins is a Technicolor noir melodrama pieced together in broken glass.

The 2020 Lefty Awards

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The Lefty Awards are usually presented at Left Coast Crime. This year, the conference was abruptly cut short, and voting had to be handled in a different manner. Voting has concluded, and the winners of the awards have been announced. Check the Web Store for copies of the books by the winners and nominees.

Congratulations to all the nominees and winners of the 2020 Lefty Awards!

Lefty for Best Humorous Mystery Novel

The nominees are

  • Ellen Byron, Fatal Cajun Festival (Crooked Lane Books)
  • Leslie Karst, Murder from Scratch (Crooked Lane Books)
  • Cynthia Kuhn, The Subject of Malice (Henery Press)
  • Catriona McPherson, Scot & Soda (Midnight Ink)
  • Wendall Thomas, Drowned Under (Poisoned Pen Press)

And, the winner is: Catriona McPerson, Scot & Soda.

Lefty for Best Historical Mystery Novel

The nominees are

  • Susanna Calkins, Murder Knocks Twice (Minotaur Books)
  • L.A. Chandlar, The Pearl Dagger (Kensington Books)
  • Dianne Freeman, A Lady’s Guide to Gossip and Murder (Kensington Books)
  • Jennifer Kincheloe, The Body in Griffith Park (Seventh Street Books)
  • Sujata Massey, The Satapur Moonstone (Soho Crime)

And, the winner is: Sujata Massey, The Satapur Moonstone

Lefty for Best Debut Mystery Novel

The nominees are

  • Tori Eldridge, The Ninja Daughter (Agora Books)
  • Angie Kim, Miracle Creek (Sarah Crichton Books)
  • Tara Laskowski, One Night Gone (Graydon House)
  • John Vercher, Three-Fifths (Agora Books)
  • Carl Vonderau, Murderabilia (Midnight Ink)

And, the winner is: Carl Vonderau, Murderabilia

Lefty for Best Mystery Novel

The nominees are

  • Steph Cha, Your House Will Pay (Ecco)
  • Tracy Clark, Borrowed Time (Kensington Books)
  • Matt Coyle, Lost Tomorrows (Oceanview Publishing)
  • Rachel Howzell Hall, They All Fall Down (Forge Books)
  • Attica Locke, Heaven, My Home (Mulholland Books)

And, the winner is: Matt Coyle, Lost Tomorrows

Again, congratulations to all the winners and nominees!

The Poisoned Pen's Virtual Events

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With The Poisoned Pen closed to foot traffic, the bookstore is still offering you the chance to hear authors discuss their latest books. After you’ve watched the event on Facebook Live, most of them will be posted on the store’s YouTube channel. You can not only still see the author, but, you can still order signed copies of many of the books through the Web Store. They may take a little while to arrive, but most of us now have the time to wait for the book, and savor it when it does. Check out the Web Store.

Check out the schedule of authors who will be participating in Virtual Events, usually discussions with Barbara Peters, owner of The Poisoned Pen.

Check out our Virtual Events!

James Rollins
Kathy Reichs
William Kent Krueger
Matthew Quirk
Don Winslow
Julia Spencer-Fleming
C.S. Harris
Jack Carr
Cara Black