Fiction Review

Dana Stabenow and a Dragon

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I’m not going to give away the punchline of this story. Dana Stabenow shared a fun story about her new book, Silk and Song. She’s been signing copies, and they’re available through the Web Store.

Dana and Books

Here’s the link to Dana’s post about a dragon.

Clea Simon’s Favorites of 2017

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Clea Simon

Author Clea Simon once covered the music scene, and she loves cats. That sentence is actually a good introduction to her latest suspense novel, World Enough, and to her four mystery series. Clea’s Pru Marlowe pet noir books, and her Theda Krakow series are both published by Poisoned Pen Press. Like her two series from Severn House, cats are essential characters in the mysteries. Those books, and World Enough, are available through the Web Store.

Here’s the summary of her November release, World Enough.

World Enough

“Clea Simon writes with authority and affection about a lost world. Highly recommended”
Catriona McPherson

This intriguing, hardhitting, intricately-plotted mystery set in Boston’s clubland marks an exciting new departure for cozy author Clea Simon. 

The Boston club scene may be home to a cast of outsiders and misfits, but it’s where Tara Winton belongs; the world she’s been part of for the past twenty years. Now, one of the old gang is dead, having fallen down the basement stairs at his home.

With her journalist’s instincts, Tara senses there’s something not quite right about Frank’s supposedly accidental death. When she asks questions, she begins to uncover some disturbing truths about the club scene in its heyday. Beneath the heady, sexually charged atmosphere lurked something darker. Twenty years ago, there was another death. Could there be a connection? Is there a killer still at large … and could Tara herself be at risk?


Clea Simon’s website is

Thank you, Clea, for participating in the Favorites of 2017. Please check the Web Store for Clea’s recommendations.


Three favorite crime novels read in 2017

Yes, I read and loved the latest by Joe Finder, John Le Carre, and Catriona McPherson. But here are three that stood out for me and that might have fallen below some readers’ radar. All three are historicals. Some of that is because I can’t read anything close to what I’m working on. Some of it is simply that they were all great books.

The Bones of Paris (2013) by Laurie R. King

bones of Paris

Although I count myself a devoted Mary Russell fan, I was late to author Laurie R. King’s Stuyvestant and Grey series. I had to give “Touchstone” two or three tries before I got into it, but then I fell hard for its war-scarred protagonist Bennet Grey and his painfully raw psyche. “The Bones of Paris” did what I had feared impossible – better the debut and deepen the characters. Sending the fish-out-of-water American detective (and Grey foil) Harris Stuyvestant to Paris in 1929 and setting him up with a mystery that requires the largely unwilling participation of Grey is genius.  Jazz Age Paris, catacombs and mysticism in a world reeling from the Great War, and truly distinctive characters: what more do you need?

Prussian Blue (2017) by Philip Kerr

Prussian Blue

Kerr’s historically compromised protagonist Bernie Gunther can’t catch a break. It’s 1956, and the former Berlin cop has survived not only the Nazis but also, he thinks, the Stasi, where many of his former colleagues have ended up. Living in Nice, France, under an assumed name, and working in a hotel, he’s as happy as he’s been in decades, when one of those old buddies, Erich Mielke, shows up with an unusual blackmail request. Mielke wants Gunther to return to Germany and kill someone they both once worked with. Someone Gunther should want dead, except…. The book  alternates between 1956 and 1939, when Gunther and Mielke last worked together. I always enjoy Kerr and this 12th installment is as good as the first few – a rarity in a long-running series.

Good Time Coming  (2016) by C.S. Harris

Good Time Coming

I’m an avid devourer of Harris’s Sebastian St. Cyr series and also a frequent visitor to New Orleans, with its wonderful food and music and complicated history. (Shout out here to Ned Sublette, whose fantastic nonfiction “The World That Made New Orleans” traces the African and European cultures here.) So when I heard that Harris, a New Orleanian, had written a standalone set in Louisiana as the Civil War winds to a close, I knew I had to read this. Warning – this is a very dark book. But its take on this bloody war and atrocities on both sides are portrayed in the most compelling and humane fashion. Historical fiction at its best.


Intrigued by historical mysteries? After checking out Clea Simon’s list, you might want to check out the Web Store.

Dana Stabenow’s Favorites of 2017

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When I asked authors if they’d talk about their favorite books of 2017, I made it clear the book didn’t have to have been published in 2017. They just had to read it in 2017.  And, I tried to consider the authors are busy and I didn’t want to take up too much of their time, so I asked for three books. I think you’ll enjoy Dana Stabenow’s opening comments as much as I did.

But, first, about Dana.

Dana Stabenow

She’s the author of twenty-one books in the Kate Shugak series set in Alaska.The latest, Less Than a Treason, was released in May. But, her new book, Silk and Song, just came out.

Here’s the summary of Silk and Song.

Beijing, 1322. Sixteen-year-old Wu Johanna is the granddaughter of the legendary trader Marco Polo. In the wake of her father’s death, Johanna finds that lineage counts for little amid the disintegrating court of the Khan. Johanna’s destiny—if she has one—lies with her grandfather, in Venice. So, with a small band of companions, she takes to the road—the Silk Road—that storied collection of routes that link the silks of Cathay, the spices of the Indies and the jewels of the Indus to the markets of the west. But first she must survive treachery and betrayal on a road beset by thieves, fanatics and warlords.

Dana Stabenow’s books can be found in the Web Store.

Her website is And, you really should sign up for her newsletter.

Here’s what you’re really waiting for, though: Dana Stabenow’s reading recommendations. Thank you, Dana.


I am currently tasked with writing a brief post for the Poisoned Pen’s blog on my three favorite crime novels from this year.

I can’t. I just can’t.

I can, however, write about five. Open up another window to the order page of the Poisoned Pen Bookstore because I promise you you’re going to need it.

First: Damien Boyd’s seventh Nick Dixon novel, Heads or Tails, has Nick transferred to Major Crimes to investigate a series of ever creepier killings in southwestern England that it turns out may be connected to a series of previously creepy killings in Manchester twenty years before. An exemplar of police procedurals, these novels are funny, poignant, and smart as hell, and so well written they are a joy to read.

Heads or Tales

Second: In Kelley Armstrong’s City of the Lost, big city homicide detective Casey Duncan is hiding in plain sight from her own demons and then her best friend Diana is attacked by her ex. Both flee to Rockton, a town of two hundred deep in the Yukon Territory to the purpose made for people like Casey and Diana to hide out in at $5000 a head. The crotchety local sheriff Duncan doesn’t want either one of them in his jurisdiction but people are going missing and being murdered and he needs Casey’s expert help in figuring out what’s going on. A mysterious Council governs all, sexy deputy Will is coming on strong, and no one is quite what he or she seems. In the meantime, there are monsters in the woods and possibly more right in town. A fun read.

City of the Lost

Third: In P.J. Tracy’s Shoot to Thrill, killers are posting video of murders online. The killers are so good at concealing their online IDs that the FBI convenes a group of the worst known hackers to ask for their help. Monkeewrench, aka Grace MacBride, Annie Belinsky, Harley Davidson and Roadrunner and computer nerds extraordinaire, steps up to help Minneapolis police detectives Leo Magozzi and Gino Rolseth and FBI agent John Smith unravel a plot that feels far too realistic for the reader ever to be comfortable online again. The fifth book in the Monkeewrench series and my favorite, but they are all good.

Shoot to Thrill

Fourth: In Paul Thomas’ Fallout, the fifth of his novels featuring Maori cop Tito Ihaka, Tito works the cold case of a murdered 17-year old girl that spirals out into about five different plots including the death of his own father. Tito really clears the table in this one, with a final scene that left me a little dizzy, all while giving some great rants on religion and food. (In the previous book, Tito subdues a suspect by booting him “concussively behind the ear.” I’ve been in love with him ever since.)


Fifth: The Nine-Tailed Fox is the twelfth in Martin Limón’s Sueño and Bascom series, featuring two CID agents in South Korea in the early 80s, and I think his best by far. Three GI’s have gone missing, all of whom have abused Korean women, and Command sends Sueño and Bascom to find them. It’s a solid whodunnit, a window into Korean culture, a sly sidestep into the women’s rights movement, a great villain, and some excellent insights into our heroes’ characters. And Mr. Kill and Officer Oh and — gulp–Dr. Bam are all back, too. I got your binge read for you right here.

Nine-Tailed Fox

Thank you, Dana. As she said, if you like her recommendations, check out the Web Store.

Thomas Perry’s Favorites of 2017

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Last December, I asked some authors to write about their favorite Christmas crime novels. This year, I thought I’d go a different direction. I asked authors if they would write a post about their favorite crime novels read during 2017. All of us who enjoy crime novels are lucky. So many of the authors said yes! Every post will be interesting, with its own slant. Don’t forget to check for their favorite books in The Poisoned Pen’s Web Store!



Thomas Perry
Thomas Perry

Can we do any better than Thomas Perry to kick off the book recommendations? Stephen King said of him, “The fact is, there are probably only half a dozen suspense writers now alive who can be depended upon to deliver high voltage shocks, vivid, sympathetic characters, and compelling narratives each time they publish. Thomas Perry is one of them.”

Before we get to the recommendations themselves, Perry has a new book coming out Jan. 2. It’s called The Bomb Maker. You can order a signed copy through the Web Store.    And, Perry will be at The Poisoned Pen on Thursday, Jan. 4 at 7 PM.

Bomb Maker

Here’s the summary of the book.

A bomb is more than a weapon. A bomb is an expression of the bomber’s predictions of human behavior—a performance designed to fool you into making one fatally wrong move. InThe Bomb Maker, Thomas Perry introduces us to the dark corners of a mind intent on transforming a simple machine into an act of murder—and to those committed to preventing that outcome at any cost.

A threat is called into the LAPD Bomb Squad and when tragedy ensues, the fragmented unit turns to Dick Stahl, a former Bomb Squad commander who now operates his own private security company. Just returned from a tough job in Mexico, Stahl is at first reluctant to accept the offer, but his sense of duty to the technicians he trained is too strong to turn it down. On his first day back at the head of the squad, Stahl’s three-person team is dispatched to a suspected car bomb. And it quickly becomes clear to him that they are dealing with an unusual mastermind—one whose intended target seems to be the Bomb Squad itself.

As the shadowy organization sponsoring this campaign of violence puts increasing pressure on the bomb maker, and Stahl becomes dangerously entangled with a member of his own team, the fuse on this high-stakes plot only burns faster.The Bomb Maker is Thomas Perry’s biggest, most unstoppable thriller yet.


Check out Thomas Perry’s website at Thank you, Thomas, for your post.


It’s always fun to look back on a year of books.  Here are some good ones that brought me enjoyment in 2017:

The first is Patrick Hoffman’s fine “Every Man a Menace.”

Every Man


 He presents us with a complex and fascinating set of scenes.  Segments of a particular network in the illegal drug industry work together almost like the organs of a single creature.  When a disturbance occurs in one operation of the system, it causes reactions that require adjustments in each stage from the refining and packaging section in Asia all the way to the sales and distribution end in San Francisco, with murders at each stop along the way.  It’s brilliantly conceived and realistically violent, but told with calm, lucid, intelligent prose.  It shows off the knowledge and skills of an excellent writer who should be with us for a very long time.

Another book that gave me a lot of pleasure was Deon Meyer’s “Fever.”


 Meyer is a South African who writes in Afrikaans and has his books translated into English.  He has a worldwide audience for his crime novels, which are among the most suspenseful being published today.  “Fever” is a departure, a post-apocalyptic adventure that begins with the early aftermath of a devastating plague, when it is already apparent that the current civilization is over.  The plague has operated the way real ones do, in which many people die, but a few have an immunity that makes them the survivors.  The book carries the story well into the next generation’s effort to build a new civilization.  Probably because Meyer is a terrific crime writer there are some mysteries, action scenes, and big surprises, but I liked it for the wonderful sympathetic characters.  It’s a long book, and I worried about them between reading periods.

The third book on my list required some thought, because it is “Dead Is Good” by Jo Perry, who happens to be my old university colleague, former television writing partner, and wife of 37 years.

Dead is Good

 But I think this book is terrific, and I don’t penalize any other writers because I know and like them, so here it is. This is the third in a series of books that feature a man named Charles, who, in the first book finds himself murdered and in an afterlife with an Irish setter that he’s never seen before (also dead) with a rope around her neck.  In time he names her Rose.  In “Dead is Good” Charles and Rose make one of their infrequent trips to the living world to try to save from death the woman he now knows was the love of his life.  The story is part crime thriller and part mystery, and it’s moving, sometimes scary, sometimes shocking, sometimes funny, but always original and intriguing.  There is a scene in this book that made me gasp out loud and write “Wow!” in the margin.  

The next book is “Deep Freeze” by John Sandford.

Deep Freeze

This book is also difficult to write about fairly.  It’s the 10th Virgil Flowers book, and it’s been on the NY Times Bestseller list for three or four weeks now, so it doesn’t really need a plug.  But like all of the Virgil Flowers books, it’s intriguing, smart and funny, and deserves a plug.  It also has Virgil reading a book called “Thomas Perry’s The Old Man,” (p. 180), which shows Virgil has good taste.

I want to include a couple of books that won’t be out officially until 2018. I read them both in 2017, and they both happen to be published by Poisoned Pen Press, so I feel free to mention them.

Dennis Palumbo’s “Head Wounds” will be out in February.

Head Wounds

It’s his 5th book about psychotherapist Daniel Rinaldi.  I recommend it highly, particularly for people who have read the rest of the series, because it is one of those books that take up some issues we’ve been wondering about since the beginning of a series, and give us big, shocking answers to them.  I also think the villain in this book is more frightening than any other I’ve seen for quite a while.  Very early in the book he gets into the reader’s head like a recurring nightmare, and for the rest of the book we root for Rinaldi to get him out for us by catching him or killing him.

The other is Jeffrey Siger’s “An Aegean April,” which will be published in early January 2018.

Aegean April

It’s the latest in his Inspector Andreas Kaldis police series.  The writing is Siger’s usual clear, careful and readable style, and the action has lots of exuberance as well as some good conniving.  The central killer here has a perverse charm.  He’s a violent, evil man with panache and courage—almost a combination of the devil and Cyrano de Bergerac.  But I think the most memorable aspect of the book is that its criminal plot is a natural byproduct of the enormous humanitarian crisis that is still taking place in Greece and the Mediterranean, as millions of immigrants continue to try to escape poverty, war, and devastation by flooding into southern Europe.  Siger has taken on the task of making a very complex set of circumstances comprehensible, showing us why it matters, and done both well.


Jeffrey Siger will be appearing with Thomas Perry at The Poisoned Pen on Thursday, Jan. 4 at 7 PM. You’ll want to mark your calendars!

And, you’ll want to come back tomorrow to read Dana Stabenow’s picks for the crime novels she enjoyed the most in 2017.


Coyle, Banks & Cameron, In Conversation

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Matt Coyle (Blood Truths), Leo W. Banks (Double Wide), and Marc Cameron (Tom Clancy Power and Empire) were recently at The Poisoned Pen, in conversation, first with Patrick Millikin, and then with bookstore owner Barbara Peters.

Coyle, Banks, Cameron, Peters
Left to right – Coyle, Banks, Cameron, Peters

You can order signed copies of their books through the Web Store.

Tom Clancy

The discussion was filmed for Livestream, so you can watch and listen to the authors’ interview.

Coyle, Cameron, Banks
Left to right – Matt Coyle, Marc Cameron, Leo W. Banks

Hot Book of the Week – Krysten Ritter’s Bonfire

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The Hot Book of the Week (well, this week that’s a pun) at The Poisoned Pen is Krysten Ritter’s Bonfire. Signed copies are available through the Web Store.


Here’s the summary of Bonfire.

Can you ever outrun your past?

From actress, producer, and writer Krysten Ritter, a gripping, tightly wound suspense novel about a woman forced to confront her past in the wake of small-town corruption

It has been ten years since Abby Williams left home and scrubbed away all visible evidence of her small-town roots. Now working as an environmental lawyer in Chicago, she has a thriving career, a modern apartment, and her pick of meaningless one-night stands.

But when a new case takes her back home to Barrens, Indiana, the life Abby painstakingly created begins to crack. Tasked with investigating Optimal Plastics, the town’s most high-profile company and economic heart, Abby begins to find strange connections to Barrens’s biggest scandal from more than a decade ago, involving the popular Kaycee Mitchell and her closest friends—just before Kaycee disappeared for good.

Abby knows the key to solving any case lies in the weak spots, the unanswered questions. But as she tries desperately to find out what really happened to Kaycee, troubling memories begin to resurface and she begins to doubt her own observations. And when she unearths an even more disturbing secret—a ritual called “The Game”—it will threaten reputations, and lives, in the community and risk exposing a darkness that may consume her.

With tantalizing twists, slow-burning suspense, and a remote rural town of just five claustrophobic square miles, Bonfire is a dark exploration of what happens when your past and present collide.

Steven F. Havill via Livestream

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Steven Havill again
Steven Havill and Barbara Peters

I’ve been a big fan of Steven F. Havill’s Posadas County mysteries for quite a number of years, maybe not as long as Barbara Peters, owner of the Poisoned Pen, and Havill’s editor. In Easy Errors, he takes us back to the early years of the storyline. Signed copies are available through the Web Store.

Easy Errors

You can watch Peters’ recent interview with Havill via Livestream.

Here’s the summary of Easy Errors.

When the first Posadas County Mystery, Heartshot, published in 1991, Bill Gastner was the county Undersheriff. Over time Bill became Sheriff, then retired, and Robert Torrez took over the top spot. But what were Torrez’s first days as a rookie officer like? Terrible!

It’s 1986. Undersheriff Bill Gastner is enjoying his usual insomnia alone inside his old adobe when jolted by a horrendous noise. Dreading what he will find, he hastens to the nearby interstate exit where a violent crash has occurred. Not only is the vehicle that struck the support pillars totaled and the driver and a passenger crushed inside, a dead boy has been ejected.

As the appalled Gastner recognizes the youth and swings into action, the first deputy to join him at the scene is rookie Robert Torrez, the department’s newest hire. Before Gastner can head him off, Torrez sees that the boy is his spirited younger brother. And the girl crushed inside the SUV is a younger sister. The driver of the Suburban, also dead, is the assistant District Attorney’s teenaged son. Two local family tragedies.

A shaken couple reports that when the Suburban, careening at nearly 100 miles an hour, passed them on the interstate, activity inside hinted at its occupants’ panic. Were the three dead kids running from someone-or something-rather than speeding? Further investigation reveals that a fourth teen should have been in the vehicle, but is now missing. Where had the four kids been? And why? It appears they’d lied to their parents.

Following his usual meticulous procedure, Gastner traces the vehicle’s path to a remote canyon with attractive caves. The discovery he makes there balloons the case and introduces possible murder. Yet with a lack of witnesses hampering Sheriff Salcido, Gastner, Torrez, and other deputies, errors working the case can too easily be made.