Fiction Review

Rural Noir – Pickard County Atlas

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Two years ago on CrimeReads site, Keith Scribner discussed rural noir, He said, “The best rural noir transports us and traps us in a place with people who are also trapped there by lifetimes of trouble, poverty, obligations, kinship, or an inability to see beyond the next hilltop. In these stories the people are inseparable from the land and its history.” That beautifully sums up the people in Chris Harding Thornton’s debut novel, Pickard County Atlas. The residents of a county in north-central Nebraska, even a deputy, lead what Thoreau called, “lives of quiet desperation”. You can find Pickard County Atlas in the Web Store.

“An atmospheric, slow-burning beauty of a book, rich with raw-edged lyricism and achingly real characters.” Tana French, author of The Searcher

Small-town secrets loom large in this spellbinding debut about the aftershocks of crime and trauma that shake a Nebraskan town.

In a dusty town in Nebraska’s rugged sandhills, weary sheriff’s deputy Harley Jensen patrols the streets at night, on the lookout for something—anything—out of the ordinary. It’s July 1978, and the heat is making people ornery, restless. That and the Reddick family patriarch has decided, decades after authorities ended the search for his murdered boy’s body, to lay a headstone. Instead of bringing closure, this decision is the spark that threatens to set Pickard County ablaze.

On a fateful night after the memorial service, Harley tails the youngest Reddick and town miscreant, Paul, through the abandoned farms and homes outside their run-down town. The pursuit puts Harley in the path of Pam Reddick, a restless young woman looking for escape, bent on cutting the ties of motherhood and marriage. Filled with desperate frustration, Pam is drawn to Harley’s dark history, not unlike that of her husband, Rick—a man raised in the wreckage of a brother’s violent death and a mother’s hardened fury.

Unfolding over six tense days, Pickard County Atlas sets Harley and the Reddicks on a collision course—propelling them toward an incendiary moment that will either redeem or end them. Engrossing, darkly funny, and real, Chris Harding Thornton’s debut rings with authenticity and a nuanced sense of place even as it hums with menace, introducing an astonishing new voice in suspense.


Chris Harding Thornton, a seventh-generation Nebraskan, holds an MFA from the University of Washington and a PhD from the University of Nebraska, where she currently teaches. She has worked as a quality assurance overseer at a condom factory, a jar-lid screwer at a plastics plant, a closer at Burger King, a record store clerk, an all-ages club manager, and a PR writer. Pickard County Atlas is her first novel.

A Modern Take on Ira Levin’s Stories

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When I read Jess Lourey’s Bloodline, it reminded me of Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives and Rosemary’s Baby. I’m not the only one. The reviewer for Publishers Weekly mentioned those books. Doreen Sheridan’s review for Criminal Element mentioned those two books, If you’re a fan of those earlier books, you might want to check out Bloodline. You can order it through the Web Store.

Jess Lourey is the Amazon Charts bestselling author of Unspeakable ThingsThe Catalain Book of Secrets, the Salem’s Cipher thrillers, and the Mira James mysteries, among many other works, including young adult, short stories, and nonfiction. An Agatha, Anthony, and Lefty Award nominee, Jess is a tenured professor of creative writing and sociology and a leader of writing retreats. She is also a recipient of The Loft’s Excellence in Teaching fellowship, a Psychology Today blogger, and a TEDx presenter. Check out her TEDx Talk for the inspiration behind her first published novel. When she’s not leading writing workshops, reading, or spending time with her friends and family, you can find her working on her next story. Discover more at

Perfect town. Perfect homes. Perfect families. It’s enough to drive some women mad…

In a tale inspired by real events, pregnant journalist Joan Harken is cautiously excited to follow her fiancé back to his Minnesota hometown. After spending a childhood on the move and chasing the screams and swirls of news-rich city life, she’s eager to settle down. Lilydale’s motto, “Come Home Forever,” couldn’t be more inviting.

And yet, something is off in the picture-perfect village.

The friendliness borders on intrusive. Joan can’t shake the feeling that every move she makes is being tracked. An archaic organization still seems to hold the town in thrall. So does the sinister secret of a little boy who vanished decades ago. And unless Joan is imagining things, a frighteningly familiar figure from her past is on watch in the shadows.

Her fiancé tells her she’s being paranoid. He might be right. Then again, she might have moved to the deadliest small town on earth.

Pigeons During War

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Because I’m currently reading Stephanie Graves’ historical novel, Olive Bright, Pigeoneer, her recent essay in CrimeReads caught my attention. It’s called “War Pigeons: The Humble Heroes Behind His Majesty’s Secret Service”. You can find the article here.

Copies of Olive Bright, Pigeoneer are on order, but you can place your order through the Web Store.

Here’s the summary of the book.

Set in a charming British village during World War II, Stephanie Graves’ new charming historical mystery introduces Olive Bright, a spirited young pigeon fancier who finds herself at the heart of a baffling murder…

Though war rages across mainland Europe and London is strafed by German aircraft, the little village of Pipley in Hertfordshire bustles along much as it always has. Adrift since her best friend, George, joined the Royal Air Force, twenty-two-year-old Olive Bright fills her days by helping at her father’s veterinary practice and tending to her beloved racing pigeons. Desperate to do her bit, Olive hopes that the National Pigeon Service will enlist Bright Lofts’ expertise, and use their highly trained birds to deliver critical, coded messages for His Majesty’s Forces.

The strangers who arrive in Pipley are not from the NPS. Instead, Jameson Aldridge and his associate are tied to a covert British intelligence organization known as Baker Street. If Olive wants her pigeons to help the war effort, she must do so in complete secrecy. Tired of living vicariously through the characters of her beloved Agatha Christie novels, Olive readily agrees. But in the midst of her subterfuge, the village of Pipley is dealing with another mystery. Local busybody Miss Husselbee is found dead outside Olive’s pigeon loft. Is the murder tied to Olive’s new assignment? Or did Miss Husselbee finally succeed in ferreting out a secret shameful enough to kill for? With the gruff, handsome Jameson as an unlikely ally, Olive intends to find out–but homing in on a murderer can be a deadly business…

New Year/New Books from Sourcebooks/Poisoned Pen Press

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It’s the perfect time to share the New Year message from Sourcebooks/Poisoned Pen Press. Check the Web Store for the books mentioned in the newsletter.

Happy New Year! We’re saying goodbye to 2020 and hello to a new year…which also means NEW BOOKS!

We’re giving you a sneak peek of some of our exciting upcoming books from January to June. Enjoy!

Laying Bones by Reavis Z. Wortham
Laying Bones by Reavis Z. Wortham On Sale: January 12, 2021  | ISBN: 9781464214370 

The stakes don’t get much higher than murder… It’s January 1969 in the small rural community of Center Springs, Texas. Constable Ned Parker is looking into the seemingly accidental death of his nephew R .B., who was found in his overturned pickup near Sanders Creek bridge. At first it appears that R. B. drowned in the shallow water, but something doesn’t add up for Ned, who begins turning over stones in search of what really happened the night R. B. died.

As he works his way through the cover-up, which leads all the way to the coroner’s office, Ned finds himself involved in a high-stakes game of consequences with no good end in sight. Are the good citizens of Center Springs conspiring against Constable Parker in his search for the truth?
Farm to Trouble by Amanda Flower
Farm to Trouble by Amanda Flower On Sale: February 23, 2021 | ISBN: 9781492699910 

A new cozy mystery series from USA Today bestselling author Amanda Flower! 

Shiloh Bellamy cashed in her big city job and 401K to return home to Michigan to save the family farm, but turning Bellamy Farms into a sustainable, organic operation—complete with a farm-to-table café—is no small feat. Especially when her new investor is found dead among the flowers just hours after the contract is signed. Everyone knows her father had a grudge against the investor, and word travels fast in a small town… Now, Shiloh must clear her family’s name and track down the real killer before her farm dreams wilt before her very eyes. But with her father trying to stop any progress on his land, her cousin belittling her every effort, the farmhouse falling down around her, and the whole town believing her family at fault, Shiloh has to carry the investigation on her shoulders or risk all her dreams drying up before they begin.
Fatal Scores by Mark de Castrique
Fatal Scores by Mark de CastriqueOn Sale: March 2, 2021 | ISBN: 9781464213151 

A river gives up its dead, but not its secrets… 

Sam Blackman and Nakayla Robertson, partners in a private investigation agency in Asheville, North Carolina, are hired by the widow of an environmentalist who died while monitoring water quality in the nearby Pigeon River. No soil or water samples were found near the deceased, and his widow doesn’t believe his death was an accident. Sam had, in fact, witnessed a public altercation between the man and local mill heir Luke Kirkpatrick just two days prior. Both Luke and his father, Ted, are prime suspects because of the threat that contamination poses to their proposed business expansion. Meanwhile, preparations for a local festival suffer some violent setbacks. Are the events related? And can Sam and Nakayla identify the killer and serve justice before Asheville is threatened once again?
A Deadly Twist by Jeffrey Siger
A Deadly Twist by Jeffrey Siger On Sale: April 6, 2021 | ISBN: 9781464214264 

Some crimes can never be forgiven—or atoned for… 

When Athens journalist Nikoletta Elia disappears while on assignment on the island of Naxos, her editor calls on Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis to investigate. Sent to report on the conflict between preservationists and advocates for expanded tourism, Nikoletta is approached by a fan who takes credit for several suspicious deaths she’d reported on in the past. The assassin claims to have abandoned that life, and convinces the reporter to write about him and his murderous exploits for hire. Kaldis sends his deputy, Yianni, to look into her disappearance when an unidentified body is found at the base of a cliff. Who is the mysterious corpse, and where is Nikoletta? Leads turn into more dead bodies in this twisting tale of greed, corruption, and murder that puts Kaldis, his family, and members of his team in the path of a ruthless killer who will stop at nothing to keep dark secrets buried—forever.
The Dead Husband by Carter Wilson
The Dead Husband by Carter Wilson On Sale: May 4, 2021 | ISBN: 9781728225081 

A murderer, a victim, and a witness… but no one in this house is innocent. 

Twenty years ago an unspeakable tragedy rocked Rose Yates’s small, affluent hometown… and only Rose and her family know the truth about what happened.Haunted by guilt, Rose escaped into a new life. Now she seems to have it all: a marriage, a son, a career. And then her husband is found dead. As far as Detective Colin Pearson is concerned, Rose is guilty. Her marriage wasn’t as happy as she’d led everyone to believe, and worse, she’s connected to a twenty-year-old cold case. She can play the part of the victim, but he won’t let her or her family escape justice this time around. Grieving her husband and struggling to make ends meet, Rose returns home, hoping to finally confront her domineering father and unstable sister. But memories of a horrific crime echo through the house, and Rose soon learns that she can’t trust anyone, especially not the people closest to her
Death in Daylesford by Kerry Greenwood
Death in Daylesford by Kerry Greenwood On Sale: June 1, 2021 | ISBN: 9781728234526 

Taking the waters has never been more delicious—or dangerous… 

When a mysterious invitation for a spa holiday arrives for Miss Phryne Fisher from an unknown retired Captain Herbert Spencer, Phryne’s curiosity is piqued. Spencer runs a retreat in Victoria’s rural spa country for shell-shocked veterans of World War I. It’s a cause after Phryne’s own heart, but what can Spencer want from her? Phryne and her faithful servant Dot set out for Daylesford, viewing their rural sojourn as a short holiday. While Dot gets to know the remarkable women who run the hotel where they are lodging, Phryne enjoys an enticing meal—and dessert—with the attractive Captain Spencer. But their relaxation is short-lived as they are thrown into treacherous Highland gatherings, a mysterious case of disappearing women, and a string of murders committed under their very noses. Meanwhile, back at home, Phryne’s three wards are busy solving a mystery of their own when a schoolmate is found floating facedown near the docks—and pregnant at the time of her death.

Jeff Lindsay & Fool Me Twice

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Jeff Lindsay’s Fool Me Twice is the current Hot Book of the Week at The Poisoned Pen. You can order a signed copy of the book through the Web Store.

Better yet, you can attend the upcoming virtual event, Monday, January 11 at 5 PM (7 PM ET) when Lindsay talks about his new book. You can join in on The Poisoned Pen’s Facebook page.

Jeff Lindsay. Fool Me Twice (Dutton, $27.00 Signed). Pulling off an impossible crime is the only way he can stay alive.

Stealing a Faberge egg. Surviving a double cross. And pulling off the most incredible robbery ever, for the world’s most demanding—and dangerous collector.

This will be the challenge of thief extraordinaire Riley Wolfe’s life.

Fool Me Twice opens in St. Petersburg, where Riley steals the egg—no easy task. Betrayed by the pilot he hired to help him get away, he wakes chained to a rock wall on one of the Kerguelen Islands—the most remote spot on earth—prisoner of a top-dog international arms dealer, and a top-notch art collector. He wants Riley to steal an artwork. Small problem–it’s a fresco, “The Liberation of St. Peter.” Slightly larger problem–it’s in the Vatican.

And, it’s a literal wall.

Riley has no choice: agree or die. But when his captor turns him loose, he’s grabbed by another arms dealer looking to do a double cross. Worse, he gives Riley a special incentive: a surveillance photograph of Monique, the love of his life, and more important, the art forger he can’t pull off any heist without. The threat is clear. Riley knows they both have only one way out.

With wicked dialogue, tons of explosive twists, and cinema-worthy scenes, Jeff Lindsay’s Fool Me Twice is another wildly entertaining caper starring the anti-hero you’ll root for, Riley Wolfe.

Jeff Lindsay is the author of the Riley Wolfe novels, and the New York Times bestselling author of the Dexter novels, which debuted in 2004 with Darkly Dreaming Dexter.

*A Facebook membership is NOT required to watch our live events.

Janet Rudolph Suggests: New Year’s Reading

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Janet Rudolph is known for her lists of holiday mysteries, among other things. You might want to check out her most recent list on her site, Mystery Fanfare. It’s New Year’s Mysteries, Crime Fiction, Thrillers, and Movies. Once you find some books that interest you, check out the Web Store.

Here’s Janet Rudolph’s bio, if you aren’t familiar with this crime community legend.

Janet A. Rudolph is the Editor of the Mystery Readers Journal and Creative Writer/Director at Murder on the Menu and TeamBuilding Unlimited. She blogs daily at and, facilitates a weekly mystery book group, hosts Literary Salons with crime writers, and has been a committee and Board member on numerous mystery conventions, including Bouchercon and Left Coast Crime. A long-time contributor to the mystery genre, she received her Ph.D. in religious mystery fiction. She lives in the Berkeley (CA) hills with her husband, golden retriever, and cats who often appear on her Facebook Page along with a daily garden/rose photo (Behind My Garden Gate). She loves gardening, photography, reading …. and long walks on the Beach in Bodega Bay, birds notwithstanding. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, the International Association of Crime WritersSisters in Crime, and the American Crime Writers League.

The Mystery Readers Journal is the official publication of Mystery Readers International. Originally started as a newsletter to update the local mystery community on fun events, it is now one of the most important periodicals in the field. A quarterly, each issue focuses on a specific theme with major articles, author essays, special columns and a calendar of events. Members of MRI award the coveted Macavity for excellence in mystery writing.

Bree Baker’s Closely Harbored Secrets

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I very seldom write a book review for this site. It’s not the purpose of The Poisoned Pen’s blog. But, it’s a slow time of year for news from the bookstore. And, Bree Baker’s Seaside Cafe mysteries are published by Sourcebooks/Poisoned Pen Press. Today is release date for the fifth in the series, Closely Harbored Secrets. You can find Bree Baker’s books in the Web Store.

Because the Seaside Cafe mysteries are some of my favorite cozies, I’m sharing my own review of the new book. I hope you enjoy the review, and check out the series.

Some mystery series, even my favorite ones, have their ups and downs. Bree Baker’s Seaside Cafe Mysteries, though, haven’t let me down yet. The fifth one, Closely Harbored Secrets, is excellent, and it’s one of my favorite cozy mysteries of the year.

Everly Swan has only been home to Charm, a small town on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, for two years. In that time, she’s stumbled across four murder victims. The owner of Sun, Sand, and Tea, a seaside cafe and iced tea shop, is beginning to believe that she’s cursed, and it’s not the family curse saying Swan women can’t leave the island, and the men they love are doomed to die young. When she finds a body on the night of the annual ghost walk, her fifth body, she feels guilty. And, someone took a picture of her looming over the victim, holding a bloody candelabra. It’s all over the local blog site before Everly can say, “Not guilty.”

Of course, it doesn’t help that Everly follows her Aunt Clara to the historic mansion that’s the headquarters for The Society for the Preservation and Retelling of Unrecorded History, and looks through the documents in the victim’s office. When that office is ransacked, someone is sure that Everly took a map. Although Detective Grady Hays knows Everly is innocent, he isn’t happy when she’s threatened with a sword stuck in the middle of her porch, and a message, “Return the map.”

Everly, Grady, and Everly’s aunts are worried. Someone is trying to scare her, threatening her to give up a map she never saw, and doesn’t have. She’s just worried that, once again, she’s the target of a psychotic killer, and she didn’t do anything.

Baker skillfully weaves together three storylines in this excellent mystery. Of course, there’s the mystery and its connection to the history of Charm and the Swan family. Everly’s relationship with Grady is a second one. The third one, important to the city of Charm, is the upcoming mayoral election, pitting Everly’s Aunt Fran against Everly’s lifelong nemesis, and a third candidate, Grady’s mother-in-law.

Closely Harbored Secrets is meatier than many cozy mysteries. It’s a well-written series with a cast of characters who have interesting backgrounds. There’s Everly who dropped out of culinary school to chase a rodeo cowboy. There are her great aunts, Clara and Fran, who are beekeepers and run the shop Blessed Bee, selling honey and wax products. Grady is a widower, a former US Marshal who moved to Charm after his wife’s death, to raise his young son in a different environment. Of course, the stories include the history of the Swan women who left Salem at the time of the witchcraft trials, and were some of the founders of Charm. The history and legends of the Swan women are intriguing. No one can ignore the two animals that are Everly’s friends, a seagull she calls Lou and the mysterious white cat, Maggie, who comes and goes as she pleases.

Bree Baker’s Seaside Cafe mysteries are must-reads for me. And, Closely Harbored Secrets is one of the best in the series. Don’t miss it.

Bree Baker’s website is

Closely Harbored Secrets by Bree Baker. Sourcebooks/Poisoned Pen Press, 2021. ISBN 9781728205755 (paperback), 346p.

Holiday Break

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Like the rest of The Poisoned Pen staff, I’m taking a break over the Christmas holidays, only I’m starting mine now, and their break starts at 5 Pm tonight. Here are the holiday hours for the bookstore.

10 AM-5 PM December 24
Closed December 25-December 28
Normal hours December 29 and 30
10 AM-5 PM December 31
Closed January 1 and 2
Normal hours resume January 3.

Have a beautiful, safe holiday weekend.

Hot Book of the Week – A British Classic

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The current Hot Book of the Week at The Poisoned Pen is a little different. The Spoilt Kill by Mary Kelly is a British Crime Classic. You can order it through the Web Store,

Read about The Spoilt Kill here.

Discover the captivating treasures buried in the British Library’s archives. Largely inaccessible to the public until now, these enduring crime classics were written in the golden age of detective fiction.

‘The grey eyes, so apt for tragedy, looked steadily up at me.
“You can’t trust me, can you?” she said.’

Shentall’s, a long-established institution of the Staffordshire Potteries industry is under attack. With its designs leaked to international competition and its prices undercut, private investigator Hedley Nicholson has been tasked with finding the culprit of the suspected sabotage.

But industrial espionage may just be the beginning. Delving further into the churning heart of Shentall’s Pottery, Nicholson’s prying is soon to unearth rumours of bonds cruelly smashed to pieces, grievances irrevocably baked in stone and a very real body, turning and turning in the liquid clay.

First published in 1961, The Spoilt Kill received widespread critical acclaim and praise from contemporary crime writers such as Julian Symons. Widely heralded as a perfect golden age mystery, this piece of British crime fiction marked a shift in the genre towards mysteries characterized by psychological elements. It was awarded the CWA Gold Dagger and remains a finely crafted masterpiece of the crime genre.

Kicking off a “Thrilling” 2021

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Are you ready to kick off 2021 with a thrill or two? Check out the schedule of authors appearing for virtual events in just one week, January 5th to the 12th. Then, check out their books in the Web Store. Maybe the delivery system in the U.S. might be back to normal by then.

Brad Taylor
Chris Hauty
Nick Petrie
Victoria Gosling
Jeff Lindsay
Preston & Child