Fiction Review

S. A. Cosby, in Conversation

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S.A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland is one of the hottest books of the summer. He’s been on several virtual events on the Internet, but no one can talk noir and cars with him the way Patrick Millikin from The Poisoned Pen can. You’ll want to check out the recent conversation.

Blacktop Wasteland is available through the Web Store. You can order it here. Check out the summary below.

A husband, a father, a son, a business owner…And the best getaway driver east of the Mississippi.

“Sensationally good—new, fresh, real, authentic, twisty, with characters and dilemmas that will break your heart. More than recommended.” —Lee Child

Beauregard “Bug” Montage is an honest mechanic, a loving husband, and a hard-working dad. Bug knows there’s no future in the man he used to be: known from the hills of North Carolina to the beaches of Florida as the best wheelman on the East Coast.

He thought he’d left all that behind him, but as his carefully built new life begins to crumble, he finds himself drawn inexorably back into a world of blood and bullets. When a smooth-talking former associate comes calling with a can’t-miss jewelry store heist, Bug feels he has no choice but to get back in the driver’s seat. And Bug is at his best where the scent of gasoline mixes with the smell of fear.

Haunted by the ghost of who he used to be and the father who disappeared when he needed him most, Bug must find a way to navigate this blacktop wasteland…or die trying.

Like Ocean’s Eleven meets Drive, with a Southern noir twist, S. A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland is a searing, operatic story of a man pushed to his limits by poverty, race, and his own former life of crime.


Enjoy the conversation between S.A. Cosby and Patrick Millikin.

The Sister Lou Mysteries

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Although I read one of the Sister Lou mysteries by Olivia Matthews quite a while ago, I thought I’d share the inviting video. Patricia Sargeant writes the mysteries under the name Olivia Matthews. You can find them here in the Web Store.

Mayhem & Mass, the first in the series, is available now. Here’s the summary.

A Los Angeles transplant, Sister Louise “Lou” LaSalle feels right at home in Briar Coast, New York. After all, her beloved nephew, Chris, works at the college founded by her congregation. But while Sister Lou has always played by the rules, she’s about to have her faith in herself tested—by murder . . .

Sister Lou expects some pushback when she invites her friend, Maurice Jordan, to be the guest speaker for the St. Hermione of Ephesus Feast Day presentation. The theology professor is known far and wide for his controversial views. What she’s not prepared for is finding him dead in his hotel room, bashed over the head.
When the local deputies focus on the members of her congregation as suspects, Sister Lou takes matters into her own hands. Against Chris’s wishes, she teams up with a cynical local reporter to delve into Maurice’s life. The unlikely partners in crime-fighting uncover a litany of both devotees and detractors. And though it might take a miracle to find the killer, Sister Lou vows to carry on until justice prevails . . .

Brad Thor, in Conversation

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Let’s talk a little about Brad Thor’s bestseller, Near Dark. Barbara Peters interviewed Thor for the virtual release of the book, and it’s been out for several weeks now. But, as of this writing, there are still signed copies available through the Web Store.

Here’s the summary of the book.

“Fast-paced…pulse-pounding…supremely entertaining…His best ever.” —TheWashington Times

“If you love thrillers…if you’ve ever read a thriller you enjoyed…if you think you *might* like a thriller…you HAVE to order Brad Thor’s Near Dark. This might be the single greatest thriller I’ve covered on The Real Book Spy. It’s amazing!” —The Real Book Spy

Scot Harvath returns in the newest thriller from #1 New York Times bestselling author Brad Thor.

The world’s largest bounty has just been placed upon America’s top spy. His only hope for survival is to outwit, outrun, and outlast his enemies long enough to get to the truth.

But for Scot Harvath to accomplish his most dangerous mission ever—one that has already claimed the lives of the people closest to him, including his new wife—he’s going to need help—a lot of it.

Not knowing whom he can trust, Harvath finds an unlikely ally in Norwegian intelligence operative Sølvi Kolstad. Just as smart, just as deadly, and just as determined, she not only has the skills, but also the broken, troubled past to match Harvath’s own.

“Not since Ian Fleming rendered James Bond a mere shell of himself in the wake of From Russia, With Love has an author pushed an icon to such depths.” —Providence Journal

“Brad Thor has mastered the art of the thriller cliffhanger.” —New York Journal of Books

“Brad Thor thrills yet again with Near Dark.” —The San Diego Tribune


Brad Thor answers some questions, such as why does Scot Harvarth’s name only have one t in Scot? If you’ve been curious, or want to hear Thor talk about his books, you can watch the conversation here.

Karin Slaughter’s Distractions

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We all know how busy Karin Slaughter is. I even caught her playing miniature golf on “Holey Moley”. But, she did find time to list some of the books that have been “Distractions” for her during the pandemic. Slaughter’s latest book, The Silent Wife, will be released August 4. If you pre-order a signed copy, you’ll also get an exclusive branded cell phone wallet. You can order her books through the Web Store.

Karin Slaughter is one of the world’s most popular and acclaimed storytellers. Published in 120 countries with more than 35 million copies sold across the globe, her twenty novels include the Grant County and Will Trent books, as well as the Edgar-nominated Cop Town and the instant New York Times bestselling novels Pretty GirlsThe Good DaughterPieces of Her, and The Last Widow. Slaughter is the founder of the Save the Libraries project—a nonprofit organization established to support libraries and library programming. A native of Georgia, she lives in Atlanta. Her standalone novel Pieces of Her is in development with Netflix and the Grant County and Will Trent series are in development for television.

If you haven’t met or heard Karin Slaughter, you don’t know how funny she is. But, you can catch her Facebook interview on Monday, August 3 at 8 PM ET. I’m sure she and Barbara Peters will have an interesting discussion on The Poisoned Pen’s Facebook page. Check it out!

You can find Karin Slaughter’s book suggestions in the Web Store.


Despite the “Holey Moley” joke, I do know how busy Karin Slaughter is. She selected five books, and made a quick comment. The summaries are from The Poisoned Pen’s Web Store.

The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson, I really love how Erik takes subject matters I think I know everything about and pulls out interesting and fascinating new details.

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The author of The Devil in the White City and Dead Wake delivers an intimate chronicle of Winston Churchill and London during the Blitz—an inspiring portrait of courage and leadership in a time of unprecedented crisis

One of Chicago Tribune’s Best Books of the Year So Far • “A bravura performance by one of America’s greatest storytellers.”—NPR

“Churchill’s lessons of resilience and his style of steady-handed leadership are essential to the state of mind of American readers.”—Vanity Fair

On Winston Churchill’s first day as prime minister, Adolf Hitler invaded Holland and Belgium. Poland and Czechoslovakia had already fallen, and the Dunkirk evacuation was just two weeks away. For the next twelve months, Hitler would wage a relentless bombing campaign, killing 45,000 Britons. It was up to Churchill to hold his country together and persuade President Franklin Roosevelt that Britain was a worthy ally—and willing to fight to the end.

In The Splendid and the Vile, Erik Larson shows, in cinematic detail, how Churchill taught the British people “the art of being fearless.” It is a story of political brinkmanship, but it’s also an intimate domestic drama, set against the backdrop of Churchill’s prime-ministerial country home, Chequers; his wartime retreat, Ditchley, where he and his entourage go when the moon is brightest and the bombing threat is highest; and of course 10 Downing Street in London. Drawing on diaries, original archival documents, and once-secret intelligence reports—some released only recently—Larson provides a new lens on London’s darkest year through the day-to-day experience of Churchill and his family: his wife, Clementine; their youngest daughter, Mary, who chafes against her parents’ wartime protectiveness; their son, Randolph, and his beautiful, unhappy wife, Pamela; Pamela’s illicit lover, a dashing American emissary; and the advisers in Churchill’s “Secret Circle,” to whom he turns in the hardest moments.

The Splendid and the Vile takes readers out of today’s political dysfunction and back to a time of true leadership, when, in the face of unrelenting horror, Churchill’s eloquence, courage, and perseverance bound a country, and a family, together.


The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor by Flannery O’Conner.  Every single one of these stories is a master class in storytelling.

Winner of the National Book Award

The publication of this extraordinary volume firmly established Flannery O’Connor’s monumental contribution to American fiction. There are thirty-one stories here in all, including twelve that do not appear in the only two story collections O’Connor put together in her short lifetime–Everything That Rises Must Converge and A Good Man Is Hard to Find.

O’Connor published her first story, “The Geranium,” in 1946, while she was working on her master’s degree at the University of Iowa. Arranged chronologically, this collection shows that her last story, “Judgement Day”–sent to her publisher shortly before her death—is a brilliantly rewritten and transfigured version of “The Geranium.” Taken together, these stories reveal a lively, penetrating talent that has given us some of the most powerful and disturbing fiction of the twentieth century. Also included is an introduction by O’Connor’s longtime editor and friend, Robert Giroux.


Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier:  A tense, taut, journey into madness.

A PBS Great American Read Top 100 Pick

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderly again.”

With these words, the reader is ushered into an isolated gray stone mansion on the windswept Cornish coast, as the second Mrs. Maxim de Winter recalls the chilling events that transpired as she began her new life as the young bride of a husband she barely knew. For in every corner of every room were phantoms of a time dead but not forgotten—a past devotedly preserved by the sinister housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers: a suite immaculate and untouched, clothing laid out and ready to be worn, but not by any of the great house’s current occupants. With an eerie presentiment of evil tightening her heart, the second Mrs. de Winter walked in the shadow of her mysterious predecessor, determined to uncover the darkest secrets and shattering truths about Maxim’s first wife—the late and hauntingly beautiful Rebecca.

This special edition of Rebecca includes excerpts from Daphne du Maurier’s The Rebecca Notebook and Other Memories, an essay on the real Manderley, du Maurier’s original epilogue to the book, and more.


The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith:  An amazingly suspenseful character study.

“Tom Ripley is one of the most interesting characters in world literature.” —Anthony Minghella, director of the 1999 film The Talented Mr. Ripley

Since his debut in 1955, Tom Ripley has evolved into the ultimate bad boy sociopath. Here, in the first Ripley novel, we are introduced to suave Tom Ripley, a young striver, newly arrived in the heady world of Manhattan. A product of a broken home, branded a “sissy” by his dismissive Aunt Dottie, Ripley meets a wealthy industrialist who hires him to bring his playboy son, Dickie Greenleaf, back from gallivanting in Italy. Soon Ripley’s fascination with Dickie’s debonair lifestyle turns obsessive as he finds himself enraged by Dickie’s ambivalent affections for Marge, a charming American dilettante. A dark reworking of Henry James’s The AmbassadorsThe Talented Mr. Ripley serves as an unforgettable introduction to this smooth confidence man, whose talent for murder and self-invention is chronicled in four subsequent Ripley novels.


Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn: A modern masterpiece.

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The “mercilessly entertaining” (Vanity Fair) instant classic “about the nature of identity and the terrible secrets that can survive and thrive in even the most intimate relationships” (Lev Grossman, Time).


NAMED ONE OF THE TEN BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY Janet Maslin, The New York Times • People • Entertainment Weekly • O: The Oprah Magazine • Slate • Kansas City Star • USA Today • Christian Science Monitor
On a warm summer morning in North Carthage, Missouri, it is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary. Presents are being wrapped and reservations are being made when Nick’s clever and beautiful wife disappears. Husband-of-the-Year Nick isn’t doing himself any favors with cringe-worthy daydreams about the slope and shape of his wife’s head, but passages from Amy’s diary reveal the alpha-girl perfectionist could have put anyone dangerously on edge. Under mounting pressure from the police and the media—as well as Amy’s fiercely doting parents—the town golden boy parades an endless series of lies, deceits, and inappropriate behavior. Nick is oddly evasive, and he’s definitely bitter—but is he really a killer? 

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BYSan Francisco Chronicle • St. Louis Post Dispatch • Chicago Tribune • HuffPost • Newsday

“Absorbing . . . In masterly fashion, Flynn depicts the unraveling of a marriage—and of a recession-hit Midwest—by interweaving the wife’s diary entries with the husband’s first-person account.”New Yorker

“Ms. Flynn writes dark suspense novels that anatomize violence without splashing barrels of blood around the pages . . . Ms. Flynn has much more up her sleeve than a simple missing-person case. As Nick and Amy alternately tell their stories, marriage has never looked so menacing, narrators so unreliable.”The Wall Street Journal

“The story unfolds in precise and riveting prose . . . even while you know you’re being manipulated, searching for the missing pieces is half the thrill of this wickedly absorbing tale.”O: The Oprah Magazine


Now, here’s Karin Slaughter’s own book, The Silent Wife, release date Aug. 4. It features a fan favorite, Will Trent.

“If you’re into mystery thrillers, then you’re into Karin Slaughter.” —THESKIMM

He watches. He waits. He takes. Who will be next . . .


The New York Times bestselling author of Pieces of Her and The Last Widow returns with another electrifying thriller.

Investigating the killing of a prisoner during a riot inside a state penitentiary, GBI investigator Will Trent is confronted with disturbing information. One of the inmates claims that he is innocent of a brutal attack for which he has always been the prime suspect. The man insists that he was framed by a corrupt law enforcement team led by Jeffrey Tolliver and that the real culprit is still out there—a serial killer who has systematically been preying on women across the state for years. If Will reopens the investigation and implicates the dead police officer with a hero’s reputation of wrongdoing, the opportunistic convict is willing to provide the information GBI needs about the riot murder.

Only days ago, another young woman was viciously murdered in a state park in northern Georgia. Is it a fluke, or could there be a serial killer on the loose?

As Will Trent digs into both crimes it becomes clear that he must solve the cold case in order to find the answer. Yet nearly a decade has passed—time for memories to fade, witnesses to vanish, evidence to disappear, and lies to become truth. But Will can’t crack either mystery without the help of the one person he doesn’t want involved: his girlfriend and Jeffrey Tolliver’s widow, medical examiner Sara Linton.

When the past and present begin to collide, Will realizes that everything he values is at stake . . .

Gary Phillips, in Conversation

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Let’s just imagine Matthew Henson, North Pole adventurer, as a pulp hero in the Harlem Renaissance in 1928. That’s Gary Phillips’ new book, Matthew Henson and the Ice Temple of Harlem. Patrick Millikin from The Poisoned Pen is the perfect one to talk about pulp novels with Phillips. Check out that book, and Phillips’ other books in the Web Store.

Here’s Matthew Henson and the Ice Temple of Harlem.

MATTHEW HENSON AND THE ICE TEMPLE OF HARLEM is the first in a new exciting retro rollicking adventure series. This re-imagined pulp novel follows the Doc Savage-style adventures of the first black man to reach the North Pole —Matthew Henson. The tail end of the Roaring 20s. Harlem. Hired by controversial spiritual leader Daddy Paradise to retrieve his adult daughter who has been kidnapped, adventurer Matthew Henson does just that. Then he must safeguard the two until the firebrandcan deliver a momentous speech at a mass rally. Henson must employ all his survival skills to fulfill his task—skills that kept him whole in forbidden jungles, across Asia, and in sub-zero ice storms when he first reached the North Pole. Henson’s charge brings him face-to-face with such illustrious characters as gangster Dutch Schultz, who’s looking to muscle out numbers racket boss Queenie St. Clair, and famed inventor Nikola Tesla who is using his electrical acumen to surveil plutocrats. Henson’s pal Bessie Coleman, America’s first black aviatrix lends a hand as well. With a death ray zeroing in on him, he races against the clock to save lives, and keep a mysterious and powerful meteor fragment he brought back from the Arctic years ago out of the hands of monied evil-doers. Set against the intellectual, artistic and political firmament that was the Harlem Renaissance, THE ICE TEMPLE OF HARLEM re-imagines explorer Matthew Henson in the style of Doc Savage and Indiana Jones. The one the Inuit adopted as their own and considered the best example of those from the distant South.


You can watch and listen to the entire conversation.

If you would prefer to listen to the virtual event as a podcast, check it out here.

R.J. Lee’s Distractions

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Every author brings their own tone to the book “Distractions” posts. It’s interesting to see the books they highlight. R. J. Lee, author of the Bridge to Death cozy mysteries shares his suggestions today. You can find his books, and his book suggestions, through the Web Store. While his mysteries are cozies, and any reader can enjoy them, if you play bridge, you might really want to check out Lee’s books.

R. J. Lee follows in the mystery-writing footsteps of his father, R. Keene Lee, who wrote fighter pilot and detective stories for Fiction House, publishers of Wings Magazine and other pulp fiction periodicals in the late ’40s and ’50s. Lee was born and grew up in the Mississippi River port of Natchez but also spent thirty years living in the Crescent City of New Orleans. A graduate of the University of the South (Sewanee) where he studied creative writing under Sewanee Review editor, Andrew Lytle, Lee now resides in Oxford, Mississippi.

Lee kicks off his Distractions post with a beloved author. Check it out.



The pandemic would seem to be something a professional author should be used to. After all, we do a lot of sheltering in place on our own, whether single or married, with or without children to deal with as well. But the thing is, many of us try to fit in a bit of travel to get fresh angles on settings for our scenes; bits of dialogue we can rework at our pleasure.  And the pandemic has cut that off, too.

So, I’ve been left with working on the fourth cozy mystery in my current contract with Kensington; and reading a few other authors when I need to take a break from my universe that I must inhabit for a living. I have three novels that I have been dipping in and out of for those breaks, each one a different genre and each appealing to a different part of my brain.

First, there is AFTER THE FUNERAL: A HERCULE POIROT MYSTERY by Agatha Christie, of course. (Harper Collins)  

I first became interested in Christie’s work while I was living and working in Europe right after college graduation. I was teaching on an Army base as Civilian Personnel and had access to the base library.  There, I checked out and read every Christie mystery they had; and when I returned to the States the next year, I caught up with the rest in the New Orleans library system. Since I am now a cozy mystery writer, I find it refreshing to reread a Christie mystery because reading is writing. While I do not plagiarize, I get a great deal of benefit from seeing how another mystery writer gets characters from place to place and solves the problems inherent in pacing: one must unspool enough to keep the reader interested but not so much that the reader guesses the solution too soon (or perhaps at all.)

In AFTER THE FUNERAL, Christie’s setting is classic, the characters archetypal. The Abernethie family of Enderby Hall has gathered for the reading of the will. That is often the starting point for many cozies: someone has already died, and money/property are at stake. In this case, a particular relative named Cora suspects that the dead benefactor was actually murdered; but before she gets to delve deeply into the matter, she, too, is dispatched. At that point, the redoubtable Hercule Poirot is introduced to help solve the crimes and prevent others from happening.

Christie was perhaps superior in providing twists at the end of her novels, and I have endeavored to do the same with my series. Although it had been decades since I had read AFTER THE FUNERAL, I found that the solution did not occur to me until very late in the novel—perhaps a testament to how well Christie always covered her tracks. Not only that, but between the time I had first read the mystery and now, DOWNTON ABBEY had captured the imagination of the American viewing public.  Thus, my affection for things British had only grown, and I felt like I was taking a little vacation to the UK.

Next, I’ve been having a great deal of fun indulging my fascination with the world of film in the form of ROTTEN MOVIES WE LOVE by the editor of ROTTEN TOMATOES (Running Press Adult).

There are different categories, lovingly and sarcastically treated within—but the emphasis is on movies that are so bad, they are actually entertaining in some perverse way. Some of the movies will be familiar to the average American, while others will be revelations—again, not necessarily in a complimentary fashion. For instance, though Tom Hanks has won two Oscars and has been nominated for others, not every film he made was a winner. THE ‘BURBS is a case in point. This ‘trying too hard to be zany’ comedy about the suburbs also trapped Carrie Fisher within its celluloid walls, and I remember seeing it when it first came out. About the only thing I can remember is things exploding (as in bombs), but it was not supposed to be one of those action-adventure-adrenalin features.  (But the bomb part was appropriate.)

There are 101 films critically reviewed in this tome, some with tongue-in cheek, and others with tongue stuck straight out, but it’s the sort of reading that can make you blush at some guilty pleasure of a movie you’ve enjoyed. I have a collection of 350 films at home that I can watch when the mood strikes me, and almost none of them would appear in this collection. One or two might, however, because like the title suggest, some of these movies are so rotten, they are irresistible. Besides, the pandemic is so stressful that it is sometimes a relief to watch something that is irredeemable and going nowhere fast.

Finally, I have met the author of the third novel I’ve read recently—Connor Judson Garrett—at a book festival in January.  His work—FALLING UP IN THE CITY OF ANGELS—(Lucid Press) has a CATCHER IN THE RYE echo about it, although the subject matter is somewhat more literary.

Young Tony is an aspiring writer who moves from his native city of Atlanta to Southern California (Santa Barbara, Malibu, Venice Beach) in search of his dream. Although he hasn’t much money to undertake his adventure, he has going for him the energy that being a perfectionist and a romantic can provide those who have not sustained too many blows to the ego. Garrett’s style is dense, almost poetic at times, and encourages introspection while reading. It is a different universe than the one I must create for my mysteries, which demand justification for every little detail.

Garrett can indulge quirks and tangents that do not have to be tied up neatly at the end or even while Tony’s journey is underway. It is an intense exercise in trying to hurdle the high bar while encountering the reality of learning how to get off the ground and then land on one’s feet without too much in the way of injury. I am so much farther along in life than Tony is, but I can remember the obstacles of my earlier years; and Garrett brings them back to me with his extremely effective prose.


Quite a bit of variety in R.J. Lee’s selections. Now, let me introduce you to his books. Again, you can find the two published, along with the forthcoming book in the series, through the Web Store.

Grand Slam Murders was the first in the Bridge to Death series.

After four bridge players are poisoned, newspaper reporter Wendy Winchester sets out to catch a killer who’s not playing with a full deck . . .
When the four wealthy widows who make up the venerable Rosalie Bridge Club never get up from their card table, this quiet Mississippi town has its first quadruple homicide. Who put cyanide in their sugar bowl? An aspiring member and kibitzer with the exclusive club, Wendy takes a personal interest in finding justice for the ladies.
She also has a professional motivation. A frustrated society columnist for the Rosalie Citizen, she’s ready to deal herself a better hand as an investigative reporter. This could be her big break. Plus, she has a card or two up her sleeve: her sometimes boyfriend is a detective and her dad is the local chief of police.
Partnering up with the men in her life, Wendy starts shuffling through suspects and turning over secrets long held close to the chest by the ladies. But when a wild card tries to take her out of the game, Wendy decides it’s time to up the ante before she’s the next one to go down . . 


Playing the Devil was just released last month.

Reporter and bridge player Wendy Winchester once again plays ace detective when a country club member is murdered in a hot tub . . .
Now an investigative reporter for the Rosalie Citizen in the Mississippi River port of Rosalie, Wendy still likes to unwind over a game of cards. Following the demise of the Rosalie Bridge Club, she’s started her own group at the Rosalie Country Club. During the first meeting of the Country Club Bridge Players, the dummy has barely been laid down when another dummy gets in a scuffle at the bar across the room. Bridge player Carly Ogle’s husband Brent is at it again.
After the club’s new female golf pro breaks up the fight, Brent storms off to soak in a hot tub. But Carly soon finds the bullying Brent dead in the water, clubbed over the head with the pestle the barkeep uses to crush leaves for mint juleps.
Racist, sexist, homophobic, and an all-around lout, Brent made enough enemies to fill a bridge tournament. So Wendy has to play her cards right to get the story—and stay out of hot water long enough to put the squeeze on the killer . . .


Are you hooked? Cold Reading Murder will be released in February. Keep it in mind for your pre-orders in a few months.

In the third Bridge to Death Mystery by R.J. Lee, Bridge expert and small town investigative reporter Wendy Winchester must put her amateur sleuthing skills to the test while investigating the death of a flamboyant psychic…

Bridge expert and investigative reporter Wendy Winchester knows a thing or two about navigating life along the Mississippi River, but murder isn’t something she foresees…

Who could have predicted it? The daughter of Police Chief Bax Winchester married to a cop–Detective Ross Rierson. It’s a beautiful wedding, and the newlyweds are in bliss–even if they do have to postpone their Hawaiian honeymoon for now. In the meantime, Wendy is teaching a group of newbies the game of bridge so they can join the Rosalie Country Club Bridge Bunch.

One of the newcomers, flamboyant psychic Aurelia Spangler, invites the group to meet at her new home. The historic Overview mansion sits atop the High Bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, and the local lore is that it’s possibly haunted, definitely cursed by the original builder, who fell down the stairs to his death. Unfortunately, the house is about to claim another life.

Following a night of bridge practice and cold readings by their clairvoyant host, Aurelia is found dead in her home by Wendy, a suicide note and cocaine residue by her corpse. But Wendy, an investigative reporter for the Rosalie Citizen, doesn’t buy it. The scene seems phonier than Aurelia’s act, and now Wendy needs to call the bluff of a cold-blooded killer playing a psychic bid…

Laurie R. King’s “Binge-able” Russell and Holmes

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Photo by Josh Edelson

I do subscribe to the L.A. Times, so I hope you’re able to read the article I’m sharing, Mary McNamara’s Column: “Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell are getting me through COVID-19. They can help you too.” Here’s the link.

Laurie R. King is a friend of The Poisoned Pen. She’s written blog posts here, including her “Distractions” post. It’s great to be able to share this homage to her books.

Here’s just one paragraph from McNamara that will give you a clue as to how much she appreciates King’s books. “But no Sherlock character save the original have I loved so well or so long as Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell. The young, Jewish, half-American, half-British, theology scholar-left-handed knife thrower-wealthy bluestocking-brilliant investigator who, at age 15, meets the the world’s first consulting detective as he’s languishing among his Sussex bees and marries him pretty much the moment she turns 21.”

If you haven’t discovered Laurie R. King’s Russell/Holmes books, you can start at the beginning with The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. King’s books are available through the Web Store.

Here’s the summary of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice.

The Twentieth-Anniversary Edition of the First Novel of the Acclaimed Mary Russell Series by Edgar Award–Winning Author Laurie R. King.

An Agatha Award Best Novel Nominee • Named One of the Century’s Best 100 Mysteries by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association

In 1915, Sherlock Holmes is retired and quietly engaged in the study of honeybees in Sussex when a young woman literally stumbles onto him on the Sussex Downs. Fifteen years old, gawky, egotistical, and recently orphaned, the young Mary Russell displays an intellect to impress even Sherlock Holmes. Under his reluctant tutelage, this very modern, twentieth-century woman proves a deft protégée and a fitting partner for the Victorian detective. They are soon called to Wales to help Scotland Yard find the kidnapped daughter of an American senator, a case of international significance with clues that dip deep into Holmes’s past. Full of brilliant deduction, disguises, and danger, The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, the first book of the Mary Russell–Sherlock Holmes mysteries, is “remarkably beguiling” (The Boston Globe).


Here’s the latest Russell/Holmes adventure, Riviera Gold. Signed copies are still available.

Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes turn the Riviera upside down to crack their most captivating case yet in the New York Times bestselling series that Lee Child called “the most sustained feat of imagination in mystery fiction today.”

It’s summertime on the Riviera, and the Jazz Age has come to France’s once-sleepy beaches. From their music-filled terraces, American expatriates gaze along the coastline at the lights of Monte Carlo, where fortunes are won, lost, stolen, and sometimes hidden away. When Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes arrive, they find their partnership pulled between youthful pleasures and old sins, hot sun and cool jazz, new affections and enduring loyalties.

Russell falls into easy friendship with an enthralling American couple, Sara and Gerald Murphy, whose golden life on the Riviera has begun to attract famous writers and artists—and some of the scoundrels linked with Monte Carlo’s underworld. The Murphy set will go on to inspire everyone from F. Scott Fitzgerald to Pablo Picassobut in this summer of 1925, their importance for Russell lies in one of their circle’s recent additions: the Holmeses’ former housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson, who hasn’t been seen since she fled England under a cloud of false murder accusations.

When a beautiful young man is found dead in Mrs. Hudson’s front room, she becomes the prime suspect in yet another murder. Russell is certain of Mrs. Hudson’s innocence; Holmes is not. But the old woman’s colorful past has been a source of tension between them before, and now the dangerous players who control Monte Carlo’s gilded casinos may stop at nothing to keep the pair away from what Mrs. Hudson’s youthful history could bring to light.

The Riviera is a place where treasure can be false, where love can destroy, and where life, as Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes will discover, can be cheap—even when it is made of solid gold.

Paula Munier’s Distractions

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Paula Munier is a little overshadowed by Bear, that beautiful dog in her author’s photo, isn’t she? Personally, I think the author of the Mercy Carr mysteries planned it that way. Munier’s books are available through the Web Store.

Paula Munier is the author of the bestselling Plot Perfect, The Writer’s Guide to Beginnings, Writing with Quiet Hands, and Fixing Freddie: A True Story of a Boy, a Mom, and a Very, Very Bad Beagle. She was inspired to write A Borrowing of Bones, the first Mercy and Elvis mystery, by the hero working dogs she met through MissionK9Rescue, her own Newfoundland retriever mix rescue Bear, and a lifelong passion for crime fiction. She lives in New Hampshire with her family, Bear, and a torbie tabby named Ursula.

Munier hasn’t really needed distractions lately, so she wrote a lengthy piece with book “Distractions”. You can find all but one of her suggestions in the Web Store. Her final suggestion is a special book, a little costly and hard to find for most of us. Even so, it’s worth sharing.


Books are my life. Literally. Dr. Seuss at six was my gateway drug to a childhood spent reading every book I could land my hands on and an adulthood spent writing, editing, and selling books as an author, acquisitions editor, and literary agent. I read for pleasure, I read for inspiration, I read for comfort and companionship—and I read for a living.

It would take more than a pandemic to get me to stop reading. On the contrary, the pandemic gives me permission to spend even more of my time reading—and to read what truly engages and moves me. Partly because we’re up here in Nowhere, New Hampshire (as my youngest calls it) with my elderly parents, two rescue dogs, a rescue cat, and a new rescue puppy for the duration. No food delivery, no restaurants, no retail therapy. Nothing but woods for miles around. But I can always escape into a good book….

Here’s a sampling of the stories that have helped me through these perilous times:


I came too late to the Attica Locke fan club, but I made up for it by reading all of her novels in a sweet streak just as we dug in for the new shelter-in-place order. All great stories, especially her Highway 59 mysteries, but my first read remains my favorite: The Cutting Season, a 2013 mystery set on a “landmark” plantation in  Louisiana’s sugar cane country that reads like it was ripped from today’s headlines about race relations and revisionist history in the South. If you haven’t read Attica Locke, now’s the time.


I’ve read practically everything this beloved Buddhist nun and teacher has written, but I find myself turning to her humility and humanity all over again whenever I despair of our fate as a country, as a species, and as a planet. Which happens more often than not these days. The Compassion Book and Living Beautifully are wonderful, too, but this is the book I recommend—and reread—the most. The sub-title of this book says it all: Heart advice for difficult times. Who doesn’t need a little of that right now?


I’d been meaning to read this Oprah’s Book Club selection ever since I met Tayari Jones at the Writers Digest Conference a few year back and was so impressed by her and her novel Silver Sparrow. Lockdown gave me the time—and I loved loved loved this story of a marriage torn asunder by circumstances beyond the couple’s control—and how they deal with it and with each other, for better or for worse. A classic.


I chose Maigret’s Pickpocket just because it’s the one I’m reading right now. You should know that I read Maigret novels the way other people knit sweaters or bake bread or chant mantras—to calm my mind, to pound away stress, to commune with the divine. Only my god is the pipe-smoking Inspector Jules Maigret of the Paris Prefecture, who leaves the City of Light just a little brighter every book by fighting the good fight against the dark underbelly of its storied streets with his trademark wisdom, deep understanding of human nature, and Gallic pessimism. I don’t know if I’ve actually read all of the Maigret oeuvre—Simenon wrote so many he called himself the Henry Ford of novelists—but if I haven’t, I should have by the time this is all over.

(This one is not available through the Web Store. We can only drool over it.)


William Shakespeare is my go-to when I feel bad about the human race. Somehow his timeless tales of people struggling with love, jealousy, greed, revenge, violence, and more always make me feel better about being human. One of the silver linings of this pandemic is all of the Shakespeare you can now see online, and I’ve been watching both live and filmed performances of his plays and rereading them in tandem. My idea of a good time. I know, I know, I’m such a nerd.

There’s nothing good about this pandemic, but there is one consolation: So many books—and for once we may have the time.


And, I hope you have the time to try Paula Munier’s mysteries featuring veteran Mercy Carr and her bomb-sniffing dog, Elvis. As I said, you can find them in the Web Store.

A Borrowing of Bones is the first in the series.

The instant USA Today bestseller!

The first in a gripping new series by Paula Munier, A Borrowing of Bones is full of complex twists, introducing a wonderful new voice for mystery readers and dog lovers.

Grief and guilt are the ghosts that haunt you when you survive what others do not….

After their last deployment, when she got shot, her fiancé Martinez got killed and his bomb-sniffing dog Elvis got depressed, soldier Mercy Carr and Elvis were both sent home, her late lover’s last words ringing in her ears: “Take care of my partner.”

Together the two former military police—one twenty-nine-year-old two-legged female with wounds deeper than skin and one handsome five-year-old four-legged Malinois with canine PTSD—march off their grief mile after mile in the beautiful remote Vermont wilderness.

Even on the Fourth of July weekend, when all of Northshire celebrates with fun and frolic and fireworks, it’s just another walk in the woods for Mercy and Elvis—until the dog alerts to explosives and they find a squalling baby abandoned near a shallow grave filled with what appear to be human bones.

U.S. Game Warden Troy Warner and his search and rescue Newfoundland Susie Bear respond to Mercy’s 911 call, and the four must work together to track down a missing mother, solve a cold-case murder, and keep the citizens of Northshire safe on potentially the most incendiary Independence Day since the American Revolution.

It’s a call to action Mercy and Elvis cannot ignore, no matter what the cost.


The second book in the series, Blind Search, is out in hardcover. If you’d rather wait for the paperback, you can pre-order it before the October release.

Former Army MP Mercy Carr and her retired bomb-sniffing dog Elvis are back in Blind Search, the sequel to the page-turning, critically acclaimed A Borrowing of Bones

It’s October, hunting season in the Green Mountains—and the Vermont wilderness has never been more beautiful or more dangerous. Especially for nine-year-old Henry, who’s lost in the woods. Again. Only this time he sees something terrible. When a young woman is found shot through the heart with a fatal arrow, Mercy thinks that something is murder. But Henry, a math genius whose autism often silences him when he should speak up most, is not talking.

Now there’s a murderer hiding among the hunters in the forest—and Mercy and Elvis must team up with their crime-solving friends, game warden Troy Warner and search-and-rescue dog Susie Bear, to find the killer—before the killer finds Henry. When an early season blizzard hits the mountains, cutting them off from the rest of the world, the race is on to solve the crime, apprehend the murderer, and keep the boy safe until the snowplows get through.

Inspired by the true search-and-rescue case of an autistic boy who got lost in the Vermont wilderness, Paula Munier’s mystery is a compelling roller coaster ride through the worst of winter—and human nature.


Here’s a teaser. Although you’ll have to wait until March for The Hiding Place, you might want to know what’s coming next in the series.

Mercy and Elvis are back in The Hiding Place, the most enthralling entry yet in USA Today bestselling Paula Munier’s award-winning Mercy Carr mystery series. When the man who killed her grandfather breaks out of prison and comes after her grandmother, Mercy must unearth the long-buried scandals that threaten to tear her family apart. And she may have to do it without her beloved canine partner Elvis, if the sniffer dog’s former handler has his way….

Some people take their secrets with them to the grave. Others leave them behind on their deathbeds, riddles for the survivors to solve.

When her late grandfather’s deputy calls Mercy to his deathbed, she and Elvis inherit the cold case that haunted him—and may have killed him. But finding Beth Kilgore 20 years after she disappeared is more than a lost cause. It’s a Pandora’s box releasing a rain of evil on the very people Mercy and Elvis hold most dear.

The timing couldn’t be worse when the man who murdered her grandfather escapes from prison and a fellow Army vet turns up claiming that Elvis is his dog, not hers. With her grandmother Patience gone missing, and Elvis’s future uncertain, Mercy faces the prospect of losing her most treasured allies, the only ones she believes truly love and understand her.

She needs help, and that means forgiving Vermont Game Warden Troy Warner long enough to enlist his aid. With time running out for Patience, Mercy and Elvis must team up with Troy and his search-and-rescue dog Susie Bear to unravel the secrets of the past and save her grandmother—before it’s too late.

Once again, Paula Munier crafts a terrific mystery thriller filled with intrigue, action, resilient characters, the mountains of Vermont, and two amazing dogs.

Debut Author Anna Downes, in Conversation

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Let’s introduce you to a debut author. Barbara Peters, owner of The Poisoned Pen, recently talked with Anna Downes, a British author who lives in Australia. She’s the author of The Safe Place. You can order copies of the book through the Web Store.

Here’s the description of The Safe Place.

Superbly tense and oozing with atmosphere, Anna Downes’s debut, The Safe Place, is the perfect summer suspense, with the modern gothic feel of Ruth Ware and the morally complex family dynamics of Lisa Jewell.

Welcome to paradise…will you ever be able to leave?

Emily is a mess.

Emily Proudman just lost her acting agent, her job, and her apartment in one miserable day.

Emily is desperate.

Scott Denny, a successful and charismatic CEO, has a problem that neither his business acumen nor vast wealth can fix. Until he meets Emily.

Emily is perfect.

Scott offers Emily a summer job as a housekeeper on his remote, beautiful French estate. Enchanted by his lovely wife Nina, and his eccentric young daughter, Aurelia, Emily falls headlong into this oasis of wine-soaked days by the pool. But soon Emily realizes that Scott and Nina are hiding dangerous secrets, and if she doesn’t play along, the consequences could be deadly.


Enjoy the virtual author event here.

The Rock Bottom Remainders

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Years and years ago, I was lucky enough to see the Rock Bottom Remainders in concert in Greenwich Village. Who are the Rock Bottom Remainders? Well, the group changes, but Stephen King, Amy Tan, Ridley Pearson, Greg Iles, Dave Barry, and Mitch Albom are some of the members. You can see others, including a few guests, in the following video.

We’re not asking for charity or donations on this blog. It’s a Saturday during a worldwide pandemic, a perfect time to share a fun video with some of your favorite authors in a role you might never have seen. Enjoy!