Fiction Review

The Crime that Rocked Victorian London

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In Murder by the Book, Claire Harman examines the murder that caught the attention of literary London, and the aftereffects, including the abolishment of public executions. Murder by the Book is available through the Web Store.

Here’s the description of the nonfiction title.

From the acclaimed biographer–the fascinating, little-known story of a Victorian-era murder that rocked literary London, leading Charles Dickens, William Thackeray, and Queen Victoria herself to wonder: Can a novel kill?

In May 1840, Lord William Russell, well known in London’s highest social circles, was found with his throat cut. The brutal murder had the whole city talking. The police suspected Russell’s valet, Courvoisier, but the evidence was weak. The missing clue, it turned out, lay in the unlikeliest place: what Courvoisier had been reading. In the years just before the murder, new printing methods had made books cheap and abundant, the novel form was on the rise, and suddenly everyone was reading. The best-selling titles were the most sensational true-crime stories. Even Dickens and Thackeray, both at the beginning of their careers, fell under the spell of these tales–Dickens publicly admiring them, Thackeray rejecting them. One such phenomenon was William Harrison Ainsworth’s Jack Sheppard, the story of an unrepentant criminal who escaped the gallows time and again. When Lord William’s murderer finally confessed his guilt, he would cite this novel in his defense. Murder By the Book combines this thrilling true-crime story with an illuminating account of the rise of the novel form and the battle for its early soul among the most famous writers of the time. It is superbly researched, vividly written, and captivating from first to last.


If this book interests you, Heller McAlpin’s review in The Washington Post is worth reading.

Conversations with Betty Webb, Lena Jones’ Creator

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It’s always difficult to say goodbye to a beloved character. Betty Webb, author of the Lena Jones mysteries, provides answers in the final book in the series, Desert Redemption. You can order the series, including a signed copy of Desert Redemption, through the Web Store.

Because it’s the last book, several people interviewed Webb about this book and the series. You’ll want to catch both articles. Michael Barson did a Q&A for Suspense Magazine.

Elise Cooper interviewed Webb for Crimespree Magazine.

Once again, here’s the description of Desert Redemption.

“In Jones’s electrifying 10th…Scottsdale, Arizona, PI Lena is approached by Harold Slow Horse, one of Arizona’s leading artists…[and] gets on a trail that leads her at long last to answers about her troubled past…” —Publishers Weekly

At the age of four, Scottsdale private eye Lena Jones was shot in the head and left to die on a Phoenix street. After her rescue, she spent years in the abusive foster care system, never knowing who her parents were and why they didn’t claim her. When Desert Redemption begins, she still doesn’t know her real name.

Lena’s rough childhood—and the suspicion that her parents may have been members of a cult—keeps her hackles raised. So when Chelsea, the ex-wife of Harold Slow Horse, a close friend, joins a “new thought” organization called Kanati, Lena begins to investigate. She soon learns that two communes—polar opposites of each other—have sprung up nearby in the Arizona desert. The participants at EarthWay follow a rigorous dietary regime that could threaten the health of its back-to-the-land inhabitants, while the more pleasure-loving folk at Kanati are dining on sumptuous French cuisine.

On an early morning horseback ride across the Pima Indian Reservation, Lena finds an emaciated woman’s body in the desert. “Reservation Woman” lies in a spot close to EarthWay, clad in a dress similar to the ones worn by its women. But there is something about her face that reminds Lena of the Kanatians.

While investigating, Lena’s memory is jolted back to that horrible night when her father and younger brother were among those murdered by a cult leader named Abraham, who then vanished. Lena begins to wonder if either EarthWay or Kanati could be linked to that night, and to her own near-death. Could leaders of one or both shed light on what had happened to Lena’s mother, who vanished at the same time as Abraham?

All these mysteries are resolved in Desert Redemption, the tenth and final Lena Jones case, which can also be enjoyed on its own.

Jane Stanton Hitchcock in Conversation

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Jane Stanton Hitchcock is the author of a recent Hot Book of the Week at The Poisoned Pen, Bluff. She brings a great deal of her own experience to this book. Signed copies of Bluff are available through the Web Store.

You might be interested in reading John Valeri’s interview of Jane Stanton Hitchcock at The Q&A will tell you a great deal about her background and the story itself.

If you would rather “meet” Jane Stanton Hitchcock at an event, check out her recent appearance at the store with Linda Fairstein, author of Blood Oath.

Hot Book of the Week – Double Exposure

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Alfred Gough and Miles Millar are the creators of Smallville. They’re also the authors of the current Hot Book of the Week at the Poisoned Pen, a debut thriller called Double Exposure. You can order a signed copy of Double Exposure through the Web Store.

Here’s the summary of Double Exposure.

From the creators of Smallville comes an action-packed debut thriller about a war veteran and CIA officer in the 1960s swept up into a global conspiracy that may prove Hitler is still alive.

David Toland, a decorated Korean War veteran, has done all he can to leave a life of combat behind. Now Director of Preservation for the Library of Congress’s National Film Archive, Toland has made it his mission to preserve what he loves most: the Golden Age of American cinema, moving pictures full of romance, adventure and American Dream. That is, until CIA Agent Lana Welles drops in unannounced with a film canister, smuggled over the Berlin Wall at great cost, that may prove WWII never really ended–it just went underground.
David reluctantly agrees to serve his country one last time and help recover the film for Lana and the CIA. But it seems not everyone is as eager as they are to dig up the past. David and Lana’s discovery awakens shadowy forces who will do anything to keep their findings a secret. In search of the truth, David and Lana find themselves pursued across the globe in a cat and mouse game with enormous, world-altering consequences.

Lefty Award Winners

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The winners of the Lefty Awards were announced this past weekend. The Lefty Awards are presented annually at the Left Coast Crime convention, voted on by the attendees. Check the Web Store for copies of the books.

Congratulations to all of the winners!

Lefty for Best Humorous Mystery Novel j

Catriona McPherson, Scot Free

Lefty for Best Historical Mystery Novel (Bruce Alexander Memorial) for books covering events before 1960

Sujata Massey, The Widows of Malabar Hill

Lefty for Best Debut Mystery Novel

Dianne Freeman, A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder

Lefty for Best Mystery Novel (not in other categories)

Lou Berney, November Road

Secrets in Your Family Tree

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When I saw debut author S.C. Perkins’ intriguing list of “Seven Fun Genealogy Facts” on, I thought readers might be interested. Check them out here.

S.C. Perkins is the author of Murder Once Removed, a debut mystery that won the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition. Murder Once Removed is available for purchase through the Web Store.

I recently interviewed S.C. Perkins. Although the interview might not be as pertinent in your life as her “Seven Fun Genealogy Facts”, you might enjoy it.


It’s my pleasure to introduce you to S.C. Perkins. I hope you enjoy the interview, and give her mystery a try.

S.C., congratulations on the release of your debut mystery. Would you introduce yourself to readers, please?

Hi and thank you so much for having me on your blog, Lesa! I’m S.C. Perkins and I hail from Houston, Texas. Besides my writing and my day job, I dabble in container gardening—thus far I’ve only been successful with bell peppers, but it still counts!—and I ride horses whenever I can. Though I love being in the city, my favorite place to be is down on the coast at the beach.  

Would you introduce us to Lucy Lancaster?

Lucy is a professional genealogist living in Austin, Texas, and she absolutely loves her job, especially when she gets to unravel historical and genealogical clues. While her two best friends (and a certain FBI agent with whom she locks horns) might say Lucy’s a wee bit stubborn, she’s got a good and loyal heart and a desire to right wrongs. This latter trait might cause her to get into trouble more than she ought, yes, but that’s what makes her all the more fun to write. Lastly, she’s also undeniably hooked on her drug of choice:  tacos, with a side of guacamole or queso. Or both, because why not? Lucy lives every day like it’s Taco Tuesday, for sure.

Without spoilers, tell us about Murder Once Removed.

While working on the family tree of wealthy businessman Gus Halloran, Lucy uncovers an 1849 daguerreotype photograph and a journal with a missing page, both of which prove Gus’s great-great grandfather’s death wasn’t accidental, but cold-blooded murder. 

No sooner has she narrowed the nineteenth-century suspects down to two men—one of whom is the ancestor of present-day U.S. senator Daniel Applewhite—than Gus jumps the gun, publicly outing the senator as the descendant of a murderer.  When the senator’s life is later threatened, Lucy lands in the path of kinda-grumpy, kinda-charming FBI Special Agent Ben Turner.

But when another tragedy strikes closer to home, Lucy’s convinced what’s on the missing journal page is as important now as it was in 1849. She’s determined to find the page and unearth how the killer is connected to both the past and the present, be it through cousins, second cousins, or cousins once removed—and before she’s removed, permanently.

This is the first Ancestry Detective series. Why did you decide to write mysteries about genealogy? What’s your own interest in genealogical research?

I have several amateur genealogists on my dad’s side, including my late grandmother and great-grandfather, giving me a lifelong fascination with family history. Just about every time I went to my grandmother’s house, I heard some interesting story about my lineage and/or the latest relative she’d found. I never grew tired of it, either! So when the idea for an amateur sleuth came to my mind, my very first thought was to make her a genealogist. There was never anything else Lucy would be.

Can you give us a hint about the next book in the series?

If all goes well, the second book in the Ancestry Detective series will have a World War II element, which is one of my favorite subjects!

Murder Once Removed won the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Competition. What were you doing, and what was your reaction when you learned this?

Oh, it was so exciting and one of the best days of my life, though my reaction had to be more subdued than I would have liked due to my work circumstances. At the time, I was working for the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, which is a huge 20-plus-day event, and we were in the middle of it, busy as all get out. I was in my tiny office when I saw a call from New York come through on my cell, but I couldn’t answer it since I was on another call on my work phone. When I heard the voicemail from Minotaur Books, though, I called right back! The funny thing was, I was sitting all of three feet away from my co-worker, who was on the phone herself, so I had to keep my voice down and not break into a tap dance of unbridled happiness. My editor teases me I was the calmest winner she’d ever spoken to, but I was absolutely bonkers-thrilled on the inside. And I don’t think I stopped smiling for days!

You’re writing a series set in Texas, and you live in Houston. Where do you like to take people when they come to visit?

Houston is as known for its restaurants as it is for having NASA’s Johnson Space Center in its backyard, so I usually take my guests to a great place to eat first and foremost. If they’re not from Texas, we always go for some good barbecue, naturally. 

Depending on the seasons and what someone likes to do, there’s more ways to enjoy yourself in Houston than you can shake a stick at. Some of my favorites include going to an outdoor movie at Miller Outdoor Theatre in the museum district, enjoying an art festival or baseball/football/soccer game, seeing the butterflies at the Museum of Natural Science’s Cockrell Butterfly Center, or going shopping —Houston is also known for its shopping! 

But if someone were to come into town around March, I’d take them to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, no doubt. It’s a Houston tradition that benefits Texas children and education as well as being a world-class rodeo and a great time. 

What did you read as a child?

I loved books about animals and books with adventure and/or mystery. Some of my favorites included Black BeautyThe Boxcar Children series, The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series, and Encyclopedia Brown. But probably my favorite, which remains so to this day and is equally readable as an adult, is James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small. Though it’s not actually a children’s book, my mother wisely let me read it at a very young age and I fell in love. 

What authors influenced your mystery writing?

One early influence was Donald J. Sobol in the way he usually had Encyclopedia Brown see a clue in something that seemed otherwise ordinary. But my biggest influence overall is Dick Francis. His books are so well written and are still some of my favorite mysteries to this day. He, too, always imparted some interesting fact or two in his books, and I try to do the same in mine. Current influences, especially in the cozy/traditional mystery genres, include Rhys Bowen, Carolyn Haines, Kate Carlisle, and Donna Andrews. Those ladies are amazing at keeping their ideas fresh and their readers coming back for more. 

S.C., because I’m a librarian, I always end the same way. Tell me about a library or librarian who influenced you.

I just love libraries! I can still remember the first time I checked out a book on my own. It was the coolest feeling. I always enjoyed going to any library, including my school libraries in Houston and my local library, Spring Branch Memorial Library. I also loved spending time at my college library at Texas A&M University. All those books with all that information, just waiting to be discovered! Each trip to a library was an adventure. The fact is, libraries are wonderful, as are the librarians who so patiently help readers and researchers every day. 

Thank you, S.C. I appreciate the time you took for the interview. And, good luck with Murder Once Removed.

S.C. Perkins’ website is

Murder Once Removed by S.C. Perkins. Minotaur Books, 2019. ISBN 9781250189035 (hardcover), 336p.

Isabella Maldonado Discusses Death Blow

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If you only know of Isabella Maldonado from her three novels, including Death Blow, you’d expect a serious former police officer. That’s one more reason you should go back and read her previous interview, done by Detective Veranda Cruz, Maldonado’s protagonist.

Or, you can watch a professional, Patrick Millikin, interview Maldonado.

Copies of Isabella Maldonado’s books, including signed copies of Death Blow, are available through the Web Store.