Fiction Review

William Kent Krueger on Tour – This Tender Land

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If you only know William Kent Krueger from his beautiful standalone, Ordinary Grace, or his Cork O’Connor mysteries, now you have the chance to meet him at The Poisoned Pen on Thursday, September 5 at 7 PM. Krueger’s on tour for his new standalone, This Tender Land. If you can’t make it to the event, you can order a signed copy through the Web Store. (William Kent Krueger is one of the few authors who makes me cry when he talks about books. You’ll want to attend the event if you can.)

Before the summary, here’s a note from William Kent Krueger.

The best stories are those that come most deeply from an author’s heart. This Tender Land is a story that began to take shape in my heart long ago. At first, it whispered to me gently. With each passing year, its voice became a bit louder, more insistent, until finally it fairly shouted at me to be written. I knew it would be the most ambitious project I’ve ever undertaken, epic in proportion and intimate in detail. I wanted to use this story to talk about things important to me—family, home, our capacity for generosity in the face of great privation, and the difficulties that confront us all in our spiritual journey. I knew there would be great risks in this undertaking, that I would be asking a lot of myself and of my readers, but that lovely voice from my heart told me I had no choice. The story had to be written.

Although I care about the characters in every novel I compose, I fell deeply in love with the four Vagabonds. As I prepared to have them embark on their long river odyssey in the summer of 1932, I knew they would be greatly challenged by the experiences ahead of them and dramatically changed, but because I cared for them all so very much, I wanted only the best for them in the end.

The story is set against the backdrop of the Great Depression, and it often deals with the hardships endured by so many during that tragic era. I tried to be realistic in that portrayal, but also compassionate. And because I’m a child of the Midwest, I did my best to paint the Heartland landscape with loving strokes.

It’s an old-fashioned kind of storytelling, and I wasn’t certain if it would find an audience among modern readers, but I decided not to worry about this. I believe that if, as Hemingway put it, you write true, you will find your audience. I have tried to write the story as truly as it spoke to me from my heart. My hope is that it will speak to you in the same way.


Here’s the summary of This Tender Land.

For fans of Before We Were Yours and Where the Crawdads Sing, a magnificent novel about four orphans on a life-changing odyssey during the Great Depression, from the New York Times bestselling author ofOrdinary Grace

1932, Minnesota—the Lincoln School is a pitiless place where hundreds of Native American children, forcibly separated from their parents, are sent to be educated. It is also home to an orphan named Odie O’Banion, a lively boy whose exploits earn him the superintendent’s wrath. Forced to flee, he and his brother Albert, their best friend Mose, and a brokenhearted little girl named Emmy steal away in a canoe, heading for the mighty Mississippi and a place to call their own.

Over the course of one unforgettable summer, these four orphans will journey into the unknown and cross paths with others who are adrift, from struggling farmers and traveling faith healers to displaced families and lost souls of all kinds. With the feel of a modern classic, This Tender Land is an en­thralling, big-hearted epic that shows how the magnificent American landscape connects us all, haunts our dreams, and makes us whole.

Hot Book of the Week – A Lisbeth Salander Novel

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The sixth book in Stieg Larrson’s Millennium series, The Girl Who Lived Twice by David Lagercrantz, is the current Hot Book of the Week at The Poisoned Pen. You can order a signed copy of this latest title through the Web Store.

Here’s the summary of The Girl Who Lived Twice.

The sixth Lisbeth Salander story–the crime-fiction phenomenon that has sold more than 90 million copies worldwide.

Lisbeth Salander–the fierce, unstoppable girl with the dragon tattoo–has disappeared. She’s sold her apartment in Stockholm. She’s gone silent electronically. She’s told no one where she is. And no one is aware that at long last she’s got her primal enemy, her twin sister, Camilla, squarely in her sights. 

Mikael Blomkvist is trying to reach Lisbeth. He needs her help unraveling the identity of a man who lived and died on the streets in Stockholm–a man who does not exist in any official records and whose garbled last words hinted at possible damaging knowledge of people in the highest echelons of government and industry. In his pocket was a crumpled piece of paper with Blomkvist’s phone number on it. 

Once again, Salander and Blomkvist will come to each other’s aid, moving in tandem toward the truths they each seek. In the end, it will be Blomkvist–in a moment of unimaginable self-sacrifice–who will make it possible for Lisbeth to face the most important battle of her life, and, finally, to put her past to rest.

Author Interview – Sara E. Johnson

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It’s always a pleasure to introduce readers to a debut mystery author. Sara E. Johnson’s first book, Molten Mud Murder, will be released on September 3 from Sourcebooks/Poisoned Pen Press. You can order a signed copy of the debut, set in New Zealand, through the Web Store.

Sara, congratulations on the release of Molten Mud Murder, your first book.  Would you introduce yourself to readers?

I live in Durham, NC with my husband Forrest and goldendoodle Beau. I love to read, write, travel with my husband (we just returned from Minnesota’s North Shore where we kayaked, hiked, and ate lots of fresh trout), walk the dog, and practice yoga. I am a former middle school reading specialist, and continue working part time helping kids read and write. 

Would you introduce us to Alexa Glock?

My pleasure! Alexa Glock, mid-thirties, is lured to New Zealand by a visiting  odontology fellowship. Never married, she is better with teeth than men. She goes geeky over duct tape evidence and doesn’t let caution tape stand in her way. The lab is her happy place, yet she feels a yearning for love and companionship that she tries to outrun. 

Before you tell us about Molten Mud Murder, would you tell us about the mud pots?

Geothermal mud pots are one of New Zealand’s coolest – well, most awesome – features. I saw my first boiling, plopping pot in Rotorua on the North Island, and I knew I had to write a mystery in that setting. The acid in the viscous mud decomposes rock. Imagine what it does to a body!

Tell us about Molten Mud Murder, without spoilers.

A good mystery starts with a body. In this case, a tourist group discovers one half-submerged in a molten mud pot. 

Alexa barrels her way onto the scene and into the lives of Rotorua’s finest, especially Detective Inspector Bruce Horne. There’s something about his glacial blue eyes that gets under her skin, even though she’s sworn off men.

Danger lurks in “the land of the long white cloud.” The murder victim had trespassed on a sacred island forbidden to Pakeha, or non-Maori, and Alexa must follow suit. The Maori community believe the rules of tapu have been disregarded and the consequences are disaster, demonic possession, or death.

Alexa doesn’t believe in the three Ds, but when she discovers an unorthodox death threat in her rented cottage, she reconsiders. A second murder heats the case to the boiling point.  At the heart of Molten Mud Murderis an age-old debate: Is the past better left undisturbed, or unearthed? And at what cost either way?

Feel free to tell me we’ll have to wait for this next issue to be discussed in a future book. Alexa is always in a hurry. She seems impulsive, and tends to steamroll over people at times. Is this just her nature, or is there something else you can tell us about her?

Alexa lacks self-awareness, and because she has cut ties with her family and colleagues in the States, she doesn’t have a sounding board (and she doesn’t think she needs one).

Can you tell us anything about the next book in the Alexa Glock series?

I am super excited about the next Alexa Glock mystery, coming out in September, 2020. Great white sharks have been circling New Zealand’s Stewart Island for centuries. Until the arrival of shark-cage tourism, islanders and sharks left each other alone. But when a man’s shark-ravaged body washes ashore, it confirms what locals have been hashing out at the pub: cage-diving has changed the sharks’ behavior. Turned them into man eaters. Alexa, working as a traveling forensic scientist,  is dispatched to identify the remains. As she measures bite patterns, she makes a discovery that has her chumming for a different species: man.

You lived in New Zealand for a year. Where did you take visitors when they came?

Milford Sound. Milford Sound. Milford Sound. That’s how many times we went with visitors to this incredibly beautiful remote fjord on the South Island. Waterfalls, rain forest,  Mitre Peak, seals, dolphins, penguins. Did I mention rain? 

Now, for a few personal questions. If you had to recommend 5 books to a person so they could get a feel for your reading taste, what 5 would you pick?

These are five books I would (and have) reread:

The Shipping News by Annie Proulx

I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb

The Poems of Robert Frost

The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler

And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

Were there books you read as child that led you to mysteries? What were your favorite books as a child?

When, at ten years old, I read the storm scene in Carolyn Keene’s The Bungalow Mystery, the world around me dissolved. I was in a skiff on Moon Lake with Helen and Nancy, lightning flashing, waves crashing, about to be devoured by the storm. The blue-cloth copy I still have was given to my mother in 1942.

When I was younger, I loved my Lonely Doll Learns a Lessonbook by Dare Right. And I read all the Little House books.

What’s on your TBR (To Be Read) pile?

It is a treat to answer this. I am on my 39th book so far this year. I am currently finishing Michelle Obama’s Becoming. I have found it inspirational and touching. Next up is Death of a Rainmaker by Laurie Loewenstein. I heard Laurie speak on an author panel at Malice Domestic, and her book sounded great. I am also reading Dreyer’s English by Benjamin Dreyer. Who knew colons (“little trumpet blasts . . . don’t use so many of them that you give your reader a headache”) were such fun? The audio book I am listening to next (after I finish Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb) is Denise Mina’s Conviction. I have heard her compared to Tana French, so I am psyched.  I always have a book of poetry going. I am reading Tianna Clark’s Equilibrium. Her poem “Spot in Antioch” breaks my heart. Finally, I am doing an author event with fellow North Carolinian Thomas Kies at The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, Arizona in September. I can’t wait to read his newest: Graveyard Bay.

Thank you, Sara, for taking time for the interview. Good luck with Molten Mud Murder, and the launch of a new series!

Lisa Lutz and The Swallows

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Lisa Lutz, author of The Swallows, recently appeared at The Poisoned Pen. Before you read the CrimeReads interview with her, you might want to check out the book. You can still order a signed copy of The Swallows through the Web Store.

Here’s the description of The Swallows.

A teacher at a New England prep school ignites a gender war—with deadly consequences—in this dark and provocative novel by the bestselling author of The Passenger

“Riveting . . . full of imagination and power.”—Caroline Kepnes, author of You and Providence

NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF AUGUST BY Bustle • Entertainment Weekly • PopSugar • Refinery29  New York Post

When Alexandra Witt joins the faculty at Stonebridge Academy, she’s hoping to put a painful past behind her. Then one of her creative writing assignments generates some disturbing responses from students. Before long, Alex is immersed in an investigation of the students atop the school’s social hierarchy—and their connection to something called the Darkroom. She soon inspires the girls who’ve started to question the school’s “boys will be boys” attitude and incites a resistance. But just as the movement is gaining momentum, Alex attracts the attention of an unknown enemy who knows a little too much about her—and what brought her to Stonebridge in the first place.

Meanwhile, Gemma, a defiant senior, has been plotting her attack for years, waiting for the right moment. Shy loner Norman hates his role in the Darkroom, but can’t find the courage to fight back until he makes an unlikely alliance. And then there’s Finn Ford, an English teacher with a shady reputation, who keeps one eye on his literary ambitions and one on Ms. Witt. As the school’s secrets begin to trickle out, a boys-versus-girls skirmish turns into an all-out war, with deeply personal—and potentially fatal—consequences for everyone involved.

Lisa Lutz’s blistering, timely tale of revenge and disruption shows us what can happen when silence wins out over decency for too long—and why the scariest threat of all might be the idea that sooner or later, girls will be girls.

Praise for The Swallows

The Swallows is fast-moving, darkly humorous and at times shockingly vicious. The battle of the sexes within its pages couldn’t be more compelling. . . . Lutz delivers a frantic, morbidly funny story.”BookPage

“A decade before the #MeToo movement kicks off in full force, women are coming for the patriarchy in this big ol’ novel, ripe with idiosyncratic characterization and memorable scenes.”Refinery29


If you’d like to Olivia Rutigliano’s interview with Lisa Lutz, you can check out the article, “Lisa Lutz on Creating Iconic Female Protagonists”, an article at CrimeReads’ site,

Preston & Child

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Many of you may have already seen the conversation at The Poisoned Pen with Barbara Peters, owner of the bookstore, and authors Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. You might not have yet seen the humorous interview when Tina Jordan of The New York Times interviewed them. Their latest book, Old Bones, debuts at #2 on this week’s Bestseller List. You can check out the interview here.

You can still order a signed copy of Old Bones through the Web Store.

Here’s the summary of Old Bones.

The #1 NYT bestselling authors Preston & Child bring the true story of the ill-fated Donner Party to new life in this thrilling novel of archaeology, history, murder, and suspense.
Nora Kelly, a young curator at the Santa Fe Institute of Archaeology, is approached by historian Clive Benton with a once-in-a-lifetime proposal: to lead a team in search of the so-called “Lost Camp” of the tragic Donner Party. This was a group of pioneers who earned a terrible place in American history when they became snow-bound in the California mountains in 1847, their fate unknown until the first skeletonized survivors stumbled out of the wilderness, raving about starvation, murder-and cannibalism.

Benton tells Kelly he has stumbled upon an amazing find: the long-sought diary of one of the victims, which has an enigmatic description of the Lost Camp. Nora agrees to lead an expedition to locate and excavate it-to reveal its long-buried secrets.

Once in the mountains, however, they learn that discovering the camp is only the first step in a mounting journey of fear. For as they uncover old bones, they expose the real truth of what happened, one that is far more shocking and bizarre than mere cannibalism. And when those ancient horrors lead to present-day violence on a grand scale, rookie FBI agent Corrie Swanson is assigned the case…only to find that her first investigation might very well be her last.


And, if you missed The Poisoned Pen interview, it’s still available to watch.

The Ned Kelly Awards 2019 – The Shortlist

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It’s time to share this announcement from the Australian Crime Writers Association. You’ll also want to check out the note following the shortlists.

Monday August 19: The Australian Crime Writers Association has announced the shortlist for the NED KELLY AWARDS 2019. Now in its 24th year the Awards are Australia’s oldest and most prestigious crime writing awards.

Past winners have included Jon Cleary, Peter Corris, Adrian McKinty, Jane Harper, Helen Garner, Peter Temple and Michael Robotham. This year has seen the largest number of entries received in the Awards’ history.

ACWA’s Deputy Chair, Robert Goodman said, “The Ned Kelly Awards celebrate some of Australia’s most exciting crime storytellers. They play a vital role in championing local crime writers and the Australian publishing industry both here and overseas.

“The three 2019 shortlists contain a diverse collection of works from both emerging writers and some of our best-known and best-loved crime authors.”

“I congratulate all authors on making this year’s shortlists. They contribute not only to our cultural life but demonstrate Australia’s well-deserved reputation as the home of some of the world’s best crime writing.”

The awards will be held in Sydney on Friday September 6 at the Harold Park Tramsheds and will be MCed by Jane Clifton as part of the BAD Sydney Crime Writers Festival. For tickets and further information, go to THE SHORTLISTS NOW


Eggshell Skull – Bri Lee
(Allen & Unwin)

The Arsonist – Chloe Hooper
(Penguin Random House)

The Lindt Café Siege – Deborah Snow
(Allen & Unwin)

Waiting for Elijah – Kate Wild
(Scribe Publishing)


The Portrait of Molly Dean – Katherine Kovacic
(Echo Publishing)

The Rúin – Dervla McTiernan
(HarperCollins Australia)

The Yellow House – Emily O’Grady
(Allen & Unwin)

Greenlight – Ben Stevenson
(Penguin Books Australia)


Kill Shot – Garry Disher
(Text Publishing)

Gone By Midnight – Candice Fox
(Penguin Random House)

The Spotted Dog – Kerry Greenwood
(Allen & Unwin)

The Lost Man – Jane Harper
(Macmillan Australia)

The Other Wife – Michael Robotham
(Hachette Australia)

Live and Let Fry – Sue Williams
(Text Publishing) 


You’ll undoubtedly recognize some of the authors’ names, especially under Best Fiction. Sourcebooks/Poisoned Pen Press is the U.S. publisher of Kerry Greenwood’s The Spotted Dog. The cover is not the same as the Australian edition. However, if you want to check out any of the books, check the Web Store. And, look for The Spotted Dog. You can pre-order that seventh Corinna Chapman mystery. It’s due out in September.

Betrayal is a bitter pill to swallow…

Rising at four o’clock every morning isn’t Corinna Chapman’s favorite part of running her Australian bakery, Earthly Delights, and the glowing light of dawn starts to feel even harsher when a seemingly disturbed man collapses in her shop. When the man, a military veteran, comes around and reveals that his beloved ex-service dog is missing, Corinna and her longtime companion, Daniel, feel compelled to help. It soon becomes clear, though, that they have gotten involved in something much bigger and more complicated than they had bargained for… especially when threatening notes begin to appear in Corinna’s apartment.

Along with searching for the kidnapped dog and trying to stay out of range of the gang of drug runners who are probably responsible for his disappearance, Corinna has to make sure the delicious breads, muffins, and treats that she has become known for are still fresh and ready for her eager customers. Can she take the heat?

Billy Jensen & Hank Phillippi Ryan in Conversation

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I’ve been waiting to see and share this video, so I’m happy The Poisoned Pen posted it. Billy Jensen, author of Chase Darkness with Me: How One True-Crime Writer Started Solving Murders, and Hank Phillippi Ryan, author of The Murder List, recently appeared at The Pen together. Both authors are journalists. You’ll be able to see them talk about their books and their careers in just a minute. In the meantime, you can order signed copies of their books through the Web Store.

Heres the description of Jensen’s Chase Darkness with Me.

***With an exclusive behind-the-scenes conversation between Billy Jensen and retired detective Paul Holes on the Golden State Killer, their favorite cold cases, and more***

Have you ever wanted to solve a murder? Gather the clues the police overlooked? Put together the pieces? Identify the suspect?

Journalist Billy Jensen spent fifteen years investigating unsolved murders, fighting for the families of victims. Every story he wrote had one thing in common—they didn’t have an ending. The killer was still out there.

But after the sudden death of a friend, crime writer and author of I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, Michelle McNamara, Billy became fed up. Following a dark night, he came up with a plan. A plan to investigate past the point when the cops had given up. A plan to solve the murders himself.

You’ll ride shotgun as Billy identifies the Halloween Mask Murderer, finds a missing girl in the California Redwoods, and investigates the only other murder in New York City on 9/11. You’ll hear intimate details of the hunts for two of the most terrifying serial killers in history: his friend Michelle McNamara’s pursuit of the Golden State Killer and his own quest to find the murderer of the Allenstown Four. And Billy gives you the tools—and the rules—to help solve murders yourself.

Gripping, complex, unforgettable, Chase Darkness with Me is an examination of the evil forces that walk among us, illustrating a novel way to catch those killers, and a true-crime narrative unlike any you’ve read before.


Here’s the summary of Hank Phillippi Ryan’s The Murder List.

“An exhilarating thrill ride that keeps you turning pages.. Ryan deftly delivers a denouement as shocking as it is satisfying.”–Liv Constantine, bestselling author of The Last Mrs. Parrish and The Last Time I Saw You

Law student Rachel North will tell you, without hesitation, what she knows to be true. She’s smart, she’s a hard worker, she does the right thing, she’s successfully married to a faithful and devoted husband, a lion of Boston’s defense bar, and her internship with the Boston DA’s office is her ticket to a successful future. 

Problem is–she’s wrong. 

And in this cat and mouse game–the battle for justice becomes a battle for survival.  

The Murder List is a new standalone suspense novel in the tradition of Lisa Scottoline and B. A. Paris from award-winning author and reporter Hank Phillippi Ryan.


Now, here’s what you really want to see today on the blog. Barbara Peters, owner of The Poisoned Pen, introduces Billy Jensen and Hank Phillippi Ryan.