Fiction Review

Best Crime Novels of 2017?

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It’s time for all those “Best of…” lists to roll in. If we’re lucky, we’ll have a few lists from authors before the end of the year. Marilyn Stasio’s list for The New York Times has some recognizable names on it. You can find signed copies of many of these books in the Web Store.

Check out Stasio’s list.

Val McDermid, Insidious Intent

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I’ve been saving this article for months, waiting until Val McDermid’s new Tony Hill/Carol Jordan crime novel was about to be released in the U.S. Insidious Intent is due out Dec. 5, but you can pre-order your copy through the Web Store.

Insidious Intent

I just couldn’t resist the title of Katy Guest’s article in The Guardian, “Val McDermid: Even on a romantic holiday my thoughts turn to murder.”

If your thoughts turn to murder when you hear the name Val McDermid, you might want to  read the summary of Insidious Intent.

“Powerful . . . McDermid’s prose is pure pleasure to read . . . The plot is tight, the story is thrilling, the ending is as satisfying as they come . . . A master operating at the height of her considerable powers. Prepare to be swept away.”—Mystery SceneonSplinter the Silence

Widely recognized as one of our finest crime writers, with numerous accolades and legions of devoted readers worldwide, internationally bestselling author Val McDermid is back with the latest installment in her series featuring psychologist Tony Hill and former police detective Carol Jordan. InInsidious Intent, Tony and Carol are on the hunt for a serial killer who victimizes women at weddings without a date—and forces the duo to confront their most haunting moral dilemma so far.

In the north of England, single women are beginning to disappear from weddings. A pattern soon becomes clear: Someone is crashing the festivities and luring the women away—only to leave the victims’ bodies in their own burned-out cars in remote locations. Tony and Carol are called upon to investigate—but this may be the toughest case they’ve ever had to face. Meanwhile, Detective Sergeant Paula McIntyre and her partner Elinor must deal with a cruel cyber-blackmailer targeting their teenage ward, Torin.

Impeccably plotted and intensely gripping,Insidious Intent reaffirms Val McDermid’s place as Britain’s reigning Queen of Crime.

Wendall Thomas – In the Hot Seat

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I actually received a copy of Wendall Thomas’ debut mystery, Lost Luggage, to review for a journal. The mystery was so much fun, and Cyd Redondo so lively, that I wanted to introduce you to the author. You can find signed copies of Lost Luggage in the Web Store.

And, if you enjoy the interview, you can find more about Wendall at her website,

Thank you, Wendall, for taking time for the interview.


Wendall, would you introduce yourself to the readers?

I grew up in North Carolina, went to UNC for undergrad and graduate school, then taught at a couple of New England prep schools before moving to Los Angeles to work in the movie business. I started out working in development and production while I wrote my first script – about a woman who says no to a genie — and have been writing, teaching screenwriting at UCLA, and doing various odd freelance jobs, like entertainment reporting, ever since. I also lecture and consult on screenwriting in Europe and the South Pacific, but the thing I’m probably most proud of is writing the speech for Bonnie Raitt’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  I’m married to an English journalist I had the luck to meet on my travels.

Would you introduce Cyd Redondo?

Cyd Redondo is the youngest cousin and the only girl in the extended Redondo Family in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. She lost her father when she was four and her Uncle Ray took her and her mother Bridget into his home, where her ten “brousins” both over-protected and tortured her growing up.  She’s tough and always striving to prove herself, but she can also can be naive about the world her family has protected her from. Now she runs her Uncle’s travel business, which focuses on senior citizens, but when the book opens, she’s never made it farther than New Jersey. She’s great at bartering for services, loves a bargain, can’t walk in flats, has basically dated everyone in Bay Ridge, and wants nothing more than to visit the places she’s always sending everybody else.

Without spoilers, tell us about Lost Luggage.

Lost Luggage

Lost Luggage opens with Cyd in the middle of a safari promotion. If she gets six more bookings, she wins a free trip to Tanzania for herself and a plus one. When she wins the promotion just days after a neighbor is murdered, she heads to Tanzania with new boyfriend Roger to find the dead woman’s missing son and try to have the first real vacation of her life.  When she runs afoul of a ring of endangered animal smugglers, it doesn’t quite turn out that way.  

I’ve read previous interviews, but readers probably didn’t. What was the inspiration for Lost Luggage?

Lost Luggage started out as a script. I love Romancing the Stone, as well as other caper/adventures like Charade, What’s Up Doc, and The In-Laws, so I’m drawn to the idea of a regular person thrown in over his or her head and having to rise to the occasion with humor and guts. I also love all the early screwball comedies and comedy heroines in Bringing Up Baby, The Lady Eve, Ball of Fire, It Happened One Night, etc. so I wanted a heroine who was sexy, inventive, tough, and pretty much created chaos wherever she went. All those things came together the first time I saw and heard Cyd in my mind, and once I had her, the story started to work. When the script didn’t sell, I couldn’t get her out of my head and wondered whether she might work as the center of a book series.

Can you give us a hint about Cyd’s next adventure? Where is she heading now?

In the next book, Cyd is headed on an Australian cruise to search for her ex-husband’s missing parents, and will wind up chasing bad guys both above and below deck, and on the exotic island of Tasmania.

As a travel agent, there’s a whole world for Cyd to explore. Where would you like to go, and why?

I’m still dying to go to Barcelona, Madagascar, Iceland, Macao, Bali, and Bora Bora. Since Cyd has limited travel experience, she’s still dying for basics like London, Paris, and Rome, but I think she’d agree with me on Macao and Bali. We are both crazy about Tasmania….

I’ve been to Los Angeles several times, and had extensive tours given by a friend who lives there. Where do you take people when they come to visit?  

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My feeling is that most of the things people come to Hollywood for are disappointing, so I try to avoid Hollywood Boulevard,  Rodeo Drive, Universal City, etc.  I tend to take people to the Farmer’s Market at Third and Fairfax,  El Coyote – a Mexican restaurant that’s been in my neighborhood for over 80 years— the LA County Museum on Wilshire, and Downtown LA, for the rotating bar at the Bonaventure Hotel, The Pantry, the Drago Centro Happy Hour, and the wonderful Last Bookstore. I also love to take people to the tiny Fountain “Counter” in the bottom of the Beverly Hills Hotel for their pie.

Because of your extensive experience with movies and scripts, you may have a different answer than many mystery authors. What authors inspired you, or, if you prefer, what movies inspired your writing?

As I said before, screwball heroines as portrayed by actors like Barbara Stanwyck, Katherine Hepburn, Irene Dunn, and even Barbara Streisand were a big influence. In terms of books, of course the zany tone of Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum books was a big inspiration, as was the sly humor of Delores Johnson’s dry cleaning mysteries. But I’ve realized lately that the book is probably most influenced by the fact that my parents got the Reader’s Digest Condensed Books every year and as a kid, I wound up reading all Dorothy Gilmour’s great Mrs. Pollifax novels.  I think they made me believe it was possible to do a mystery series which moved around, with an unexpectedly resourceful heroine, and when I look at Lost Luggage now that it’s done, I see her influence everywhere.

How does the mystery community compare to the movie community?

It’s a million times better!  First of all because it’s actually a community. There’s a sense of people helping each other to move forward and the kind of support which is not present in the screenwriting or television world, at least in my experience. Hollywood is very cut-throat. I find mystery authors—and readers–sharp, generous, self-deprecating, and well-read. Who doesn’t want to hang around with lovely people like that?

What author would you like to recommend who you think has been underappreciated?

Joseph Hansen’s Dave Brandstetter series is something I found only recently and I’m astounded the books aren’t more famous than they are. They’re set in Los Angeles and the Central Coast in the seventies and are based around an insurance investigator. I love Hansen’s writing and characterizations especially, as well as the LA he creates. I also find, amongst all the Scandanavian authors, that I particularly like Helen Tursten’s Inspector Huss books, which haven’t gotten as much attention as Jo Nesbo’s or Stieg Larsson’s.


Thank you, Wendall. I’m so glad I discovered Lost Luggage. I can’t wait to read more about Cyd’s adventures.

James Rollins & The Demon Crown

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December 5 is release date for James Rollins’ latest thriller, The Demon Crown. However, he’ll be at The Poisoned Pen on Monday, Dec. 4 at 7 PM, so you can purchase and have him sign your books. And, if you pre-order a signed copy now through the Web Store, you’ll get a free, limited edition collector’s insert.


Curious? Now that I have your attention, here’s the summary of The Demon Crown.

“Bone-chilling.” –Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)

“One of the best in the series.” –Booklist (Starred Review)

To save mankind’s future, the members of Sigma Force must make a devil’s bargain as they join forces with their most hated enemy to stop an ancient threat in this gripping adventure from #1 New York Times bestselling author James Rollins.

Off the coast of Brazil, a team of scientists discovers a horror like no other, an island where all life has been eradicated, consumed, and possessed by a species beyond imagination. Before they can report their discovery, a mysterious agency attacks the group, killing them all, save one: an entomologist, an expert on venomous creatures, Professor Ken Matsui from Cornell University.

Strangest of all, this inexplicable threat traces back to a terrifying secret buried a century ago beneath the National Mall: a cache of bones preserved in amber. The artifact was hidden away by a cabal of scientists—led by Alexander Graham Bell—to protect humankind. But they dared not destroy it, for the object also holds an astonishing promise for the future: the very secret of life after death.

Yet nothing stays buried forever. An ancient horror— dormant in the marrow of those preserved bones—is free once more, nursed and developed into a weapon of incalculable strength and malignancy, ready to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting world.

To stop its spread, Commander Grayson Pierce of Sigma Force must survive a direct attack on the island of Maui. To be there first has always been the core mission of Sigma Force, a covert team forged to be America’s front line against emerging threats. But this time, even Sigma may not be able to decipher the deadly mystery, one that traces back to the founding of the Smithsonian Institution.

With each new discovery, the menace they hunt is changing, growing, spreading—adapting and surviving every attempt to stop it from reconquering a world it once ruled. And each transformation makes it stronger . . . and smarter.

Running out of time and options, Commander Grayson Pierce will be forced to make an impossible choice. To eradicate this extinction-level threat and expose those involved, he will have to join forces with Sigma’s greatest enemy—the newly resurrected Guild—even it if means sacrificing one of his own.


Of course you want to see the book trailer, don’t you?

Joan Hess, R.I.P.

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Joan Hess died this past week. This may not have been the most recent photo of her, but it’s my favorite.

Joan Hess

Hess is best known for her Arly Hanks mysteries, known as the Maggody mysteries, and the Claire Malloy mysteries, both series set in Arkansas. She also wrote the Theo Bloomer mysteries, under the pseudonym Joan Hadley. She wrote numerous short stories, and won the Agatha Award for “Too Much To Bare”. Then, this year, she finished a manuscript left by her good friend, Barbara Mertz. Mertz, who wrote as Elizabeth Peters, discussed and shared her notes with Hess so the final Amelia Peabody book, The Painted Queen, could be finished.

Hess was a member of Sisters in Crime and a former president of the  American Crime Writers League. Many of her novels, including The Painted Queen, can be ordered through the Web Store.


Joan Hess, 1949-2017. May she rest in peace.

Hot Book of the Week – Dean Koontz’ The Whispering Room

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The current Hot Book of the Week at The Poisoned Pen is Dean Koontz’ The Whispering Room, the latest book featuring Jane Hawk. You can order a signed copy through the Web Store.

Whispering Room

Here’s the summary of the book.

Jane Hawk—fiction’s most relentless, resourceful, stunning new heroine—continues her battle against a murderous conspiracy in the riveting sequel to The Silent Corner.

“No time to delay. Do what you were born to do. Fame will be yours when you do this.”

These are the words that ring in the mind of mild-mannered, beloved schoolteacher Cora Gundersun—just before she takes her own life, and many others’, in a shocking act of carnage. When the disturbing contents of her secret journal are discovered, it seems certain that she must have been insane. But Jane Hawk knows better.

In the wake of her husband’s inexplicable suicide—and the equally mysterious deaths of scores of other exemplary individuals—Jane picks up the trail of a secret cabal of powerful players who think themselves above the law and beyond punishment. But the ruthless people bent on hijacking America’s future for their own monstrous ends never banked on a highly trained FBI agent willing to go rogue—and become the nation’s most wanted fugitive—in order to derail their insidious plans to gain absolute power with a terrifying technological breakthrough.

Driven by love for her lost husband and by fear for the five-year-old son she has sent into hiding, Jane Hawk has become an unstoppable predator. Those she is hunting will have nowhere to run when her shadow falls across them.

Jane Hawk’s story continues in The Crooked Staircase.

Dana Stabenow & Silk and Song

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Join Dana Stabenow at The Poisoned Pen on Saturday, Dec. 2 at 2 PM when she’ll discuss and sign her new book, Silk and Song. If you can’t make it, you can order a signed copy through the Web Store.

Dana Stabenow and Silk and Song

Check out Stabenow’s website. She’s talking about the Silk Road’s market towns, via Rugs, ropes and rivets.

Here’s the summary of Dana Stabenow’s Silk and Song.

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