Linda Fairstein on Writing Skills

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Linda Fairstein, author of Killer Look, just appeared at The Poisoned Pen. Before becoming a full-time writer, Fairstein was a prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.

I don’t have the photos yet from Linda’s appearance. I do have a video, though, in which she discusses three writing skills she learned while practicing law. (Used with permission from Penguin Random House, Videracy.)

Linda Fairstein_Videracy_play button (1)

If you’d like to order a signed copy of Killer Look, the eighteenth book in the series, you can order it through the Web Store. http://bit.ly/2acN9pz

Killer Look

Finder & Spiegelman at The Poisoned Pen

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Joseph Finder and Peter Spiegelman were recent guests at The Poisoned Pen.

Finder event

Here are the two authors in that mysterious room where authors meet ahead of time to sign stock.

Finder and Spiegelman in the back room
Left to right – Joseph Finder, Peter Spiegelman

As a member of a number of audiences at the Pen, I can say it’s always fun to see the authors come from the front of the store to the speaking area.

Finder and Spiegelman
Left to right – Spiegelman, Finder

The authors even had joint moderators for the event, Barbara Peters, the store owner, and Patrick Millikin.

Finder group

Finders cast of characters

And, of course, they signed books afterward for the audience.

Finder signing

If you would like to see the event, it’s up on Livestream. http://livestream.com/poisonedpen/events/5619381

And, of course you can purchase signed copies of Finder’s Guilty Minds and Spiegelman’s Dr. Knox through the Web Store. http://store.poisonedpen.com

Finder Spiegelman poster

Ace Atkins & The Innocents

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Did you see Marilyn Stasio’s review of Ace Atkins’ The Innocents in the July 8 New York Timeshttp://nyti.ms/29tP8I0


Atkins was just here at The Poisoned Pen, interviewed by Patrick Millikin.

Ace and his book
Patrick’s holding The Innocents while questioning Ace Atkins
Ace and Patrick
Left to right – Ace Atkins, Patrick Millikin
Ace signing
Ace Atkins signing books

Are you interested in one of those signed copies? You can read about the book, and get a copy at our Web Store. http://bit.ly/2abE1oC

Just in Time for Linda Fairstein

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Linda Fairstein will be at The Poisoned Pen on Wednesday, July 27 at 7:00 PM to discuss and sign her latest Alexandra Cooper novel, Killer Look.

Killer Look

This time, Fairstein explores the dark side of New York City’s Garment District. Linda Fairstein’s books are known for incorporating little-known facts or places about New York City’s history. If you’re a fan of New York, it’s fascinating to follow along with Fairstein.

This time, though, I have a few sites she may not have used yet in her books. On the other hand, readers will recognize a few places. Atlas Obscura, a fascinating website, http://www.atlasobscura.com/ had an article by Meg Neal that is a must-read for Linda Fairstein fans. Yes, Neal mentioned the article for fans of Ghostbusters. But, the article, “8 Spooky New York Places That Should Be in the New Ghostbusters Movie”, could just as easily be entitled, “8 Spooky New York Places for Fans of Linda Fairstein”. Check it out. http://bit.ly/2a9kGRD

And, while you’re at it, you might want to check out the Web Store for Linda Fairstein’s books, including a signed copy of Killer Lookhttp://bit.ly/2a9lgyS

Carolyn Hart’s Choices – Clever Mysteries – Part 2

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I’d like to welcome readers back. Thank you for returning to see the second half of Carolyn Hart’s choices of clever mysteries. Let’s dive right in.


THE AFFAIR AT ROYALTIES by George Baxt (1972)

Excerpt: Dame Marjorie Denning, Arthur’s remote mother, observes, “I suppose anybody could be driven to murder when hate is the chauffeur.”


Amnesia has served as a springboard for many mysteries, but George Baxt adds a crime scene without a body, the intertwined passions in a closed circle, and a narrator whose view of events often differs from the introspective thoughts of those around her. Who do you believe?  

A woman regains consciousness in a convalescent sanatorium. She has no memory. Her eyes closed, she grasps at fragments of the conversation around her, identifies the voices as a doctor, a nurse, the husband she doesn’t recall, and a police detective. She opens her eyes and learns she is Laura Denning, a successful mystery author and that she was found in an unresponsive state at her cottage in Cornwall, clutching a bloodied caving knife. Blood stained her dress and the walls.

The doctor believes her memory will return. She realizes she may be suspected of murder or may have been present when murder occurred. Whose murder? There is no body. Laura is attracted to the detective. I enjoyed Laura’s tart appraisal of all around her, never quite kind, but always entertaining.   

As bits of memory return, Laura and the detective explore her relationships n Cornwall. Baxt intersperses Laura’s returning memories with her theories of what might have happened in the bloodied kitchen. Intensely personal and emotional first person vignettes reveal the unimagined and sometimes unimaginable thoughts, often sardonic and amusing, behind everyday faces.

I love a mystery that offers surprises on every page and The Affair at Royalties succeeds with elan.

DEAD UNTIL DARK by Charlaine Harris (2001)

Excerpt: Sookie Stackhouse: The Compton house was visibly different from the last time I’d been in it, the sickening evening I’d met the other vampires.

Dead Until Dark

Charlaine Harris juxtaposes the ordinary with the fantastic, humor with horror, the kind with the brutal. Bon Temps, Louisiana, is like no other place, but it is at the same time everyday and humdrum. The residents of Bon Temps see a world we do not know, yet Harris makes that world as matter-of-fact as any small town Main Street on a bustling Saturday. When reading Harris, I am always caught unaware and chilled deep inside when she turns a placid scene upside down with a dash of horror. Harris takes a matter-of-fact moment and there is a sudden lurch and I smack into a gritty vision of reality.

Thanks to the incredible success of the television series True Blood, I doubt many are unfamiliar with Sookie Stackhouse, the delightful, appealing, honorable protagonist in Dead Until Dark. Sookie is thrilled the night Bill the vampire walks into the rural bar in Louisiana where she waits tables. She is doubly pleased when she realizes she can’t read Bill’s thoughts. She considers her ability to read other people’s thoughts a detriment, dooming normal relationships. Sex is no fun when the guy’s inner thoughts bombard her.

Sookie is strongly attracted to Bill, but Bon Temps turns dangerous when someone starts murdering young women who were in contact with vampires. Sookie’s grandmother is killed and Sookie and Bill are determined to discover the murderer.

In Harris’s world, the sun shines, but darkness is always present.

THE FENG SUI DETECTIVE by Nury Vittachi (2002)   

Feng Sui Master C. F. Wong assesses a cluttered home: People did not understand the importance of destruction, he decided. There must be as much destruction as acquisition in a person’s life. Otherwise the result was stagnation, accumulation, and eventually a clogging up of energy flows by dead items.


Nury Vittachi, a Hong Kong journalist, shares irreverent and hilarious views of life and people in his wacky and wonderful novels. A cosmopolitan background, unusual puzzles, and utterly original characters distinguish his books from ordinary comic mysteries.  

In the debut novel, Wong confronts arson, kidnaping, a ghost in a dental office, a young woman apparently destined for imminent death, and a lover with a suspect motive.  

I find Wong’s Singapore fascinating. In his office are Joyce McQuinnie, a British -Australian intern, who speaks a strange language called “Teenager” where whatever means yes and as if means no, and Winnie Lim, an office administrator who routinely obstructs his wishes and torpedoes his requests. His friends and sometime colleagues are Madame Wu, a Chinese fortuneteller; Dilip Kenneth Sinha, an Indian psychic, and Gilbert Tan, an intuitive Singapore police superintendent. They often combine their talents as The Singapore Union of Industrial Mystics.

The action moves fast with occasional pauses as Wong makes entries in Some Gleanings of Oriental Wisdom, his great work on lessons to be learned from sages of the past. One moral drawn: In a dispute, Blade of Grass, let time intervene. Only when anger has dissipated will there be room for wisdom to enter.

I unhesitating place Feng Sui Master C. F. Wong in the pantheon of singular mystery sleuths such as Nero Wolfe, Rabbi Small, Judge Dee, Lord Peter Wimsey, and Tom Ripley.


And, I unhesitatingly agree with MWA about Carolyn Hart’s status as a Grand Master, and as a living treasure in the mystery field. Thank you, Carolyn, for sharing these suggestions with us.

Carolyn Hart’s Choices – Clever Mysteries

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I’ve been posting “Every Summer Has a Story” posts from various authors. Great minds must think alike, although I’d never presume to put mine in the same class as author Carolyn Hart’s. She recently wrote an article about clever mysteries, which fits in perfectly with our summer theme.

Carolyn Hart has been named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America. She also is, in my opinion, an expert on the subject of the traditional mystery. So, I’m excited to share her choices with you. However, it’s a long article, so I’m splitting it into two parts. Come back tomorrow for the second half. Thank you, Carolyn, for allowing us to publish this here.


                                                       CLEVER MYSTERIES

                                                       My Personal Choice

                                                            By Carolyn Hart

Five authors put the boot to the calumny that mysteries are written by rote, predictable, plodding, plot-driven. These titles offer readers a glimpse of incredibly fertile, funny, and original minds at work.

AND THEN THERE WERE NONE (American title) by Agatha Christie (1939)

And Then There Were None

Excerpt: Into that silence came The Voice. Without warning. Inhuman, penetrating  . . .

Christie maroons ten individuals, each harboring an ugly secret, on an island with no means of escape. Nine are guilty of murder. The tenth is their executioner. When I first read the novel, I could scarcely wait to finish one page before beginning another. Who were these people with apparently nothing in common? Why didn’t they know the identity of their host? When it became clear that each was slated to die, shock, fear, and desperation permeated each page.

As a mystery writer, I‘m fascinated by the perfection of the novel. Christie not only devised a unique set of circumstances, she created individuals whose character and temperament lead them to doom. She envisioned the exact personalities she needed to make a complex plot work yet each person is believable.

Mr. and Mrs. Rogers, butler and cook, are in residence when the others arrive. Mr. Rogers informs them their host will arrive tomorrow. The guests find the modern house attractive, their rooms comfortable. The dinner is excellent. There is a moment of light conversation about the curious centerpiece on the dining room table, ten china figures, the Ten Little Indians of the nursery rhyme.

The group gathers in the drawing room for after dinner coffee and drinks. Genial conversation ends abruptly when the Voice speaks, a Voice without an apparent source. The Voice cites each person by name with an accusation of murder. The first death occurs within minutes. One Indian figure is missing from the centerpiece. Deaths occur one by one until at last no one is living and all ten china figures are gone from the table.

And Then There Were None is a marvelous achievement, suffused with human emotion yet as precise and perfect as a mathematical equation.   

MURDER’S LITTLE SISTER by Pamela Branch (1958)

Excerpt: Disheveled, irascible YOU Editor Sam Egan implores his staff: “. . . as a team let’s have a stab at Misadventure, mm? If some swine’s found a clue, we gradually introduce Suicide. Soft pedal it. Nothing of interest to a lurking journalist. Nothing definite, nothing chatty, nothing squalid. Remember, we don’t want suicide and I absolutely refuse to have Murder.”


I love laughter and Pamela Branch entertains from the first page to the last. There are a great many clever mysteries, but the heights of hilarity achieved by Branch are unmatched. Her laughter is well-earned, unerring depictions of sometimes malicious inner thoughts seasoned by the self-preoccupation that leads most of us to always respond in terms of how does it affect me.

Unpleasant, ill-tempered Enid Marley is the wildly popular advice columnist for YOU, a down-at-heels magazine always teetering on extinction. Enid knows her colleagues despise her, but she is essential to YOU’s survival. Thrice-married, twice-divorced Enid is furious at her third husband’s involvement in a torrid affair. In an attempt to salvage her marriage, though she cares nothing for him, she decides to stage her suicide, though, of course, never intending to perish.

She edges out onto the ledge of her fifth floor office window. Vertigo sends her tumbling though someone – she can’t imagine who since she is universally loathed by the staff- tries to grab her. Her spectacular dive is broken by a restaurant awning. Unhurt, she flees the scene, desperate to avoid jail for Attempted Suicide. The magazine staffers and Enid herself wonder what is the most advantageous claim, Suicide, Murder, Manslaughter, Misadventure, or a tie between Suicide and Murder.

Branch’s imaginative leaps careen from pugnacious brawlers to knitting patterns to inchoate introspection of staff, police, press, and public. Yet Branch pulls together every thread in a universe only she could have created.  

Evenings spent gurgling with laughter are rare and precious. Thank you, Pamela Branch.


And, thank you, Carolyn Hart. I hope readers come back tomorrow to see the other three choices.

Linda Castillo, In the Hot Seat

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Linda Castillo, author of the Kate Burkholder novels, will be at The Poisoned Pen on Tuesday, July 26 at 7 PM. She’s on book tour for Among the Wicked, her latest novel that takes the police chief out of Ohio’s Amish Country.

Among the Wicked

She was kind enough to take time for an interview. Here’s Linda Castillo, In the Hot Seat.

Linda, I’m so pleased you agreed to sit in the hot seat for an interview. Would you start by introducing yourself to the readers? 

Linda Castillo

Thank you for having me, Lesa.  I love talking about the books (and the hot seat just happens to be my favorite spot!)

I’ve been reading about Kate Burkholder since you first introduced her in 2009, but some might not be familiar with her. Would you introduce Kate?

Kate Burkholder is the chief of police in the small town of Painters Mill located in the heart of Ohio’s Amish country.  What sets Kate apart is that she was born Amish.  Readers learn in the first book that something terrible happened to Kate when she was a fourteen year old Amish girl that eventually lead to her leaving the fold when she was eighteen.  Kate is an imperfect character, but feels things deeply.  Early in the series, she is a little rough around the edges, but as she finds her feet as chief and begins a relationship, she becomes more even keel.

Tell us about Among the Wicked, without spoilers.

I’m so excited about AMONG THE WICKED.  Kate is approached by law enforcement in rural upstate New York after a young Amish girl is found frozen to death inside a mysterious Amish community. The girl’s death is suspicious and rumors abound about the sect—especially with regard to the children.  Kate travels to New York, infiltrates the Amish settlement, and goes deep undercover.  At first, everything seems fine—but nothing is as it seems and evil lurks in the most unexpected places.  In the coming days, she unearths a world built on secrets, a serious of shocking crimes and herself alone, isolated and trapped in a fight for her life.

How do you do your research about the Amish? 

I travel to Ohio’s Amish country every year during book tour (one of the highlights of being an author!)  One of the wonderful librarians I’ve become friends with knows the local Amish community and we’ve visited two Amish families.  One of the families runs a dairy operation.  It was so fascinating just to sit down and chat. Once, while we were visiting another family, we were sitting on the deck having coffee and iced tea, and the Amish gentleman asked me if I’d like to take a buggy ride.  Of course, I took him up on the offer.  He must have seen my excitement because once we got on the road, he asked me if I’d like to drive.  It was a terrific experience—and a lot of fun.

You wrote romantic suspense before you started this series. What made you turn to crime?

While I really enjoyed writing romantic suspense, I feel as though I’ve always been much more suited to writing crime fiction.  During the early days of my career, I found myself always pushing the envelope—and my editors constantly pulling me back.  It was then that I wrote SWORN TO SILENCE, the first book in the Kate Burkholder series.  I just sort of cut loose and, as a writer, it was a wonderful, liberating experience.  I’d found my niche.

Off the writing topic. How did you become interested in barrel racing?

I’ve always loved horses and learned to ride when I was very young.  I’ve always like a bit of speed, too.  (If you’ve ever watched a barrel racing video, you’ll know what I mean!)  Feeling that kind of power from such a majestic animal is such an exhilarating, all encompassing experience. You have to be in the moment and basically forget about everything else (at least for those sixteen or seventeen seconds!)  That is made all the more special when you love your horse the way I do.  All of that said, we’re not very fast.  My mare (who loved barrels) is now semi retired due to arthritis and my gelding is getting up in years.

Where do you take friends when they come to visit? 

My husband and I are very much outdoor types (and homebodies to boot!)  But when we want to show people around, we’d probably take them to Palo Duro Canyon.  It’s the second largest canyon in the US and, some say, Texas’ best kept secret.

Pretend you have the money to live anywhere. You can’t pick Texas. Where would you move, and why?

Okay, since I can’t choose Texas ( J ) I’d have to say north Florida.  My husband and I drove through the area a few years back and there are a  lot of gorgeous horse farms, rolling hills and massive live oak trees.  It’s beautiful country and the perfect place for a ranch.

What’s on the top of your TBR (To Be Read) pile?

I just finished an amazing book by John Hart titled REDEMPTION ROAD.  What a tremendous read.  He’s such a beautiful writer.  Before that, I read Sandra Brown’s MEAN STREAK.  It was quite the thrill ride.  On deck is Nora Robert’s THE OBSESSION.  She’s an amazing writer.

Kate’s job involves sizing up people. What 5 words or phrases would she use to describe you?

I’d love to sit down with Kate and have a beer.  She’s much more interesting than I could ever hope to be.  If I had to come up with a word she might use to describe me . . .   She’d probably think I was pretty boring. J

Thank you! 

Thank YOU, Lesa, for the great questions and for featuring me on your blog.

Linda Castillo’s website is www.lindacastillo.com, and her books are available through the Web Store, http://bit.ly/1UmpCA3.

Hope you can make it Tuesday, July 26 at 7 PM to meet her!