Friday, August 31, 2018


Such sad news. Mystery author Amanda Kyle Williams passed away this morning following a long battle with cancer. She was 61.

First and foremost Amanda was an animal lover, leaving behind four dogs and four cats and a legacy of love at LifeLine Animal Project where she was on the founding Board of Directors.

Amanda burst on the thriller scene in 2010 with her first crime novel, The Stranger You Seek, which was hailed by Publishers Weekly as an “explosive, unpredictable and psychologically complex thriller that turns crime fiction clichés inside out.” Stranger In The Room (Bantam 2012) is the second book in the Keye Street series and book 3, Don’t Talk To Strangers (Bantam 2014), has been called the strongest, most exciting book in a series that keeps getting better. She has been shortlisted for both the Shamus Award from the Private Eye Writers of America, and the Townsend Prize for Fiction.

Donations in her memory can be sent to LifeLine Animal Project, the AJC Decatur Book Festival or Three Graces.

She will be missed.


The Australian Crime Writers Association announced the winners of the 2018 Ned Kelly Awards at the Melbourne Writers Festival.

2018 Ned Kelly Awards

Best Crime
  • Crossing the Lines by Sulari Gentill
Best First Crime
  • The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey
Best True Crime
  • Unmaking A Murder: The Mysterious Death of Anna Jane Cheney by Graham Archer

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Cartoon of the Day: Commitment Phobia


Peter Corris, the godfather of Australian crime fiction, who has died at his home in Sydney at the age of 76.

From The Sydney Morning Herald:

At a time when the genre lacked a genuinely local character, he employed the hard-boiled characteristics seen in the work of Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald, but with Australian vernacular characters and settings that proved irresistible.

He published his first novel, The Dying Trade, in 1980, introducing his best-known character, Cliff Hardy. Hardy, a big drinker, fighter and womanizer, managed to survive intact through 42 books and featured in Corris' final Book, Wine, Lose or Draw which was published early last year.

Read more here.

The Blood Road: Guest Post by Stuart MacBride

Stuart MacBride:
The Blood Road

I’ve been writing about the northeast of Scotland for about sixteen years now. Which is a lot of time. That’s about the same length of time you’d serve over here for murdering someone. I suppose, to be fair, I have murdered dozens and dozens of people, but they weren’t real people – I made them up, so that’s OK.

Most of my murderous rampage has been in and around Aberdeen, the city where I grew up. This is for two reasons. 1: it’s my hometown and why should Edinburgh and Glasgow get all the serial killers, and 2: there’s a lot less travel involved when I have to research something. That kind of thing is important when you’ve not had to commute to work for thirteen years. These days my journey to work involves making a cup of tea in the kitchen, then wandering through to the study and the desk where I seem to spend about 90% of my life. The only traffic jams I get stuck in involve cats.

Which is all very different to how it used to be, struggling along tiny winding back roads, in one huge line of traffic after the next, in order to get to an industrial estate in the Bridge of Don for half eight in the morning. And then back again after six. Always in rush hour. Which makes me appreciate my feline traffic jams even more.

Of course, that’s all about to change. Because, at long last, Aberdeen is getting a bypass!

This probably seems like a weird thing for a crime writer to bang on about in a piece for Mystery Readers International, but bear with me.

In some ways a bypass is like the aftermath of a crime. It allows us to skirt around something without ever having to face/drive through it. It keeps what it bypasses hidden. But more than that – and a lot less pretentious – is the fact that it provided the inspiration for THE BLOOD ROAD. See, I told you I was going somewhere with this. I was driving into town last September, caught in yet another long line of slow-moving traffic, so had time to look around as we crawled between the lines of orange cones. There, up on the hill to the right, in the distance, was the bypass being built. A swathe of brown churned-up earth reached down from the top of the hill towards us, bright yellow earth movers growling away on the brow. Flapping lines of tape, caught between marker pegs.

Now, Aberdeen has been waiting for its bypass for over forty years. Eighteen wheelers thunder along the little side roads for miles around the city, trying to avoid going through it. We’re talking the kind of road that has passing places. Not much fun when you turn the corner and come bumper to radiator with an articulated lorry (or “truck”, if you’re of the American persuasion) doing sixty. That’s change-of-pants time (or “underwear”, if you’re still American after the whole “truck/lorry” incident). They could have built it decades ago, when the Oil industry was at its peak. Back in the seventies, the oil companies actually offered the city council millions of pounds to build a ring road, but the council, like the stalwart geniuses that they were, turned the money down and left Aberdeen to be crushed under the weight of its own traffic. Ah, politicians – aren’t they great? But at long last we’re getting a bypass to relieve the city’s clogged arteries.

And as I sat there in the crawling traffic, looking up at the earthmoving equipment bringing our new bypass down the hill, I thought, “What would happen if those diggers and bulldozers found something buried? Something that someone would kill to keep hidden?”

From that dark and twisted seed THE BLOOD ROAD grew.


Stuart MacBride is a Scottish writer, most famous for his crime thrillers set in the "Granite City" of Aberdeen and featuring Detective Sergeant Logan McRae. Stuart MacBride was born Feb 27 1969 in Dumbarton, Scotland and raised in Aberdeen. His careers include scrubbing toilets offshore, graphic design, web design and IT/computer programming. MacBride's publishing deal was secured with the writing of Halfhead, however the publishers were more interested in Cold Granite, concerning DS Logan MacRae. His books have sold over 2.5 million copies worldwide, been translated into 18 languages and won numerous awards, including the ITV crime thriller award. In 2015 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Dundee University. He now lives in north-east Scotland with his wife, Fiona and their cat Grendel. He is reputed to be a passionate potato grower, but claims to have a "vegetable patch full of weeds". The Blood Road, the latest in the Logan McRae series, will be published on September 4.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Poisoned Pen Conference/RebusFest: September 2-3

Poisoned Pen Conference/RebusFest

Celebrating Ian Rankin's 30th Year of Publishing in the U.S. 

Hosts: Hank Phillippi Ryan, James Sallis & Dana Stabenow! 

A two-day conference for fans and aspiring writers!

Book signings, swag! Editor’s panel.. and more Sunday night concert with James Sallis and his band, Three-Legged Dog

Sunday Sept. 2nd 9am-5pm Monday Sept. 3rd 8-4:00 pm 
Location: The Arizona Biltmore 2400 E Missouri Ave, Phoenix, AZ 85016 

For Preferred room rates please go to use code: 2726435

Hosts: Hank Phillippi Ryan James Sallis Dana Stabenow

James R Benn Mark De Castrique Warren Easley Mary Anna Evans Tim Hallinan Mette Ivie Harrison Annie Hogsett Stephen Mack Jones Thomas Kies Sujata Massey Francine Mathews John Straley David Wagner Tina Whittle Reavis Z. Wortham 

Schedule of Events

9:15-10:00 AM The History Beat –Stabenow, Mathews, Benn
10:15-11:00 AM The City Beat – Easley, Evans, Hogsett, Jones
Lunch on Your Own
12:15-1:00 PM The Editor’s Beat – Juliet Grames, Annette Rogers with Barbara Peters
1:15-2:00 PM The International Beat – Hallinan, Massey, Wagner
2:15-3:00 PM Stabenow and Straley Talk Alaska Mystery
3:15-4:00 PM Researching Your Beat – Benn, Massey, Wagner, Wortham
4:15-5:15 Agatha Christie Tea – Host: Hank Phillippi Ryan
Speaker on her Christie research project: Mary Anna Evans Quizzes, Prizes, Wear a Fascinator

8:00-9 AM Pitch Session – Writers to editors Juliet Grames (Soho) and Annette Rogers (PPP). Like speed dating: 15 five-minute slots. Pitch your book idea to a pro!
9:15-10 AM Sleuths and the Media – DeCastrique, Kies, Ryan
10:15-11:00 AM The Burglar vs Cops and a Lawyer – Cops: DeCastrique, Mathews, Wortham. Lawyer: Easley. The Burglar: Hallinan
11:15-12:00 PM Unconventional Women – Harrison, Hogsett, Kies, Whittle
12:15 – 1:45 Lunch James Sallis Interviews Ian Rankin
2:00-3:30 PM Ian Rankin Talks Scottish Literature and His Career

Monday, August 27, 2018

Cartoon of the Day: Marketing Plan for the Memoir

HT: Ali Karim

COME SPY WITH ME by Gayle Lynds

The following article by the award winning thriller writer Gayle Lynds appeared in the latest issue of Mystery Readers Journal: Spies & Secret Agents (Volume 34:2). Here's a link to the table of contents of that issue and ordering instructions.

Gayle Lynds:
Come Spy With Me 

I’m often asked why I write spy novels. And my answer is always the same — how could I not? As J. Edgar Hoover said, “There’s something about a secret that’s addicting.” Secrets are powerful, and once something becomes secret, it becomes important to someone somewhere. The spies who keep the secrets and seek out other secrets are fascinating. You might remember Robert Gates. A few years before becoming Secretary of Defense, he was the director of Central Intelligence. In other words, the head of the CIA. He explained it this way: “When a spy smells flowers, he looks around for a coffin.”

The world of spies can be a source of danger and of exciting adventures, while at the same time we readers can indulge ourselves in great stories of power, geopolitics, and history. Writing a spy thriller involves weaving webs of deception and shameless lying. But then, there’s a reason espionage is called the second oldest profession. Where does a writer begin?

My most recent spy novel is The Assassins. It began with an image in my mind: A lone man trudging through the snow, tired from a long overseas flight back home to Washington, D.C. I knew his name was Judd Ryder, and that it was early morning, and he was cold. His hands were jammed into his jacket pockets. Thick snow blanketed trees and rooftops. Icicles hung from telephone lines. The snow plows hadn’t reached his street on Capitol Hill yet. Then.... A door closed, an unnaturally loud sound in the snowy hush. The noise had come from ahead where a man was stepping outside and was hunched over, locking his front door. What the hell! That was Judd’s row house.

Remaining across the street, Judd saw the man turn away from the door, head bowed as he buttoned his trench coat. A gust of wind flipped open the coat. The lining was black-and-green tartan — a sub-zero lining in the same tartan fabric sewed into Judd’s trench coat. He focused on the man’s boots. They were L.L Bean’s. Above the tops showed tan shearling linings. Those were his damn boots. His damn trench coat. The man was a burglar. What else had he stolen? The intruder raised his head to scan around. For the first time, his face showed. It was if Judd were looking into a mirror — gray eyes, arched nose, square face. The man was about six-feet-one. Judd’s height. He had wavy chestnut-brown hair. So did Judd. The bastard even had a good tan, and of course Judd was tanned from his month in Iraq. This was no ordinary burglar. Judd had been professionally doubled.... 

(Yes, doubling happens, and our intelligence agencies are very good at it. For details, read the books of Antonio Menendez, retired CIA master of disguise.)

Judd’s scene continues with the imposter slogging across the snowy intersection. The roar of a powerful engine sounds, and a big Arctic Cat snowmobile careens around the corner, the driver’s face hidden by a helmet and goggles. As the double tries to escape, the snowmobile deliberately rams him, sending him high in a backward arch that leaves him dead.

 Judd runs to the body, searches it, and discovers a District driver’s license with his name on it. Now Judd has more than the cold air to chill him.... This was the time he usually walked over to the little market on Seventh to buy groceries. He always crossed this intersection. Either the double had been targeted for murder — or Judd had been.

How do you beat an unbeatable villain? 

My simple idea of a man trudging home through the snow had developed into an introduction of my hero that I hoped would intrigue readers. But now I needed a villain ... someone worthy ... someone who had the power and connections to have doubled Judd. And someone slippery enough that it would take Judd a large part of the book to identify.

For years I’d kept a clipping from a 2002 Time magazine about a notorious independent assassin: “He almost never emerged from the turbid underworld of international crime, and he had no consistent belief system. He switched allegiances with ease. Governments actually paid him just to leave their people alone. Even so, beginning in 1974, he was responsible for 900 murders in 20 nations....”

Perhaps you recall this master terrorist of the Cold War — Abu Nidal of the Abu Nidal Organization (ANO). Highly organized and vicious, he died in 2002 either by suicide or murder, depending on which story you believe, after decades of grisly success. And he was not alone in his infamy. Other horrific assassins from the era included Carlos the Jackal, Sasha the Macedonian, and Mehmet Ali Agca.

I realized although I’d studied international assassins, I’d never focused on them. The more I thought about them, the more it seemed to me that we tended to consider them monolithic, virtually identical, all sociopaths or psychopaths. But that’s not true — among them there’s a spectrum from psychoses to neuroses. (In fact, if you’re breathing you’ve likely got a few neuroses, too. It goes with the territory of being alive. But that doesn’t mean you’re destined to be a contract killer.)

Thus began my journey to into the fascinating lives of the six international assassins who gave title to The Assassins. There’s a high death rate among assassins, which tells you how good these six had been at their work — they’d not only survived the Cold War but had gone on to work independently, without the help or protection of sponsoring governments or terrorist organizations.

And then as I wrote the book, I set them against each other in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse. Who was the best? And who was the ultimate villain?

There has to be a story 

For there to be a story, the assassins needed a purpose. They had to want something so much that they’d risk their lives. And that brings me to a seventh assassin — Saddam Hussein. When he rose to power in the late 1970s, it was as the Ba’ath Party’s top enforcer. He made Iraq his personal piggy bank, taking bribes and kickbacks from governments, private companies, and individuals. At the same time, he grew increasingly paranoid that too many people knew where his fortune was hidden.

This is where my fiction begins: I imagined that Saddam secretly brought in six financial advisers to hide his money around the world in secret accounts. Then Saddam hired my six assassins to eliminate the financial advisers. When the book opens, the assassins are furious because Saddam has stiffed them for the second half of the money he owed them for the wet work. In real life, Saddam was notorious for not paying his bills.

Here’s another interesting fact, and one of the bits of information that inspired me to write The Assassins: When the United States captured Saddam in December 2003, his wealth was estimated to be between $40 and $70 billion. The U.S. government had expected to find his fortune and use it to pay for the war and to rebuild Iraq. But we were ultimately able to track down only a few billion, and we’re still searching. Other governments, organizations, and individuals are, too. The search for Saddam’s billions has turned into the biggest — and quietest — treasure hunt the world has ever seen. And in my book, one of the six assassins knows where it is, but he hasn’t been able to get his hands on it yet. His obsession with the fortune and the political cover it will buy him are what drive the plot.

What The Americans TV series has done in exploring the secret lives of undercover spies is what I’ve been doing in my books for twenty years. People who work in intelligence tend to marry each other. It makes life easier. They understand when the other can’t talk about something “at work,” or when he or she needs to leave unexpectedly.

At the same time, their children often go into intelligence work, too. Just as there are families of plumbers and lawyers and drug dealers, there are families of spies. For instance, one of the CIA’s most destructive traitors, Aldrich Ames, was himself the son of a CIA man.

So in The Assassins I created a growing relationship between Judd Ryder and Eva Blake. Judd is an ex-military intelligence officer and is burned out. He wants nothing more to do with the life. But Eva, a former museum curator who’s just joined the CIA and is in training at the Farm, wants into the life, and has been excelling there.

Despite the fact that they’re heading in different directions, they work well together. And they’re drawn to each other. Their story weaves through the book as they confront each of the six assassins. By following Judd and Eva, we uncover a political powder keg and eventually find Saddam’s hidden billions — I couldn’t resist. Someone had to figure out where all that loot was!


Gayle Lynds is the New York Times bestselling, award-winning author of ten international spy thrillers. Library Journal calls her “the reigning queen of espionage fiction.” Publishers Weekly named her novel Masquerade one of the top 10 spy thrillers of all time. She’s a member of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers and with David Morrell cofounded International Thriller Writers. Visit her at

Sunday, August 26, 2018

WRITING A MYSTERY NOVEL: What kind of brain does it take? Guest post by Lise McClendon

Lise McClendon: 
Writing a Mystery Novel: What kind of brain does it take?

There are so many personalities in the world, and traits within them. The human race is infinitely varied, and so fascinating, especially to writers. But what sort of brain— personality traits— does it take to write a novel? Specifically a mystery novel?

For one thing, you have to enjoy the organization of a million pieces into a coherent whole, somewhat like putting together the Starship Enterprise out of Legos. Except you don’t even have picture instructions, you have to make up the instructions yourself. But like Lego projects the more you do, the better you get. The more you write the more you see that going down that path lies madness, or that path lies rich complications. You learn to choose wisely. You save time and energy by figuring out which direction will work for you, for your story, based on what has worked in the past.

That is not to say the start of each novel doesn’t bring a certain amount of panic. Especially when you’re writing a puzzle mystery or any story with elements hidden from but teased to the reader, the blank page can be a horror. How on earth did I do this before? Well, in reality, last time you probably had a really good outline, figured out “who dun it” and more importantly, why whoever did it, before you started, and had a decent, if vague, idea how it was all going to end.

So what kind of personality is that? Truthfully every writer has a unique approach to his or her work, a way to find a story that is tested and true. For me, there is a certain mechanical aspect to this organizing of plot elements. Not in a bad way, although I am not particularly mechanical. I can visualize well, I can see how things might work if you flipped them upside down. (This happened once while my husband and his friend were trying to put together the frame of a raft— I said, just flip it over. They were amazed.) And like most writers, I am observant. As writers we learn to really look, to observe the way people dress, the way they interact, the way to sun shines on their shoulders. We listen to their voices, we hear their accents. So all those details sit in a big jumble in our brains until we finally figure out a way to use them in a story.

In my most recent mystery, Blame it on Paris, I had a few self-made mysteries that, like a reader, I wasn’t sure how I would suss out. In fact, more than a few. But like visualization a writer learns to trust some weird element of intuition that tells him or her that the answer is there. Just keep going, keep looking. I wasn’t sure how I was going to clear this American student jailed in Paris on drug charges. It seemed sort of like Midnight Express, a hopeless case of probable guilt. But eventually my nose led me down paths to the answers. (My outline failed me in many ways: who wrote that damn thing?!) I wasn’t sure how I was going to clear Francie Bennett on sexual harassment charges either. Sure, it was convenient that she had to take a leave of absence so she could go to Paris and meet her sister, Merle, but what was going to happen at her law firm?

So many questions that the plot set-up asks and to which the writer must find answers. Not just good answers, because this is a mystery. The answers must be unpredictable, even clever sometimes, but also fair in retrospect. Writing mysteries and thrillers is such an odd profession. Thinking up crime (or ripping it from the headlines) and discovering how to find justice and truth— there is more drama on the television news than we could ever imagine. So in fiction our writerly brains find order, logic, meaning, compassion, and occasionally, revenge. That is our duty, and our joy.

Lise McClendon’s latest mystery is Blame it on Paris, the seventh in the Bennett Sisters Mystery series, released August 24. Learn more at her website:

Thursday, August 23, 2018


The following article by the amazingly talented and prolific author Lawrence Block appeared in Spies & Secret Agents, the theme of the latest issue of Mystery Readers Journal (Volume 34:2). Thanks, Larry!

Lawrence Block:
Tanner Comes in from the Cold

I made the acquaintance of Evan Tanner a year or two before I started writing about him. Two odd facts called themselves to my attention at about the same time: There were a few documented instances of people who never slept at all, and some German chap was the lineal Stuart Pretender to the English throne. So I found myself imagining what life might be like with an extra eight hours of consciousness each day, and along with other traits, I decided the insomniac fellow would champion the Pretender’s cause.

And that’s as far as that went.

Until 1965, when I actually held a job, my first and last since college. I was in Racine, Wisconsin, editing the Whitman Numismatic Journal (and if you don’t own a set of those issues, how can you call yourself a Lawrence Block completist?)

One day at the office I met a fellow named Lincoln W. Higgie, home on a visit after a stretch in Istanbul, where he made a very precarious living smuggling rare coins and antiquities out of the country. (Why precarious? Because if the authorities caught you, they were apt to kill you. That precarious enough for you?)

We hit it off well enough for me to invite him home for dinner, and after dinner he and I pretty much flattened a fifth of Bushmill’s. We sat and drank and talked, and he did more talking than I did because he had way more interesting exploits to recount. Like the time he boarded a plane to Zurich with some relic that he intended to put in an auction at the Bank Leu, and something gave him a funny feeling, and he took out the wrapped relic and asked the pleasant middle-aged woman seated next to him if she’d mind putting it in her carry-on luggage for the time being.

She agreed, and moments later some uniformed chaps stood him up and searched him, and went through his own hand luggage, and sighed when they found nothing. And when the plane landed in Switzerland, the woman handed over the parcel. “I don’t know what this is,” she said, “and I don’t ever want to know, but that was quite exciting, wasn’t it?”

Damn right I let him do the talking.

And a couple of drinks later, he told me an intricate story of the Armenian community of Smyrna (aka Izmir) at the time of the genocide at the hands of the Turks. The Armenians all gathered their gold, he said, and stowed it beneath the porch of a house in Balikesir, and that was the end of it. Until half a century later a couple of Americans working for Aramco heard the story and decided to hunt for the gold. They managed through considerable research to locate the very house, and broke into the concrete vault beneath the porch, and learned that (a) the story was true, and (b) somebody beat them to it, because the gold was gone.

I may have some details wrong. This was 53 years ago, and, not to put too fine a point on it, Bill Higgie was not the only one hitting the Bushmill’s. I may not have held up my end of the conversation, but I had the drinking part down pat.

Now here’s what’s remarkable, and what makes it abundantly clear Evan Tanner wanted to make an entrance. When I awoke the next morning, I actually remembered the conversation!

And I thought about that golden hoard, as it were, and realized I now had something for my sleepless knight to do. He’d be committed not to a single lost cause but to a whole portfolio thereof, and one of them would be the League for the Restoration of Cilician Armenia, and he’d learn about that house in Balikesir, and he’d go there.

This time, however, the gold would still be there, waiting for him.

A couple of months later, after I’d decided it was time to bid adieu to honest work, I sat down and wrote what became The Thief Who Couldn’t Sleep. I had by this point in life written a few dozen books, including two or three under my own name, but this was the first book in which I’d managed to find a voice that was uniquely mine. I loved writing about Tanner, and in the course of the next several years I turned out six more books about him.

Looking back, I’m amazed at my cavalier attitude toward research. Tanner went all over the world, and it wasn’t until his fifth adventure, Tanner’s Tiger, that he visited a country where I’d set foot myself. (That was Canada. He was turned back at the border, but found someone to smuggle him across.)

So I didn’t have firsthand knowledge of the places he visited, nor did I have much in the way of second- or third-hand knowledge. It’s not as though I spent a lot of time in libraries on Tanner’s behalf. I owned a 1948 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, and any fact unknown to it remained unknown to me.

I stopped writing about Tanner in 1970; Me Tanner, You Jane was the last volume, and I’m not entirely sure why I aborted the series at that point. It seemed to me that the books were too much the same, that he kept meeting the same types of people, that I’d taken the premise as far as it could go.

Then, 28 years later, I wrote Tanner on Ice.

No one could have been more surprised than I. Here’s what happened: my publisher at Dutton, Elaine Koster, had decided to reissue the seven Tanner books as NAL paperbacks. I had occasion to read the first volume in galleys, and I liked it, and remembered how much fun it had been to write them. And wouldn’t it be nice if I could come up with an eighth book to join the others?

But how could I? Tanner had been wounded in the Korean War, that’s when a shred of shrapnel took out his sleep center, and this made him way too old to be leaping international borders in a single bound. By now he’d have problem enough climbing the three or four flights of stairs to his Upper West Side apartment. (Three flights? Four flights? 105th Street? 107th Street? Hey, don’t ask me. It’s not in the Britannica, so how the hell would I know?)

No, he had to be the same age as he was in Me Tanner, You Jane. And the missing time had to be accounted for.

And all of this was plainly impossible.

Until the evening when I was at a concert at Avery Fisher Hall, and my mind wandered, and I realized what had happened to Evan Tanner. He’d been drugged by agents of the Swedish government, and, because they were way too Scandinavian to kill him outright, he’d spent a quarter of a century in a frozen-food locker in Union City, New Jersey. And when they thawed him out—very carefully!—he hadn’t aged a day.

Once I got the idea I had to write the book. And this time he had reason to go to Burma, a country I’d recently visited. (You can call it Myanmar if you wish. I, like most of the Burmese, will stick to the old name.)

I wrote the book in Listowel, a town in County Kerry of which I’m inordinately fond. And, because this was in 1998, and I was concerned about having computer problems in a foreign land, I left my Mac at home and wrote it by hand. But here’s the thing: sitting at a desk in my room at the Listowel Arms, I picked up a pen and bent over a yellow legal pad. And when I started writing, Tanner was simply there. I didn’t have to work to get his voice right, or to know his views on whatever matters came up. I’ll tell you, it was as though he’d spent the past 28 years in some otherwise unoccupied brain cells of mine, just waiting for a chance to resume talking.

And he’s still talking, I should point out, he sounds a lot like Theo Holland. That’s the skilled voice artist with whom I’ve teamed up to issue Tanner in audio. His most recent effort, readily available via Amazon or Audible, is Tanner’s Virgin. (That’s book six, which you may know as Here Comes a Hero, an unfortunate title someone at Fawcett came up with. I like Tanner’s Virgin a lot better, don’t you?)

So of course people have asked when there’ll be a ninth Evan Tanner novel. “It was 28 years between books seven and eight,” I point out. “The fellow seems to have the life cycle of a cicada. You can look for book nine sometime in 2026.”

You know, that line worked better twenty years ago. All of a sudden 2026 is only eight years away.

Hey, do me a favor. Forget I ever said anything…

Learn more about this prolific, award-winning, sociable mystery author and world traveler at

Cartoon of the Day: Trojan Horse

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Spies & Secret Agents: Mystery Readers Journal (Volume 34:2)

The second issue of Mystery Readers Journal: Spies & Secret Agents (Volume 34:2) is available now as a PDF and hardcopy.  Buy this back issue! Available in hardcopy or as a downloadable PDF.

Below is the Table of Contents, as well as some sample articles from the new issue.

Buy this issue! Available in hardcopy or as a downloadable PDF.


  • The Myth of Mata Hari by Michael Kurland
  • Into the Deep with Literary Spymaster John le Carré by Kay Kendall
  • I Spy: A Contributor Remembers Espionage Magazine by Josh Pachter
  • Adding Spies to Life: The Truth About George Smiley by S. Subramanian


  • How the Heck Do You Write a Cozy Spy Series? by Anne Louise Bannon
  • Spies on our Streets by Rona Bell
  • Tanner Comes in from the Cold by Lawrence Block
  • My Brush with Spying by Rhys Bowen
  • Why Spies? by Diana Chambers
  • The Spy Choice: Real or Fantasy by Michael Chandos
  • Secret Agent Superheroes by O’Neil De Noux
  • Of Course I Love Spies, I Was A Reporter by Dan Fesperman
  • Why Would Anyone Want to Be a Secret Agent? by Simon R. Green
  • Writing the Wrong: Getting Into the Head of Assassin Characters by Gary Grossman and Ed Fuller
  • The KGB Convinced Me to Write Spy Novels by Howard Kaplan
  • Femme Vitales by Anna Lee Huber
  • Try Not to Tell Secrets by Arthur Kerns
  • London Spy—Fact and Fiction by Gay Toltl Kinman
  • Come Spy With Me by Gayle Lynds
  • The Secrets of Arisaig House by Susan Elia MacNeal
  • It’s All in a Day’s Work… But Not That You’re Supposed to Know It by Adrian Magson
  • Is the Spy a Feminist? by Jessica Mann
  • Spy vs. Me by Terrence P. McCauley
  • Spies and the Collision of Fact and Fiction by S. Lee Manning
  • My New Adventure by Anne Perry
  • Keeping It in the Family by G.B. Pool
  • A Crowded Field by Bill Rapp
  • The Perfect Cover by Michael Rose
  • I Spy a Mystery Series for Young Readers! by Linda Joy Singleton
  • How My Diary as a DC Intern Turned into My Mystery Novel Debut by Peter Stone
  • Secrets from Room 40 by E.J. Wagner


  • Murder in Retrospect: Reviews by Sandi Herron, Lesa Holstine, Robert Mangeot and L.J. Roberts
  • The Children’s Hour: Spies and Secret Agents by Gay Toltl Kinman
  • Crime Seen: Cold War Classics by Kate Derie
  • The Real Spies by Cathy Pickens
  • From the Editor’s Desk by Janet A. Rudolph

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Chicago-200 Many back issues of Mystery Readers Journal are available as single copies in hardcopy or PDF.

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Call for Articles for 2018: Murder in The Far East; Murder in The American South. First issue in 2019: Murder Down Under.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Cartoon of the Day: Print Books

HT: Felony & Mayhem

WRITING THE WRONG: Getting into the Heads of Assassin Characters by Gary Grossman & Ed Fuller

The following article, Writing the Wrong: Getting into the Heads of Assassin Characters by Gary Grossman and Ed Fuller, appeared in the latest issue of Mystery Readers Journal: Spies and Secret Agents (Volume 34:2). This issue in full is available in PDF and hardcopy.

Gary Grossman and Ed Fuller:
Writing the Wrong: Getting into the Heads of Assassin Characters

Spies and assassins. Both live in the shadows, travel under assumed names, adopt multiple identities, and do the bidding of others. They can be one and the same, two sides of the same foreign coin. Patriot and killer; ready and able to dispatch their targets unemotionally.

Our challenge as thriller writers? To create believable plots and imbue both characters with equal dimension and appeal. The fact of the matter is we know what good guys look like, how they act, and what they stand for. Bad guys, assassins in particular, are more like ghosts and phantoms. Invisible. Consequently, they take more time, effort and research to make real.

Preparing to write our new international thriller RED HOTEL we turned to three areas for character research: Declassified intelligence reports, first- person accounts, and the psychologist’s couch.

International spy agencies have released detailed analyses that we worked through. Assassins seeking asylum have come clean, gone public, and published. And over the years, academic and government psychologists have produced very credible profiles that, in turn, give deeper insight into the minds of killers.

We used all three sources bringing to life a most clever and expert Russian assassin, Andre Milkos.

We first meet Miklos when he is a young KGB agent, disillusioned after he and his senior intelligence officer are abandoned by the Kremlin in East Germany following the fall of the Berlin Wall. Years later, his superior rises to the highest rank in the Russian Federation and Miklos remains by his side; a fiercely loyal and deadly tool of a megalomaniac dictator.

His opposite is Dan Reilly, a former Army intelligence and State Department officer, now running the international side of a global hotel business. When a terrorist bombs the company’s prestigious hotel in Tokyo, Reilly engages old allies and begins to follow clues that leads him around the globe – to Tehran, London, Washington, Moscow, and Brussels – and ultimately a climatic faceoff with Miklos.

Seeking to make Miklos’ every act authentic, we had to deep dive into what it takes to correctly write such a wrong man.

The assassin is himself a weapon and a solution; committing political acts and acts of war, expanding and contracting borders, building and destroying allegiances, eliminating and launching leaders.

Of course, not all assassins are tasked to topple governments or even create news. But they are trained to execute and they usually come from a military trajectory.

To understand what it takes to fulfill the role of assassin in a thriller, we now invite Andre Miklos to the psychiatrist couch for his personal story.

We see that Miklos avoids talking at first. As is the case with actual assassins, he has difficulty relating to others socially. More than that, he’s on guard. Scoping the room. Looking for tools he can use to defend himself; ways to get out. He sidetracks conversation about his family; his father in particular. But deeper analysis would reveal he seeks recognition from a father-figure. In RED HOTEL, he gets it from his mentor, the Russian president.

Once comfortable, and not feeling threatened, he speaks confidently about his particular skills. He says he never gets nervous or flustered in stressful situations. And for that, he is absolutely telling the truth. Miklos boasts he has no remorse or regret, because he has the “construct of a cause” for killing; a purpose and even a code of ethics.

The shrink would view it as a twisted code, to be sure. Miklos might not want to assassinate a woman or a child directly, but he could blow up a building. He does just that in RED HOTEL.

He talks about ways to kill, but he never uses the word murder. He targets and eliminates. He’s more likely to find opportunity when his subject is strolling along a busy street or casually walking through a shopping mall. The momentary chaos he creates allows him to disappear from the scene with the instrument of death. The poison umbrella, the gas pellet, or if disguised as a robbery, his knife or gun.

Andre Miklos is proficient in them all. He believes that his victims are merely targets, not human beings with lives – and lives lost.

He explains the best way to survive is by concealing the very fact that his victim was even a target. After all, the right poisons and gases can dissipate without trace. And heart attacks and accidents happen.

There’s another form of deception in the assassin playbook. Nation-sponsored killings can be disguised as terrorist attacks.

On the couch, Miklos shows no tendencies toward violent behavior, though that is clearly his stock and trade. He derives no real pleasure from killing. It’s just what he does. What he does so well. And he’s totally at ease compartmentalizing his feelings – if he really has any. He views himself as a political undertaker.

Miklos notes he doesn’t require a cooling off period after a killing. He is able to move freely through customs using different identities, with weapons hidden at strategic locations, known safe-houses, and cash readily available.

Political beliefs are fundamental, but Miklos doesn’t participate in political discussions. He sees himself as a useful instrumental of change, poised to take on and take out the next victim. All to serve the plot’s ultimate goal.

These are real traits drawn from actual studies. They helped us color the character and focus the story. Further research demonstrated how assassins are expert in martial arts, parcours du combattant, and weaponry. They can kill with bare hands, but that is a last resort. Much simpler are concealed weapons or everyday things found in the kitchen, workshop, garage or living room. A steak knife, screw driver, wrench, lamp stand, or fire poker. Rope works, but an assassin has to have the physical advantage to use it.

Abdominal wounds used to be enough to lead to death, but advanced medical treatment can save a victim. Cutting the jugular or carotid blood vessels on both sides of the windpipe is effective, as is severing the spinal cord in the cervical region.

Perhaps the most efficient way to kill is to encourage someone to take an unintended step off a cliff. Stairwells aren’t as good, but an elevator shaft will usually do the trick. Falling off a bridge can’t guarantee death unless it’s high enough and the victim can’t swim. A fall from a train, a shove in front of a truck. Both require split second timing and are popular film tropes.

Then there are drugs. Arsenic, strychnine, and morphine. And bolt-action long range rifles. Perfect to pick off guarded officials and public figures from a distance.

Our research revealed more personal aspects. An assassin likely lives alone. He’s interested in sex, but with few or no personal attachments. And the job has its women recruits. In real life, one of the most notorious assassins was Idoia López Riaño, La Tigresa. She was a leading commando in the campaign for Basque Independence from Spain in the 1980s and was said to have seduced policemen before shooting them. (La Femme Nikita, Salt, and most recently Red Sparrow may owe her some royalties.)

Point of reference. Government assassins view themselves differently than hitmen. Hitmen are professional contract killers hired by organized crime groups to take out rivals or eliminate troublesome loose ends. They’re paid on demand and generally fade back into a seemingly normal life as in the HBO television show Barry.

Most state-run assassins, however, are from one degree or another, intelligence officers. That’s Andre Miklos’ background and what makes him such a formidable foe for Dan Reilly. Professional to professional. Both at the top of their games. And like their real-world counterparts, they can’t afford to act irrationally. They must just do their job.

 * * *
Research led us to bottom line questions that intelligence officers ask and psychiatrists can’t answer. Will an assassin trip up? Can someone who can’t be recognized in a crowd be found? Does he/she have a fatal flaw that would tip spies off?

It depends.

Success takes old fashioned legwork, state-of- the-art facial recognition technology, and the willingness of the members of the intelligence community to speak to one another.

The RED HOTEL team working to thwart the plot includes civilian Dan Reilly, a CIA officer who recruits him, and Reilly’s own resources from mercenaries to former FBI and military assets. Working against him are those in his own organization who fail to see the obvious and intelligence groups that don’t share information.

Real life on the page.

All of this contributes to the bottom line truth. Hotels are soft targets. Rogue governments create provocations to act in their best interests, and assassins are the tip of the spear.

Andre Miklos is real to us because Andre Miklos’ exist today. They’re dangerous and level-headed. They work for Russia, China, and North Korea. But the West employs them, too. They’re lethal and professional, worthy of respect from writers and readers. And as authors we had to get Andre Miklos dead right. He doesn’t work any other way.

* * *

Ed Fuller launched his writing career with the international best-selling business book YOU CAN’T MANAGE WITH YOUR FEET ON THE DESK. For twenty- two years he served as president and managing director of Marriott International. His experiences and exploits are woven through the plot of RED HOTEL

In addition to collaborating with Ed Fuller on OLD EARTH, Gary Grossman is author of the best-selling, international award-winning thrillers EXECUTIVE ACTIONS, EXECUTIVE TREASON, EXECUTIVE COMMAND, EXECUTIVE FORCE, and OLD EARTH. He is an Emmy Award winning television producer, journalist, and member of the International Thriller Writers Association and Military Writers Society of America.

Monday, August 20, 2018


Larry Kahaner: 
Pulpster Robert Leslie Bellem: Doing What He Had to Do 

I've been reading the works of Robert Leslie Bellem. For those of you not familiar with him, he was a pulpster, and like his ilk he wrote as much as he could and as fast as he could.

For me, a guy who has been a working writer, author and journalist all of my adult life, I've always admired these scribblers. There's no waiting for their muse, no complaining, no being a whiny baby (Oh, yeah, they often got loaded and complained plenty about low pay and crazy publishers but that's not complaining. That's getting your anger up so you can write some more.) and moving where the markets are buying. Like other pulpsters, when the pulp magazine market ebbed, he moved into TV, writing a bunch of episodes of The Lone Ranger, Adventures of Superman, the Perry Mason show, 77 Sunset Strip, Charlie Chan, and Wanted: Dead or Alive. Check IMDB for an elephant-sized list of writing credits.

Bellem wrote in a variety of genres for many pulp magazines, (He also wrote a few novels) but my favorite works of Bellem are the Dan Turner: Hollywood Detective mysteries. They first appeared in Spicy Detective magazine in the 1930s and the rag was called spicy because they required sexy action between consenting adults. What's so amusing to me is that these risqué sections seem shoe-horned in, and I'm sure it's because they were a requirement. I know that because a) I've been a writer for decades, and b) they're all essentially the same. You can tell that Bellem pulled them off a stack of index cards to satisfy the Spicy Detective rubric. His short stories are peppered with these scenes at regular intervals with overuse of the words bodice, breasts (which are often heaving), lace and peek-a-boo. Unlike his usual clever use of words and phrases in the rest of the story, these spicy scenes are mundane, overworked and clearly written just to get the manuscript passed the editor.

Here's a typical one:

I danced my fingers over her shoulders; dislodged the negligee. Her skin was golden, like rich cream. Her breast looked taut and palpitant under a peek-a-boo lace; I began to enjoy my work. After all, I'm not a wooden Indian. (Cat Act

Feel free to mix up the words, put them in a different order, and you have another scene that Bellem could insert as needed.

Besides these scenes, Bellem possessed the clever wordage, style and cadence of the pulpster's meal ticket. They're funny, some might argue overwritten, and clearly of their time.

It was the brand of scream that turned your ear-drums grey around the temples: high in a feminine register, penetrating as a buzz saw, harsher than a jolt of prohibition gin. The minute I heard it I started running hellity-slash across the vast, barnlike sound stage building. I smelled trouble. Damned bad trouble. A private snoop gets hunches sometimes. (Cat Act). 

She tried to stop me with a slug from her fowling piece. Lanza snapped out of his trance in the nick of time, though, and lashed upward with his right brogan; kicked her full on the gun-wrist. It was damned accurate kicking. You could hear her arm bone snapping. She screamed, and the Bankers’ Special went sailing in a lazy arc; clattered into a far corner. (Cat Act

Here's one of my favorites because it's funny and not funny at the same time:

And the fettered blonde lovely looked as panic stricken as a Czechoslovakian statesman in a room full of Hitlers. (Cat Act

And here's one with the classic pulpster words and rhythm:

So I had to get hold of some geetus to keep Gertie from throwing me in the soup. (Blue Murder

Of all the pulpsters I've enjoyed and written about (See my blog entry Writing Lessons from a Pulpster) Bellem appears to have been having a lot more fun. He wrote for the lettuce, the moolah, the folding green, no doubt about it, but he appeared to be having a bit of a laugh at - and with - the reader.

If you doubt me, the humorist S.J. Perelman noticed this, too. In a 1938 piece in The New Yorker titled "Somewhere a Roscoe…" he wrote a tongue-in-cheek piece about how much he loved the fictional dick Dan Turner and the magazine group that published the character. Perelman wrote: "I hope nobody minds my making love in public, but if Culture Publications, Inc., 900 Market Street, Wilmington, Delaware will have me, I'd like to marry them… And I love them because their prose is so soft and warm." Perelman went on to offer examples of Bellem's Dan Turner prose. Perelman was having some fun, too, just like Bellem, but you could tell that he truly appreciated the words for what they were: Writing that was hitting on all eight.

Larry Kahaner is the author of more than 15 non-fiction books and several novels including the financial thriller USA, Inc. with the provocative tagline: “If the US was for sale, would you buy it?” You can read his blog at which helps at-work writers to become novelists. He is a huge fan of pulpsters.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Cartoon of the Day: Dogs

Is this your dog?

NOIR CITY Returns to the Motor City!

NOIR CITY Detroit returns to its home at the historic Redford Theatre September 22-23 with all the violence, corruption, and melodrama that Detroiters have come to expect from this annual film noir festival. This year's 2-day event kicks off on Saturday night with a double bill of Act of Violence (1949) and The Killing (1956) and closes with a midnight screening of Taxi Driver (1976). Sunday afternoon brings a double bill of big-city corruption––Force of Evil (1948) and the independent crime feature Inside Detroit (1956) shot entirely on location in the Motor City! On Sunday evening, the festival wraps up with two noir melodramas––a new digital restoration of I Walk Alone (1948) and No Man of Her Own (1950).

FNF founder and president Eddie Muller will introduce all the films. The $30 NOIR CITY All Movie Pass grants access to all festival screenings plus entry to an exclusive reception with Eddie on Saturday, September 22, from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., prior to the evening shows.

Friday, August 17, 2018


The Left Coast Crime national committee is offering FIVE scholarships to Left Coast Crime #29 in Vancouver, British Columbia, March 28-31, 2019. The LCC Scholarships include a free registration to the convention in Vancouver (currently $300 Canadian) plus $200 US expense money (or Canadian equivalent). For more info on LCC #29, visit the Whale of a Crime website.

Purpose: LCC Scholarships are intended for anyone needing financial assistance to attend the convention, and seek to encourage fandom and talent in crime writing of all types.

Qualifications: The scholarships are open to everyone. You only need to complete the application process. Prior attendance at LCC is not required.

Application Process: Simply email the following items in one email package to — and please include “Scholarship” in the subject line:

1. Name and mailing address
2. Telephone number
3. Year of birth
4. Brief description of your current occupation or circumstances
5. A 200-500 word essay explaining your interest in crime fiction and what attending the convention would mean to you
6. If you are a writer, please include a short sample of your fiction or non-fiction writing, blog post, or book review

Deadline: Applications must be received by November 30, 2018.

Decision and Announcement: The scholarship committee will let each of the applicants know the results by December 15, 2018. We won’t publicize the names of those awarded scholarships, but recipients are free to make their own announcements.

Questions? Email

Writing a Sequel in a Murder Mystery Series: Guest Post by Peter Moreira

Peter Moreira: 
Writing a Sequel in a Murder Mystery Series 

My wife has got into the habit of asking me how “Number Two” is going. That’s her name for the second book in my mystery series. Some days, I wish she’d use the book’s title. Other days, well, her name seems quite apt.

The fact is that writing the sequel to a murder mystery is hard. To illustrate why, I need to start with my novel THE HAIGHT, which I hope will be the first book in the Jimmy Spracklin series of crime novels.

THE HAIGHT (just published by Poplar Press) tells the story of Spracklin, a San Francisco homicide detective, who is investigating the murder of an artist in Haight-Ashbury in 1968. He knows the neighborhood – the vortex of hippie culture – all too well, for he’s spent a year there searching for his runaway stepdaughter.

In writing the sequel, I have to develop the story of Jimmy Spracklin and his family, while writing a whodunnit that can stand on its own and reward the reader. Here are five things I’ve learned in the process of writing and rewriting “Number Two”:

1. The second book is an essential volume in a series. Book 2 is not just another episode. Let’s assume that Book 1 is good enough that readers want to revisit the world the author created. If Book 2 falls short, the reader (and likely publisher) won’t bother with any further books in the series. Everyone will assume that there’s just not enough there to generate a series. You can probably get away with Book 8 being a lemon, but a weak second book is fatal.

2. Each book needs its own centre of emotional intensity. To draw in the reader, the hero has to love someone or something more than life itself, and that passion has to evolve as the series progresses. The incidents that define the long-term relationship have to be woven into the fabric of each book. In THE HAIGHT, the key relationship is Spracklin’s love of his stepdaughter, Marie. In the sequel, he risks everything to protect her, to the detriment of his own marriage.

3. You have to lose and add characters. This is a technical thing, but I find it really important. If you don’t absolutely need a character from Book 1, cut him or her out of Book 2. Each murder mystery needs characters to kill and its own rolodex of suspects. Ideally, they’ll all have their own stories and specific incidents that will bring out their characters. Don’t confuse your reader by cluttering your text with legacy characters. Lose old characters. Gain new ones.

4. Repeat the magic of the first book without belaboring it. There’s something unique about your book that made readers love it. With THE HAIGHT, I strove to create the atmosphere of Haight-Ashbury in the 1960s without interrupting the plot with tedious tracts of description. It’s harder in the second book because I need new elements of Haight-Ashbury to describe. The murder in the second book is set against a free music festival in Golden Gate Park, creating the same aura as Book 1 but with fresh descriptions.

5. Aim to write a novel at least as good as the first book. That sounds like a no-brainer, but rarely (if ever) does the sequel live up to the original. For my own part, I’m delighted by the way THE HAIGHT turned out and the feedback I’m getting from readers. My goal is to write a better book second time around. Will I succeed? Dunno. But by aiming to exceed the first book, I hope I improve my chances of producing a worthy successor.

I’ve almost finished the second draft of the new novel. I think I’m pleased with the way it’s progressing, but you’re never really sure how good your book is until other people have at it. The story is centred on the murder of a minor character from THE HAIGHT, who shows up dead on Hippie Hill, where a long-haired impresario is staging a rock festival. The working title is THE DEAD DEALER OF HAIGHT STREET. I’m not completely sold on the title, but I like it better than NUMBER TWO

Peter Moreira is the author of THE HAIGHT, the first Jimmy Spracklin crime novel. It is now available from Poplar Press.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018



If you plan on attending Bouchercon, consider working the LCC table. The LCC Table is a great place to meet authors and fans, as well as make new friends. If you love Left Coast Crime as much as I do, you're the right person to spread the word. I'll be coordinating the table assignments. A two-hour shift is ideal, but let me know whatever you can do.

Be sure and send me your email or cellphone (text) with your preferred times. Not sure? Let me know when you get to Bcon, if you're available..Ideally it would be great to sign-up in advance.

Thursday, September 6: 
9-11: Catherine Lea
1-3: Wendall Thomas
3-5: John Mullen

Friday, September 7:
9-11 Don & Jenn Longmuir
3-5: Laura Benedict; Cathy Ace

Saturday, September 8: 
9-11: Lesa Holstine
11-1 Terry Shames

Sunday, September 9: 9-11

Left Coast Crime: 

Are you signed up for LCC 2019? Vancouver, Canada. March 28-31, 2019

Left Coast Crime: 2020: San Diego, CA. March 12-15, 2020