This Used To Be My Playground

GEAUX TIGERS!

I watched the Auburn-Washington game yesterday while I cleaned the downstairs. I did a lot of chores and errands yesterday; and also did some reorganizing and cleaning so the living room doesn’t look quite so…book hoarder-ish. 

I’m getting better about it. I’ve realized that the true value, for me, of the ebook is that if I read a book I really like and think I’ll want to hang on to for one reason or another, I can donate the hardcopy and buy the ebook; if I’m patient enough and pay enough attention to email alerts and so forth, I can usually get it at a much discounted price. I don’t feel quite so bad about buying ebooks at low sale prices as I would had I not paid full price already for a print version. So, I’m really buying the book twice.

(I also find myself taking advantages of sales on ebooks by a particular author whose books I loved and would love to revisit sometime. I have the entire canon of Mary Stewart on my iPad, and a shit ton of Phyllis Whitneys. I’m also occasionally finding books by Dorothy B. Hughes and Charlotte Armstrong and Dorothy Salisbury Davis, which is lovely; I’ve also managed to get some of Susan Howatch’s lengthy family sagas, like Penmarric, The Wheel of Fortune, and Cashelmara. There are many treasures to be found through e-retailers.)

And I also find that, once I’ve let go of the hard copy, I’m not usually all that anxious to buy the e-version. Most of the books I want to keep is because I think it might be something I’d want to write about in a broader, nonfiction sense; like a book about the Gothic romances of the 1960’s thru the 1980’s, what they were inspired by, and how they were books about women’s fears; yes, there was romance involved, but they were also about the dark side of romance. Or a lengthy essay or study about how gay men are portrayed in crime novels written by authors who aren’t gay men, like the rampant homophobia in James Ellroy’s Clandestine or the male/male relationship in James M. Cain’s Serenade or any number of gay male portrayals over the decades of American crime fiction. Then there are, of course, the nonfiction tomes, about periods of history that interest me that I hold onto because I may need them as research for a book or story idea that I have.

I also keep copies of books by my friends, and whenever a friend has an ebook sale I will always grab a copy if I can.

I still haven’t really shifted from reading hard copies to reading electronically, but I am slowly but surely getting there. Anthologies are really helpful in that way; short stories are, of course, self-contained and by definition can usually be completed in one sitting.

I also finished reading James Ziskin’s wonderful Cast the First Stone, and am now eighty percent of the way finished with my Bouchercon homework.

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Monday, February 5, 1962

Sitting at the head of runway 31R at Idlewild, the jet hummed patiently, its four turbines spinning, almost whining. The captain’s voice crackled over the public-address system to inform us that we were next in line for takeoff. I’d noticed him earlier leaning against the doorframe of the cockpit, greeting passengers as we boarded the plane. He’d given me a thorough once-over–a hungry leer I know all too well–and I averted my gaze like the good girl that I’m not.

“Welcome aboard, miss,” he’d said, compelling me to look him in the eye. He winked and flashed me a bright smile. “I hope to give you a comfortable ride.”

I surely blushed.

Now, just moments after the handsome pilot had assured us of our imminent departure, the engines roared to life, and the aircraft lurched forward from its standstill. Juddering at first as it began to move, the plane rumbled down the runway, gathering speed as it barreled toward takeoff. I craned my neck to see better through the window,  holding my breath as I gripped the armrest of my seat and grinned like a fool. I sensed the man seated next to me was rolling his eyes, but I didn’t care. Of course I’d flown before–a regional flight from LaGuardia to Albany on Mohawk Airlines, and a couple of quick hops in a single-engine Cessna with a man who was trying to impress me with his derring-do. Alas, his derring-didn’t. But this was my first-ever flight on a jet plane.

This is a terrific start to a terrific novel. The fifth book in James W. Ziskin’s highly acclaimed and award-winning Ellie Stone series, it is, alas, the first Ellie Stone I’ve read. I met the author at a Bouchercon some time back (I don’t recall which one) and of course, I’ve been aware of the awards and the acclaim, and have been accumulating the books in his series for my TBR pile, but just haven’t gotten to them yet, much to my chagrin. So while I am not a fan of reading books out of order in a series (a crime I committed earlier in my Bouchercon homework with Nadine Nettman’s wine series), I certainly didn’t have the time to go back and read the first four.

Now, of course, I am going to have to–and what a delightful prospect this is.

Ellie is a delight, for one thing. The book/series is set in 1962/early 1960’s; and Ellie is a report for the New Holland Republic, not taken terribly seriously by the men she works with or for (with the sole exception her direct editor), even though she is the best reporter and the best writer on her paper. (It kind of reminds me of Mad Men in that way.) The opening is terrific; Ziskin captures that excitement of your first jet flight in a time period where it wasn’t terribly common to fly beautifully, and using that experience to not only showcase how adventurous Ellie is but to introduce her to the new reader as well as give some of her background. She is flying out to Los Angeles to interview a local boy who’s gone out to Hollywood to be a movie star, and has recently been cast as the second male lead in one of those ubiquitous beach movies the 60’s were known for, Twistin’ at the Beach. But he hasn’t shown up for his first day of shooting on the Paramount lot, placing his job in jeopardy, and soon the producer has been murdered…and the deeper Ellie gets into her story and her search for Tony Eberle soon has her digging through the seaming, tawdrier side of the Hollywood dream and system. Saying much more would be giving away spoilers, but Ziskin’s depiction of the secretive side of Hollywood, what studios were willing to do back in the day to protect bankable stars, and what that meant to those on the seamier side of the business is heart-wrenching and heartbreaking, and sympathetically written.

I can’t wait to read more about Ellie Stone.

And now I have moved on to Thomas Pluck’s Bad Boy Boogie, the last part of my homework. LSU plays tonight (GEAUX TIGERS!), and I want to go to the gym, do some more cleaning, and do some more writing today.

So it’s back to the spice mines with me.

Remember the Time

Friday morning! I get to go into work late because I am, as always, passing out condom packs tonight in the Quarter for Southern Decadence; when we finish, I am officially on vacation all I ever wanted until I return to the office on September 11 (gulp). Huzzah! Huzzah! Part of that time will be, of course, spent in St. Petersburg at Bouchercon. (huzzah! huzzah!) I am still trying to get my Bouchercon homework finished; I am nearly finished with James Ziskin’s delightful Cast the First Stone, and hopefully will be able to finish Thomas Pluck’s Bad Boy Boogie before our panel next Friday. (If I can’t, I really need to turn in my book nerd card.) I am also hoping to take Madeline Miller’s Circe with me on the trip to read.

I don’t want to give the impression that Cast the First Stone isn’t as good as it is by taking so long to read it; I’ve been in a late summer/dog days of August malaise that has had me having a lot of trouble getting anything done; the house is a mess (worse than usual) and I’ve gotten nowhere on the Scotty book and I’ve done very little writing of consequence at all this month. I’m trying very hard not to beat myself up over this; it is what it is, and it’s not a reflection on anything I do or my career. August, particularly late August, is always hideous when it comes to trying to get anything done; the heat and humidity this particular year has been particularly hideous, and it really sucks the life and energy right out of you. I am taking the manuscript for the Scotty with me to St. Pete; and I am hoping I’ll be able to carve out time to reread and make notes and so forth over the course of the weekend.

I’m also trying to figure out the rest of the story for “The Blues before Dawn.” I am also wondering whether or not this is more of a novel rather than a short story. I can’t make up my mind about my main character, or a time period to set the story in. I fucking hate when that happens. But it also means I need to think about the story some more, which is also not such a bad thing; as it’s a historical I’ll need to do some more research–I’ve been realizing lately how skimpy my knowledge of New Orleans and Louisiana history (with a few exceptions) actually is.

Another mental challenge for this is my decision, made over the course of the summer, to think about creating a new series. The Chanse series is pretty much over; after I decided to stop with Murder in the Arts District I wasn’t sure I was, in fact, finished with the character and series, but as more time passes the less I am interested in writing another novel about him. That might change, but I am now more convinced than ever that ending the series was the right thing to do. I have, however, written a Chanse short story and started another (I’ve still not finished “Once a Tiger”), and feel relatively certain Chanse will live on in short stories from time to time. The endless struggle and utter lack of motivation I have in finishing this Scotty book is also kind of a tell that maybe it’s time to wind this series down as well–a much harder decision, as I love Scotty much more than I ever cared about Chanse. But in the meantime, I’ve been thinking about writing yet another series. I had thought about spinning Jerry Channing, the writer, who first appeared in The Orion Mask and then again in Garden District Gothic his own series; as a true crime writer who often follows and writes about true crime for magazines, and is always looking for a subject for his next book, he seemed perfect as the center of another series. But the character’s back story was problematic, and I realized his background, in some ways, might be far too similar (and thus derivative) to Scotty’s. Then again, so what if Scotty and Jerry are both formerly personal trainers? if that and being gay is all they have in common…I do have an idea for a Jerry novel that might work; maybe I should write that and see if a series might work.

But “The Blues Before Dawn” also has grown in my mind as a possible start for a series, and maybe it should be a novel rather than a story (this, by the way, happens to me all the time). I think writing a historical crime series set in New Orleans might be an interesting idea; there are only two in existence that I am aware of–Barbara Hambly’s brilliant Benjamin January series (which is antebellum and opens with A Free Man of Color), and David Fulmer’s Valentin St. Cyr Storyville series, which opens with Chasing the Devil’s Tail. (Don’t @ me; I am sure there are others I can’t think of, even now I am thinking James Sallis’ Lew Griffin series, the first of which is called The Long-Legged Fly, is historical.) But the other day I came across an interesting article about Algernon Badger, who was chief of police in New Orleans from about 1870-1876, as well as Jean Baptiste Jourdain, who was the highest ranking mixed race police detective in 1870, and in charge of the Mollie Digby kidnapping investigation.  There is so much rich history in New Orleans that I don’t know, have barely scratched the surface of; one of the many reasons I roll my eyes when people refer to me as “a New Orleans expert.” The concept of a high ranking police detective after the Civil War and during Reconstruction in New Orleans fascinates me; and I kind of like the idea of writing about the Prohibition era here as well.

I think I need to have a long chat with my friend, historian Pat Brady.

I also got a rejection yesterday for a short story; and was enormously pleased that it didn’t spend me into the usual downward spiral of depression. Obviously, I am disappointed my story won’t be used, but it was just so lovely to actually get a notification that they aren’t using my story that it just rolled off my back. (It was also a lovely note, which included some thoughts on the story; ironically, what they thought would have made the story better was something that I had personally thought when reviewing and revising; but I didn’t trust my judgment and didn’t make those crucial changes. You’d think after all this time I would have learned to trust my judgment!)

And now, I am going to go curl up in my easy chair and try to finish James Ziskin’s delightful Cast the First Stone.

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Life is a Highway

Good Lord, it’s almost Southern Decadence, and college football is back this weekend! GEAUX TIGERS!

The US Open is also going on, which means I won’t be watching the series finale of Sharp Objects for a while as well as getting behind on Castle Rock. Ah, well, that’s fine, on this day next week we’ll be arriving in lovely St. Petersburg for this year’s edition of Bouchercon. I am going to be a very busy Gregalicious in St. Petersburg this year. I am doing the Coat of Many Colors event on Thursday morning; the anthology signing later that same day; and then three panels on Friday: the nooner sex panel at noon; moderating the Best Paperback Original Anthony panel at 3, and then appearing on the rainbow (?) panel at 4.

I really need to prepare. But I am still reading James Ziskin’s delightful Cast the First Stone, and am hoping to get that finished so I have time to read Thomas Pluck’s Bad Boy Boogie before next week.

Also, instead of working on the things I should be working on, I started writing a new short story last night, “The Blues before Dawn”:

A saxophone player lived across the street from me, on the third floor of a fading and dilapidated building painted a fading coral. Every night, without fail, after the band he played with was finished, he’d come home and crack open a cold beer. He’d take his brightly colored silk shirt off and climb out onto his rusty, sagging balcony. Wearing just his trousers and white suspenders stretched over his muscular torso, he’d straddle a chair and play his sax as he wound down for the evening. I usually got home around the time he launched into the second tune of his late-night concert, something low and sensual and sexy that made me think of warm skin, teeth nibbling on my earlobe, and the caress of firm muscle pressed close against my own body. I would get a beer from my own refrigerator and strip naked in the sticky heat of the early morning, the ceiling fan blades whistling as they spun over my head, listening to the mournful notes coming from his broken-hearted saxophone. I sat in my window on the fourth floor across the street with the lights off, sweat shining on my skin as I watched and listened, as the sinewy muscle in his shoulders and arms and chest clenching and relaxing as he played in the fading darkness of the night, the sun still an hour from rising but the light of the moon dying as a new day struggled to be born. I fell asleep many a sunrise lulled to sleep despite the heat and humidity by the purity of the notes he played.

So I got about a thousand words into this before coming to a halt. It turns out, as I wrote, to be about a gay prostitute in the 1920’s in Storyville; I don’t even know if that was such a thing, so should probably do some research on that, don’t you think? But I do find myself turning to New Orleans history more and more; I suspect a visit to the Historic New Orleans Collection will be in order at some point in my near future.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Achy Breaky Heart

Monday, and only one more week until vacation and next week includes my departure to Bouchercon in St. Petersburg! Huzzah! I am really looking forward to this trip–you have no idea, Constant Reader. I am getting really excited.

I managed to focus and get two stories finished and revised and ready for submission, which I will do tonight after I get home from work.

I am still reading James Ziskin’s Cast the First Stone and really enjoying it as it hits its stride. It’s going where I thought it was going to go–although I am completely at a loss as to who the killer is or why or how etc.–and I really like the character of Ellie Stone, which means I am going to have to add Ziskin’s series to my must-read list, which is always kind of fun; I love discovering new-to-me authors who are terrific at what they do.

We also are nearing completion of watching the second season of Kim’s Convenience, and I am going to be terribly sorry when it ends, to be honest. I’ve become very attached to the Kims, and the actors playing the roles. It’s honest and funny and heartfelt; one of the better sitcoms I’ve seen in a while. I am also impatiently awaiting the release of Season Three of Versailles to streaming services, but will settle for  continuing to watch The Musketeers in the meantime.

The next, and final, story in Florida Happens is Reed Farrel Coleman’s “The Ending.”

BIO: Called a hard-boiled poet by NPR’s Maureen Corrigan and the noir poet laureate in the Huffington Post, Reed Farrel Coleman is the New York Times-bestselling author of thirty novels—including five in Robert B. Parker’s Jesse Stone series—short stories, poetry, and essays.

In addition to his acclaimed series characters, Moe Prager and Gus Murphy, he has written the stand-alone novel Gun Church and collaborated with decorated Irish crime writer Ken Bruen on the novel Tower.

Reed is a four time Edgar Award nominee in three different categories: Best Novel, Best Paperback Original, and Best Short Story. He is a four-time recipient of the Shamus Award for Best PI Novel of the Year. He has also won the Audie, Macavity, Barry, and Anthony Awards. He has been signed by film director Michael Mann to write the prequel novel to the movie Heat.

With their kids moved away to far off Brooklyn, Reed, his wife Rosanne, and their two Siamese cats, Cleo and Knish, live in the wilds of Suffolk County on Long Island.

His website can be found here.

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Everything ends. He couldn’t argue that. But what he had tried to say to her all those years ago was it wasn’t always about the end coming, but how the end came. How mattered. It mattered a lot. It mattered to him then and it mattered more to him now as he stepped off the Southwest flight and walked to the rental car bus at Palm Beach International. When she had ended it, there was more to his life than there was now. There was a family and a career. There was still a family of sorts, but his wife was dead and the kids were moved away. His career had morphed into golf, sad memories, and revenge fantasies. Currently, how she had ended it mattered more than anything had ever mattered.

At the counter, the pretty young blond with impatient blue eyes asked if he wanted a free upgrade to a midsize car. It hit him, hit him hard so that the wind almost emptied from his papery old man lungs. Except for what he and Marlene had done for those ten years, he had always operated in a very narrow bandwidth. His life had been a midsize car. 

“You got a Corvette convertible?” he asked, barely believing the voice he heard was his own. “Red or yellow, something fast and sleek that makes a statement?”

The blond, her long silver-painted nails clicking on the keyboard, smiled at him in a way that made his blood run cold. Another old man looking for excitement on his way to the grave. But he hadn’t come here for her. Their ending would come as soon as she handed him the little paper binder and the keys.

“Yes, we have a red Corvette convertible. It’s in spot A12,” she said.

He didn’t pay much attention after that, wasn’t sure what insurance coverages he had agreed or not agreed to, wasn’t sure which gas option he’d taken. All that mattered was the red car in spot A12. The rest of his life, no matter how short, would no longer be easy to measure in bandwidth nor would he ever think of his life again as a midsize car.

“The Ending” is a melancholy story about how a man reacts to the end of an affair; an affair that was much more important to him than he realized until it was over. Coleman is a terrific write,r and this vignette really comes to life in his capable hands; once I read it, I knew it had to be the final story in the collection–so it could have a big finish.

I hope y’all have enjoyed my journey through the stories in Florida Happens as much as I enjoyed revisiting the stories.

And now, back to the spice mines.

I’m Too Sexy

How lovely to wake up to a terrific review of Florida Happens on the Mystery Scene website! You can read it here.

Huzzah!

I have to say I am very proud of this anthology, but even prouder that my story “Cold Beer No Flies” was also singled out for praise, which is lovely. As Constant Reader is aware, I don’t have a lot of confidence when it comes to my short stories, so those rare occasions when they get mentioned by reviewers is always a treat for me. (Which reminds me, I need to work on some this weekend. Sigh.)

It’s been a long week; I had trouble sleeping in the middle of the week but bounced back really nicely in the latter part of the week. Last night’s sleep was wonderful, long-lasting and deep and relaxing; I am still in sort of a rest-coma this morning. My kitchen is a mess–and something will have to be done about that sooner rather than later–and other than a social obligation today and a couple of errands that must be run (mail, prescriptions) the rest of the day is mine to do with as I please. The clock is running out on my Bouchercon homework, so I am going to need to curl up with James Ziskin’s Cast the First Stone in order to have time to read Thomas Pluck’s Bad Boy Boogie before Bouchercon, so I am prepared to discuss their books with the fine panelists on the Best Paperback Original panel. I also booked my rental car and paid for the  early check-in on Southwest–which apparently now is automatic; you don’t have to do anything and it checks you in thirty-six hours before your flight, which is actually kind of lovely. I need to read “A Whisper from the Graveyard and “This Thing of Darkness” aloud this weekend, and I want to start working on the revision of Royal Street Reveillon which I’ve been avoiding all month (now that the month is almost over, sigh).

So. Much. To. Do.

We started watching Kim’s Convenience last night, which is, simply put, a very endearing and funny show about a Korean family–the Kims–who own a convenience store in Toronto. I was worried, of course, that the show might deal in stereotypes, but the family dynamic and the relationships between the characters is very complex, and underlying it all is a deep sweetness; there is more to the Kims than you think at first, and the show is actually funny but not at the expense of the characters. Of course, I’m not Korean, so I can’t speak to its authenticity or to its not being offensive, but Paul and I are both really enjoying it. And Jung–the son who is estranged from his father for being a bit of a juvenile delinquent when a teen, even serving time in juvie–is sexy.  I highly recommend it.

The next story in Florida Happens is  “Frontier Justice” by John Floyd.

John Floyd’s work has appeared in more than 250 different publications, including Strand MagazineAlfred Hitchcock’s Mystery MagazineEllery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Woman’s World, Mississippi Noir, and The Saturday Evening Post. A former Air Force captain and IBM systems engineer, he is also a three-time Derringer Award winner, an Edgar Award finalist, and a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee. One of John’s stories appeared in the 2015 edition of Best American Mystery Stories, and another is forthcoming in the 2018 edition.

John is also the author of six books: Rainbow’s End, Midnight, Clockwork, Deception, Fifty Mysteries, and Dreamland.

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The car was waiting in the alley, with Eddie Stark at the wheel and half a dozen cigarette butts littering the pavement below the driver’s-side door. Eddie had flipped a seventh out the open window and exhaled a lungful of smoke when he saw Charlotte Baxter stroll around the corner and head in his direction. Even from a distance, Baxter’s face looked as calm as always. Eddie Stark’s was sweating.

Baxter climbed in, set a thick brown attache case on the seat between them, and peeled off her honey-colored wig. She also took off a pair of glasses and removed two wads of cotton from inside her cheeks. Eddie hefted the case up and over into the back seat. It didn’t feel as heavy as it had been, twenty minutes ago, and he knew why: half its contents had been left in the building across the street.

With trembling hands Eddie started the engine and steered the big Lincoln out of the alley and into the downtown Tallahassee traffic. Finally he turned to look at Baxter.

“How’d it go?”

“Fine.” Baxter leaned back and closed her eyes. “Mission accomplished, package delivered.”

“Sure nobody recognized you?”

“Would you have recognized me? What they saw was a blonde with a chubby face.”

John Floyd is one of our best short story writers; I first met him at the Edgar Symposium several years ago when he was on a panel I moderated. He was nominated for the Edgar for Best Short Story for “The Ledge,” which I thought was simply brilliant. His work has been nominated and/or won many awards, and I am always excited to read a new story from him. He contributed a great story to Blood on the Bayou, “The Blue Delta,” and I am more than thrilled to have “Frontier Justice” in Florida Happens.

“Frontier Justice” is about a heroin ring’s decision to kill the investigating district attorneys by planting a bomb in their office. Charlotte Baxter, as seen in the opening excerpt, is the woman they hired to blend in and plant the bomb. But as always with a Floyd story, there’s more going on beneath the surface than is readily apparent to the reader, and the way the story flips on itself in the closing pages shows just how much mastery Floyd has over the form.

And now, back to the spice mines.

My Loving (No You’re Never Gonna Get It)

Saturday morning, and I am feeling rested and relaxed as I sit here by my windows with my second cup of coffee. It looks very still outside, and there’s no condensation on the glass, so I tend to think (wishfully) that it may not be that humid outside. Of course it’s wishful thinking; when I run to the post office and the grocery store later this morning I will no doubt be slapped in the face by the hot damp.

Hurray?

I didn’t get as much cleaning done yesterday as I would have liked, so I am going to try to focus on getting that done today as well as some short story work. I may even continue my voyage through Royal Street Reveillon, making notes and figuring out how to straighten up and tighten that whole mess.

And I’d love to spend some quality time with James Ziskin’s Cast the First Stone today. Bouchercon is looming on the horizon, and I have to finish it and one more before I am finished with my Bouchercon homework.

So, once I am finished here, it’s time to make a to-do list for the day and get a move on.

I may even make it to the gym today–I know, right? Madness.

Next up in Florida Happens is “The Unidentifieds”, by J. D. Allen.

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J.D. Allen’s Sin City Investigations series launched with 19 Souls earlier this year. She is a Mystery Writers of America Freddie Award-winner. She has short stories in the Anthony Award-winning anthology, Murder under the Oaks as well as Carolina Crimes: 20 Tales of Need, Greed, and Dirty Deeds. She’s the chair of the Bouchercon National Board, a member of MWA, PI Writer’s of America, and president of her local Sisters in Crime chapter. She’s an Ohio State Univ. Alum with a degree in forensic anthropology and a creative writing minor.

J. D. says: I attended The Ohio State University and earned a degree in forensic anthropology and a creative writing minor.

Writing Mysteries was not my first career or my second.

Life’s journey meanders.

I feel it’s never too late to reach for the brass ring. With the publication of the Sin City Investigation Series, my dreams of publishing gritty mysteries have been realized.

I believe in giving back to the writing community that has supported me through the years. I’m a member of the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention National board and president of the Triangle Chapter of Sisters in Crime. I speak on the basics of crime scene investigation, voice, and public speaking.

And here’s the opening to her story:

~Saturday 2 p.m. – The Funeral

For Jim, a funeral was about as appealing as removing his own appendix.  Two funerals in as many weeks had him planning a stop at the liquor store on the way home and a look at his choice of occupation. Jim Bean squinted as the Vegas sun reflected off his cousin’s silver casket. Jim had picked it out the coffin and planned the service. With the recent experiences, he’d learned obituaries should be 75 words, and lives could shatter in a moment.

He now stood over the proceedings. He fought Vegas sweat and tears as Alexis’s casket thumped to the bottom of the rectangular gave. She was the only person left from his old life he still called family. The girl in that box had been shot in the chest and burned to cover the identity of her remains.

Jim glared across the casket as the words meant to soothe and heal drifted over to the deceased. He hoped they helped her.

Andrew Zant stood opposite that death divide. His dark glasses and darker suit complemented the smirk on his pale, pointy face. Jim read victory in that smug look. Maybe it didn’t show his eyes, but it was displayed in his presence. Jim wasn’t surprised to see someone from his organization here to confirm the death. The shock was Zant showed up in person. He even let himself be photographed on the way to the graveside service.

A hum of rage and hostility was ready to bust from Jim’s chest as he openly stared at the Vegas tycoon. The man thought himself superior. Thought he’d gotten away with it.

He thought wrong.

Excellent opening, no?

The main character, Jim Bean, is a private eye in Las Vegas, whose cousin Alexis has become involved with a very dangerous and powerful man–and needs to get away from him, with Jim’s help. So they devise an elaborate ruse. Will they get away with it? Allen carefully builds the suspense to the inevitable yet still surprising ending. Great fun, and terrific suspense. I do look forward to reading more of her work.

And, since my errands flatly refuse to run themselves, I am off to the spice mines.

Save the Best for Last

Thursday!

My Bouchercon homework continues, with me now reading James Ziskin’s Cast the First Stone. I am very excited to read this; I’ve heard nothing but great things about his books, plus he’s a pretty good guy. I had bought the first in his series–still in the TBR pile, alas–so am kind of glad that this book became a homework assignment. I am really enjoying it thus far, and if it’s going where I think it may be going–well, that would be awesome, but I am sure I am going to love it even if it doesn’t.

I started watching the BBC series The Musketeers on Hulu this evening. I did a half-day today; one of my co-workers and I tested at a conference at the Riverside Hilton for four hours, after which I walked home on an afternoon in August. Heavy sigh. Any way, ’tis a good thing I did work only half-a-day, because alas we are having to clean everything in the house because Scooter had a couple of fleas. His medication is working–the fleas we’ve found were dying or dead–but it’s August and we live in a swamp, and so while there have been no signs of infestation thus far, we aren’t going to take the risk. So I’ve been cleaning all day ever since I got home; taking breaks now and then to watch something on the television, and having it on as I launder things and vacuum things and well, it needed to be done, didn’t it?

That’s a rather tired and round about way of getting to the point, isn’t it? Long story short: I’ve always been a big fan of The Three Musketeers, ever since I was a kid, and I’ve been meaning to watch this BBC series for years…but kept forgetting about it. Someone posted somewhere on Facebook last night asking people to name their favorite d’Artagnan, and as I always do, whenever I get the chance, I replied Always Michael York. Always. But someone else posted a picture of the young actor who plays him in the television series and I thought, yes, I’d been meaning to watch that, hadn’t I? So I watched a couple of episodes as I cleaned–and am intrigued. More watching is most definitely called for.

Next up in Florida Happens is “A Postcard for the Dead”, by Susanna Calkins.

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Susanna Calkins lives outside Chicago with her husband and two sons. Holding a PhD in history, Susanna writes the award-winning Lucy Campion historical mysteries as well as the forthcoming Speakeasy Murders, both from St. Martin’s Minotaur. Murder Knocks Twice, set in Prohibition-Era Chicago, will be out Spring 2019. Her first short story, “The Trial of Madame Pelletier,” featuring a 19th century poisoning case, is up for an Anthony Award (and can be read on her website at www.susannacalkins.com).

Susanna says: “A POSTCARD FOR THE DEAD” is my second published short story. When I saw the call for the Bouchercon anthology, on a whim I began to read through 1920s Florida newspapers, since I was already researching the Roaring Twenties for my Prohibition-Era novels. There, I stumbled across the rather odd story of Lena Clarke, a postmistress who had embezzled huge amounts of money from the Post Office and then framed a local playboy for the crime. What struck me most about this story was how Lena gave her testimony in court using a crystal ball, having been part of a wild West Palm Beach Bohemian set, before being declared insane. Although I altered the case substantially in my version, I retained the embezzlement aspect and of course the crystal ball. After a little more digging, l discovered that Lena’s brother had died of a snakebite, which just seemed too Florida of a detail not too include. I thought about setting the story in a courtroom, but given that my FIRST short story, “The Trial of Madame Pelletier” featured, well, a trial, I thought I’d better frame it a little differently.

Calkins author photo outside

West Palm Beach, Florida

July 1921

Lily Baker peered inside her mailbox before reaching in to retrieve her mail. Back when her half-brother had been West Palm Beach’s postmaster, he had delighted in leaving snakes in mailboxes as pranks. Of course, the last laugh had been on him, when he had died of a snake bite last Christmas.

There was only one piece of mail today, though—a postcard featuring a swanky hotel in Orlando, a city she’d never been. She turned it over to read the message but was surprised to find it blank. Only her name and address had been printed on the postcard, in careful block letters.

Curiously, she studied the card. The stamp had been cancelled in Orlando two days before. July 27, 1921. Flipping the card back over, she looked at the picture more closely. The hotel was the San Juan, which the postcard informed her had been built in 1885 by C.E. Pierce. Built for the filthy rich, from the looks of it.

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Lily was still by her mailbox when she saw Officer Danny Jamison coming down the street on his bicycle.  She had known Officer Jamison since they were kids—he’d been just one year ahead of her in school. After high school they’d gone in different directions, although on occasion their paths crossed. She was about to wave as he passed by, when instead he stopped in front of her and dismounted his bike in one easy move.

“Hey Lily,” he said, leaning his bike against her palm tree. “Your sister around?”

Lily shifted from one foot to the other. Why was Danny asking after Junie? Though she and her older half-sister had lived together since their parents had passed away a few years before, Junie tended to be tight-lipped about her goings-on. But Lily would catch whispers about illicit gin, late night séances, Ouija parties, and other secret doings connected with West Palm Beach’s furtive Bohemian scene. A far cry from her day job heading the town’s Post Office, which Junie had taken over from their brother some eight months before.  “She must have left for work early,” Lily said.  “I didn’t see her this morning.”

“I see. But you saw her last night?”

Great beginning, right? It’s a terrific story, but what I think I enjoyed the most about it was the narrator’s voice; I really liked the character of Lily, how Calkins gradually let us into Lily’s life, and through character, built a very clever crime story.