I’m excited to be part of Melissa’s kick-starter for her new Dr. Hope Sze mystery, Sugar and Vice, Book 3 of the Seven Deadly Sins series. Hope attends a festival that celebrates dragon boat racing and food, an unusual pairing made sinister by a warning that someone is about to die.
Read our interview here and do check out Melissa’s kick- starter here.
Sam is a personal friend. We were both up for the CWC Best Unpublished Manuscript Award (Sam won) and later both of us were nominated for Best First Novel. We lost to Steve Burrows and his bird-watching detective, Jejeune. Sigh. We finally met in person at Portland Left Coast Crime and bonded over our love of Noir.
Sam is passionate about his home city, Vancouver and in each of the Wakeland novels, he explores a serious social issue impacting the lives of its citizens. In Sunset and Jericho, he takes on the housing affordability crisis and the increasing socio-economic wealth gap.
Wakeland’s life is ruled by violence, both perpetrated by and inflicted on him. He survives an amazing number of near-death beatings and is finally told by his doctors to quit his PI job or die. There’s no resolution to the social ills depicted in this book – just like real life. A master stylist of the PI genre, Sam keeps you reading through to the devastating twist at the end.
Sam’s next book is a standalone and he’s hinted that Sunset and Jericho may be the last is the Wakeland series. Hopefully not. I’m eager to read more of Wakeland’s adventures.
Sean Cosby is the author of four stand-alone thrillers and the winner and finalist of numerous leading awards, including the Anthony and ITW Thriller award. In each book, he explores the social ills affecting our society from an African-American perspective.
A master of style and substance, All the Sinners Bleed, is possibly Sean’s best book to date. (Stephen King gave it a rave review in the New York Times.) The book is a police procedural set in the Southern USA. It transcends the genre in the masterful first two pages about the blood-soaked, evil history of Charon County.
On the surface, the story is about the pursuit of a serial killer by Titus Crown, the first black sheriff elected in Charon. Titus, a former FBI agent, allegedly moved back home to look after his elderly father, but he left the FBI under a cloud for taking justice into his own hands. Cosby takes on financial corruption, political weaseling, cult religions and socio-economic inequity while creating a tense thriller that’s impossible to put down. It’s a tough book, violent and unsparing in its depiction of crime and social evils rooted in America’s undying racism. One of the best crime fiction books of 2023.
Eat these books! Highly recommended. Both 5 stars.
I read mostly thrillers and noir so cozies aren’t really my go-to read, BUT every once in while it’s great to switch up, which is why I’m recommending two engaging and thoroughly entertaining reads: The Merry Widow Murders (Cormorant Press) by Melodie Campbell and The Devil’s Chew Toy by Rob Osler.
BOOK ONE: THE MERRY WIDOW MURDERS
Melodie and I are longstanding author friends and I’m big fan of her Derringer-winning Goddaughter novella series. Melodie, AKA The Mesdames of Mayhem’s Queen of Comedy, got her training in stand-up, so she’s always written short. Do take a look at her featured story, “The Kindred Spirits Detective Agency” on the Mesdames’ website and see how she creates a world in under 2000 words. That takes skill!
Melodie confided to me that writing “long” for a standard novel posed a challenge. And it’s a challenge she’s overcome beautifully in The Merry Widow Murders. Her mystery is set in 1928 aboard a luxury ocean liner. Lady Lucy Revelstoke, the wealthy young widow of an English lord, is travelling back to England when someone dumps a dead stranger in her cabin. Was this planned or an unhappy accident? Lucy and her two sidekicks, Lord Tony and her maid, Elf, don’t wait to find out. They try to dispose of the body discretely, but things don’t go as planned.
Lucy has a shady past, which would ruin her in the conventional society of the day. To safeguard her reputation, Lucy must solve the stranger’s murder. The mystery has many twists and turns and a satisfying ending. I especially enjoyed the descriptions of ocean-going life, the food and art deco decor. Melodie skillfully weaves in social comment about the position of women in 1928 and the strictures of social convention.
BOOK TWO: DEVIL’S CHEW TOY
I had the pleasure of meeting Rob Osler in person at Left Coast Crime in Tucson this year. Fellow author, Stephen Buehler, who’s also a professional magician, invited me to LCC’s Author Speed Dating – not as an author pitching a book but as a reader. This proved to be terrific training for how to pitch to readers and a most enjoyable way to discover new authors and books.
Rob’s book stood out, not only because it was nominated for a Lefty Award, but because of his humorous pitch. His bookmarks were dog bone-shaped and he promoted The Devil’s Chew Toy with a funny poem – doggerel, get it?
The premise is hilarious. Hayden McCall is a shy high school teacher, who because of his height, is constantly mistaken for one of his students. His love life isn’t great nor is his luck. Venturing out to the local gay bar, he is accidentally punched in the face by Camillo, the hot disco dancer. Feeling bad for him, Camilo takes him back to his place. The morning after Hayden wakes up to the police banging on the door. Camilo has disappeared – and Hayden is not only a suspect, he’s saddled with Camilo’s pit bull terrier.
Aided by Camilo’s feisty lesbian friends, Hayden tries to find him through a series of mishaps and misadventures. Camilo’s disappearance is tied to a shady pet store, appropriately named Barkingham Palace. Hayden solves the mystery and – surprise – for once there are NO murders in the book!
On January 13th, acclaimed British actor, Julian Sands, disappeared while hiking alone near Mt. Baldy, California The search for him resumed after the winter snows melted though deep patches still linger. Last week hikers stumbled across a set of human remains in the area where Sands’ cell phone last pinged, remains now confirmed to be his.
In Part One, I introduced Dr. Robert Koester, an expert on the behavior of people who get lost in the wilderness. Now, in Part 2, I’m recommending an excellent book about searching for missing people in the wild, The Cold Vanish, by Jon Billman.
Jon Billman, an athlete, creative writing teacher and contributor to famed Outside Magazine, uses his decades of personal experience in search and rescue to create a compelling and thought-provoking narrative on how and why people go missing in the wilds.
Billman shares representative cases of missing persons, from a runner murdered by a serial killer to deaths by falls, exposure and other misadventures to the miraculous rescue of a yoga teacher in the remote forests of Hawaii. And yes, she’d wandered off the beaten path and yes, she’d ended up many miles in the opposite direction from where logic dictated she’d be. She was spotted by mere chance by a search plane which, ironically, had also flown off course.
The overarching story that ties Billman’s book together is the case of Jacob Gray, a young man on a solo journey of self-discovery. Jacob was reported missing after his bicycle was discovered abandoned in Olympic National Park. Billman became close friends with Jacob’s father, Randy Gray, who spent years searching tirelessly for his son. Initially searchers feared that Jacob had fallen into a nearby fast-flowing river, but when divers came up empty, Randy and Billman together explored a gamut of wild possibilities, including Jacob’s joining a cult. In the end, Jacob is found, but no spoilers. Eat the book!
Missing people are located largely due to the efforts of volunteers. Billman introduces colorful characters who have made finding lost people their life mission: Duff, the blood hound handler; Michael Neiger, bushman and self-taught expert; and David Paulides, ex-cop and dedicated Bigfoot researcher.
Sadly many times the outcome is tragic. The classic scenario is that hikers or hunters stumble over the missing person’s skeletal remains, exactly the way Julian Sands was eventually found. Often it’s in a spot far from where the person initially disappeared.
The takeaways from Billman’s book reinforce Dr. Koester’s warnings: don’t stray off the main path, tell people where you are going and if you get lost, stay put! Best advice of all, don’t go out into the wilderness unprepared and alone.
I’m excited to announce that Carrick Publishing will be bringing out my new book, Snake Oil and Other Tales. Launch date is slated for October in keeping with the tradition of the Mesdames of Mayhem anthologies.
Snake Oil brings together ten of my stories and novellas published since the release of my first collection, Glow Grass and Other Tales, Carrick Publishing, 2016. Many of the stories were finalists for the Crime Writers of Canada Awards of Excellence.
Stand by for the cover reveal by talented artist, Sara Carrick. I’m especially delighted by this one!
Great news on May 25th, the announcement of the winners of CWC’s Awards of Excellence: my friend, Antony Budelka’s book, Going to Beautiful won for Best Novel! A human story about love, grief and community, it’s also Tony’s love letter to his hometown of Saskatoon and to his Ukranian heritage. I was captivated by the first page!
Tony is the author of the eight book Russell Quant series, the prairie cop turned PI who travels the world solving mysteries. He’s also written two Adam Saint, disaster recovery agent novels; and two standalones, including Going to Beautiful. He’s a winner of the Lambda Literary Award and finalist for the CWC Awards of Excellence, the Saskatchewan Book and Re-Lit awards.
Queer Noir at the Bar on June 1st was our first opportunity to meet up with Tony in the real world since COVID. Tony read from his new book, Livingsky, the first in a new mystery series with PI, Merry Bell, a transwoman down on her luck and forced to rent a cabin near/in the town dump.
At the start of Going to Beautiful, Chef Jake Hardy has it all: a wonderful family and friends; a thriving business; money and fame. His life is torn apart when his husband, Eddie, dies in a mysterious fall from their penthouse terrace. The police rule Eddie’s death an accident, but Jake is lost in grief. Nasty trolls suggest that the cause of Eddie’s fall was more sinister and that Jake had something to do with it.
Many years before Jake and Eddie had written down their wishes in case one of them died before the other. Re-reading Eddie’s letter, Jake discovers that his husband wanted part of his ashes to be scattered in “Beautiful”.
Eddie had always been closed about his early life on the Prairies. Jake does some digging and discovers that Beautiful is a real place, a tiny town just south of Saskatoon. Despite the fact that it’s January, Jake decides he must go to Beautiful and tell his in-laws about Eddie.
Accompanied by his best friend, Baz, a delightful and classy 78-year old transwoman, Jake makes the frigid journey to Beautiful. Though virtually a ghost-town, its inhabitants are nonetheless a vibrant community from the 90 year old nun who’s the sole surviving member of her convent, to Chung, the owner of Ming’s, the social hub of Beautiful, to Bohan, the helpful farmer, who has eyes for Baz.
I especially loved Tony’s sense of place: I could taste the delicious Ukranian food, explore the deserted buildings and feel the icy bite of Saskatchewan cold. The solution to Jake’s husband’s death is a profoundly human one- and the upbeat ending was perfect as Jake recovers his hope and love of life.
Once again I jumped onto my trusty old Trek hybrid bike to complete the 2023 Ride to Conquer Cancer, a 200+ km journey from Toronto to Hamilton to Niagara Falls. Feeling a bit exhausted this morning, but happy to be one of the 90 “Sweet Sixteeners”, cyclists who’ve done The Ride every year since it began in 2008.
For a few days, thanks to the forest fires and poor air quality in Toronto, it looked that the Ride might not happen at all. Fortunately, the weather turned in our favor with two days of rain before the start date of June 10th, which literally cleared the air.
Last year was the first “real world” Ride since COVID. Happily, this year participation numbers were back up to normal levels and together, riders raised $17.3 million. My donors were extremely generous, which spurred me on to complete what turned out to be an onerous journey due to (a) the weather (b) crowding and (c) significant route changes.
The biggest challenge on opening day was the heat: 30 degrees by the afternoon! Fortunately, a mild headwind and light cloud cover shielded us. I know from my running days how draining – and dangerous – heat can be. It’s vital to drink enough water and to replenish electrolytes through Gatorade, but it’s difficult, if not impossible, to take in enough.
Training for the ride is essential and it’s easy to underestimate how much you need to do. Ride organizers urged participants to complete at least two 75 km rides. Given the routing this year, this was clearly inadequate for ordinary mortals.
Opening speeches were nicely delivered and not overlong. Efforts to prevent a bottleneck at the start worked well and I was off and riding faster than in previous years. As always, Lakeshore Blvd was closed to traffic, which got us out of the city quickly until we hit a glitch turning north onto the Queensway. Often in the past, I’ve grumbled about training in the city, dealing with rough roads and traffic, but this proved invaluable now while negotiating the next 40 km until we headed into the welcome countryside.
Lunch wasn’t served until the 75 km rest stop. Fortunately, my loyal roadcrew, Ed, brought Rahier sandwiches at the 50 km stop where I could refuel and rest up in relative calm. Little did I know what was awaiting me for the next 25 km!
Many years ago, the route had a long stretch of rather nasty hills. My buddy, Marci and I trained for these by doing several stretches of 80+ km rides in the hills north of Holland Marsh. For the past several years, route organizers have skirted this section for flatter countryside, but not this year. The hills were brutal, especially in the heat. From experience, I’d learned that conserving energy is vital to finishing a race, so I walked up several of the longer inclines.
I did wonder if perhaps I’d skimped a bit on my training until I ran into my friend, Della, from yoga class. Della is a super-strong cyclist who trains around windy Lake Simcoe. When she pronounced the hills “brutal”, too, I felt vindicated. We both envied Della’s friend who’d opted for the “Ride Express”, thus avoiding the hills altogether. The sweep vehicle / sag-wagon was pretty busy during the last half of the ride: beginners suffered.
Toward the end of the day came our reward: a glorious 3+km downhill into McMaster University. The route winds you through the campus, past the Phoenix Pub, Ed’s watering hole from student days and over the finish line to “camp” and a most welcome Steam Whistle beer!
Free food and lots of it: pulled pork and chicken, mac and cheese, lots of salads. Ed and I shared a plate after I parked my bike in the secure lot. Then home for a most welcome shower and sleep. I dozed off in the car while Ed fought through the weekend traffic.
We were up at 4:30 am, grabbing a quick breakfast and putting our cat on gravity feeders. The drive to Hamilton went smoothly with practically no traffic and I was on my bike off and riding shortly after the route opened at 6:30 am.
Much cooler temperatures were a relief as was the cloud cover. We glided through early morning Hamilton, though here, as in Toronto and later all through Niagara, the road surface was rough, pitted with hazards, especially for the super-skinny tires on modern bikes. Carbon fiber bikes are extremely light and fast, compared to old hybrids like mine, but they’re fragile. Bike breakdowns were common. In the past, several volunteers helped fix flats and did easy repairs, but I didn’t spot their friendly vehicles this time out.
Route organizers sent us to the top of the Niagara escarpment the familiar way, up a 7 km long bike trail with a very low uphill gradient. From there, the route headed into the countryside past vineyards, huge stone mansions, horse farms and the like. I was passing the derelict barn where last year I’d sheltered from a thunderstorm, when I felt the first few spots of rain.
I’ve done the Ride in the rain a few times. First, you go into denial. It’s just sprinkling, it’s not that bad. Then resignation, as you realize, it is not going to stop. Luckily I had with me the impermeable rain coat I’d bought from a Goderich bike shop – a life saver. Getting wet is uncomfortable, but the worst thing about rain is getting cold.
I pressed on and after an hour or so, the rain tapered off. In Jordan, I had deja vu all over again. The route goes right past our friends, Bill and Lynda’s house where they were cheering riders on. So great to see them! I took the opportunity to pack up my raincoat and drink some much needed Gatorade.
Bill was inspired by the new rule that allows electric bikes. He’s envisioning charging up the many batteries needed for the distance by pedaling a stationary bike!
I carried on and had a few animal encounters. I was charged by a squirrel and a large grey tabby cat and once again, praised my disc brakes. A short distance later, I ran into two Canada geese crossing the road. Those birds weren’t stopping for anyone. As I headed them off, they took wing and we nearly had a mid-air collision!
An unwelcome change to Day 2’s route happened hours before the event began: a 23 additional kilometres. Organizers claimed this extra mileage was beyond their control. Once again, the sag-wagon was busy as were the first-aid riders and ambulance pick-ups.
The new route did not pass my favorite apple orchard, but we did cross the drawbridge over the Welland Canal. I slogged through the distance, refueling with Starbucks goodies provided by Ed. There was once particularly evil hill, impossible to bike up and one which leaves you breathless even pushing your bike up to the top. I had to agree with the older gentleman cyclist beside me who said: “That hill was unnecessary.”
The route finally landed us on the banks of the Niagara River. In the past, this stretch was the reward for a journey well-pedaled, but honestly, by then, I was too tired, longing for the end. There was supposedly one last pitstop before the end, but if so, I missed it. Before I knew it, I passed under the arch at the finish line. What a relief to finish: 127.97 km, the most I’ve ever ridden in a day.
Sadly, the Steamwhistle people had run out of beer: the first time in 16 rides, so Ed and I settled for a free glass of wine instead. We chatted to a few fellow cyclists, including a young woman who’d done a scary header over her bike, but carried on nonetheless to finish. What commitment!
We headed home. Lots of tourists crowding Table Rock and the sidewalks along the Falls. The Horseshoe Falls were shrouded in mist and even the American side looked beautiful, much more water than normal. We drove through Niagara-on-the-Lake, which appears to be thriving, then fought through the horrendous traffic back home to tea, Rahier cookies and an early night.
Will I do the Ride again next year? Perhaps it’s time to let younger riders on new equipment take the field. The cause, of course, is wonderful and compelling…I will let you know.
Yesterday I was interviewed by Erik De Souza of Crime Writers of Canada, because of my two nominations for this year’s CWC Awards. Apparently this is a first timer: to be nominated in two different categories!
Great fun chatting with Erik who really does his research. Here are the links.