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.
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!
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!
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.
I was early for my morning walk with friend, TO Poet, so I checked my email and could not believe my eyes. TWO nominations for the Crime Writers of Canada Awards PLUS nominations for many dear author friends. Wow!
My black comedy story, “Must Love Dogs – or You’re Gone”, was my first British publication. It was published in Gone, An Anthology of Crime Stories, edited by Stephen J. Golds for Red Dog Press. My inspiration was an anecdote my dog-owner friend told me about a dog who ate anything, including an electronic car key. And I worked in that most Canadian of settings, Niagara Falls and set the stage in winter. Much fun writing – and rewriting – this one.
Erik De Souza will be interviewing all the finalists for the CWC podcast, including me! Erik believes it’s unusual for an author to be nominated in two categories, so I am doubly honored that my novella, Amdur’s Ghost, is also a finalist. It is part of the Mesdames of Mayhem’s fifth anthology, In the Spirit of 13where “spirit” can mean ghost, demon or even alcohol!
Amdur’s Ghost is my second story about beleaguered civil servant, Dr. Benjamin Amdur. To fight the right-wing politicians bent on destroying Ontario’s public health care system, Amdur taken on the job of Medical Officer of Health at the province’s most obscure public health department. The new Minister of Health pressures him into finding her missing ex-husband, Nigel Brown, who coincidentally was Amdur’s predecessor. Brown has vanished without a clue to his whereabouts, but then Amdur gets a note from the local spiritualist medium…
The winners of the CWC Awards will be announced on May 25th at 12 noon. Fingers crossed!
Really looking forward to the Zoom launch of In the Spirit of 13, the Mesdames and Messieurs of Mayhem’s 5th anthology in celebration of our 10th anniversary. Entry is free but guests must pre-register with the publisher firstname.lastname@example.org
Sometimes wonderful events cluster. The Mesdames of Mayhem had a full page article in the Toronto Star by Briony James. A huge thank you to my friend, Sylvia Warsh, who landed us this terrific publicity. Here’s the link:
On Sunday, October 30th we launched In the Spirit of 13, our fifth anthology in celebration of our 10th anniversary at our favorite bookstore, Sleuth of Baker Street. It was a smash success! Despite worries about resurging COVID, Sleuth was packed with our fans, friends and family.
And then I woke up this morning to the amazing news that my story, Last Island, is the cover story on Mystery Magazine this month! Wow!
I’m really excited about our upcoming launch at Sleuth of Baker Street Bookstore, this Sunday, October 30th at 2 pm. It’s the Mesdames and Messieurs of Mayhem’s first public appearance since the beginning of COVID!
And here’s our blurb: Ghosts and demons and booze, oh my!
To celebrate our 10th anniversary, we Mesdames and Messieurs of Mayhem have let our imaginations run wild to bring you our fifth anthology, In the Spirit of 13. Does “spirit’ mean ghost or demon – or debunking of same? Or simply the evil in twisted human hearts? Or could it be alcohol? You must read these 23 tales to find out!
The Mesdames and Messieurs of Mayhem are established award-winning authors as well as talented new writers. We aimed to keep our stories light-hearted to counter the world’s troubled times, but some of them have strayed into the dark. We are crime writers after all!
Laugh, shed a tear and prepare to be deliciously frightened.
I just finished Five Moves of Doom, the third book in the PI “Hammerhead” Jed Ounstead series – and it’s terrific! Set in gritty East Vancouver, protagonist Jed has an unusual occupation: he’s a retired professional wrestler.
What makes for a gripping story, as in Fellini’s classic film La Strada and even hit Canadian comedy series, Trailer Park Boys, is the classic trio of characters representing brains, brawn and heart. Hammerhead Jed embodies all three in one person– and author A.J. Devlin pulls this off brilliantly. Jed is first and foremost a physical person. That, sometimes to his detriment, is his self-identity. But clients and bad guys tend to underestimate his intelligence – and that is always to their detriment.
In Five Moves of Doom, Jed is hired by former UFC fighter, Elijah Lennox, to find Elijah’s million dollar, diamond-encrusted championship belt. Trustingly, Elijah had it on display at his martial arts studio, but now it’s gone missing. Jed recovers the belt thanks to his smarts and underworld contacts, though finding it seems too easy. Then Elijah ends up dead and Jed’s heart drives him to find the murderer and bring them to justice.
Jed’s quest draws him into the murky realm of illegal fighting. Devlin has created an ogre of a villain in Cassian, the ringleader, who wears the dog tags of his victims round his neck as trophies. (To me they’re more like the shrunken heads worn by a cannibal king!) Taking on Cassian draws Jed into some very dark places, many within himself. It takes a skilled writer to draw the reader along to explore Jed’s troubled path and Devlin pulls it off.
There are two aspects of the Hammerhead series that I especially enjoy. The first is the sheer physicality and choreography of the fighting scenes. Too often, fights in crime fiction are a bit predictable resulting in an urge to flip the page. Not so here. Devlin knows fighting and that shines through in every scene. (Learn more about AJ’s fighting background on Cyber Café here.)
I also love Devlin’s secondary characters like Jed’s cousin, Declan, Irish barkeep and former IRA commando, who always has his family’s back. The chapter written from Declan’s POV is a tour de force of writing. My personal favorite is Sykes, Jed’s shady entrepreneur and informant, who in the previous book was bookmaking on dachshund racing. This time out, Sykes has taken up goat yoga. That’s right goat yoga. Both are comedy gold and even better, Readers, both weird activities are real.
FIVE STARS ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
MOST IMPORTANT: WHERE TO BUY THE HAMMERHEAD JED SERIES!
In addition, Cobra Clutch is now available as an audiobook on Audible and wherever audiobooks can be found.
Order the “Hammerhead” Jed mystery-comedy series through bookshop.newestpress.com, which features a Find Your Local Bookstore link to support indie bookstores and shop local.
Finally, AJ is proud to have partnered up with his friends at the terrific Western Sky Books in Port Coquitlam, where copies of all three “Hammerhead” Jed books with personalized inscriptions can be requested and purchased online exclusively through their website WesternSkyBooks.com.