Greg Randall and I were were going to be on a panel together when the 2020 Left Coast Crime convention was shut down for COVID. To prepare, I read the first of Randall’s Alex Polonia Thrillers, Venice Black and loved it. Imagine how excited I was to bump into him this year in Albuquerque and be gifted a copy of Toulouse For Death, #3 of the Sharon O’Mara series. This is what I love about LCC—you meet someone one year and in another year they’re giving you books they think you’ll like, based on a conversation the year before. Greg and I must have talked about art, travel, and strong female protagonists, because Toulouse For Death has all that. Although the book was first published in 2011, the plot is a twist on a classic theme: good vs. evil and is as relevant in 2022 as it has been since biblical times.
A Toulouse Lautrec painting stolen by the Nazis. A dying man’s wish. Old evils return to the twenty-first century.
Facilitator Sharon O’Mara is hired by a client who wishes to remain anonymous. She is to facilitate the return of five stolen impressionist paintings, one of them by Toulouse-Lautrec, to the rightful owners. The family doesn’t know the paintings exist—they had been originally stolen by the Nazis in 1938. Of course, a find like this makes the news and, in South America, a Nazi survivor sees the report and starts making plans. This could be the link to the lost Nazi treasure—the greatest treasure trove from World War II lost since the allies took Germany. And the treasure is the key to fulfilling a dream of resurrecting the Reich by a clandestine group of New Nazis.
Sharon makes contact with the family per instructions, but before she can deliver the paintings, they are robbed at gunpoint from the delivery van by 4 leather-clad motorcyclists in the hotel garage. Sharon puts two and two together, realizing there is more to her client’s secret treasure than a few paintings. Sharon and helper Kevin Bryan, fly to Paris to meet with the client’s associate for answers, but again, they are attacked. The chase is on: from Paris to the fertile vineyards of the Napa Valley. Something is going down, and Sharon and her team are going to stop it. “After seventy years an American GI and a Nazi SS soldier are again pitted against each other.”
Sharon O’Mara is an ex-military police officer, Iraq vet and now an insurance investigator and “facilitator” for hire. She’s tough, smart, and can be counted on to get the job done. A fiery red-head, she’s bold, brassy—a risk taker, as well as confident, honest and valorous. She’s who you’d want leading your team—because she’s not afraid to act. And if you are an action fan, Toulouse For Death is action packed, fast paced and plenty suspense filled to send your heart racing. This book has been compared to Monuments Men. It’s an oblique comparison, but the book’s premise doesn’t feel so far-fetched after all the shenanigans in U.S. politics in the last few years. One reviewer says of the missing treasure, “Makes one want to grab a metal detector and fly off to Germany.” It makes me say, “the world isn’t safe from megalomaniacs who want to take over.” In this novel, good triumphs. I’m looking forward to more of Sharon O’Mara. She’ll vanquish the baddies and leave me feeling like the world has been made a little safer. At least until the evening news.
Michigan born and Chicago raised, Randall has made the San Francisco Bay Area his home with his wife for the last 45 years. The Randalls operate an independent publishing company, Windsor Hill Publishing. He is a cover designer and artist as well as an author. His books often look at how the past impacts the present, and he’s authored over 20 books. His young adult novel, Elk River, won awards from the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) and Northern California Book Publishers Association (BAIPA).
A blackmailed Court of Appeals judge from the 9th Circuit, a French art exchange student with something to sell, and Mari E, investigator with an agenda of her own, sets another Towles jigsaw puzzle of characters, clues, motivations, and surprises in motion.
Mari E is Marissa Ellwyn, wealthy owner of the prestigious Marissa Ellwyn Gallery, but when a former detective, her soon-to-be partner knocks, it’s on the door of her work-trailer in a seedy section of L.A.’s Fashion District. They’ve both got things to hide, but she needs back up and he has the skills. Mari is being followed by a dark grey van and has received threatening messages—obviously someone objects to her investigation, but for Mari, “The fate of my family and my heart depended on it.”
Abernathy is investigating a college student who has died suspiciously along with the disappearances and deaths of two reporters following the case and the trail that leads to the judge. The cases are linked and as they investigate, threats come from all sides, even from Mari’s former handlers at the CIA.
Hot House moves at break-neck speed from its seemingly straightforward investigation into a shadowy mystery. Although the story is infused with humor and delightful touches like Trevor, Mari’s “Human Resources Director,” a German mastiff, the motivations of characters make for a dark and layered plot. Mari and Derek are professional and determined, mostly sticking to legal investigating techniques. Both have secret histories with the LAPD Chief of Detectives, and both think the PD did a poor job of the initial search, but it’s not until the dead coed’s secrets come to light that some of the puzzle pieces form a picture. And it isn’t pretty.
I found Hot House thought provoking and suspenseful. I shouted “Ah Ha!” at the end of Chapter Fifteen when a clue fell into place for me, and I realized how much fun I was having trying to solve the case. Besides the charming banter between Mari and Derek, the book challenged me. I jotted thoughts and reactions while reading: oh, crap, this goes deep, uh-oh, hmmm-so why surveillance? What? What? And finally the shocking end—I just plain: didn’t see it coming!
Hot House is a hot book to read with a cool drink in the hammock on a hot summer’s day.
Mari E and Derek Abernathy (and Trevor) make a great investigative team in this first of the E & A Investigations Series. The next book can’t get into my hands fast enough! Hot House may have surpassed The Unseen as my favorite Towles novel. All I can say is, the books just keep getting better and better! (Don’t miss The Ridderscoming this fall.)
An Interview with Lisa Towles
am: Where did the inspiration for Hot House come from?
LT: My husband gave me a character name he thought of one day (he does that sometimes) – Derek Abernathy. I told him to write the name down and put it on the top shelf of an open file on my desk (so I’d see it every day). 18 months later (LOL!) I started writing Hot House. Why that amount of time, how did my husband know that Derek Abernathy was going to be an important part of my future? That’s part of the mystery and magic of fiction writing…and marriage 🙂
am: Like many of your protagonists, Mari Ellwyn is complicated and has something to prove and something to heal. What draws you to this type of character?
LT: I love this intriguing assessment – prove and heal. You’re right! And when you say it in those terms, I think every good protagonist has these elements. Like real people, fictional characters can have an external face that they show the world (how they want to be seen) and a more personal side of how they authentically feel. For Mari, I think she’s trying to prove that she’s healed from her shot-in-the-line-of-duty trauma and she’s ready for prime time with a new partner. But what I think she’s still working on, in this book, is being able to trust other people, which will be an issue for her as she starts this new relationship with Derek.
am: What defines Hot House as a Psychological thriller?
LT: Hot House could be thought of as a psychological thriller because the story has a psychological component in it as it relates to central victim of the story: Sophie Michaud. The narrative and backstory of Sophie’s mental illness played an integral role in why she was targeted by her killer and ultimately why she died.
am: I find your work to be like jigsaw puzzles. Bits of information need to be identified then tried in different directions to find where they fit. Eventually it all comes together.
LT: I’ve always loved puzzles, and for people who love puzzles, they typically don’t mind the not-knowing and temporary state of confusion when it comes to crime investigation. We look for obvious clues that are visible on the surface. And whether those pan out or not, there are always underlying layers of truth that have been established to conceal a crime and its perpetrators.
am: Do you think your background in IT has you wired to think in non-linear ways?
LT: Such an interesting question. Software engineering, I suppose, is a good metaphor for crime investigation. You write code to develop a new application (writing parallel: a theory), but there’s a significant amount of testing and verification in many different contexts and scenarios to ensure that it actually works (proving the theory, evidence, etc). And on the less linear side, there’s an important component of “debugging”, which is a problem-solving investigation to fix any defects and things that don’t work correctly. And I think this is where the creativity and thinking-out-of-box comes in. Why doesn’t something work as expected? What are the variables that could be playing a role? When it comes to real and fictional criminal investigations, details arise that might not readily fit into a framework you’ve created for a suspect. But often investigators feel or sense a connection that might not be visible by others (a hunch). THIS is the nonlinear part. Not sure if working in IT or just reading mysteries since I was a little girl made be interested in this. I just know the investigations are fascinating and great fun.
am: What draws you to the thriller genre? Do you write in more than one subgenre of thriller?
LT: I think the pace, stakes, and vibe of thrillers draws me in as a reader, and that’s what I’m pulled to write as well. My second book, Blackwater Tango, was also a psychological thriller, about a psychologist/profiler investigating a serial killer. I’ve heard from my readers (body in a lobster trap) that this was my creepiest book of all – LOL! The Ghost of Mary Prairie (2007) was very different – what I called a heartland suspense, about a 15 year old boy in rural Oklahoma investigating a ghost he encounters, which leads back to his family’s tangled past. BooksRadar is a great site that shows all of my books, with descriptions, in the order they were published: https://www.booksradar.com/towles-lisa/towles.html
am: You have a full time IT job, how do you manage to publish two books a year?
LT: Honestly it’s a constant struggle. Luckily I’m a night owl and I do most of my writing after 9pm and on weekends when I’m more relaxed and have time to think and reflect about my work in progress. I’ve learned that the Pomodoro Method (writing in 25 minute blasts) works well for me. But it’s a hard negotiation to consistently juggle my day job, writing new work, editing my work, and marketing/promotion.
am: What kind of publishing team do you use?
LT: I’ve had a wonderful experience working with Indies United Publishing House for my last two books and I’m really excited to keep going. And I’m so grateful to have an Editor who I completely trust, some smart beta readers (like you, Ana!), loving friends and family who support me, and a growing community of engaged readers who kindly provide feedback to let me know what I’m doing right, what needs refining, and what’s most important to them. After all, nothing is more important than our readers! 🙂
am: What was your first book?
LT: My first book (published under Lisa Polisar) was published in 2003, a suspense novel called Knee Deep about a body discovered in a mineral mine in rural New Mexico (where I lived for many years).
am: What’s coming next?
LT: My next publication is one of my favorite books, a political thriller called The Ridders, due for release on November 30, 2022.
am: When will the next E &A Investigations book come out?
LT: Book 2 in the E&A series, called Salt Island, will be released by Indies United on June 14, 2023
Don’t miss Hot House—
FIRST PRIZE WINNER of the 2022 Book Fest Awards
WINNER of the Literary Titan GOLD Award for Fiction
Right from the introduction to America: Standing Strong, I knew I‘d be powerfully moved by Robert J. Emery’s book. He says, “There is a worldwide upheaval coming if it’s not already here. This time, it feels different; this time, it feels dangerous. Where are the voices of common sense, reason, and compromise? There was a time when America’s two-party system, for example, worked to advance American society despite philosophical differences. Today there is endless in-fighting and political posturing between the parties that do little to advance the lives of citizens. Enough already.” Exactly—enough already!
I’m not a zealous fan of political essays or social histories, although I’ve read a few important books in my day, and this is one of them. The book is not anything I expected when my fellow Indies United Publishing House author asked me to review. Emery has offered readers a look at our divided society, politics, COVID pandemic, racial tension and eroding trust in our government, leaving it up to us, the reader, to form our own opinions. He punctuates his thoughts and illuminates the facts with quotations from famous authors, movies, politicians, songs,—even Forest Gump— all designed to make the reader think and to put things in perspective. Inspired by columnist David Brooks, “. . .when social trust collapses, nations fail. Can we get it back before it’s too late?” Emery counters with [Brook’s words are] “a call to arms, not with weapons or violence, but as a unified country to meet challenges head-on with honesty, truth, and facts and to roundly reject the voices of the wolves in sheep’s clothing who would lead us in the wrong direction.”
Written with humor and straightforward “plain talk,” America: Standing Strong explores where we are on many fronts and how we got here. Emery includes chapters on Dictators, terrorism, Anger and the Loss of Civility, Guns in America, the environment, Conspiracies Theories & Misinformation, Technology & Social Media, along with the expected chapters on January 6th, The 2020 Election and The Pandemic. He says, “Stay with me; it gets messier as we proceed.” He often opens a chapter with “What went wrong, and what went right.” and often ends a chapter with a call to action and a summary of the consequences of the chapter topic and a final word. In the chapter, Whatever Happened to Common Sense? it ends with this:
are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally
each other’s folly – that is the first law of nature.”
—Voltaire (1694 -1778)—
Writer, historian, and philosopher
Another favorite line of Emery’s is “Make of that what you will.” He isn’t proselytizing or persuading. He’s presenting the facts of our current socio-political life and inspiring us to action by telling it like it is, how it’s been (there’s nothing new under the sun, is there?) and offering steps to right some of our wrongs. As an added bonus, Emery offers a host of books and articles to reference within the text. I read several of them and made a list of many more to catch up on later. That’s because Robert J. Emery has made me a convert.
Rather than sticking my nose into another thriller, now I’m paying attention to real life. How did this happen? Robert J. Emery has written a book that inspired me. The issues are complex but the intent and presentation are simple. America: Standing Strong is fact-filled, often entertaining, and left me feeling hopeful. I highly recommend it. “Make of that what you will.”
What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.”
RJE: I have no idea why I began writing little stories in the 5th grade, like the two pages I wrote when my dog died. I attended Catholic school and my homeroom teacher, a nun, was kind enough to read my one- and two-page stories and she encouraged me to keep writing, which I did consistently all through school and my 4 years in the Air Force. It was a fun way to amuse myself. I never gave thought to where it might lead me one day.
am: You eventually broke in to the film industry. Tell us about that.
RJE: It began with a small ad agency I opened in Canton, Ohio. When the first TV station came to town in the mid-sixties we got into the writing and shooting of local TV commercials. I then created a daily morning talk show which I produced and directed for that station. We were fortunate to have a regular flow of Hollywood actors as guests when they were doing summer stock at the Warren Theater in nearby Warren, Ohio.
At some point, I began writing screenplays with no clue what I would do with them. As it turns out, some local businessmen had an interest in investing in an independent motion picture and that’s how I got my first film made. I then spent 4 decades writing, directing, and producing eight motion pictures and over 140 hours of cable network documentaries, and everything in between that had anything to do with film production.
am: Now you’re writing books. Have you come back to your story telling roots?
RJE: Yes. In 2006, I retired and set out to fulfill a life dream of writing books, which I never had time for during my production career. First came four non-fiction books. A NY publisher asked me if I would write on my experiences producing and directing the Starz/Encore 92-episode series, “The Director.” I followed that with my first novel, In the Realm of Eden, a science fiction story about human/alien first contact. Later, I extended the story to 562 pages, changed the name to The Autopsy of Planet Earth, and released it in two volumes via Indies United Publishing House. Next came the dystopian novel Midnight Black, also revised and expanded and released through Indies United.
am: Tell us about your writing process. You write in several genre.
RJE: I admit to being obsessive writing 6-7 hours a day every day when I can. And I’m fortunate to be able to write in any genre when a subject moves me, fiction or non-fiction, like my current book America: Standing Strong, a subject I’m passionate about. America: Standing Strong is a non-fiction examination of what Americans endured between 2015 and today, and how as a country we will come back strong.
When writing fiction, I believe one of my strengths is creating characters because of my background in writing and directing screenplays. I direct my book characters in my head the same way I did when directing actors. For me, it’s the same process. I try to give each character something that sets them apart from the others. It might be how a character looks or how they talk. In Autopsy, for example, I had one character drop the ing’s on all his spoken words. It’s something I work hard at to give readers a visual sense of who each character is. That, I believe, is the challenge each writer faces.
am: What was the inspiration behind America: Standing Strong?
America: Standing Strong came about because all the books that were coming out by investigative reporters, as good as they were, were about the previous American administration. But what about what Americans endured not only politically, but the pandemic, the racial uncertainty, the 2020 election, the Jan 6 insurrection, unemployment, healthcare, inflation? That’s what was missing from the narrative. That is why I became passionate enough about it to spend over a year writing.
am: So what’s next? Will you write more on the troubling times we live in?
It’s no mistake I happened upon Bharat Krishnan’s Privilege, Book 1 of the WP Trilogy, during this time of social and political change (do I dare say upheval?) in our country and around the world. Power and politics go hand-in-hand, imbuing every aspect of society from the nabobs to the powerless masses. Privilege, an #ownvoices political thriller, takes a hard look at privilege and power in the U.S.— who holds it, how one can achieve it, and who is barred from it. Krishnan claims politics seep into every aspect of society and believes we can’t understand each other without a firm, constant knowledge of how politics affect us.
The story is told by several characters, foremost, Rakshan Baliga, an Indian-American working for a profitable hedge fund in New York City. His boss, Aditya Shetty, has risen into the ranks of the rich and powerful, including acquiring the sought after WP, a drug with magical-like properties, causing consumers to be stronger, smarter, and more prosperous than mere mortals.
WP by law is forbidden to non-whites. But Rakshan wants his share. He also wants to marry Sadiya and have a family. Rakshan has an engagement ring made containing WP and proposes. Once on her finger, she realizes he is not what she wants and breaks up with him. He is determined to win her back and comes up with a plan to steal Aditya’s WP and take over the hedge fund with the help of his best friends. With the WP he can spin a tale the world will believe and avoid arrest. His dreams will come true. That is, if he isn’t killed in the process.
Meanwhile, Sadiya has fallen for her best friend from childhood, Maadhini, and they travel back to India to tell her parents they are going to get married. Although Sadiya drags her feet on the revelation, the tension eases as the story’s themes shift to family and values.
Even though he’s got his WP, things have not gone well for Rakshan, who alienates his friends in his drugged quest. He becomes involved with a congressional hearing to consider legalization of WP for all Americans and aligns with the mother of a boy murdered by the police to give testimony. The current president opposes legalization. The country is in the balance—and the story tension and pacing ratchet up. This story might have been ripped from today’s headlines.
The peek behind closed congressional doors was realistic and chilling. Privilege makes me wonder how any real change can be made and equity for all citizens be achieved with the madness of “privilege” addling our brains. I don’t come from an immigrant experience and have had many advantages in my life. Seeing our country through the “other’s” eyes has given me new understanding and fresh resolve to help with the solution. It’s time to unify our society under an inclusive and equitable system where we all can live healthy, productive and secure lives. How many more massacres at schools can we live with? Privilege is telling us to choose.
An interview with Bharat Krishnan
am: What presidential campaigns did you work on and when?
BK: I started my career with the Obama campaign way back in June 2007. Over the next decade, I traveled the country not just on his campaign but also managing local campaigns across the country, from school board and city council to state legislature. I’ve worked in just about every geographic region of the country, from Los Angeles to Louisiana to Virginia to New Hampshire.
am: What kind of educational background prepares you for this work?
BK: I have my BA in political science, with a certificate in political campaign management which is something my alma matter, American University, specialized in. I later got my MBA at Louisiana State University. Going there and working in places like Wichita, Kansas, I found how much state schools like LSU and Wichita State relied on foreign students who also worked at the schools as grad assistants.
am: How has your education and experience influenced this trilogy?
BK: My knowledge of politics seeped into every aspect of the trilogy, from how presidential campaigns really work on a practical level (i.e., what staffers do) to some legal stuff (i.e., book three has a super PAC in it).
am: Did you have a foursome of friends from school and childhood like Rakshan?
BK: Rakshan and his buddies are based on me and my three childhood friends. I put aspects of me and my life into each one of the five characters: Rakshan, Abhinav, Krish, Ash, and Ravi.
am: When did your family come to the US? How are the characters’ experiences like yours or your family’s?
BK: I really wanted to highlight the first-generation Indian-American experience, and also call out the differences and similarities. Most of Rakshan’s friends grew up here, but you still have Krish who came to the US only later in life. There’s no homogenous experience and I wanted to show that. For myself, my family came to the U.S. when I was about two years old.
am: What are your views on immigration?
BK: We need to do more to encourage immigration. Especially since Trump’s election, people are now afraid to come here and it’s a damn shame we’ve nurtured that type of environment. There’s a long history of immigrants coming here for their education and staying, and to the extent we can encourage that with a more relaxed visa policy, the better.
am: Will we find out what happens to Rakshan, Sandiya and Maadhini?
BK: All three of these characters get an ending that makes sense for them! Everything will be clear by the end of the trilogy.
am: What do you hope readers will take away from Privilege?
BK: I use a story telling device I created myself called STOP. It stands for Story, Theme, Origin, and Plot. I try to sum up all my novels’ stories in one or two sentences, and for the trilogy I’d say it’s this: Power and Happiness are two separate things, and you have to choose which one you want.
am: Where are we going in the next two books? Will there be any happiness?
BK: Book one was just about New York, but in Book two we go to D.C. and India, and in Book three you’ll go to Belize and Guatemala as well! And yes! There is happiness, but it takes big, bold choices and it doesn’t always look the way we expect.
am: What else would you like to say to readers?
BK: I try to make the through-line in my novels radical emotional honesty, with politics always sprinkled in, because everything is political in my opinion. I’m very proud of Privilege for winning “Best Adult Fiction” in Ohio last year, and I hope you have a chance to check it out and my other stuff at www.bharatkrishnan.com.
Bharat calls himself a professional storyteller and amateur cook. After 10 years of working in politics, he’s tried to explain how the country went from Barack Obama to Donald Trump by writing Confessions of a Campaign Manager. Then he wrote Oasis, a desert-fantasy novel that examined what makes a family and how refugees should be treated. Now the WP Trilogy. Looks like he’s on a roll with themes of immigration, equity and power! If you enjoyed reading House of Cards, you’ll enjoy Privilege.
“Krishnan has created a genre-bending ride that reimagines how we tell stories about class in America. A must read. “
After Left Coast Crime San Diego shut down on March 11th 2020, and we attendees had to go home before participating on our panels, it was bliss to attend this year’s conference live and in person in Albuquerque. I decided to make the most of the events, including the panel I moderated titled, When Bad *** Finds Your Protagonist on the topic of amateur sleuths.
“Making the most” meant, for me, reading at least one of each panelist’s books before the event, and in a couple of cases, reading two. I turned off the TV at the end of my work day for the month of March and instead, lost myself getting to know new protagonists and several new-to-me authors.
My panel featured my “sibling” from Sisters in Crime Norcal, vice president Glenda Carroll (find a review of Dead Code here), Connie di Marco, Peggy Rothschild and Linda Sands. Each author featured an amateur sleuth and each delighted me with a unique and entertaining twist on the genre.
If you want to find Glenda Carroll , she’ll be in, on, or under water—and writing about it. She understands water sports on a very personal level since she swims, surfs and sails. Her books, debut Dead in the Water, Drop Dead Red, and the newest, Dead Code, are based on personal experience in open water swimming. She’s raced in more than 150 open water events in Northern California, as well as Hawaii and Perth, Australia.
Glenda has written a weekly sailing column and a twice-weekly surfing column as well as feature articles for local, national and international sailing publications. She branched into travel writing and her features have appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, Travel & Leisure, Ford Times, Chevron USA, Defenders of Wildlife, and Bay & Delta Yachtsman. Currently, Glenda tutors high school students in English and writes the Trisha Carson mystery series.
When I reached out to the panelists to organize our event, Connie di Marco enthusiastically jumped in with information, suggestions, great panel questions and tons of good humor. Connie still recalls the first time she saw an astrological chart. She says she felt as though she’d been granted a peek at a key to unlock the secrets of the universe. She didn’t know what the arcane symbols meant, but knew she wanted to learn a lot more. “An astrological chart, like a good mystery, is a puzzle that begs to be solved.” And so Julia Bonatti, San Francisco aslotroger, was born.
Although Di Marco’s latest book is the fourth in the series, Serpent’s Doom A Zodiac Mystery, I prefer to start a series with book 1 to observe the protagonist’s arc of change and have the stage set for books to come. If I’m hooked on book one, I’m sure to become a fan! And The Madness of Mercury had me from page one. Maybe it’s because Mercury seems to be going retrograde every month this year, or maybe because the story is based out of the true events of the 1970 Jim Jones cult based in San Francisco. Or maybe because Julia Bonatti is a truly likable character—smart, caring, loyal, spunky and determined.
During a Mercury retrograde, Julia is targeted by a cult leader and his followers whose protesting and vandalism force her and her cat from their cozy apartment in San Francisco’s Avenues. She flees to the Telegraph Hill home of an astrology client who cares for her two elderly aunts. One of the aunts might suffer from dementia and the other has fallen under the spell of the Reverend Roy. To add to the confusion, a young man appears on the doorstep, claiming to be a long-lost relative. Julia tries to sort out the Mercury retrograde mess through astrology. She knows Mercury wasn’t only the Gods’ messenger. He was a liar and trickster too, and she’s forced to put aside her charts and put her boots to the ground to rescue the aunt and stop an insidious, evil plot.
The Madness of Mercury has everything! It’s well written, intricately plotted with twists and turns aplenty, and paced to perfection. One reviewer says, “As a traditional mystery the book is stellar. The Madness of Mercury takes a fascinating look at people and their inner workings, their motivations. It is a complex mystery which combines astrology and cult mentality, showing what can happen when divergent beliefs cross paths an intolerance rears its ugly head.” I highly recommend the Zodiac Mystery series. I was entertained, edified and enthralled! If you’re not into astrology, you might change your mind.
When A Deadly Bone to Pick protagonist, Molly Madison, makes her cross country move to Pier Point, CA with the only friend she has in town is her golden retriever, Harlow. Author Peggy Rothschild knows exactly what Molly is going through. But unlike Molly, Peggy didn’t flee her hometown to avoid rumors about involvement in a crime. She lost her home to a wildfire in 2017 and, after going through a years-long rebuilding process, she moved back to her old address only to decide she was ready for a change. Peggy didn’t move across country so still sees old friends, unlike Molly who must make new friends. Both author and character cherish all the new friends they’ve met along the way, even if Molly is more at ease with pups than people.
Ex-police officer and former P.I. Molly Madison is starting over. After the murder of her husband, she and her golden retriever move cross-country to California. But as charming and peaceful as the beachside town seems, she soon learns its tranquil tides hold dark secrets.
Molly is barely through the front door of her new home when a huge, slobbering Saint Berdoodle stops by for a visit. The dog belongs to a neighbor, a handsome over-worked emergency room doctor. Molly winds up taking on the responsibility of training Noodle from the too busy doctor. On one of their daily beachside walks, Noodle digs up a severed hand. Once Molly alerts the police and they run a background check on her, her past makes her an immediate suspect. Too bad Noodle’s testimony to clear her name won’t hold much water in court.
Meanwhile, her realtor posts fliers around town for Molly’s dog training service and she’s approached by an eight-year-old math prodigy from the neighborhood whose dog desperately needs training—and her first local human friendship begins, but when Molly finds the mother drugged and neglecting the child, a secret is revealed. At the same time, the realtor is killed and Noodle sniffs out a ring buried in the sand near where he found the severed hand. Molly is again in the police’s sights but her police background won’t let her leave the case alone, and she investigates. After all, she must clear her name.
I listened to the audiobook and found A Deadly Bone to Pick to be a perfect match for both dog lovers and mystery buffs. And being the first book, it’s a charming and intriguing start to what I hope is a successful series. Molly is instantly likeable—your heart goes to her when you learn her backstory. Rothschild’s descriptive style is flawless and the mystery is surprising and believable. It’s been compared to Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone series. High praise indeed.
Peggy Rothschild presents a cast of engaging and quirky characters who I want to meet—especially the dogs. She sure knows her canines! Jennifer Chow (another author I met at LCC—a review of her Mimi Lee Gest a Clue coming in a future post) describes the book as “Rothschild’s twisty mystery, filled with adorable canines and abundant clues, is plain paw-some.” I totally agree. The only drawback to reading A Deadly Bone to Pick was how much it made me miss my cherished chocolate lab long gone to the celestial bone pile. Dog lovers, this one’s for you!
My panel and I connected in our hotel bar the evening before our event, and imagine my surprise when I met Linda Sands, a sophisticated, willowy blonde in a LBD and killer heels. I’d pictured someone entirely different after listening to the audiobook of the first title in the Cargo Series featuring Jojo Boudreaux. Why? Because Jojo is a trucker and the quintessential kick-ass protagonist—“bad shit” finds her, she can’t help it. She’s fearless and funny with an insanely strong sense of justice and is nobody’s idea of an “uptown girl.” But looks are deceiving, Linda Sands is more like Jojo than she appeared in the Atrium. She’s fearless, taking a public stand against human trafficking (Cargo Series #2), and a writer I’m going to watch (and read!)
“Jojo Boudreaux and her co-driver beau Tyler Boone spend their days- and nights- delivering cargo coast to coast. Old Blue, their custom Peterbilt tractor-trailer makes the perfect home for a man who never had one and a Louisiana tomboy who thinks an oven is for storing guns. But life on the road isn’t all sing-a-longs and sunsets.”
The plot kicks into gear when Jojo and Boone are called in to deliver an abandoned load of high-profile pharmaceuticals to a secure warehouse, and their planned vacation is garaged for the quick, easy job with the big paycheck. The “paycheck” comes in the form of a mysterious accident that kills Boone and brings in private investigator Gator, with some information to encourage Jojo to help him look into what might be a murder.
Grand Theft Cargo is described as “a wild ride from start to finish with a secretive highwayman, explosive house bombs, singing telegrams, flaming mice, secret cancer drugs, dead truckers, an agency that can’t be named, and enough crashes and car chases to remind you these road cowboys have no qualms crossing the zipper to walk the dog in the hammer lane.” For readers in the know, Sand’s facts ring true. And for the rest of us, this is a glimpse, at times humorous, into the world of trucking via sharp-witted dialog through a cast of vivid characters (Charlene, the dispatcher!) The pacing is energetic, and the plot full of curves as the story speeds along like Sabrina, Jojo’s new rig after Old Blue is wrecked.
Grand Theft Cargo is one of the most original mysteries I’ve read. I can’t say it any better: “Strap yourself in before you start to read this one.”; “a high-speed thrill ride with enough crashes and explosions to keep your heart racing from the first to last page!”; “Grand Theft Cargo is east bound and down with great characters, loaded up and truckin’ with action. This is 18 wheels of mystery firing on all cylinders. Get behind the wheel and enjoy the ride.”
And with a line up like this? How could our amateur sleuth panel event not be standing room only?
Next time at LCC Reads Part 2 , Gregory C. Randall, Jennifer Chow, and Dominic Martell
I wouldn’t normally post about politics, finances or the economy, but something in today’s newsletter from EnsoWealth struck a chord. We will need to be nimble, prepared and patient. COVID, supply chain issues and inflation are already wearing us down, but with Putin’s invasion? There’s a disturbance in the force, and I’m exhausted. Fearful too.
Markets were reassured by the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC)’s actions last week.
The FOMC met on March 16 and did exactly what most people expected them to do. They raised the federal funds target rate by a quarter point. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said the Fed expects to continue to raise rates and reduce its balance sheet during 2022 to lower inflation.
The bond market appeared to give the Fed a vote of confidence. The yield on the two-year UST, which is the maturity that’s most sensitive to expectations for future rate hikes, rose from 1.75 percent at the end of last week to 1.97 percent. The yield on the benchmark 10-year UST also increased, but not by as much.
Randall Forsyth of Barron’s reported, “…moves in the Treasury market add up to a marked flattening in the slope of the yield curve, a classic signal the market foresees a slowing of real growth along with an eventual diminution of inflation pressures.”
In an ideal circumstance, the Fed would engineer a “soft landing” by pushing demand for goods down just enough to quash inflation without causing the U.S. economy going into recession. However, the Putin effect is making the Fed’s job harder. Fed Chair Powell stated:
“…the implications of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine for the U.S. economy are highly uncertain. In addition to the direct effects from higher global oil and commodity prices, the invasion and related events may restrain economic activity abroad and further disrupt supply chains, which would create spillovers to the U.S. economy through trade and other channels. The volatility in financial markets, particularly if sustained, could also act to tighten credit conditions and affect the real economy…We will need to be nimble in responding to incoming data and the evolving outlook.”
Improved clarity around monetary policy reassured investors last week. Major U.S. stock indices rallied with the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index gaining 6.2 percent, the Dow Jones Industrial Average rising 5.5 percent, and the Nasdaq Composite up 8.2 percent, reported Ben Levisohn of Barron’s.
Weekly Focus – Think About It
“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
—John Donne, writer and poet
Noah Jacobson, CFP®
* These views are those of Carson Coaching, not the presenting Representative, the Representative’s Broker/Dealer, or Registered Investment Advisor, and should not be construed as investment advice.
* This newsletter was prepared by Carson Coaching. Carson Coaching is not affiliated with the named firm or broker/dealer.
* Government bonds and Treasury Bills are guaranteed by the U.S. government as to the timely payment of principal and interest and, if held to maturity, offer a fixed rate of return and fixed principal value. However, the value of fund shares is not guaranteed and will fluctuate.
* Corporate bonds are considered higher risk than government bonds but normally offer a higher yield and are subject to market, interest rate and credit risk as well as additional risks based on the quality of issuer coupon rate, price, yield, maturity, and redemption features.
* The Standard & Poor’s 500 (S&P 500) is an unmanaged group of securities considered to be representative of the stock market in general. You cannot invest directly in this index.
* All indexes referenced are unmanaged. The volatility of indexes could be materially different from that of a client’s portfolio. Unmanaged index returns do not reflect fees, expenses, or sales charges. Index performance is not indicative of the performance of any investment. You cannot invest directly in an index.
* The Dow Jones Global ex-U.S. Index covers approximately 95% of the market capitalization of the 45 developed and emerging countries included in the Index.
* The 10-year Treasury Note represents debt owed by the United States Treasury to the public. Since the U.S. Government is seen as a risk-free borrower, investors use the 10-year Treasury Note as a benchmark for the long-term bond market.
* Gold represents the 3:00 p.m. (London time) gold price as reported by the London Bullion Market Association and is expressed in U.S. Dollars per fine troy ounce. The source for gold data is Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis (FRED), https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/GOLDPMGBD228NLBM.
* The Bloomberg Commodity Index is designed to be a highly liquid and diversified benchmark for the commodity futures market. The Index is composed of futures contracts on 19 physical commodities and was launched on July 14, 1998.
* The DJ Equity All REIT Total Return Index measures the total return performance of the equity subcategory of the Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) industry as calculated by Dow Jones.
* The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA), commonly known as “The Dow,” is an index representing 30 stock of companies maintained and reviewed by the editors of The Wall Street Journal.
* The NASDAQ Composite is an unmanaged index of securities traded on the NASDAQ system.
* International investing involves special risks such as currency fluctuation and political instability and may not be suitable for all investors. These risks are often heightened for investments in emerging markets.
* Yahoo! Finance is the source for any reference to the performance of an index between two specific periods.
* The risk of loss in trading commodities and futures can be substantial. You should therefore carefully consider whether such trading is suitable for you in light of your financial condition. The high degree of leverage is often obtainable in commodity trading and can work against you as well as for you. The use of leverage can lead to large losses as well as gains.
* Opinions expressed are subject to change without notice and are not intended as investment advice or to predict future performance.
* Economic forecasts set forth may not develop as predicted and there can be no guarantee that strategies promoted will be successful.
* Past performance does not guarantee future results. Investing involves risk, including loss of principal.
* The foregoing information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee it is accurate or complete.
* There is no guarantee a diversified portfolio will enhance overall returns or outperform a non-diversified portfolio. Diversification does not protect against market risk.
* Asset allocation does not ensure a profit or protect against a loss.
* Consult your financial professional before making any investment decision.
Vladimir Putin’s Rewriting of History Draws on a Long Tradition of Soviet Myth-Making (Smithsonian)
Since I’m new to Indies United Publishing House, I’m hanging out at the pot-luck table and meeting my IUPH colleagues. What a creative and unique crowd! Let me introduce them to you with my new BABS segment: Indies Interviews.
“Most traditional publishing venues are like a very nice formal dinner party where everything is planned and always follows the same formula. The food is generally good, the entertainment acceptable without being distracting, the conversation predictable, the event exclusive, and always formal. Indie publishing is more like going to a block party. The food is still good, but everyone brings to the table something from their own kitchen, the music is lively, the attire is generally casual, and you never know who you’ll meet or what they may say when you do.” ~Lisa Orban
Jake Cavanah began telling stories before he knew how to write. He’d iterate them to his father, who did it for him until he learned himself. Being an editor for his high school’s newspaper and majoring in journalism kept Jake writing, but it wasn’t until after college he realized his passion: creating stories from his own imagination. Part of Jake’s inspiration comes from reading across many genres. While he enjoys reading and does so almost every day, he also utilizes it as a time to learn. Different styles influence his work, but when it comes time for him to write, he focuses on telling the story he wants to. Jake’s goal is to broaden readers’ perspectives on society, the less fortunate, and themselves. If he accomplishes this, he will consider his work a success.
He published his first novel The Abandoned in September 2021 and authored the short story series Impoverished Wealth. Jake lives in Portland, Oregon with his girlfriend Scout and two dogs Murphy and Sophie.
If I had listened to my gut, the answer would be when I was a kid, but since I didn’t, it was after I graduated college. It took me almost two years to write, and although I always have a plan, but it usually blows up a few pages in.
How did you pick the genre you write in?
I wanted the flexibility to create my own worlds while including real-life elements from today’s world, and dystopian fiction allows me to do exactly that. The Abandoned tells the story of two women taken away from their parents at a very young age. During the sonoravirus pandemic from 2030 to 2045, the government used Morple, an island off the coast of California to quarantine minorities, where sisters, Robin Karros’s and Ariana Jackson’s tragic journey began. As two of the first children officials raised in a state-run program responsible for inflicting severe abuse on Morple’s youth, they shared hardships that strengthened their bond. After a social revolution put an end to the program and freed them, Robin and Ariana went their separate ways. Now that it is 2089 and each has achieved prosperity, their paths intersect after spending the latter portion of their lives apart. Even though it goes against protocol, Ariana reestablishes a relationship with her older sister and integrates with her family. In doing so, she risks her marriage and her husband’s business interests. It soon becomes apparent the fate of Robin, Ariana, and others has been more intertwined than they ever could have imagined.
What do you consider your strengths and weaknesses in terms of your writing? And what do you love about your book?
My passion [is my strength] because if a writer doesn’t have enough of that, he or she is more prone to give up, and my ability to keep people engaged. Overthinking minute details is a problem, and I overcome this by asking for others’ opinions. [My favorite thing about the book is] that it makes people feel something.
What is the most challenging part of your writing process and what did you enjoy most about writing this book?
Liking what I’m writing [and conversely] entering the world I created.
Do you base any of your characters on real people?
Yes, and that’s all I’ll say about that.
What was the best writing advice someone gave you?
“Being distinct is what separates a special artist from the rest.” I heard a man at a coffee shop say this to his date when they were talking about their favorite artists and writers. It really stuck with me.
What’s your writing schedule and do you have a day job?
[I’m a] Content Writer. [I write] Mondays-Fridays from 5:45 a.m. – 6:45 a.m. and then some evenings, and every Sunday until the inspiration runs out.
Have any writers inspired you? Your favorite book?
Don Winslow and Karine Tull. [My favorite book is] The Appeal and The Age of Reinvention.
What do you do when you are not writing?
Read, cook, hang out with my dogs, and golf.
If you could live in another time period, what would it be?
The Wild West. And I want to visit Colombia.
Looking to the future, what’s in store for you?
I’m just going to continue writing down what goes through my head and see what happens.
What are you currently working on?
Impoverished Wealth: The Anthology, an anthology with four short stories that will be published in June 2022 by Indies United Publishing House.
Everyone knows I love suspense, mystery and thrillers and no subgenre of crime writing comes with more suspense than a cybercrime caper. Maybe it’s because I’m more than a little tech challenged, but the world of cybercrime is mysterious and frightening to me. And a good cybercrime novel is like a roller coaster ride—a big thrill, but inherently safe. You get to read about the “mysteries” of the cyber world tucked into a blanket in your reading chair safe behind your strong passwords. Ok, maybe the stories will keep you awake or give you strange dreams, but isn’t that part of the thrill?
Here are three cybercrime books I’ve loved—two new and one new to me. All are written by my Sisters in Crime NorCalsiblings.
And that’s the truth. I couldn’t stop reading. I blazed right through this YA to Adult thriller set in Chicago, or specifically, a shadow world with dark web ties hidden in an abandoned industrial area near the University of Chicago. Transfer student, Zac Skinner stumbles into a scam to drug students and video them in criminal activity in order to blackmail them to continue committing crimes or be expelled. But Zac isn’t going to play along, and at great risk—they’re watching him— he starts to follow the pieces of the puzzle and unravel a web of deception spun by an organized crime underworld. I read most of the night then dreamed peculiar dreams filled with fast-paced action, digital age jargon and shifts and twists aplenty. Just like the plot of Ninety-Five! Towles’ writing is sharp and witty with crisp dialog, tight narration, well-crafted characters and a hold-on-to your hat thrilling story. Kudos to the mistress of the suspense puzzle novel!
Trisha Carson is back, but she’s not in the water. This time she’s landed on a fire road on Mt. Tamalpais in a viper’s nest of cybercriminals—and she’s the prize of their twisted game. Trisha is an open water swimming competitor with mayhem, murder, and bad luck following in her wake. She’s mostly gotten over the disappearance of her husband, but she’s battling PTSD from her last caper. Now she’s confronted with another disappearance—this time the grandson of a good friend—and Trisha can’t let it alone. What she doesn’t know is she’s being watched: through hacked keystrokes, through the handsome new man who has swum into her life, and even her smart refrigerator, Frida, is keeping tabs on her movements. As Trisha, her sister Lena and a hacker who would prefer to remain anonymous, uncover the clues, a scary cybercrime network is revealed. And if she doesn’t stop the nefarious plan, it spells disaster for the West Coast. But true to her innate bravery, tenacious instincts and cunning mind, Trisha infuriates family and friends with her intrepid march deeper into the shadows of Mt. Tamalpais where cyber evil lurks. Of course she triumphs over the reversals and setbacks in her path, and redeems herself with her people. Trisha is a complex, evolving character with a lot of moxie, sometimes too little good sense, and always offering this reader a new learning experience. Author Glenda Carroll asked me to beta read Dead Code and I enjoyed every second of my reunion with Trisha Carson and this suspense-filled, fast- paced mystery. By the way, Dead Code’s cover is spectacular! Don’t miss it. When will book 4 come out?
Please read my review of Trisha Carson’s first caper, Dead in the Water, here on Building a Better Story.
Reece Hirsch Surveillance—Book 3 of the Chris Bruen Novels Thomas and Mercer
Surveillance is a chilling look at data gathering and an un-put-downable read. Big Brother really is watching us. Just ask former cybercrimes prosecutor, Chris Bruen and his “hactivist” partner, Zoey Doucet. The day they open their San Francisco law firm, Ian Ayres, an “ethical” hacker, brings a case. Discredited by his former employer after he tested the online systems’s security and discovered files on a top-secret governmental surveillance agency’s program, Skeleton Key, he’s on the run and turns to Chris and Zoey. But the agency’s program can break any encryption to surveil the citizenry, and after an off-site meeting Chris discovers two of his employees dead and an assassin waiting for him in his brand new office. The trio flees, although separately, on a blood-pumping race to survive, from California to Ecuador to Mexico to Russia evading the grey-suited assassins tasked with terminating them to protect the government’s dirty secret. Barely a step ahead of their pursuers, Chris and Zoey reunite, but there’s nowhere to hide when the enemy can tap into every phone call, email, CCTV feed, bank card transaction, or Internet usage. The plot is non-stop high stakes excitement—not a little terrifying in the cyber age. And Hirsch’s writing is intelligent, gripping and gritty in its mastery of pacing and plotting. But this cutting-edge story is more than heart-stopping action. It explores the morality of surveillance, hacking, and above all, privacy. If you don’t ramp up your personal cyber security after reading Surveillance, you have no one else to blame!
AS MANY OF MY READERS KNOW, I never miss DV Berkom’s Leine Basso adventures. Leine, a former dark ops CIA assassin has become a kick-ass champion of trafficked people over her series, but this book is a departure from her work with the NGO. Leine is asked to train a group of ex-military for a joint CIA op to recover a deadly substance. Created by a Russian lab, the vials of virus are now in the hands of a jihadist. As the chase across Africa ensues, it’s clear that there are more players than the terrorist Samir and Leine’s team. A Plague of Traitors is a heart-pounding, horrifying, page turner—especially after what we know about pandemics since COVID. The story kept me awake after I was finally able to put the book down.
Another hit in the series!
The Leine Basso Thriller Series: A Killing Truth Serial Date Bad Traffick The Body Market Cargo The Last Deception Dark Return Absolution Dakota Burn Shadow of the Jaguar A Plague of Traitors (August 2021)
DV Berkom is the USA Today bestselling author of action-packed, riveting adventure and crime thrillers. Known for creating resilient, kick-ass female characters and page-turning plots, her love of the genre stems from a lifelong addiction to reading spy novels, action/adventure stories, and thrillers.
A restless soul and adventurer at heart, she spent years moving around the US and traveling to exotic locales before she wrote her first novel and was hooked. More than a dozen books later, she now makes her home in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, Mark, and several imaginary characters who like to tell her what to do. Her most recent books include the Claire Whitcomb Western Series: Retribution, Gunslinger, and Legend, and the latest in the Leine Basso thriller series: A Plague of Traitors, Shadow of the Jaguar, Dakota Burn, and Absolution. DV’s currently hard at work on her next thriller.
For more information, visit her website at www.dvberkom.com. To be the first to hear about new releases and subscriber-only offers, go to: bit.ly/DVB_RL