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