Sunday, January 19, 2020

V: EVERYTHING CRIME FROM A – Z


Village

My mother has been a major influence on my life. She instilled a love of mysteries in me at an early (grade school) age. I grew up on Agatha Christie who became my idol. Mom always encouraged her children to reach for the stars. Never admit you don’t know how to do something, just learn it and do it.

My dad has always encouraged me to persevere. He embraced that “you can do it” attitude. Mom and Dad were the ringmasters of our family circus!

My brother and I co-wrote mysteries (again in grade school). I remember sitting on his bedroom floor and writing a detective story in the Sherlock Holmes/Dr. Watson style. We called the detective, Walter London. Now that I’m all grown up, I’ve started writing short stories about Walter London. I don’t have a clue (no pun intended) how we scripted the original stories, so I know my current Walter London stories are completely different, but it brings back good memories. Boy, how I wish we’d kept those old manuscripts!

My sister loves mysteries, too. We recommend books back and forth. Her preference is a good courtroom drama, so I dedicated my Jazz Kincaid story to her. When my first novel hit the library, she took a picture and had it framed for my office wall. And she had her book club read it which made me a bunch of new friends.

My daughter, Jennifer, is a published mystery writer in her own right. She’s also a professional editor and always has good input on how to make my stories better. She pushes me to be a better writer.

My daughter, Dana enjoys my stories and always points out that one big correction that all my other critiquers and beta readers missed.

It takes a village, right?






Tuesday, January 14, 2020

U: EVERYTHING CRIME FROM A – Z



Upstaged


The story unfolds: the protagonist comes to life, the plot is interesting and it’s well-written. Great—all going to plan! Then suddenly, the sleuth’s sidekick comes out of nowhere and grabs all the attention. He’s got better lines, he’s more noticeable, he’s more charming or funnier or quirkier. Face it, he’s going to more loveable than your wonderful detective and you can’t stop him. Uh-oh! Now what?

As writers, you think you have total control over your characters’ actions. Many writers do. They outline and have everything in place before actually spinning the tale. But a lot of writers (myself included) find that as we write, sometimes a character takes over and you can’t stop it. Should you?

In my opinion—no! Go with the flow. Let the sidekick shine and be more memorable than the other major players. There’s a reason your sidekick took over. Give him more ‘screentime’. If you’re captivated, chances are your readers will be, too.


Some of MY preferences:
In Psych—I adore the father, Henry Spencer

In Murdoch Mysteries—I adore Constable Crabtree

In the Stephanie Plum novels—the cop, I adore Joe Morelli

In Monk—I adore Sharona







Thursday, January 9, 2020

T: EVERYTHING CRIME FROM A – Z



TV Shows


I’m not a fan of a book being made into a movie or tv show, because I always think they didn’t get it right. Below is a list of some of my favorite mystery shows. If they’re based on novels, I’ll admit I haven’t read them—I didn’t want to have to compare them to the books. Below, I’ve given my opinions and views. I’ve listed shows I really enjoyed, though there are probably a lot of shows I can’t include (not because I didn’t like them, but because I didn’t watch them. After all, there’s only so much time in a day).



Leverage—This show has a five person team. The players: Leader Nate Ford-former insurance investigator, Sophie Devereaux-grifter, Alec Hardison-hacker, Eliott Spencer-retrieval specialist & martial artist, and Parker-thief. The team comes together and they take clients who have nowhere else to go for justice.

   The shows are elaborate cons and truly delightful to watch as the con unfolds. Subplots include Nate’s struggle with alcohol, his relationship with Sophie, and Hardison and Parker’s budding romance. Humor and intrigue are always on display in each episode.

This is a newer version of Mission Impossible.


Midsomer Murders—this show is based on Caroline Graham’s Chief Inspector Barnaby book series. Its longevity shows how popular the program has become—2019 marked its 20th season. It’s a police drama with humor (sometimes dark) that is set within small English country villages in the fictional county of Midsomer. Due to its lengthy run, characters have been replaced; there have been several Detective Sergeants to assist Barnaby (who has also been replaced since the actor retired in 2011). One of the features of the show is that several murders usually occur in each episode.

Part of the charm of this show is the setting—the quintessential rural village of a simpler time, which is rapidly disappearing.


Murdoch Mysteries—This show is based on characters from author Maureen Jennings’ novels. The spotlight is on Detective William Murdoch. He’s a Toronto detective around the turn of the twentieth century. His sidekick is Constable George Crabtree (inexperienced, yet eager and loyal) who sometimes steals the show with his heartfelt attitude. Inspector Brackenreid (blunt and skeptical) is in charge of the precinct.

      In the beginning of the series, the medical examiner is Dr. Julia Ogden, but later she’s replaced by Dr. Emily Grace. Dr. Ogden does remain as a character since there’s a running romance between her and Murdoch although Murdoch is unable to express his feelings.

     The clever aspect of the show is following Murdoch’s crime solving techniques. He solves many of his cases by using methods that were unusual for the time, such as finger marks (fingerprints), blood testing, surveillance and trace evidence. Crabtree and Brackenreid are usually in awe at his ingenuity.

Only problem I have with this series is the awkward, unresolved, tiring romantic subplot between Ogden & Murdoch—enough already!


Eureka—A town of scientific geniuses who all work at an advanced research facility. Global Dynamics is responsible for major technological breakthroughs. The town’s very existence and its location is a closely guarded secret. When a faulty experiment disables the local sheriff, Deputy United States Marshall Jack Carter (who is travelling through on his way to California) becomes the new sheriff.

    Each episode features an accidental mishap or criminal misuse of technology. Sheriff Carter is just an average Joe with practical insight and fierce loyalty to his new home. In a town full of geniuses, the sheriff is the person who always comes up with a solution to the problem using simple ideas and common sense.

    Dr. Allison Blake starts out as the liaison between Global Dynamics and the U.S. government and is Carter’s romantic interest. Zoe Carter is Jack’s rebellious teenage daughter who’s a genius in her own right but also possesses street smarts. My favorite character is Deputy Sheriff Jo Lupo who’s a former U.S. Army Ranger with a love of firearms. The show is fun and clever.

My only complaint is the direction it took after Jack and Allison travelled back to 1940 and then returned to the present time to find their world changed. I liked the format of the pre-1940 espisodes and didn’t care for the changes that occurred.


Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries—Based on author Kerry Greenwood’s historical mystery novels. The protagonist is Phryne Fisher, a glamorous private detective and the series is set in 1920s Melbourne, Australia. Phryne’s personal life is different for the era—she’s a feminist who chooses to remain unmarried, but has lots of lovers. The plots are intriguing, but I’m drawn to the show for the stunning period costumes.

Interesting note: each episode had a budget of one million dollars.


Psych—This is a comedic detective show. Shawn Spencer is a young crime consultant for the Santa Barbara Police Department. His extraordinary powers of observation coupled with an eidetic memory convinces the cops that he’s a psychic. Childhood friend, Burton “Gus” Guster is a serious man who is Shawn’s reluctant partner in the scam. They are often teamed up with Detectives Carlton Lassiter and Juliet O’Hara (Shawn’s love interest).
    
    Although Chief Vick and O’Hara believe in Shawn’s psychic abilities, Lassiter doubts Shawn’s gift and is irritated by his childish antics. Rounding out the cast is the coroner, Woody (who is nuttier than the proverbial fruitcake) and Shawn’s dad, Henry Spencer, a former police officer himself who knows Shawn’s a fraud. The show is full of high-jinks and almost slap-stick humor.

In my opinion, the best character is Henry Spencer—a no-nonsense kind of guy who is exasperated with his son, but supports his deceitful lie.


Death In Paradise—Set on the island of Saint Marie (filmed on Guadeloupe), this show is a throwback to the ‘gather the suspects at the end and denounce the killer’ scenario. It has charming scenery and cycles through a cast of cops. I’m not current in watching, but as of the season I’m on, there’s only 2 original cast members left (Dwayne & the Commissioner). The lead detective has never been an islander.

   The first detective inspector was Richard Poole, a transplanted London cop who wanted to go home. His quirk was that he always wore suits (even though the island climate was scorching) and never got into the island way of life.

    After a surprising season premiere, the next detective inspector was Humphrey Goodman, another transplanted London cop. But he quickly became accustomed to island life. His quirk was that he was a bit of a klutz which led to some funny moments. During his first appearance, Humphrey was about to explain the case, when the other cops insisted he had to gather the suspects in one place for the reveal since that is what Poole always did.

   The island cops followed a case to London. Humphrey decided to stay there with his girlfriend and London cop (Irish born) Jack Mooney flew back with the gang to become the next detective inspector. He doesn’t really have any quirks, just a normal guy happy to be on the island. It’s a fun, though formulaic, mystery series with great Caribbean scenery.


Castle—This show had a great concept—a best-selling mystery novelist, Richard Castle shadows a homicide cop, Kate Beckett to gain color for his new series. Castle—bored with the main character in his successful books—meets Beckett when he is questioned about a copy-cat murder that is closely based on one of his books and decides to write about a female cop. While Castle is rather childish, Beckett’s aloof and professional.

   They investigate and solve unique murders throughout New York. Of course, opposites attract, so there is the love interest angle going on throughout the shows. It’s humorous—mostly due to Castle’s antics—and exciting due to the unusual methods of murder. Javier Esposito and Kevin Ryan are two detectives who assist with the cases. Also present are Martha Rogers—Castle’s mom who’s an actress—and Alexis Castle, his teenage daughter.

The funniest dynamic was between Castle and Alexis. Their roles are reversed. She’s very mature and responsible for her age and acts like the adult, while her dad is totally childlike and irresponsible. 

Problem for me—the love angle got old really fast…he likes her, she doesn’t like him/she likes him, he doesn’t like her… Repeat… Repeat… Repeat… Aaargh!!!


Columbo—“Just one more thing…” Rumpled Detective Columbo—classic homicide cop everybody knows and loves. Each episode started with the set up. We watched as the killer planned and executed a complicated murder plot… Built up an elaborate alibi…Had everything covered...Was sure he’d gotten away with murder.

   Columbo’s role was to figure out how to prove his case. (Somehow, he always pinpointed the murderer right away)!

The best part—unlike most mystery shows, it was ok to fall asleep halfway through because the next morning you didn’t have to wonder who the killer was!!


Mission Impossible—Great con jobs. The team was always sent in by our government to take care of a (usually international) problem. They would pull off elaborate scams and win the day. I loved the intricate schemes the crew would come up with to resolve the issue. Occasionally, the episode would be about a con gone wrong and the rest of the gang would work out a rescue plan for their captured colleague.

This was kind of a precursor to Leverage. I watched the first Mission Impossible movie starring Tom Cruise, but I got infuriated when they made Jim Phelps the bad guy so I never watched any of the other movies!








Saturday, January 4, 2020

S: EVERYTHING CRIME FROM A – Z



Series


Here’s the post where I name some of my favorite series. Of course in my mind, it goes without saying that Agatha Christie is in a class of her own and at the top of my list forever. (There—I said it!) I’m a voracious mystery reader (as well as an author). I enjoy a wide variety of mysteries, but here’s my top ten fifteen series (at this moment in time) in no particular order:


Victoria Thompson—Gaslight Mysteries

This series is set in New York in the 1890s. It’s well researched and fascinating to read about society in that time period. The protagonist is Sarah Brandt, a widowed midwife. She gets involved in murder and solves the crime with the help of an Irish cop—Frank Malloy. I’ve read every book and love the feel of the era.

Susanna Calkins—The Speakeasy Mysteries

The protagonist is Gina Ricci, a cigarette girl in a 1920s Chicago speakeasy. This really shouldn’t be on my list since it isn’t technically a series yet—Murder Knocks Twice is the 1st book (just published this year). Being a life-long Chicagoan, I truly enjoyed all the history about the era (good plot and colorful characters, too). Can’t wait for the 2nd installment.
To make this fit properly—Calkin’s Lucy Campion Mysteries is another extremely enjoyable historic series. Set in 17th century London, it features Lucy Campion, a chambermaid-turned-printer’s apprentice. Fascinating reveal of life in the era.

Jennifer Oberth—The Ella Westin Mysteries

This series is set in Port Bass, Maine in the 1820s. The protagonist is Ella Westin, a government agent. In the first book, she marries Joe Westin, a fellow government agent. Throughout the series, Ella solves crime with (or without) the help of her husband. It’s fun and light-hearted and Ella is a sassy, kick-ass protagonist.

Jenn McKinlay—The Hat Shop Mysteries

This is another fun series set in present time England. The protagonist is from America, Scarlett Parker. She moves to London to run her grandmother’s hat shop (Mim’s Whims) with her English cousin, Vivian. The books are well-written, a joy to read.

Aaron Elkins—Gideon Oliver Series

The protagonist is Gideon Oliver, the renowned Skeleton Detective. He’s an anthropology professor who the police call when skeletal bones are uncovered. Each book is set present day wherever the bones are found, so the reader gets to feel like an armchair traveler. All the books are quite enjoyable and interesting.

Ella Barrick—Ballroom Dance Mysteries

A wonderfully written series set in Virginia. The protagonist is Stacy Graysin, part-owner of a ballroom dance studio. The other owner is her cheating fiancĂ©, Rafe. The first book starts with Rafe’s murder and Stacy must save her studio with help from Rafe’s estranged Argentian cousin. The writing is flawless and well worth reading.

Leigh Perry—Family Skeleton Series

The protagonist is Georgia Thackery, an adjunct English professor who moves around New England to snag a job. The skeleton in this family’s closet is…a real skeleton. Sid has lived with Georgia’s family and now that Georgia grew up, he spends time with her and her teenage daughter solving crime. Fun and entertaining. Don’t miss a book.

Ashley Weaver—Amory Ames Mysteries

The protagonist is Avery Ames, a wealthy, young society woman who soon regrets her marriage to notorious playboy, Milo. The series is set in 1930’s London. Avery stumbles upon murder wherever she goes and gets help solving the crimes from her husband. Charming, fun books. I love the historical aspect and the duos on again, off again relationship.

E.J. Copperman—Aspergers Mysteries

Samuel Hoenig is a young man with Asperger’s Syndrome—an original concept for a protagonist. He runs an agency called Questions Answered. It’s not a detective agency, but it isn’t long before he’s pulled into murder cases. With the help of his assistant, Ms. Washburn, Samuel has a knack for figuring out the clues and finding the killers. Samuel is a character with heart and soul who wants to do the right thing.

Donna Andrews—Meg Langslow Mysteries

25 books into the series, protagonist, Meg Langslow, is a blacksmith by trade-turned-wife-turned-mother. The characters and humor are what make this series sing! Full of quirky characters, tongue-in-cheek humor and laugh out loud situations. A don’t miss series.

Betty Webb—The Gunn Zoo Mysteries

Theodora “Teddy” Bentley is a zookeeper who lives on a houseboat in present day California. She’s determined to solve murders in order to save her animal charges. Teddy does travel to Iceland in one book in order to bring home a koala bear. An interesting look at zoos behind the scenes.

Diane Kelly—Paw Enforcement Series

Meghan Luz and her K9 partner Brigit solve murder cases in present day Texas. Kelly has fun flipping chapters from Meghan’s point of view to Brigit’s point of view. Interesting cases with lively characters.

Ellery Adams—Books By the Bay Mysteries

Set in present day North Carolina with protagonist Olivia Limoges. She keeps to herself, but is cajoled into joining the Bayside Bookwriters writing group. The group is thrown into crime solving with Olivia and fellow member Police Chief Rawlins taking lead. The charming tone and quaint setting make these enjoyable books.

Kathryn O’Sullivan—Colleen McCabe Series

Set in present time in the Outer Banks, the protagonist is Fire Chief Colleen McCabe. It’s a light-hearted series with humor, heart and romantic tension. I’ve visited Corolla and watched the wild horses. The books bring back memories and the setting is perfect.

Naomi Hirahara—Officer Ellie Rush Mysteries

Ellie Rush is an Asian-American bicycle cop in present day Los Angeles. The strong writing meshes with fully developed characters. We watch as Ellie faces challenges while she learns how to be the best cop she can be, one with dreams of becoming a homicide detective.


I could keep going (Jeffrey Allen-Stay At Home Dad Mysteries, Julie Hyzy-White House Chef Mysteries, Amanda Carmack-Elizabethan Mysteries, yada, yada, yada).

Luckily for us mystery readers, there’s no shortage of great books to choose from!







Saturday, December 28, 2019

Reading Challenge 2020



IT'S ALL IN THE TITLE




 1) Color in title

 2) Number in title

 3) Dance (or dance movement) in title (ex: Salsa, ballet, dip, swing, hustle, waltz, etc.)

 4) Name in title (any proper name)

 5) Job (or career) in title

 6) Holiday in title

 7) Fire in title (flame, candle, light, etc.)

 8) Vehicle in title (car, ambulance, truck, plane, ship, etc.)

 9) Relationship in title (aunt, uncle, grandpa, mom, niece, etc.)

10) Animal in title

11) Weather in title (snow, sunny, rain, ice, etc.)

12) Supernatural element in title (witch, vampire, skeleton, etc.)

13) Food in title (cheese, cake, apple, cinnamon, etc.)

14) Gambling in title (cards, poker, chips, bet, etc.)

15) Sports in title (football, game, bat, team name, etc.)




Rules:

The challenge runs from January 1, 2020 to December 31, 2020.

For this challenge – Each book can only be used once
(If it fits more than 1 category choose one – as it can only be used in 1 of the categories)

You don’t have to choose your books in advance.  If you do, you can change your list at any time during the year.

Books can be in any format – paper, ebooks, audio…

 Crossovers with other challenges are fine.

Most of all—have fun!


And be sure to check out my Reporter's Challenge on GoodReads under the Challenge Factory yearly challenges...



Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Santa's Secret




Let me tell you a story, that fills me with regret,
About a horrible night that I’d rather forget,
And the way I avoided a formal dragnet.

The sleigh was packed tight, all loaded with gifts,
The GPS primed to avoid pesky snowdrifts,
But the situation that unfolded almost left me adrift.

I sat at the table, enjoying a warm, hearty stew,
When from outside there came a hullabaloo,
That threatened to ruin my chimney rendezvous.

Three elves burst through the door, calling “Santa, come quick!
We’re so distraught and hope it’s just a trick,
But we’re afraid our security’s been breached by a raving lunatic.”

Pushing aside my dinner, I launched into action,
Mrs. Claus stood at the stove frowning at the distraction,
I hadn’t eaten enough to bring her satisfaction.

The countdown had started on my long journey ahead,
I was looking forward to milk, cookies and gingerbread,
But the elves blurted out, “Blitzen is missing—presumed dead.”

We crunched through the blizzard to the side of the house,
Under the watchful eyes of my jolly, old spouse,
The stillness surrounding us, quiet as a mouse.

My eyes narrowed and focused on a terrifying scene,
That brought up memories of a scary Halloween,
The Christmas holiday ruined if I didn’t intervene.

I drank in the sight—my thoughts quite profane,
There in a huddle lay some butchered remains,
Quite a massacre had occurred, leaving vivid bloodstains.

A headcount performed, the elves were quite right,
My beloved Blitzen was nowhere in sight,
By the looks of the bloodshed, he’d put up a fight.

Everything in readiness to fly through the hemisphere,
The children were waiting—but no four-legged volunteer,
So I adjusted the lineup to make do with only seven reindeer.

Guiding the sleigh with two hands, I sorted truth from fiction,
As awareness washed over me, I made a prediction,
I absolutely wouldn’t tell my tale –it’d only secure a conviction.

The damage was done, there was no way to undo,
And Mrs. Claus would be arrested if I shared what I knew,

I’d figured out the special ingredient in her homemade stew!




Saturday, December 21, 2019

4th Dr. Who poem



TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE DOOMSDAY


Twas the night before Doomsday, but all through outer space,
Not an enemy was visible, nothing seemed out of place.
The weapons were stored in the Tardis with care,
In hopes the White Guardian soon would be there.


My companions were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of jelly babies danced in their heads.
And Romana in her trench coat and I in my vest,
Knew that the Sontarans would soon make us stressed.


When out in the cosmos, there arose such a clatter,
I grabbed the sonic screwdriver to investigate the matter.
Away to the Earth, I materialized in a flash,
Levered open the door and prepared to be brash.


The moon was a crescent, hung low in the sky,
As our Intel claimed Sutekh soon would be by.
When what to my bulging, brown eyes should appear,
But a terrified Tegan, atremble with fear.


Next a convoy of trucks, clearly from UNIT,
Led by my friend, Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart.
Then the Daleks and Cybermen formed into groups,
So I whistled and shouted and yelled for my troops.


Now Nyssa! Now Leela! Now Sarah Jane Smith!
Come Adric! Come Harry! (Tegan was miffed.)
To the battleground forming, we must hatch a plan,
We need Benton and Yates and every last man.


As the Robot and Krynoid joined in with the Zygons,
The Time Lords chimed in “let bygones be bygones”
So into the mix we put up a good fight,
With temporal traps, gold dust and just plain old might.


As I gathered my forces with a big toothy smile,
K9 passed us by, to help out for a while.
And then into the fray, the Master appeared,
That consummate bad guy, the one that’s most feared.


The Master is here, my companions all cried!
Now head for the control room to stay safe inside.
We must think of a way and finally defeat him,
Or the galaxy faces a future most grim.


The Master harrumphed, as wily as a fox,
And gathered his minions around the police box.
His eyes – how they twinkled, his open mouth droll,
And the beard of his chin was as jet black as coal.


I reached in my pocket for something to do,
Pulled out a yoyo and racked my brain for a clue.
My scarf was in knots, my stomach it roiled,
We will find a way, the Master must be foiled.


Think quickly, Doctor! all my cohorts exclaim.
There must be a way to remove him from the game.
Just how to eliminate him is subjective,
To divide and conquer is our main objective.


Now the Master calls out, he wishes a truce,
It’s good news to hear, since K9’s out of juice.
I open the door and allow him inside,
Then set the controls to embark on a ride.


From deep within, the death knell reverberates,
The meaning is clear, a Time Lord regenerates.
Right at this moment, there’s no time to stand by,
But for whom the bell tolls, the Master or I?