CrimeReads: Gone, But Not Forgotten: 12 Great Mystery Authors Readers Still Love

CrimeReads: Gone, But Not Forgotten: 12 Great Mystery Authors Readers Still Love. https://crimereads.com/12-great-mystery-authors-readers-still-love/

Good Rich People and the Bad Games They Play

            Lyla and Graham Herschel like to play games. Not board or video games. Too boring for this ultra-rich restless couple who live in a home high up in the Hollywood Hills and not too far from Graham’s overbearing mother who would certainly win any mother-in-law from hell contest.

            No, the games they like to play involve destroying people’s lives. And that’s what they intend to do to Demi Golding, who they believe is a high earning executive at a tech company.

            In Good Rich People, Eliza Jane Brazier, sets up an unwitting match between these heartless trio and Demi, who is homeless. But they don’t know that. By luck—and the cunning of those always on the brink of catastrophe—she has the necessary information to take them up on an offer to live on their property.

            Typically, son, mother, and wife set people up so they lose everything—their jobs, reputations, and money. But Demi doesn’t have any of those to lose and she’s learned how to survive during her tumultuous childhood, a skill she really needs to try to outwit the threesome who, suffocating with boredom, have upped their game to include murder.

            Brazier, who lived in London for years but now resides in California, knows a little bit about homelessness and having to scrabble to survive. After moving to England, she lost her job and was lucky enough to be taken in by a kindly man who would become her future husband.

            “He was always taking people in and helping them,” she says about her musician spouse who is now deceased.

            The jobs she was able to find didn’t pay enough to give her security and so what writing about the ultra-rich versus the poor really resonates.

            It’s typical of Brazier to draw upon her experiences for her books.

            “I worked at a ranch in Northern California which is where my book, If I Disappear, is set,” she says in a phone interview where she’s working on her fourth book. Her third, set in Los Angeles where she lives, is already written.

            When I ask her if the real ranch was as creepy and weird as the one in her book, she laughs and tells me it was worse. Wow.

            Life is different now with the success of her books. Brazier says she was always a storyteller but didn’t have confidence in her writing ability. When she finally decided to give it a try, she spent a lot of time honing her writing skills and learning the business. Now, she not only is writing mystery novels but also is developing If I Disappear for television.

            “It’s still unbelievable,” she says about the turn her life has taken. “I’m still somewhat in denial.”

The Guardian: The best recent crime and thrillers – review roundup

The Guardian: The best recent crime and thrillers – review roundup. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2022/jan/14/the-best-recent-and-thrillers-review-roundup

The Attic on Queen Street by Karen White

Karen White and I are talking about ghosts, particularly the ghosts haunting Melanie Middleton Trenholm in White’s latest novel, The Attic on Queen Street, the last in the series set in haunted Charleston, South Carolina.

“Do you believe in ghosts?” she asks.

Not really, I reply, but I also don’t like staying in places that are supposedly haunted when I’m by myself.

White feels the same way because, as we both agree, you just never know.

It’s then that her phone goes dead.

“I don’t what happened,” says White when she calls back. “My phone was charged and everything.”

Coincidence? Most likely. But still, it makes you wonder.

But phones going dead are the least of the problems for Melanie, a Charleston real estate agent with young twins, a husband who is deciding whether he wants to stay in the marriage, and a teenaged stepdaughter whose room is haunted. Indeed, the entire house on Tradd Street is haunted. Some of the ghosts are helpful, some are evil, and one is the ghost of a dog—which is fine as it gives Melanie’s dog a companion to play with. And to make matters worse, Melanie’s young daughter is already showing signs of being able to see ghosts.

Ghosts are such a problem that Melanie learned early on to sing ABBA songs loudly to drown out the sounds of the dead people trying to talk to her. But that only works sometimes and in this novel there’s plenty of evil for Melanie to deal with both living and dead. For starters there’s Marc Longo, who stole her husband’s manuscript and turned himself into a bestselling author. Longo is now heading a film crew in Melanie’s house while underhandedly trying to discover the diamonds he believes are hidden there. Melanie is also trying to aid a good friend in discovering who murdered her sister years ago—with the help of the cryptic messages the deceased sister keeps sending her way. And then there’s Jack, her handsome husband. They’re still in love but Jack is darned tired of Melanie always getting herself into deadly situations.

White first introduced us to Melanie in The House on Tradd Street in what was to be a two book series.

“But when it came out and was so popular, my publisher said let’s make it four,” says White. “This is the seventh and I’m really going to miss them.”

Well, kind of, as White is continuing the theme of a haunted city and the Trenholm family, only with Melanie’s stepdaughter in the key role who has to deal with her only supernatural beings when she move  to New Orleans in a book due out this coming March called The Shop on Royal Street.

Interestingly, the Tradd Street series was originally going to be set in New Orleans. White went to Tulane University and in 2005 she was all set to go with her family back to New Orleans to do research for the first book when Hurricane Katrina hit.

“I knew that there was no way with all the catastrophic flooding, and deaths that I could write this story without having Katrina in it and this wasn’t that kind of book,” says White, who has authored 23 books,

Choosing Charleston made sense as White had ancestors who lived in Charleston in the late 1700s and family who had lived on Tradd Street. In ways, she says that when she visited, she felt the pull of genetic memory—a sensation of a past shared life.

“I smelled what they call pluff—which is rotted vegetation,” recalls White, “and I said oh doesn’t that smell so wonderful.”

Coincidence? Doubtful.

The Attic on Tradd Street is also available as an audiobook and electronically.

The Ice Coven: Nordic Noir

            When we last saw Helsinki police officer Jessica Niemi, she had solved a heinous spate of murders and escaped—or so it seemed—the clutches of a coven of witches.

            But alas, life isn’t always so easily wrapped up in a happy ever after ending and poor Jessica has to deal with those darn witches again in The Ice Coven, the second novel published in English by Finnish author Max Seeck. His first, Witch Hunters, made the New York Times Bestseller list.

            It’s only been six months since Jessica and the Helsinki police were able to breathe a sigh of relief and deal just with everyday crime. But now as they hunt for two popular social media influencers who have disappeared, it slowly becomes apparent that there’s again a supernatural force at work against them. Seeck has the ability to interweave complicated plots and tie them all neatly together at the end. In The Ice Coven, the police are facing a case with a wide range of weird stuff that includes human trafficking, frog toxin, bizarre murders, and somnophilia—an odd sexual obsession of those who like to watch people sleep.

            Interestingly, Seeck’s interest in writing Nordic Noir stems from the mid-1990s when he watched Agatha Christie movies with his grandmother including those featuring her famed detective Hercule Poirot. It seems like a large leap between those gentile English mysteries and a series of violent killings and witchcraft. But Seeck views it all—both Christie and his own stories—as similar.

            “It was magical—the mystery, the tension, and finally the solution to the case,” is how he describes those days of binging on Agatha Christie. And indeed, there’s lots of tension as we worry about what will happen next. Even Seeck is on edge as he writes.

            “I like a blurry, icy scene, a setting where eerie figures are looking at you,” he says as we chat on Skype—he in Helsinki and me in the Midwest. “The fictional characters are afraid. So am I. And so, I hope is the reader.”

            I tell him not to worry about the latter. At least this reader was very afraid and yet compelled to keep turning the page.

            Setting his novels (there’s a third Jessica book coming out in 2022) in Helsinki is reflective of Seeck’s ability to “think cinematically.”

            “There are two sides to Helsinki as there are in any city,” he says. “In the summer it is a beautiful and exciting city, full of life and full of people who enjoy life. However, in the winter, it is very dark and cold, making it a terrific location for dark and icy thrillers.”  

Where They Wait: A Scott Carson Supernatural Thriller

          What could be easier than for an out-of-work journalist than an offer of a high paying gig writing a puff piece for an old friend? Well, if you’re the main character in a Scott Carson novel then take it from someone like me who has read every book Michael Koryta has written including those under the Carson pseudonym, things will get much worse before—and if—they get better.

          In time for a stupendously creepy Halloween scare we meet Nick Bishop in Where They Wait (Atria/Bestler, $27) as he arrives in Maine. His assignment is to write about Bryce Lermond for the Hammel College alumni magazine. $5000 is a whole lot of money for a profile of a successful college alum but Bishop, who has reported from Afghanistan, almost turns the job down. He’s proud of his reporter credentials and this job is beneath him. Unfortunately, he’s also broke and besides, a paid trip to Maine gives him a chance to see his mother, a once noted scientist, who now suffers from dementia.

          Oh, if only it were that easy. First entering Lermond’s headquarters, Bishop notes there’s something off kilter about the whole set-up. But he agrees to try Clarity, the app Lermond’s developed that promises to soothe and relax. And indeed, when Bishop first listens to the hauntingly beautiful song, he does fall into a sound sleep. But it’s a rest followed by horrific and seemingly real nightmares. Lermond’s top assistant—and Bishop’s childhood friend—warns him not to listen to Clarity but the melody and the voice of the woman singing is addictive. No, make that irresistible despite she committed suicide and yet shows up frequently and all too real in Bishop’s Clarity-induced dreams.

          Koryta, who grew up in Bloomington, Indiana, says that he was struck during the pandemic lockdown at how many relaxation apps were coming to market.

          “I thought this is good but then wondered what if it isn’t good for you,” says Koryta in a call from his home in Maine. “And writing the book during the backdrop of the constant question of how communication is being used to either save democracy or destroy it as well as the power and responsibility of communication soaked into my work. The power of song is really striking to me. Song has a staying power that most things do not, we remember songs and what they say.”

          As the song and the nightmares begin to overtake him, Bishop tries to delete Clarity but it reappears. He also begins to discover secrets about how his mother, who now only seems able to talk in riddles, worked at rewiring his memories. What he remembers about his past never happened.

          “You can peel a lot of things away from a person but as long as they have their own sense of the truth, they’re going to find their way but if you tell them what they know is a lie it changes all that,” says Koryta. “That’s part of the emotional experience I want to impart.”

          Typically, any of Koryta’s books can be read at distinct levels. If you want a great read that moves fast, he delivers. But you can go down to deeper levels, such as his intense research into memory when writing Where They Wait and into how the actions of the characters’ ancestors impact the choices they make now.

          Koryta says the fun part of writing is in the journey of discovering how it will end.

           “When I’m start a book, I don’t know where it’s going,” he says. “You have to personally embrace the unease. I can scare myself when writing and I perversely enjoy that.”

America’s Femme Fatale: The Story of Serial Killer Belle Gunness

A Norwegian farm girl, her family so poor, they often went hungry, is seduced by a rich landowner’s son. But despite her dreams, he has no plans to make her his wife. Abandoned, she sees only one path forward or she’ll sink into the black hole of her family’s poverty. But her first goal is revenge and after the landowner’s son dies a horrid death amidst whispers of poison, she boards a boat and sails to America. Norway’s gain is America’s loss.

Her name changed through the years but after the mysterious deaths of two husbands, numerous men, women, and children, she goes down in his as Belle Gunness.  An entrepreneur whose business was murder, Gunness felt no qualms seducing men for their money and dispatching them with her axe—filling her farmland with her victims.

As her crimes were about to be discovered, her solid brick home burnt to the ground and workers battling the smoke and flames discovered the bodies of her three children and a woman without a head.  Was it Belle  or did she get away with one more murder, absconding with close to a million dollars. It’s a question the world has been asking since 1908.

America’s Femme Fatale: The Story of Serial Killer Belle Gunness (Indiana University Press/Red Lightning Oct. 4, 2021; $20).

What people are saying about America’s Femme Fatale.

Ammeson uses astute research and punchy prose to chronicle Belle’s transformation from destitute farm girl to one of history’s most egregious female serial killers. . . . Compact and captivating, this salacious tale of murderous greed during the early twentieth century will be devoured quickly by true-crime fans.– Michelle Ross ― BOOKLIST / Amer Library Assn

It’s a mesmerizing cautionary tale I had to keep reading despite the late-night hour. . . . Ammeson writes narrative nonfiction with a sense of drama to propel us along the unbelievable.– Rita Kohn ― NUVO

America’s Femme Fatale is the detailed story of Belle Gunness, one of the nation’s most prolific mass murderers. Ammeson recounts the horrific events with dry wit and corrects many errors found in previous accounts. Gunness stands out in an infamous crowd because she was a woman; she killed men, women and children rather than choosing from among one narrow section of victimology; and her murders seem to have been rooted in greed rather than lust, the serial killer’s usual motive.– Keven McQueen, author of Murderous Acts: 100 Years of Crime in the Midwest

Jane Ammeson will be on Hoosier History Live talking to the show’s host Nelson Price about Belle Gunness. The show airs live from noon to 1 p.m. ET each Saturday on WICR 88.7 FM in Indianapolis. Or stream audio live from anywhere during the show. For those who miss the show, it’ll be available by podcast as well.

Whose Life Am I Living: Author Explores Cutting Edge Technology in New Thriller

Imagine walking through a door and into another life. That’s what happens to striving Chicago artist Kelly Holter on her 29th birthday. Suddenly she’s back in her hometown in Michigan, married to a man she barely knew in high school.

She’s completely disoriented, because suddenly she has memories from both of her lives, and she needs to make sense of why this switch happened and whether it can be reversed.

A speculative thriller exploring cutting-edge technology, “The Other Me” is the debut novel of Sarah Zachrich Jeng, a web developer originally from Michigan who now lives in Florida. The following is a Q&A with Jeng and Times correspondent Jane Ammeson.

Can you tell our readers where the idea for your book came from?

The idea came to me while I was thinking about wish fulfillment and the classic “guy meets girl, guy loses girl, guy moves mountains to get girl” narrative. These kinds of stories are often told from the man’s point of view, framed as romantic and wholly positive. I wanted to look at it through a slightly darker lens and from the woman’s perspective, so I used a sci-fi trope that completely takes away Kelly’s choice in the matter. Whatever happened to make her fall in love with Eric, her husband, it has already happened in this new life she finds herself living.

What kind of research did you do for this book?

I researched the art world and women artists through both the 20th and 21st centuries to get an idea of what qualifications and training they would need and what a woman artist just starting her career would be up against. Kelly is not from a privileged background, so I had to give her a scholarship to art school, which in real life probably wouldn’t come close to paying her way through. However, I wanted there to be some tension between her drive to create and the necessity of making a living, so I took a bit of creative license.

I have some experience of startup culture, but things are always changing, so I read up on that. Much of what made it into the book is exaggerated, but some, unfortunately, is not. I also did research on the capabilities of artificial intelligence, as well as some armchair physics. The tech depicted in the book isn’t possible (at least not that we know of!) but I wanted to have enough background knowledge to let readers suspend disbelief. I was less interested in completely accurate science than exploring themes of identity, fate, and choice, and I hope any physicists or AI experts among my readers will forgive me!

It must have been complex trying to keep straight what happened, what didn’t happen, the new life, the old life — how did you do that?

Spreadsheets, lists, and an ugly hand-drawn diagram or two. I had timelines written out, as well as lists of small changes in Kelly’s life and the ripple effects they might cause. I really didn’t know what I was getting into when I started, and it’ll probably be a while before I write a book like this again! (Famous last words.)

Psychological thriller brings chills to the movie set

            Melissa Larsen and I are in total agreement. If a handsome movie director asks you to star in a reality-style movie set on an isolated island with just a crew and cast of five after an odd and awkward one-on-one screen test, there’s only one thing to do.  Just say no.

            Larsen is the author of “Shutter,” a psychological thriller whose central character is Betty Roux, a lost young beauty who has cast her previous life behind following her father’s suicide. She’s severed relationships with her boyfriend and mother, moved to New York with vague ambitions but no experience, of becoming an actress. Now she’s sleeping on the couch of her high school friend, someone she hasn’t seen in years. But in serendipitous connection, her friend’s husband works with Antony Marino whose first—and so far only—film has won accolades. Betty loves the movie, has watched it incessantly and soon finds herself auditioning for the starring role. That she gets it is a surprise as she has no acting experience at all.

            Of course, she doesn’t say no.

            “I don’t think I would have either at that age,” says Larsen.

            If this were a romance novel, then the entrance of Marino, would lead to the inevitable happy ending. But Larsen’s tale is much darker than that. If Betty wasn’t in such a funk of grief, she might see the warning signs which are more like flashing neon lights. The job entails filming on a remote island off the coast of Maine with a cast and crew consistently of a total of five.

Really, what could possibly go wrong? Well, as it turns out, just about everything.

            “Somebody asked me what advice I would give Betty and I said I’d tell her to run,” says Larsen, who previously held high level, high stress jobs working for a talent agency in Los Angeles and then for a New York publisher. But she had started writing a novel in college and wanted to try writing again. “Shutter” is her first novel, and it has already garnered praise with the New York Times Book Review calling it a “chilling debut novel” and making Pop Sugar’s list of most anticipated novels.

            Developing the plot for “Shutter” was like a very fluid brain storm says Larsen detailing her creative process.

            “I’m a very image-based writer, and the first thing I saw was Betty covered in blood asking me for help,” she says recounting how she plotted the book. “So I decided to start writing with that in mind. It was like I was seeing a billboard in the distance,  and I kept walking towards it.”

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