Friday, December 18, 2020

Short and Sweet…or Scary…or Mysterious too! Guest post by Art Taylor

Our final post of the year comes from Art Taylor, a 7 Criminal Minds alum. Art is the author, most recently, of The Boy Detective & The Summer of ’74 and Other Tales of Suspense from Crippen & Landru. You can find out more about his work at

Last week, I started reading Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol aloud to my wife, Tara, and our son, Dashiell, who’s reminded us that he’s seen the movie but still seems enthralled by each fresh turn of the tale.

Many of us may default immediately to A Christmas Carol when we think of ghost stories set at Christmas, but reading such stories at the holidays are part of a much longer and richer tradition. In fact, one of the best-known Christmas songs, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” has a lyric that I’ll bet many people have missed—about how “there'll be scary ghost stories” alongside those “tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago.”

Our own tradition—my wife Tara’s and my own—isn’t actually ghost stories at the holidays, but short mystery fiction (and it’s actually not confined to the holidays but all year round that we read these aloud—naturally, I guess, since both my wife and I write such short stories as well).

When the 7 Criminal Minds invited me to contribute a holiday gift guide with an emphasis on short stories, that tradition of reading stories at Christmas popped to mind—along with several anthologies devoted specifically to holiday tales. For several years now, Tara and I have been sampling several stories each Christmas from The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries, a comprehensive and highly recommended anthology edited by Otto Penzler, and our good friend Martin Edwards has also edited a trio of holiday-themed anthologies for the British Library Crime Classics series—Silent Nights: Christmas Mysteries, The Christmas Card Crime and Other Stories, and most recently, A Surprise for Christmas and Other Seasonal Mysteries—as well as a fourth collection that’s more generally seasonal: Crimson Snow: Winter Mysteries.  

All of these would make great gifts, of course, but not everyone wants to stick to a holiday theme. Here are some other suggestions for exploring the world of the short story, whether this season or all year around:

·         The British Library Crime Classics Series. Martin Edwards is an indefatigable editor—and I mean that literally: I’m not sure when he sleeps. Every month or so, he seems to have edited another anthology. You can find a full list Edwards’  British Library Crime Classics anthologies available in the U.S. here, and let me particularly recommend Blood on the Tracks: Railway Mysteries—because in the midst of the pandemic, I’m sure many of us will take what travel we can get.

·         Crippen & Landru. Washington Post critic Michael Dirda recently called Crippen & Landru “our premier publisher of short stories by classic and contemporary crime writers”—and I’m personally fortunate that this quote appeared in an article featuring my own recent collection, The Boy Detective & The Summer of ’74. But even putting personal bias aside, C&L’s collections are extraordinary, whether in the limited edition hardcover editions or in paperback versions, and recent titles include Erle Stanley Gardner’s Hot Cash, Cold Clews: The Adventures of Lester Leith and Edward D. Hoch’s Funeral in the Fog, featuring that most unique detective, Simon Ark.

·         Missing Conferences? The loss of Malice Domestic and Boucheron and other conferences this year has unfortunately contributed to an extra level of isolation for readers and writers both. Reconnect by picking up anthologies from each conference.  This year’s Bouchercon anthology, California Schemin, features headliners Cara Black, Anthony Horowitz, Catriona McPherson, Anne Perry, Walter Mosley, and Scott Turow, alongside a great group of stories chosen through blind submission. (How do I know they’re great? As the editor of this year’s volume, I chose them myself!) And Malice Domestic’s anthology Mystery Most Theatrical arrived in October as well, featuring an equally distinguished group of authors; reading it is almost like running into them in person in Maryland. (I’ve featured several contributors to each anthology at the blog series I curate, The First Two Pages, if you’d like to preview their stories.)

·         In League with Sherlock Holmes. Published earlier this month, this is the latest anthology of new Sherlock Holmes stories edited by Leslie S. Klinger and Laurie R. King. I recently finished teaching a course in Sherlock Holmes, and Laurie King very graciously joined us via Zoom to talk about her own novels and about Sherlock pastiches. I have other anthologies on the shelf that she and Les Klinger have edited previously and look forward to adding this new one as well!

·         Self-indulgence. While this gift guide isn’t supposed to be about me, my own editors would shoot me some side-eyes if I didn’t mention several books to which I contributed in 2020: the novel in stories The Swamp Killers, edited by E.A. Aymar and Sarah M. Chen; The Beat of Black Wings: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Joni Mitchell, edited by Josh Pachter; and Chesapeake Crimes: Invitation to Murder, edited by Donna Andrews, Barb Goffman, and Marcia Talley.

·         Subscriptions to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. The best-known and longest-lasting crime fiction periodicals in history have earned their place of prominence for a reason. Sign up now for a full year of great short stories, delivered straight to your door!

I hope you enjoy some of these suggestions—and thanks again to 7 Criminal Minds for inviting me to return to here for a special post. Happy holidays, and best wishes for a better 2021 for us all!


Thursday, December 17, 2020

2020's Bright Side, by Catriona

I will, I will, I will get this first draft finished and printed out (while I dance to Mariah Carey) by Friday. So, with apologies, I'm cheating a bit on the blog.

This is my year in books, lifted whole off my website, but with a book of the month highlighted for every month. That choice was really hard, in a year of fantabulous reading and not much else. Sometimes two books from one month would have made my top ten of the entire year. July, in particular, was stellar.

December 2020

DEATH AT GREENWAY, Lori Rader-Day (May 2021) How lucky am I to get an advance peek?

THE STORIES WE TELL, Liz Milliron (Feb 2021)

THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS, Vanessa Diffenbaugh.

November 2020


THEY'RE GONE, by E.A. Barres


WOMEN OF A CERTAIN RAGE, Eileen Rendahl. This was so close to actually hanging out with my friend Eileen in Darby Cuento Davis CA

THE FIVE, Hallie Rubenhold.

The numbers 259 and 214 on MSNBC's election special.

October, 2020

RODHAM, Curtis Sittenfeld



SHUGGIE BAIN, Douglas Stuart. A brutal, brilliant, heartbreak of a novel. Well done, Booker judges!


AND NOW SHE'S GONE, Rachel Howzell Hall

September 2020

LATE SHOW, Michael Connelly


QUEENIE, Candace Carty-Williams


ONE BY ONE, Ruth Ware


THE WIFE, Alafair Burke

THE EX, Alafair Burke

GROWN-UPS, Marian Keyes Ever wondered what life would be like an a big, rabblesome, Irish family?

HOPE, FAITH AND A CORPSE, Laura Jensen Walker

500 MILES FROM YOU, Jenny Colgan

OPIOID, INDIANA, Brian Allen Carr.

August 2020



DODGING AND BURNING, John Copenhavr. Character, setting, theme, plot ... This is a masterclass


HOUSEBOUND, Winifred Peck

I'M STILL HERE, Austin Channing Brown

DOREEN, Barbara Noble




A SINGLE THREAD, Tracy Chevalier

July 2020

THE LAST, Hanna Jameson

ONCE YOU GO THIS FAR, Kristen Lepionka

IN THE DREAM HOUSE, Carmen Maria Machado

BLACKTOP WASTELAND, Shawn A. Cosby This little book deserves a crumb of attention. đŸ˜œ


MEXICAN GOTHIC, Silvia Moreno Garcia


I AM SOVEREIGN, Nicola Barker

COVENTRY, Rachel Cusk

June 2020

GIRL, WOMAN, OTHER, Bernardine Evaristo. Yep, those Booker judges really do know what they're doing. 

SEA OF LOST GIRLS, Carol Goodman

ENDLESS BEACH, Jenny Colgan,


BIG SKY, Kate Atkinson



THE QUARRY, Iain Banks


May 2020

WHAT YOU PAY FOR, Claire Askew

I AM NOT YOUR PERFECT MEXICAN DAUGHTER, Erika Sanchez. I don't read much YA but whenever I do it blows me away. If I'd had books like this when I was . . .

IF IT BLEEDS, Stephen King

THE WITCH ELM, Tana French


PRETTY GIRLS, Karin Slaughter


April 2020





ONE NIGHT GONE, Tara Laskowski Unbelievably accomplished debut and I can still smell the sea.

THE MURDER LIST, Hank Phillipi Ryan

SO MUCH BLOOD, Simon Brett

March 2020


THE STAND, Stephen King


DROWNED UNDER, Wendall Thomas. LOL funny mystery that could have killed the cruise industry all on it own even without you know what.


February  2020


MURDER MOST SWEET, Laura Jensen Walker

THREE-FIFTHS, John Vercher This short, tight, perfect novel is like a punch in the neck. In the good way.




DEATH AT HIGH TIDE, Hannah Dennisn

THE NICKEL BOYS, Colson Whitehead

January 2020


THE LUCKY ONE, Lori Rader Day


THE BOOKSHOP ON THE SHORE, Jenny Colgan. I had no idea how much I was going to need books set in Scottish landscapes when I read this one . . .

CHRISTMAS HOLS (Dec 20th-Jan 6th)



MY NAME IS WHY, Lemn Sissay




THE SALT PATH, Raynor Winn. Cornish landscapes are always welcome too. 


THE STONE CIRCLE, Elly Griffiths

THE DARK ANGEL, Elly Griffiths

And there's my year in books. I'll start my carefully curated Christmas pile on Friday and get back to you next year.

I hope everyone reading this is well and safe. So long, 2020. You sucked except for the books.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

And now, the end is near... by Cathy Ace

So, 2020 is finally drawing to a close, but it seems this year still has more bitter pills for us to swallow. The death of John le CarrĂ© has encouraged me to add this “Foreword” to the piece I had prepared for today, so – if you’ll forgive me – I’d like to open by tipping my hat to a master of our craft. 

Whilst his stories centered (in the main) upon the world of professional spies, le CarrĂ©'s writing about human relationships (both personal and professional), politics (from the intimate to the global in scale), the David vs Goliath scenarios he so often utilized - and his ability to create characters, mood, and setting so seamlessly -  made a huge impact upon me from the time I first read The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (which I think I read in the mid-1970s) right through to my reading of Agent Running In The Field, which I read earlier this year. I find it hard to express how very much I was in awe of his skills, and the extent to which his works gave me delight. If ever I wanted to slow down and truly relax when reading a book, I’d choose one of his; he gave me the priceless gift of allowing me to take time to think as I read, and to experience the world through which his tales moved in a very real way. As I write this, I can still conjure characters and settings, as well as scenes, of his I haven’t read for decades, and that’s saying something. Thank you. You, and your talent, will be missed. Many others have been able to write with more knowledge and eloquence than I possess about his enormous influence upon a certain sub-genre of crime writing, but – for me – I shall just remember him as a great writer.

Because I read le CarrĂ© I also discovered Len Deighton’s books and, more recently, those by Mick Herron – all of which have also allowed me countless hours of pleasure. I should also mention here - because I'm now thinking "spy" - the Evan Tanner books by Lawrence Block - which are an absolute delight...bizarre, whimsical, yet truly set in this sub-genre. 



That being said, I’d also like to pick up on comments made by some of my fellow-bloggers here at 7 Criminal Minds: as a group of writers our output covers a wide-range of sub-genres – check out our offerings and you’re likely to find the type of book that would appeal to anyone for whom you need a gift.

Beyond our coterie I would suggest the following: 

The Logan McRae books by Stuart MacBride: dark, not for the faint-hearted! Topics/themes include child abduction, torture and murder, cannibalism, and sex crimes; the violence is graphic, and heartrending. But…if you have a dark heart (it seems I do!) you’ll also find these books to be laugh-out-loud funny. The vividly-drawn characterizations are second to none, and the humor arises from situations that are…well, without context it’s pointless me trying to describe how these police “procedurals” work, but they do – sublimely well, for me.

The Elvis Cole/Joe Pike books by Robert Crais: stylish, full of memorable and enjoyable characters, twisty tales with a real LA flavor. Not too dark, but with call-backs to classic noir and much hat-tipping to Chandler and Hammett.

The Ruth Galloway books by Elly Griffiths: excellent traditional mysteries featuring a strong but flawed female protagonist, and a supporting cast of (mainly) loveable returning characters. I don’t know why Elly’s books aren’t better known than they are in North America, but maybe her recent win of an Edgar (for a standalone, The Stranger Diaries) will change that.


Books by Martina Cole: most of Martina Cole’s books are standalones, though there are a few which return to characters over the years (the Maura Ryan trilogy and the DI Kate Burrows quartet). For anyone who enjoys London crime family/London gangster underworld tales (think The Long Good Friday) these books are for them! She’s the Queen of Gangland writing for a reason – she’s bloody good at it; you don’t get to sell a gazillion books by accident. Again, not as widely read in North America as in the UK (strong language, graphic violence warning) but she should be!


The Flavia de Luce books by Alan Bradley: the antithesis of Martina Cole’s books, this series featuring a young girl living out her life (full of science and murder!) in a crumbling once-grand home in mid-twentieth century England are a delight for ANY age of reader (tweens upwards). Traditional mysteries rather than cozies, they’re one of my guilty pleasures!


The Peter Diamond books by Peter Lovesey: from Wobble To Death (pub. 1970, featuring Victorian detective Sergeant Cribb) to The Finisher (pub. 2020, featuring Supt. Diamond) I have enjoyed every book I have read written by Peter Lovesey. You can't go wrong with any of his works, but I recommend diving into the wonderful Peter Diamond books, set in Bath. 


As we face the end of what has – for many – been a desperate fight to stay safe and sane, seemingly unending months of uncertainty and (sadly, for many) loss and heartbreak, I hope you and those you care about are able to find peace and enjoyment between the covers of a book. Escape, enjoy, discover, challenge yourself, solve the crime, bring the culprits to justice…if you can.

Here’s to all of us working out how we’re able to live by The Golden Rule – to treat others as we would wish to be treated – and I wish you a healthy, peaceful end to this year, and 2021.


Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Do You Read What I Read?

From Frank

It is that time of year, where the giving of gifts abound... we here at 7 Criminal Minds are suggesting that a) books make great presents, and b) we can help you choose.

But first, a disclaimer - people's taste differ. I don't tend to read cozy. I do dig the harder-edged stuff. So my recommendations will probably reflect that preference. Maybe the person you're buying for fits the same bill.

And second, another disclaimer of sorts - you should read the authors on this blog! There's such diversity in terms of sub-genre, topic, and style that I guarantee that as long as your intended recipient reads mystery of some kind, you'll find several possible titles. I've read work from everyone here and while they don't need my endorsement to validate what they've done, I'm here to tell you - it is all high quality mysteries!

That said, I'll make my recommendations for other writers outside of this blog, and try not to overlap too much with what's been put forward already.

My Charlie-316 series co-author Colin Conway has created a vibrant crime world called the 509. The 509 is the telephone area code for Eastern Washington, and that's where these books are set. There is a set of procedurals, beginning with The Side Hustle, that feature alternating narrators. This is really cool, because you get a different outlook on characters when seen through the eyes of these varied viewpoints. There are currently five books in the procedural line, with more coming.

Colin has a couple other series coming out that will be set in the 509 world, as well as a pair of short story collections and an anthology featuring other authors writing in this setting. One of the new novel series is along the lines of the classic former-cop, amateur PI variety, and the other is a little more whimsical. The latter isn't a cozy by any means (for that, you can check out his Cozy Up series), but it isn't as hard-edged as the procedurals or the PI series. I'd place it on the lighter side of Sue Grafton in the spectrum.

Some of these books haven't been formally announced yet, so watch Colin's website for more info, or sign up for his newsletter. Point is, he's got you covered regardless of what kind of mystery you lean toward. You can hear him talk about this on my podcast, Wrong Place, Write Crime.

Another Spokane native, Brian Thornton penned a three-novella tome called Suicide Blonde. I've only read the title story so far, set in the Vegas of the past. It's a wonderful period read, and Brian absolutely put me right there in that place and time. It's reminiscent of the classic crime tales but written with a modern sensibility to it. I'm looking forward to reading the other two entries!

Brian also edited two separate volumes of crime fiction anthologies featuring crime fiction inspired by the music of Steely Dan. A Beast Without a Name and Die Behind the Wheel were responsible for some award-winning stories and feature a murderer's row of today's crime fiction authors.

Brian was on the podcast to talk about both of these projects.

Kate Anslinger's Grace McKenna series has an interesting premise - when she looks into the eyes of a criminal, she gets visions of what their victims experienced. This gift is also a curse and the repercussions of spotting this in a chance encounter drive Grace's actions in the first novel. The McKenna novels are a bona fide series now, so readers can follow her though multiple tomes.

Was Kate on the podcast? Sure was.

Okay, I said I didn't dig cozies earlier. This is true. They just don't do it for me.

Most of the time, anyway. Libby Klein's Poppy McAllister series is a definite exception. Libby writes such funny situations and has such vibrant, memorable characters that even I liked these books - and they are definitely cozies, folks. Poppy is a fun mess and her Aunt Ginny is tons of elderly fun. 

The series is up to six titles now (or will be by next June), and all of them end in the ...Can Be Murder branding. I haven't read them all yet and the one I'm looking forward to in particular is Wine Tastings Can Be Murder.

On top of being a great writer, Libby is a wonderful person. If you don't believe me, you can see for yourself by listening to her on the podcast.

Speaking of great writers, Matt Phillips is quite simply a latter-day Elmore Leonard. Yes, I know that's a comparison that gets bandied about quite a bit. Usually, it's an over-sell. But with Matt, I think it is completely valid praise. He has his own style, for sure, but it is reminiscent of Leonard in terms of the writing and the character work.

His novels are set in California. Countdown, which is my favorite, capitalizes on the changing landscape of our world, specifically when marijuana is legalized in California. That's another thing that's great about Matt's work - the setting. He writes from San Diego and there is most certainly a flavor of that city in his books. It reminds me of Don Winslow's The Winter of Frankie Machine in how unobstrusively yet completely the setting is infused into the book.

Want to more about Matt? Strangely enough, you can hear him on my podcast.

And speaking of Matt, he's the lead-off hitter for season three of A Grifter's Song. This is a serial novella anthology series about a pair of grifters, Sam and Rachel. They're a couple bound by love for each other and love of the con. Each novella is penned by a different author, set in a different city, with a different con that is resolved in each episode. There is also an over-arching meta-arc at play, though, as the pair is being pursued by a vengeful mob capo from Philadelphia. 

The first two seasons include installments from me (episodes 1 and 12), JD Rhoades, Lawrence Kelter, Gary Phillips, Colin Conway, Jim Wilsky, Eryk Pruitt, Asa Maria Bradley, Holly West, Eric Beetner, and Scott Eubanks. Consider this a recommendation not only for their episode of this series but for their other work as well, of which there is a varied and outstanding selection.

Season three kicks off (so I guess I'm transitioning to football metaphors now) with Matt's A Rule of Thirds, and will be followed by Lawrence Maddox, Jonathan Brown, Michael Pool, Carmen Jaramillo, and S.A. Cosby.

Readers can get the digital versions of any of these stories individually. But if you subscribe to the season, you get a discount (essentially a free episode), as well as an additional, subscriber-only episode. You'll also get the episodes earlier than the street date.

And while this last entry is definitely a holiday recommendation, it also serves as this post's blatant self-promotion element, as well.

I hope that as you read this, you are safe and healthy, and looking forward to a much-improved 2021! And although I've shed the Covid beard, it feels wholly appropriate for an end-of-year photo.

Frank Zafiro

Monday, December 14, 2020

And They All Settled Down for a Long Winter's Night

 Q: Books make wonderful gifts. What are your recommendations this year?


- from Susan


So many good books! And this is the year to read, read, read. I know my fellow Minds are sharing their own wonderful suggestions, and I am afraid that my TBR shelves will be groaning from the weight of the crime fiction books I must read. 


I’m going to do something a bit different. If you’re like me, finding a new author and a book you love is a wonderful experience. How much more wonderful when you realize the author has done this before and you can now curl up with the rest of her or his treasures? I’ve been thinking about the many times I’ve had that thrill. 


You know the big names: Michael Connolly, Sara Paretsky, Cara Black, Rhys Bowen, Sue Grafton, so many with great ongoing characters. I’ve talked before about Barbara Neely’s Blanche White series, so I will just remind you it is not to be missed. I love my fellow Minds’ series, and think they all deserve and will reward your attention. I’m including a current series, but not all the books by the other three authors here may be currently in print. However, the quest for back catalogs has become so much easier now that the online market is robust. I think the hunt is worth it for these. 


Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series. If you can, start with the first one, Maisie Dobbs (2003) and prepare to be pulled gently forward through the life of a fascinating young woman of pluck, intelligence, and great empathy. The series begins right after World War I and it’s ongoing, for which I’m so grateful.


Magdalen Nabb’s Florentine Mysteries. The first one was published in 1981 (but Soho has re-released them). They revolve around a Sicilian Carabiniere chief, Marshall Salvatore Guarnaccia, stationed in Florence. There are about 10 of them, each one distinctive in story, setting, and characters. They feel like black and white art films. I started somewhere in the middle of the series and worked in both directions and it was fine.


Jonathan Gash’s Lovejoy Mysteries. Yes, the character is deeply sexist, a thorough rogue, a bit of a crook. But he’s also a “divvy,” an antiques hunter and dealer who has a rare gift for spotting a great antique. He hangs out with some peculiar characters, and gets into serious trouble often. I went through a stage of gobbling them up and I remember the fun even though I now realize they are so not politically correct but that was then (1980s, I think).


Joe Gores’ DKA series. This is one I’m hoarding for the next time I need the lift of a series I haven’t explored fully. My late partner met Gores at a book event, was immediately hooked, loved the series, and was on me to read it. I have kept his collection on the shelf. Gores won three Edgars (three!) and this series has been called “fall down funny” by the NYT, which is serious cred. Not only that, but he lived in Marin County, as I do, and that has to count for something.


Oh, by the way, I have two rather short series and I would be failing at my stumbling promotional attempts if I didn’t mention the Dani O’Rourke Mysteries and the French Village mysteries. (Most of them are also available as audio books, if that works for you or someone you’re shopping for.)


So, there you are. Happy holidays, happy reading, and see you in 2021.












Friday, December 11, 2020

Some Ideas For Your Letter to Santa

By Abir

Merry Christmas!

I can't believe that this is my last post on this blog for 2020. It seems that even when you're confined to your house for a year, time still flies.

One of the things that has made 2020 slightly more bearable, at least for me, has been reading, and we've been blessed with some fantastic books. So, if you're in the mood for petitioning Mr Claus for some Christmas, or maybe even new year's reading, or if you want some idea for presents for loved ones, here are a few of the books I really enjoyed this year.

Heaven my Home by Attica Locke

What it says on the cover:
When the young son of an Aryan Brotherhood of Texas gang captain goes missing, Ranger Darren Mathews has no choice but to investigate the crime. Following the election of Donald Trump, a new wave of racial violence has swept the state. Dark, swampy and filled with skeletal trees, Caddo Lake is so large it crosses into Lousiana. This is deep country and the rule of law doesn't mean much to the Brotherhood, beyond what it can do for them.

A further complication is that the Brotherhood is squatting on the land of a former Freedmen's community, and one of the last descendants of these former slaves is actually a suspect in the possible murder of the missing boy.
Instructed by his lieutenant to use the investigation to gather more evidence that might help to take down the Texas chapter of the Brotherhood, Darren is playing very dangerous game indeed.

What I say:

Attica is, in my opinion, one of the best writers in the business right now, and Heaven my Home is the second in her series featuring an African American Texas Ranger, Darren Matthews, who’s forced to question his loyalties when he is ordered to investigate the disappearance of a white supremacist’s son. It takes place at the dawn of the Trump years. As you’d imagine, it’s highly charged, but it’s also fantastically well drawn. Like the best crime fiction it takes you on a rip roaring journey, but also makes you question your own views along the way.

The Curator by MW Craven

What it says on the cover:

It's the end of the year and serial killer is leaving displayed body parts all over Cumbria in the North of England, leaving a strange message at each scene.

Called in to investigate, the National Crime Agency's Washington Poe and Tilly Bradshaw are faced with a case that makes no sense. Why were some victims anaesthetized, while others died in appalling agony? Why is their only suspect denying what they can irrefutably prove but admitting to things they weren't even aware of? And why did the victims all take the same two weeks off work three years earlier?

And when a disgraced FBI agent gets in touch things take an even darker turn. Because she doesn't think Poe is dealing with a serial killer at all; she thinks he's dealing with someone far, far worse - a man who calls himself the Curator.

What I say:

One of the best books I’ve read in ages. Thoughtful and intelligent but also moving at breakneck pace, with The Curator, Craven achieves the holy grail of crime fiction: a book that’ll make you think while also keeping you on the edge of your seat. And in Poe and Bradshaw, Craven has created one of the most intriguing detective duos out there. If you haven’t read MW Craven yet, now is the time to start.


Midnight at Malabar House by Vaseem Khan

What it says on the cover:

Bombay, New Year's Eve, 1949
As India celebrates the arrival of a momentous new decade, Inspector Persis Wadia stands vigil in the basement of Malabar House, home to the city's most unwanted unit of police officers. Six months after joining the force she remains India's first female police detective, mistrusted, sidelined and now consigned to the midnight shift.
And so, when the phone rings to report the murder of prominent English diplomat Sir James Herriot, the country's most sensational case falls into her lap.

What I say:

Told with warmth and humour yet tackling the biggest of historical issues, Midnight at Malabar House is that rarest of creations, a thrilling whodunnit which also informs us about a whitewashed past. Khan is at his best, introducing us to a tumultuous time and to his wonderful new detective, Inspector Persis Wadia. An absolute joy to read, I found myself hooked from the first page to the last, which came far too soon.

How to Kidnap the Rich by Rahul Raina

What it says on the cover:

Ramesh is an 'examinations consultant'. He is a cog in the wheel that keeps India's middle classes thriving. When he takes an exam for Rudi - an intolerably lazy but rich teenager - he accidently scores the highest mark in the country and propels Rudi into stardom. What follows leads to blackmail, kidnap and revenge.

In a studio filled with hot lights, with millions of eyes on the boys, and a government investigator circling, the entire country begins to question: who are they?

What I say:

Part crime novel, part satire on modern India and told with authenticity, razor-sharp wit and a biting turn of phrase, Rahul Raina’s How to Kidnap the Rich is a book I’ve been waiting a long time for. I can’t remember the last time I read such an assured debut. Raina writes like he’s been doing this all his life. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to welcome a new star to the world of international crime fiction.

A Song for the Dark Times by Ian Rankin

What it says on the cover:

When his daughter Samantha calls in the dead of night, John Rebus knows it's not good news. Her husband has been missing for two days.

Rebus fears the worst - and knows from his lifetime in the police that his daughter will be the prime suspect.
He wasn't the best father - the job always came first - but now his daughter needs him more than ever. But is he going as a father or a detective?
As he leaves at dawn to drive to the windswept coast - and a small town with big secrets - he wonders whether this might be the first time in his life where the truth is the one thing he doesn't want to find...

What I say:

It's no secret that Ian Rankin is one of my favourite authors. To consistently produce exciting and relevant novels for over two decades is quite an amazing feat, and A Song For the Dark Times is Rankin at his best (yet again!).  For me, a new Rebus novel is like reacquainting myself with an old, and now rather crotchety, friend. Rebus, like me, is feeling the ravages of time, and when he's forced to come tot he aid of his semi-estranged daughter, he begins contemplating what he's made of his life. What struck me about this book is just what a wonderful job Rankin does of showing us Rebus' inner turmoil while weaving it into another top quality plot. And my favourite villain, Big Get Cafferty plays a big role in this one too, so what's not to like?

So there you have it. Five quite different books spanning some of the spectrum of crime fiction. We all have different tastes, but I'm sure there's something in this short list for everyone.

I'll see you all next year, but in the meantime, stay safe and have a Merry Christmas.


Thursday, December 10, 2020

Some Really Great Reads 2020 (from James W. Ziskin)

It’s becoming a tradition for me to put together an end-of-the-year list of books I recommend. This is not a best-of list. I’m not a fan of those since there’s no way people can read everything. So how can they declare some books the best? Not that I don’t admire the books that make those lists. I do. It’s simply that those big names and big successes get plenty of ink elsewhere, so I try to shine a light on excellent books and fine authors I enjoy instead. They may not be household names yet, and their books might not be on the New York Times bestsellers list—yet—but these are wonderful novels. I highly recommend them. Go on. Give them a chance.

Happy holidays!

First, my dear friend Lynne Raimondo passed away suddenly a few weeks ago. I’m heartbroken over her loss. But I cherish her memory and her books. You can’t go wrong with this fiercely complex and intelligent series, featuring blind psychiatrist Mark Angelotti.

And here are some great books I’ve read in the past year. You can’t go wrong with these. I loved them all. Click on the covers for links to buy.

Alice Henderson’s A Solitude of Wolverines

Daco Auffenorde’s Cover Your Tracks

Liz Milliron’s The Enemy We Don’t Know

Alexia Gordon’s Execution in E

Keenan Powell’s Hell and High Water

Erica Miner’s Staged for Murder

Mark Pryor’s The French Widow

Steve Goble’s Pieces of Eight

Brian Thornton’s Suicide Blonde

And, of course, here are the latest books from my fellow 7 Criminal Minds. I’m so proud to be one of them.

Cathy Ace’s Corpse with The Crystal Skull (Cait Morgan)

Brenda Chapman’s Closing Time

Dietrich Kalteis’s Cradle of the Deep

Paul D. Marks’s The Blues Don’t Care

Catriona McPherson’s The Turning Tide (Dandy Gilver #14)

Abir Mukherjee’s Death in the East


Terry Shames’s A Risky Undertaking for Loretta Singletary (Samuel Craddock)


Susan C. Shea’s Dressed for Death in Burgundy

Frank Zafiro and Colin Conway’s Code Four