Saturday, December 15, 2018

What We're Writing: Closing in on the end of HID FROM OUR EYES

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Those of you who follow Jungle Reds might have noted I've been working on (and off - a lot of off) HID FROM OUR EYES, the 9th Clare Ferguson/Russ Van Alstyne mystery for a long time. A long, loooong time. Like, I'm pretty sure Voyager One and this manuscript were launched at the same time.

However, I'm pressing very hard this month to complete the first draft and hand it in by the New Year. Meanwhile, here's an excerpt that gives away nothing about the mystery, but features one of my readers' favorite characters, Margy, police chief Russ Van Alstyne's mom. In this scene, Clare and Russ are dropping their baby off with his niece Emma and picking Mom up for a swanky fundraiser.

           Russ hoisted the baby and strolled into the living room. “Heeeere's John—holy crap, Mom, what did you do to yourself?”
           Clare glared at him. Emma glared at him. His mom glared at him. “I mean...jeez.” Her hair, instead of its usual poodle perm, was fluffy and swirling around her face. She had earrings on. And a long necklace, over a drapey top and pants he knew he'd never seen before. “Are you wearing make-up?”
           “Let me be the first to apologize on behalf of my husband, the grunting caveman,” Clare said.
     Mom shook her head, making her hair move in ways no eighty-year-old lady's hair ought to move. “No, I raised him. I have to take the blame.”
                Emma smacked his arm. “Uncle Russ. Don't be weird.”
       “I'm weird? Suddenly my mom looks like--” It was the look in his mother's eye that made him finally hear himself. “A beautiful glamorous actress,” he finished. He kissed her cheek. “Mom, I'm sorry.”
           She squeezed his hand. “It's okay, son. I know you don't take well to change.”
       “Uncle Russ is afraid you're going to catch the eye of some rich New Yorker tonight and he'll whisk you away to the city and we'll never see you again.” Emma plucked the baby from Russ's arms.
       “The only thing I'm going to be doing with a rich New Yorker is squeezing him for a donation to the Save Our Police campaign.”
       “S.O.P? That's what we're going with?” Russ rolled his eyes.
       “How much do you know about organizing, son?”
       “Not much.”
       “That's right. So stand back and let the professionals do their job. You're here to look good and sound like a caring civil servant.”
       “I am a caring civil servant.”
           His mother patted him on the cheek. “Then you shouldn't have too hard a time of it tonight, should you?”

So, dear readers, is there a book - other than mine, for God's sake! that you've been waiting to show up in your local bookstore or library? 

Friday, December 14, 2018

The New Kincaid/James--A BITTER FEAST

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I'm so excited to get to talk about the new Kincaid/James book today! This is #18 in the series, and it's called A BITTER FEAST

We don't quite have a finished cover, but it's coming soon and it is going to be stunning! In the meantime, here's a look at the very picturesque village of Lower Slaughter, in Gloucestershire, where most of the book takes place.

I had long wanted to set a book in the beautiful Cotswolds, one of my favorite parts of England. And after the London setting of the last two books, I thought it would be fun for all four of my series detectives, Scotland Yard Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and Detective Inspector Gemma James (who are married, if you don't know) Detective Sergeant Doug Cullen, and Detective Sergeant Melody Talbot, to spend a weekend together in the country. They, and Duncan's and Gemma's three children, are invited to Melody Talbot's parents' home in the scenic Cotswold village of Lower Slaughter, where Melody's mother is hosting an autumn harvest charity luncheon catered by local chef Viv Holland. 

But of course from the very beginning, their relaxing weekend does not go as planned. 

Here's a snippet from the end of Chapter 1. Just to put you in the scene, Gemma and Melody have driven ahead with little Charlotte, and Doug is coming by train with the two boys the next morning, so Duncan is driving alone, and running late, as the September sun sets.

Kincaid’s predictions turned out to have been overly optimistic. The traffic had slowed again, and it was fully dark by the time he finally left the motorway. The car was too old to have built-in sat-nav, and not wanting to stop to check his mobile, he trusted to his memory of the map he’d looked at earlier. He decided not to ring Gemma as he didn’t know how long the remainder of the journey would take.

As he passed Cirencester, the land began to rise into the Cotswold Hills, as well as he could tell in the dark. Not far to go, then, but he had to laugh at the idea of the Talbots referring to their place as a “weekend” home. Perhaps they knew a way to circumvent the motorway traffic—or they simply took the train to the nearest station, where they had a retainer waiting to fetch them. Or maybe they just took a helicopter, he thought, grinning.

A signpost loomed in the headlamps. It was the turn off for Bourton-on-the-Water, the nearest small town to the Talbots’ village. Almost there, then. He was wondering if he should find a place to pull over and check the map on his mobile when headlamps blazed suddenly from his left, blinding him.

Before he could throw up a hand or hit the brake, there came a tearing impact, and all went dark. 

I hope you can't wait to find out what happens next. The book will be out in October 2019. You can pre-order the Kindle version here, and I'm sure the other e-book formats and hardcover pre-orders will go up soon, too.

This is a "busman's holiday" story--there are certainly suspicious deaths, but none of the series detectives are officially on the case. You can be sure that doesn't keep them from investigating, however!

Readers, do you have a favorite "busman's holiday" mystery? I've written several of them myself, but I think one of my faves would have to be Dorothy Sayer's "Busman's Honeymoon," with Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

What We're Writing: Lucy Burdette

LUCY BURDETTE: I’m working on the first draft of a book called tentatively The Happiness Connection. This isn’t a mystery, it’s women’s fiction, and I’m enjoying (most of the time) the challenge of figuring out how to move a plot along without any dead bodies. Of course, there can and should be secrets and twists to give momentum to any story, but this does feel hard and different. I’m used to murder and its aftermath propelling the characters and their actions.

I’m not finished with the Key West mystery series, but The Happiness Connection is a project I’ve been thinking about for ten years and really wanted to tackle. The main character is Dr. Cooper Hunziker, a new assistant professor at Yale who is in a battle for tenure with three other psychologists—and balancing the launch of her unexpected self-help book on happiness. Here she is meeting one of her competitors…

From The Happiness Connection by Lucy Burdette

A voice floated from the office next to mine as I passed by. A woman with straight brown hair and ivory skin pulled her door wide open. Behind her, I caught a glimpse of hanging plants and paintings in vibrant colors. The floor was covered with a gorgeous Dhurrie rug in earth tones, and the standard-issue office furniture had been brightened up with crafty throw pillows. Not much in common between this space and my small office decorated with stacks of unpacked boxes. 

“I’m Mary Morris. I was out of town when you came to interview. Assistant professor, first year, studying the effects of communication strategies on the spread of infectious and insect-born diseases.” She laughed and added: “In laymen’s terms, to trumpet the Zika or not to trumpet? That is the question.”

“Nice to meet you.” We shook hands firmly, sumo wrestlers sizing up the competition. “Your office is gorgeous,” I said. 

Gargoyle courtesy of Ang Pompano
“Don’t be discouraged about your cubby,” she said, grinning. “It may be smallish and a little dark, but add a few lamps and bright pillows and presto—cozy! Besides, I almost took that space. You’re the only assistant professor in the department with a gargoyle view.”

She fell into step with me, slamming the door behind her and widening her blue eyes. “Are you having a book party for The Happiness Connection? My god, woman, I have to be frank. I was floored when I heard they hired you. Yale professors don’t do pop psychology.”  She laughed again, the faint lines radiating from the corners of her eyes crinkling adorably. “I guess you didn’t get that memo.”

I backed away, stunned by that much honesty. In case you’ve been living in a cave or don’t read women’s magazines or watch Dr. Oz, the pursuit of happiness has snowballed into a much bigger deal than when it was first introduced in the Declaration of Independence. Even bigger than getting fabulously rich or looking youthful and leggy, according to the latest issue of Woman Alive. And, I, Cooper Hunziker, Ph.D, am about to become one of the gurus. The biggest expert in America, with a fresh slant on how to tackle the problem of happiness that could change every woman’s life, if you believe the hoo-haw sent out by my book publicist. (I wouldn’t.) 

I didn’t feel like an expert: I felt like a fraud.

LUCY: So if you are a reader of plain fiction without murders and crimes, tell us about one that you've read and loved over the past year. And if you aren't, I'm curious about why not?

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

What We're Writing: Rhys and Queen Victoria

RHYS BOWEN: I seem to be going back in time with my writing. After writing two stand-alone novels set in WWII, my next book, coming out this February, is called THE VICTORY GARDEN and is about the Women's Land Army in WWI.

However, my work in progress, actually only just started, is going to be about Queen Victoria and the time she spent in Nice. When I was staying in Nice a few years ago, actually writing Naughty in Nice, I was surprised to learn that Queen Victoria spent the winter there, during her latter years. I hadn't known this. An enormous hotel had been built for her--the Hotel Regina Excelsior. It stands on a hillside above the city with fabulous views. She took over a whole wing with a retinue of 100. She brought her own bedroom furniture and chefs on a private train from England.... however, she didn't want anyone to know she was the queen. (I think they might have guessed with a regiment of Highland pipers accompanying her). She told everyone to call her Lady Balmoral.

So the working title of my book is LADY BALMORAL'S CHEF. And it's about a young woman who cooks for the queen and there's a murder and a lot of intrigue.

This is how it begins:

Lady Balmoral’s Chef

Chapter 1

London, September 1897
If Helen Barton hadn’t stepped under an omnibus, I might well still be sweeping floors and lighting fires in that dreadful house in St. John’s Wood. But for once I had followed my father’s advice.
“Carpe diem,” was one of my father’s favorite sayings. Seize the day. Take your chances. He usually added ‘because that might be the only chance you get.”

He spoke from experience. He was an educated man, came from a good family, and had known better times. As a second son of the junior branch he could expect no title or property that went with it, and was sent out to India to make something of himself.  He had married my mother, a sweet and delicate creature he met on one of his visits home. It was soon clear that she couldn’t endure the harsh conditions of Bengal, so Daddy had been forced to bring her home to England.

Daddy had received no help from the family but at last had fallen on his feet in a way and had held what was considered a prestigious position: he was a receptionist and greeter at the Savoy, London’s new luxury hotel.  His ability to speak good French and know how to mingle with crowned heads had made him popular at the hotel. He had patted the hands of elderly Russian countesses and arranged roulette parties for dashing European princes, for which he received generous tips. We had lived quite happily in the small town of Hampstead, on the northern fringes of London. My sister and I attended a private school. We had a woman who came to clean and cook for us. It was not an extravagant life, but a pleasant one.

            Until it all came crashing down when the demon drink overcame my father. He worked at an establishment where the alcohol flowed freely among the guests. He was invited to take a glass and it would be rude to refuse. So who would notice if he finished off a bottle?  His visits to the public house became more frequent. And one day he was found drunk on the job. That meant instant dismissal. He tried in vain to find another position but with no reference no respectable establishment would want him. We watched him sink lower and lower into depression and drunkenness. My mother died around that time. She was a genteel and sweet person who adored my father. They said she died of pneumonia but I think it was of a broken heart.
            We moved to a squalid two room flat above a butcher’s shop, with only cold water and an outside lavatory. Father occasionally picked up work writing letters for the illiterate, tutoring in French, but nothing that kept the wolf far from the door. And so it was, just before my fifteenth birthday, that he announced he had found a position for me. I was to leave the school that I adored and to become a servant, so that I’d earn money to feed father and Louisa and someone else would have to feed and clothe me. I was more than shocked. I was mortified. We might not be rich but I was from a good family. And the house to which I was sent was that of a nouveau-riche man who had made money in the garment business. His factories turned out cheap blouses for working girls. He and his wife were loud-mouthed and common.
            I pleaded with my father not to do this.
            “It’s only for a short while, Bella,” he said, patting my hand. “I promise you as soon as I’m on my feet again I’ll bring you home. Until then you are helping to make sure that your little sister does not starve.”
            What could I say to that? He always was a great manipulator.

I'm dying to get on with it, but holiday shopping, decorating and parties keep intervening. However I shall enjoy spending time with Bella Waverly, Queen Victoria and a cast of naughty and nice characters. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

What We're Writing: Hank's Big Reveal of The Murder List

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Well, wow, you all. Here's a moment. I'm second alphabetically, so today is my turn for what we're writing--and I am so thrilled! No one has seen this but my publisher/editor/agent types. So I'm crossing fingers and taking a chance. It hasn't even been through the proofreading stage yet, we're still in editing. Early days. Ish.

But THE MURDER LIST does have a cover! (Which we revealed on my newsletter--are you signed up for that? Many prizes will be offered soon! Click here. )

THE MURDER LIST:   Law student Rachel North will tell you, without hesitation, what she knows to be true. She’s smart, she’s a hard worker, she does the right things. She’s successfully married to a faithful and devoted husband, a lion of Boston’s defense bar. She's a rising-star intern in the prosecutor's office. Problem is—she’s wrong. And if she takes one false step in this cat-and-mouse game, the battle for justice will become a battle for survival. What is the murder list? Who is on it? And who is next?  

(And who is the woman on the cover? She will change everyone's lives.)
Now, just for you, here are the first two pages.

  We never fight. Not in the past six years, as long as we’ve been married. Not even in the months before that. It isn’t that Jack is always right or I’m always right. Usually our disagreements are about things that don’t matter, so it’s easier and quicker for me to acquiesce. Jack’s a lawyer, so he likes to win. It makes him happy. And that’s good.  But now on a Saturday morning in May, sitting face-to-face across our breakfast table in sweats and ratty slippers, we’re definitely on the verge of a real fight. This time, the fight matters. This time I have to win.

“I forbid it,” Jack says.

I burst out laughing—all I can think to do—because “forbid” is such an odd word.

“Forbid?” I say the word, repeating it, diluting it, undermining it. “What’re you gonna do, honey, lock me in the castle tower? You’re not that much older than I am. Come on, sweetheart. Get real. Have some more coffee. Read your Globe.

He doesn’t look up from the Metro section. “It’s absurd, Rachel,” he says into the paper. “That woman is evil. Plus, I can’t understand why you’d want to fill your brain with that kind of . . .” 

He shakes his head as he snaps a page into place, the newsprint crackling with his impatience. “Absurd. An exceedingly unwise decision on Gardiner’s part. And yours, too, Rach.”

I take a sip of dark roast to defuse my annoyance and to clear the looming emotional thunderstorm. I know his problem isn’t my summer internship in the Middlesex County District Attorney’s Office. Jack’s impatience with me is fueled by the headlines he’s reading, news stories that feature his name. Jack hates to lose. Especially in court. And especially to Assistant District Attorney Martha Gardiner. 

My new boss.

Martha Gardiner. The woman Jack usually refers to as “Satan in pearls.” He never laughs when he says it.

“Honey?” I soften my voice, knowing there are many ways to win. Law school is teaching me that.  “It’s only for three months. I’m required to do it. All the 2L students are, or we can’t be 3Ls. And then we can’t graduate. And there goes all that law-school tuition you’ve loaned me. Plus, we’ve planned the whole thing. We’re gonna be partners. You’ll get me on the murder list. And we’re a team. Your very own word. Remember?”

“Team? Certainly doesn’t feel like it. I thought you chose a side.” He lowers the paper, one inch, looks at me with narrowed eyes. “And not that side. Not hers.”

“But—” How do I handle this?  He pays the bills, at this point at least. As a student-- at 36, the world’s oldest law student--I have zero income. You’re my investment, he told me. I took it as a compliment. “But—”

“There are no ‘buts.’ Gardiner’s a predator. She maligns the law. Twists it. Corrupts it. Her every instinct is to destroy and defeat.” The newspaper barrier goes back up.

I can’t escalate this, so I’ll ignore the fact that prosecutors are supposed to be the champions of law and order. Jack’s oversensitive because Gardiner’s the one prosecutor who can beat him. My dear husband is not the most reliable narrator, though, and he’s probably exaggerating when he spins me stories about her disturbingly unfair and manipulative tactics. But Martha Leggett Gardiner is a touchy subject.

Jack’s frown, hidden by newsprint again, chills me. I’ve seen that same expression in the courtroom, and it’s never a good sign for the witness he’s about to interrogate. But I’m not his witness. I’m his wife.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: It's a twisty triple triangle of domestic suspense! (I made that line up myself.) And I cannot wait for you all to read it.

It's coming August 20!  And you can pre-order now, just saying.   

Does it sound good?  (And tell us--what are you reading now? Anything great?)