Thursday, September 30, 2021

Camoflaged by an MD: Sandra Cavallo Miller writes about a serial killer


HALLIE EPHRON: Sandra Cavallo Miller sets her fiction in Phoenix in the summer where temperatures climb to 110 and beyond, where you could bake cookies on your dashboard. Her new book is aptly named, Where No One Should Live, and it poses a very scary what-if.

SANDRA CAVALLO MILLER: This might be the first novel with the main female protagonist as public health physician. Add to that how little fiction is set in modern Phoenix during the summer and let the adventures begin.

It’s hard to live and work through a desert summer, and it’s worse when unexplained illnesses begin plaguing a medical clinic that trains doctors. One physician in particular seems targeted.

How did I come to write this?
In my work at a family medicine residency (teaching new physicians), I often interviewed medical students—a rewarding task. I loved helping new doctors prepare to practice.

During an interview, though, it’s challenging to assess character and ethics. People are on their best behavior. If you have ever hired people, you know sometimes the most outgoing, likable candidates turn out to have the most problems; sometimes the quiet, humble applicants are better workers.

Nearly everyone has stories about difficult and concerning co-workers who seemed normal at first. Feel free to share. It can get scary.

Then I read Stewart’s book Blind Eye, a documentary about Dr. Michael Swango. Swango began as a serial poisoner and progressed to a serial killer who likely murdered sixty people.

No one wants to think about that, especially in the healthcare setting. But while rare in the big picture, the reality lurks. Most are nurses and a handful are physicians. Most are male, but females aren’t spared. And no one knows how many are never discovered.

The FBI estimates that about fifty serial killers operate in this country now. Other experts feel the number is much higher, well over a thousand. Considering that only sixty percent of all murders are solved, that leaves a huge number of unexplained cases. Medical settings are especially tricky because underlying disease easily cloaks poison symptoms. Physicians don’t suspect foul play, so they don’t look for it.

This happened with Michael Swango, when worried nurses reported unexpected patient deaths whenever he took call. The hospital administration wrote off the nurses’ complaints as silly and hysterical. But the nurses were right.

Could it have happened with me—missing dubious symptoms or a suspicious death?

I certainly hope not and probably did not, but I always wonder if I unknowingly might have interviewed such a psychopath. Would I realize something was off? They can be charming and agreeable. If they became a colleague, would I have recognized the patterns? Or become a victim?

Swango (convicted in 2000), Christopher Duntsch (convicted in 2011), and Kermit Gosnell (convicted in 2010) all interviewed for residencies in the U.S. and were hired.

Thoughts like this can drive us to write fiction. To play out our fears. In the novel, Dr. Maya Summer goes about her daily business, dealing with rabies and infectious mosquitoes and parasites in swimming pools (to name a few), at first unaware of the covert danger.

It needn’t be with medical drugs, either … we’re surrounded by toxins. There are pesticides and herbicides in my garage. One year we had rodents, so there was rat poison. Oleander grows in my backyard, and the park where I hike sprouts many datura (jimson weed) vines; both plants are deadly. Other areas of the country grow wild hemlock, nightshade, and castor bean plants. Be careful.

Where No One Should Live is a mixed-genre novel, combining the complicated tasks facing a public health physician (written pre-Covid) with an alarming and escalating series of illnesses in clinic staff.

It was highly entertaining to write and I hope you enjoy it.

HALLIE: This is reminding me of when I was a college professor and we were interviewing a candidate for an opening. Something about him felt... off. And I argued vigorously against inviting him back.

Later I found a news article about how he'd been fired from his previous position. As I recall, it was for erratic behavior; he was suing. I was glad I'd ruled him out based on the interview and his resume alone, but I've often wondered where he landed. Like an MD physician, a PhD professor has unfettered access to vulnerable young adults.

Anyone else had what, in retrospect, seems like an all-too-close encounter with trouble... hopefully not a serial killer. Or maybe someone got your hackles and then turned out to be harmless?

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Theatre, gardening make the perfect backdrop for murder: Julia Henry


HALLIE EPHRON: I first met Julie Hennrikus years ago back when she was working behind the scenes in the Boston theater world. She's a theater insider who know theater from the business side. She, as we say here in Boston, is wicked smaht - and was the person who convinced me that social media was the real deal, and worthy of an author's time. (Thank you, Julie!)

She's still got one foot firmly planted in theater, but lucky for us, she's a very successful (thank you very much!) author of MANY books, writing as Julianne Holmes, J. A. Hennrikus, and Julia Henry.

Today we're celebrating the publication of her brand new #4 Garden Squad mystery: Wreathing Havoc. As a huge theatre fan, I was particularly intrigued to discover that this new book has a performing arts element.

First of all, thank you to the Jungle Reds for having me on the blog today! I’m so pleased to celebrate the release of Wreathing Havoc with you and your wonderful readers.

Wreathing Havoc is the fourth book in my Garden Squad series. It takes place in late November/early December, about six months after the first book in the series, Pruning the Dead. Since the series centers on gardening, a Thanksgiving book was going to be a tough fit. But I got creative in my garden plotting, adding wreath making and garden sculpture contests to the story. I also added fall fertilizing to Lilly’s agenda. It ends up, there are a lot of gardening opportunities in the fall.

A Thanksgiving book also gave me another opportunity--to add some theater to the mix. As a subplot, the Goosebush Theatre is producing a series of play readings, each featuring a renowned playwright's take on A Christmas Carol.

Why A Christmas Carol? First of all, everyone knows the story, so readers understand the story and will “get” the inside jokes about the changes the playwrights make. Secondly, so many theaters do A Christmas Carol that it makes sense that the theater company in Goosebush would as well. Lastly, it’s one of my favorite stories with themes that play well in the book.

Theater, in my opinion, is the perfect backdrop for a murder mystery. There’s a range of characters, both on stage and off. Emotions, tension and drama are part of the process. Because “the show must go on” is a truth, not an attempt at meeting a deadline, timelines are condensed and focussed. Shortcuts are made, feelings are hurt, and relationships are either strengthened or broken. A theater production is contained chaos, which makes for a great mystery setting.

There are over four hundred community theaters in New England, and they play an important role in the cultural life of many communities. The lovely part of theaters is that people stay involved for years and years, so the past plays into the present in interesting ways. Wreathing Havoc has now famous actors who got their start in Goosebush coming back with disastrous results.

In the Garden Squad series, Lilly Jayne’s friend Ernie is a community theater actor in town. While Lilly is a theater goer, she’s not a rabid fan. In fact, she lives in fear of having to tell Ernie that the play readings were good when they weren’t, especially since he’s taken over the role of producing them. What will she say? A friend of mine called it “humming the set”. When you don’t have anything nice to say about a play or performance, praise the set. With a play reading there’s no set, so there’s little wonder that Lilly’s nervous.

Mashing up theater and gardening--who knew it would be so much fun?

Readers, are you a theater fan? How would you enjoy a series of new versions of A Christmas Carol?

Julia Henry writes the Garden Squad series for Kensington. Wreathing Havoc is the fourth book in the series. She blogs with the Wicked Authors.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Cryptic crypto and other things I don't grok


HALLIE EPHRON: Most of the time, I feel as if I’m keeping up, technology-wise. I worked in high tech starting in the 1980s and used early versions of email and browsers before most of us knew what the Internet was. I wrote about “groupware” for IBM and Lotus, and also about "middleware" for a short-lived tech start up (middleware allows programmers to access old ("legacy") databases with new user interfaces).

These days I manage my computer and cell phone reasonably well and update my own web site. But I find myself hitting a wall with terms like:

Look up those terms and here we go, down the rabbit hole with explanations like:

Non-fungible tokens are, in a way, a lot like cryptocurrency. The record of NFTs’ existence lives on blockchains, they can be bought and sold using cryptocurrency, and there isn't necessarily a physical asset that ties them to the real world.

Individually I (sort of) understand (most of) the words. But… overall, my brain feels as if this is a huge pile of gobbledygook.

So maybe this is not something I need to understand? But it must matter, because a few days ago China banned cryptocurrency trading and mining. Leading to this headline in Forbes:

So, can I just tune out $150 Billion? After all, bitcoins aren’t tangible. I’m never going to physically encounter one.

And yet... and yet… come to find to cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin are “mined,” and that requires powerful, expensive hardware and lots of electricity which is contributing to climate change. How much? The answer seems to be “a lot,” but I invite you to go venture down that rabbit hole yourself and try to figure out what that means.

Plus cryptocurrencies are apparently used as a tool for facilitating criminal money laundering. See China’s ban.

I thought I was keeping up, but clearly I am not.

Now can someone help me figure out how to use that coin sorting machine in my supermarket? I've got jars and jars of pennies which, though tangible and fungible, have nearly no value.

How about you? Bitcoins, anyone, or are you sticking with cold hard cash and Krugerrands? 

Monday, September 27, 2021

Department of lost keys, glasses, ...

HALLIE EPHRON: I swear it seems like I spend half my life looking for my cell phone or my reading glasses. My daughter used to make fun of me. Then the other day she sent me this text.

Poetic justice, I suppose.

It reminds me how, when I was my daughter’s age, it amused me that my lovely mother-in-law would carry a handbag from room to room in our house. Like Queen Elizabeth, she always seemed to have that purse strapped to her arm.

Now I get it. My reading glasses and cell phone and keys would be much easier to keep track of if I hauled them around in a big fat handbag. Too bad, a QE2 pocketbook isn’t my style.

For a while I started tucking my glasses and cell into my pants pocket… until I nearly tossed them both in the wash with a pair of sweatpants.

Is there anything you are constantly losing track of and what coping strategies have you come up with? Do you have a gadget to help you find your gadgets? Can your car keys clap back?

LUCY BURDETTE: We have this problem too Hallie, and are forever helping each other look for phone, glasses, keys. I always keep my keys in my purse, but John loses his endlessly. And they are smart keys so sending them through the washer would be very expensive. The phone I try to keep with me, though it has been known to slip through the couch cushions and cause panic.

Glasses are the biggest problem. Since our Lottie puppy ate 4 pairs, I can never leave them somewhere she can reach. I’m trying to remember to put them only next to the upstairs sink or in a pottery piece in the kitchen. I live in fear that I will hear that awful crunching again…

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Lucy, I can’t tell you how many people I’ve told the story of, “my friend with the adorable Havanese, but wait ‘til you hear what that pup eats!”

I’ve solved the reading glasses problem by leaving a pair anywhere I might need them: in my car, in the kitchen, in the bathroom (reading, of course!) with my spares in the bedroom. My secret source is TJ Maxx, where you can get boxed sets of three reading glasses for $9-$12. I have about ten glasses right now, so when I inevitably lose one or leave it behind somewhere, it’s not a big deal.

The thing I struggle with is paperwork. Or maybe paper in general. I don’t have a good system, I tend to pile and stuff, and as a result, I can’t find things when I need it. SMCC sent me a contract for this semester. Can I find it? No. I have a list of possible Christmas presents for the kids. Can I find it? No. The birthday card I cleverly pre-bought so it wouldn’t be late? You guessed it. I know there are ways to whip the paper tiger into shape, but sorting and organizing a whole system takes so long and I’ve never managed to make more than a dent in it.

RHYS BOWEN: I’m actually quite organized when it comes to paperwork, finances etc.

Luckily since my cataract operation I don’t need any glasses--a minor miracle. Nor do I lose keys as my car has a keyless entry and start so the keys remain in a special pocket in my purse. However count me as one who loses her phone on a daily basis. I carry it around the house with me, set it down somewhere and then…. I have to call it from the land line to locate it again. I’m thinking of getting an Apple Watch so that my phone essentially stays on my wrist. Who else has one? What do you think?

And Julia, I can’t tell you how many perfect cards I have bought for future birthdays and anniversaries, only not to be able to locate them when the event comes around. And then I do find them two days later.

JENN McKINLAY: The only time I ever lose anything is when someone else puts it where it doesn’t belong. Yes, I am that person -- a place for everything and everything in its place. If you wanted to torture me, you wouuld put my keys on the wrong peg, rearrange my sock drawer, or, heaven forfend, move the tools in my toolbox.

Like Julia, I own about twenty pairs of reading glasses and they decorate every room. Very handy! I recently bought an old metal filing cabinet at Good Will -- $9!!! So all of my documents are neatly stored. I refuse to apologize for being insanely organized. I was a librarian for 22 years and I have a rage for order to show for it.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: My glasses are bifocal but I have a different strength for the computer and yet again a different strength for READING reading. So computer glasses on each desk and the reading reading glasses on the bedside table. Keys stay in the car, purse on the hook in the hall. The phone is almost always in my pocket--I try to wear things with deep pockets and am absolutely lost otherwise! But I am addicted to bluetooth headsets (hearing loss in one ear makes it really difficult to talk otherwise) and I do occasionally lose the blasted little things.

And just yesterday I lost my Kindle!! How on earth can you lose a Kindle Paperwhite? Of course it finally turned up exactly where it should have been, but I was so cross, having looked absolutely everywhere else for it. In my defense we were having a new AC system installed and I was totally out of my normal routine.

I am actually pretty organized about paperwork (surprising, I know.) Although I seldom manage to put anything IN the filing cabinets, I do know where most things are--even the greeting cards for any occasion.

HANK PHILLIPI RYAN: Truly, yesterday, as I was looking for my phone for the ten millionth time, this thought crossed my mind: “I wish there was a THING you could use to carry around the phone and not have to keep picking it up and putting it down.” Then the other side of my brain answered: “Like a POCKET?”


When I make dinner, I wear an apron (ME! AN APRON!), and wow, it is SO useful for carrying the phone in that sometimes I leave it on because the pockets are SO convenient. A fanny pack would work (gah), but that’s not comfortable, or a little cross body purse. We should invent something.

And I have often used my landline to call myself to find the cell phone. That’s pretty much why we have it, I fear.

Glasses? HA! I had cataract surgery, so I don;t really need them--unless it’s really dim light or for instagram on my phone. So there’s a pair on the kitchen table, and my nightstand, and one on my desk.

And the minute I file something in the file cabinet, I forget it exists. But I have colored folders with tabs in an open file container so I can see them. I love to be organized, too, it’s so rewarding. (But things do tend to pile up..).

HALLIE: Oh boy can I relate. And when I answer my cell phone after calling it from my landline, I'm sometimes surprised that there's no one there.

But this is about coping strategies...Help!


Sunday, September 26, 2021

Summer Reading: What We're Writing by Jenn McKinlay


WINNER WINNER  "Karen in Ohio" is the winner of a copy of Dessert is the Bomb!!!

Please email with your snail mail address and she'll pop it in the mail to you!

Jenn McKinlay: I thought the book was finished. I'd done days of research on dyslexia, visited Martha's Vineyard, scouted the Oak Bluffs public library, wrote the manuscript, and thought I was ready to hit send. I was not. Something felt off like an outfit that is too tight, too itchy, or too baggy in the butt. So, I asked for more time and I read and reread the manuscript and finally, it hit me. The main characters' names simply didn't work. 

So, I made lists of names, looked up what was popular during the years the characters were born, checked the old baby books where the Hooligans' names had been spawned, and jumped down a few Internet rabbit holes looking for something that clicked. Finally, FINALLY, I found the perfect names. One more read through and SUMMER READING will be headed to my editor. Can I get an "Amen!"?  

So here is a sneak peek at the first meeting of my dyslexic heroine, Samantha Gale, and the hot guy librarian hero, Ben Reynolds: 

Chapter One

     The ferry from Woods Hole to Martha’s Vineyard was standing room only. Shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip, the passengers were packed as tight as two coats of paint. I had a rowdy group of college kids at my back, which was fine as I’d carved out a spot at the rail near the bow of the ship and was taking in big gulps of salty sea air while counting down the seconds of the forty-five-minute ride.
     It was the first time in ten years I’d returned to the Gale family cottage in Oak Bluffs for an extended stay, and I was feeling mostly anxious with a flicker of anticipation. Pre-occupied with the idea of spending the entire summer with my dad, his second wife, and my half brother, I did not hear the commotion at my back until it was almost too late.
     “Bruh!” a deep voice yelled. 
     I turned around to see a gaggle of man boys in matching T-shirts – it took my dyslexic brain a moment to decipher the Greek letters on them to identify them as frat boys – roughhousing behind me. 
     One of them was noticeably turning a sickly shade of green and his cheeks started to swell. When he began to convulse as if a demon was punching its way up from his stomach, his friends scrambled to get away from him.
     I realized with horror that he was going to vomit and the only thing between him and the open sea was me, trapped against the railing. In a panic, I looked for a viable exit. Unfortunately, I was penned in by a stalwart woman with headphones on and a hot guy reading a book. I had a split second to decide who would be easier to move. I went with reader guy, simply because I figured he could at least hear me when I yelled, “Move!”
     I was wrong. He didn’t hear me and he didn’t move. In fact, he was so non-responsive, it was like he was on another planet. I gave the man a nudge. He didn’t respond. Desperate, I slapped my hand over the words in his book. He snapped his head in my direction with a peeved expression. Then he looked past me and his eyes went wide. In one motion, he grabbed me and pulled me down and to the side out of the line of fire.
     The puker almost made it to the rail. Almost. I heard the hot splat of vomit on the deck behind me and hoped it didn’t land on the backs of my shoes. Mercifully, reader man’s quick thinking shielded me from the worst of it. Frat boy was hanging over the railing and as the vomiting started in earnest, the crowd finally pressed back, way back, and we scuttled out of the blast zone.
     My rescuer let go of me and asked, “Are you all right?”
     I opened my mouth to answer when the smell hit me. That distinctive stomach curling, nose wrinkling, gag inducing smell that accompanies undigested food and bile. My mouth pooled with saliva and I felt my throat convulse. This was an emergency of epic proportions as I am a sympathy puker. You puke, I puke, we all puke. Truly, if someone hurls near me, it becomes a gastro geyser of Old Faithful proportions. I spun away from the man in a flurry of arms that slapped his book out of his hands and sent it careening toward the ocean. 
     He let out a yell and made a grab for it. He missed and leaned over the railing, looking as if he was actually contemplating making a dive for it. 
     I felt terrible and would have apologized but I was too busy holding my fist to my mouth while trying not to lose my breakfast. The egg sandwich I’d had with bacon suddenly seemed like the worst decision ever and it took all of my powers of concentration not to hurl. I tried to breathe through my mouth but the retching sounds frat boy was making were not helping. 
     “Come on.” Reader guy took my arm and helped me move farther away. I turned my head away in case I was sick. I could feel my stomach heaving and then—
     “Ouch! You pinched me!” I cried. 
     My hero, although that seemed like an overstatement given that he had just inflicted pain upon my person, had nipped the skin on the inside of my elbow with enough force to startle me and make me rub my arm. 
     “Still feel like throwing up?” he asked. 
     I paused to assess. The episode had passed. I blinked at him. He was taller than me. Lean with broad shoulders, wavy dark brown hair that reached his collar. He had nice features, arching eyebrows, sculpted cheekbones, and a defined jaw covered in a thin layer of scruff. His eyes were a blue-gray much like the ocean surrounding us. Dressed in a navy sweatshirt, Khaki shorts, and black lace up work boots, he was cute in a buy local sort of way.
     He stared at me expectantly, and I realized he’d asked a question and was waiting for an answer. Feeling like an idiot for blatantly checking him out, I attempted to play it off as if I was still wrestling with the urge to upchuck. I raised my hand in a wait gesture and then slowly nodded. 
     “No, I think I’m okay,” I said. “Thank you.”
     “You’re welcome,” he said. Then he smiled at me -- it was a dazzler -- making me forget the horror of the last few minutes. “You tossed my book into the ocean.”
     “I’m so sorry,” I said. Nervousness and the faint hope that I did not yet lose my breakfast caused me to try and make light of the situation. This was a bad play. “At least it was just a book and not something actually important, but I’ll absolutely buy you a replacement.”
     “Not necessary.” He frowned at me and then looked at the sea where the paperback was now polluting the ocean – one more thing for me to feel bad about – and then back at me and said, “I take it you’re not a reader.”
     And there it was, the judgmental tone I’d heard my whole life when it became known that I was not a natural born reader. Why were book people always so perplexed by non book people? I mean, it’s not like I wanted to be dyslexic. Naturally, when feeling defensive about my disability, I said the most offensive thing I could think of.
     “Books are boring,” I said. Yes, I, Samantha Gale, went there. I knew full well this was likely heresy for this guy, and I was right. His reaction did not disappoint. 
     His mouth dropped open. His eyes went wide. He blinked. “Don’t hold back. Say what you feel.”
     “It’s like this, why would I read a book when I can just stream the movie version, which allows me to use both hands to cram popcorn into my face at the same time?” I asked.
     “Because the book is always better than the movie.”
     I shook my head. “I disagree. There’s no way the book version of Jaws was better than the movie.” 
     “Ah!” he yelped. If he’d been wearing pearls, I was sure he’d be clutching them. 
     When he was about to argue, I cut him off with the duuun-dun duuun-dun duuun-dun dun dun dun from the iconic Jaws theme music, thus, winning the debate.

Words of wisdom from the master: 

So, how about it Reds and Readers, do you think the book is always better than the movie? Or are there exceptions? 

Saturday, September 25, 2021

What We're Writing Week: Julia Gives You What You Want

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Fan service. Do you know the phrase? It comes out of Japanese manga and anime, and originally meant to give the fans of these genres "what they want" - usually cartoon girls in very, very skimpy clothing. Seriously, don't Google images of the term.

But it's come to have a much larger meaning in contemporary fiction, television and movies, which have become increasingly serialized over the past two decades.  When readers or viewers spend a long time in a fictional universe (another term that's become popular to describe this serialized phenomenon) they come to know the many characters, large and small, that make up the world. They remember events that took place eight books and five movies ago. They develop insider knowledge and appreciation - they become fans.

The readers impatiently waiting for Jenn's next Library Lovers Mystery (November 2, y'all!) know everything there is to know about Briar Creek, CT. Actually, it's been my experience that passionate readers may remember more than the author does about her own creation! The audience for the Marvel Cinematic Universe's twenty five (and counting) movies may not know everything, because there are lots of, shall we say, special areas to hang out in, depending on whether you follow The Avengers, Spider-Man and/or The Guardians of the Galaxy. But I guarantee you the get the backstories, and the colorful secondary characters, and the overarching mythos. 

What do those readers and audience members want? Fan service. They want to see characters popping up again to say hi later in the story. They want references and nods to previous events that only they know about. On screen, they want to see actors who were important to earlier iterations of the story pop up in different roles - really, the best part of Wonder Woman '84 was seeing Lynda Carter's cameo. 

Sometimes, yes, fan service can be WAY overdone. If you saw Avengers Endgame, you might have cringed a little at the brief spotlight inclusion of every. Single. Lead. Character in the final battle. In Star Trek, the fans loved Khan Noonien Singh so much they dragged the guy back for two sequels, and I'm pretty sure Ricardo Montalban would have played him the third time if he hadn't happened to have passed away at the ripe old age of 88 four years prior. (By the way, if you've seen the wonderful Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan? Montalban was 62. He could, as the youths say today, get it.)

All this is to confess I'm offering up some fan service to my long-time readers. Since the plot of AT MIDNIGHT COMES THE CRY revolves around small-town white supremacists, I wanted to let people know this small town was also home to some migrant workers and immigrants. How to show this briefly? Well, I happened to have a couple who were central to I SHALL NOT WANT. Why not catch up with them and see how they're doing, in a visit to an interfaith Christmas donation drive?



“Father! We caught you!” The accented voice caught her attention.   A short, dark man in a heavy barn coat crossed the parking lot, a toddler perched on his hip. A visibly pregnant blonde was at his side. “We wanted to make a donation.” The man noticed Clare and smiled broadly. “La Reverenda!

“Amado! Isabel!” Clare and Fr. St. Laurent had married Amado Esfuntes and Isabel Christie two – no, three – years ago. “Is this Octavia? She's so big.”

“I'm two.” The girl held up two fingers, just to make it clear. “I'm going to be a big sister.”

Clare laughed. “I can see that. Congratulations.”

“Thank you.” The girl's grave demeanor and dark coat made her look like the world's tiniest supreme court judge.

Her father slid her off his hip and handed her an envelope. “Do you want to give the gift to Father?”

“Yes, please.”

Fr. St. Laurent squatted down. “Mil gracias, Octavia.”

“El placer is mío, Padre.”

Clare raised her eyebrows. “Polite in two languages. I'm impressed. My son is still at the babbling stage.”

“She started talking early,” Isabel said, “but she really took off after her second birthday. Our pediatrician thinks it might be because we're raising her with both Spanish and English.”

“Or it might be because she's a genius!” Amado held his arms out and Octavia let herself be hoisted back into the seat of honor.

“Amado.” Fr. St. Laurent looked up from the envelope. “This is too much.”

Amado shook his head. “What we have to share, we share. The farm has run a good profit this year, thanks to God--”

“Thanks to hard work,” Isabel amended.

“--and I know this helps those who need help. Including other immigrants.”

“Although Amado's not an immigrant anymore. He's an American citizen.”

The smile Amado gave his wife was slanted. “In some people's eyes, I will never not be an immigrant.”

Isabel snorted. “Well, those people are assholes. Sorry, Father. Reverend.”


What do you think, dear readers? Do you like a little fan service now and again? And is Lynda Carter actually secretly an Amazon? Because it doesn't look as if she's aging along with the rest of us humans.

Friday, September 24, 2021

What We're Writing--Debs Conjures Cocktails

DEBORAH CROMBIE: You can tell it has been a long almost-two-years since I have been out and about from what I'm writing these days. I sort of vaguely remember what it was like to get dressed up and go out for dinner and drinks with a friend, so I am living very vicariously through my characters! 

In this snippet, it's Saturday evening and  Gemma and Detective Inspector Jasmine Sidana are doing a bit of undercover sleuthing at a fancy cocktail bar in Soho. The place is entirely fictional, but, oh, did I have fun trolling through London cocktail bars and their menus on the Internet. The fictional bar is called Bottle, and the menu is a mashup of several different highly recommended London cocktail bars.

“Ladies. Welcome.” The greeting seemed oddly formal from a man wearing a simple white shirt with the cuffs rolled back. “If you’ll give me your name, I’ll see if your table is ready.”

Sidana looked taken aback. “Our table?”

He frowned. “You do have a booking?”

“I rang earlier,” said Sidana. “The young woman I spoke to said we didn’t need to book, that you wouldn’t be busy this early.”

The idea of eight o’clock as early gave Gemma pause. For her, eight o’clock meant getting the younger children into bed and starting to wind down for the evening, maybe having a glass of wine in front of the telly. She really was out of practice on the night-life front.

Their host, whom she assumed to be Jonathan Gibbs, cast an aggravated glance towards the bar, where a young dark-skinned woman with hair in elaborate coils was energetically shaking a cocktail. “That will have been Trudy,” he said. “She thinks reservations are an elitist tool.”

Gemma laughed, as she was meant to. “And what do you think?” she asked.

“I think I don’t like disappointed patrons. I’m Jon, by the way,” he added, holding out a hand to Gemma, then Sidana. “And while disappointed patrons will be inevitable later on, I think I can find you a spot now. Do you mind sitting in the window?” He gestured to a small table at the very front of the room, which offered a clear view of the foyer and to Gemma’s relief, her coat. It would also get a draft every time the front door was opened, and that no doubt explained why it wasn’t filled.

They accepted readily, and when they were seated he left to fetch menus. “Well, he’s interesting,” Sidana said quietly. “Strictly in a professional information-gathering sense, of course,” she added, completely deadpan.

But Gemma was beginning to get a hint of an unexpectedly mischievous side to Detective Inspector Jasmine Sidana. “Absolutely,” she agreed, putting on her most serious face. “Nothing to do with the cheekbones. It’s essential that we investigate thoroughly.”

Menus in hand, Jon Gibbs stopped for a whispered word with the young woman behind the bar, but if he was berating her she merely rolled her eyes and went on with her precisely executed pour.

“Take your time, ladies,” Gibbs told them when he returned with the menus. “If you have any questions, either Marie or I will be happy to answer them.” His gesture indicated the only staff member Gemma had seen other than the bartender, a tiny blond who was serving elaborate-looking cocktails to a table of four young women who didn’t look much above drinking age. Most of the other patrons were young as well, closer to twenty than thirty, in her estimate. “I’m starting to think I should have brought my Zimmer frame,” she muttered to Sidana. “This bunch should be out at a rave, not sipping cocktails.”

“It’s early, as Mr. Gibbs said. Who knows what they’ll get up to later?”

Gemma looked down at her menu and gasped. “Bloody hell. I could feed my entire family for the price of one of these drinks. How can they”—she flapped a hand in the general direction of the other tables—“possibly afford this stuff?”

“City jobs. Trust funds,” hazarded Sidana. “Or maybe they just still live at home.” Her tone was oddly mocking, but after checking Jon Gibbs’ progress around the tables, Gemma focused on the menu.

“We’d better order.” Charming line drawings of cocktails were sprinkled among the menu items, and after a moment’s perusal Gemma thought that the drawings made more sense than the print. “What on earth is forced carrot?” she asked. “And why is it in a drink?”

Sidana was frowning over her own menu. “That sounds more appealing than falernum, whatever that is. Look, here’s one with vodka and English tea, which doesn’t sound too bad until they add cream and prosecco. And is there really such a thing as Parmigiano liqueur?”

I have to admit that some of these drinks may be more fun to read about than to actually drink.  (I think you could call this "armchair drinking." I did find out what falernum was, however, and it sounds much nicer than you would think. 

What do you think, REDS and readers? Are Gemma and Sidana cut out for undercover?  Will they manage to get through the evening unscathed? (And relatively sober.) And what sort of weird vicarious details are you enjoying in books these days?

(A bit of Soho in the evening, along with the taxi Gemma and Jasmine will need to get home...)