Monday, October 18, 2021

Perfumed to Death?

LUCY BURDETTE: Last week, as I was reading Kent Krueger‘s latest book, Lightning Strike, I noticed several scenes where the smell of a woman’s perfume plays a role in the mystery. And that got me thinking that less perfume is being worn these days, maybe partly because people are more sensitive to it, or more vocal about allergies. And because of that, maybe we’re losing a good source of clues in our books. Certain scents I think I would know even blindfolded. My mother always wore Tweed. Or looking back on it from the adult point of view, that’s what we always bought her for birthdays and Christmas! Maybe she had dozens of bottles tucked away in a closet and would have loved something--anything--else?

My first perfume was called Ambush and I still have an almost empty bottle of it in my drawer. And then for a while, I wore Oscar de la Renta because I liked it on a friend. She was dating a psychiatry resident at the time, though she was not the only mare in his barn. He gave her a bottle of perfume and said: “I give all my women Oscar de la Renta.”

Truly, he should be a victim in all of our books… How about you Reds--perfume memories? Have you used scents as clues?

HALLIE EPHRON: That is SO CREEPY! I see a murder mystery with a serial killer and all the victims are wearing the Oscar de la Renta.

My mother wore Chanel No. 5 when she went out fancy. But the smell I remember was her bath oil. No idea what it was. And a sticky orange skin cream, name also lost in the pages of time. In my teen years I loved Jean Nate (powder) - then Canoe (musky, dab behind the ears.) In my 20s, My Sin -- the perfume was overpowering but the powder was just right.

RHYS BOWEN: perfume as a clue. Classic! Strangely enough we had overnight guests and John has been sneezing all morning because of some lingering scent. The killer was here earlier today…. Nice.

My first perfume was Je Reviens by Worth given to me by my boyfriend ( he had a mother with good taste). I liked that for year then moved to Arpege and Ansais Anais. But alas I’ve become allergic to most scents which is a shame as John loves to give me perfume.


Oh, Ambush. That was high school, definitely. I’d love to smell that again. And how about Heaven Sent? (Or was it Heaven Scent?) (A little bit naughty but heavenly…)

And oh, White Shoulders!

(And that disgusting Youth Dew. Seriously. Deadly. To my nose, at least. Or maybe people just wore too much.)

My first good perfume was Shalimar, which I still love.

And in the before-times, I wore perfume all the time to work, but not to conferences, because of possibly giving someone a career-ending sneezing fit. It’s called 24 Faubourg, from Hermes and it is transporting.

(At a big zoom event recently, I reached out my arm to put it on--and it was very sad when I realized it didn’t matter.)

Scents as clues. Well, dogs do it all the time. HA!

JENN McKINLAY: Such a fabulous topic and perfect as a clue in a mystery! I love perfume but a little goes a long way. Obsession by Calvin Klein. I spent the late 80’s and early 90’s wearing that one. Then it was Red Door by Arden for the early professional years. After I got married and birthed the Hooligans, which aged me exponentially, I switched to a lightly scented body lotion - I could manage about five minutes of self care per day back then - called Sun by Zents and I’ve never gone back.
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I love perfume, but like a lot of the rest of you, I'm careful about when I put it on, because I don't want to trigger anyone's allergies. But oh, the wonderful memories scent conjures up!  My grandmother always used Elizabeth Arden's Blue Grass powder, and as a treat, she would let me put it on after a bath when I was visiting her house. My mother had a whole wardrobe of perfumes, but her signature and favorite was Joy by Jean Patou. 
The first scent that was mine, all mine was Revlon Lemon Cologne, which is apparently so out of date the only pic I could find of it was a used bottle for sale on Ebay! It was like dousing yourself with lemon juice and rubbing alcohol. I loved it. My preference to this day is for citrus and woodsy scents, so over the years I've probably used more men's cologne than women's perfume. I had a wonderful lime cologne I picked up in a little shop while on vacation in Bermuda ages ago; I've never been able to find it again. Sigh.
DEBORAH CROMBIE: Julia, I am laughing. Revlon Lemon Cologne sounds truly horrible. For me, the very first scent was Yardley English Lavender. I recently tried some while in a London chemist and was instantly transported back to 7th grade!  No other lavender scent smells quite like it. Then I cycled through many of those iconic 70s colognes. Oh, Rive Gauche! I still love anything with bergamot. But there was one scent that was really grassy green and fresh and I cannot remember what it was.
And, oh gag, then there was patchouli, in those hippies years. And does anyone remember Musk Oil???
I haven't worn anything other than Jo Malone, however, since the first Jo Malone boutique opened in London in the 90s. I used to bring a new scent back every trip, until they became available in the States. My faves are Peony and Blush Suede, and Wood Sage and Sea Salt. But, alas, all those bottles have just been sitting on my dresser since the pandemic...
How about you, Red readers? Can you think of a book that used perfume or scent as a clue? How about perfume memories of your own?

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Do I need an Apple Watch?


RHYS BOWEN: We are not exactly in the forefront of technology in our house. John had a flip phone until I finally put my foot down when, for the zillionth time I landed at the airport, called to be picked up only to hear his recording because he hadn’t turned it on! So I bought him an IPhone and guess what—he forgets to charge it for weeks. So I land at the airport and …. Get his recording. 

I’ve never been one for gadgets. Strangely enough that is John. We have the bread maker and the bacon slicer and the onion cooker and the food sealer and the air fryer and the juicer and even the battery powered shoe polisher. 

But I like to be organized. I have always loved agendas. I used to love my Dayrunner. But then something happened: The Dayrunner begat the Compac electronic diary. Which begat the Palm Pilot, Which begat the Blackberry which begat the iPod, which begat the iPad, then the iPhone and the Mac. So now I’m thinking of getting an Apple Watch. I didn’t consider it before because it’s big and I’ve always gone for small watches. 

But events have propelled me toward making the decision: I know nobody needs a watch these days with their phone nearby but I like to glance at my wrist to see when I have to leave. Remember the Jack In the Box commercial when the intern calls Jack’s wristwatch “Your little wrist clock” as if she’s never seen one before. 

 I’ve been a Swatch girl for ages. I love Swatches with their fun patterns and the fact that I can swim without taking them off. But they have silicone bands that have started to irritate my wrist. So I’ve been walking around with a bare wrist for a few weeks, glancing down every now and then to see that the time is two hairs past a freckle. 

So I need a different watch. I have Seikos: four to date. But I don’t like them. The metal bands are uncomfortable and I have to take them off to swim and shower. So I’m seriously looking at Apple Watches. I can see the benefits: I wouldn’t have to carry my phone around with me all the time. I could leave it in a sensible place where I could find it instantly. (yeah, right! I have to call it from my house phone hundreds of times a day because I’ve left it somewhere). And I’d get my texts, and record my steps and laps And it would warn me if my heart started mis-behaving. It hasn’t yet, but who knows?  But it is super-big and clunky and I think it has a silicone strap that would also irritate my wrist. So I'm in a quandry.

Who has an Apple Watch? Who loves it? Hates it?

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Openings and Closings.


RHYS BOWEN: I have never been good at opening things, or closing them, for that matter: Back in the days when I had little children at home and cakes from cake mixes were a regular treat I could never work out how to open the cake mix box. Usually I had to dig a knife in, have a generous amount of mix cascade to the floor before I read the words “Open other end.” Cans, beer bottles all present problems. Interestingly enough I am a whiz at opening champagne, having been taught the trick by my brother. You put a cloth over the cork, hold the cork firmly and twist the bottle. Perfect every time ! 

Perhaps I needed someone in my youth to teach me all the tricks of opening things. And closing them. When I was a student in Germany I worked in a grocery store and sometimes we had to gift wrap boxes of chocolates. Other employees produced these neat and lovely wrapped boxes, tied with ribbon. Mine was—well, sorry looking. 

Let me confess that for Christmas these days I buy bags and tissue paper. So much easier and they can be reused. My daughter actually made a batch of fabric bags one Christmas. I still use them. Another thing I’m useless at is strapping packages with sticky tape. First I can never find the end of the tape, then it sticks to my fingers, curls onto itself and I need at least three tries before I can do any wrapping.

 But this makes me think of my writing. Openings and closings. So vital to know where to come into a story and where to leave it. Too many writers make the mistake of coming in too soon, giving us lots of detail in the first chapter before we get to anything important. Or of introducing too many characters so that we are confused about Paul and Peter and Frank and Richard. Who the hell are they? And where are we? No sense of place. 

I work and rework the opening scene in my head for ages before I actually start a book. Where do we come in to this person’s life? I know many mystery writers start with the dead body. I like to bring a group of characters together, let us watch their interactions and think ‘no good can come of this’ and then one of them is killed. So sometimes I don’t have a murder in the first hundred pages. (It’s against the rules, I know. But the books do win awards so I guess I’m allowed to break the occasional rule). But knowing exactly where to start is important. 

In Murphy’s Law I chose to start AFTER a major event has happened. Molly is fleeing after she kills the landlord’s son when he is trying to rape her. We know she is running away but we only find out the details as the story unfolds. I think it worked well. She says that her dress is sticky at the back, but “about the state of the front of my dress I chose not to think”. I also toy with the first line endlessly until I am satisfied. I don’t think I can ever do better than “That mouth of yours will get you into trouble one day.” 

And definitely not better than Julia’s “It was a hell of a night to throw away a baby!” Brilliant. Brilliant. 

 I also liked the first line from The Tuscan Child: He knew he was going to die. That much was obvious. 

It’s great to tease with the first line.: If Helen Barton hadn’t stepped out in front of an omnibus, I might have still been sweeping floors and lighting fires at an ostentatious house in St. John’s Wood. So instantly the reader asks who is Helen Barton? And they want to know what happened next. 

 That is actually the secret of every novel WE WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED NEXT! IT begins when you read to a small child and say “One day a little chicken found the gate open and wandered out into the forest. In that forest lived a hungry fox.” And you have to turn the page… 

Obviously in many of my books setting the scene is important. Our first page captures the essence of Venice in the Venice Sketchbook. We like to know where we are—time and place. 

But when we come to closings, I’ve had readers complain I’ve ended my books too soon. I was satisfied I’d solved the murder. They want to see the characters happy, moving on, going back to normal lives. They need time to process the shocking events they’ve witnessed, just as the characters themselves need time. Sometimes I like to end on a twist, or a provocative thought. IN Evanly Bodies Evan has solved three murders and found three women who met at a shelter for battered women and each provided the alibi for the other. Brilliant as they didn’t move in the same circles or know anybody in common. But Evan solves it. His superior congratulates him. Evan says “But she won’t go to prison, will she? He was abusing her.” And his superior says “Not at the moment she pulled the trigger.” And Evan realizes he’s condemned these women to jail. 

So how do you like your stories? Do you expect a body in chapter one, or can you take the slower pace of setting the scene.  And do you like the book to go on after the crime is solved? Do you need a satisfying ending? How about you Reds? Do you agonize over your openings and closings?

Friday, October 15, 2021

Rhys's Fashion Lament

 RHYS BOWEN:  Have you tried to buy clothes recently? It seems that everywhere is now catering to the young woman—the very young woman.  I was in Macy’s the other day, looking for a pair of tailored black pants. Good luck with that. Leggings, jeggings, beggings…. It is my supreme belief that nobody over the age of 18, or a top-level athlete looks good in leggings unless they are worn with a tunic top over them. Most people’s behinds are not flattering . And most tops now stop at the waist instead of being long enough to hide a multitude of sins.

Even my go-to dress store, Chico’s has started making slimmer and slimmer pants and is clearly going for a younger market. And Talbots now makes its dresses above the knee.  It seems that nobody cares about us oldies, which is stupid because WE ACTUALLY HAVE MONEY TO SPEND AND LEISURE TIME TO SPEND IT.

I was in a London department store once and overheard a very posh British voice saying to the sales clerk “Don’t you have any proper, normal clothes?”  I know how she felt. She was a lady of certain age, wanting to look classic and dignified only to find that all dresses end way above the knee, all waists are now right below the boobs and there is no shaping or tailoring.

And don't get me started on ripped jeans. My granddaughters look as if they are about to go begging on the street in jeans that cost a fortune!

And even the best stores have no idea what looks good on older women. When my mom was shopping for an outfit to wear to daughter Jane’s wedding we were at Nordstroms, in the upscale part and the woman brought out the most unflattering outfits—ballooning tops that were gathered in at the hip, thus giving the impression of Humpty Dumpty, and usually with an enormous silk flower on one boob. My mom, never one to be subtle, put her finger in her mouth and made gagging noises.

I once thought that if I had time I’d open a chain of stores called SILVER FOX, catering only to my peers. There would be a trained advisor for shapewear on hand. A trained beautician to advise of cosmetics, and the clothes would be designed for our age, to flatter a figure that has a few more bulges than it used to. Long draped jackets, tunics, flowing dresses, well cut pants that come up to the natural waist, attractive bright silky blouses to wear with simple suits. We don’t want to look dowdy, we want to look smart, fashionable, businesslike. And we don’t want to be called DEAR by the sales clerk. 

I actually have the means to do this… a nephew who is a fashion designer, who once had his own line but now works for big houses. I’m sure he could design fabulous outfits. It’s just the time and energy I don’t have. But it would be fabulous, wouldn’t it? Do you think it would be a big hit or do you think that oldies don’t shop often enough to make it viable?

So where is your go-to shop? Eileen Fisher but her colors often don’t look good on me. J Jill occasionally. Soft Surroundings?  Otherwise?

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Hannah Dennison on Writing Rituals.

 RHYS BOWEN:  I'm so happy to include my good friend Hannah Dennison in my week of celebration this week. Hannah and I are fellow Brits. We used to meet for long chats, but since she's moved back to UK we have to meet for long Facetimes. I miss her.  And I love her new series set in the Scilly Isles (not the silly isles) just off the coast of Cornwall. So it's great to welcome her here today.

HANNAH DENNISON: It’s so great to be back posting on Jungle Red today. Thank you, Rhys, for inviting me. My second adventure in the Island Sisters Mysteries, Danger at the Cove, came out mid-August and this is the tail end of an intense couple of months of promoting it. For those who aren’t familiar with my new series – or, by some miracle, missed seeing all the hoop-la, it’s set on Tregarrick, a fictional island in the Isles of Scilly, an archipelago twenty-eight miles off the southwest Cornish coast. As the series title suggests (how I longed to call it the Scilly Sisters, Rhys’s idea and sadly, out voted by my publisher), the series is about two sisters who find themselves chatelaines of a crumbling Art Deco hotel and naturally, murder and mayhem ensue.

 For the last two years I have been working flat out writing two books at the same time (I don’t know how anyone writes three) and continuing to work virtually as a Miss Moneypenny for my boss in Los Angeles. As you know there is a time difference of eight hours which, because I now live in England is eight-hours behind. I have a lot of late nights.

 But now I am in the no-deadline zone for three more weeks before I start writing the next book and I am feeling discombobulated. I’ve finished mucking out my office (I had horses growing up, trust me, it’s an accurate description) and have caught up with chores and friends who thought I went to Mars, but I am still floating around in my pajamas until 11:00 AM.

 The pajama “thing” started fifteen years ago when I got up at 4.30 A.M every morning so I could write before heading off to work in downtown LA. I’d get straight out of bed, collect three cups of coffee (two with foil on top to keep the heat in) and climb into the bed in the guest room – all made up with nice pillows and linens—with my laptop and my cat Mister Tig who has long gone. I’d stay put for two to three hours, not leaving that spot. At weekends, I’d get up a little later, but then I’d be in my pajamas a little later, too.

 Without realizing it, I’d created a ritual. It had become an important part of my creative process. Anne Lamott, in her wonderful book, Bird by Bird mentions donning lucky socks; Christa Faust says her office must be immaculately tidy before she can even begin to write; Stephen King goes through these motions when he sits down to write; "I have a glass of water, or I have a cup of tea. I have my vitamin pill I have my music; I have my same seat; and the papers are all arranged in the same places.” Jill Mansell says she can’t start without a mound of jellybeans—another admits to having the television on playing reruns of CSI with the sound on mute. One of my students—a Methodist minister who lives in Wales—told me that before he writes his sermon, he drapes a scarf around the back of his chair and lights a candle.

The same is often true for readers. My sister only reads in her special reading chair in the corner of her sitting room, my mother must have a gin and tonic on hand and me, I must have something to graze – preferably chocolate. Unfortunately, I’m quite sure that does not qualify as a ritual but as a bad habit.

 Sometimes I worry that my pajama ritual has become a bad habit, too. Of course, I can write fully dressed (!) but not those early drafts. That initial part of my writing process comes from the subconscious muse. When I wake up in the morning, I must go straight to my laptop. If I stop to shower, it’ll take me a while to get into my creative groove. Does anyone remember Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way (1992)? She talks of “morning pages” – the stream of consciousness that spills onto the page immediately on waking before the distractions of the day take over. Although I no longer do morning pages, the discipline has stuck, and it’s become an unbreakable – and very good, habit.

 There is a big difference between habits and rituals. A habit is an activity you have repeated so often that it becomes automatic like brushing teeth or mindlessly eating popcorn when watching a movie (my guilty pleasure). There is very little energy or thought that goes into it.  A ritual is the exact opposite of a habit because there’s an energy, and a commitment behind it. It’s a conscious preparation and an intention that needs to be honored.

 As fellow writers and readers, do you have rituals that have become habits or vice versa? I’d love to hear what they are. Perhaps one of them might inspire me to replace my pajamas with something a little more professional.


British born; Hannah originally moved to Los Angeles to pursue screenwriting. She has been an obituary reporter, antique dealer, private jet flight attendant and Hollywood story analyst. Hannah has served on numerous judging committees for Mystery Writers of America and teaches mystery writing workshops for the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program now on Zoom. After twenty-five years living on the West Coast, Hannah returned to the UK where she shares her life with two high-spirited Hungarian Vizslas.

Hannah writes the Island Sisters Mysteries (Minotaur), the Honeychurch Hall Mysteries (Constable) and the Vicky Hill Mysteries (Constable)


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Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Dogs are AMAZING: a guest post by Susan McCormick

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Those of you who loved Susan McCormick's last appearance here at JRW will be delighted to know she's back today, with pics of Albert the Newfoundland, some delightful dog facts, and most importantly, the third in her cozy FOG LADIES mysteries. The new book, THE FOG LADIES: IN THE SOUP, tosses the old dears right into it:

 "There was a man in the soup." When the Fog Ladies volunteer at a San Francisco soup kitchen, these spunky elderly friends plus one overworked young doctor-in-training envision washing and chopping and serving. Not murder. Now the soup kitchen is doomed, and the mysteries have just begun. Was the death rooted in a long-ago grudge? Can they save the soup kitchen? Will they find the killer? Could the Fog Ladies, too, end up "in the soup"?

 How can you not love that description? But you'll have to click on of our links to find learn about THE FOG LADIES: IN THE SOUP, because Susan is here to give us what we really want - a chance to win a copy AND talk about dogs!


A dog plays a huge role in my new cozy murder mystery, The Fog Ladies: In the Soup, so I am dedicating this guest blog post to dogs. The book also features a cat who spends his time lying in the sun and giving Frances Noonan suspicious looks, so I will not say much more about him. But the dog… Book 1 featured a high-strung Bichon Frise who yapped through the book and ended up saving the day. Book 3 has Boris, a small fluffy black thing, who has digestive issues and a hero’s heart. 

I am a dog person through and through, having loved Earl, an English mastiff, and Edward and Albert, two Newfoundlands. Dogs are amazing. Here are some fun facts.


People have 9000 taste buds. Dogs have 1700. This could be why they are satisfied with eating kibble.


A dog’s sense of smell is 10,000 to 100,000 times better than ours. Trained dogs in Seattle can smell orca scat in the vast waters of the Puget Sound. Alexandra Horowitz, a dog researcher at Barnard, says people might detect a teaspoon of sugar in our cup of coffee, but a dog can detect a teaspoon of sugar in two Olympic-sized swimming pools. This allows them to detect changes in our hormones to know when we are happy or sad and to detect changes in our body’s chemistry in the form of volatile organic compounds to warn us about low blood sugar or lung cancer or bladder cancer.


As far as sight, People have more color detecting cells (cones), but a dog has more light sensitive cells (rods) and a larger pupil to let in more light, so dogs see much better in the dark than people. Rods also detect motion, so dogs see tiny movements better.


In addition, like many animals, dogs have a layer of tissue behind the retina called the tapetum lucidum that reflects light back through the retina like a mirror, doubling the chances of the light hitting the eye’s photoreceptors. This is why a dog’s eyes glow in the dark.


Dogs’ guts seem indestructible, until they get a blockage. See my guest blog post last year about “Things MyDog Has Eaten” and all the replies to see just how indestructible.

A dog’s sense of touch is about the same as ours. So keep giving those chest thumps, those ear scritches, those tummy rubs. A dog lives for this.




Dogs have innate abilities, skills they were born with and can’t undo. Root out rats. Herd sheep and children. Chase birds. Retrieve balls, sticks, the occasional picnic basket. 

My dogs, Newfoundlands, are ideally suited for water rescue: they are waterproof, have webbed toes and swim a beautiful breaststroke, have large lungs to aid swimming, and have excess fur on their neck for the drowning victim to grab.



Dogs are amazing. The Fog Ladies, and Boris the hero-dog, think so, too.

What’s the most amazing thing your dog has done?


Susan McCormick is a writer and doctor who lives in Seattle. She graduated from Smith College and George Washington University School of Medicine, with additional medical training in San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Susan served as a doctor in the U.S. Army for nine years before moving to the Pacific Northwest. In addition to the Fog Ladies series, she also wrote Granny Can’t Remember Me, a lighthearted picture book about Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. She lives in Seattle with her husband, two sons, and, until recently, her giant Newfoundland dog, Albert. You can find her on Instagram (with yes, more Albert pics) follow her on Twitter at @smccormickbooks and friend her on Facebook.