Friday, June 30, 2023

Lisa Black--My Life in God's Waiting Room

DEBORAH CROMBIE:  Here is what I said about Lisa Black's newest Locard Institute book, WHAT HARMS YOU:

"Lisa Black's second Locard Institute novel is clever, chilling, and enormously gripping right up until the very last page. Black combines spot-on forensic detail with empathetic characters I can't wait to see more of--this series tops my list of new favorites."

And here is what Hank said:

"A brilliant idea, and the ultimate locked-mansion mystery-- a serial killer possibly on the loose at an elite CSI school! -- fully realized into a cinematic and riveting page-turner. Two experts in their forensics fields zero in on the shocking danger in their midst, and the oh-so-knowledgeable Lisa Black immerses us in the fascinating science, the deadly secrets, the authentic details, and the personal danger. Fans of Tess Gerritsen and Kathy Reichs will especially be drawn to this compelling and fast-paced novel.  Do not miss this!" 

Which should be enough to tell you that you must run to your nearest bookstore or library and read this book right now! I'll tell you more about it, but first, here's Lisa with what is one of my favorite essays we've ever featured on Jungle Red.

My Life Here in God’s Waiting Room

Lisa Black

Otherwise known as southern Florida—a sarcastic moniker with a degree of not only truth, but pride. Yes, I am surrounded by retirees (and hoping to join their ranks within the next five years), and because of that, I am surrounded by stories. Fascinating, hilarious, sometimes poignant stories, and every day I encounter new ones.

I work for a police department as a civilian forensic scientist. I am also an author who speaks at luncheons and libraries. I volunteer with the local hospice, keeping patients company (and often writing my words for the day) while their caregiver runs errands or have lunch out. So I encounter a lot of ‘older folks.’

 The retirees of Florida are not crotchety and dull. They are dynamic careerists with a lifetime of experience to share. Now they volunteer, they speak up, they never met a cruise they wouldn’t take.

Some had been civil engineers or nurses for forty years. Last week I met a woman who taught schoolgirls in Afghanistan before its collapse and said they were the best students she’d ever had—so motivated to learn. I was invited to address a book club by a woman who had danced on Broadway for a decade or two. I met a talkative guy who had been part of inventing liquid crystal displays for wristwatches and other applications. One of my patients had spent his life as a rock drummer for bands like Meat Loaf, Styx, and Alice Cooper. He had argued with his girlfriend about needing a ‘sitter’, but as soon as I burst out “You were Alice Cooper’s drummer?” we became fast friends.

I’m close friends with a domestic violence survivor, and heard the harrowing story of how she endured her final weekend with him, waiting for a space to open at the women’s shelter. She brought both her young sons into bed with her so that when he came in that Friday night, drunk and looking for a fight, she pointed out the boys sleeping at the foot of the bed. Somehow that kept her safe. The moment he went to work on Monday morning, she packed up the four kids and whatever else she could and fled. It took him months to track her down, but by then she was safe from all but the nightmares for years. Only when he died, did they stop.

I met a woman who had done the beauty contest circuit and was writing a book on its corrupt nature. A former firefighter explained to me what a ‘two-alarm’ or a ‘four-alarm’ fire meant. Another patient had been a journalist for the Washington Post and wanted to publish his three mystery novels. As I’d practiced with one or two of my own, I uploaded his to the platform, designed cover art and wrote his bio.


But this area isn’t called the waiting room for nothing—I encounter death frequently in my job. This does not depress me. What it has done is teach me to appreciate this short, short life.


The other night I told my husband that I had meant to do something and hadn’t gotten to it, and he griped: “That’s because you spend all your spare time with writer’s groups and the animal shelter and community orchestra practice. At your age you should be slowing down.”

“No.” I spoke forcefully, surprising him. “It’s time to speed up.”


Pay attention to that bucket list. Take that trip. Direct your kid’s school play. Learn that instrument.

Write that book.

That’s the lesson I’ve learned, hanging out in God’s Waiting Room.


So…what’s on your bucket list, and when will you get it/do it/see it/go there?

Lisa Black is the full-time CSI, NYT bestselling author of the Gardiner & Renner series and now the Locard Institute thrillers. The second in that series, What Harms You, will be available July 25 wherever books are sold. Find out more at:

DEBS: Here's more about WHAT HARMS YOU.

The Locard Institute is a state-of-the-art forensic research center where experts from around the world come together to confront and solve the world’s most challenging and perplexing crimes. When Dr. Ellie Carr arrives for her first day as an instructor at the prestigious facility, the buildings glimmer amid the brilliant fall foliage on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. But within hours a colleague, Dr. Barbara Wright, is found dead on the floor of a supply closet. Her death appears to be an accident—but Ellie and her new supervisor, Dr. Rachael Davies, suspect a more sinister explanation.


A young woman attending a professional training program then disappears, only to be found in a gruesome tableau. Other than their link to the Institute, there seems to be no connection between the student and Dr. Wright. Although forensic traces are elusive, Ellie and Rachael are determined to find the bizarre link between the violent and diverse deaths.  


As reporters shatter the privacy of Ellie’s new workplace, she searches old files and finds evidence of a crime that feels much too personal. But who, among those dedicated to justice, could be the threat? No matter how skilled she and Rachael may be in uncovering the truth, they may not be able to prevent a well-schooled killer from striking again.

So how about it, REDS and readers, what's on your bucket list and when will you do it?

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Kate London on The Tower--Books to TV

The winners of Gail Donovan's SPARROW BEING SPARROW are Edith Maxwell, Lucy Burdette and Judy! Please send me an email at julia spencer fleming at gmail (you know the rest) so I can hook you up!


DEBORAH CROMBIE: We have a very special guest today on JRW. Author Kate London, a former Metropolitan Police officer whose novels, POST MORTEM and DEATH MESSAGE, have been adapted for the gripping Britbox series THE TOWER, is here to share the share the books-to-TV process with us. I asked Kate for the nuts and bolts (I was fascinated, for obvious reasons!)  

KATE LONDON: In 2014, in the words of the song, I finally found what I was looking for. Not only my first book deal but also the sale of the television option. My plans for world domination could now be put in place. 

If thats the inciting incident, we know what has to follow: the difficult second act. And so it was.  A broadcaster commissioned a script, but took it no further. The options on Post Mortem and its sequels automatically renewed even though the project was clearly going nowhere. This was how I learnt the meaning of the phrase ‘stuck in development hell’.

In 2019 the rights reverted to me and my agent went out.

I had four offers: I had arrived for a second time! I sat in Curtis Browns offices listening to brilliant people pitching. It felt unreal, even a bit embarrassing. At least this time I knew not to entirely believe the hype.

My experience of the first option had also taught me something vital that should have been obvious from the get go: it matters very much who writes the adaptation. One of the pitches suggested that I should write it myself. Id love to have done that, but, realistically, I had no screen credit to my name and no experience of writing for television. None of the other companies had been able to specify a writer. Their pitches were exciting and persuasive – these were impressive people - but in terms of the actual adaptation I felt I was no clearer than the first-time round.

There was still one meeting to go. Patrick Harbinson, showrunner for Homeland and on numerous other prestigious projects, was living in LA and so we chatted by Skype.

When I asked Patrick who was going to write it, he said, me. Then, he talked lucidly and persuasively about the books, how many episodes he would write, how he loved that Post Mortem, the first book, turned on a conversation in a corridor: huge consequences following from seemingly small actions. He knew what he wanted to do. He had read the books closely. And he had a brilliant track record of consistently making gripping television.

Patrick turned it all around remarkably quickly. He pitched the series to Polly Hill at ITV who commissioned a script.  On the basis of that script, ITV greenlit the first series. Patrick partnered up with Damien Timmer at Mammoth Screen and, bingo, in 2021 we were in production. In 2022 filming started on series two, based on my second book, Death Message.

When we chatted before signing contracts Patrick said he wanted to involve me in the adaptation. How this works is hard to describe. I knew from the start that Patrick would be the showrunner, and that the final say would always rightly be his. But I am included. Patrick sends me drafts, emails me questions. Sometimes we have long conversations, trying to get to the heart of the problem. Sometimes we fight. Its certainly not all sunshine and flowers. But Patrick is always courteous, and often funny too. My respect for him has only grown. He is immensely skilful, experienced and knowledgeable.

Any writer who fights for a slavish adaptation of her work is a fool to herself. Television is not prose. It works differently and under different constraints. A novelist can change location in the blink of an eye. If she chooses to write a spaceship, it costs her nothing. She can time travel with ease. It isn’t only these practical considerations that mean the television series is not the book; prose simply works differently. Characters in a novel can voice their thoughts and consider their options. The reader can live inside the characters’ heads. Television works differently. It must work on its own terms.

But the writer of the books can still hope that the television version carries the arc of her original story and some of her concerns and motivations. And she can even work towards that if she is lucky enough to work with someone who is generous about collaborating.

Both series are full of thrills and reversals. They move at Patricks breathless pace. But, remarkably, the narrative somehow has time to breathe, time to capture some of the complexity that I saw first-hand as a serving officer in Londons police service. In The Tower we see the flawed police constable Hadley Matthews exactly as I had imagined him, and, in Death Message, we have time to witness the reality of enduring loss for anyone who loses a daughter to murder.

DEBS: Check out the trailer below--so gripping!

The books-to-TV stakes are so dicey--adaptations can fail spectacularly or be as good as (although different from) the books. But I've read THE TOWER (Post Mortem) and watched both seasons of the Britbox series, and I think Kate really did hit the jackpot with these productions (and is well on her way to world domination!) 

Kate London, photo credit Tim Flach

Both Season 1 and Season 2 of THE TOWER are now streaming on Britbox! I hope Kate will have a chance to check in from London to respond to questions and comments, but in the meantime, what book(s) to TV adaptation do you think got it absolutely right?

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Carried Away with the Ice Cream Scoop by Gail Donovan

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I've always been amazed by my friend Gail Donovan; not because she's a terrific author - I have lots of friends who are terrific authors - but because she writes for kids between second and fifth grade. I don't recall being that age, and I don't particularly want to recall my kids being those ages (it seemed like an endless stream of wrinkled school work and birthday parties.)

How do you write from the viewpoints of little kids? I've asked her.  Today, she explains how: by tapping into her own life. And she's brought a special treat - she's giving away three Advance Reader Copies of Sparrow Being Sparrow! All you need to do is leave a comment sharing a moment from your first job.


My daughter came home from her first job working the concession stand at a minor league baseball stadium—hot, smelly work done in very close quarters—and complained, “I am literally breathing air that was in someone else’s mouth ten seconds ago.”

Little did I know that in a few years, that would be a valid complaint. But this was 2013, pre-pandemic, so I just said, “Your first job isn’t supposed to be your dream job. You’re learning the value of a dollar, and why you should go to college.”

I don’t know why I thought I had anything to teach my kids about the value of a dollar. I had always dreamed of being a writer, and though my father didn’t discourage this he counseled, “have a trade you can fall back on.” Reflecting on this wisdom, I set off for art school to learn how to be a potter. Feel free to laugh.

My first job, like my daughter’s, had been in the food services industry. Friendly’s. Picture late ’70s suburban Connecticut, blue-and-white polyester houndstooth uniforms. I waited tables, washed dishes, and took turns on “the make,” where ice cream sundaes were concocted and cones were scooped. I was soon warned that I was cutting into profits by making the cones and sundaes too big, and after repeated warnings was told, “Donovan, you’re off the make.”

Now you know that the first line of my book jacket bio, “Gail Donovan was fired from her first job for making the sundaes too big” is, in the words of David Sedaris, “true-ish.” I wasn’t fired fired, but I was forbidden to pick up a Friendly’s ice cream scoop. My editor liked the line, though, saying it sounded like Sparrow, the main character of my new book. And it does.

Sparrow is a lively, compassionate kid who would definitely make you an oversized sundae if she could. And when the neighborhood cat lady falls and breaks her hip and her seven cats need homes, who’s on the job? Sparrow. That’s just Sparrow Being Sparrow.  


Sparrow Being Sparrow

Ages 7-11

Sparrow loves to dance and leap around. She loves cats. She has a million questions about the world, and she’s not afraid to ask them. But she’s just moved to a new town and a new school, and her busy parents have no time for her to get “carried away.” Suddenly, she feels totally out of place.

Sparrow’s favorite thing in all this newness is her neighbor, Mrs. LaRose, who has seven cats and always has cookies and lemonade to share. But after Mrs. LaRose falls and breaks her hip, she decides to move into assisted living—where the cats aren’t allowed! Sparrow has to help.

Determined to find new homes for all of Mrs. LaRose’s cats, Sparrow forgets about her own troubles—but the cats just might be the key to Sparrow finding a home for herself in this town, too.


Gail Donovan was fired from her first job in an ice cream shop for making the sundaes too big. She now works in a library and writes middle grade novels, including Sparrow Being Sparrow, the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award winner Finchosaurus, and In Memory of Gorfman T. Frog, named to the New York Public Library’s 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing list. She has also written for the Rainbow Fish & Friends picture book series based on the bestselling work of Marcus Pfister. Donovan lives on the coast of Maine, where she jumps in the ocean all year round. She has shared her home with a dozen birds, a few dogs, a rat, and a cat named Cookie. Visit her at

Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Sarah Stewart Taylor's Strangest Job Ever

**Late breaking news! Jay Roberts is the winner of Jeri Westerson's The Isolated Seance! Lucy D is the winner of Alicia Bessett's Murder on Mustang Beach! The winner of Barbara Ross's Hidden Beneath is Deborah Ortega!

Now back to our regularly scheduled program...

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I am such a huge fan of Sarah Stewart Taylor's books, and as I was fortunate enough to read an advanced copy of her latest Maggie D'arcy novel, A STOLEN CHILD, I can personally vouch for it being a terrific read and I'm thrilled to have her as our guest today.

What a great topic, too. This came up recently at a writers' conference and hearing about everyone's weird jobs was fascinating.

Here's Sarah to share some of hers!

In my new Maggie D’arcy mystery, A Stolen Child, Maggie has just started a new job as a patrol officer in Dublin, Ireland when she and her partner are first on the scene of the murder of a young model and reality TV star. As Maggie realizes that the woman’s toddler daughter is missing and starts to unravel the threads of the investigation, she feels an extra level of pressure to do well in her new job, and to prove herself so that she can make it onto a homicide team. Focusing on Maggie’s mindset while I was writing got me thinking about jobs, the ones we hate, the ones we love, the great ones and the weird ones.

If you don’t count getting paid a nickel each to pluck slugs and snails off of the plants in my grandparent’s garden, I got my first job when I was ten years old and was hired by a Mary Kay saleswoman in my suburban neighborhood. I would walk over to her house after school and she would pay me to put shiny gold stickers on the pink boxes of Mary Kay products stacked against the wall in her guestroom. She had a very pink and pristinely clean house and I loved sitting on the bed in her floral-scented guestroom, peeling off the labels and placing them carefully on the boxes. She didn’t yet have a pink Cadillac, but she was working toward that goal, something she talked about all the time, and I remember feeling proud that I was somehow part of it.

Between the ages of eleven and fifteen, I was a babysitter. I babysat often, for all different kinds of kids and families, and managed to save quite a lot of money by watching movies in other people’s houses and eating their snacks after the kids went to bed. I loved seeing different houses and getting a window into all those different family dynamics.

And then, I got a job in a bookstore. That was my high school job, and in many ways it was the best job I ever had. The bookstore was a beloved, independent fixture in my Long Island town and enjoyed enthusiastic support from the community. I stocked the shelves, recommended books, and learned a lot about literature and about the world. I met a lot of real-life authors too and I think that my bookstore job made writing books seem possible. And since it came with a discount, it also served as the gateway to my lifelong book-buying addiction . . .

During high school and college, I had a whole variety of jobs. I worked as a receptionist and constituent services assistant in my congressman’s district office and as a sandwich delivery person in my college town. I waited tables at an extremely fancy French restaurant, where I had to speak in a soft voice, and clear the tables in one graceful, confident take, balancing all of the heavy china plates on one arm so that the guests wouldn’t have to look at dirty dishes for a moment longer than necessary.

After college, I moved to Ireland and worked in pubs, and then eventually as a nanny. I went to graduate school there, and when I returned to the States, it felt like it was time to get a “real job.” 

I worked in publishing for a while — an invaluable experience for someone who wanted to write books. I am grateful every day for the experience of seeing how the sausage gets made — but what I really wanted to do was to write and while I was getting my journalism career going, I got a part-time job teaching writing and literature at a men’s prison. It was another one of my favorite jobs, illuminating in so many different ways. It provided me with a look at our imperfect and inequitable justice system and at the terrible things humans do to one another, as well as at the transcendent humanity that can be found in even dismal places. 

I loved being a daily news reporter and spent the next few years writing new stories during the workday, and fictional ones at night and early in the morning. When my husband and I moved to Washington, DC for a few years, I felt like I was close to finishing my first novel and got a job as a dog walker to allow myself more time to write and revise.

Every day, between eleven and two, I would walk all over the city with my furry charges, picking up dog poop, greeting the regulars at the dog park, breaking up scuffles, and giving out treats. My husband had a prestigious job with the Clinton administration and I secretly loved going to his fancy work events and to cocktail parties and seeing people’s faces when they asked what I did and I told them I was a dog walker. The job offered me time to plot and think about my writing while I wandered all over the city and it gave me lots of ideas for future novels. Every day, I got to go into my clients’ houses when they weren’t home. I saw their photographs and personal belongings. I could tell when a spouse had moved out, or when someone was sick. Those glimpses of strangers’ houses gave me endless fodder for novel writing. 

For the last twenty years, since my first book was published, I have described my profession as “writer” or “novelist” wherever it needed to be described, but like most fiction writers I have had to do other things to make money as well: teaching, journalism, P.R. writing, farming, and the most wonderful and demanding — and unpaid and undervalued — work of parenting.

What is the strangest work you’ve ever done? What’s the best job you ever had? 


Sarah Stewart Taylor is the author of the Sweeney St. George series and the Maggie D'arcy series. The first Maggie D'arcy mystery, The Mountains Wild, was on numerous Best of the Year lists and was a Library Journal Pick of the Month. The fourth Maggie D'arcy mystery, A Stolen Child, is out now.

Sarah grew up on Long Island, and was educated at Middlebury College in Vermont and Trinity College, Dublin, where she studied Irish Literature. She has worked as a journalist and writing teacher and now lives with her family on a farm in Vermont where they raise sheep and grow blueberries. Sarah spends as much time in Ireland as she can. 

DEBS: Dog walkers are like real estate agents and house cleaners, they get to see everything--so perfect for the perpetually nosy writer!

I highly recommend following Sarah on Instagram to see fun updates on her farming life. The lambs!

REDs and readers, share your strangest job!

Monday, June 26, 2023

Saying Farewell to Our TV Fictional Friends--and Neighborhoods

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I know that not all of you were TED LASSO fans, but for those of us who chanted "football is life," the end of season 3 and the series finale brought on what I can only describe as a state of mourning. We were so invested in these characters, their stories, and the sense of community the show created that the end of it all felt like losing dear friends. It seems to me that there should be a special name to describe that little grief at the end of a very good book or a much-loved book or TV series. 

(For Ted Lasso fans, you can at least make a pilgrimage to Richmond, which I am hoping to do myself this week! This restaurant in Notting Hill stood in for A Taste of Athens--which was supposedly in Tooting--in TED LASSO!)

This started me thinking about television series over the years that have left a little hole in my heart when they finished. A few off the top of my head: ER, the X-Files, Morse… And I have a confession about that last one–I could never bring myself to watch the very last episode, because I couldn't bear to see Morse die. My husband is always saying, "It's just stories." Well, yes. But stories to me are never JUST anything. They have power, they connect us and enrich us and make life better in so many ways. So here's raising a glass to TED LASSO and all the funny, kind, creative, and talented people who brought it to us.

Dear REDS, are there shows you've grieved for when they ended? 

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I wish I could watch The Wire again for the first time. And Breaking Bad. And Better Call Saul. And The Good Wife, when it first started. And oh, I agree, Debs,  I could not in a million years watch the last Morse. 

What else have I loved and thought about and miss? I still think about Line of Duty–but that's coming back, isn’t it? And I thought the last episode of Succession was terrific. It’s great–and rare–when the endings work.

And yes, they are stories. And that’s why they are powerful.

I’m sure Julia will come up with a name for that feeling, right? Maybe it’s  just:  Audio Lang Syne. 

JENN McKINLAY: Ted Lasso, for sure. I even have a T-shirt for the Richmond Greyhounds. I’ve never bought a shirt for a TV show in my life. I’m sooooo going to miss it.

Other shows I’ve mourned are The Sopranos, ER, Cheers, Fraser, and Friends. When they’re long running series, it’s like having your favorite neighbor move away. The ‘hood just won’t be the same. *Sob*

LUCY BURDETTE: I will have to give Ted Lasso another try. I truly mourned the end of FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS. We adored those characters, and watched all the seasons over again during the pandemic. And we bought a Tim Riggins t-shirt for my sister, who loved that character as much as we did.  Since Connie Britton played the coach’s wife so well, we moved on to NASHVILLE, which I also loved. Until they killed off someone unforgivable. That was it for me. A few others: LAST TANGO IN HALIFAX, MARE OF EASTOWN, BORGEN. I did also watch and love ER, the Sopranos and Friends! Oh one more, and that is SHETLAND, though I definitely preferred the actual books by Ann Cleeves to the TV series.

HALLIE EPHRON: Confession: I’ve never watched Better Call Saul or Ted Lasso. Something that I clearly need to do. Or Friday Night Lights, and I do trust Lucy’s taste.

What I miss? The good seasons of The Marvelous Mrs. Mazel. The latest one was (for me) a bust. Lotta schtick and not enough substance. Though the actors are great. And I miss the earlier seasons of The Great British Baking Show. The new hosts? Feh. I didn’t realize how much that mattered. 

Thank goodness there’s still Antiques Roadshow. 

My to-do list includes canceling Amazon and Netflix and adding HBO Max and one something-else. British? Hulu? Not sure what. And I just watched the first episode of Ridley on public TV. Good enough to have me looking up when the next episode airs.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I love Ted Lasso and I think the ending was the perfect send off. I will SO miss seeing Hannah Waddingham, who is both an amazing actress and a terrific visual role model - can anyone say #armgoals? I’m racking my brains to come up with other popular series I actually watched to the very end, though. It seems as if they’re either getting chopped off by Netflix after two seasons to save money, or they go on and on and ON until I get bored. 

I’ve been following works by Korean playwright Kim Eun-hee, whose show Kingdom (medieval zombies and court power struggles) I adored. The second was Jirisan, a contemporary set at Korea’s largest national park. Both of them were around 16 episodes and I would have loved to see so much more. Y’all, you need to start watching Korean TV!

DEBS: Aw, Jenn, I want a Richmond Greyhounds t-shirt, too!

READERS, how about you? What TV friends have you hated to lose?