Books I’ve Read Recently

Happy January! Unlike several of my Maine Crime Writers colleagues who’ve escaped to other climes, I’m still in Maine. Yes, it’s cold, on many days. Yes, there’s been snow on the ground for a month now — although very little, compared to other years. And, yes, I’ve just sent the sixth in the Mainely Needlepoint series (Thread the Halls) to my editor.

Maine Januarys are not for porch sitting or gardening or eating lobster on decks overlooking harbors. Maine Januarys, for me, are time to clean out files (and my house,) take a first stab at taxes, update my website, and start on my next book.

And — oh, yes! Read books, not for research or obligation, but for pleasure.

I’ve been saving some up for just that purpose. So — here goes. Here are a few of the books I’ve read in the past couple of weeks. Maybe one or more will go on your TBR (to-be-read) pile.

Kate Flora is a fellow Maine Crime Writer, and I’ll admit I’m her fan as well as her friend. LED ASTRAY, the latest in her Joe Burgess series, is her best yet, and right in tune with today’s headlines. Joe has settled into a long-term relationship, complete with children, but he’s still, above all, a cop. When he responds to a call from an abandoned warehouse and finds three of his fellow officers shot, one dead, everything in his life recedes except finding the person who is targeting police. Flora does a masterly job of taking us inside Joe’s head, and life as he focuses on possibilities and investigates a scene with few clues, knowing that he, too, could be a target.

Jonathan Harr’s THE LOST PAINTING is the slightly fictionalized account of two young Italian art history students and the art historians and restorers they connect with in trying to establish the history of — and find — a lost masterpiece by Caravaggio. Harr doesn’t just recount the steps they took … he takes us along to visit dusty archives and two hundred year old auction gallery records, introducing the reader to fascinating people in Italy, England, Scotland and Ireland along the way. For anyone who loves research, history, art, or just a darn good story … this is it.

WRITTEN OFF  by E.J. Copperman  (AKA Jeff Cohen) is the first in a new mystery series, whose premise is mysterious to begin with. What if a man claiming to have the same name … and lifestyle … and speech patterns … and a very similar job … to an author’s sleuth, arrives at her doorstep explaining that three mystery authors have been killed and he needs her insights and help to solve the crime … before she becomes the fourth victim? Is he crazy? Is she? Who is this man? And … why are mystery authors being targeted? Copperman/Curtis always writes with wry humor, and WRITTEN OFF is light, fun … and yet … mysterious.

Emily Carpenter’s BURYING THE HONEYSUCKLE GIRLS is poignant and gripping. What if you found out your mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother all died when they were thirty, and your thirtieth birthday is just around the corner. Althea Bell, just out of rehab, is told she doesn’t have much time. To find out why, and whether she can break the pattern, she must investigate her own family history, and, along the way, discover the secrets it hides. With a trace of Gothic tradition, BURYING THE HONEYSUCKLE GIRLS is hard to put down.

Clearly I’m fascinated by hidden family secrets from the past, because they’re also the center of B.A. Shapiro’s THE MURALIST. A woman artist working in the WPA (Works Progress Administration) in 1940 and lauded by major abstract expressionists of her time, disappears. Seventy years later her great-niece determines to find out what happened to her and her paintings, and finds unexpected connections to other artists, Hitler’s persecution of Jews in during World War II, and other members of her family. A quest that leads her through the art world of today .. and yesterday.

And one more with family history presenting both the mystery … and its solution … is Barbara Ross’ ICED UNDER.  (Yes, another friend and fellow Maine Crime Writer.) A mysterious package containing an extremely valuable piece of jewelry arrives in Maine on a snowy winter day, with no return address. Who sent it? Why? And who is the real owner?  Barbara Ross keeps us fascinated until the end, as secrets are gradually revealed.

I’ve read more … and will write about some of those in the future. But, for now … I’m going to find a cozy corner and another good book to take me away from issues of today into  secrets of the past … and into the minds of others braver than I am.

What books are you reading this winter?

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Jessie: In New England, wrapped in layers and trying to break a fever.

THE WINNER OF THE GIVEAWAY IS JEAN RIDEOUT! Jean, please email me at jessica at with your mailing address and I will send out a copy of Whispers Beyond the Veil straight away!

Although it happens rarely, I have been struck down with something nasty. I ache, my coughs could shatter glass and my stomach has made a nuisance of itself for hours.

So, as a distraction I’ve turned my thoughts to something that makes me smile, the cover for my second Change of Fortune Mystery, Whispers of Warning. Looking at it makes me feel like summer may once again return even though snow is pelting my windows.  

As a way to celebrate it, I am pleased to offer a copy of the first in the series, Whispers Beyond the Veil to one commenter who sends along a cold, flu or general malaise remedy or some other comment to take my mind off my woes.

Good luck and good health!


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Why’d They Have to Go and CHANGE Things?

What do the following characters have in common besides the fact that they are all detectives in mystery fiction? Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, Marjorie Allingham’s Albert Campion, Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey, Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael, Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum, Joanne Fluke’s Hannah Swensen, Kate Collins’ Abby Knight, Peter King’s unnamed Gourmet Detective, Charlaine Harris’s Aurora Teagarden, Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher, and Maureen Jennings’ William Murdock.

Answer: They’ve all made the transition from page to screen . . . with varying degrees of success.

Of course there are many more examples. In fact, the second book in Kate Carlisle’s Fixer Upper Mysteries debuted just last Sunday night on the Hallmark Movies and Mysteries channel as “Framed for Murder.”

There have been and will continue to be endless discussions among readers about film portrayals of favorite sleuths, especially if the material has been adapted more than once. Personally, I prefer Joan Hickson as Miss Marple and Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes, but tastes differ, as do screenplays. Some stray mighty far from the source material.

To be truthful, all screenplays take liberties. They have to. We’re talking apples and oranges here. Length alone dictates change. There is no way every detail included in a three hundred page book can be shown in a ninety minute movie. Even if the screen version becomes a TV series, there are limitations. An hour an episode translates into only about forty-five minutes of story.

Still, those who have read the books often find themselves wondering “Why did they have to go and change things?” I enjoy the Miss Fisher Mysteries, a series from Australian television, but I can’t figure out why they completely revamped the story line concerning Phryne Fisher’s sister. I like the version in the books better. On the other hand, the Canadian production variously called Murdock Mysteries and The Artful Detective, takes Maureen Jennings’s rather dark Victorian- era Toronto detective and adds humor. I liked the novels but I love the TV series.

I mentioned that the Fixer Upper mysteries started with a made-for-television movie based on the second book in the series. Hallmark did the same thing with Charlaine Harris’s Aurora Teagarden mysteries. The thing is, if you start with book two, followed by a movie based on book one, the original series timeline no longer works. Roe Teagarden’s love life, among other things, is now very different from the way it is in the books. Better? I’m not certain. You’ll have to read the novels and watch the movies and decide for yourself.

In varying degrees, movies and television series made from mystery novels all end up changing them. They sometime eliminate characters. Sometimes the screenplay even changes the ending. You’d think that if a network liked a series of books well enough to buy the rights to it, they’d keep more of the original story, but it rarely seems to work that way.

Having said all this, I have two confessions to make. One is that I’m inconsistent in my reactions to movies and TV series made from books. It depends on what the changes are and how much I liked the way things happened in the original version. The other confession is that I enjoy Hallmark movies. Yes, they are sometimes so sweet they make your teeth ache, but I prefer that to dialogue full of f-bombs and plots overburdened with gratuitous sex and/or violence.

When all is said and done, though, there is one really good thing that comes about every time a mystery novel is made into a movie or TV series. People go out and buy the book. If they like it, they read more of that author’s books. They may even end up getting hooked on the whole genre, and that benefits all of us who write mysteries.



Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett is the author of over fifty books written under several names. She won the Agatha Award for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category for “The Blessing Witch.” Currently she writes the contemporary Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries (Kilt at the Highland Games) as Kaitlyn and the historical Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries (Murder in a Cornish Alehouse ~ UK in December 2016; US in April 2017) as Kathy. The latter series is a spin-off from her earlier “Face Down” series and is set in Elizabethan England. Her websites are and



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Susan Vaughan here on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Given the continuing racial and ethnic divides in the United States, one wonders what the Reverend Dr. King would think of the progress or lack thereof of civil rights. The holiday celebrates the life and legacy of this man who brought hope and change to America. To quote the King Center, “We commemorate as well the timeless values he taught us through his example—the values of courage, truth, justice, compassion, dignity, humility and service that so radiantly defined Dr. King’s character and empowered his leadership.
On this holiday we commemorate the universal, unconditional love, forgiveness and nonviolence that empowered his revolutionary spirit.” King’s nonviolent campaigns and eloquent and impassioned speeches led to changes in many laws and the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. On April 4th, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and killed in Memphis, Tennessee, but his achievements changed the nation.

He is the leader most often mentioned in connection with the advancement of civil rights, but he was one of many. Who were these “others” and “activists?” Most people know about Rosa Parks, who, on a day in 1955, refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus to a white rider, thereby defying a southern custom that required blacks to give seats toward the front of buses to whites. When she was jailed, a black community boycott of the city’s buses began and lasted a year.

But who knows the names of the four African American college freshmen who, in 1960, sat down at a segregated lunch counter at Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina, and politely asked for service, but were refused.

When asked to leave, they remained seated. Think about this in the context of the segregated South in the 1960’s. These were college freshmen, mere boys, who could’ve been beaten or shot or lynched. How brave they were!

The young men that first day were Ezell A. Blair, Jr, (now Jibreel Khazan), Franklin E. McCain, Joseph A. McNeil, and David L. Richmond. Blair/Khazan went on to graduate while involved in organizing the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He later moved to Massachusetts, where today he works with developmentally disabled people. Franklin McCain graduated and worked as a chemist and continued to be an oral historian of the civil rights movement. He died in Greensboro in 2014. Joseph McNeil earned his degree in engineering physics and joined the U.S. Air Force. While serving, he continued to volunteer in organizations that promoted civil rights. After active duty, he retired from the Air Force Reserves with the rank of Major General. David L. Richmond left college without finishing a degree. He worked as a counselor-coordinator for the CETA program in Greensboro and drifted from job to job. He died in 1990.

On days following the Greensboro Four’s lunch counter sit-in, other students joined, and by week’s end, 3000 students were picketing in downtown Greensboro. This passive resistance and peaceful protest began a wave of student sit-ins designed to end segregation at southern lunch counters. These protests spread rapidly throughout the South and led to the founding of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). This student-led group was more aggressive in its use of nonviolent direct action tactics than King’s SCLC.

A more prominent civil rights leader then was John Lewis, now Congressman Lewis. He was born in Alabama in 1940 and grew up in an era of segregation. Inspired by Martin Luther King Jr., he participated in the Freedom Rides of 1961 and helped plan the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. It was at this event where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. Although the Civil Rights Act became law in 1964, its passage law did not automatically make it easy for African Americans to vote in the South. To bring attention to this struggle, in 1965, led by Dr. King, Lewis and others organized marches from Selma fifty-five miles to Alabama’s state capital, crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge, named for a Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan. Yes, you read that correctly. I believe that’s Lewis on the left in the white vestment. King and his wife are center right.

On Sunday, March 7, after crossing the bridge, the marchers were attacked by state troopers. Lewis was severely beaten severely, suffering a fractured skull. The violent attacks were filmed and broadcast, and the powerful images of what came to be known as “Bloody Sunday” sped up the passage of 1965’s Voting Rights Act.

John Lewis was elected to Congress in 1986 and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011. March, his memoir of the civil rights movement (with Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell), written as a trilogy of graphic novels, won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature and the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award.

I’m a white girl who at the time was aware of the civil rights movement but was focused on my studies. I’m ashamed to admit that I did little in support. The efforts and sacrifices of many, many anonymous and famous people led to improvements in civil rights, and many of those same people continue the fight. But if you look around you or read online or print articles, you know we still have a long way to go. Until we as a nation and as a people confront the shameful legacy of slavery and the centuries of its aftermath, we won’t leave behind the racism and ethnic suspicions that weigh us down. As Dr. King said, “Injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere.”


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Weekend Update: January 14-15, 2017

Next week at Maine Crime Writers, there will be posts by Susan Vaughan (Monday) Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson (Tuesday), Jen Blood (Wednesday), Jessie Crockett (Thursday) and Lea Wait (Friday).

In the news department, here’s what’s happening with some of us who blog regularly at Maine Crime Writers:

From Kathy Lynn Emerson: If any of you are in the UK, or are in the habit of ordering books from the Book Depository or Amazon’s UK branch, the third Mistress Jaffrey Mystery, Murder in a Cornish Alehouse is available now. It is set in England and Ireland in 1584 and both pirates and smugglers are among those suspected of murder. There’s also political skullduggery. Of course there is. It’s the sixteenth century. The US publication date for both the hardcover and the ebook is April 1st. No foolin’.

Bruce Robert Coffin will be appearing at the North Gorham Public Library (2 Standish Neck Road, Gorham, Maine) on Thursday, January 19th, at 7:00 pm. He’ll be reading from and answering questions about his bestselling novel, Among the Shadows.








Maureen Milliken, Bruce Robert Coffin, Jen Blood and Vaughn Hardacker will present a Death & Desserts panel at the Carrabassett Valley Public Library, 4:30-6:30 p.m. today (January 14). Come for the death, stay for the desserts! The authors will sign and sell books as well.

An invitation to readers of this blog: Do you have news relating to Maine, Crime, or Writing? We’d love to hear from you. Just comment below to share.

And a reminder: If your library, school, or organization is looking for a speaker, we are often available to talk about the writing process, research, where we get our ideas, and other mysteries of the business. Contact Kate Flora

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