Guest blog post: Gothic Novels–Gone for Good?



By Laura DiSilverio

DiSilverio1-466x700When I was a teenager, back in the Jurassic period (okay, the late 1970s), Gothic novels were hugely popular. I read them voraciously, entranced by atmospheric castles on the moors (or someplace equally remote), sinister servants, and heroines standing up to brooding heroes (or were they really the villains?). I read Phyllis Whitney, Victoria Holt, Joan Aiken and her sister Jane Aiken Hodge, Daphne duMaurier, Susan Howatch, Dorothy Eden, Philippa Carr, Mary Stewart, and many others. I hope those names ring a bell for some of you. They swept me up and entertained me, gave me something to look forward to after doing my Algebra homework, and comforted me when the objects of my crushes ignored my existence.

I’m not sure what attracted me to that variety of romantic suspense, but I think it had something to do with a young heroine, sometimes protecting a child (if she was a governess or new wife as many of the protagonists were), striking out on her own and emerging triumphant. (The fact that “triumph” in these books meant, at least in part, snaring the moody man of the moment was a non-feminist story chestnut that didn’t bother my teen self as much as it perhaps should have.) By the time I was in my twenties, though, these books had fallen out of popularity, and I was forced to find new reading material.

9780451470850Amy-Faye Johnson and her Readaholics friends are taking part in a Celebration of Gothic Novels in my August release, The Readaholics and the Gothic Gala. In honor of their new adventure and classic gothic novels, I’m giving you a tongue-in-cheek list of the top five reasons Gothic novels went the way of the dodo.

5. No one can afford servants anymore. Butlers and housekeepers are thin on the ground these days. Without a Mrs. Danvers or two to persecute the heroine, or at least un-nerve her, the story doesn’t have the same tension.

4. The gloomy castles/mansions have been spruced up and turned into tourist attractions. With property values and taxes what they are, savvy castle owners have capitalized on their properties by inviting tourists in. Think of “Downton Abbey” (Highclere Castle). It would have made a lovely setting for a gothic novel, but the hordes of visitors asking “Where’s the loo?”really put a crimp in a budding romance.

3. Feminism. Fewer young women these days want to be governesses or private secretaries. They set their sights on jobs with better paychecks, more thrills, and bigger opportunities. They might be up for a one night stand with a dark-browed and inscrutable hero type, but unless he can mentor them into a CEO-ship or similar job, they’re unlikely to sign on for the long term.

2. Cell phones. Heroines trapped in burning houses by first wives we thought were dead, or pushed into oubliettes by mad uncles escaped from attics, can just dial 9-1-1. No heroics necessary.

1. The Internet. Today’s savvy heroine can Google her new employer before accepting that job on the isolated estate or tropical island and find out that his first four wives died under suspicious circumstances, get a look at just how remote the old manor house is via Google Earth, and see a floor plan including that secret room in the attic with a quick trip to Zillow.

Luckily, even if there aren’t many new gothic novels being published these days, we still have the classics to revisit.

Check out Laura’s new book: THE READAHOLICS AND THE GOTHIC GALA, A Book Club Mystery by Laura DiSilverio, August 2, 2016, paperback, Obsidian.

Guest Blog Post: Evolution of My Writing Habits by Laurie Cass


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Back when I started writing my very first manuscript, almost—short pause while I haul out my fingers and toes—18 years ago, my process was very different than it is today.

No, hang on. Let me qualify that. In some ways it’s very similar, because the first thing I did that made me feel like a bona fide writer was to write every day. I bought a package of spiral bound memo pads, the ones that are about 3 inches by 5 inches, numbered the lower right corner of each page with the day of the month, and made sure I filled that page every night before I went to bed.

Yeah, I know, that’s not much writing, and you’re right, it isn’t. But it got me into the habit of writing. And it turned out that what I wrote wasn’t as important as the act of writing every day. The contents of the memo pad have varied from scraps of dialogue to names that might turn into character names to a plot idea to things I don’t want to forget to do. Though most of it isn’t the least bit important, carrying that memo pad around, as silly as it sounds, was integral to my development as a writer.

9780451476555At some point, I expanded from the memo pad habit to writing three pages a day in a 8.5” x 11” spiral notebook. (This was based on Julia Cameron’s Three Morning Pages; if you want to learn more, just Google it.) I spent almost a year scrawling down whatever came into my pointed little head before I felt confident enough to try my hand at writing a novel, and I’m as certain as I can be that it’s those hundreds of pages that developed my writing style.

I eventually summoned the courage to try writing a book, keeping at it three pages a day until the manuscript was completed. The finished product was crap, but at least it was done, and for about five minutes that was good enough. Then I turned the page and started my next manuscript. Five and a third manuscripts later, I was the proud signatory to a book contract and I now have ten published books under my belt with more to come.

So how is my process today both the same and different from what it was all those years ago? I’m still writing a set amount per day, only now my daily quota is a word count in the word processor instead of a number of lined pages. And instead of free-form stream of consciousness thoughts I’m (mostly) following an outline.

The same, yet different. Different, yet the same. Either way, I’m writing, and either way, I’m still enjoying myself immensely.

Note:  For those of you who are wondering, to this day I carry both a memo pad and a notebook in my briefcase. The memo pad is used daily. I don’t write in the notebook every day, but it’s always there for me, and I find an odd comfort in knowing that it’s close to hand.

About the Author:

Laurie Cass grew up in Michigan and graduated from Eastern Michigan University in the 80’s with a (mostly unused) Bachelor of Science degree in geology. She and her husband live on a lake in northwest lower Michigan. When Laurie isn’t writing, she’s working at her day job, reading, yanking weeds out of her garden, or doing some type of skiing.

Her latest book is Cat With a Clue, A Bookmobile Cat Mystery, Aug. 2, 2016, paperback, $7.99, Obsidian.

Guest Post: Charlie’s Story by Diane Vallere




9780425270592When I wrote the first book in the Material Witness Mystery Series a few years ago, I had the luxury of establishing some murky backgrounds for the series characters—dropping in just enough to let you know who they were, but leaving myself some room to dig in to their pasts in the next two books. So when it came time to write book 3, SILK STALKINGS, I had to ask myself: what questions do I need to answer in order to give closure to the three books as a series? There was the question of what would happen between Vaughn and Poly (can they get past their differences?), and the question of whether or not Poly’s fabric store would succeed (there’s that loan that she has to pay back—yikes!). There were questions about Duke (what was the accident that left him paralyzed?) and the Lopez family (is their cat still blue?) But the overwhelming question had to do with the background of Charlie Brooks, auto mechanic, Van Halen fan, and new friend of Poly, so I knew book three would delve into that.

Charlie has been one of my favorite characters to write. She’s a tough girl to the point that most people leave her alone, but when Poly comes to San Ladrón and experiences a less-than-welcoming reception, Charlie reaches out to help her. She’s tough because she’s had to be tough, bouncing around foster homes, ultimately learning the auto trade from someone who was close enough in age to her to be more like a big brother than a father figure. She can take care of herself (or so she says), but at her core she’s still vulnerable. In a way, just living in San Ladrón is torture because her birth parents live there too—although now divorced and adversarial, they are hardly the picture of a warm, loving couple. Her father is one of the most powerful people in town and her mother runs a historical landmark. And while Charlie knows who they are, she’s kept her own identity a secret from them both.

Until now, when her past, her present, and her future collide and the decisions she makes about how to live her own life put other people’s lives at risk. It’s a tough position for a loner, and it’ll forever change the way she lives her life.

About the Author:

231814After two decades working for a top luxury retailer, Diane Vallere traded fashion accessories for accessories to murder. SILK STALKINGS, #3 in her national bestselling and Lefty-Award Nominated Material Witness Mystery Series, is out August 2016. Diane is the vice president/president elect of Sisters in Crime. She also writes the Madison Night, Costume Shop, and Style & Error Mysteries. She started her own detective agency at age ten and has maintained a passion for shoes, clues, and clothes ever since.


–Photo by Nicole Ortega



Book Review: The Wrong Girl by Hank Phillippi Ryan



wrong-girl-240hThe Wrong Girl

By Hank Phillippi Ryan

Series: Jane Ryland


Hardcover, $24.99

July 29, 2014

366 pages

Boston newspaper reporter Jane Ryland believes in digging for the truth even if it means putting her life on the line. So when her friend, Tucker Cameron, asks her for help in learning who her true birth mother is, Jane promises to assist her. Tucker informed her that ten years ago she contacted Brannigan Family and Children’s Services to learn about her birth mother. She was told it was a closed adoption and that her records were sealed until her birth mother gave approval for them to be opened.

About the same time Tucker and Jane are going to meet who the agency says is Tucker’s mom, there’s a murder. A 30-year-old woman died from blunt trauma. The police not only find her body, but two very young children alive and well. They may have witnessed the murder, but are clearly too young to provide details. Alex, Jane’s boss at the Register Newspaper, assigns her the “Murder in Rosedale” story. Assigned to the investigation are Katharine Bradley McMahon, the new medical examiner, Detective Jake Brogan and his partner, Detective Paul DeLuca. Upon viewing the crime scene, while Jake was taking notes on the items observed, he sees an empty cradle. There appeared to be three children, but only two were at the scene. Where was the baby? The question is, is this a domestic or is it something entirely different that is off the police department’s radar?  The answers might be known by the child therapist, Bethany Sibbach, assigned to care for little Phillip and Phoebe.

Equally curious about learning about Tucker is Ella Gavin, from the Brannigan Agency.  Tucker had called her and shared her impression that she was the wrong child. She copied Tucker’s records, but believed there was more information stored away at Lillian Finch’s home.  Lillian was a long-time employee at the Brannigan. Unfortunately, her co-workers learn that she’s now the late Lillian Finch because she was found dead in her home.

While Ella continues to investigate Tucker’s case without the agency owner knowing what she’s truly up to, there are other actions occurring. For one, Jake knows that Phillip might be able to acknowledge that a child was present as Jake believes there was. There’s also the illegal removal of evidence at the scene of the crime by the Afterwards cleaning service.  Jane’s very life is at risk simply because she’s pursuing the case as a journalist and friend.

I found “The Wrong Girl” difficult to put down. I loved the fast pacing, the continuous changing of the character’s points of view. I had to know if there truly was a missing baby and, of course, I wanted Tucker to know the true details of her birth mother’s identity. Jane and Jake’s constant need to keep their growing love for each other a secret builds the tension of the story even more. What a shame that their relationship would be considered a conflict of interest.

For me the quality of a book is determined by the skill of the storyteller. Does the author keep my interest from the first paragraph or do I have to read several chapters before I get into it?” “Listen, Jane, I don’t think she’s my mother,” what Tuck tells Jane, that got my attention right away. That’s the first line in the book. Hank doesn’t weigh down a story with foreshadowing and heavy passages of background, she just gets to the point. More than anything, evidence plays a major role in determining the truth of so many children’s lives. What the story was actually about is a warning that this could happen. I would think that a DNA test today could help confirm the truth, but years ago there was no such thing. Not only did I enjoy reading her novels, “The Other Woman” and “The Wrong Girl,” I already requested “What You See” and received it. I’ll be reading it soon. “Truth Be Told” is the only book in series that I haven’t read.

Four and a half birth records out of five

Denise Fleischer

August 21, 2016

The Music of Merry Muffin Mysteries




A Guest Blog Post By Victoria Hamilton


Amanda Cooper-AuthorPhoto (THE GRIM STEEPER)I love music, from the sounds of Motown and funk of the seventies, eighties girl groups like The GoGos and Bangles, through country and bluegrass to modern music like Bruno Mars, Rumer and light jazz artists like Stacey Kent and Karen Souza. I love classical music, too… Rachmaninoff, Mendelssohn, Copland and lots of others.

But I would never have imagined getting hooked on…opera.


Well, yeah, opera. I started researching some opera just to reference pieces for Pish Lincoln to listen to for my Merry Muffin Mysteries. And I listened on YouTube, to some of the greats. And a funny thing happened; I was listening and watching Pavarotti signing Nessun Dorma, and realized… tears were streaming down my face. It was like my very own Pretty Woman moment (except I do NOT look like Julia Roberts); remember when Julia’s character is watching the opera with tears in her eyes?

I got it… I finally got it. Opera done right is an extremely emotional experience, a revelation, really. I went from doing research to get Pish’s picks correct, to becoming more interested, and watching opera videos for entertainment. But it is important to watch quality singers. I’ve found that opera done badly is worse than any other kind of performance done badly. It could put you off opera for life, and I can believe that is why so many folks think of opera as singers screeching high notes.

Only one thing remains for my complete conversion; maybe someday I’ll get to see a live performance by a quality singer. Let’s just say… it’s on my bucket list.

But in the meantime the internet is a fabulous place to find audio and videos of the greats. I recommend – of course – Pavarotti singing Nessun Dorma, but also… Diana Damrau singing the Queen of the Night aria from The Magic Flute, Jonas Kaufmann singing just about anything, and the luminous late Maria Callas singing… anything she darn well pleased.

It may seem like it’s highbrow or artsy, but opera started as the music of the masses, and in my case, it still is.

About Much Ado About Muffin

9780425282588In this fresh mystery from the national bestselling author of Death of an English Muffin, baker Merry Wynter comes to the aid of an innocent woman accused of murder.

 When muffin baker Merry Wynter sees an innocent woman accused of murder, it’s dough or die…

Opera singer Roma Toscano may have a crippling case of stage fright, but she certainly is stirring up drama in Autumn Vale, New York, as she prepares for an upcoming performance at Merry’s Wynter Castle. With her flamboyant style and flirtatious personality, Roma attracts fans as well as critics, including the town’s postmistress—and Merry’s bitter foe—Minnie Urquhart.

But Roma and Minnie’s heated rivalry goes cold after Merry discovers Minnie dead at the post office. While every clue seems to be another ingredient in the investigation of Roma, Merry thinks the case is half-baked, and she’s eager to get her mitts on the real killer…


Victoria Hamilton is the national bestselling author of three bestselling series, the Vintage Kitchen Mysteries and Merry Muffin Mysteries as Victoria, and the Teapot Collector Mysteries as Amanda Cooper. She is also the bestselling author of Regency and historical romance as Donna Lea Simpson.

Victoria loves to cook and collects vintage kitchen paraphernalia, teacups and teapots, and almost anything that catches her fancy! She loves to read, especially mystery novels, and enjoys good tea and cheap wine, the company of friends, and has a newfound appreciation for opera. She enjoys crocheting and beading, but a good book can tempt her away from almost anything… except writing!


Merry Muffin Mysteries Facebook Page:



Title: Much Ado About Muffin

Author: Victoria Hamilton

Series: Merry Muffin Mysteries

Release Date: August 2nd, 2016






Guest blog post: It’s About Time by Julianne Holmes, author of Clock and Dagger



9780425275535Last spring I was on a panel at Malice Domestic, and Margaret Maron was moderating. She was asking questions about Just Killing Time, the first book in this series. She wondered if anyone in my family was a clock maker, since my protagonist Ruth Clagan had such a palatable love for clocks.

No one in my family is a clock maker. But research for this series has made me passionate about them, and I’m happy if that spills onto the page. What has my research taught me?

Being a clockmaker takes years of learning and apprenticeship. Like writing (or acting, or playing a musician), talent is important. But as important, maybe more, is spending time learning your craft. I admire people who dedicate themselves to learning as part of how they make their living. Especially when actually making a living isn’t a given.

Clocks are beautiful on the outside. If you go to the American Clock and Watch Museum in Bristol, Connecticut, you will see dozens and dozens of clocks and watches. Some clocks are “just” clocks, but most are also pieces of art unto themselves. Cabinetry, painted faces, choice of clock hands, size, style. Details matter on clocks, and they speak volumes about the owners of the timepieces.

Keeping time is an amazing thing. Think about it—a hundred years ago, clocks were the only way people could tell time. Now, we are all synched to the second with our cell phones, but for a long time there was an “ish” factor about clocks. (“What time is it?” “Twoish.”) Precision wasn’t necessary, but the desire to capture time has been part of us for a long time.

Once the industrial revolution started, two things happened. First, trains started running all over the country. Second, timing of the trains had to be precise. So a standard for railroad watches came into practice, so all conductors would be able to be on the same schedule. I find that amazing—we had to capture time, and made watches that did just that.

As the need to capture time, some of the artistry of timekeeping has been lost. More and more clocks are electric, which puts clockmakers like Ruth Clagan out of business. Except that old timepieces are passed down from generation to generation, and keeping them running isn’t just about keeping time. It is about preserving memories.

I love writing the Clock Shop Mystery series, and learning more about clocks. I used to take them for granted, but no longer. I always stop and look, ask questions, listen to stories. I am passionate about clocks, and glad that spills over onto the page.


I blog with the Wicked Cozy Authors, and a few weeks ago our Wicked Wednesday topic (we do a group post every Wednesday) was about the myths about writing we’ve figured out aren’t true. One of the myths, for me, was the idea that you needed to have a perfectly accurate setting and very detailed character sketches before you could start writing a book.

I have found that layers reveal themselves as  you write. I’m finding this especially true about Orchard, Massachusetts, the setting for this series. Orchard isn’t a real place, but it is located in the Berkshires here in Massachusetts. I know the Berkshires, and found a town to use as a model. I decided every building would be different—different eras, different materials, different styles. They would also be stand alone buildings, running along the main street of Orchard, which is Washington Street. The Cog & Sprocket, the clock shop in the series which doubles as Ruth Clagan’s home, it at the end of the street, and she can see all of downtown Orchard from her front porch.

At the end of Just Killing Time, Ruth has decided to make some renovations to the shop, and to upstairs. It is still small, cozy, and cramped. But now it had more of Ruth’s personality in. it. The literary renovation was fun. I kept a lot about the shop the same, but took down a wall and painted the walls. Upstairs, the apartment was restored, going from a storage space into a home. Walls were painted, furniture was moved in. Thanks to the scratch and dent section of the home improvement store, the kitchen was updated and the bathroom now has a separate shower rather than the too short claw foot tub contraption. The kitchen table Ruth uses was one of two pieces of furniture she got in her divorce from her ex husband.

Now, when I started writing this series, did I have the renovated Cog & Sprocket in my mind, with all the details? No, of course not. That’s the myth that needs to be busted. Those details come clear when you need them to.

I recently wrote a scene where Ruth goes running. She goes further than she ever has, and as I wrote the scene a mist was lifted, and details emerged about this next ring around Orchard. This is the fun part of writing. Making it up as you go along, filling in details as needed. The tricky part is keeping track of those details, so you get them right in the future.

Julianne HolmesI have nieces and nephews, and played Minecraft with them one Christmas. One of my nephews (who was very young at the time) kept destroying the towns the other kids had built, so eventually he had to play on his own. While I did not break down walls and invite sheep to graze in the living room, I elected to play on my own as well. I’m a writer. I build my own towns. I hope you enjoy visiting it in Clock and Dagger.

Julianne Holmes’ Clock Shop Mystery series debuted in October 2015 with Just Killing Time, which was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Clock and Dagger was released August 2, 2016. As J.A. Hennrikus she has had short stories published in Level Best Books anthologies: “Her Wish” in Dead Calm, “Tag, You’re Dead” in Thin Ice, “The Pendulum Swings, Until It Doesn’t” in Blood Moon. She is on Twitter (@JulieHennrikus), Instagram (@jahenn), Pinterest, and Facebook. She blogs with the Wicked Cozy Authors, Live to Write/Write to Live, and is on Killer Characters on the 20th of each month. Julie is a board member of Sisters in Crime  and New England Chapter of Sisters in Crime. She is also a member of Mystery Writers of America  and the Guppies.


Guest Blog Post: Butch Cassidy Shopped Here



9780425280317By Margaret Coel

The sign in the window of a hardware store on the Main Street of Dubois, Wyoming, stopped me in my tracks.  Butch Cassidy? Here? I opened the heavy oak door and stepped into a treasure/junk hunters’ dream. Everything you can imagine had been jammed onto sagging shelves and hung from hooks: shovels, axes, pitchforks, hammers, screws, nails, hinges, brackets, chains, knobs, saddles, tack, chaps, ropes, gun racks, guns, oilcans, generators. Smells of dust and grease and dried leather clogged the air. Yes, I could imagine Butch Cassidy browsing through all this stuff.

Tacked on the wall was a poster of Butch himself with his wide grin and cowboy hat and the story of how he used to shop here in 1890 to buy supplies for his ranch just outside of town.

Just outside of town? That meant Butch Cassidy had ranched next to the Wind River Reservation which lies south of Dubois. I couldn’t believe my luck. I had been writing crime novels set among the Arapahos on the reservation for almost twenty years.  Before that I wrote history, and I will forever remain a history nut.  Even though my novels are contemporary, with two modern-day sleuths,  Vicky Holden, Arapaho attorney, and Father John O’Malley, Jesuit priest, the  stories always dive into the past.  I am fascinated by old crimes, frauds and injustices and by the larger-than-life western characters whose lives intersected with the Arapahos. I stared at Butch’s grinning face knowing I had just found another novel.

Writing about the past requires doing a lot of fun research. I read all the books on Butch Cassidy that I could lay my hands on. I crossed the reservation and spoke with Arapaho friends who were generous enough to pass on family stories about Butch. Everybody knew him, it seemed, and everybody liked him. He never missed a get-together on the rez or the chance to dance with the girls. If you needed help, Butch was your man. Once, when a neighboring rancher took sick, Butch pitched in and kept his ranch going until the neighbor was well.

For Butch, ranching was an attempt to go straight, but it didn’t last long. After a couple years, he was back on the outlaw trail, rustling horses and robbing banks and trains. There simply was more money in it than in ranching. But Butch never forgot his friends on the reservation. He visited many times over the years—sometimes hiding out from posses and sheriffs in hot pursuit. None of his friends ever gave him up. Still generous, Butch would share his loot. He helped ranchers pay off mortgages before the banks could foreclose, and I suspect he enjoyed the irony that the banks were paid off with the money he had liberated.

Before I could start writing the novel, I had to find a way to connect Butch Cassidy to the present. I found the connection in an old rumor that Butch had buried treasure on the rez.  It made sense. After all, he was on the run, and if the posses ever caught up with him—they never did—they would help themselves to the loot. Why wouldn’t he bury it somewhere to be reclaimed later?

I started asking the “what if?” questions I always ask when thinking through a novel.  What if someone today found the treasure Butch left behind? And what if someone else wanted that treasure badly enough to commit murder?

With the connection made, the novel took off. Vicky and Father John swung into action. Other characters stepped onto the stage to play their roles: Cutter, who may or may not be who he seems, Ruth, the air-headed widow desperate for a better life. Butch himself appeared in several chapters, hiding out on a former girlfriend’s ranch in the 1890s and leaving behind a map to buried treasure. Once the pieces were in place, The Man Who Fell From the Sky, like all of my novels, seemed to pretty much write itself. All I had to do was type the words into my computer.

239942About the Author:

Margaret Coel is the New York Times bestselling, award-winning author of The Thunder Keeper, The Spirit Woman, The Lost Bird, The Story Teller, The Dream Stalker, The Ghost Walker, The Eagle Catcher, and several works of nonfiction. She has also authored many articles on the people and places of the American West. Her work has won national and regional awards. Her first John O’Malley mystery, The Eagle Catcher, was a national bestseller, garnering excellent reviews from the Denver Post, Tony Hillerman, Jean Hager, Loren D. Estleman, Stephen White, Earlene Fowler, Ann Ripley and other top writers in the field. A native of Colorado, she resides in Boulder.


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Guest Blog Post: My sleuth, the nurse: a historical perspective



9780451474902By Nancy Herriman

I have a long-standing fascination with characters who work in medical fields and feature them regularly in my books. So when it came time to develop the idea for my new mystery series set in 1860s San Francisco, I gravitated toward my sleuth being a nurse, a woman who would regularly encounter death.

According to the 1867 Directory for San Francisco, there were approximately seventy-five women working in various medical occupations–midwives, nurses, female physicians (a euphemism for abortionists), and a handful of self-styled physicians utilizing spiritual or water cures. Even for those women offering traditional care, the training would have been sparse, the medical professions still ruled by men who resisted the attempts of females to invade their territory. The only information most women gained came from books, or from their mothers or other female relatives who knew how to prepare herbal treatments or homeopathic remedies.

Beginning in the 1840s, religious societies in Europe were the main source of trained nurses. Their training also was rudimentary, with nearly as much or more time spent on receiving religious instruction as on any clinical exposure to patient care. In America, it wasn’t until 1849 that the first woman, Elizabeth Blackwell, received a degree in medicine, and her path to achieve that degree had been difficult and nearly accidental. Even with her success, avenues for women to pursue legitimate training remained elusive.

Furthermore, nursing as an occupation was considered unsuitable for gently-raised women. However, the need for nurses came to the forefront during the Crimean War, when understaffed British field hospitals suffered high mortality rates among the soldiers. However, nursing duties consisted primarily of women providing ‘female companionship.’ Viewed as fragile and possessing an inferior intellect, female nurses were generally restricted to simple chores–preparing and serving meals, bathing feverish foreheads, reading to the patients or writing letters for them. Any tasks resembling what we consider today to be the jobs of nurses were left to male orderlies and doctors. Nonetheless, some women gained a taste of their possible roles in the medical field and hungered for more opportunities.

In 1850, the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania opened. This was the first college in the world with a primary purpose of conferring medical degrees upon women. In 1861, the school’s role expanded to include the training of nurses. It is at this school that my fictional sleuth, Celia Davies, receives her education.

Celia will put that education to use when she opens a clinic in San Francisco treating women of limited means. The world she serves is often struck by violence, and Celia is too committed to her patients to leave all the detective work to the police. Her training will prove a valuable asset to her newfound role of sleuth.

About the book:

No Pity for the Dead

A Mystery of Old San Francisco

By Nancy Herriman

NAL Obsidian Mystery

Trade paperback

368 pages/$15.00

On sale: August 2, 2016



In the Land of Milk and Honey : The Story Behind the Book: Raw Milk Politics




A Guest Blog Post By Jane Jensen

“In the Land of Milk and Honey” is the second book in the Elizabeth Harris series, a series of murder mysteries set in Lancaster County, PA and involving the interplay of the Amish with the non-Amish Lancaster police. I’m thrilled to have it published under Berkeley Prime Crime.

9780425282908BOOK BLURB:

With its peaceful, hardworking Amish population, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, is a rural paradise. But former NYPD homicide detective Elizabeth Harris knows that evil lurks there—it’s just easier to hide… 

By solving the murders of two local girls, Elizabeth has gained some trust in the Amish community. So, she’s the first person its members turn to when a fast and fatal illness takes hold, though many believe that the sickness stems from a hexerei—a curse placed by a practitioner of old-world folk magic. Elizabeth doesn’t believe in curses, and when an entire Amish family is found dead, she begins to suspect something far more sinister…

As the CDC is called in to investigate, customers of a Philadelphia farmers market selling Amish raw milk start dying. Amid rapidly escalating panic, Elizabeth must peel away layers of superstition and fear to save the livelihood—and lives—of an entire community. Because what has happened isn’t an accident of nature or an act of God, it’s the handiwork of someone who has only just begun to kill…

The story behind the book – RAW MILK POLITICS

The first book in the Elizabeth Harris mysteries, “Kingdom Come”, has a small and intimate mystery. It’s claustrophobic in feel and involves the death of two young women, one Amish and one English, who are best friends. But with the second book in the series, “In the Land of Milk and Honey”, death threatens the entire community. The culprit is raw milk, which is, as Ezra says, more common than water on Amish farms. When entire Amish families come down with horrible flu-like symptoms and begin to die, the CDC comes in and traces the source of the food poisoning to raw milk from the family cows. But Detective Harris isn’t convinced the poisoning is from natural causes. Is there something more insidious at work here?

I was inspired to write this story by my own experiences with the raw milk movement. When my husband and I moved to Lancaster County six years ago, I was eager to do some homesteading on our twenty-acre farm. I’d been inspired by a number of homesteading books, especially Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” (link: ). The idea was to become more self-sufficient, grow or raise some of your own food, and reestablish a bond with the land, the natural cycle of life, and with farm animals.

InTheLandOfMilkAndHoney-RawMilk-Jensen (4) sm

Above: Our cows Tinkerbell and Trueheart.

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Above: The author in her garden.

Shortly after we bought our farm, we got two cows. One of them, Trueheart, was already pregnant when we got her. So after the calf was born, I set about learning how to milk a cow. I hadn’t been raised on a farm (my father was a minister), so this was definitely a new experience for me. But as an animal lover, I enjoyed getting to know the cows and being close to them.

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Above: The author milking Trueheart

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Above: Trueheart and her calf, Bessie, right after the birth

Besides the homesteading, I was also deeply into the ‘real foods’ or ‘natural foods’ movement, which advocates eating foods as close to their natural state as possible—unrefined and unprocessed.  Part of this movement is the belief that it’s best to consume milk in its raw state, particularly when you can be sure the source is healthy and disease-free (which, having our own cows, we could do). So for several years I milked our cow and we drank the raw milk and we gave away the excess we couldn’t consume to friends.

As part of this milking experiment, I kept the calf with True during the day in the pasture and only separated the calf at night, so that I could milk True in the morning. But even milking just once a day, the amount of work and the volume produced was more than I felt was worth it for just my husband and myself. I eventually decided to stop milking our cow and let Bessie, the calf, stay with her mother all the time. As of this writing, five years later, we still have both mother and daughter and Bessie still nurses! She is indeed a very large and healthy Jersey heifer now. We have never bred either of them again and they are basically family pets.

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Above: The author’s husband with True and Bessie in the pasture.

After I decided to stop milking True, we began to purchase raw milk from our Amish neighbors – it so much easier!  My descriptions in the book about the on-farm milk stores come from our own experiences here in Lancaster County.

In those years in which we were drinkers of raw milk, I heard many arguments on both sides of the question. Did you know that selling raw milk is only legal in a few states?  (Pennsylvania is one of them.) Those who disapprove of raw milk believe that pasteurization is the only way to safely consume milk products due to the possible presence of harmful bacteria in the raw product.  On the other side, raw milk advocates claim that milk should be consumed as nature intended with all the ‘probiotics’ and living cultures still intact and not killed off by the heat of pasteurization. They claim that healthy cows in a clean environment won’t have bad bacteria in their milk and/or that the ‘good bacteria’ in milk will kill off any ‘bad bacteria’ that might be in it. This appears to be borne out in testing. Most states that allow raw milk sales do regular government inspection and testing of raw milk and do not find the presence of harmful pathogens.

But whatever the law says or doesn’t say on the matter, the fact is, most farming families drink a lot of milk and they drink it raw. My father, who grew up in the Great Depression, says his large family of a dozen siblings got a great deal of their daily calories from the raw milk from the family cow. Without this food they might have starved. And that’s the way it was for generations of farmers.

Being a mystery and thriller writer, what I saw underneath these political arguments, and underneath the seemingly bucolic trip to the local farm to pick up milk, was the possibility for something very sinister.  I love sinister! J What if this gentle family member—the cow, and the beloved ubiquitous beverage of farmers and their children—milk, were to change from life-giving to poison overnight? And what if that were to crop up in random places throughout a community? How would you know who and what to trust then?

“In the Land of Milk and Honey” doesn’t attempt to answer the question of whether or not raw milk is good or bad. For Detective Elizabeth Harris, it’s all about the case, about solving the mystery and stopping the deaths. She’s frankly astonished at how passionately people on both sides of the question react in the story.

So why did I set a story around raw milk? I wanted to represent this culture I’d been a part of, the ‘real foods’ movement, in order to document and share my experiences and hopefully draw characters that are real, honest, and interesting. And, of course, I hope the setting and topic makes for a cracker of a mystery!

Ironically perhaps, my husband and I are now completely vegan. We no longer drink milk, raw or otherwise.  I want to say it was part of our evolution with food—from seeking it in its most natural state and getting our hands dirty with gardening and raising farm animals, to realizing that we no longer wanted to be a part of causing any farm animals to suffer in any way.  But I’ve been on all sides of the issues now, and I hope I can understand them. I tried to portray all the various characters in “In the Land of Milk and Honey” with respect and honesty.

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Above: The newest addition to our farm family is this little pig, who wandered on to our land from God-knows-where and decided to stay.

I hope you enjoy “Kingdom Come” and “In the Land of Milk and Honey”. Please let me know by reviewing on Amazon or Goodreads or dropping me a note on facebook or in email

All the best from Lancaster County,

Jane Jensen




Guest Blog Post: An Author’s Least-Favorite Question by Monica Ferris




You hear it at every Q and A: Where do you get your ideas? The question makes most authors cringe because the answer is silly and obvious: Everywhere.

But it’s especially hard on mystery authors, because of a guilty secret. A Saint Paul police investigator and I were having a lively conversation about some of his cases when he said, mildly surprised, “You have a criminal mind.”  He expanded on that.  “A professional criminal is always looking for an opportunity to commit a crime. He goes into a grocery story and automatically looks for the location of the office and whether the door stands open and if it does whether the safe is also open. He goes to a bar and notices if there’s a drunk with a fat wallet. He sees a car in a driveway outside an upscale house being loaded with suitcases by a family going away on vacation and stores the address away in his head.  You do the same thing, except you turn all those things into stories rather than actually committing the crime.”

Yes, and so the proceeds of the crime come to my pocketbook legally.

But he’s right. Actually, it’s worse than that. I join an organization and immediately start looking for what I call “pressure points.”  Who is mad at whom?  Who is being careless with the accounts?  I go into an unfamiliar building and start looking for places to store a body (dropped ceilings are nice, but they leak). It’s not deliberate, it’s just that I’ve been writing crime fiction for so long that it’s habitual; like the artist who automatically notices the play of light on surfaces, I can’t help but notice how a simple twist on a behavior would make a clever criminal puzzle.

For example, reading a history of Renaissance Italy, I came across the notorious Borgia family. One of them murdered someone by soaking the victim’s gloves in poison. Really? I thought. What kind of poison can be absorbed through the skin? A number of them, apparently. Are any of them odorless?  Not sticky?  Fast-acting?  So that if you soaked knitting yarn in it and gave the yarn to an ardent knitter . . .  Well, yes, nicotine for example. And so we have Knit Your Own Murder. 

About the Author:

marypurplehat3bMary Monica Pulver (her maiden name) is an incidental Hoosier — Terre Haute, Indiana, had the hospital closest to her parents’ home in Marshall, Illinois. She spent the later part of her childhood and early adult life in Wisconsin, graduating from high school in Milwaukee. She was a journalist in the U.S. Navy for six and a half years (two in London), and later attended the University of Wisconsin at Madison. She is married to a museum curator.

Mary Monica sold her first short story, “Pass the Word,” to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, in 1983, and has since sold more than two dozen short stories to anthologies and magazines, including some in Germany, England, Italy and France. She has appeared in such anthologies as The Mammoth Book of Historical DetectivesThe Mammoth Book of Historical Whodunnits, Shakespearean MysteriesRoyal WhodunnitsUnholy OrdersMurder Most Crafty, and Silence of the Loons.

Her first mystery novel, Murder at the War, appeared from St. Martin’s Press in 1987 and was nominated for an Anthony as Best First Novel. The Unforgiving Minutes and Ashes to Ashes followed in 1988; but Original Sin was sold to Walker, who also presented the fifth book, Show Stopper, in May of 1992. Berkley Diamond brought these mysteries out in paperback. They feature detective Peter Brichter – a cop one reviewer said was “a hardboiled sleuth who’s somehow landed in a cozy mystery”.

Berkley published six medieval mysteries Mary Monica and Gail Frazer wrote in collaboration under the pseudonym Margaret Frazer: The Novice’s TaleThe Servant’s Tale (nominated for an Edgar as Best Original Paperback of 1993), The Outlaw’s TaleThe Bishop’s TaleThe Boy’s Tale, and The Murderer’s Tale. The detective in the mysteries is a nun, Dame Frevisse, a niece by marriage of Thomas Chaucer, the legendary Geoffrey’s son. The stories take place in England in the 1430s. Gail continued the series alone.

In 1998 Mary Monica began writing a new series for Berkley featuring amateur needleworking sleuth Betsy Devonshire. Set in Excelsior, Minnesota, Crewel World came out in March, 1999, and has been followed by eighteen other books, with Knit Your Own Murder coming out in August 2016. The first six were paperback originals, then they became hardcovers followed by paperback editions. These light and traditional novels are written under the pseudonym Monica Ferris, and all have gone to multiple printings – the first one is in its nineteenth printing!

Mary Monica has taught courses on mystery writing to children at North Hennepin Community College, gifted children in District #287, and adults at one-evening seminars at Hennepin and Ramsey County libraries. She does lectures and signings, and has appeared on panels at mystery and science fiction conventions, including Bouchercon, Minicon, Diversicon, Magna Cum Murder, and Malice Domestic. She has spoken to stitchery guilds on local, state, and national levels. She has won a place on national and local best-seller lists, including USA Today and the independent mystery bookstore compilation. She is a paid speaker on the life of a mystery author.

Mary Monica studies the medieval period as an amateur, and does needlework. She is a Lay Eucharistic Visitor and Lector at the Episcopal Church of St. George in Minneapolis. She collects and is often seen in exuberant hats.


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