Sunday, May 17, 2020

Things Could Be Worse

We live in a time of adversity. Some might call it the worst of times. Yet, some have said the same of other times.
That's, coincidentally, true of the Spanish flu of 1918. My great-uncle and namesake was at Camp Funston in Kansas where some historians believe it originated. My relative was one of the fortunate who survived that pandemic which claimed an estimated 50 million lives around the globe.
The true extent of damage, both in lives and economics, for COVID-19 remains to be seen.
We are, though, more fortunate in many ways than our ancestors who suffered through the Spanish flu.
The Internet, for instance, provides the latest information and updates it in a timely fashion. The news didn't travel as fast in 1918. On the downside, conspiracy theories and quack prescriptions spread equally as fast as facts these days, adding to confusion and heightening fears.
Again, thanks to the Internet, China was able to dispense the DNA of the virus to other nations in a remarkably short time, giving researchers a leg up on understanding the virus and, hopefully, speeding up the process of developing a vaccine.
There's also the fact many advances have been made in medicine since 1918, advances which assure better treatment of patients and ability to save lives. In 1918, we didn't even know what a virus was, let alone how to deal with one. Physicians knew the disease spread through respiratory drops but they didn't have microscopes powerful enough to view a virus. You couldn't test for something you didn't know existed.
Because they did know how it spread, they did determine the value of social distancing, which has proven equally effective in the current pandemic. Unfortunately, then as now, some people are slow learners and fail to heed the best advice.
Then, as now, some in high offices put the economy or their own self-interest above the welfare of the public and downplayed the dangers, pushing to ease restrictions and social distancing. That did not bode well then, and it won't in the present. This is a dangerous disease and it won't go away just because we want it to.

Monday, January 6, 2020


I read 63 books in 2019, as always a mix of fiction and non-fiction.
Not all were published in the past year. When they came out isn't a criterion for selection. Like wine, some books improve with age. Here's my assessment of the 10 best in no particular order.
BEAR NO MALICE by Clarissa Harwood. Sometimes genre is a matter of interpretation. Some readers might view this first novel as a romance. It can just as easily be seen as a mystery or a historical novel.  What really matters is story. The reader is treated with insight into the politics of the Anglican church, the art world of the period and the stifling conformity of the Edwardian era--an intriguing mix of historical fiction, romance and mystery. Highly recommended.
NEW IBERIA BLUES by James Lee Burke. We've had a long wait for another Dave Robicheaux novel. Burke never disappoints. The violence in the novel may put off a more squeamish reader. But, trust me, the reward for overlooking that is some of the most lyrical prose and meditations on virtue you'll find in contemporary fiction. Intimations of the mortality of Dave and Clete signal this may be the final episode in the series. I sincerely hope not.
WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING by Delia Owens. This is a novel about survival and Kya, the protagonist, is adept at survival in the face of enormous odds. Abandoned by her mother, her siblings and, finally, her father, she is left alone to adapt and survive on North Carolina's Outer Banks in the period between the 1950s and 1970s. This is a debut novel by a scientist known for her nature writing. Her prose is poetic and beautiful and the insights into the workings of nature are informative and moving. The plot had me hooked from the start.
THE LOST MAN by Jane Harper. This is a page-turner with lots of surprises and a conclusion to shock even the most hardened crime reader. Jane Harper has crafted an enthralling tale of suspense, relationships, vivid characters and a landscape so real you can taste the dust and sense the lonely emptiness.
GERONIMO'S BONES by Darrell Bryant. The story may not be true, but it's truthful. Chaco, a young Apache man born in the wrong century, struggles against harsh odds to adapt to the life fate has given him. This is a novel with engaging and colorful characters, adventure, humor and tragedy. It isn't often a first novel resonates so well. I look forward to reading more of Darrel Bryant's work.
KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON by David Grann. This non-fiction book targets a series of murders in the 1920s in which oil-rich Osage Indians were victimized and robbed--another chapter in the genocide of the native peoples. I've long been a fan of Grann and here he excels as a storyteller and reveals a little known chapter in history.
UNSHELTERED by Barbara Kingsolver. Two families in two different time periods inhabit a house in a unique New Jersey community. Their lives are changed in dramatic ways. Kingsolver introduces a real life pioneer woman naturalist who deserves to be better known. The contemporary characters were interesting, but I was more drawn to those in the earlier historic period.
THE FURIOUS HOURS by Casey Cep. The book Harper Lee couldn't write and possible reasons why--in addition to fascination insights on a murder for profit scheme, an ambitious lawyer, the South and Southerners and sundry other topics of interest.
THE FEATHER THIEF by Kirk Wallace Johnson. This unusual but true story has all the elements of a thriller and takes the reader into a bizarre world of obsession and greed pitted against science and beauty.
LADY IN THE LAKE by Laura Lippman. This stunning standalone novel set in 1960s Baltimore, portrays Maddie, a bored housewife who decides on the spur of the moment to leave her husband and become a crime reporter. Lippman's inspiration was the story was too real life disappearances in that time period in the city. The result is a compelling story.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

A Little Help From a Friend

(We all need a little help from time to time. I'm hosting my friend Marilyn (aka F.M.) Meredith, and she's talking about her new mystery and how friends help in the writing process. The floor is yours Marilyn:)

To be honest, I get a lot of help from friends when I’m writing a book, from my critique group who initially hear the whole story chapter by chapter, and my editor who is also a friend.

Because I write about law enforcement and crimes, and have no past experience of my own, I rely on my police contacts to help me out with a lot of elements in a story. In this particular book, I needed to learn about old skeletons, and also about cadaver dogs.

About both topics, I had help from Dr. Rao who is in my critique group, he shared a book by an expert in identifying buried bones.

Two members of Public Safety Writers of America, Gloria Casale and Ron Corbin gave me lots of information about how dead bodies might look under the circumstances in the story.

I put out a query about cadaver dogs on Facebook and heard from a friend who is a former police officer who put me in touch with a woman named Vynn Stuart who worked for a sheriff’s office for 20 years as a Special Deputy K-9 Handler. We emailed back and forth as she answered my many questions. Once I’d finished the section that I needed her help with, I sent it to her and she made some corrections.

A fun part of all this is she gave me the name for the character, part of her name, and wanted the description to be as she looks. Of course, I did exactly what she asked. She wants her grandkids to be able to recognize her in the book. I hope when she receives a copy of Bones in the Attic she’s not disappointed.

Marilyn aka F.M.

Blurb: The discovery of a skeleton, a welfare check on a senior citizen, and a wildfire challenge the Rocky Bluff P.D.

Bio: Marilyn Meredith, who writes the RBPD mystery series as F.M. Meredith, is the author of over 40 published books. She once lived in a small beach town much like Rocky Bluff and has many relatives and friends in law enforcement.

And she’s a regular on these blogs:
4th Monday of the month:

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Read an Excerpt From The Bartered Body

Tuesday, February 7, 1899

Chapter 1.

            “She’s gone,” Virgil Follmer said.
            “What? Who?”
            Virgil’s head shot forward, his face going red as he rose up on the toes of his boots in an effort to appear taller than he actually is. “Dammit, Tilghman,” he bellowed, “open your ears. Don’t make me repeat myself. Time’s a-wastin’.”
            Virgil’s our town undertaker and generally the most docile, quiet man you’d ever want to meet. So, seeing him get this excited, I knew something terrible must have happened. “Calm down,” I told him. “I’m not a mind-reader. You’ll have to explain if you want my help. Now—who’s missing?’
            “Why Mrs. Arbuckle, of course. Somebody’s stole her body. Zimmerman’s gonna have a fit.”
            The late Mrs. Arbuckle was Nathan Zimmerman’s mother-in-law. Zimmerman is burgess of Arahpot, which makes him my boss. This news imposed a bit more urgency on my response. “I’ll get my hat and coat and be right with you,” I told Virgil.
            I’d just returned home and was heating up a pot of soup Doc Mariner’s wife had sent over when Follmer commenced pounding on my door.
            He waited impatiently by the door while I took the pot off the stove and got my garments. “If you’d subscribe for phone service a body wouldn’t have to go runnin’ half way across town to fetch you,” Virgil snarled.
            I’m the third of my family to hold the job of sheriff here in Arahpot, Jordan County, Pennsylvania, and I take my responsibilities seriously. But I have enough people yammering at me during the day at the office and prefer not to make it so convenient for them once I’m home for the evening. Of course I didn’t explain this to Virgil. Instead, as we strode down the hill toward town, I asked, “Didn’t you stop at the office? Cyrus should be there.”
            Virgil huffed. “If I’d wanted your deputy, I’da gone there. Thought this was important enough for your attention.”
            I couldn’t dispute his remark.
            Slush from the last snow made walking precarious and we had to concentrate on where we stepped to avoid slipping. It didn’t prevent Virgil from continuing to harp on the subject of the telephone.
            “I’m sure Miss Longlow would have seized the opportunity for the telephone contract if she’d known about it in time,” he said.
            I couldn’t argue the point. Lydia is one of the most astute business women I know and she certainly would have added the telephone to her various enterprises if McLean Ruppenthal hadn’t got the jump on her with prior knowledge—one of the benefits of being on the borough council, I suppose. He got the telephone franchise and has his sister Cora operating the switchboard. That makes him privy to many of the secrets in town—another advantage I’m certain he hasn’t overlooked.
            Still, this wasn’t the subject on my mind at the moment. “Never mind all that for now,” I said. “Why don’t you fill me in on what happened before we get to your place and I have to face Zimmerman.”
            Virgil gave me a look like a startled deer. “God, I haven’t told him yet. I wanted to talk to you first.”
            “Well, you haven’t told me a thing so far—other than that the old lady’s body is missing. How’d it happen?” I drew my collar closer round my neck against the damp chill of the evening, wishing I’d have thought to bring the nice warm scarf Lydia has knit for me.
            Follmer heaved a sigh and skipped his short legs in an effort to catch up to my longer pace. “I wish to heaven I knew how it happened. We had her all laid out nice in the coffin, set to deliver her for the viewing. Before goin’ out for supper I stepped in to make sure all was in readiness. The casket was empty. Syl, I know that old lady didn’t get up and walk out of my place on her own.”
            “That don’t make a bit of sense, Virgil. Why would someone steal a body?”
            “I don’t know. But they sure as heck did.”
            ‘I take it Floyd helped with the layin’ out,” I said, referring to Virgil’s assistant.
            “Course he did.”
            “Maybe he moved the body and you looked in the wrong coffin.”
            He peered at me as though my remark was the most idiotic he’d ever heard. “Why would he do that? I know which casket I put her in.”
            I shrugged. “Just a thought.”
(Want more? The Bartered Body is available from, or and from many other booksellers)

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Excerpt From a Favorite Novel

All writers have favorites among their books. One of mine is Watch The Hour. It's a tale of conflict between miners and mine owners in the 1870s in Pennsylvania's anthracite coal region.
I'm offering here a short excerpt from the book. McHugh, Haley and Farrell, miners accused of ties to the Molly Maguires, have escaped from jail and jumped a train, hoping to elude pursuers:
The conductor approached and McHugh slunk deeper into the seat. He felt Haley stir beside him and Billy Farrell gave a little sigh.
"You're tickets, gents," the conductor said as he stood over them.
"We already gave 'em," Haley said.
"That's right," McHugh added. "We paid when we got on."
Up front, the engineer blasted on his whistle and the train swayed and rocked a bit as it rounded a curve somewhere along the line to Arahpot. McHugh felt the sweat beading on his forehead.  He'd told Haley it wouldn't work.
The conductor exhaled sharply as he stood braced on his big feet before them. "Gentlemen," he said, "I'm the conductor, and you have not paid me for your fare."
"Maybe it was the other one," Billy told him.
"There ain't no other one. There's just me, and you boys didn't pay me."
McHugh jumped up and seized the man by the collar. Billy stood up and took the man's arm on the other side. "Look," McHugh told him, "we don't want no trouble. We just need to catch a ride with you for a ways."
"Damned if I'll let you get away with that," the man shouted
That was when Haley grabbed the pistol out of McHugh's waistband and shoved it in the conductor's face. He snapped the trigger twice but the gun didn't go off. Frustrated, Haley smacked the man across the cheek with the revolver's barrel. The conductor's head bounced back, but he was a strong man and he struggled to free himself from McHugh and the boy.
A drummer across the aisle jumped up. When Haley turned and pointed the gun at him, the man ran out of the car, screaming for help.
"Oh, hell, we're in for it now, boys," Haley said.
The words were no sooner out of his mouth than two of the crew came into the car and strode toward them. Haley raised the gun and fired at them. This time it went off. Three times.
Bam! Bam! Bam!
The first shot passed through the coat of the brakeman. The second bullet narrowly missed the fireman and smashed a window behind him. The third tore off the man's earlobe and he stopped in his tracks, squealing with pain.
McHugh and Farrell released the conductor and made for the opposite end of the car, Freed, the conductor dove for Haley. Haley smashed him in the face with the butt of the revolver and the man fell in a heap at his feet.
"Come on, Humpty," McHugh yelled. "Let's get out of here." He and Billy went out the door and jumped off the train. Haley followed.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Fact And Fiction On The Flu

(My guest today is J. L. Greger, scientist/novelist, who shares some interesting information and an introduction to her latest book. The floor is yours, my friend:)

The flu epidemic of 1918-19 is the largest pandemic ever. One-third of the world population was infected and 20 to 50 million people died. Although it is sometimes called the Spanish Flu, it probably first developed in or near a military base in Kansas.

This epidemic inspired not only many scientists but also many authors of fiction.

First, the science. In 2005, scientists reconstructed this H1N1-type flu virus that caused the 1918 epidemic. They believe at least a portion of the human population has some residual immunity to this or similar viruses. That means the virus that caused the 1918 epidemic probably could not cause another epidemic. BUT new mutations of avian or swine flu viruses could create a new flu virus transmittable among humans. In that situation, humans might have no residual immunity to the virus and another pandemic could occur.

Now the fiction. Epidemics are the basis of many famous novels and movies. Consider: The Stand by S. King, The Plague by A. Camus, Arrowsmith by S. Lewis, World without End by K. Follett. Generally, the medical details are incorrect in these novels, and the epidemics resemble a mix of cholera, plague, and flu.

Authors have used the epidemics so frequently in fiction because epidemics are urgent situations which bring out the best and worst in their characters. Probably, the most interesting use of the 1918 flu epidemic was in Downton Abbey. It was a way to eliminate lady’s Mary’s rival for the attention of Matthew Crawley.

The most realistic view of an epidemic occurred in the 2011 movie Contagion. However, this movie didn’t allow viewers to develop much sympathy for victims. The Flu Is Coming realistically portrays what would happen if a new virulent flu virus struck but allows readers to have empathy not only with patients and medical personnel treating patients but also scientists and police trying to control the spread of the flu.

Prescription. Try it, ,you’ll like learning a bit of science on drug development while you’re frightened by the quarantine and what it unleashes among residents of a small community.

Blog: In The Flu Is Coming, a new type of flu — the Philippine flu — kills nearly half of the residents in an upscale, gated community in less than a week. A quarantine makes those who survive virtual prisoners in their homes. The Centers for Disease Control recruit Sara Almquist, a resident of the community, to apply her skills as an epidemiologist to find ways to limit the spread of the epidemic. As she pries into her neighbors’ lives, she finds promising scientific clues but unfortunately learns too much about several of them.

The paperback version of The Flu Is Coming is available at: The Kindle version at:

Bio: J.L. Greger is a scientist and research administrator turned novelist. She likes to include tidbits of science in her award-winning thriller/mystery novels: Murder: A Way to Lose, Riddled with Clues, and others. To learn more, visit

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Ten Recommended Reads

As is my custom, as the year winds down I like to assess the books I've read and make some recommendations.
Since I'm a voracious reader of both fiction and non-fiction (reads and re-reads nearing a hundred and the year isn't quite over), I'm limiting to just 10 books in the mystery genre this time around. Note, they weren't all published in 2017 either. Here they are, in no particular order:
A RECKONING IN THE BACK COUNTRY by Terry Shames. The vicious murder of a doctor from out of the area poses a perplexing mystery in this seventh in the Samuel Craddock series. I don't know why, but this was my first experience with this series. It won't be the last.
SEE ALSO PROOF by Larry D. Sweazy. This Marjorie Tremaine mystery takes the reader on a harrowing journey back to the 1960s--which weren't as wonderful as some would have you believe.
ROBICHEAUX by James Lee Burke. It's been far too long since the last visit with Dave and the gang. Burke has given us other novels in between, but Robicheaux remains my favorite of his creations.
THE LINE by Martin Limon. This page-turner with Army Criminal Investigation Division agents Sueno and Bascom takes the reader on a nail-biting jaunt to the DMZ where a South Korean soldier has been murdered and their investigation threatens to set off an international incident.
A KNIFE IN THE FOG by Bradley Harper. I'm not a fan of writers appropriating the character(s) of others for their own stories. But rather than "borrowing" Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Harper has employed Conan Doyle, his creator; Dr. Joseph Bell, Doyle's mentor, and Margaret Harkness, a remarkable woman, whom I'd never heard of before, for a brilliant and plausible joust with Jack the Ripper, whose bloody exploits continue to fascinate and remain as shrouded in mystery as the foggy streets of 19th century London.
THE WITCH ELM by Tana French. I've enjoyed her Dublin Murder Squad series but this stand-alone with an unreliable narrator may be my favorite of her works. Psychological suspense at its best.
FIVE DAYS, FIVE DEAD by Carole Crigger. I've been a fan of Crigger's China Bohannon since reading the first in the series. This fun romp in the Wild West is a good introduction if you haven't yet read any of the previous novels.
THE STRANGER HOUSE by Reginald Hill. This standalone by the late, lamented author of the superb Dalziel/Pascoe series isn't new (published in 2009) but it's erudite, witty and highly entertaining.
BODY AND SOUL by John Harvey. This is the final episode in Harvey's Frank Elder series and, based on his own comment, his last novel. As always, it's sharp and gripping. Personally, I hope there are more novels to be written by Harvey. If not, there are still a good many I haven't read.
SMOKE AND ASHES by Abir Mukherjee. This is the third outing for Captain Sam Wyndham and his sidekick Sergeant "Surrender-Not" Banerjee and I hope there are many more. Sam's addiction put his career in jeopardy as he tries to solve several ritualistic murders and Banerjee grapples with family and personal issues amidst the turmoil of Gandhi's Indian independence movement.