Friday, March 31, 2017

Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey: A Review by Warren Bull

Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey: A Review by Warren Bull
Image from Getty Images

Miss Pym Disposes, written by Josephine Tey, was published in 1948. It was the third of Tey’s novels. Of course, Elizabeth MacKintosh AKA Josephine Tey, had previously written under the name of Gordon Daviot, best known as a playwright. Once Tey entered the world, Daviot faded away.

The novel is a demonstration of excellence in writing. The novel is set in a girls’ physical education college, rather than somewhere exotic. The observer is the writer of a popular psychology book who gives a lecture at the request of an old friend who is now Principal of the college. Tey takes the reader along at a leisurely pace, giving her reader the chance to get to know and care about students and staff. The everyday events held my interest because of the quality of the writing. The murder happens well past the mid point of the book. It is even more shocking than if it had occurred early on.

Each character is fleshed out and interesting on her own. I was concerned about  every one.  I give this novel my highest recommendation.

Thursday, March 30, 2017


Friar Johnpaul Cifiero CFM is a Franciscan Priest of the Sacred Heart of Province of Chicago, but he was born and raised in New York City, the oldest in an Italian/Polish Catholic family. He was a police officer in NYC, and told us that once he and his partner had raced to a car that had been driven by two drinking teenage boys, and pulled them from the front seat of the burning Last week we had a three evening Lenten Mission presented by Friar Johnppaul Cafiero. On Sunday, he said all the Masses and won over everyone who heard him with his sense of humor at my parish of St. William.

The first evening of the mission was from 6:30 to 8:00 and there were not a lot of seats left to fill. People even came from other churches. His premise was there is No Greater Love, than what Jesus gave by dying for us. And over three nights he brought up the seven phrases Jesus spoke on the cross.

Friar Johnpaul Cifiero CFM is a Franciscan priest of the Sacred Heart of Province of Chicago, but he was born and raised in New York City, the oldest in an Italian/Polish Catholic family. He was a police officer in NYC, and told us that once he and his partner had raced to a car that had been driven by two drinking teenage boys, and pulled them from the front seat of the burning car.

While the car was still burning, a Franciscan Friar raced to the car, opened the back door endangering himself in the process and pulled out the young sister of one of the boys who had fallen to the floor in the accident. Afterwards, Officer Johnpaul looked up the friar and became good friends with him and eventually decided to become a friar, too. I think it was after his partner had been shot. This was before 9-11, and later he found out that the Friar had died trying to rescue people from the collapsing towers. He now has a metal cross made from a steel girder from the towers that he always keeps with him.

He has so many degrees from different universities:  a B.A. from Seton Hall, a Psychology
/Philosophy MA from Boston University, and numerous other ones, too. He has traveled to seventy-three countries, and been to almost if not all of the states of our country. He lives in Chicago now.

Now I know this sounds like it would be a sad and gloomy Mission presentation, and it could have been if it wasn’t for Friar Johnpaul’s incredible sense of humor mixed in with his serious preaching. For instance he mentioned every one of us would die. Okay, we all nodded, we all know that. And then he told the story of a new pastor who opened his sermon speaking quite loudly with the announcement that everyone in this parish was going to die, men, women, and children. Then he noticed a woman towards the front smiling. So he repeated the message, and she started laughing. He scowled and said, “What do you find so funny about this?” and she said, “I’m not from this parish.” Of course, everyone in our church erupted in laughter.

He also told us when he decided to become a Franciscan Friar; he went to a farm for his training. Now he had always lived in a big city and this was totally different to him. So when he was asked to get milk because they were almost out, he assumed he’d be going to a store to get some, and he asked where the store was. Instead he was handed a bucket and told to go out to the barn to get it. He thought they must store the milk out there, but when he got to the barn there were only big cows. So he thought about it and put the bucket under one cow and thinking of pumps to get water, he started pumping on the cow’s tail. When that didn’t work, he looked at those little faucets underneath and figured it out. I’m not sure how much of that was true, but he had all of us laughing, especially since we’re not city people.

On the first night after he told the Bible story of the woman scorned because of her unclean ways, who knelt down at Jesus’s feet and washed them with her tears and some oil. Then we were all directed to walk silently towards the front with our hands held together and palms up to have sandalwood oil put into our palms. It was done in silence except for the choir singing.
There were a lot more stones that night.

The second night when we arrived, we were all to pick up a small stone that could fit in the palm of our hand, about half the size of a golf ball. In the main aisle at the beginning of Lent there had been an open wooden box about the size of a coffin with two extensions making it look like a cross. It had been placed there a few weeks before, and I’d wondered why, but that night I found out. Half way through his presentation of a mixture of seriousness and humor, he went into depth about the horrible beatings Christ had received until his back and legs were bloodied. Then we were to toss our stones into that wooden box. As we silently left our seats and tossed those stones in the box they made loud clunking noises, while he sang Were You There When They Crucified Our Lord. His voice was so beautiful and the description he’d given of Jesus’s last day brought tears to my eyes. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one, either.

On the third night his meassage was how we could spread the word and help others through doing good for those who needed help. We were given small candles and again towards the end, we walked up front and the helpers lit our candles while the choir sang. The lights were dimmed and looking around the church at all those candles burning it was beautiful and very touching. The message was to spread the light to others.

All three nights there were cookies, etc. and something to drink in the Social Hall put there by our Women’s Guild. Friar Johnpaul mixed with those who stayed. On the first night when I had a chance to talk to him, I said very straight-faced, “Will God forgive me for murder?” He looked at me strangely and said “God is a forgiving God.” I said, “Even if it’s a number of murders?” I could see he was wondering if I was crazy. And then I smiled and told him I wrote mysteries. He cracked up laughing and wanted my card or something so he could look me up, and I gave him one of my bookmarks.
John, my 18 year old son who died  of cancer.

The second night when he had discussed dying and dealing with the deaths of loved ones, I was able to tell him how my son had seen God an hour before he died in my arms and how he’d come to me several weeks later in a dream and told me Heaven was a wonderful place. He said he thoroughly believed the dead could communicate through dreams.  He had told us of the numerous deaths he’d dealt with of family and friends.

On the third night I asked if he would mind having his picture taken with me. He smiled and agreed and a friend of mine took our picture together.  When I left the church much later and saw him packing up his SUV to head back to Chicago, he said he was going to be looking up my books. That he even remembered me out of the huge crowds that were there each evening had me smiling.  

Friar Johnpaul is a priest, too. Not all friars are I found out. Some are doctors, lawyers, movie producers, etc. He is a chaplain of AGLA, a Gay and Lesbian Outreach at one church. He was a mentor for black students at a Catholic high school serving boys from the hood and it has a 100% high school graduation rate. The boys work at soup kitchens, senior citizen homes and do other charitable chores, and all of these boys go on to college because of the donations received.  He is also a chaplain for the Illinois State Police in the district of Chicago. There are so many other things listed on the back of the two CD album cover I bought with his Lenten words. He also conducts yearly pilgrimages. The one for this year is to Ireland. Oh how I wish I could go on that one, but I doubt that I could afford it.

One more of his jokes out of many: There was this tough biker dude who rode a Harley. As he approached a crowd of tough looking guys, he saw one big one grab an old lady’s purse from her. He got off his Harley, went up and punched the guy in his face. The guy dropped the purse and the old woman took off. Next thing he knew he was standing in front of St. Peter. He couldn’t figure out why he was there. St. Peter said, “You must have done something good.” The biker dude shook his head. “No, I’m a mean dude.” So St. Peter told him to think about it because that’s the only way he could be there. So the biker dude thought about it and told him about saving the old lady’s purse. St. Peter asked. “When did that happen?”  The biker dude looked at his watch and said, “Three minutes ago.” Of course, everyone laughed.
It was a cloudy day when I took this from a distance. 

Our priest said he was going to try to get him back for next year. I hope he can. If you want to look him up, his website it's I think you can also buy his CD No Greater Love there, too.

What experiences similar to mine have you had?

Do you think you would enjoy Franciscan Friar Johnpaul? 

Would you like to go on one of his oversea's pilgrimages with him?

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Barbara Ross Interview by E. B. Davis

From the number of times I’ve interviewed Barbara Ross, you know I like her Maine Clambake mystery series. Her fourth in the series, Fogged Inn, gained an Agatha Nomination this year in the Best Contemporary Novel category. What I didn’t know? Barb’s first novel, The Death of An Ambitious Woman, was published by Five Star in 2010. Which explains why her first novel in this series, Clammed Up (2013), was nominated in the Best Contemporary Agatha category and not in the Best First category. (I’m slow on the uptake at times!) The fifth book, Iced Under, was released in December.

In Iced Under, Barbara reveals more of the Morrow family history, including how the family made its money. Since they own Morrow Island, a private island where the family’s old mansion, Windsholme, stands, albeit dilapidated, they made a fortune. The money and the industry are gone—all but history now, except that Julia’s mother, Jacqueline, barely knows of her family or history, necessitating Julia to research the family when a family heirloom arrives in the mail. This book answers many readers’ questions, almost like ending an arc, and I wondered if this was the last book in the series.

Please welcome Barbara Ross back to WWK.                                                   E. B. Davis

Was there purpose in setting the book during the most brutal of winter months—or since Fogged Inn was set in autumn, was this just the natural continuation of the series’ seasons?

Hi Elaine. Thanks so much to Writers Who Kill for having me back. Since I write about life in a resort town, I wanted to show both the tourist season and the off-season. It’s two different worlds. The first three books take place when the Snowden Family Clambake business is open, the next two, Fogged Inn and Iced Under, along with the novella “Nogged Off” in the collection Eggnog Murder, take place when it is closed. One huge advantage to the off-season—Julia has a lot more time for solving mysteries.

What is the connection between a black diamond and the family business? Why is the necklace called the Black Widow?

The Morrow family made their fortune harvesting and shipping ice. Black ice is the best quality, frozen quickly with few or no air bubbles, so it’s clear and melts more slowly. Black diamonds are also called black ice, and the Black Widow has a large black diamond as its center stone.

The Morrow family got rich in the frozen water business, harvesting Maine ice for world consumption. How big of an industry was ice and what was the time period of this industry?

The ice industry started early in the early 1800s with ice harvested from ponds in Massachusetts being shipped to southern cities like Savannah, Charleston and New Orleans, to European colonies in the West Indies, and even to India. Late in the 19th century the business changed. Northeastern cities were exploding in population and needed massive amounts of ice for food preservation and drinks. New York City alone consumed four million pounds of ice a day. By that time ice harvesting was concentrated on big rivers like the Kennebec and the Hudson. By World War I, the business was over. Modern refrigeration and ice-making appeared. Fortunes were made and lost in a hundred years.

When the Black Widow is mailed to Julia’s mother, Jacqueline, Julia finds out the stamp was “precanceled.” Why would any unused stamp be “precanceled” and what significance does it have in tracking the package?

I had to figure out how to hide where the package was sent from in the short run, but then it had to be discoverable by Julia later. My research about how to send an untraceable package took me to some pretty scary places on the dark web, where people trade hints about how to ship things paid for in Bitcoins. In the end, I settled for the sender making slight modifications to the mailing label you get when you pay to mail a package at that kiosk in your local post office. The sticker it gives you is called a “pre-canceled stamp,” meaning it isn’t run through the cancelling machine at the processing facility.

Since the Black Widow was conservatively estimated at a worth of two million dollars, Julia asks a lawyer about how the laws of inheritance work. What does he tell her, and did you go to an attorney to pose Julia’s question?

I did. Since the origins and ownership of the Black Widow are murky, Julia’s mother’s lawyer urges them to settle with the relatives rather than tying the asset up in years of litigation. Though Julia’s mother might ultimately win, it would be costly. And she might not.

You’ve taken a few outside-the-norm chances in your last two books. In Fogged Inn, the ending is quite unusual for an amateur sleuth story. In Iced Under, you started the book with a mystery, but it wasn’t criminal. You introduce the murder about halfway through. It’s obvious because Fogged Inn was nominated for an Agatha that breaking the norms don’t deter readers’ interest. Would you take these chances if you were an unpublished author trying to sell your first novel? Is your success an enabling creative factor?

Louise Penny has said, “I’m trying to make every book slightly different. The challenge and danger of writing a series is writing the same book over and over again.” I’ve been changing things up both to keep the reader from getting bored and to challenge myself. For a writer with a first pub, I would say, “It depends.” If I were trying to be traditionally published in an established market, like cozies, I would prove in the first book that I understood the genre and the audience, and save the experimentation for later in the series. For example, it’s pretty common for authors of long-running series to change locale in a book or two—have the sleuth solve a murder while on vacation or visiting family. But it’s important to establish the series setting first.
When Julia arrives in Boston to see lost relatives, they are gathered for Hugh’s funeral.  When Hugh’s cause of death is determined to be murder, Julia researches Paolo, Hugh’s hospice nurse. She has good reason to be suspicious doesn’t she?

I think she does. But it’s a conundrum, because as a hospice nurse he is often with people when they die. The particular circumstances of Paolo’s patients’ deaths, which seem to only happen when he is alone with the patient and everyone in the family has already said their good-byes, make Julia suspicious.

Why did Hugh Morrow, lost for decades, assume a new identity?

In the simplest terms, he didn’t want to be found. He was cutting ties with his parents. Everyone else from his old life was collateral damage.

Marguerite turned toward me. “Julia, you’ll stay for the reception?”

“Of course, she’ll stay,” Vivian said. “She wants to see what Hugh left her mother.”

Marguerite glared at her daughter. “Vivian that’s beneath you.”

I didn’t think it was.

Barbara Ross, Iced Under, Kindle Loc. 1281

Why is Vivian such a stupid materialistic woman?

I don’t think of her that way, exactly. She is like a type of woman I’ve known, deeply romantic, but more in love with falling in love than with any person. Lots of marriages, but none of them last. She’s devoted her entire life to looking for the right man, and as a result hasn’t any skills for supporting herself. This makes her greedy and insecure. Taken together, the romanticism, insecurity, and greed are a potently negative combination.

Julia’s and Chris’s relationship has survived much stress. Why does Julia still doubt Chris?

It’s really all about Julia, isn’t it? Chris says one doofy thing in Iced Under. (Readers seem divided about how doofy it really is.) Julia’s the over-thinker in the relationship. Chris goes with the flow. She’s not going to accept Chris’s love until she believes in her core she deserves it. It’s that simple. It’s up to her now.

I still want to know more about Julia’s mysterious friend, Quentin Tupper. But it does seem as if you’ve brought much of your story full circle. Was this the last book in the series or is there more to come? If so, what?

The sixth book in the series, Stowed Away, is coming in December 2017. In it we learn a lot more about Quentin.

On a hot summer night sitting out on a porch catching breezes, would you be more likely to drink white sangria or a 7 & 7?

Easy one. I LOVE white sangria.
Thanks for the interview, Barbara. Good luck at Malice!

Iced Under Jacket Blurb
The snow is deep in Maine’s Busman’s Harbor and the mighty rivers are covered in ice. Snowden Family Clambake Company proprietor Julia Snowden and her mother, Jacqueline, are hunkered down for the winter when a mysterious package arrives—heating up February with an unexpected case of murder . . .

Inside the mystery package is an enormous black diamond necklace that once belonged to Julia’s great-grandmother and disappeared in the 1920s. Who could have sent it—and why? Julia’s search for clues takes her on a perilous journey through her mother’s troubled family history, from a squabble over the family fortune in “frozen water” to the recent unexplained death of Jacqueline’s long-lost cousin Hugh—who’d been missing and presumed drowned for more than forty years. To protect her mother’s inheritance, Julia must fend off a small army of feuding relatives, solve the mystery surrounding Hugh’s demise, and get back home before the next blizzard buries them all . . .

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Adventures in Cabernet and Co-Writing

When Jim Jackson first approached me about co-writing a story together for the 50 Shades of Cabernet anthology (which you can find here), I was intrigued. And flattered. After all, I was a longtime fan of his Seamus McCree series, so I knew he was a fantastic writer. And having become acquainted with Jim himself through Sisters in Crime, I also knew that he was a fantastic person. I had no worries that he and I would work well together, but I will confess I was a little concerned about our respective sleuths.

Jim’s Seamus McCree is a financial crimes analyst who through the course of four books gets pulled into assassinations, double-crossings, multiple crime syndicate fallouts, and other assorted dirty dealings. He's discovered naked women in the snow and once had to solve a series of murders where botulism-laced potato salad was weaponized against thirty-eight senior citizens. He's intelligent, determined, likes to be in charge of things, and somehow manages to keep his tender heart disguised most of the time.

My sleuth Tai Randolph is the owner of a gun shop that caters to Civil War reenactors. In the five books chronicling her misadventures, Tai has faced down murderous poets, ravenous gators, a blizzard, and the Ku Klux Klan. She's discovered pythons and historical relics, and somehow managed to convince a rule-bound corporate security agent to join her in the madness. She's smart, quick, curses with the fluency of a well-educated sailor, and has a soft spot for people in trouble.

Another thing the characters share is a stubborn streak. Could two fiercely independent sleuths work together as co-protagonists during the space of a short story? Tai was game. So was I. Jim and Seamus agreed. And that was how the four of us (well, five if you count Trey, the corporate security guy) got together for "And Wine to Make Glad the Heart."

One of the first things Jim and I had to figure out was point of view. Both of our sleuths serve as narrators in our books. In order to keep true to their unique voices, we decided to use alternating first-person points of view, using subtitles within the story to signal a shift in character. This technique kept the plot moving while allowing Tai's Southern vernacular and Seamus' Northern diction to co-exist in the same work.

Our next challenge was figuring out how to include Cabernet in the story, a requirement of the anthology. Jim decided that Seamus could be the bearer of the alcoholic goodness (or mediocrity as it turned out—Seamus showed up with wine in a box, insisting that finer drink would be wasted on him, and since Tai prefers whiskey, she didn't argue).

Five thousand and some odd words later, we had a story. It was a nice mix of Civil War history, family legend, competitive darts, faux tarot, and yes, wine. Tai was pleased enough to volunteer for another adventure with Seamus, and she's picky about the company she keeps. I was also thoroughly satisfied. As Jim has himself pointed out at his own blog, I think the story we produced together was better than any we could have done individually, and I hope we can collaborate again.

So Jim, if you're reading, extend an invitation Seamus’ way, won't you? I hear the next anthology in the series will feature Chardonnay.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Loving Your Library Is Not Enough

By Shari Randall

In all the years I worked in a public library, there was only one time a patron became angry with me.

A few minutes before closing, a man hurried into the branch. He needed materials to prepare for a test. Because English wasn’t his first language, it took a few minutes to figure out what he needed but soon we were in the stacks and I handed him the books he requested.

“Where do I pay?” he said.
“It’s free, all you need is a library card.” Usually this line was met with happy surprise.
Not this guy. His face reddened. “No, it can’t be. You’re joking with me.”
I shook my head. “Let me show you where you apply for a library card.”
“No, I have money! No credit card!” he shouted.

After some conversation, he understood. As I helped him get his card, the man apologized profusely.

“In my country,” he said, “there are no libraries, just bookstores. Only rich people have books.”

His words have stuck with me because he opened my eyes. There are places where only rich people have books.

I never thought it would be my country.

Currently in Washington, there are proposals to eliminate agencies that provide federal funding to libraries all across America. Despite its tiny budget, the Institute of Museum and Library Services is on the chopping block. ILMS funds grants to libraries and museums of all kinds - rural libraries, tribal libraries, suburban libraries, inner city libraries, school libraries. If you know anything about libraries, you know they do everything on a shoestring. Now even the shoestring will be gone.

Someone explained to me that it’s easy to eliminate agencies with small budgets because if the budget is small that program must not be very important.

When I look at my home budget, I notice that one of the smallest outlays is for water.

from Karen Jensen, School Library Journal
Many years ago, news icon Walter Cronkite said, “Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation.”

Many in the ignorant nation think libraries are non-essential. Everyone has a smart phone, right? The “let them eat cake” people say, “just Google it.”

Tell that to a librarian who sees thousands of kids without books of their own, homeless teens doing their homework on a library computer, small business owners researching tax strategies, students struggling to discern real news from fake, and immigrants trying to get a better job by checking out test prep materials that you can’t get on the internet.

If you love your libraries and want to help, check out this easy to use site from the American Library Association. On Twitter you can follow #saveIMLS.

Are you a library lover?