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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Review - The Square Root of Murder

A brand new series with my favorite kind of heroine - a brainy one!  Ada Madison debuts a new mystery series, although the author has been a popular mystery author under different names (aka Margaret Grace and Camille Minichino.)

Author: Ada Madison

Copyright: July 2011 (Berkly) 304 pgs

Series: 1st in Professor Sophie Knowles Mysteries

Sensuality: n/a

Mystery Sub-genre: cozy

Main Character:  Math Professor Sophie Knowles who creates puzzles for publication in her spare time

Setting: Modern day, Henley Massachusetts

Obtained Through: Publisher for an honest review.

Dr. Keith Appleton, a fellow professor, is widely disliked.  He is caustic, contentious, and mean spirited.  So it doesn't surprise Sophie when her assistant Rachel shares that Dr. Appleton is being difficult about her thesis for him.   When Dr. Appleton is found poisoned and the pages of Rachel's thesis are scattered around him it appears she killed him.  Sophie can't help herself as she starts looking into the case on her own.  What she finds surprises her in many ways.  Who knew Dr. Appleton had a soft side?

Sophie is a character I liked quickly.  She is smart in math but a little sheltered.  She actually concerns herself with caring about people and feels guilty that she felt Dr. Appleton was an ogre.  The story is in first person which isn't my favorite but this one was okay for me.  I liked how her best friend is more a free spirit and not as analytical but their relationship works.  Sophie's boyfriend Bruce seems like a good guy (Medevac helicopter pilot who is a movie buff) who isn't harping about her investigating - a plus in my book.

The plot is good, not overly complicated but there are plenty of suspects and Sophie approaches it logically. The climax had some tense moments as the killer confronts Sophie.  The wrap up was good.  I especially enjoyed the interaction with the Dean (who often censured Sophie) towards the end.  I liked that it is an easy read, inspite of the math, with just enough mystery.  Out of the gate it was a little slow as the reader is introduced to Sophie and the basic situation, but I thought it picked up once the murder occurred. 

I must be a geek myself because I enjoy brainy characters like this.  I enjoyed the Periodic Table Mysteries and was disheartened when that series came to a halt.  I also enjoy mysteries around academic settings with the micro world of campus life. This story brings the campus politics and professor-student as well as professor-professor relationships into the spotlight.  If you enjoy your heroine smart and not-too-complicated consider this mystery.

Now for some geek humor - this is considered a classic.

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Monday, June 27, 2011

Guest Post - Elizabeth Mahon

Today Mysteries and My Musings is pleased to welcome Elizabeth Mahon, author of "Scandalous Women: The Lives and Loves of History’s Most Notorious Women."  She is sharing with us information on perhaps the biggest mystery of of the twentieth century.  Welcome Ms. Mahon.

The Disappearance of Amelia Earhart

Amelia Earhart had a knack for making news. From her groundbreaking flight in 1928, as the first woman to fly across the Atlantic to her later solo flight in 1932, Amelia made headlines wherever she went. But no headline was more heartbreaking than the news that her plane was lost. The around the world flight was to be her biggest challenge and her last ‘stunt’ flight, after which she planned to retire from long-distance flying. Earhart was about to turn 40, and thinking about a life on the ground instead of a life in the air. An ill omen seemed to hang over the trip from the start. A botched attempt in March severely damaged her plane. Still determined, Earhart had the twin engine Lockheed Electra rebuilt. "I have a feeling that there is just about one more good flight left in my system, and I hope this trip is it," she said. While the plane was being repaired, Amelia decided to change her flight plan to travel west to east, leaving from Miami instead. The change in plans was due to changes in global wind and weather patterns. When she finally took off on June 1st, with Fred Noonan as her navigator, she left behind crucial equipment, including her parachute, life raft, and wireless antenna.

After numerous stops in South America, Africa, India, and Southeast Asia, Amelia and Fred landed in Lae, New Guinea, on June 29, 1937. Amelia had flown for thirty days and twenty-two thousand miles by that point. There were 7,000 miles to go before she completed her journey. Physically and mentally she was exhausted. The Electra didn’t take off again until July 2, due to adverse weather conditions. Their intended destination was tiny Howland Island, where Amelia expected to refuel. The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Itasca, their radio contact, was stationed just offshore of Howland Island. Two other U.S. ships were positioned along the flight route as markers. Radio contact between Amelia and the U.S. Coast Guard was intermittent. While they could hear her, she couldn’t hear them. The Electra never made it, disappearing somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.

A search began near where they estimated the plane had gone down, 35 to 100 miles northwest of Howland Island. The search effort, authorized by President Roosevelt, cost over $4 million involving ten ships, 66 aircraft, and over 3,000 Navy personnel. It was the most extensive air and sea search in naval history thus far. Neither the plane nor the bodies of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan were ever discovered. The effort was discontinued two weeks later on July 19th. George Putnam privately financed another search but finally gave up hope and Amelia was officially declared dead on January 5, 1939. Since her disappearance, a whole cottage industry of myths, urban legends and unsupported claims have sprung up, all of which have been generally dismissed for lack of evidence. Still several unsupported theories have become well known in popular culture.

One theory, and the most plausible, is that put forth by pilot Elgen Long. Long believes that Earhart ran out of fuel just after her last transmission, the ditched plane quickly filling with water and sand. Although she supposedly had a life raft, and emergency supplies, they may not have had enough time to escape before the plane went down. Some believe that Earhart and Fred Noonan managed to land on a remote uninhabited island where they eventually ended up dying of starvation.

The most popular theory is that Amelia was actually on a mission to spy on the Japanese in the Pacific at the request of FDR’s administration. The 1943 film Flight for Freedom starring Rosalind Russell as an Amelia Earhart-like flyer and Fred MacMurray furthered that myth. After the war, both the Japanese and the U.S. Governments denied the rumors. Amelia was known to be a strong pacifist, so the idea of her spying for the military is highly unlikely. She also didn’t have the time or the fuel to make a detour over the Japanese islands, nor would she have been able to see anything of interest, since she would have been in the area at night.

Others believe that Earhart and Noonan were captured and executed when their aircraft crashed on Saipan Island while it was under Japanese occupation. More than 50 witnesses have stated that a tall, thin, short-haired woman dressed like a pilot and a man were seen on the island. In 2009, one of Amelia’s relatives stated that the pair died in Japanese custody, citing unnamed witnesses including Japanese troops and Saipan natives. He said that the Japanese cut the valuable Lockheed aircraft into scrap and threw the pieces into the ocean. Another theory is that Earhart was captured and used for propaganda purposes, serving as the infamous Tokyo Rose whose English radio broadcasts were used as psychological warfare against the Americans. George Putnam, Amelia’s husband, listened to several recordings of Tokyo Rose and concluded that none of the voices matched hers. Still the theory persisted. Even Amelia’s mother Amy believed the rumor. She told a reporter for the Los Angeles Times in 1949 that “Amelia did not die in the ocean. She died in Japan.”

One of the more outlandish theories is that that after the war, Amelia’s friend and pioneering aviator, Jackie Cochran discovered Earhart in Japan, and smuggled her back to the United States. Earhart then was given the new identity of Irene Craigmile Bolam for national security reasons, moved to New Jersey and remarried. This theory was put forth by US Air force Major Joseph Gervais whose research was used by author Joe Klass in the book Amelia Earhart Lives (1970). It was also claimed in the book that her name appeared to be a code which spelled out in degrees and minutes the latitude and longitude of the precise location of the island where Earhart and Noonan crashed after being shot down by the Japanese. Irene Bolam denied being Earhart, and sued the authors. The book's publisher withdrew the book from the market shortly after it was released, settling out of court with her. Bolam's personal life history has been thoroughly documented by researchers, eliminating any possibility she was Earhart.

All these theories (except for the last one) sound plausible in different ways. Unfortunately the mystery of what actually happened to Amelia Earhart will probably never be truly solved until human remains or the plane is found.

Thank you Elizabeth Mahon for that post.  Join Elizabeth at her blog, for more fascinating history.  Amelia's disappearance is a mystery that has captivated people around the world still.

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Review - Secret of White Rose

Today I review a historical mystery featuring 1906 New York and the turbulent times of wealth disparity that erupted into violence.  "Stefanie Pintoff is the Edgar® award-winning author of a mystery series where early criminal science meets the dark side of old New York."

If you are looking for the Midsummer's Eve Giveaway Hop, it is the post just prior to this one - just scroll down. 

Author: Stephanie Pintoff

Copyright: May 2011 (Minotaur) 384 pgs

Series: 3rd in Detective Ziele Investigations

Sensuality: n/a

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Police Procedural

Main Character:  Detective Simon Ziele 

Setting: 1906, New York

Obtained Through: LibraryThing for an honest review

The book opens with Simon Ziele being hustled to a murder scene out of his jurisdication by criminologist Alistair Sinclair.  Alistair had gone to law school with murder victim, Judge Hugo Jackson.  Since Judge Jackson was presiding over the trial of an anarchist Al Drayson his murder is the highest priority.  Drayson planted a bomb to kill industrialsit Andrew Carnegie but ended up killing five innocent people including a child.  The media has whipped the city into high tension and the murder is ratcheting up the tension.  The widow of Judge Jackson insists that Simon be on the case since Alistair wants him.

The widow's demands puts Simon on the bad side of Police Commissioner Theodore Bingham (a historical person who really did command the New York Police from 1906 to 1909.)  Commissioner Bingham rules with a dictatorial style and insists that the anarchists will all be brought to justice for the judge's death.  But Simon and Alistair uncover a secret code in a sheet of music at the crime scene (along with a white rose) which clearly shows it is revenge against the judge.  More murders occur and Simon gets increasingly frustrated as it becomes clear that Alistair is keeping vital information to himself. Then the Commissioner wants to use Simon's tragic past to get to the anarchists.  Both Alistair and Simon are in danger and there are some tense moments.

Simon Ziele is a meaty character with a sad past that has forged his sense of justice while having the compassion to understand it isn't always clear cut in crime.  Simon must face his past and the ghosts that live there during the story which shows how deeply he still hurts.  He is dating Alistair's daughter-in-law (a young widower) Isabella.  His relationship with her is an ever present reminder of her social status and his lack of status. Isabella is great, I immediately liked her as a smart and capable woman who understands Simon well.  Alistair is single minded and privileged and this story shows he is shaken to his core during this case.  Alistair is an interesting character that at turns would draw me in and then make me mad.

The story was a bit slow to grab hold of me.  It took a few chapters before the elements all meshed and I was compelled to read it at every opportunity.  It seemed to pick up speed the further I got into the story.  By the end I didn't want to leave Detective Simon Ziele's world - which is a sign it really came alive for me.  It showed the seamy side of New York's streets, crime, and dirty politics against the backdrop of China Town and the Waldorf Astoria, from the "tombs" where prisoners are kept to the luxury homes of judges it displays NY and all her sides.

The plot was good with several elements coming together.  The climax was gripping and there were several exciting tense scenes that were nicely done.  All story lines were wrapped up well.  I had not read the two prior books in this series and I had no problem picking up significant backstory.  This novel is a little more "real" without being gruesome which I appreciated.   If you enjoy historical mysteries with a little bit of grit this book will please you.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Midsummer's Eve Giveaway Hop

We are celebrating Midsummer here at Mysteries and My Musings with a giveaway!  Shakespeare even wrote about it - when we have the longest daylight hours and shortest night.  I love summer, don't you?

To all the participants in the Midsummer's Eve Giveaway Blog hop who stopped by and those who found a new place to visit and hangout - Thank YOU!

If you are joining us as part of the
Midsummer's Eve Giveaway Blog hop, look around and stay for awhile.  We celebrate everything mystery and suspense here - no doubt you can find something of interest!

PRIZE:  One copy of "Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her" by Melanie Rehak for two winners.  Read the guest post by Melanie below this post.

Entry for giveaway lasts until June 24 6:00 p.m. (MST).

I will be shipping the books to the winners.

How to enter:

*** First, you must be a member (follower) of this blog.***

All entries are to be in the comments for this post.

I will accept entries for this giveaway Tuesday June 21beginning at midnight (MST) through to 6:00 p.m (MST) on Friday June 24.  
I shall notify the winner via the email address you provide to get your mailing address and have the prize sent directly to you.

IF you are a member of this blog, you only need to leave a comment with your correct email.

BECOME a member of this blog if you aren't already and enjoy the celebration of all things mystery and suspense.

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Monday, June 20, 2011

Guest Blog - Melanie Rehak

Mysteries and My Musings is delighted to have Melanie Rehak, author of "Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her" as our guest blogger.  Her book on the intrepid young detective won an Edgar Award and was named a Best Book of the Year by the Chicago Tribune.  

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This past spring, Nancy Drew—foiler of plots, possessor of a killer wardrobe, maker of tea sandwiches and above all else, driver of that illustrious blue car, which has morphed over the years from a roadster to a convertible to a hybrid—turned 81. It seems almost inconceivable that our favorite teenaged detective could have been with us for close to a century, but then again, it’s equally difficult to imagine American culture without her. She was the first girl character to head up her own series, the first fictional girl to be as mature, sensible, athletic and smart as her overwhelmingly male children’s book counterparts back in the early decades of the 20th century, and the sleuth that made us all envy her with her adventures, her triumphs over evil, her tight-knit band of friends and, of course, her cute boyfriend Ned, who made a great date but never got in the way of anything she wanted to do.

Unsurprisingly, success came effortlessly to Nancy, though it was something of a shock to almost everyone else. Her first three stories were published on the same day in April of 1930 (in a package that the children’s publishing industry of the time referred to as a “breeder set” because it was designed to get young readers hooked and clamoring for more) and they were runaway hits. The Secret of the Old Clock, The Bungalow Mystery and The Hidden Staircase took Nancy from haunted mansion to creepy cabin to a sinking boat—with a few stops for a nice lunch along the way as well as several blows to the head and a blinding rainstorm. 

Behind the
scenes, things were no less shadowy. Though the books claimed Carolyn Keene as their author, there was no such person, a fact many people are unaware of even today. In reality, Nancy’s inventor was a man named Edward Stratemeyer, and the women who brought her
to life over the next five decades were Edward’s two grown daughters, Harriet and Edna, and a young journalist named Mildred Benson.

Stratemeyer himself was the only person who wasn’t surprised by Nancy’s success. He knew her audience was waiting for her because he got the idea for his “up-to-date American girl at her best, bright, clever, resourceful and full of energy” from his greatest source of inspiration, fan mail from kids. By the time Nancy came along, he was the head of his own company, the Stratemeyer Syndicate, which also put out other indelible series like The Bobbsey Twins, Tom Swift, Bomba the Jungle Boy and The Hardy Boys (who preceded Nancy by three years but were never as popular as she was). His method of working was to write outlines for every book in each series, and then give the writing work to one of his trusty stable of ghostwriters,
which he later edited to ensure consistency. By using a pseudonymous author for each series, he ensured that loyal fans would never know if he changed writers.

And were they ever loyal! Over the course of his decades as a producer of children’s books, he received hundreds of letters from children, and he paid close attention to the enthusiasms and criticisms they shared with him when it came to figuring out what kind of stories to try next. By the mid-1920s, an era of liberation for women, he began to notice that his girl readers in particular were asking for a kind of book he hadn’t considered before: stories in which a girl heroine made her intrepid way through life and did not, in the end, grow up and decide to get married. They had been subsisting on books that were either written for boys or, even if they featured action like The Motor Girls, The Outdoor Girls and the Ruth Fielding series (which concerned a young woman making her way as a film producer in Hollywood) all ended up that way, and they were tired of them. One little girl who was enamored of his Don Sturdy series wrote: “Won’t you please write another two or three about Don and Teddy to satisfy my insatiable love of thrilling and exciting adventure. Please [underlined 8 times] emphatically do not [underlined with a scribble] make Mrs. Sally Sturdy and Ruth so weepy and weak.”

When he dreamed up Nancy, who was originally to be called Stella Strong, his hunch, based on what we might think of today as data from a focus group of children, turned out to be right and created a groundbreaking character who just happened to solve mysteries, too. Nancy, who never aged (with one exception when the driving age was changed from 16 to 18) and never even considered matrimony, was an instant superstar, not least because of her bold independence. Many years later, when Edward’s daughter Harriet was running the Syndicate alone, she reminded herself of this key element: “Must appeal to children. This excludes love element, adult hardships. Marrying off Nancy Drew disastrous.”

And what of Harriet, who ghost wrote many of the Nancy Drew books (and many other Syndicate books as well), her sister Edna, and their writer-for-hire, Mildred? With very little to go on other than their wits and courage, Harriet and Edna took over their father's company when he died suddenly of pneumonia just a few weeks after Nancy’s debut, with Harriet as its public face, and both of them writing of outlines. Edna became a silent partner in 1942, and Harriet forged ahead on her own despite being consistently patronized by men in the publishing business who could not adjust to the idea that a woman was in charge of a million-dollar company.

She had an equally ambitious counterpart in Mildred Benson, who, even after she was hired as a reporter at The Toledo Times during World War II -- a job she steadfastly refused to give up when the men came home -- continued to throw her all into her book writing, which included numerous other series in addition to the Nancy Drew Mystery Stories. These women would have been exceptional even by today’s standards, but in the postwar years, when American women found their choices and salaries abruptly limited, they were nothing short of extraordinary. As their peers dropped not only out of careers but also out of college either to marry or to make sure that they would not be too educated to do so, these two persevered.

Nancy Drew did, too, thanks to the combination of Harriet and Mildred, neither of whom received any credit for her writing efforts until much later. Her good breeding and unwillingness to do so much as kiss Ned Nickerson made her acceptable to newly wholesome 1950's America, even as she continued to outwit everyone. Then, just as the psychedelic 60's threatened to sweep away everything that had come before, including our blue-eyed heroine, the girl detective was anointed by her fans as something much more critical than a series book character with excellent manners and an enviable car:  she was an icon of women's liberation. ''I was such a Nancy Drew fan . . . and I'd love to know how many of us who are feminists right now in our 30's read those books,'' the president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), Karen DeCrow, told The Boston Globe in 1976.

Still, Nancy herself never really changed—she didn’t really have to since she had always been so forward thinking. Though she was being embraced by a new generation, and many details of the books were altered--racial stereotypes, including black characters who spoke exclusively in Southern slave-era dialect, were excised along with clothing styles, appliances and any number of other things that dated the series, while Nancy and her pals began to wear pants and stopped talking about the running boards of cars—the stories themselves remained ageless, existing in a universe untouched by World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the psychedelic '60s and the women's lib movement. Rather than reflecting the times, Nancy provided an escape from them in many ways. Which, if we’re honest about it, is one of the best reasons to read any mystery story, be it Nancy Drew, Mary Higgins Clark, Laura Lippman anyone else. Real life, after all, presents so few opportunities to tie up all the loose ends neatly.

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THANK You Melanie for that fascinating glimpse into the history of Nancy Drew.  Readers please post any questions or comments you may have.

Here is a short review of one of the early Nancy Drew books.

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Guest Review: Hell is Empty

My next door neighbor Ken, a former deputy sheriff, is making his book review debut.  It is fitting that a former deputy sheriff is reviewing a book about a sheriff.  Read about how he liked Craig Johnson's newest book.

Author:  Craig Johnson

Copyright:  2011 (Viking Penguin) 309 pages

Series:  #7 in The Walt Longmire Mysteries

Sensuality:  some violence

Mystery sub-genre:  western police procedural

Main Characters:  Sheriff Walt Longmire and arch nemesis, Raynaud Shade

Setting:  Big Horn Mountains of Wyoming

Obtained Book Through:  Publisher supplied in exchange for honest review

Well, our action packed, rough and tough hero is at it again.   Sheriff Longmire and Santo, his deputy, are transporting three prisoners, all murderers facing death row, to a mysterious meeting in the heart of the Big Horn Mountains involving several FBI agents and adjoining county sheriffs.  It seems one of the prisoners, Raynaud Shade, a one-eyed Crow-adopted Canadian Indian, is supposed to lead them to the remains of one of his many victims.  Years ago he had killed the young boy of a local family named Owen White Buffalo.  The remains are unfortunately recovered within Longmire’s jurisdiction, and it’s up to Longmire to assist.

Thus the journey into hell begins.  Shade steals the child’s bones, officers are killed, one is severely wounded, and the bad guys (aptly described as “your garden variety psychotic scumbags”) and two accomplices escape and kidnap one agent in the process.  Santo must remain behind to help the wounded agent and coordinate the support that’s on its way.   A bad snowstorm is also developing so Longmire must start a one-man manhunt.  Along his perilous trek he discovers in a supply pack that Santo hurriedly put together for him a book Santo has been reading to “fill in some literary gaps” in his education – Dante’s Inferno.  Longmire remembers passages from this book at some of the most synchronistic moments during the manhunt.

In the process of dealing with the bad guys and the nasty forces of nature, a couple of people assist Longmire.  The most noteworthy is Virgil White Buffalo who appears, disappears, and comes to Longmire’s rescue, always in the nick of time.  But is he real or mystical?  The higher up into the mountains Longmire tracks and deals with the bad guys, the deeper into hell he slides.  Old memories and flashbacks also intrude.  Dante was guided by Virgil and the Sheriff was well assisted by his own Virgil.

This was a very enjoyable read.  The drama of this adventure holds it’s edge throughout the book.  The characters, their interplay, and the plot are well inter-woven and consistent.  The title and the story are fitting; as the author pointed out, the Bard stated in The Tempest, “Hell is empty and all the devils are here.”  It’s a good thing the citizens of Durant and Absaroka County, Wyoming, have Sheriff Longmire and his cohorts to diligently serve and protect them.

FYI, A pilot was filmed in the Southwest called LONGMIRE which is based on Craig’s novels. It will air on A&E and stars Robert Taylor as Sheriff Longmire and Lou Diamond Phillips as Henry Standing Bear.

Mystery writer Craig Johnson is featured in this short video and explains how the many hats he has worn helped him become a best-selling author.

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Monday, June 13, 2011

Guest Blog - Robert K. Wittman

Mysteries and My Musings is ecstatic to have Robert Wittman (the founder of the FBI’s Art Crime Team,) as our guest blogger today. Robert is not only an expert on Art Crime and saved hundreds of millions of dollars worth of art and antiquities but he is an author. His memoir, PRICELESS: How I Went Undercover to Save the World’s Stolen Treasures, came out in paperback on June 7. ( buy here:

Please welcome the legendary Robert Wittman!  Applause and cheers.

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Who doesn’t love a good mystery?

In my memoir, I write about all kinds of art-crime mysteries I worked – a stolen Rembrandt, a swiped Monet, purloined Picassos. Some of these mysteries stretched back more than century; once, we rescued an original copy of one of the fourteen original parchments containing the Bill of Rights, a document looted by Union troops during the Civil War.

But one of my favorite cases was one of my first. I love it because, like lots of my cases, it contains two mysteries, each with its own cool facts.

In 1988, a thief cruised into the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia in broad daylight, drew a pistol, fired a warning shot and forced the guards to the floor. He made off with Rodin’s Mask of the Man With the Broken Nose, one of the most important early works of the Impressionist movement.

The story of how Rodin sculpted it – and why it was so revolutionary – was long a mystery. The answer, which I detail in Priceless, is, well…. priceless.  One of the most important sculptures in art history came to be pretty much by accident.

The second mystery was, of course, who done it, and why? The thief – spoiler alert –was an unemployed male stripper.

Solving the case of the Mask of the Man With the Broken Nose, launched my 20-year career with the FBI, much of it going undercover to rescue to the world’s stolen treasures.

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"In Priceless, Robert K. Wittman,  pulls back the curtain on his remarkable career for the first time, offering a real-life international thriller to rival The Thomas Crown Affair.

Rising from humble roots as the son of an antique dealer, Wittman built a twenty-year career that was nothing short of extraordinary. He went undercover, usually unarmed, to catch art thieves, scammers, and black market traders in Paris and Philadelphia, Rio and Santa Fe, Miami and Madrid.

In this page-turning memoir, Wittman fascinates with the stories behind his recoveries of priceless art and antiquities: The golden armor of an ancient Peruvian warrior king. The Rodin sculpture that inspired the Impressionist movement. The headdress Geronimo wore at his final Pow-Wow. The rare Civil War battle flag carried into battle by one of the nation’s first African-American regiments.

The breadth of Wittman’s exploits is unmatched: He traveled the world to rescue paintings by Rockwell and Rembrandt, Pissarro, Monet and Picasso, often working undercover overseas at the whim of foreign governments. Closer to home, he recovered an original copy of the Bill of Rights and cracked the scam that rocked the PBS series Antiques Roadshow."

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I am getting the audio version of the book so I can listen to it at work.  It all sounds fascinating.  I can't wait to find out more about all of his cases. 

Please leave comments and let Mr. Wittman know how much we appreciate his guest post!!

Below are some interesting interviews on national shows with him about stolen art.

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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Review - Sketch Me If You Can

I am just getting to this book now that the next one in the series has been released.  I am trying to shrink my TBR pile but it keeps growing.  I suspect that some of you may have the same dilemma.  Today we go to New York and follow a police sketch artist do some investigating on her own.

Author:  Sharon Pape

Copyright:  August 2010 (Berkley) 293 pgs

Series:  1st in  Portrait of Crime Mysteries

Sensuality:  n/a

Mystery Sub-genre:  Private Detective (paranormal)

Main Character:  Rory McCain - a police sketch artist

Setting:  Modern day, Suffolk County New York

Obtained Through:  Publisher for an honest review

Rory's beloved uncle Mac dies of a massive coronary one night and she has to accept that she inherited everything of his - no matter how painful.  She starts to clear out his PI files of active cases and notify the clients to hire somebody else while refunding their money.  But one client begs and pleads for her to finish his case because nobody else will.  Jeremy had hired Mac to investigate his sister, Gail's death. It had been ruled an accident but Jeremy insists she was murdered.  Gail was an in-demand high-end interior designer who had made plenty of enemies. Rory decides to refund his money and just look into it since she can't moonlight according to police department policy.

Rory had put it off but finally takes the plunge and moves into Mac's Victorian house only to find that a 1878 Federal Marshal's ghost occupies the place.  Ezekiel Drummond, aka Zeke, is stuck in the house where he was killed.  Apparently uncle Mac had partnered with the old-fashioned lawman to solve his cases.  Rory finds his outmoded ideas about women infuriating, but she can't deny that he knows criminal investigation well.  But when Zeke shares that he knows Mac was murdered rather than a natural heart attack kill him, and he thinks Gail's case got him killed they meld together as a dysfunctional team to get justice for Mac.

Rory (short for Aurora which she hates) is a lively character.  It seems overused to say "independent and smart" since more and more female characters are classified that way, but she really is.  Her character faces grieving her uncle's death as well as dissatisfaction with her job.  I found her logical yet hot tempered, especially with the outmoded mores of Zeke about women. I look forward to getting to know this character better.

The character of Zeke is fascinating with a temper of his own.  A few chapters are dedicated to his last case where he was hunting down a serial killer.  That story is not finished and I found I just had to read what happened to get him from Arizona to NY and killed in that house.  So I will be reading the next book shortly to find out more on that.  The flashback technique worked seamlessly and added to the page-turning quality of the story. Yes he is old fashioned, but that is the world he came from but he tries to adjust to Rory and her demands.  The friction between these two is funny and lively. The way this character is portrayed it isn't so much a paranormal story but a great twist to the standard mystery, really.

The plot is solid and the reader only knows what Rory and Zeke know.  I had a good idea of who the killer was but not a clue as to the motive for killing Gail and then Mac.  Even with my suspicion of whodunit I found that made the story more interesting as I followed Rory gaining more pieces to the puzzle.

The confrontation with the killer was tense and exciting without being improbable.  I liked the wrap-up to the story which sets Rory up for future mysteries. It made me hungry for the next book which I will be reviewing in just a few weeks.  This book is a great debut book with a solid premise.  The author set up the mystery and investigation like a practiced pro avoiding common pitfalls.  I will be following this series closely.

I found this interesting short video about a police sketch artist and wanted to share it.  I have often been fascinated how people can draw a person from only a description.

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Monday, June 6, 2011

Mystery & Crime Fiction Blog Carnival - June 2011

It is the first Monday of the month - time for another highly anticipated Blog Carnival. Below is the line-up and there is something for everybody. Click on the title or author's name to go to that link and find your next summer read.

Police Procedural / PI Book Review

How Mysterious reviewed Princess of Burundi by Kjell Eriksson which won the best crime novel award from the Swedish Crime Academy (in 2002).

Lynnette's Book World reviewed Blood Country by Dan Jewell.

How Mysterious reviewed Still Life by Louise Penny and feels it should have a category of Cozy Procedural to do it justice.

Amateur Sleuth / Cozy book Review

Booking Mama reviews Lost and Fondue by Avery Aames and says it's one of the best cozies that she has read lately.

Book Dilettante reviewed Ink Flamingos by Karen Olson and shares the setting is unique and the plot is original.

Thriller/Suspense Fiction Book Review

Booking Mama reviewed A Hard Death by Jonathan Hayes saying I would recommend this book to anyone who likes a good easy-to-read thriller.

Mysteries and My Musings reviewed Hell's Corner by David Baldacci.

Caribousmom reviewed I’d Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman and shares Lippman combines the perceptiveness of literary fiction and the cleverness of the suspense-thriller genre to craft a novel which is insightful while creating a sense of apprehension and foreboding.

My Love Affair with Books reviewed They Came to Baghdad by Agatha Christie and shares it is different from Agatha Christie's other books - it's more of a thriller than a mystery.

Author Interview

Sharon's Garden of Book Reviews interviewed Hannah Reed

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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Review - A Question of Belief

I am enjoying the summer and I think this week's book is an excellent summer read.  Let's take a little vacation to Venice Italy for some government corruption and murder.  Enjoy the canals and sites of Venice while investigating a murder.

Author: Donna Leon

Copyright: April 2011 (Penguin) 262 pgs

Series: 19th in the Commissario Giuideo Brunetti Mysteries

Sensuality: n/a

Mystery Sub-genre: Police Procedural

Main Character:  Guido Brunetti, Commissario of Police

Setting: Modern day, in Venice, Italy

Obtained Through: Publisher for an honest review

It is a miserably hot August in Venice when Brunetti gets a visitor who leaves him with files that appear to show a judge who is taking bribes.  In order for this judge to get away with her tactics it requires an accomplice who is a clerk, Araldo Fontana.  This clerk is reported to be honest and above suspicion.  Brunetti begins to make discreet inquiries since the justice system is so corrupt he could get in trouble without having far more evidence. 

One of the regular cops, Vianello, has his aunt being scammed and Brunetti is looking to get evidence on the scam artist, even if it isn't his place to.  Then there are the regular office politics.  Brunetti's boss is a political animal who is more concerned about not upsetting anybody influential rather than justice. 

Just as Brunetti is ready to go to the cooler mountain region for vacation, Fontana is found dead.  Brunetti stays in the city while his family goes on vacation. 

This is my first Brunetti mystery and I must say I enjoy him as a character.  Intelligent and a wicked sense of humor, he is loyal and wants to see justice for victims.  He is surprising introspective and atypical from the standard Italian male chauvinist.  The supporting cast of Vianello and Elletra, the capable administrative assistant and the other officers are great characters.  Vianello who is torn up about his Aunt and has a golden touch getting subjects to open up and talk. Elletra who is a calm and self-assured presence that can find most any information with her computer.  Brunetti's family is enjoyable with his wife, and two children even though they don't get much time in this story. 

There are many possibilities with the plot and the conclusion is well thought out on both the main plot and the subplot.  The pacing is not rushed but systematic and interest is maintained with the questions that arise with each discovery. 

The setting becomes a character since the heat is almost an adversary and ever present.  Venice will never seem the same in my imaginings after this.  I feel like I was living there, experiencing the corruption of the government by the wealthy and powerful and the descriptions of the canals and the city in general.  There are occasional Italian phrases or words used that are easy to understand in context which add to the feeling of having been in Italy.

I can only ask why I waited until the 19th book in the series to jump in?  If you like a police procedural with a cozy bent this series could be for you.  Check it out.

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